Category Archives: Chaosium

The Simulacrum Lives!

Figures fill our worlds. Shop front dummies.  Statues in public places. Images on screens. What do these figures want? What do they mean? Do their eyes follow us when we’re not looking back at them?

When we visited the United States recently for GenCon Indy and Necronomicon Providence we were thinking of Horror on the Orient Express as it steamed inexorably towards its publication date. However we were not dwelling on a certain arcane artifact that features within it. My mind was running mainly on proof reading and header styles.  And on that note, if you plan to play in Horror on the Orient Express, please stop reading as I am about to offer certain insights into said artifact that may or may not be involved in the investigators’ continent-spanning quest.

In San Francisco I pointed out a shopfront dummy to Mark. ‘why, I said, gaily, ‘That looks just like You-Know-What.’  Chuckling at the coincidence we took a photograph.

The First Simulacrum

The First Simulacrum

Shortly afterwards we saw another figure. This time the coincidence seemed slightly less amusing. Was it because the figure was now, how can put this, unnervingly incomplete? Was it because that this was when we felt the first, haunting sense, of being followed? Nevertheless we were tourists. It was broad daylight. What could go wrong? We do what tourists do. We took a photograph.

The Second Simulacrum

The Second Simulacrum

We left San Francisco without further sightings of any mysterious figures. Surely, even if we were being – followed –  we could easily elude our follower in the crowds of GenCon Indy? So it proved, for the first few days.

On the third day I was fool enough to leave the convention, and venture down the quiet mall next door. It was a bright, sunny day. Little did I think to discover the horror…oh the horror…

The Third Simulacrum

The Third Simulacrum

Who as this good doctor, and why was he being threatened by a crowd of amputated legs? I looked closer.

The Right and Left Legs

The Right and Left Legs

I hurried back to the convention center and mingled gratefully with the happy, oblivious crowds. I hoped I might forget. But it was not to be.  We found nowhere to hide in New York. It tracked us down, even in broad daylight and amid the bustling crowds of Times Square. Look – up there! On the Times Square Screens!

The Fourth Simulacrum

The Fourth Simulacrum

It was too much. We fled New York for the peace of Providence, Rhode Island. Surely in this quiet university town we could lose this sense of being followed by an implacable and vindictive force?  What harm could come from browsing in the hallowed and venerable precincts of the Brown university bookshop?

The Fifth Simulacrum

The Fifth Simulacrum

Averting our eyes from that dreadful, insensate, blank visage we fled the bookshop, seeking the peace of the dreaming, pristine lawns of the university. Surely no horror would dare set foot upon this sacred turf – ARRRRGGGGHH!

The Sixth Simulacrum

The Sixth Simulacrum

Has anyone seen Mark? It’s been a few weeks now and I’m starting to get quite worried.

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Call of GenCon

Campaign Coins at GenCon Indy 2013

Campaign Coins at GenCon Indy 2013

GenCon Indy has come and gone, leaving us frazzled and exhausted but very content. Even though there was lots of Call of Cthulhu activity, our main focus was running our Campaign Coins booth. We were able to combine the worlds by displaying the Medallion of Ithaqua that we made for the Chaosium Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter reward. It was so insanely popular that it seems likely that they will be available for direct sale before too long. We also look forward to making the Innsmouth gold coins for Chaosium for 7th Edition.

Running a booth at GenCon is somewhat like being stuck on Alcatraz. You can see the lights of San Francisco but you can’t get off the Rock. So many games being played, so many cool stores, but we were a little bit busy selling money.

Happily, some of the other Cthulhu vendors managed to visit. Chris Birch of Modiphius Entertainment swung by with a couple of sweet Achtung! Cthulhu scenarios by Sarah Newton, Three Kings and Heroes of the Sea. They were originally produced as PDFs and the books look truly fantastic printed. Massive congratulations to Sarah, Chris, Dim and Michael for their ENnie Award win for Best Adventure. I also scored a copy from the Arc Dream posse of the brand new Dreamlands campaign by Dennis Detwiller, The Sense of the Sleight of Hand Man. Can’t wait to read this one as it is set in the Dreamlands, where Penny has been spending some time of late. The layout and illustrations (by Dennis himself) are beautiful and horrible at the same time, as it should be. Arc Dream also smashed out an ENnie award for The Unspeakable Oath. Righteous.

The Traveler’s Guide, proof copy (artwork not final)

Perhaps the most exciting book of all was the GenCon 2013 pre-publication proof copy of Le Guide Du Voyager aka The Traveler’s Guide, written by Penny under the nom de plume of P.E. Jensen. There was also the brilliant publication of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter guide, as well as Missed Dues, the 7th ed convention scenarios by Mike Mason and Paul Fricker. The fiction collection Undead and Unbound also made its debut at the show, co-edited by David Conyers, who has helped out in the Constantinople chapter of Orient Express.

The Penultimate Trip playthrough at GenCon

The Penultimate Trip playthrough at GenCon

After hours we managed a lot more Call of Cthulhu related nocturnal activities. On Wednesday night we visited the group who were going through the week-long play-through of the Orient Express campaign, helmed by Mr Shiny himself, Jeff Carey, with able assistance from Brandon and Joe. Held at the Crowne Plaza hotel, a hotel with actual Pullman railway cars as rooms, this was a one of a kind role-playing extravaganza and Jeff and his team had gone all out.

The super-sized Simulacrum

The super-sized Simulacrum

The game featured costumes, lighting, music, props, a life-size cut-out Simulacrum and a diabolical full-body Simulacrum suit, unique hand-made handouts, severed eyeballs (with a complimentary eye patch) and more. As the editor, I was gobsmacked by the love and dedication that Jeff and the crew showed towards bringing our train to life. The players really enjoyed it but also gave some interesting feedback on one of the scenarios that I will try to fix in post.

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One Night at GenCon players (from top): Tom, Jason, Travis, me, Thomas

Two nights later it was my turn. Four players had signed up for the One Night At GenCon game, a secret Orient Express scenario that would only ever be played once. They alone would receive the printed copies and nobody in the room would ever speak of it again. It turned out to be one of the best role-playing games I have ever run. Jeff and his family kindly let us take up residence in their Pullman carriage to run the game. I was still plotting the scenario on the plane over and Penny stepped in to write the character backgrounds. Seeing the four players (complete strangers to each other before then) inhabit these characters and make them their own was marvellous. I can speak no more of what happened within that carriage. It was something I must not and cannot recall, because their Kickstarter pledges totalled $3000 for the privilege. I must confess that I found that a little stressful, as by the terms of the contract the scenario could only be played once, so that was the playtest. Luckily it went well.

On Saturday night we had the Orient Express and Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter backers dinner with Sandy Petersen, the 7th ed authors and the Chaosium crew in attendance at St Elmo’s, home of the Flaming Shrimp, or in my case the Flaming Saltine Cracker. We vegetarians spoil everything. Penny and I sat next to Steven and Nikki from Steve Jackson games, as well as backers Patrick and Travis. It was a wonderful evening and hopefully I didn’t babble too much, like the insane cultist that I am. It was a real pleasure talking to Steven, as he had many perceptive questions about the new campaign versus the 1991 campaign. I was pretty happy as I think we have answered most of them in the new draft. You can see photos from the dinner and lots more Chaosium-related GenConnery at Mike Mason’s Angry Zoog blog.

Afterwards, because I didn’t want the night to end, I went to a bar with Mike Mason and Paul Fricker and backer Paul, only to run into Adam Crossingham from Sixtystone Press, in one of those weird GenCon coincidences. It was great meeting Adam and his layout guru Chris, as I was able to congratulate them on Investigator Weapons Volume 1 (particularly as author Hans has written such a fantastic article on guns in the 1920s for Horror on the Orient Express)  and I also got to hear about the upcoming Colonial Lovecraft Country by Kevin Ross. In fact, Adam’s next stop after GenCon is the Boston Historical Society.

Not so for Penny and I. We departed for New York. This was intended as a glorious tourism stopover with the Art Deco Empire State Building as the highlight, but lo and behold our hotel was right around the corner from The Compleat Strategist, one of the oldest game stores in the country (established 1975). It was a real thrill to walk in there and see a full shelf of Chaosium books. In fact, owner Mike recalled getting the first books from the Chaosium guys way back in the Lake Geneva days of GenCon.

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The Compleat Strategist (est. 1975) in New York

The Cthulhu coincidences keep on coming. Let’s see what Providence holds.

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A Visit to Chaosium

chaosium-cthulhu

Stained-glass Cthulhu at Chaosium

Penny and I have arrived in America on the first stop of our 2013 GenCon Horror on the Orient Express tour. We have even taken our first train, the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). It did not have  a salon car where white-clad waiters served champagne, but it did get us out to Charlie Krank’s place in Hayward from the airport. We’ve since been recovering from our jet lag, eating some amazing vegetarian food in the Bay Area and playing some games.

mark-at-chaosium

Back in the office at Chaosium, 2013

On Monday we visited the Chaosium offices, and for the first time saw a printout of the complete layout of Horror on the Orient Express, which Meghan has prepared to show everyone who comes to the Chaosium booth (#501) at GenCon Indy. It’s amazing to see the book printed out: a huge stack of paper larger than Beyond the Mountains of Madness. Meghan has done a fantastic job with the layout, and it was great to see the new art, particularly the new version of the Sedefkar Simulacrum, which is so blasphemous we can’t show you yet. We also met Nick, who showed us the Traveler’s Companion bound and printed up as a sample GenCon preview edition. We hope this little book that will be a useful player aid at the gaming table. It has a guide for each city on the route, accompanied by wonderful city maps by Steff Worthington.

We also got to go to the all-new expanded wing of the Chaosium warehouse to see boxes and boxes of Orient Express loot: T-shirts, medallions, commemorative coins, placemats, matchboxes, mugs, coasters and more. Chaosium have been sending out photos of all the merchandise as part of the Kickstarter updates, but it’s another thing again to see a massive wall of boxes. There’s so much stuff there you have to scale the front stack to get to the stack behind it.

OE-boxes

Boxes and boxes and boxes of Orient Express swag

The nearby row of mi-go brain cases made me wonder what if that’s what happened to previous writers who missed their deadlines, because I flubbed a few.

Assuming the vacant space on the bottom right is not reserved for me, we leave on Tuesday for the real world gibbering madness that is GenCon…

migo

Mi-go brain cases

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A Provençal Dragon

Horror on the Orient Express placemat [Source: Chaosium]

The Wagons-Lit logo is two rampart lions. For Horror on the Orient Express merchandise Chaosium under Meghan’s sterling art direction has created a new and unique logo, putting a fantastical spin on the traditional image and updated the two lions to a tarasque and a manticore.  The tarasque is a Provençal dragon and thus an authentic European monster.

According to my handy  Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts (Walker & Co. 1971) the tarasque lived on the banks of the Rhone near the town of Tarascon. It was “bigger than an ox…with a lion’s head and mouth; its jaws contained vast teeth, it had six bear’s paws, a carapace studied with spikes and a viper’s tail.”   The redoubtable St Martha, yet another Biblical figure who somehow found her way to Europe, tamed it by drenching it with holy water.

In case the description is not vivid enough a delightful Tarascon statue  gives a presumably authentic view of the monster, given that it is located near St Martha’s tomb. To my eye, it looks a little worried. We can assume that the statue depicts the moment after St Martha tamed it when the monster noticed the approach of the good townsfolk of Tarascon, who failed to trust in its wholehearted conversion and stoned it to death.

Tarasque statue [Source: Tarascon website]

This week we were briefly excited when the pelaton in the Tour de France sped through Tarascon, but try as we might we could not catch a glimpse of the tarasque.

The manticore has an interesting lineage, born in Persia and making its way by rumor to Europe.  My Dictionary quotes Aristotle, quoting Ctesias (Alexander the Great’s personal physician, whose works are now lost): “the Indian wild beast called the ‘marticoras’ has a triple row of teeth in both upper and lower jaw; that it is as big as a lion and equally hairy, and that its feet resemble those of the lion; that it resembles man in its face and ears; that its eyes are blue, and its color vermilion; and has the faculty of shooting off arrow-wise the spines that are attached to its tail.” The same source notes that it can run as swiftly as a deer, no bad image for train. It is thought to born of garbled travelers’ tales of tigers.

Manticore [Source:

Manticore [Source: A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts]

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7th Edition Rising

Call of Cthulhu, 1st Edition

Call of Cthulhu, 1st Edition

As a personal reflection of how long we’ve been playing, here’s Mark’s copy of Call of Cthulhu first edition. We actually started with second edition in 1984. Mark threatens to photograph all his editions, including the one still wrapped in brown paper. Now that’s an exciting picture.

The 7th Edition Kickstarter campaign spearheaded by Charlie and those  talented Brits, Mike Mason and Paul Fricker, has one week left to go. It has  sped past its initial $40,000  goal and has just reached $330,000 so with no sign of stopping.  The latest stretch goal is Petersen’s Field Guide, a handy book of monsters, so you’ll  never be at loss to identify which blasphemous horror is destroying your life and sanity ever again. The rugose Dark Young picture was of particular use during the playtest for the [redacted] chapter.

Mike has a great blog, Angry Zoog, where he talks about 7th Edition, scenario writing, his upcoming trip to Gencon Indy, and more.

We’re excited that Horror on the Orient Express is a 7th Edition book. The revised rules maintain everything we love about Cthulhu but give players and Keepers a lot more flexibility at the table. Mike and Paul have been giving sage advice on the conversion of the 1991 material, and converted the statistics for the Strangers on the Train booklet.

Also just announced, the Temple Edition. You’ll recognize a similarity with the First Edition. But be warned you will need Credit Rating 99% to get one of these into your personal library.

The Temple Edition

The Temple Edition

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Venetian Ghost Stories

When I wrote about the lack of weird tales set in Venice I did not of course mean a lack of ghost stories, of which the city has plenty.  She has a Casino deli spiriti (House of the Spirits), a calla della Morte (Street of Death) and the Ca’Dario, the so-called Haunted Palace.

Venice has a plethora of ghosts,  wizards, demons, supernatural lions and stone hearts, sneezing ghosts of stillborn babies, floating coffins thoughtfully bedecked with candles so the ferries won’t run into them, and squids with human eyes. Many of these treasures are handily collected in Alberto Toso Fei’s Venetian Legends and Ghost Stories. This is my favorite kind of book. Alberto knows what we spectre-loving visitors to Venice want. He has mapped out the phantoms by district then given a walking tour of each, punctuated by pauses for increasingly more grisly stories.

Venetian Legends and Ghost Stories [Source: Alberto Toso Fei’s website]

Possibly my favorite in this collection features Doge Enrico Dandolo. Dandolo led the Fourth Crusade to the infamous sack of Constantinople in 1204, and thus links to’ The Dark Crusader’, Geoff Gillan’s new Dark Ages Horror on the Orient Express scenario. Venice appears to have always had a rather uneasy relationship with Dandalo’s memory. My trusty 1914 guide, A Wanderer in Venice, wonders why there no statues or monuments to his name. This ghost story reflects that communal disquiet. In myth, Dandolo is condemned to pace around the walls of S.S. Giovvanni e Paolo in the Castello district. With two burning coals instead of eyes, and carrying a sword by the blade, he must eternally bloody his hands to atone for the innocent blood he shed. The passer-by is advised not to try to assist this grim spectre. Any attempt to help may only add to the total sum of blood.

The S.S. Giovvanni e Paolo also holds a grisly relic, another odd link to the themes of the Horror on the Orient Express. The ill-fated Marcantonio Bragadin was one of the Venetian heroes of the siege of Famagosta in 1571. When the city was taken by the Turks, Bragadin was flayed alive in punishment for his resistance. Then his head was cut off, his body quartered, his skin was stuffed with straw and paraded around the city mounted on a cow. The stuffed skin was taken back to Constantinople as a trophy of war, where nine years later it was stolen from the Arsenal of Constantinople and returned to Bragadin’s family. The family buried the remains in a niche in the south aisle. When the niche was opened in 1961, by a family descendant, it was found to hold a lead urn containing several pieces of tanned human hide.

The monochrome fresco of Bragadin’s martyrdom above his urn [Source: Associazione Circolo della Cultura del Bello]

This fresco is exceedingly tame by comparison with contemporary 16th century portrayals of martyrdom, and was memorably snubbed by J.J. Norwich in his monumental A History of Venice as “distinctly disappointing”.

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Lynn Willis: Steadfast Editor & Dreamer

Professor L.N. Isinwyll

It was always our intention to dedicate this new edition of Horror on the Orient Express to Lynn Willis. The idea for the project was Lynn’s: in the late 1980s Christian Lehmann and I pitched a Continental European Sourcebook for the 1920s, and Lynn responded that he would rather see an adventure set on the Orient Express. We took the challenge, recruiting others to help us. Lynn was a responsive, supportive and insightful editor, and under his vision it grew into a deluxe boxed set.

Lynn infused our first draft manuscript with history and humanity, evoking uncertain times lived on the precipice of a troubled past. Europe of the 1920s and the luxury of the world’s greatest train came alive in his edits, and as authors we were honoured by the enhancements he made. All of the ideas for the deluxe handouts and inclusions were his, and the art direction was flawless.

Lynn retired from Chaosium in 2008 and had been in poor health in recent times, but he has been in our thoughts every day of late as we rediscover the scholarship and wit in his prose. Only Lynn could add as an aside that a deceased archaeologist, when handed a book to assist in translation, would “pause to admire the concision” before getting on with the task at hand.

We’ll still make that dedication, but sadly Lynn will not see it. Charlie emailed on Friday morning to say that Lynn’s struggle with illness was over at last.

His legacy is enormous. On his watch, Call of Cthulhu was first published and then aged through five editions steeped in research and concision. His 1984 collaboration with Larry Di Tillio Masks of Nyarlathotep remains his masterpiece, perhaps the greatest RPG campaign of all time. But beyond the books, Lynn answered every letter he received about the games he worked on, and inspired a generation of gamers with his unfailing encouragement and wisdom. He also mentored scores of artists and authors, myself included. As I write this, I can still hear his voice, with that tone of knowing amusement. He still makes me smile across the intervening years.

In Call of Cthulhu, investigators step up to the mark when heroes are required; we all hope we can do the same. One such hero was Lynn’s partner Marcia, who stood by him throughout. No biography of Lynn is complete without her. Cthulhu may be fiction, but love in this world is real.

Farewell, Lynn; may you lie dreaming. We’ll think of you every day as we guide your train home again. Here are some photos of happier times.

Lynn Willis and Mark Morrison outside Chaosium, 1991

Lynn Willis and Mark Morrison outside Chaosium, Oakland 1991.

Great minds meeting: Scott David Aniolowski, Lynn Willis, Kevin A Ross, Keith Herber & Sharon Herber at Chaosium, 1990.

A meeting of great minds. Clockwise from left:  Scott David Aniolowski, Lynn Willis, Keith Herber, Sharon Herber and Kevin A Ross in the mezzanine library, meeting and gaming space at Chaosium, Oakland 1990.

Lynn and Keith at their desks in the comforting gloom of Chaosium, Oakland 1990.

Lynn and Keith at their desks in the comforting gloom of Chaosium, Oakland 1990.

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