Category Archives: Guests

Guest posts by other colleagues involved in this journey.

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.


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 decoration at Postojna

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Other times, other Expresses II

We’re looking here at more brave, insane or intrepid individuals who have lovingly recorded their experience of running or playing Horror on the Orient Express.

Clicking any of the links below will reveal spoilers.

Bret Kramer’s blog post Memories of the Orient Express  on his blog, Tomes in Progress,  is indeed just that. He reminiscences about running the campaign through a nostalgic haze of 20-odd years, and casts a dispassionate eye over the foibles of players, Keepers and writers alike.  He also has a ton of other Keeper aids and hand-outs, and is one of the movers behind the long awaited Masks of Nyarlothoptep Companion.

Call of of Cthulhu, or Constantinople or Bust is an endearing diary version of one gang’s train journey, told in diary format by the different characters and complete with appropriately movie star photographs of the cast. I particularly like a photograph they unearthed for the Sofia  scenario. Thank you Simon, for your brave sacrifice. We fellow soldiers in the Trenches of Horror salute you. 

Simon's Eyeball [Cthulhu or Bust]

Simon’s Eyeball [Source: Constantinople or Bust]

Another 1920s version by Leonard Bottleman starts in the single calm narrative voice of Franklin Meyers, as a recap to the now scattered investigators.  However by the time the team reach Belgrade, different narrators, and a strong hint of panic, emerge. The story includes the maps and characters from the scenarios  as an aid to the reader, and as always I am in awe of how so many Keepers found so many ingenious ways to plug plot holes and keep things moving and entertaining.

Some Keepers have cleverly translated the campaign out of its 1920s roots.

Gaslight diary sets the story in 1890, and was played as a World of Darkness campaign and recorded by Derek Morton. The account is The Diary of Tweeney Sodd  and it’s a note perfect rattling easy Victorian pastiche, but its writers have used white writing on black background rendering the entire story into squint-o-vision. Copy and paste, readers, to enjoy such gems as: “I am not sure what was going on but Nigel had brought his shotgun with him.”

Yellow Dawn Session notes is a cyberpunk take on the Express by the seriously talented and deeply weird David J. Rodgers. It takes the Express to a sanity stretching Sofia. It also features a very classy image of the head of the Sedefkar Simulacrum.

Head of the Sedefkar Simulacrum Statue – image by sirylok

Head of the Sedefkar Simulacrum Statue – image by sirylok

So the train steams ever onward into new worlds of fantasy and imagination.


Filed under Guests, Writing

The Priory, and what lurked within…

Beware, here be spoilers….

The train from Paris has just arrived

The train from Paris has just arrived

You’ve been warned…

You could just have a quick look-around and leave

You could just have a quick look-around and leave

Don’t say you haven’t…

Or take a horse-drawn cart back to Paris

Or take a horse-drawn cart back to Paris

In 1987, as my wife Veronique and I were expecting a baby-girl, Quitterie, Mark Morrison and Penelope Love came to visit us in our small house, West of Paris. Call of Cthulhu aficionados, we had never met before and would not meet again for another twenty-four years, but it was in those few days spent together that the seeds of Horror on The Orient Express were sown.

The history of that campaign is long, dark, and twisted, as it should be, and interested parties who do not care much for their Sanity can roll Library Use at this address on the forum, where I have, over the years, posted, not always alas in chronological order, all the correspondence I have managed to find about the campaign.

In a few words, Mark pitched the idea of an European sourcebook to Lynn Willis at Chaosium, and from this, in increments, the campaign was born. This was long before the Internet, and so ideas and scenarios and corrections had to be faxed or mailed over long distances. In France, my main mission was to contact the Compagnie des Wagons-Lits and obtain permission to make fictional use of the famous train-line.

-Bonjour, this is Docteur Lehmann calling from Poissy. A few fellow-writers and I would like permission to use the name and logo of the Compagnie des Wagons Lits and the Orient-Express for a game of investigations…

-Ah bon?

-Think of it as a new version of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient-Express”

-Ah, I see. That seems fine. As long as there is no train-wreck in the story. That would reflect badly on the pristine history of the line.

-Oh, no, don’t worry. There are spontaneous combustions, beheadings, losses of life and limb, people driven mad salivating in the dark recesses of Charenton Asylum where they fall prey to the perverse nocturnal habits of members of the staff, but, on my doctor’s honor, NO TRAIN WRECK

-Guess that’s OK, then. Good day, Docteur.

As it happens, one of my wife’s ancestors had crafted wood-work in the fine furniture on the Orient Express…The train took on many other writers, and in the end I was left standing on the platform in Paris “having been delayed at Charenton Asylum” as Mark put it  😉

My second novel was being filmed as the deadline for my scenario approached, and there was no way I could deliver on time. So mixing my ideas and script with great input from Richard Watts, Geoff Gillan and Nick Hagger, the Paris and Poissy chapters were crafted, and when I received the finished product, I had the surprise of discovering that in a very touching and slightly unnerving gesture, Mark and his brethren from down under had incorporated our small family into the arc of the story. ( Previewing this chapter, Mark tells me something I never knew: it was Nick Hagger, whom I’d never met but who had inherited my notes and knew why I was unable to write the story, who used Mark’s memories of us to include the Lorien family into the Poissy chapter)

Madame Veronique Lorien

Madame Veronique Lorien

Years later, when the Kickstarter for “HOTOE reloaded” succeeded in such amazing fashion, I told Mark I was ready to go back over those chapters in France and enhance them a little if I could. Part of the chase for a mysterious artefact brings investigators to Paris and then onto Poissy, a smallish historical city 30 kms West of the capital, in which I have worked as a general practitioner for thirty years.

Just before the French Revolution, a great evil lurked in the town

Just before the French Revolution, a great evil lurked in the town

Mark and Richard and I had crafted a tale for the loss of this artifact around the time of the French Revolution, but I had glossed over details at the time.

What evil lurks in the heart of Poissy? The gargoyle knows

What evil lurks in the heart of Poissy? The gargoyle knows

Now I was going back over terrain that was so familiar I did not usually give it a second glance, and things began to get strange. Very strange. I searched for old photographs, old postcards, to get an accurate picture of the town around 1923 at the time of the campaign. An elderly woman patient who had lived all her life in Poissy lent me her personal collection of photos, reminisced, and a whole sector of town, the forgotten and hidden “Enclos de l’Abbaye”, a recluse priory in the center of town next to a great wooded park, came to life for me. As in any good CoC campaign, I then contacted the Cercle d’Etudes Historiques et Archéologiques de Poissy, where kindly protectors of the past let me peruse old documents, old maps, some of which I scanned for the new edition.

I had passed the Enclos de l'Abbaye for years without going through that porch

I had passed the Enclos de l’Abbaye for years without going through that porch

I work on what was in 1923 the Place de la Gare, and as train-stations, arrivals, etc… are a big part of such a campaign, I looked specifically for photographs of the time, and paid close attention to the remaining buildings around, with their beautiful old stone-masonry. The day after that, a block of masonry as big as a small suitcase cracked and fell on the pavement just in front of my office.

Place de la Gare, circa 1923

Place de la Gare, circa 1923

Poissy is the birthplace of King Louis IX of France, Saint-Louis as he is better known, ( and this being Europe, my wife’s family can trace their ancestry up to the King…) In the church where we married I found his baptismal font, as well as strange and gruesome hints about his death during a Crusade and the way his body was disposed off, gruesome hints with obvious links to the central theme of the campaign.

The Church: Collégiale Notre Dame de Poissy

The Church: Collégiale Notre Dame de Poissy

And looking around the enclosure of the Abbaye, I walked up cobbled paths between old houses, relics, stone fragments, searching for the site of the Historical Society, and trying to pick a suitable address for the house of Dr Lorien and his wife. I knew from the original campaign what the house should look like from the outside, and one house picked my fancy, in the old photographs from the turn of the century as well as in real-life, as it hadn’t changed much.

The house I chose for Docteur Lorien and his family

The house I chose for Docteur Lorien and his family

Looking through the documents in the vaults of the Historical Society, I found photographs of passageways and hidden doors deep under the basements of the houses, and learned that most of the inhabitants of the Abbaye had been Protestants and must have used these passages from house to house as safeguards in case religious mistrust flared again.

The passage

The passage

Some of these passages looked uncannily like those Nick had invented all those years ago…

Forgotten for centuries...

Forgotten for centuries…

I wanted to tell my friends of this weird example of serendipity, when, turning a page, I found a photograph of what I had chosen as the Lorien’s house. And there, scrawled in the left hand corner or the photograph, were clearly legible these few words: “La maison du docteur”. “The doctor’s house”. I fled, screaming, the way one does when confronted with the malevolence of a twisted, uncaring universe.

Unnamed general practitioner of erstwhile good repute- Charenton Asylum-1923

Unnamed general practitioner of erstwhile good repute- Charenton Asylum-1923

Christian Lehmann

PS: Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.

Quitterie Lorien, a playful child, quickly forgot that night, and the "thing in the window"

Quitterie Lorien, a playful child, quickly forgot that night, and the “thing in the window”

PPS: The photograph of Veronique Lorien is an actual photograph of my wife’s  grand-mother circa 1923. The photograph of the playful child grimacing in the garden is also a family heirloom, an Instagram photograph of the 1920’s, I guess. The child’s father must have made the photo and used it as a postcard sent to friends.


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