Tag Archives: L.N.Isinwll

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 yog-sothoth.com 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 ¬†ūüėČ

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 Arch√©ologiques 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.


Filed under Guests

Infamous Orient Express Editor

Dean from Cthulhu Reborn¬†was recently going through a cache of old documents handed to him by Horror on the Orient Express writer Geoff Gillan, and found the following epistle. It is addressed “Dear Famous Orient Express Author” and signed “Infamous Orient Express Editor”.

I had forgotten all about this. It’s the form letter I included when I sent out the 8 numbered editions of the typescript manuscript for the original campaign. This was the version before it left Australia and went to Lynn for editing. I donated my copy of the ms. a while back to Paul of Cthulhu for the archives at Innsmouth House, aka the home of Yog-Sothoth.com.

Here is Dean’s scan and typescript of the letter. It’s not quite a Letter of Note, but it was cool to see this again after 20+ years. Warning, it contains a Bad Word.


Letter to the authors, 1991.

Dear Famous Orient Express Author,

This is it, your personal copy of the entire manuscript. Hang on to it, because whatever Lynn publishes, it's going to be different in many billion ways. The Willis Edit is going to be as different from the Morrison Edit as, say, the Morrison Edit was from your own work.

Which brings me to my next point. I'm sorry, but I did what I hadn't planned to do when I started out on this: I changed things. In some cases not much, in some cases quite a bit. These were my objectives:

  • To try to keep the page length down. Where something was said twice, or perhaps not said in the most economical way, I pared it back.
  • To mesh with the entire back story, as interpereted by me. If your scenario tossed up something that I couldn't work with, it went.
  • To conform to certain conventions that I developed while working on this. The principal one was, I wanted to avoid predicting the investigator's emotions¬†and actions as much as possible.
  • Unless the plot required it, or something needed to be explained a bit, I did my level best to avoid inserting anything new into your work. I hope you can¬†still look at all (or, at least, most) of it and think, yep, I did that.

    I've had my own scenarios rewritten. I've found in them things that I would not have put there myself. Some added to the work, and some detracted from it. In one case I found something in there which I found morally repugnant (I may be on thin ice here. I set a horrible situation up; the editor just explained it in a way that I would never have). So I know that when someone has been clomping through your prose, it's a bastard of a thing to have to look at. But I also came to understand that, when you're editing a roleplaying book, which is after all a product to be marketed, you have to shape it in the way that makes most sense to you. So I did.

    I don't really mean to grovel or snarl here, I just wanted to let you know that things happened. I reckon that, as it stands, it's a fucking great book. I hope you'll agree, without a diminished sense of your own invaluable contribution to it.



    Infamous Orient Express Editor

There it is, 1991 Morrison trying to placate the authors. You’d have to ask them if it worked or not. I’ll write more about editing then and now in a future post.

And, as for the “morally repugnant” scenario, I think I know the one I was referring to, and I ran it again recently without thinking twice about the content. 1991 Morrison was so sensitive. Looking at it again, I think the editor really did just come out and say what I’d put in there psychologically, and in doing so made the scenario more true. If you can’t stand the horror, stay out of the abattoir.

Thanks again to Dean from Cthulhu Reborn for dragging this missive out of the archives for me. He does splendid work, and has recently cooked up some super PDF versions of three of our scenarios from long ago, originally published on Shannon Appel’s Chaosium Digest:

Free Call of Cthulhu  PDF scenarios by Gillan, Love & Morrison, from Cthulhu Reborn

Call of Cthulhu scenarios in PDF by Love, Gillan & Morrison [from Cthulhu Reborn]

The PDFs are all free, so go and¬†download ’em!

¬†Dean has just put out his first full commercial release. Mutable Deceptions Volume 1: Jazz Age Newspapers¬†is¬†a nifty PDF generator for creating your own 1920s and 1930s style newspaper handouts for Call of Cthulhu¬†or other games.¬†I’m using it to make additional newspaper articles for the current Horror on the¬†Orient Express playtest. It’s swanky. And, at just US $5.95, a bargain.
Mutable Deceptions Volume 1: Jazz Age Newspapers

Mutable Deceptions Volume 1: Jazz Age Newspapers


Filed under Writing

Lynn Willis: Steadfast Editor & Dreamer

Professor L.N. Isinwyll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynn Willis and Mark Morrison outside Chaosium, 1991

Lynn Willis and Mark Morrison outside Chaosium, Oakland 1991.

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

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

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

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


Filed under Chaosium