Category Archives: Conventions

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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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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Zaraz bedzie ciemno! (It will be dark soon)

It’s Halloween, and Mark is happily downloading the Call of Cthulhu computer game from Focus Home Interactive. He wrote part of the storyline for French game studio Cyanide.

But, meanwhile in Poland, there are more dark things happening on 31 October…

That’s the cover for Zew Cthulhu, aka Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. The Polish crowdfunding campaign starts today, and Mark is contributing a scenario.

Back in May 2018 we were guests at Pyrkon 2018 in Poznan, Poland. We were hosted by our lovely friends from CUBE Factory of Ideas, so a big shout out to Magda, Nutii and Anya! We originally met them and made friends through their work with Polish dice company Q-Workshop.

The first night of Pyrkon was the Convention dinner, held in a convivial traditional restaurant. Brief nerd moment, I got to sit like two people away from Robin Hobb, and I passed her the butter.

Convention Dinner Restaurant

Restaurant where I sat very near to Robin Hobb but was, like, totally cool about it, and didn’t even get a photograph.

Poznan has had an epic history, but now it is a tranquil and beautiful town that certainly knows how to run a great convention. The town mascots are the two goats on their city hall clock and Pyrkon has taken those goats to heart. They are caprine cosplay heroes!

Pyrkon Poster

Pyrkon Poster

Role-playing arrived in Poland rather late, owing to the Cold War making life a little difficult. RPGs were sheer Western decadence and banned from import. So in the old days people had to smuggle the games in (making them kind of secret and cool) and then be able to read the rules in English, a rare combination of nerddom and heroic resistance. It also meant Pyrkon had an overwhelmingly young crowd, much younger than you’d find in a US or Australian convention where the RPG scene is more mature. However, what the players and keepers lacked in experience, they made up for with enthusiasm. It was a fun-loving and engaged crowd with some Polish quirks – for example people were able to camp on the floors of one of the big halls, turning the whole convention into a kind of sleepover for gamers.

We checked in with Daria and Michal of Black Monk Games, who are the publishers of Zew Cthulhu.

Daria Pilarcyk and Mark practice their Cthulhu faces

Zew Cthulhu with Mark and Daria practicing their Cthulhu faces

For Arkham Horror, Mark got to try a full body pose.

Horror w Arkham Gra Karcianna

Horror w Arkham Gra Karcianna

Meanwhile the dedicated team oat Q Workshop RPG University were running games to introduce Call of Cthulhu to Polish gamers.

Q Workshop RPG University

Sadly their dedication has driven them … MAD!

In an effort by us old stagers to show these new kids on the block how it’s done we turned up with John Coleman’s scenario, Black as Coal, which was first run at Cauldracon in 1985 in Melbourne. We ran it for those intrepid few who felt brave and linguistic enough to be scared in English, and relocated the titular coal mine from backwoods US to backwoods Poland. Our players kindly taught us many new words, such as the most popular name for Polish dogs (Azor) and the expression, ‘That’s so Polish!’ The scenario ran perfectly, leaving a trail of dead and mad investigators in its wake. Black as Coal is now going to be part of the Zew Cthulhu so it will be in print again after 35 years, proving that good horror translates into all languages.

Mark's players saved Poland but lost their minds

Mark’s players saved Poland but lost their minds

I ran a great game for some of the hard working Q Workshop RPG University team. We ran it after hours because they were working through the day, and it was in a tent in the middle of the convention centre courtyard.

Inbside the Tent of Doom

Inside the Tent of Doom

As the sun went down, we gamed on by the feeble glow of my mobile phone and what you can’t see from the picture is that the loudest doof-doof party in Poland is carrying on just outside those canvas walls. Those Polish convention goers sure can party! However, such was the power of communal story telling that we were all drawn into the magic circle and I don’t think one of us noticed the noise until the game finished.

The Tent o Doom

The Tent o Doof doof

Mark ran a live play of our new French Revolution scenario Love Eterne for a crew of fantastic Polish players, Andrzej, Władysław, Andrzej & Marysieńka (aka Merry, who is one of the translators of Zew Cthulhu). Once again the hidden horrors of La Revolution took their toll. When will the terror end? Only Madame La Guillotine truly knows.

Love Eterne Lifeplay heroes

The Love Eterne Liveplay heroes of La Revolution survive their encounter with an unearthly foe

After the show was over, Magda and Nutti took us on a whirlwind tour of Polish history in one day, a tour that took in the evocatively named Castle of Blood Evil which had poppies growing wild, vivid as dr0ps of blood, and World War 2 bullet holes in the walls.

Poppies at the Castle of Blood Evil

Poppies at the Castle of Blood Evil

However I shall close with this post with the visit to the fabulous steam train museum at  Wenecja.  I got to show off my best ‘Look out below’ impression from Charles Dicken’s spooky ghost story, ‘The Signalman‘.

Look out below!

Look out below!

And Mark got to practice his insane face while pretending to drive a steam train.

Wenecja

Thank you Wenecja Steam Train Museum for allowing Mark to fulfill a lifelong dream

And so the train rolls on.

Train Rolls On

She couldn’t see anything unusual but then the window was quite small.

 

 

 

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Roll Library Use (and Dexterity)

Interior of the 'Old Man' building (1874)

Interior of the ‘Old Man’ building (1874)

This charming, and slightly alarming, photograph was taken in 1874 and shows the old Cincinnati Library. Five levels of cast iron balconies held what must have been an enormous amount of books while busts of Shakespeare, Milton and Franklin stood guard over the checkerboard marble floor (out of sight, below). The  Call of Cthulhu enthusiast can only regard this lovely literary edifice with awe, and wonder about the Occupational Health and Safety priorities of the 1870s, while considering how best to chase investigators through this three dimensional bookish maze.

Although considered the height of modern architecture when built, with central heating and an elevator, this delightful library was considered dilapidated and overcrowded by the 1920s. Sadly for those who love to combine reading with abseiling it was neglected for the next three decades and finally demolished in 1955.

On the topic of libraries, the new edition of Horror on the Orient Express has been re-edited with a bigger emphasis on  Library Use in the research sections of each scenario. The original publication gave information on the over-arching plot elements in the London chapter of the campaign, but subsequent cities would only provide research on their immediate scenario clues. So, we have expanded the library entries at cities along the way so that the investigators can keep researching and learning new things.

Where did we get this idea? From the playtesters, of course. Whereas the original 1991 scenario authors were mindful of the needs of their particular plot, it took the 2013 players to remind us that investigators will always seek answers. So, we thank our new playtesters, and in particular Darren who not only participated in the campaign from mysterious start to bloody end, but also helped us with real world research, and unearthed the marvelous photo above. We look at that and think he is missing the thrill of the chase – in fact, he is now helping on an all-new Call of Cthulhu project, so he has the mania now. There is no hope for him.

Providence Athenaeum - exterior

Providence Athenaeum – exterior

Finally, no post on libraries would be complete without some photographs of my favorite library – and also haunt of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and poet Sarah Helen Whitman – the Providence Athenaeum . When we visited the Athenaeum in 2013 during Necromonicon it was hosting a H.P. Lovecraft exhibition, appropriately enough in the basement. Given its literary history one expects investigators fleeing out every window, while formless horrors stalk the hapless librarians within. However we found a building of real beauty – a Temple to Wisdom, if there ever was one.

Providence Athenaeum - ground floor

Providence Athenaeum – ground floor

Appreciation of the library’s real world merits and aura of literary serenity has not stopped me from using it as the model for the Miskatonic University library ever since. However, anyone tempted to steal a volume of forbidden lore, be warned:

No one had seen me take the [book]—but still
A blank laugh echoed in my whirling head,
And I could guess what nighted worlds of ill
Lurked in that volume I had coveted.
The way grew strange—the walls alike and madding—
And far behind me, unseen feet were padding.

– ‘Pursuit’, Fungi from Yuggoth, H.P. Lovecraft

 

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We Can Hear the Train A Coming

Clouds of soot and steam are billowing through the tunnel and a whistle is wailing close at hand. Or is it a train whistle? Possibly it is the thin, monotonous piping of an unseen flute… Here are some reviews, previews and Kickstarters that have got us really excited!

Horror on the Orient Express –
Die Hard Game Fan preview by Alex Lucard

Horror on the Orient Express - Campaign Book

Horror on the Orient Express – Campaign Book

Alex from Die Hard Game Fan is a huge Call of Cthulhu fan, and he has compiled an exhaustive and detailed preview of all the books. It’s great to see him get all fired up over our remixed beast. He gets a couple of little details wrong here and there but you can’t deny the man’s enthusiasm. It’s great to see the new work getting so much attention. But, a warning for those contemplating playing the campaign: Alex tries to be spoiler-lite, but really, there are still plenty of spoilers. Players had best avoid his preview.

Book I
Book II
Book III
Book IV
Items and props

Mr Shiny Playtest image 2013

Mr Shiny Playtest image 2013

Once again the redoubtable Mr Shiny, aka Jeff Carey, is sending six foolhardy, I mean brave, investigators from London to Constantinople on a deluxe play through of the entire campaign. He has launched a Kickstarter to fund the game: Jeff will take up to six players (and up to 10 more as non-player characters towards the end of the campaign) on a longer journey, delving into some of the new horrors, I mean chapters, that were not yet available last year.

The main players will be able to develop their own characters for this epic event to be held from Saturday 8 August through Wednesday 13 August 2014 (immediately before the Gen Con game fair) in Indianapolis.
We visited Jeff’s game at GenCon 2013 and it was incredible. The props, atmosphere and dedication by all involved made this a memorable experience for the players. Indeed, their gaunt and horrified faces, not to mention the loss of several visible limbs, were the talk of GenCon. This year, it could be you!

The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast –
Episode 26 “The Good Friends ride the Orient Express”

The Good Friends of Jackson Elias

The Good Friends of Jackson Elias

Scott Dorward interviews Keeper Matt Nott and his players (including Paul Fricker, Call of Cthulhu 7th edition author) about playing through the new revised edition, using 7th edition rules. Matt’s investigators were one of two groups to playtest the entire campaign for us. There are many cool things that come up in their discussion which we wish we’d put in (who knew what other horrors lurked out on the Lido?) A great listen, but did we say SPOILERS? Oh my yes, for Keepers only this one!

Tales of the Crescent City

Tales of the Crescent City

Tales of the Crescent City

Our good friend and fellow train scenario writer Oscar Rios is nearing the end of his second Kickstarter with Golden Goblin Press, a collection of scenarios set in 1920s New Orleans. What’s particularly exciting about this one is that our original Cthulhu co-conspirator Kevin A. Ross has not only fully revised his seminal scenario “Tell Me Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?” for this book, he’s also gone ahead and written a sequel. If you’ve ever seen that three-armed squiggly version of the Yellow Sign, yup, that was Kevin’s.

Here’s a great article from Cthulhu Reborn friend Dean Englehardt where he talks about making the props for Oscar’s new book.

One of Dean Engelhardt's handout for Tales of the Crescent City

One of Dean Engelhardt’s handout for Tales of the Crescent City

Meanwhile at Chaosium, Meghan keeps feeding the beast… every day the book gets better, and it will soon be off to the printer. Many thanks to all of the backers who took the extra time to send in corrections for us!

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GenCon Penultimate Trip Playtest

Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Downtown Union Station. The hotel had once been a train station.  After working on the Horror on the Orient Express for so long, anything to do with trains makes us anxious. The staff in the lobby seemed friendly. Or did their smiling faces mask some deep seated, potentially train-related, evil?

Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Donwtown Union Station

The roof looked solid enough.

We nervously followed the hand-scrawled directions we had been given to our destination. The door was ajar…

Penultimate playtest door

We sensed something was wrong as soon as we arrived.

It was Gencon Indy 2013 and beyond that unhallowed entrance, Jeff “Mr. Shiny” Carey and his stalwart fellow Keepers, Brandon  and Joe, were running the Kickstarter Horror on the Orient Express GenCon Penultimate Trip for six intrepid, and perhaps ever so slightly insane players, Paul, Marc, Samuel, Steve, Graham and Suzanne.

These hardy souls played for five days and nights, and when I mean, nights, I am talking 4 am in the morning. We arrived on the third day to find the players in good spirits, although their investigators were starting to fray at the edges.  The Keepers were displaying incredible stamina as they steamed remorselessly onward to Constantinople.

The playtest was also incredibly useful for us as we were able to make several important edits that will help the final book, based on player feedback.

In the photographs below I am going to show some of the room, players, Keepers, props and handouts. If you are going to play Horror on the Orient Express stop reading now for fear of the forbidden knowledge you may accidentally glean from these blasphemous images.

Jeff and his fellows Keepers had done an amazing job and must have spent hours lovingly recreating handouts and props. It was a huge thrill, and truly humbling, to see our work reproduced in such meticulous style.  The room was atmospherically lit.

The Unhallowed Shrine, er, Playtest

The Exit Sign was clearly marked. Why, oh why, did they not use it?

The props were gorgeous. The players informed us in hushed and worried tones that their full-size Simulacrum had a disconcerting habit of reassembling itself when they went out for meals. No matter how scattered its components around the room, when they returned it was always neatly arrayed in the center of the table.

TThe Unseen Forces were tidy souls.

The Unseen Forces were tidy souls.

The handouts were wonderful. Again people, the following image contains a massive spoiler so please do not not look unless you are genuinely never going to play Horror on the Orient Express for as long as you live, and peeking between fingers doesn’t work. By the way, I know you’re going to look anyway so I blurred the particularly blasphemous part.

Devils Simulare

That was when he wished he had never learned Latin.

In honor of the hotel’s history some of the rooms were immaculately restored Pullman cars. Jeff and his family were staying in one of these cars and in a truly heroic act of generosity Jeff offered his room to Mark to play his Kickstarter Secret Orient Express History game.  This meant neither Jeff nor his folks got to bed until after midnight. It is not often that a Pullman car represents a heart-warming gift to a fellow Keeper.

Jeff's Pullman Car

Jeff’s Pullman Car, with Mark and the Secret History players in the foreground

And yes, these four players now know a secret of the history of the Horror on the Orient Express than no-one else will ever know. You can see by their worried faces that the knowledge is already taking its toll. Thank you, Jeff and family, for sharing the horror.

Graham’s Flickr album for the Horror on the Orient Express contains some evocative photographs of the game, players and Keepers, but again there are spoilers galore so don’t look if you are planning to play the scenarios.

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Walking College Hill

During Necronomicon Providence we walked the streets of Lovecraft’s beloved College Hill and surrounds. In those few days we toiled up and down and all around a remarkably steep hill, both by ourselves and with a Lovecraft’s College Hill Walking Tour led by the inimitable Rory Raven. Under Rory’s able guidance we toured the favorite haunts of Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe. We learned a little of the colorful history of Providence, whose founding fathers were a lively collection of privateers, slave traders and determined defenders of religious and personal liberty.

Rory Raven's College Hill Walking Tour

Rory Raven’s College Hill Walking Tour

Highlights of the tour included houses mentioned in Lovecraft’s tales. The Fleur de Lys Studios housed the studio of that dreaming artist Henry Wilcox whose work made such an impression in The Call of Cthulhu. Mark was suitably horrified.

Fleur de Lys Studio

Fleur de Lys Studio

The Studio also has a connection to Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of that superb weird tale, The Yellow Wallpaper. Her artist husband had a studio in the building. Lovecraft hated the Fleur de Lys building, considering it horrible Victorian pastiche, all the more insulting because it was across the street from the First Baptist Church, which he considered a near perfect example of American Georgian architecture. For art enthusiasts, I need to point out that the Providence Art Club, mentioned in my previous post, is on the same street and just up the hill. College Hill is a compact place.

First Baptist Church, Providence

First Baptist Church, Providence

The church is a beautiful building, and its dreaming white steeple could be glimpsed from many parts of Providence. Lovecraft attended the church a few times with his mother and aunts, however he early confessed atheism. Rumor has it that he was expelled from Sunday school after taking the side of the lions against the Christians. However much he disdained organised religion, Lovecraft loved the building and brought all his friends here. He even once sneaked in and tried to play ‘Yes we have no bananas’ on the church organ.

Considering Lovecraft’s early lapse, the church elders were remarkably tolerant of the Lovecraft enthusiasts, and allowed Neconomicon Providence to hold its opening address in the church. This splendid occasion, complete with opening speech by renowned Lovecraft scholar, S.T. Joshi, was spookily interrupted midway through by a ghostly rendition of ‘Yes we have no bananas’.

We visited the H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square. It was more a memorial crossing, but the thought was there. The sign certainly stood at a suitably non-Euclidian angle.

H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square

Rory Raven proved so able a guide, both in his literary enthusiasm and love for his town, that on the last night of our stay I led my own, slightly inebriated, ghost tour of College Hill a for some friends, shamelessly poaching from Rory’s excellent Haunted Providence. Touring College Hill in the dark was a perfect farewell.

Haunted College Hill

Haunted College Hill

We visited an authentically hollowed graveyard, shunned the Shunned House, and viewed Charles Dexter Ward’s mansion from a safe distance.

Looking Down Angell Street

Looking Down Angell Street towards the Arts Club

At one stage I was convinced we were being followed by Brown Jenkins. That is, until our American friends assured me the animal skulking along behind us was a skunk. This was hardly reassuring to an Australian.

As you can see from this final picture, once again returning to Lovecraft’s beloved Prospect Terrace, I think our ghostly homage to Lovecraft and Raven formed a fitting finale.

Haunted Lovecraft Tour

Haunted Lovecraft Tour

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Necronomicon Providence

Necronomicon Providence has come and gone, but it has taken a fortnight for the experience to settle into a stream of coherent images and sentences rather than a series of random thoughts and experiences that trail off into ranting and disconnected gibberish. Visiting Lovecraft’s town, walking his streets, and  standing on Prospect Terrace and seeing the view he loved so much, was unexpectedly moving and oddly profound.

Prospect Terrace Park

Prospect Terrace Park 2013

On the first night of the convention we attended a talk given by Henry Beckwith, author of Lovecraft’s Providence and Adjacent Parts. This was held at the Providence Art Club. Beckwith gave a very personal talk on Lovecraft and  his own memories of Providence. He, like Lovecraft, had rarely moved from College Hill. He concluded with a simple yet profound comment: ‘A man can only ever be born in one place at one time.’ What a lucky man to have been born in that time and this place.

Providence Arts Club

Providence Arts Club

The Providence Art Club, besides hosting Beckwith’s illuminating talk, also hosted one of three art exhibits of the convention. The art ranged from loving homage to skull-searingly weird and one of the paintings, in the  Brown University art exhibition, Grey. Brittle. haunts me still. The title, and subject matter, were taken from The Color Out of Space and for me represented the most unsettling of all the art on display in portraying Lovecraft’s unearthly vision. Meanwhile, back at the Providence Art Club, Lovecraft enthusiasts may recognize the star of the HPLHS’s immortal silent movie, Call of Cthulhu.

HPLHS Cthulhu model

HPLHS Cthulhu model

We also visited  the Providence Athenaeum, the most delightful library I have ever seen. Beloved by both Edgar Allan Poe and Lovecraft, the Athenaeum was holding a Lovecraft exhibit to coincide with Neconomicon Providence, and the unveiling of Bryan Moore’s H.P. Lovecraft bronze bust project. Among the papers, books, busts and postcards I was moved to see Lovecraft’s letter which he wrote on his return to Providence from his “exile” in New York.

Lovecraft's Providence homecoming letter

Lovecraft’s Providence homecoming letter

Meanwhile Mark was delighted to find his own work among the items collected for the Lovecraft exhibit.

Mark at the Athaneaeum with a Spanish copy of Call of Cthulhu.

Mark at the Athaneaeum with a Spanish copy of Call of Cthulhu.

At the unveiling we were lucky enough to meet Bryan  Moore, the exceptionally talented and loquacious bust sculptor, who adopted Mark as “Mark, from Australia!’ and later introduced him to one of Mark’s favorite musicians, Lustmord, who playing at a gig in Providence in Lovecraft’s honor.

H.P. Lovecraft bronze bust sculpted by Btyan Moore

H.P. Lovecraft bronze bust sculpted by Bryan Moore

As a surprise for all the backers at the unveiling, the organizers produced an  excerpt from Brett Rutherford’s play Nightgaunts, a play based on the life and work of H.P. Lovecraft. This wonderful performance was made even more memorable as the actor Carl Johnson, who played H.P. Lovecraft, had played the same role in the original production in 1988, and he spoke of his feelings at meeting the man again after all those years.

Mark with Carl Johnson, as H.P. Lovecraft

Mark with Carl Johnson as H.P. Lovecraft

For me the most spine tingling  lines, a congruent mix of fact and fiction, were given to Susan Lovecraft as she descended into madness at Providence’s Butler hospital, based on excerpts from her diary: “Something about corners? Well, you wouldn’t know, of course. It took me years to understand. Not just any corners, mind you. Only perfectly square corners where the walls meet the ceiling… an intersection of three planes. A mathematician could explain it… my son Howard could explain it. Such corners are weak places, like little mouse holes. They see us through them. They watch us. If it’s dark enough, they come out.”

The Phillips family plot, Swan Point Cemetery Providence

The Phillips family plot, Swan Point Cemetery, Providence

As a fitting tribute to the Horror on the Orient Express,  we were delighted to discover that Providence boasted a bar called the Red Fez, where the special guests were feted. Providence also had a district called the Turk’s Head, in honor of a wooden statue of a Turk’s Head that a local merchant used to keep outside his shop.The Turk was washed away in the Providence hurricane of 1938, but was fortunately found floating in the harbor. Unfortunately it was then placed for safekeeping in a warehouse, which several years later burned down. Rumor has it that the Turk’s Head escaped this final conflagration and became the idol of a tribe of Cherokee Indians. However, unless it bobs up once more, we sadly we must consider it gone. Its likeness was created more durably in stone, when the Turk’s Head building was erected in Providence downtown.

The Turk's Head

The Turk’s Head

Necronomicon Providence was an amazing confluence of art and ideas. So many people, so much passion, so much creativity and so many different artistic interpretations of the work of that one awkward, gregarious lonely visionary who must he believed, when he lay dying, that his work would die with him. Thankfully, Time has proved him wrong.

On the last day of the convention we walked to Lovecraft’s grave in the family plot in Swan Point cemetery. When we visited, the gravesite was quiet. Someone had left Lovecraft a picture, and some sheet music that we can dream was in the style of Erich Zann. The only other visitor was Carl Johnson, sitting quietly nearby and, I like to think, meditating on on his old friend. It was a fitting farewell.

Lovecraft's Grave

Lovecraft’s Grave

We all owe a great debt of thanks to organizer Neils Hobbs and his capable and amazing crew, who dreamed an insane dream and worked so hard to see the vision realized. Another Necronomicon is being promised for 2015. We can only hope that the stars will once again be right.

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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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