Publications in 2020 and 2021

As 2021 starts speeding by, we thought we’d take a quick look at what we wrote in 2020, as we sure didn’t write many blog posts.

Presciently, I wrote a short story about a plague. Meanwhile, Mark’s scenario, ‘The Crack’d and Crook’d Mansion’ reappeared, about being doomed inside a house. It was almost like we were prepping for staying home for a year.

Horror on the Orient Express reprint

Best news first. The train is coming back!

Horror on the Orient Express will soon be available again, as a hardcover reprint of the exact text from the boxed set. A completely revised full-colour version is on the distant Chaosium schedule, but not expected for 2 or 3 years, and it was too long for it to be entirely out of print. As MOB sagely observes, ‘HotOE is a fantastic campaign, and it shouldn’t have to be purchased at collector prices by people who just want to read or play it.’

Chaosium have made a few layout tweaks, and managed to squeeze six softbacks full of horror into two hardbacks and a poster map. They even have a Print on Demand version to save postage. My period Travelers Guide (by my esteemed psedonym P.E. Jensen) will be available as a standalone PDF and POD.

Apart from helping with a few typos, our work here was done. We’re delighted to see the return of the old blue train.

Sisterhood

Chaosium are relaunching their fiction program under the helm of industry veteran and just incredibly nice fellow James Lowder, and a new short story collection is on the way: Sisterhood: Dark Tales and Secret Histories, edited by Nate Pedersen. The theme of the collection is stories set in female religious communities.

After we’d finished Horror on the Orient Express, I realised I still had some loose ends to follow [campaign spoiler follows!] and so picked up some ideas we had about why there is no Brotherhood of the Skin chapter in Venice, and ran with an order of nuns guarding dread tomes in the plague-struck and decaying city in the 14th century.

My story is titled “Unburdened Flesh“. There are plenty of other dark and dreadful tales in the collection by genre luminaries, Nadia Bulkin, Livia Llewellyn, Molly Tanzer, Sun Yung Shin, and Damien Angelica Walters. It was an honour to be included among them.

The book is almost ready but the cover is now revealed, so feast your eyes.

Cover By Liv Rainey-Smith And Inkspiral Designs.
Sisterhood. Cover by Liv Rainey-Smith and Inkspiral Designs

Mansions of Madness Volume 1: Behind Closed Doors

Mansions of Madness was a classic Call of Cthulhu anthology in the 1990s. Chaosium have updated it for 7th edition and are releasing a series, starting with Mansions of Madness Volume 1: Behind Closed Doors with three classic scenarios and two new scenarios. Mark was delighted that his ‘Crack’d and Crook’d Manse’ was one of the two classic scenarios chosen to lead off, and even more thrilled that Lee Gibbons has once again done a stunning cover.

We feel entitled to the title of ‘classic’ ourselves. We all play-tested this one in our university days, and they are long, long, long ago now.

Mansions of Madness Volume 1: Behind Closed Doors. Cover by Lee Gibbons.

Haunted West

Mark’s favourite Call of Cthulhu publication of recent times is Harlem Unbound by Chris Spivey, and Chris contributed new material on Harlem for the reprint of “Dead-Man Stomp” in the new Call of Cthulhu starter set.

So, Mark has written a scenario for Chris’s brand new roleplaying game Haunted West, about the Western heroes that history has overlooked. We’re both huge Western fans, and for several years we watched a Western every Tuesday night with our good friends Ching Yee and James. (My favourite Western is Rio Bravo but I’ll probably change my mind in a minute; Mark holds firm with The Gunfighter, because Gregory Peck.) Haunted West will appear later this year.

Haunted West cover, by Kurt Komoda, for Darker Hue Studios

Other games writing

I have written three Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition scenarios set in Barovia that Mark is playtesting and editing (more on those soon), and Mark has been finishing his work on Reign of Terror 2. Plus we have been doing some other things as yet announced that we look forwards to sharing.

The Three Dungeoneers

On a lighter note, I write very silly short stories around our Campaign Coins company mascots, Dhum the dwarf, Avariss the half-elf and Hazzard the barbarian. The idea is that they are always heading into dungeons to get treasure and then losing it as soon as they come out. The meta-idea is that the stories are the result of a fantasy roleplaying game campaign where the world is serious and the GM is serious but the players are idiots.

We took our two collections The Three Dungeoneers and The Other Dungeoneers to the last actual convention we attended, Supa Nova Comic Con & Gaming in Melbourne in early March 2020. The crowd was already thining as the implications of COVID-19 were sinking in, and everything and everyone was awash with hand sanitizer, but we still had fun. We all miss the community of playing games and we hope we can all get together in conventions again soon.

The Three Dungeoneers & The Other Dungeoneers, cover art by Lynda Mills

Through 2020 I’ve been working on the third book in the series, The Anti Dungeoneers, which we will publish later in 2021. In tough times we all need a laugh, so here’s one, gratis.

Avariss was left to roam Temple Street alone, which normally she wouldn’t mind, as it contained plenty of high-toned merchant emporiums and she loved nothing more than browsing through a silk bazaar when she was in funds. Sadly, all the liquid party assets were in Dhum’s padlocked money pouch, and no silk merchant who wanted to keep their stock in store would let a penniless adventurer linger nearby. She went back to the Builder’s Hall but Dhum and Hazzard failed to appear, even though she stood in the entrance and carolled their names in a variety of High Elvish tones until the Temple Guards insisted she move on or be arrested for crimes against song.

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Staying home and playing games

So, what were we doing last year when we weren’t blogging? Apart from the obvious one, staying alive. We actually played a lot in 2020, more so than any year before including the old days. It was a great way to stay in touch with distant locked-down friends and take our mind off things. It was all over Zoom, which is nowhere near the table experience, but it was still nice to see everyone’s faces. Here’s what we played. (Next blog, we’ll talk about what we wrote.)

Fifth edition D&D games

Mark ran a lot of DnD. A lot. He ran Eberron for the nephews, played in a regular Acquisitions Inc game, and playtested the Barovian scenarios I have been writing for publication on the DMs Guild (more about those in a future post).

With our regular group he ran a scenario from the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (I think so that he could geek out over the Deven Rue map), and then we journeyed to the Menagerie Coast where he located The Sea King’s Malice, a seagoing scenario by Alex Kammer. This was a cracking salty sea voyage of a book and just the tonic for troubled times.

I created a new character for the campaign, Meddy the Plague Doctor. She was all moody and seeking answers in death, but the fresh ocean breeze, fighting off sahuagin and meeting that strange elf who wanted to weave his sails from the hair of heroes, saw her change her tune. She turned into Meddy the Salty Sea Dog Doctor and was last seen at 10th level heading off into the Elemental Plane of Water, in the name of Science. I believe she has discovered meaning in life.

Meddy the Salty Sea Dog Plague Doctor

RuneQuest games

We’ve finally left the dragons in their dungeons and the sahuagin in the sea and returned to our roots, playing RuneQuest. Mark is running the new starting adventures as we all squint sadly at the tiny, tiny font on the character sheet for our armour and hit points. We are old. New RuneQuest characters are a lot more kick-arse than old Runequest characters. I’m kind of worried about that. Also, an alarming number of relatives seem to die during character generation. However I am looking forward to building a big name off a lost goddess, assuming Argrath doesn’t get us all killed first.

Fun fact: in the 1990s I wrote a Gloranthan novel called The Widow’s Tale, and a short story collection called Eurhol’s Vale, published by TradeTalk in Germany. There’s even a nice article about them on El Rune Blog.

Online events

Those were our home games, but Mark’s been streaming stuff too for all the virtual conventions last year.

Just before things closed down, Mark run a Reign of Terror live game at Arcanacon in Melbourne. The scenario was Le Berger by David Harris, and bad things happened at sea in 1793. He got to use Arkenforge, fancy virtual tabletop software.

For Gen Con Online, he was invited to run the 1980s Australian convention scenario “Black as Coal” originally written by John Coleman, and which Mark wrote up and set in Poland for Zew Cthulhu, the Polish edition of Call of Cthulhu from Black Monk Games. (The scenario will appear in English sometime down the road.) His players were the crew from the Ain’t Slayed Nobody podcast, including Rina Haenze from Poland who was able to correct his pronunciation! Things started well but ended… badly.

Speaking of monsters, Mark moderated a panel for PAX Online, “Describing the Indescribable: Keeping Your Monsters Fresh”, with amazing panellists Mike Mason (Call of Cthulhu editor, of course), Amanda Hamon (veteran of Paizo, Kobold Press, and now at Wizards of the Coast) and Becca Scott (who has been running marvellous Call of Cthulhu live plays on her Good Time Society channel). It was a great discussion on making monsters surprising and horrible, every time.

Despite all that DnD this year, Mark’s real D20 love is Shadow of the Demon Lord, a darker than dark fantasy RPG by Rob Schwalb. He ran a session of Demon Lord for The Saving Throw Show with hilarious players Tom Lommel, Steven Pope and Jameson McDaniel. Sooner or later, somebody’s bound to lose a kidney.

Beowulf stream

Mark’s got the streaming bug now, so after laying in a new lighting and mic setup, he’s starting his first ever regular stream this week – he is running Beowulf, a new monster-slaying roleplaying game in Anglo-Saxon times with the interesting twist that it is for one player and one GM. Jackson will be playing the hero, who will hopefully be the stuff of an epic saga and not monster bait. Catch it on the Campaign Coins Twitch stream, and later on YouTube in digestible one-hour episodes – much as the monster will probably digest Jackson.

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New year, same blog, new title

Well, that was an extended blog break.

We hibernated through the rest of 2020, and even hatched plans to start publishing Call of Cthulhu scenarios on the Miskatonic Repository, and Dungeons & Dragons Barovian scenarios on the DMs Guild. We needed an imprint, and like many others named it after our pets: behold, Milton & Marlowe Publications. Huge thanks to Delaney Gray for our logo, you should hire her.

Penny has completed three Barovian scenarios, and I’ve playtested two of them with the Monday night crew, who enjoyed them immensely; they’re now in my editing queue, which shuffles slowly because It’s Been a Year. We’ll pop back and talk about what else we got done last year, but today, let’s meet our founders.

Milton is a black schnauzer cross, so named because William Blake on reading Paradise Lost and finding (as we all do) that the Hell parts are cracking and the Heaven parts are dull, wrote that Milton was “of the devil’s party without knowing it”.

Marlowe is a grey schnauzer cross, well maybe schnauzer, we’re not sure. He’s a rescue dog that had a tough start to life, which left him worried about certain things (thunder, rain, brooms) and furious about others (cats, dogs who are not Milton, cats). He’s a work in progress but he’s better each day, and sleeping peacefully in his nook below my desk while I write this. He is named after Christopher Marlowe, specifically the line in Doctor Faustus, “For where we are is Hell, and where Hell is there must we ever be”.

So, look out for Milton & Marlowe Publications, publishing your way later in 2021. Until then, let this post be an explanation as to why our blog is no longer called “Orient Express Writers”, even though we took that train, twice, and loved it, and we do believe we can hear a whistle coming down the tracks once more from Chaosium so have your tickets and Sanitarium admission forms ready.

Happy New Year, it’s gotta be better than the last one. Until we return, for day-to-day yawps I’m usually spouting something or other on Twitter, whereas Penny prefers to hold her tweets until she’s got something really good, such as this gruel test. Mmmmmm. Gruelly.

Milton & Marlowe Publications

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Call of Cthulhu convention scenarios

We love to write and run Call of Cthulhu scenarios for conventions. We always have.

CarcosaCon in Poland was to be next week, but it’s not a great time to be travelling anywhere right now. Oh, but if you are drinking space mead and catching the next byakhee to the Outer Gulfs, you should be fine of course. The convention will now be held in 5-7 November 2020, and we look forwards to visiting in the late European autumn, our favourite time of year for shadows and spooks.

LOKALIZACJA_560x300

Czocha Castle, the venue for CarcosaCon

We were delving through the vaults the other day, one of us holding torch and the other the pitchfork – those ghouls just don’t know when to give in – and we found this little gem that Mark wrote in 1989 about writing and running Call of Cthulhu tournaments in Melbourne, Australia. (I know we look young but that is because we have a painting by George Upton Pickman stashed away that is very Picture of Dorian Gray.)

Anyway, here are Mark’s thoughts from that era, edited for clarity and condensed for a fun blog-sized read. This is from Dagon Magazine no. 25, the legendary Call of Cthulhu fanzine which burrowed out of the UK in the 1980s, edited by our dear friend, the late and forever great Carl T. Ford.

Some of the ideas are of their era, but others still stand, and are an insight into how we learned to run and write for this wonderful game.

Writing and running Call of Cthulhu tournaments

From Dagon 25, 1989

… First up, the objective is to have fun. The scenarios have to be as exciting, scary, tension-packed and as entertaining as possible. Keepers are free to add or embellish scenes, so long as they basically stick to the scenario for the convenience of those taking part in subsequent session(s).

Time elapsed plays no part in the scoring, so Keepers are able to pace it as they see fit, with only the real restraint of leaving enough time for a break before running their next team. Keeper intervention is encouraged to keep the game moving if the players are bogging down, rather than sitting and waiting for them to come up with a decision. This intervention ranges from the gentle introduction of extra evidence, to adding a conclusion the players may have missed via an Idea roll, right down to the large glowing hand which descends from the sky holding a sign saying THIS WAY FOLKS. (Such has been needed on occasion!)

One problem we always face is finding actual space to play at the venue. It’s fine to lump a whole heap of screaming D&Ders in one loud overheated room with each other, but each Cthulhu team needs seclusion, so that a proper atmosphere can be built up, and so they’re out of earshot of other players – overhearing something upcoming in a D&D adventure gives you a tactical advantage; in Call of Cthulhu, it spoils the fun.

In a con held in a hotel this can be tricky. Thus, tournament Cthulhu has been played in stairwells, basements, lofts, outside under the spreading dusk, in hotel bathrooms, corridors, store rooms, and stranger places; in truth, an odd environment adds to the atmosphere. Candles were standard equipment until one venue complained about the strange puddles of cooled wax left across the building. Anywhere it’s dark at a Melbourne con, you’re liable to hear screams issuing from it. Most con goers have learned to cope with this, and it helps the game’s mystique no end (“Why are those people in there screaming?”).

For scenario setting, we traditionally stick to the 20s, but we have made forays into the 50s, 60s, and early nineteenth century. The writing style tends to be sparse, so that the tournament in print is more of an outline which the Keeper supplements with their memory of the play-test and own diabolical ideas. As for content, we tend to skirt brand-name Mythos, finding it convenient to invent our own beings when needed. This helps us to throw the players. We’re also past masters of the art of vicious twist – players have been led to stop rituals that shouldn’t be stopped, perform rituals that shouldn’t be performed, they’ve been deliberately possessed (several times), they’ve discovered things about their own ancestry they rather they didn’t, they’ve had dreams without knowing it, they’ve been dragged into Dreamlands without wanting to go, they’ve been framed for crimes they didn’t commit, and in some cases they’ve been deliberately driven mad and killed and then pulled from the illusionary wreckage. In short, we’ve given them the worst good time we can manage.

That the players do have a good time is stamped on their faces. I have seen them leap back in horror; scream (genuinely); read a ritual in the dark with only five matches to use (they cheated, they lit the box); chant hoarsely twenty times; and look at each other in stunned disbelief. Perhaps our best example of player absorption: the Keeper was running for a group of young players in a darkened room. The designer of the session stole softly in to listen, and by and by they all forgot he was there. When there was a sudden event, he thought he’d make it dramatic by suddenly stretching out his hands and screaming “Yaarrrr!”. Three of the players leaped out of their skins, but the fourth, on reflex, spun in the chair and landed a neat right hook that decked the intruder!

The last and worst remains to be discussed; the means of the characters’ destruction. The plots are usually fairly linear, as these are easier to run and take less words to explain. As per usual, clue-following trails link strong scenes of horror – heads flying through restaurant windows, zombies walking backwards in the moonlight, black things sitting on the wings of aircraft, a high chapel full of slowly falling black drapes. What is especially liberating about writing for a tournament is that it is a one-off scenario, so you can do whatever you like with the characters in shaping their prior life and future destiny. You needn’t stay your hand out of compassion that it’s a four years’ running character. At the end you can cheerfully put them through the grinder and watch them squirm…

Dagon_Magazine_25

That’s an edited excerpt. If you’d like to read the full article, Paul MacLean of Yog-Sothoth.com created a PDF of the original, and has graciously granted us permission to host it here. Here’s it is, including descriptions of all the events we ran from 1984 to 1988:

Writing and Running Call of Cthulhu Tournaments (PDF)

Crawl back to your crypts then, and remember to always keep your players in the dark…

 

 

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A Most Bloody, Horrid and Lamentable Account of a Popish Plot Against James I of England and VI of Scotland, with many curious Particulars

After writing Call of Cthulhu scenarios in the 1890s, 1920s and the French Revolution I decided to explore a new historical period. I’ve long had a fascination with Restoration London (1660s) probably thanks to my father who spent of the latter part of his life on a definitive volume of the works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, and favorite of King Charles II. I have read and re-read Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, and I have a deep and abiding fondness for the period diarist, that old rogue Samuel Pepys – nor am I alone, see the wonderful @samuelpepys where internet snark meets 17th century morals.

Samuel_Pepys

Portrait of Pepys in 1666 by John Hayls (1600–1679)

My first scenario set in Restoration London has the brief – for the period – title “A Most Bloody, Horrid and Lamentable Account of a Popish Plot Against James I of England and VI of Scotland, with many curious Particulars” (on the grounds that Particulars are all the more Curious when Capitalised). My playtesters created an intrepid family of investigators, Kentish apothecaries who farmed the medicinal Romsey Marsh leech and were keen to bring their strictly scientific leech-based cure to the London.  Here’s a sample of some of the other medicines from the time:

  • MOSS – Dried and powdered moss grown on the skull (used in many pills);
  • SNAILS – to remove warts, take three snails and gash them, then take the liquor that comes out of them and anoint your warts.
  • SIR DIGBY’S WEAPON SALVE – if wounded rub this salve upon the weapon that hurt you and your wound will be cured; also an infallible remedy for toothache.

I disinterred Black Dog Court and Seething Lane, long buried under the ashes of the Great Fire and the skyscrapers of modern London, as a setting for the investigators to rent their new house in.

Chaosium ran the scenario for Arcanacon in Melbourne and I’ve had good reports all round – my favorite response was the anguished cry of a 17th century apothecary, “It’s science but not as we know it!’.

We’ll be running the scenario again for CarcosaCon in Czocha Castle, Poland, in March and Chaosium Con DownUnder in May. I look forward to seeing how it is received and to writing more scenarios for this fascinating time, so no spoilers for now, except for a quote from Defoe:

Another ran about Naked, except a pair of Drawers about his Waste, crying Day and Night… this poor naked Creature cry’d in the streets O! The Great, and the Dreadful God! And said no more, but repeated these words continually, with a Voice and a Countenance full of horror, and no Body cou’d ever find him to stop, or rest, or take any Sustenance…

Finally, this long view of London etched by Wenceslaus Hollar in 1647 is a Keeper’s screen waiting to happen. (You can download it in its full 72 MB high res glory here.)

Hollar_London_1647

Wenceslaus Hollar’s view of London 1647

 

 

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The Blog of Many Covers

This is the story of how books can go strange, far places, change their covers and yet stay the same.

In 2016 I was lucky enough to have a story included in She Walks in Shadows, the first all-woman Lovecraftian anthology, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles of Innsmouth Free Press. If you don’t have a copy of this you can get the e-book by supporting Silvia’s Patreon at the $2 level. Bargain.

She Walks in Shadows

She Walks in Shadows

Silvia started the project because people were wondering about the paucity of female writers being published in Lovecraftian anthologies. You can read her musings on the reasons on her blog page. Two years after publication the stories that stay with me are ‘Eight Seconds’, by Pandora Hope, which shows just how long a mother’s love needs to last, and ‘The Thing in the Cheerleading Squad’ by Molly Tanzer, a terrific retake on ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’. Silvia was a really wonderful editor who has gone out of her way to keep us in touch with the project as it moved through its various incarnations.

My story, ‘Turn Out the Lights’ was a speculative tale on the life of Sarah Phillips Lovecraft, Howard’s mother. The story is available as a free sampleShe Walks in Shadows went on to win the World Fantasy Award for best anthology 2016, edging out Chaosium’s King in Yellow anthology, Cassilda’s Song, edited by Joseph S. Pulver.

She Walks in Shadows was reprinted in America (same stories, different cover) as Cthulhu’s Daughters.

Cthulhu's Daughters

Cthulhu’s Daughters

The anthology has has now been translated into Turkish, and has yet another very cool cover. But, no I don’t know what ‘Golgede Yuruyen Kiz’ means either. I’m assuming it means She Walks in Shadows but Google Translate confidently tells me the word in the middle means ‘Screaming’. So let’s not go there.

She Walks In Shadows, Turkish Cover

She Walks In Shadows, in Turkish.

However perhaps 2019 is Chaosium’s year as they are releasing Sisterhood, edited by Nate Peterson. Sisterhood includes my story, ‘Unburdened Flesh’, a strange tale of a Venetian nunnery during time of plague. It was inspired by the alternative history which we created for Venice in Horror on the Orient Express, and explores the history of the outre Brotherhood of the Skin.

Sisterhood

We’re all sisters, under the skin.

I’ve been in quite a few anthologies, but Mark’s favorite cover is from Tales of Cthulhu Invictus by Golden Goblin Press. The collection features stories set in Ancient Rome and the cover is a re-imagining of the classic ending of ‘Call of Cthulhu’ but with Cthulhu menacing a trireme. And for my part, I’m quite pleased with my story too, ‘Magnum Innominandum’, about a patrician noblewoman dealing with a little slave problem. Suffice to say it ends with madness, death, despair and toads.

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus

Cthulhu is not amused.

 

In other literature-related news, another of my Horror on the Orient Express co-authors is also writing fiction. Geoff Gillan, who masterminded the plot for the entire campaign, has just started self-publishing his own new series, The Man from Z.O.M.B.I.E. This is the undead Cold War spy thriller you’ve been dying to read – just like the lead character.

The Man from Z.O.M.B.I.E.

The Man from Z.O.M.B.I.E.

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An Australian in Trieste

Our friend and collaborator, Russell Waters, who wrote ‘Cold Wind Blowing’, the Horror on the Orient Express chapter set in Trieste, visited the city recently and has sent back an account of his travels. Until Mark & I finally reach the city this wonderful description will have to suffice. Be warned, if you are planning to play in the campaign there are spoilers in this post!

Now, over to Russell to tell of his journey…


 

In Trieste

Outside the Postojna Caves. (Note the T-shirt!)

Upon arriving in Trieste we checked into our hotel, which overlooked the waterfront. As we were there in September, we didn’t have to contend with the bora, although as we arrived and wove our way down from the surrounding hills and through the narrow streets leading leading to our hotel on the waterfront, I’d been delighted to note that some of the streets, (mainly those that were steeply sloping) did have chains strung between poles. Whether this was to assist pedestrians struggling against the blast of the bora, as I’d read in the 1920s era Baedekers that formed my original research for ‘Cold Wind Blowing’, or whether it was to prevent pedestrians stepping off the narrow pavement onto the roadway was less clear.

Trieste (which I discovered is pronounced in three syllables: tree-est-uh) is still a pretty town, at least in the area near the harbor, where there are still many old buildings. There is a single canal, of sorts, which runs inland from the harbor and ends at the church of Sant Antonio Turmaturgo and gives a Venice feel to the immediate area.

Trieste

Not Venice, Trieste!

Whilst I was keen to visit some of the 1920s tourist sites in Trieste I’d read about in Baedekers, we’d been recommended to visit Castello Di Miramare, which lies a short distance from town. Built for the Austrian Arch-duke Ferdinand Maximilian (Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico), the castle was completed after his capture and execution in Mexico, so he never actually lived in it. I found his bedroom most interesting; Maximilian had been a successful navy officer, and his bedroom had a lowered artificial ceiling and wood paneled walls to make it more like a ship’s cabin. The ceiling of the dining room has a compass rose and an indicator linked to a wind vane on the roof so that the diners can know the wind direction at any time!

Back in town we visited the Cathedral and the Castello, both sitting on top of a hill and named after San Guisto. Johann Winckelmann was buried at the Cathedral, although the actual site of his grave is unknown. The Castello has an interesting museum that features a range of medieval weaponry and is adjacent Roman ruins which, according to some old photos we saw, have been a popular place to promenade and even picnic since the early 1900s.

One of the things I really wanted to see was the Johann Winckelmann monument, which features in ‘Cold Wind Blowing’ and provides the Investigators with their first inkling that “looking up Johann Winckelmann in Trieste” may be more difficult than they thought. Ironically, we fell foul of one of the obstacles I’d set up for Investigators; the Museum in which the monument is situated closes between 13.00h to 16.00h! Fortunately, our weather was fine, so we were able to spend some time at the Cathedral and then exploring nearby streets until it reopened.

The monument has its own building at the end of L’Orto Lapidario, the lapidary garden accessed from the museum. As well as the monument, the building houses an exhibit about Winckelmann and some statuary, including a torso missing head, arms and legs, which aroused my immediate suspicion. Some early designs for the monument apparently included a scene of Winckelmann’s murderer being broken on the Wheel (as actually happened) so perhaps it is a good thing that they eventually went for something a little less confronting!

Johann Winckelmann monument

Note suspicious torso on the right

Whilst in Trieste, we also saw (but didn’t travel through) the tunnel formerly used by the local tram service (now automobiles only); a tramcar (the trams were not running at the time due to an accident back in 2016 which had still not been repaired) and pleasingly, a Roman amphitheatre. I say pleasingly because the Investigators visit a cellar in which one wall appears to be part of a buried amphitheatre, and the amphitheatre we saw was not excavated until the 1930s!

Clues found in Trieste lead the Investigators to the caves at Postumia, now Postojna in Slovenia. Because Marissa and I were not following the Orient Express route, but coming into Italy from Austria via Slovenia, we had actually visited Postojna before Trieste, but I’m mentioning it now to better fit the Horror on the Orient Express chronology.

Entrance to Postojna Cavern

Cavern entrance

Even back in the 1920s the caves were a big tourist attraction in the area, and our visit reflected this, with large tourist groups being sorted by language so that multilingual guides can then lead their groups on the tours. The caves extend for about 24 km (about 14.5 miles), but the tour only takes in part of this. As was the case for tourists in the 1920s, we initially took seats on a train which traveled 2.5 km (1.5 miles) into the caves before disembarking and walking another few kilometres. There were plenty of signs of underground waterways, but generally the caves were mercifully dry and we didn’t have to go wading at all, or find any dark lake with mysterious stalagmites dotting its shore. To my great delight, we did see some olm, which were kept in a dimly lit aquarium/terrarium (having no natural pigmentation, bright lights distress them). The specimens we saw were about 20-25 cms (6-8 inches) long; not too threatening at that size. The olm are a real feature of the caverns, and are used as a mascot/logo by the cave operators.

Olm

Olm decoration at Postojna

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In with the new year and out with the old

2018 was certainly a stellar year for us.

First things first. Reign of Terror was published. We originally developed this scenario as a secret history, a prelude to the Horror on the Orient Express campaign, back in 2013.  Over the years the book grew and took shape as intrepid writers Darren Watson  and James Coquillat contributed additional background history, scenarios and scenario seeds to fully flesh out the experience of horror role-playing during the French Revolution. We were incredibly honoured to receive the 2018 Gold Ennie for Best Supplement for the book.

Reign of Terror hardcover

Then the PDF of the new edition of Terror Australis was launched (with the book itself due in 2019). This is a whole new edition of the first Call of Cthulhu project we ever worked on in 1987. It has new scenarios, new background, and all new scares! Dean Engelhardt of Cthulhu Reborn did a wonderful job assembling this new version, and it has great new writing from our longtime Aussie mates Marion Anderson, Phil Anderson, Geoff Gillan, John Hughes, Richard Watts and others.

Terror Australis

Do you think it might be friendly?

Just in time for Halloween, the official Call of Cthulhu computer game arrived from Focus Home Entertainment. Mark had wicked fun coming up with ideas for the story line with the clever folks at Cyanide Studio in Paris.

og_image

Finally, Mark’s scenario ‘Dead-Man Stomp’ was included in the new Call of Cthulhu starter set. He has always loved this jazz-fused scenario co-written with Lynn Willis, and this new 7th edition version is with a new co-writer, his friend Chris Spivey, who wrote the incredible supplement Harlem Unbound. In fact, “Dead Man Stomp” was Chris’ gateway to the world of Cthulhu, so this collaboration is especially meaningful.

Call of Cthulhu starter set

Sure let’s visit this spooky old house. What could possibly go wrong?

However we are not ones to rest on our laurels. You want more? We have a stellar line up for 2019!

For starters, we’ll be running two new scenarios from the upcoming Reign of Terror 2  as well as my 1920s Samoan scenario ‘Curse of Aforgomon’ at Arcanacon 2019 on 26 & 27 January here in Melbourne. The new 18th century scenarios are by Kelly Grant (Parisian investigators are sent to recover animals from a former aristo’s menagerie), and James Coquillat (a cold snap turns deadly, and then gets worse). So you can go mad in Revolutionary France or perish miserably in Samoa, you choose. Tip: avoid coconut palm groves! And Madame La Guillotine. And don’t get the two confused.

Arcanacon 2019

Crash landing in  a tropical paradise was only the start…

Mark has been invited to Poland in March 2019 as a special guest at CarcosaCon, a Call of Cthulhu convention in a genuine Polish castle. The Czocha Castle is located in Sucha village in Poland, and was nearly burned down in 1793, the same year as Reign of Terror…

Carcosa-con 2019

One previous owner… how do you spell that again? D-R-A-C-U-L-A.

And we have even more Revolutionary Horror to come, with Reign of Terror 2 in the pipeline. This features our scenario, Love Eterne, in which our citizen investigators thwart an aristo’s attempt to flee Paris and find themselves facing a horror worse than even Madame La Guillotine, as well as the new scenarios from Kelly and James, and a longer scenario from Darren Watson about a most peculiar investigation.

What’s that you say? You want more? We continue working on our Cthulhu by Gaslight campaign, Curse of Seven, and I have contributed a scenario, ‘Market Forces’ to the new RuneQuest relaunch, so stay tuned!

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Milan at last

Last time, I talked about our journey through dream-haunted Switzerland in May 2018. As any reader of Horror on the Orient Express knows, after Lausanne, the next stop is Milan.

Our train journey to Italy was through the landscape of our imagination, between mountains and the lakes, past the Chateau de Chillon, and into the Simplon Tunnel. Lago Maggiore was sprinkled with tiny islets topped with medieval towers.

Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore

We sped through the Simplon Tunnel so fast we were unable to get a satisfactory photograph (next time, we’ll get off at the station). The train rushed on and deposited us in the grandeur of Milano Centrale. We walked through the busy town and rounded a nondescript corner and came upon the grandeur of the Duomo unaware. She looked unutterably gorgeous, and wore her seven centuries like a queen.

Duomo

The Grand Old Lady

We explored the shadowy nave, where we found some statues that did not seem entirely ecclesiastical. This one looked as if it had got sick of the skull it was carrying and was eyeing us off for a fresh one.

Statue in the Duomo

Fenalik in the Duomo?

We just crept quietly by this one, studiously looking the other way so as not to catch its eye.

Statue in the Duomo

Could it be the Skinless One?

We then scaled the rooftops where Mark did his best Fenalik impression amid the soaring spires.

Mark on the Duomo roof

Amid the Spires

Next we sauntered through the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II, opened in 1877 as the world’s first shopping mall. During  construction the architect plunged from the roof top to his death. Was this by bad luck or unhallowed design?

Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II

The Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II

Interior - Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II

It looks like a long way to fall.

We emerged at the Teatro Alla Scalla, where we had a back stage tour of this exuberant confectionery box of a theater.

Teatro Alla Scalla

Teatro Alla Scalla

Teatro Alla Scalla

Inside the Teatro Alla Scalla

Mark was awestruck to find himself in the actual locations that Bernard Caleo used to such great effect in his scenario Note for Note in Horror on the Orient Express. There’s something to be said for being a tourist of the imagination.

Mark and Aida

As sung by the Diva Caterina

We have just a few remaining cities left to visit on the route followed by the campaign, as we visited London, Paris, Venice and Istanbul in 2010. Perhaps in a year or two we will finally visit Trieste, Zagreb, Belgrade and Sofia, albeit travelling in considerably less style than the fabled Orient Express of the Roaring Twenties.

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The Train Rolls On

In May 2018 we filled in some missing stops in our original Horror on the Orient Express train tour of Europe. This time we headed from Geneva to Lausanne along the shores of Lake Leman and then on to Milan.

In St Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva, in what would become a theme, we first descended to the basement, where an archaeological excavation had uncovered an intriguing well. Get out of this one investigators. Mark remembers the well on the cover of the original Call of Cthulhu Companion, they’re best avoided.

The Well St Peters

It must be an Extreme Climb roll

Then we climbed the bell tower, past the monsters carved upon the pews.

Wood carving - St Peters

We don’t know what it is but it’s looking at us funny

Atop the tower we gazed out over the Old City where once a certain Dr Frankenstein studied, and speculated which alleys his monster roamed.

We then boarded our iron steed and headed off, passing exquisite lakeside villas as we left the town. Now which was the one that that nice young couple, the Shelleys, and Lord Byron regaled each other with ghost stories?

Train to Laussanne

Train to Laussanne

In the 1920s Switzerland was considered a cheap destination for British tourists, with the pound sterling strong against the Swiss franc. Alas no more. The Swiss franc is eye-wateringly expensive against the Australian dollar. It says something about affordability in Switzerland that during an excursion across Lac Leman into the medieval French town of Yvoire we found the prices (in euros) delightfully affordable.

Yvoire wall and roses

The roses in Yvoire made me nervous

By coincidence, or sinister design, a sumptuous masked ball paraded through Yvoire during our visit. We remained at a cautious distance from the revelers in case a mask should be accidentally let drop by the incautious claw to reveal the inhuman features beneath.

Yvoire Masked Ball Procession

A Strangely Sinister Procession

We also had a side jaunt to the walled town of Gruyere in order to eat our bodyweight in fondue and visit the Giger bar, an appropriately Gothic launch for our Horror on the Orient Express tour.

Giger Bar-Gruyere

Is this bar weird or have we drunk too many Mojitos?

The Giger Bar at Night, Gruyere

Perhaps best not go in there at night

Or you might meet one of these.

Gruyere at night

And Redcap was never seen again…

We stopped off in the lakeside town of Nyon. In the enchanting Museum of the Lake we found a strange wooden figure, allegedly an old life saving manikin, but we feared a more sinister purpose.

Life Saving dummy Nyon

Simulacrum in Nyon

Then we visited the castle, which had been used as both a prison and asylum. We found something rather …. odd … in the attic.

The attic in Nyon was not normal

The attic in Nyon was not normal

Perhaps, after all, we needed one of these.

Old straitjacket

Old straitjacket

We hurried back to the safety of the train and only left once we reached Laussane. There we had booked into the most expensive hotel of the trip, as recommended by our 1920s guidebook, in an effort to soothe our jangled nerves. The Chateau D’Ouchy was a magnificent and luxuriant pile by the lake, whose cosy cocoon we reluctantly left in order to  take the funicular from the shore to the top of the town.

Chateau Douchy

Chateau D’ Ouchy

There we climbed the ancient bell tower of Notre Dame Cathedral pausing to admire the historic pews with medieval carvings. During the Renaissance the works of the ancient Greeks were rediscovered and spread through Europe. The devout custodians of Notre Dame were not impressed by the ungodly works of Aristotle so carved a picture of the philosopher being ridden by ‘the maid Phyllis’, on the side of the pew. This was the Renaissance equivalent of a sick burn.

Aristotle being ridden by the maid Phyllis

Take that Aristotle, you heathen

Finally we located a certain café near the theatre, le Chat Noir.

Le Chat Noir in Laussane

Where did that Skinless One sticker come from?

Fortunately no unearthly visitors disturbed our rest that night, and there were no taxidermy shops listed in the business directory, but we did find this sweet Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits model train carriage which now adorns Mark’s desk.

Orient Express in miniature

A tiny train in direst peril…

The next morning we were back on the train and off to Milan. That’s a tale for another blog…

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