Vale Greg Stafford

Greg Stafford

Greg’s back

Last Friday night, a top bloke by the name of Greg Stafford went into his sweat lodge and never came out. Greg was a huge influence on us because he founded Chaosium and without him there would be no RuneQuest, no Pendragon and certainly no Call of Cthulhu, three games we have played and written for all our lives. These games we loved, and they have led us many places, gifted us many friends, introduced us to each other (we met running the RuneQuest tournament Kree Mountain at Arcanacon in 1984). I even wrote a Glorantha novel, The Widow’s Tale (published by Tradetalk but now out of print). So these games have given us so much pleasure and meaning. This all comes back to one inspired dreamer with a vision, the worlds he created, shared and mentored, and the crazy little company he founded.

Greg was one of the few people I met with a natural 18 Charisma. Another late and lamented friend Keith Herber told us of how when he first joined Chaosium, Greg took him to the Golden Gate buffalo park and encouraged him to jump the electric fence and give those mighty bison a mighty good scratch. These were not cows, you understand, they were large unpredictable wild animals, not noted for high intelligence even by their best friends, and with the capacity, ability and sheer mean minded cussedness to stomp you to death. Keith followed Greg’s lead, jumped the fence and scratched, which kind of gives you the idea of Greg’s powers of leadership, oratory, and just plumb California crazy.

Golden Gate Park bison

He doesn’t think much of you either

I like to think that Greg did not die, simply strode out through the door of consciousness and charged out off across the Spirit Plane. So I will keep an eye out for any bison in my dreams over the coming days, months and years, and should one appear and tell me to jump that fence I will gladly do so.

Though should that bison give me the sword Excalibur and tell me to chuck in the lake I shall not obey, no I shall mount my trusty and well-beloved palfrey, a giant wombat, and charge off to have adventures of my own. For that is the gift that Greg has given us, the gift of crafting our own story.

What do I feel about Greg stepping through that sweat lodge door?  Well, as a rather long winded chap by the name of Tennyson put it in Morte d’Arthur:

The sequel of to-day unsolders all
The goodliest fellowship of famous knights
Whereof this world holds record. Such a sleep
They sleep—the men I loved.

Or as another chap by the name of Chaucer put it more succinctly,
‘He was a veray parfit gentil knight.’

Translated into modern Australian, that means he was a top bloke.

Vale Greg!

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Gen Con 2018: Awards & Broadcasts

mad-mark

This is my happy face.

I’m at Gen Con 2018, about to run a special celebratory game of French Revolution Call of Cthulhu for my good friends Steven Marsh, Nikki Vrtis & Pedro Ziviani. Not shown, the tiny bottle of Moet & Chandon we just shared (everyone got a good thimble full, we were off the hook). We played “Love Eterne”, a new scenario by myself and Penny.

The celebration was because the night prior, our book Reign of Terror won Gold for Best Supplement award at the 2018 ENnie Awards. Mon dieu!

That was a major thrill for so many reasons: the awards were held at the Union Station Ballroom, a mere severed head’s throw from the Crowne Plaza pullman cars where the original scenario was played in 2013 with superbackers Jason, Tom, Thomas & Travis. I was also so pleased to have co-writer James Coquillat up on stage with me (speaking French, as he does), as the work that he, Penny and Darren Watson put into the book transformed it from being just my gruesome little tale into a fully-fledged supplement for playing French campaigns in the late 18th century. It was also a win for artist Victor Leza, cartographers Stephanie McAlea and Olivier Sanfilippo, editor Mike Mason, the playtesters and all at Chaosium who made the book what it is.

Our game was a blast, and good practice for me: one week later I ran the same scenario live on Saving Throw Show in Los Angeles, with friends Amy Vorpahl, Dom Zook, Jason Caves-Callarman & Tom Lommel. (And, to my left, Tom & Lyndsay’s greyhound Luigi, who plays the part of Lucky, a dog.)

“Why watch people play when you could be playing yourself?” some of my friends often say about streamed games, and that’s a fair statement I guess, but it’s like asking “Why ride an electric bike when you could ride a normal bike?” The answer is the same: it’s an alternative, not a replacement.

Streamed roleplaying game sessions have revolutionised our hobby. It shows everyone how much fun it is, how easy it is to do, and functions as good television in its own right: it’s like improv drama with occasional dice. There’s a massive new audience of people who like to watch, and it is directly inspiring a legion of new players who want to try it. The phenomenon of Actual Play won the Diana Jones award this year at Gen Con, and I think it is well deserved: now when we tell stories with each other, we can share them with the world, and get them to join in.

Saving Throw have a fantastic studio set up with a dedicated table, cameras and mikes. I’d been wanting to try running a streamed game for a long time, and it was even better than I hoped; with such amazing players and wonderful set up, everything was easy.

The whole game is now live on YouTube. It contains no spoilers for Reign of Terror, but it certainly does spoil (drum roll) Reign of Terror 2 – we are working on an all new book of scenarios for release from Chaosium in late 2019, and “Love Eterne” will be included.

I’ve got lots more to say about Gen Con, and everything else Cthulhu that’s been happening this year, but for now: here’s me running a game. What an age we live in that I can share such a thing. Sacre bleu !

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Reign of Terror

Reign of Terror hardcover

Just when you think Horror on the Orient Express is done, along comes one last carriage, and a bloody one at that.

Reign of Terror is the 20th and final chapter in the campaign, out now in hardcover from Chaosium.com and from retailers in March.

The scenario started life as the secret backer scenario at Gen Con 2013. Jason, Thomas, Tom and Travis were the four backers at the One Night at Gen Con pledge level, which got them a ticket for a never-to-be-revealed secret scenario. Penny vague blogged about it at the time, without revealing what horrors took wing in that landlocked Pullman car at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Indianapolis on a hot summer night. We all had a fantastic game and parted as great friends, with me promising to send them the written version before too long…

And then life intervened, as it does.

Or, um, let’s be honest, my poor deadline management. As it does.

In 2016 when Chaosium realised that the backers were still waiting patiently for their written up version of the scenario, they asked the four players for permission to hire me to formally write it up as a proper full length piece and share with the world. The backers agreed (they got some extra bonuses), and so the Reign of Terror book was born.

Here’s the short synopsis: the scenario is a playable version of the handouts in the Paris chapter of Horror on the Orient Express which describe events in France in 1789 which, as you know, was quite the calendar year. One month after the activity described in the handouts, the Bastille was stormed, and France (and western democracy) was forever changed.

Storming of the Bastille

Storming of the Bastille. (Source: Wikipedia)

In future posts I’ll write more about what inspired the scenario and how the full sourcebook took shape, with superb help from my co-conspirators: Penny (of course), plus with James Coquillat (his scenario Terror Itself co-written with David Naylor was a launch title on Miskatonic Repository) and Darren Watson (who contributed the excellent air travel article in Horror on the Orient Express, as well as much of the new 1923 historical headlines and snippets). Until then…

Vive la Mort !

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Lurching back to life

Horror on the Orient Express by tohdraws (Deviantart)

Horror on the Orient Express by tohdraws (Deviantart)

 

That is not dead…

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Nominations and other celebrations

ENnies 2015 Nominee

I’ve thrown down some Saltes and raised up our blog today to talk about a few cool things happening for Horror on the Orient Express.

The big news, we have been nominated for four ENnies Awards!

The ENnies recognise the best roleplaying publications of each year, so it’s a huge honour to be considered among the best of 2015. A panel of judges selects the short list of nominees, and then gamers everywhere vote on the winners.

Every single nomination delights me:

  • The Best Adventure nomination honours all of the writers, too many to list here (hi everyone!) but particular kudos to Geoff Gillan, who first dreamed of our iron nightmare in 1989;
  • The Best Cartography nomination honours Stephanie McAlea, who created stunning and meticulously researched maps, in both player and keeper versions;
  • The Best Production Values nomination honours Meghan McLean, who oversaw every detail of art and layout, with help from Charlie Krank and Nicholas Nacario;
  • And, the Product of the Year nomination honours both the Kickstarter backers who believed in us, and the memory of our mentor Lynn Willis, who commissioned and edited the original project in 1989, and taught us all to be better writers, and better people.

We encourage you to vote! Whether or not Orient Express makes it onto your final ballot, there are some amazing nominees, all worthy of your acclaim.

After attending last year’s awards for the first time I am such a believer in the ENnies that as Campaign Coins I have become a sponsor; we will be providing the ENnies medallions this year, from a great design by Daniel Solis.

ENnies medal (designed by Daniel Solis, made by Campaign Coins)

ENnies medal (made by Campaign Coins)

The ceremony is held in the Grand Hall in the historic Union Station in Indianapolis, as part of Gen Con. I cannot image a more fitting place to raise a glass to the Orient Express. Many attendees suit up and frock up to make it a glamorous occasion; last year I had a great chat with Dead Scare author Elsa S. Henry who looked totally ready to board the overnight train to Lausanne.

Elsa S. Henry

Author Elsa S. Henry at the 2014 ENnies

Penny & I will both be at Gen Con this year, so be sure to say hello! Come visit us at our Campaign Coins booth #529, just down the aisle from Chaosium.

In other news, today is the last day to back the Sedefkar Simulacrum Kickstarter, from artist Delphes Desvoivres. The project is fully funded, and full of amazing things: for just 5 Euros you can get the sensational postcard of Comte Fenalik, drawn in the style of the 18th century, and posted from the Louvres where it hangs in the campaign. It is my favourite ever depiction of the Comte. I’m also excited about the new period style poster for Aida at La Scala, starring Caterina Cavolarro.

Best of all of course is the simulacrum itself, now available in the original deluxe size, but also a new smaller size, with magnetised limbs. Delphes had the absolute inspiration of adding a female torso and head. This really will be a beautiful and creepy centrepiece for your campaign, but be quick, the Simulacrum is disappearing today!

Sedefkar Simulacrum female and male torsos

Sedefkar Simulacrum female and male torsos, by Delphes Desvoivres

Meanwhile, the train goes on. We are really happy to read that backer copies of the campaign have now reached most of you across the world, and folks really seem to be appreciating the amazing (and award nominated!) production values that Chaosium brought to the project. We know it was a long wait, but we hope that you believe that it was worth it.

There have been some changes at Chaosium over the last month, so we’d like to take this moment to acknowledge our friend Charlie Krank for inviting us to revisit the train. Without him, we never would have had the chance to do this all over again, and in such style.

May all your journeys be safe ones!

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The Last Post

Horror on the Orient Express is at last pulling into its final destination. The first copies have arrived in backers’ houses generally with a resounding ker-thump, and a twinge of sore backs. You are warned, folks, the Thing on the Doorstep is actually a brick.

It was a two year journey, and far longer and stranger than any of us planned. To stretch the analogy, possibly to breaking point, we have dug the train out of snow-drifts, left friends stranded at out of the way stations, and scattered a trail of lost toothbrushes, odd socks and broken suitcases in far and foreign lands. However all these travails are forgotten as at last we hold the Brick  in our hands (and always remember, folks,  when picking it up keep your back straight and bend at the knees).

Stack of books - from Games from the Front blog

Stack of books – from Games from the Front blog

We already have a photo blog of the formal Unwrapping of the Campaign Box by Ty Snouffer from the Games from the Front blog, and a nice review on The Escapist by Adam Gauntlett (“Where the reprint expands on the original scenarios, it’s almost always for the better.”)

The short story collection Madness on the Orient Expressoverseen by the all-seeing editorial eye of James Lowder, will be out by the end of the year. The PDF is already available. Two of the original Horror on the Orient Express crew, myself and the erudite Geoff Gillan, have stories included in the anthology, along with a host of luminaries. It has an evocative cover, perfectly capturing that moment when one must confront the tentacled monstrosities that have taken over the dining car.

Cover art for Madness on the Orient Express

Cover art – Madness on the Orient Express

Like the people on the train above, this is our stop. But as our Kickstarted journey is ending, someone else’s is beginning: Bret Kramer of the splendid WordPress blog Tomes in Progress is crowdfunding the Third Issue of The Arkham Gazette, a magazine all about Lovecraft Country. If your investigators refuse to set foot on the Continent again after Orient Express, Bret will give them plenty of things to fear back home in the Americas.

Don’t be a stranger on the train. You’ll find Mark over at Campaign Coins. He also has his personal Twitter feed, more to do with our writing projects. If you want to haunt us, start there.

One more round of thanks before we go, first and foremost to the much lamented, redoubtable Lynn Willis, the original editor and visionary.  To Charlie Krank and Meghan McLean and Nick Nacario and Mike Mason and everyone at Chaosium who kept the dream alive, and took the reprint to heights we would never have dared dream. All the other writers, those who came back, those who joined us, and those who wished us well: Bernard, Carl, Christian, Darren, David, Geoff, Hans-Christian, Marion, Matthew, Michael, Mike, Nick, Oscar, Paul, Paul, Phil, Richard & Russell.

Most of all, we thank all you lovely Kickstarter backers, who kept faith in this ambitious project. Georges Nagelmackers could not have dug the Simplon Tunnel without help from his backers and without you this mighty tome would be but an unsavory gleam in a cephalopod eye. Together we have arrived at our destination, and now, alas, we part. This is our last stop on the journey of this blog. Our last post. Our last words, our last hurrah, and our last point of Sanity.

Good bye all, and thank you. It has been one hell of a ride.

 

Georges Nagelmackers and his train

Georges Nagelmackers, and his train, depart

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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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