Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon contains a massive secret. The Steam/mobile game, in which you play as a spider bobbing and weaving through a mysteriously abandoned mansion, has a story that you, as a spider, are under no obligation to give a shit about. You as a person, however, can dig into all sorts of little details — portraits, symbols, footprints, secret passages, closets full of delicious, delicious moths (some people might like moths; I won't judge). But that's just the beginning.
Spider takes place in Blackbird Estate, a Scooby-Doo-worthy pad once home to a secret society even the family living there didn't know about. The place? Fictional. The secret society? Real as you and me. Probably.
They called themselves The Knights of the Buried Chambers, and they were likely active during the 18th and 19th centuries. Upon discovering a lone mention of them in Spider's credits, a small handful of players decided to do some digging. They began discussing the game's deeper secrets in a Touch Arcade forum thread. Their first major finding? A, er, LiveJournal page. Yeah, this secret society is old school.
Seriously though, the LiveJournal page — dated May 10th, 2005 — is an educational summary of the obscure secret society's history. It reads:
"For over a hundred years they conducted their affairs and spread their numbers throughout Europe and Colonial America. Yet they never captured the public's attention as did the Freemasons or Illuminati. At first glance they have much in common with these and other secret societies of the time: Esoteric doctrine, clandestine initiation rituals, the usual hierarchical power structure. They even overlap in membership! The numerous similarities have caused some confusion for those seeking answers. But when we take a closer look at the Knights of the Buried Chambers, many unique and tantalising mysteries emerge."
Information on The Knights is sparse. Back in their heyday, rumours suggested that they'd uncovered some sort of secret to eternal youth, but that — like every other rumour of eternal youth in the whole of human history — is likely hogwash. The Knights were, however, verifiably good at one thing: keeping secrets. Members spied on other members to make sure none of their closely guarded tenets got out, and they used multiple code languages, which they would sometimes switch between mid-sentence. "Their dedication to secrecy is now a burden to us," reads the LiveJournal entry. "The lack of dependable and varied sources is maddening." The Knights disappeared in the 19th century, and nobody knows why.
Or so the LiveJournal entry says. At first, players thought it was BS. I mean, a single web result? In the year 2015? That automatically means something is fake, right? Plus, there's doubt as to whether the LiveJournal entry is really from 2005. But the small group of players did more digging, and they uncovered a technology long thought lost: their local library. Turns out, you can find mentions of The Knights in a book called Separating Fact From Myth Concerning Secrets Kept From The Public Knowledge, which was published in 1975. Allegedly.
One player searched a term frequently referred to (though not well explained) in The Knights' writing, "Gazophylacium Subterraneum," and found a bizarre website covered in blank spaces for word entry. It's called Qoesco.com. Its first page reads:
Friend, I have arrived. Outside these gates I grovel in BLINDNESS but within I live again in LIGHT.
I approach in _____ , REVERENCE, and above all _____ .
The _____ Knight grants my passage. I speak his name to HONOUR him:
Prince _____ of _____-_____, I ask for your TRUST.
I approach of my own accord, in memory of my solemn promises, without FEAR or apprehension but with a mind that is JUST and set toward acts of VIRTUE.
And then, at the bottom, a button: "THEREFORE MAY I ENTER?"
Remember when I said that other thing was just the beginning? Well, this is the real just the beginning. What follows seems to be an initiation ritual to become a Knight, but it's all very strange and obtuse.
It's pretty clear at this point that the website is part of a game. However, unlike an Alternate Reality Game (ARG), this one is rooted in actual reality — a secret society that really existed, that really did make their trade in infuriatingly obtuse mysteries. Even though players started trying to figure out the mystery weeks ago, they still haven't gotten to the bottom of it.
Their journey has led them to all sorts of historical sources, in and out of Spider, primarily centering around a scan of a coded letter and multiple pages on the Qoesco site. They have uncovered allusions to historical folk figures like Knecht Ruprecht (who, as it turns out, made some appearances in Spider) and cracked goddamn code languages using multiple cipher methods.
Some of the cipher methods were traditional (read: simple stuff like the Vigenere cipher) while others came from things like bizarre in-game achievements, some of which players aren't entirely sure how they unlocked. Another part of that same cipher came from symbols in The Most Holy Trinosophia of the Comte de St. Germain, a text from 1963. Players found a location in Spider to enter those symbols, resulting in more clues.
Solving one of Qoesco's deepest pages resulted in an especially compelling hint: allusions to the town of Brattleboro, Vermont. The catch? They need to know things about the place that only residents can find out. Things like this (per Qoesco):
Pertaining to Brattleboro, town where the feet of all those of Three Sides of the Reformed Colonial Temple of Knights of the Buried Chambers have trod.
The foundation just past the Wells Fountain, uphill but before the courtyard, may have once supported the house of E.J. _______ who became librarian in the year _______.
The number of locks on the door of the most haunted tower are _______.
Visit The Abbot of Canal St. and ask for his number. It is _______.
Pay your respects to George J, and his closest family members:
his _____ born March 5 ______,
his ______ born June 20 ______,
and _____ his born June 13 ______ .
In his last will and testament, originally signed in the month _____ of in the year ______ George J names the place between the present day _______ Center and the _____ Office declaring that it "shall always be for the use and _______ of the said Town of Brattleboro and its ______ and shall ______ be used for any other purpose than a public ______."
Even dedicated players have their limits. In lieu of flying to Vermont (which people haven't entirely ruled out), one player started a thread on the Vermont subreddit, requesting aid in this increasingly convoluted puzzle. A few people have come to their aid, but at the moment players are still stuck. It's been a few days now.
So, what now? What's going on? Where is any of this going? What the hell was up with The Knights of the Buried Chambers, and why did they disappear? I spoke with with Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon creative director Randy Smith in hopes of learning more. He was cagey, but he was willing to divulge a few details.
First off, he said that The Knights of the Buried Chambers absolutely were real. "I put this together as an ongoing research project that spanned a couple years," he told me. "It happened in little bursts, when I was in the right place and had time to do research... My research turned into an adventure which had me seeking clues on graves, decrypting authentic centuries-old manuscripts in foreign languages, reading mysterious engravings on the sides of buildings, and searching a forested mountain range for old ruins. I hereby pledge to you that I really did all that, in inconvenient, uncomfortable real life, not some virtual internet thing. Zero Wikipedia entries were edited."
The secret code language? Also completely real. The Knights used it; Smith just added it to his game. "Secret societies really did have the cool stuff that we try to invent for video games," he explained. "I didn't have to invent one here. I found this cipher created by a real-world secret society, and then I put things in the game so you can go do real world research, find the origins of the cipher alphabet, and then decrypt it yourself."
As for Brattleboro, well, it's definitely important. He told me he travelled there for his research, and that it has "some really good history." Beyond that, he wouldn't divulge much else. He said that, on the whole, players on the right track, and they have even surprised him by finding ways to expedite the process — for instance by putting the code language into an online tool that figures out ciphers without having a key. (Pre-World-War-II, these things were considered un-crackable. Now anybody can do it. It's kinda nuts.) Players are getting really close to uncovering the secret about The Knights of the Buried Chambers that Smith, himself, uncovered in his travels. They're almost there.
Or are they? Smith said he wants players to draw their own conclusions.
"There's varying layers of truth here," he said. "There's definitely centuries-old manuscripts that were written by this secret society. That is clearly true. No one can argue that. But what those people believed about what they were writing — did they think they actually knew magic spells? — I'm not really sure."
"What I really hope to do is let debates [about which parts of the game are and aren't real] continue," he said. "I really like that people are like, 'Oh no, this book is clearly fake.' But then people find evidence that suggests it might not be. Or originally, when people found the cipher alphabet, they thought someone just made it up. I like that ambiguity. That's true of secret societies in general, and it's also true of mysteries. One of the things I wanted to accomplish is to get people wondering — get them to a place where they're less smugly certain of what's real and what's not. I think we live in a society where, due to the availability of information, it makes us all think there's no mysteries left. But I think that's very untrue."