by Jeff Wikstrom
Imagine a place of chess, a dimension of chess, a plane of chess. A place where the rules of chess are the laws of nature, and a rook can't move diagonally any more than a penguin can fly. A place without light, or gravity, or oxygen, or anything else not specified in the rules of chess.
In 1927, Nemeniah Lindsey glimpsed such a place. Prior to his vision, he had been unmotivated, directionless, and bored, but all that changed the night of April 30, 1927. Lindsey, then a playboy of 29 staying in his father's townhouse in New York, had just returned home from a night out with friends and had just stepped into his father's library when he suddenly screamed and collapsed. The household, roused by the sound, found him lying on the floor on his back, staring up at a chess-set on a nearby table. He later reported a "curious sense of Nirvana," a feeling that "somewhere, everything made sense. . . somewhere, there was only orderly peace. . . only chess."
The heir of a sizable oil fortune, he quickly set about trying to recapture his dream and the feeling of timeless, orderly peace that had so briefly fulfilled him. Lindsey took to The Game like a madman, quickly learning the basic rules and with astonishing speed mastering conventional strategies.
His friends first scoffed at his new fancy, but gradually a few of them began to pick up his zeal. In 1929, they founded the Chess Advancement Society of America, or CASA. Its mission was singular, its method twofold.
Lindsey, in his mania, had constructed a sophisticated belief system. There is, he postulated, a place of chess, a place where all the physics could be deduced from the simple and easily memorized rules of chess. Further, he declared it possible for a sufficiently disciplined mind to, through a rigorous regimen of chess and meditation on chess, pierce the infinite distance between the Earth and that place of chess, creating a gateway to chess.
Nemeniah Lindsey's long-term goal was nothing less than traveling bodily to the place of chess, there to dwell in its "orderly peace" forever. To this end, he created the non-profit CASA, with the two-pronged agenda of promoting chess in popular culture and supporting chess masters in their ascetic life of meditation. Lindsey died in 1963, but the CASA lives on.
Today over five hundred thousand dues-paying members support it, including a disproportionate percentage of the US's wealthiest citizens and upper class.
Most of these rank-and-file members know nothing of the grandiose designs of the CASA's elite, and merely participate in sanctioned tournaments or subscribe to the newsletter. The same spark of fervor that first inspired Lindsey in 1927 and still powers the organization, however, has touched nearly all of them. These "touched" members are fervently loyal to the CASA, willing to give of their time and money to support the group and its cause. Some work for the CASA full-time, maintaining clubhouses and running tournaments and conventions for a trivial salary. Chess-players not "touched" tend to drop out of the group after a few weeks or months, finding the group to be "extremely creepy."
The group is strictly hierarchical, divided into a dozen numbered ranks. Rank is determined not by seniority or level of donation, but solely by performance at the officially sanctioned chess tournaments the CASA holds regularly. Casually, these ranks affect little, though a member who has been "touched by the dream" (i.e., suffers the Fanaticism (CASA) disadvantage) will always defer to a higher-ranked player. At the highest levels, the CASA is organized like a corporation, with an executive officer and a board of regional directors. This board of directors, though the de facto heads of the group, are not its most highly-ranked members. That honor goes to the Grandmasters.
The Grandmasters form the second prong of the CASA's attempt to pierce the veil between the known world and the world of chess. These expert players (all with a skill of 21 or higher) live Spartan lives in CASA-supported private grounds, where they spend all their time playing and studying chess. Though they make no policy decisions, the Grandmasters are revered as the spiritual head of the Chess Advancement Society of America.
Financially, the CASA is well-served. The group maintains a clubhouse in nearly every major city in North America, though some are little more than a ranch house with a dozen cheap plastic sets on card tables. The CASA is particularly well-established in the public education system; nearly every high school has a small but dedicated chess club. The annual budget for the organization is not large, but in a time of need, the CASA can draw on the resources of nearly any member.
ST: 10  Basic Damage Thrust: 1d-2 Swing: 1d
DX: 11  Dodge: 4 Parry: n/a Block: n/a
IQ: 15  Basic Speed: 4.75 Move: 4
HT: 8 [-15]
Advantages: Claim to Hospitality (CASA members nationwide) , Patron (the CASA: moderately powerful; almost all the time) , Single-Minded .
Disadvantages: Bad Sight (correctable) [-10], Fanaticism (Chess and the CASA) [-15], Oblivious [-3], Obsession (playing chess) [-10], Unattractive (nerdy) [-5].
Quirks: Always looks tired [-1], Extremely nervous when confronted with black-and-white checkered pattern outside a chessboard [-1].
Skills: Chess-25* , Driving/TL7 (Automobile)-10 , Mathematics-15 , Nuclear Physics/TL7-16 , Physics/TL7-15 , Teaching-13 .
Languages: English-15 (Native), German-15 
* If Chess is considered a hobby skill in the campaign, the 20 points spent would count double, giving Alice an effective Chess skill level of 35!
Alice is a former physics professor recruited into the Grandmasters. Currently she spends almost all her time at the CASA's main office in New York, where she obsessively reads transcripts of historic matches and plays games with herself. At night she dreams of chess, a dark landscape of geometric precision.
An outsider might be surprised to learn that the CASA is solidly opposed to the use of computers in chess. They reason that no machine could ever achieve the transcendent state of mind they assume is necessary to reach chess. So far their actions have been limited to propaganda against the "soulless automatons" who defeat their brightest public lights, but if current trends continue, the CASA might be forced to take more direct action.
What is the secret of the CASA? How do its leaders inspire such loyalty, not to any individual, but to an admittedly cold and sterile ideal? What would happen if a Grandmaster somehow succeeded in "opening a way to chess?" Here are four different answers, for four different kinds of games.
- In a "straight" GURPS Illuminati game, the CASA is essentially a piece of zany window-dressing the Secret Masters use to hide their tracks. Investigators coming too close to discovering the truth are diverted to these mad chessmen, who, thanks to the manipulations of the Illuminati, form an above-ground secret society with deep connections and an inscrutable goal. The board of directors, like Lindsey himself, are patsies manipulated from afar with Tibetan Mind Magic and Orgone rays: there is no "place of chess" to reach, and the vision is a sham. Subliminal messages played under the muzak at tournaments are the source of the fanatical loyalty of members.
- In an In Nomine game, the CASA is the creation of Kropotkin, the Impudite Demon of Alienation and Servitor of Kronos. High-ranking members of the CASA are Soldiers of Hell, and they use various Songs to instill loyalty in the flock. These Soldiers, too, are being played for fools: they believe they serve the Spirit of Chess, an ineffable being whose home is the mythical "place of chess." Every Grandmaster who becomes unable to relate to anything but a chess-board advances the Word a little further.
- In a game of Cosmic Horror and Lovecraftian dread, the CASA is a secret cult of the Outer Gods. An "opening to the place of chess" would signal the death-knell for humanity, for it would be an opening through which the Great Ones could reach Earth and gain dominion over all. The board of directors, like the Grandmasters, are almost all totally mad, the result of having been touched by a higher power. It's only a matter of time until their mad ritualized chess-games have the desired effect and an army of Implacable Pawns from Beyond Space-Time, Knights of the Outer Gods, and Rooks of Azathoth overrun the earth. . . unless someone stops them.
- Finally, it's just barely possible, in a sufficiently weird and Illuminated game, that the CASA is genuinely on to something. Lindsey's vision was the result of a thousand years of slow build-up of belief, a weakening of the walls between this world and the next. The fiery meme of the place of chess spreads because it is true, and the human mind craves Truth. Lindsey himself did not die; he ascended into Chess. And he was only the first: several Grandmasters reach the same state of perfect contemplation every year. As yet, the goal of a permanent portal to the otherness of chess has not been realized, but progress is made every year. The Nine Secret Masters of Shangri-La would pay dearly to learn the Truth behind this strange path to ascension, but so far the secrets of the CASA remain its own.
In any case, the CASA can make a dangerous foe if provoked. Though its organization is hierarchical, and its head is poorly defended, the loss of the New York compound would do little more than frighten the regional managers and day-to-day personnel, not to mention the low-level members.
It's hard to kill a dream.
And the remainder of the CASA would launch a counterattack in short order.
It's important to keep in mind that the group can, in times of crisis, call on the resources of any of its fanatical followers, most of whom are upper-middle class, highly skilled professionals. By its very nature, the CASA has at its disposal a complex web of operatives, all of whom are fanatically loyal, trust one another implicitly, are relied on by society, and cannot be compromised. An fanatical accountant has no qualms embezzling funds from her employer "for the cause." A fanatical judge finds in favor of the equally fanatical man whose lapel-pin is in the shape of a pawn. A fanatical multimillionaire dying of cancer makes the CASA his sole heir. A fanatical college student calmly drives a rental truck loaded with explosives into the side of a building full of the CASA's enemies.
Its principal weakness, of course, is a lack of communication among these operatives. Other than a master database of rankings and the CASA's newsletter subscription list, both of which are kept at the main New York headquarters, the group has no official roster. If the head of a local chapter finds his address book destroyed, he's going to have a hard time contacting his subordinates. He might know a few of them by name, but the chess-intensive lifestyle is not conducive to a social network.
- A friend of the player-characters (or even one of their number) a renowned expert on an obscure branch of science, is introduced to, and joins, the CASA. The members are friendly enough, but. . . strange. Over a period of weeks, the organization begins to make demands on the character's time and knowledge: calling him or her in the middle of the night to confirm that in a hypothetical eight-dimensional semi-structured matrix of non-space, time does not function quasi-relativistically. Interest is piqued: why does a chess club want to know about quantum physics?
- A sudden wave of anti-chess hysteria sweeps the nation after a well-known master player is found, victim of suicide. "Think of the children" editorials decrying the game fill the newspapers, Internet, and cable news channels. On close examination, however, some evidence suggests the suicide was actually a homicide. Is someone raising public opinion against the CASA, and if so, who? Why isn't the CASA countering with its members in the media?
- An associate of the player-characters, a low-ranking member of the CASA, suddenly disappears. On investigation it becomes clear she went willingly: her bank accounts have been cleared out and a suitcase is missing. Research suggests she's only the latest in a string of missing persons, all of whom can be linked to the CASA. Where are these people going, and why?
- One of the world preeminent experts on artificial intelligence contacts the PCs in hopes they can defend her from mysterious assassins who dress in white and black. The CASA has an obvious motivation. . . is it too obvious? Are they being framed? Is this a setup? Why doesn't the "expert on artificial intelligence" look like her passport photo?
- The CASA hires the player-characters to search for a missing member. Curiously, the chess-player disappeared more than three years ago, but a search is only just now being mounted. . . or so the CASA says. Why did they wait so long? What's really going on?
- It was inevitable: first high-school chess clubs, then junior high. Now the CASA is lobbying for chess to be a part of the elementary school curriculum. Why now, and why is the Department of Education so dead-set against it? Does it have something to do with the new afterschool cartoon, "Bishop and Queenie?"
* * *
The CASA is based (VERY!) loosely on the real-life United States Chess Federation, which maintains an excellent web site at http://www.uschess.org. Scott McCloud's equally excellent comic strip "My Obsession with Chess" formed the primary inspiration for this article, and can be viewed at http://www.scottmccloud.com/comics/chess/chess.html. Another view of chess can be found in Ken Hite's "Suppressed Transmission" for August 21, 1998.
Article publication date: August 11, 2000
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