A Potted History of the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight (repost)

I originally posted this in December 2018 on the Arkham Horror LCG subreddit and on the now defunct FFG forums. At the time, it was intended as background following the announcement of The Circle Undone. Much of the text remains unchanged here, but as there have been lots of new additions to the wider community, and as it’s a post I’m rather proud of (not to mention appropriate for the theme and URL of this blog!), I thought I’d repost it here for posterity, with some tweaks. This post will include comprehensive spoilers for the classic Call of Cthulhu RPG campaign Shadows of Yog Sothoth and minor spoilers for Masks of Nyarlathotep, both by Chaosium, as well as potentially spoiler-y information about the discontinued Call of Cthulhu Card Game, all three editions of the Arkham Horror board game, Mansions of Madness 2e, and Eldritch Horror. I will be touching on the plotline of The Circle Undone in broad strokes, but I will try to avoid any major spoilers.

With the announcement of The Return to The Circle Undone, Arkham Horror players might be interested to know the background of the Order and its different incarnations. Since the Order plays a crucial – and morally uncertain – role in the Circle Undone, you may be curious to see where the Order has landed in terms of being villainous or heroic across its many appearances. My hope is that this gives you some interesting background to the story of TCU, whether you’re a veteran of the campaign or have yet to play it, and that it might help inspire speculation about the twists, turns and tweaks that we might see in the Return to… version of the campaign. A lot of this post was originally written from memory with reference to old materials, so while I have checked my sources, I’d welcome any corrections or additions.

First Appearance – Villainous super-cult

The Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight (HOST for short) goes back to the early days of Cthulhu Mythos tabletop gaming. The Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG, which is responsible to a large extent for much of the significance of the Cthulhu Mythos in modern pop culture, was first released in 1981. The initial scenarios in the core book were very “generic” and straightforward horror plots, such as investigating a supposedly haunted house. However, in 1982, the first campaign for Call of Cthulhu was published, called Shadows of Yog Sothoth. Shadows of Yog Sothoth hasn’t really stood the test of time – it consists of a number of rather incongruous scenarios that are meant to lead into one another, some of which are explicitly designed to just kill player characters, and it overall seems disjointed with a lack of focus or coherency compared with more modern RPG campaigns. However, it laid the foundation for all the Cthulhu Mythos campaigns to follow – taking horror out of the haunted house or creepy cave and making it about global conspiracies and globe-trotting battles against impending disaster.

The HOST is the central antagonistic organisation in the campaign. Initially, the Order seems to be a fraternal organisation in Boston with occult trappings, like a more hardcore version of the Freemasons and with a name evoking the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – it’s wealthy, has political connections, and while it has some weird rituals it seems to be mainly there to enable well-to-do people to make connections and provide a societal and political network for its members. Under the surface, however, the Hermetic Order is a front for an ancient organisation of Mythos sorcerers called the Lords of the Silver Twilight. Favoured members get inducted at late-night ceremonies into ever more occult ranks that give them Cthulhu Mythos knowledge, including oaths to swear allegiance to the Outer Gods, requirements to learn Mythos magic and exposure to mind-blasting horrors. The Lodge hall is an opulent town house with plush eating facilities and reception areas, as well as a bar (the Order’s money and connections mean it is essentially unaffected by prohibition), and occult but apparently benign ritual facilities and library on the second floor. However, it includes secret areas such as a third floor with evil ritual altars, a library of horrible tomes and cursed artwork that produces horror in onlookers, and a basement leading to a cave network with another occult library (including the Necronomicon), statues of Cthulhu, various clues for players, pits and cells for human captives (like people who asked too many questions) and monstrous beings, and bottles filled with the “essential saltes” needed for Resurrection (as detailed in the Lovecraft story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) that can be used to resurrect people – or carefully created monsters known as Custodes who act as servants and defenders. The organisation is led by John Scott, a centuries-old resurrectee, and Carl Stanford, an ageless sorcerer and the true mastermind behind the Lodge.

The players are expected to find out the secret of the organisation and work to expose its crimes and see it dissolved, but that doesn’t end its schemes. They set up a second organisation called Look to the Future, invoking Nyarlathotep (who appears with the pseudonym Lostalus Black) and sending people through to the future (like the ’70s to ’90s). They sell inconsequential future gimmicks like ball-point pens and non-stick pans, but keep for themselves far more powerful future technology like a computer and assault rifles. This organisation is also led by Carl Stanford and his subordinate Bryan Slim, uses a captive Shoggoth for power generation, and has cultures of a supernatural and utterly deadly disease called the Black Fever.

After messing up these two organisations, the players end up investigating Silver Twilight offshoots throughout the world – the Silver Twilight is trying to get parts of a relic they can use to raise R’lyeh from the sea and free Cthulhu, meaning that their true end-goal is to destroy the world, so the players are competing with them and hunting down other cults to stop this goal. This takes the players to Scotland, where they encounter a coven of witches and, incongruously, serpent people and a chthonian; the Mojave desert, where they investigate a ruined film set and encounter beings known as Spectral Hunters called forth by insane Native American shamans and a member of the Silver Twilight a century prior; rural Maine, where the Silver Twilight tries to assassinate the player characters with the assistance of a Mi-Go; Easter Island, where the players encounter the Deep Ones and a Dimensional Shambler; and finally R’lyeh itself, where the players battle the Silver Twilight and Carl Stanford directly, and may face Cthulhu himself (as well as a fire vampire).

Carl Stanford is the main antagonist in this campaign, as he leads the Silver Twilight from Boston to R’lyeh and masterminds the plot that the players are trying to foil. The campaign itself features a completely scattershot grab-bag of mythos beasties – the HOST worships the Outer Gods, works with Nyarlathotep, communes with all kinds of Mythos beings, tries to summon Cthulhu, and yet the campaign is called Shadows of Yog Sothoth. In that sense, it provides very little in the way of mythos background for the interpretation of the Lodge found in TCU, which is why I’ve concentrated on the Lodge stuff at the start, as that is more heavily referenced in subsequent FFG games and seems the most relevant to the story and setting of TCU.

Second Appearance – Namechecked in MoN

Another seminal work in the history of Call of Cthulhu gaming is the mega-campaign Masks of Nyarlathotep, first released in 1984 and frequently updated and added to since then (a new version has recently been released and by all accounts is as masterful as ever, with a truly bewildering amount of secondary background material and roleplaying aids). In many ways this builds upon the ideas first created in Shadows of Yog Sothoth, but it’s by far the superior work. While it is also a globetrotting mystery that sees players attempting to foil a global conspiracy of immense power, it’s a much more focused story, concentrating on followers of Nyarlathotep, and for the most part the various machinations and monsters that the players encounter make a lot more sense and feel a lot more coherent (as opposed to Shadows of Yog Sothoth that often felt like they’d just thrown a dart at the monster section of the rulebook to determine what the players would come up against). It takes players from New York to London, Egypt, Kenya, Shanghai and Australia, and has been directly referenced in later FFG works (most notably the unfairly maligned final expansion to Eldritch Horror, also called Masks of Nyarlathotep, which was a direct collaboration between FFG and Chaosium). I live in hope that we’ll see a proper Masks mega-campaign for the Arkham LCG, but it’s tangentially relevant to the Circle Undone, as the HOST appears here too. In one part of the story, Carl Stanford of Silver Twilight infamy turns up; he doesn’t have a strong connection to the story, seeming more like he’s taking a working holiday at the HQ of a cult that the players are investigating, but this does establish that the Silver Twilight is active throughout the world – and gives me an excuse to mention Masks of Nyarlathotep in this post. The campaign isn’t perfect – notably, the Australia chapter (which was added later) is extremely weak. However, it has had a huge influence on all Cthulhu Mythos gaming and its influence is found even in the Arkham Horror LCG, albeit not overtly as yet.

FFG’s first steps – the Arkham Horror Board Game

Back in 1987, the first edition of the Arkham Horror Board Game was released. I haven’t played it, but it was by all accounts very different to the Arkham Files universe that we know today, with roll-to-move similar to Cluedo and a rather rudimentary-looking board – though it did mark the first appearance of many of the investigators in our game today. However, it does include the Silver Twilight Lodge as a location, where gates might spawn. Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to say about it, but this game was the first incarnation of what would become the Arkham Horror files and it already namechecks the Silver Twilight – which will be a continuing feature as we fast forward a couple of decades…

FFG starts its Cthulhu obsession

In 2004, Chaosium licensed FFG to produce the Call of Cthulhu Collectible Card Game. Unlike our beloved Arkham Horror LCG, it was a competitive game – players had decks with characters, support cards and events and attempted to win stories – this approach means that a group of Miskatonic Students could win over a horde of Mythos monsters by finishing their investigation before they all went mad or died, and notably, except for a handful of milling strategies and unusual alternative win conditions, the game was not a direct conflict where players attempted to defeat each other like in Magic: the Gathering or the previous Chaosium lovecraftian card game Mythos, but instead was a competition over, essentially, victory points in the form of mysteries to solve. In this incarnation of the card game, it was a CCG and not an LCG – outside of starter decks, players acquired cards randomly via booster packs. The Silver Twilight appeared here as well on a number of cards such as Lord of the Silver Twilight or Silver Twilight Turncoat, continuing the theme of a villainous cultist organisation, and our friend Carl Stanford was likewise present. These cards were aligned with the Cthulhu faction (and not the Yog Sothoth faction). There’s not really much to say about this, either – they had cultisty powers and were in league with Cthulhu. What is interesting is that this game had a much more pulpy theme than the RPG (not that the Call of Cthulhu RPG isn’t pulpy), with organised criminals hiring sorcerers and sending hit squads after deep ones, an agency of investigators shotgun-blasting monsters in the streets, and gods and nightmares striding the earth, opposed by humans. We’ll revisit the Call of Cthulhu Card Game and expand upon this pulpy theme when it makes the jump to the LCG format below…

Arkham Horror goes mainstream

In 2005, the second edition of Arkham Horror was launched. It’s fair to say that this was one of the cornerstones of FFG’s rapid rise to dominance in the board gaming world, and it was the first entry in what has now become the Arkham Files series and universe. I won’t devote much space to explaining the mechanics or nature of the game, as it will likely be familiar to many – in brief, gates appear across Arkham (and later Innsmouth and Dunwich – there was also a Kingsport expansion but technically gates didn’t spawn there), and it’s your job to close them and seal away the Ancient One with investigators wielding guns, magic, various familiar trinkets and items, and so on. Interestingly, this game marks the point where the Silver Twilight becomes a different kind of organisation within the broad narrative. The Silver Twilight Lodge is a location in the game, with a double purpose. Players can have encounters in the lodge where they rub shoulders with Lodge members, eavesdrop on secret conversations or steal useful items, or they can be offered membership – which allows access to Inner Sanctum encounters instead. These encounters see players enjoying support from influential fellow members or arcane resources – but also sees them take part in powerful rituals and hunts that directly help combat the destructive forces out to destroy Arkham, by closing gates and destroying enemies.

The Silver Twilight still does horrible things – monsters roam their halls, and you can be beaten or worse if you show disloyalty. It’s implied that the Silver Twilight might bear responsibility for the events in Arkham – Diana Stanley, the Redeemed Cultist certainly seems to think so, and she has secretly turned her back on the Order to oppose it, believing it to be evil. But in this incarnation it is no longer an unambiguous force for evil, but instead morally ambiguous, corrupt and yet helping to save Arkham. It’s led by Carl Stanford – who is definitely a nasty person, subjecting you to terrible beatings or horrifying experiences to test your suitability or punish you for failing to pay your fees, but is also willing to help you out with material resources and information.

The first Cthulhu LCG

I got my hands on about 250 sleeves with this art when Arkham LCG first came out…

In 2008, FFG switched the Call of Cthulhu CCG over to its LCG model and restarted it from scratch. The mechanics were essentially the same but it used the LCG format we know and love, retaining the seven factions of Yog Sothoth (purple, powerful spells, arcane power, combos, Yithians, milling enemies), Cthulhu (green, strong combat, horror, Deep Ones, enemy card destruction), Hastur (yellow, control, effect cancellation, horror and insanity, artists and lunatics), Shub Niggurath (red, lots of monsters, resource ramp, resurrecting characters, Dark Young and Mi-Go), the Agency (blue, detectives, powerful fighters, enemy card destruction, church and priests, government and police), the Miskatonic University (brown, students and professors, quick investigation, disposable characters, card draw) and the Syndicate (black, criminals, decent combat ability, control and card neutralisation, high skill), which could be freely mixed and matched to create decks like scientists supporting police investigations, researchers driven mad by Hastur, criminals allied with deep ones and so on.

Initially, it continued the previous approach of the Silver Twilight as a villainous force, with the cards Lord of the Silver Twilight, Silver Twilight Temptress and Carl Stanford (Deathless Fanatic). This changed with a deluxe expansion called, appropriately enough, The Order of the Silver Twilight, which added a new human faction, coloured silver, concentrating on control, powerful arcane rituals, combos and making progress at any cost with lots of effects that sacrificed characters, lots of effects that triggered when you sacrifice characters and lots of disposable characters to sacrifice. This incarnation of the Silver Twilight was the most ambiguous so far. Its effects meant that it synergised well with Yog Sothoth (a lodge corrupted to its core), Miskatonic (rich patrons supporting research) and the Syndicate (political corruption and organised crime). The Silver Twilight Lodge was the focus of a new cycle immediately after the deluxe, with a story concentrating on a young dilettante going to a Lodge party and ending up in way, way over her head. While the story isn’t available on FFG’s website, I was very kindly sent a scan of the Rituals of the Order fiction by Carthoris. I have to say, it hasn’t aged particularly well and should be mentioned with a content warning for attempted sexual assault, but it is an interesting curio nevertheless.

As the fourth human faction, the Silver Twilight were not aligned directly to the Mythos, and they had a Senator and a government metaphysicist (who are namechecked in the Circle Undone announcement article), the local mayor, warrior and sorcerers, police connections, an elite inner circle of the enlightened and were apparently masterminded by one Clifton Rosenberg. Later cycles broadened the scope of the game to the whole world, and the Silver Twilight had characters and cards from Egypt to China, Mesoamerica to Antarctica, Greece to the South Pacific – confirming that, as in the RPG, the Silver Twilight was a global network with the Hermetic Order in New England as merely one aspect. However, they still had their secret underground prison and their army of resurrected guard-enforcers from Shadows of Yog Sothoth and still featured Carl Stanford – with his new subtitle of Sinister, not necessarily evil – fully underlining their thoroughly morally ambiguous nature.

To me, this is the most interesting variation of the Silver Twilight, where it isn’t clear whether they’re a benevolent, powerful organisation, or a group seizing power in the chaos of mythos disasters, or a group ultimately responsible for them whether through recklessness or intent; how long have they been behind the scenes, pulling the strings, and is their assistance worth the risk – or can you afford to ignore it? A few named characters from the LCG make their appearance in The Circle Undone, and if the preview for Return to the Circle Undone is any indication, there will be more such crossovers soon.

Going global with Eldritch Horror

Eldritch Horror, first released in 2013, is an evolution of the ideas behind the Arkham Horror board game, retaining the D6 dice pool system, the same characters, the idea of gates spawning at locations and so on, but streamlining it with a greater emphasis both on story and on mechanical balance. The scope is broadened from everything happening in Arkham and surroundings (Arkham being like Cardiff in Torchwood, or Sunnydale in Buffy…) to the whole world, with investigators battling global conspiracies and having to combat plots specific to the mythos disaster taking place rather than playing whack-a-mole with gates all game. I’m a big fan, in case it isn’t clear. The moral ambiguity of the Arkham Horror board game is back, too. A great many effects see the players enjoying boons from or making shady deals with the Silver Twilight, meaning that generally they are on the side of humanity – they can retreat doom to keep the Ancient One from awakening, empower you directly, or provide you with all kinds of useful resources. However, when Yog Sothoth threatens the world, Carl Stanford might lead the Lodge to temptation and even join with the mythos.

Outside of a few crucial encounters if Yog Sothoth is the Ancient One, the Lodge is consistently helpful, and though the flavour text often implies that they are dubious and arcane, you don’t even have to make eldritch pacts or pay dues to enjoy their assistance. The impression is that they have influence all over the world, are aware of the doom awaiting the world and your efforts to resist it, and are working behind the scenes to help. Most of the time.

Later incarnations – Arkham 3e and Mansions 2e

The Order of the Silver Twilight has become a fixture of the Arkham Files games by now, appearing in a big way in both the new edition of the Arkham Horror board game and the second edition of Mansions of Madness. In Mansions, there’s a pair of scenarios about the Silver Twilight Lodge as part of the dedicated expansion the Sanctum of Twilight – one that sees you imprisoned by the Order and another that features a ritual during the yearly Twilight Fair through the streets of Arkham. In Arkham 3e, the Order is the focal point of a scenario in the core set, the Veil of Twilight, that sees players join the Lodge and (a familiar theme) get in over their heads. It seems that the Lodge will return in the upcoming Secrets of the Order expansion as well – where one scenario will apparently focus on the HOST.

Mansions of Madness Second Edition also saw the release of Preston Fairmont (who since appeared in Eldritch Horror: Masks of Nyarlathotep, Elder Sign: Omens of the Pharaoh, and of course in the LCG in The Circle Undone). The backstory of The Millionaire ties directly into the Silver Twilight Lodge as part of the mystery behind his fortune and the more esoteric elements of his inheritance.

Since both Arkham 3e and Mansions 2e have dedicated expansions focusing on the Order, it’s clear that it’s become a central point of the Arkham Files world. That said, the appearance of the Order in both games is something of a step back in terms of characterisation – they’re ultimately villains, even if through megalomaniacal schemes for the supposed benefit of humanity rather than simple malice, bringing the Order more in line with their portrayal in the RPG (albeit with a bit more nuance) rather than the ambiguity introduced in earlier FFG products. Perhaps that’s simply a function of the design of those two games, though.

The Arkham Horror LCG

Our own game saw the influence of the Silver Twilight as early as the core set, in the form of the Silver Twilight Acolyte. This enemy is a weakness with the Cultist, Silver Twilight and Humanoid traits, and he causes a small amount of physical damage – but has the punishing effect of adding doom directly to the agenda when he attacks. At first glance this seems unambiguously evil, but on second glance it’s a bit more nuanced than that. The flavour text indicates that the Acolyte is hunting you down because you learned – or stole – terrible secrets regarding the Silver Twilight, and the organisation needs to silence you. This could mean that you know they intend to destroy the world, but could also mean that you saw them sacrificing someone in a ritual (hardly a good-guy thing to do, but when we as investigators can sacrifice our allies or even stab our fellow investigators to fulfil the terms of eldritch blood pacts, being too judgemental might be hypocritical). You might even simply know relatively mundane secrets – like political corruption.

Either way, the Silver Twilight is certainly reckless in sending an Acolyte after you, as they’re preventing you saving Arkham and the world from otherwise certain doom, but the same is true of the misguided Stubborn Detective, who will follow you to Paris, Central America, Carcosa or Beyond Time and Space to get his collar, and the Mob Enforcer, who is truly motivated to get you to pay your gambling debts.

In The Circle Undone expansion, both Investigators with ties to the HOST – Diana Stanley and Preston Fairmont – were added to the roster and have the Silver Twilight trait. Investigator traits haven’t been explored a great deal (though there is a point where their Silver Twilight trait could matter in TCU), but that may be something expanded on later, who can say?

The campaign itself starts with a prologue set at a fancy dinner party thrown by the Lodge. Throughout the campaign, they can be helpful, suspicious and powerful all at once. It’s up to you as a player – and the whims of fate, of course – to decide how far you trust them. Any more than that would give things away but I will close by saying this: The Lodge of The Circle Undone is still rather ambiguous, and their silver facade conceals a thoroughly grey moral bearing. Just as it should be.

———-

To summarise and conclude, over its 39 years of existence, the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight has been an apocalyptic cult of destruction, a force for good, an ambiguous and influential international conspiracy, and a cabal of sorcerers trying to undo their mistakes. How you interpret the Lodge in TCU is up to you. And I hope you’ll join me in Returning to The Circle Undone once it releases.

Stay safe out there in Arkham. The glow of twilight can be worse than the dark of night…

One thought on “A Potted History of the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight (repost)

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