Category Archives: Travel

Posts about our own travels along the Orient Express route.

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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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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De Horrore Cosmico

It will be ripe in a yeare’s time to have up ye Legions from Underneath, and then there are no Boundes to what shal be oures.

In the new edition of Horror on the Orient Express we included “Sanguis Omnia Vincet”, a historical scenario by Oscar Rios set in Nova Roma aka Constantinople 330 AD. It tells of the events which set in motion the madness that follows, many centuries later.

That got us interested in Cthulhu Invictus. The playtest was particularly fun, and the players had a great time as investigators who were Roman soldiers. So, when Oscar Rios invited us to contribute a scenario to his new Golden Goblin Press project, De Horrore Cosmico, we jumped in with both sandals.

De Horrore Cosmico

De Horrore Cosmico

De Horrore Cosmico is Kickstarting now and many stretch goals have already been unlocked – in fact, not only did Mark help with the scenario, he will be making three Roman coins (a Sestertius, Denarius and Aurius) in his other gaming life as one half of Campaign Coins.

The idea behind the book is surely inspired by the divine Jupiter himself; Ancient Roman scenarios based on classic Lovecraft stories. Our scenario is ‘The Case of Tillius Orestes Sempronius’, a tale of a young man who has strangely lost his memory. Or as Lovecraft might well have put it, ‘From a private villa in Tusculum there recently disappeared an exceedingly singular person’. We very much enjoyed speculating on how the events of the story would unfold in an earlier age.

The other writers are the legendary Chad Bowser (co-creator of Cthulhu Invictus) and the imperious Oscar Rios, along with veteran authors Stuart Boon and Jeffrey Moeller, and new recruit, Phredd Groves. Lisa Padol is co-editing the book with Oscar.

Oscar then bravely decided to add a fiction anthology as a stretch goal and thus the idea for Tales of Cthulhu Invictus was born, edited by the wonderful Brian M. Sammons. I was delighted when my story ‘Signs of the Black Stars’ was accepted, especially as I based it on an obscure piece of Lovecraftania, ‘The Very Old Folk’.

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus

Lovecraft was a lucid dreamer and the dreams he describes in his Selected Letters have an amazing, and occasionally, terrifying verve and momentum. You can see where the Dreamlands came from. On the night of October 31, 1927, inspired by the neighbours’ Halloween celebrations, Lovecraft had a nightmare from which he had to force himself awake, a dream of being an ancient Roman by the name of Lucius Caelius Rufus investigating a strange Iberian hill tribe. He wrote about his dream to several of his correspondents; it has that vivid and inexorable pace of nightmare that Lovecraft could summon up so well. You can read his description of the dream courtesy of the University of Adelaide. (Ia! Truly Lovecraft fans are found in strange, far places.)

In my story I decided the incident in which Lucius Caelius Rufus came so memorably unstuck was caused by a certain entity evoked in a wonderful invocation that Lovecraft generously passed on to a very young Robert Bloch, for use in his story, ‘The Shambler from the Stars’: Tibi, magnum Innominandum, signa stellarum nigrarum et bufoniformis Sadoquae sigillum. The quote gave me the title of they story, ‘Signs of the Black Stars’, and I used Caelius Rufus as a historical figure in an affectionate tribute to old Grandpa himself.

Our interest in Ancient Rome has long roots. As a child travelling with my Classics-loving father around Europe I visited many a Roman ruin. He once severely embarrassed my teenage self by reciting (from memory, bless him) Horace’s Ode to a Sacred Spring at an actual sacred spring near the Temple of Hercules in the ancient Roman spa town of Glanum. I’ve now read some of the Classics for myself, in translation I hasten to add, and I am only sorry that my true enjoyment of these works came too late to share with my father, who has now passed away.

Many are the good men who weep for his dying,
none of them, Virgil, weep more profusely than you.
– Horace, A Lament For Quintilius

On a happier note, Mark has already co-written a project about Ancient Rome: QED: Cosmo’s Casebook is a game for history students in Year 7, in which you win legal trials in the time of the Roman Republic. The themes and lore are accurate, but there are also a lot of jokes. Mark had a great time writing this with fellow Orient Express author Nick Hagger, and videogame artist colleague Lewis Mitchell. The game is free, and you can learn all the secrets of the Ancient Rome – how did they clean their wigs (urine) and the never-fail cure for hiccups (kissing a she-mule).

QED: Cosmo's Casebook

QED: Cosmo’s Casebook

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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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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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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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