Apocalyptic Log
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They have taken the bridge and the second hall. We have barred the gates but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes, drums… drums in the deep. We cannot get out. A shadow lurks in the dark. We can not get out… they are coming.

- the apocalyptic log from Fellowship of the Ring

Basic Information

The Apocalyptic Log is a journal, video diary, or research notes that contains clues to whatever Cosmic Horror (or other evil) has been unleashed upon the earth. It's a first hand account of some terrible truth that's been discovered, or the great evil a mad scientist unleashed (whether by intent or accident). Frequently, this will include a report right up to the gory end, the entry where the narrator/author/cameraman dies.

Any fool can tell it'd be natural, sensible and logical for someone to quit writing and run for their lives at some point, but that's not the way it works in fiction. So sayeth the trope. The satirical version will typically end with the word "aaargh", whereas more serious ones often terminate with a note that the writer is about to take some action … either deliberately suicidal ("…well I'm not going out like they did. I've still got a couple of bullets left. If you find this, tell my wife I love her.") or which will turn out to have lead to the same end ("I can't just abandon them - I have to know if they are still alive down there. I have decided to get the remainder of the team together and re-enter the cave to find out."). More sinister logs will reflect mental and/or physical degeneration on the part of the author - longer gaps between entries, a collapse of spelling, grammar and sentence structure and a tendency to wander off topic. Deterioration of handwriting in a written log, poor typing in a typed one and slurred speech can all be indicators as well. Physically a hard copy log may be stained with blood or other fluids. Sudden changes in style are good ways to indicate possession (whether hand writing, grammar and vocabulary or accent - or even a sudden loss of typing skills. A different date format would be a very subtle flag - or not, if the author moves to a radically different calendar ("days after X…" might be a good unsubtle one1). Also sinister is where the writer appears fully competent to the end but records a growing tally of conspiracies against them by the rest of their group and the measures that they were "required to take" to avert them.

Related Tropes:
Distress Call
Fling A Light Into The Future
Gone Horribly Wrong
Message In A Bottle
Video Will
Write Back To The Future

Sources

Bibliography
2. short article about how protagonists in the works of H.P. Lovecraft keep writing their journals right up to the moment they die. A lot of Lovecraft's stories take the format of an apocalyptic log.

Game and Story Use

  • If the PCs are Late To The Party, a convenient apocalyptic log may help them figure out what horror they are facing, and how it all started.
    • There's a number of ways to handle this, and they range from ginning up a fancy prop, to providing a short verbal synopsis, to having them roll an investigative skill to cut right to the important parts. The correct approach depends on the style of game you're running. Is it meant to be moody and horrific? Then make a creepy prop. Does everybody expect the heroes to save the day? Then just cut the crap and dole out the clues.
  • A pessimistic PC or NPC who expects the party to fail and die may start recording one of these as a warning to those who face this evil later. Most likely, this is just a fun little character embellishment, and a way to annoy the other characters.
    • However, should things go badly and end in a Total Party Kill, such a log might allow the campaign to continue. The GM advances the time line by some measure, and the replacement PCs are the rescue party, or future explorers who find the deceased PCs' apocalyptic log.
  • Lab notebooks and the like work particularly well for this - having done a certain amount of lab accident investigation, this arcanist is well aware of the tendency of scientists to keep making notes even when there are other things they should probably be doing (including evacuating the area).
    • Autopsy notes on one of those voice recorders can be even more so.
  • This can also be done with a series of increasingly desperate messages left on a voicemail - or in an email outbox or something.
  • If you fancy a teaser episode, have your PCs play a set of disposable characters before the main game begins (a sort of "twenty minutes with jerks") - maybe even advertise it as a one-shot and encourage at least one of them to make journal notes. Some time later, have their real PCs run into the place the scrag party died.
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