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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The horror to end all horrors

World War One Cthulhu image (c) 2011 Red Wasp Design for The Wasted Land computer game

World War One Cthulhu image (c) 2011 Red Wasp Design for The Wasted Land computer game

It’s 2014 and, at last, the train is arriving. Download codes for the final PDF of Horror on the Orient Express have just been sent out to all backers (check your emails), and the Chaosium crew are gearing up for a frenzy of collating as they put together the packages for everyone, with an estimated release date of 17 October. The final boxed set weighs in at over 3 kilograms, so while it has been a while coming, it will definitely land with a thump. Charlie had a shrink wrapped box mockup at Gen Con, and it is not so much a roleplaying supplement as a murder weapon. Don’t drop it on your foot.

100 years ago it was 1914, and the calamity of war broke out across Europe. The scars of that hideous disaster last to this day, as it sowed the seeds for even worse horrors to come. In Horror on the Orient Express many of the scenarios deal with the effects of the Great War, both on the psyche of those who survived, or in the changing face of the nations involved. The Lausanne, Dreamlands, Venice and Vinkovci chapters all speak directly of the experience of the veterans. We have done our best to write about these complex situations with respect for those involved, and the true horror of what they went through.

It is something that Penny and I feel most keenly, as both of our grandfathers fought in the First World War. My grandfather Ward Morrison from Wodonga served in the Australian Light Horse, and was posted to Egypt in 1915 and then on to the Western Front in 1916, until the end of the war. He was on leave in Scotland on Armistice Day in 1918, and thus made it through alive and unscathed – unlike his cousin Hawton, dead just one month before the end of the war.

These extraordinary events make you as a descendant feel both small and scared, but luckily both our grandfathers came home again. Even though they did not know each other, both were present on the Front on the day that Von Richtofen was shot down, and Ward’s best friend swore black and blue that he sighted his rifle and fired at the very moment that the Red Baron’s plane dipped, a claim no doubt made by thousands of the other Aussie soldiers taking pot shots that day.

Death of Baron von Richthofen, by A. Henry Fullwood. Source: Australian War Memorial.

Death of Baron von Richthofen, by A. Henry Fullwood. Source: Australian War Memorial.

When I ran the playtest for Horror on the Orient Express, we gave the investigators an existing friendship, and a prior encounter with the Mythos. I wanted to avoid the typical roadblocks at the start of a horror scenario: “Why should I trust you people?” and “This can’t be happening, I don’t believe it.”

Given that the campaign is set in Europe 1923, it seemed ideal to establish that they were all in France 1918. Harry Fitz-Alan was a Captain in the British Army, and Dr. Thomas Harrington was the surgeon who rebuilt Fitz-Alan’s features after he was hideously injured in an explosion. James O’Hara was an American newspaperman covering the war, and Ernest Wellman was an American airman who flew with the Lafayette Escadrille.

Each of the players chose a period photo for their investigator, and I put these on the Keeper’s Screen during our sessions. Here’s a photo of the screen at the end of the campaign. As you can see from the amendments, the war changed them, but the Express warped them.

Keeper's screen with period photos

Keeper’s screen during playtests, with period photos

We did not play an actual scenario set in the Great War, we just described the events of one fateful day leading up to the explosion which maimed Fitz-Alan, a terrible encounter with flesh-eating men behind the lines, men who would lope and gibber and not fall down when shot repeatedly, men who were not men at all.

We just made that up quickly, but it was such good setup for the characters that I wish we had played a Great War scenario out in full. But you can take this option if you back the new Pagan Publishing scenario collection Horrors of War: A Covenant with Death, which is on Kickstarter now (but not for long, it ends 30 September). 

Horrors of War: A Covenant with Death, from Pagan Publishing

Scott Glancy and John H. Crowe have actually been writing Call of Cthulhu scenarios set during the Great War for seven years now, so they have a strong collection of adventures already playtested and ready to go. This would be the perfect prequel for your Horror on the Orient Express campaign. If the campaign reaches its major stretch goal in the next two days then Scott will throw in Volume 2 for free to all who back at the appropriate level.  I hope you will consider supporting this excellent project.

We’re now shovelling coal into the furnace of our writer’s blog to get back up to steam to celebrate the impending and long awaited release of Horror on the Orient Express. Next time, Penny will be taking you back to Ancient Rome, to talk about another great project on Kickstarter right now. Ave, Cthulhu!

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Sedefkar Simulacrum: You will hold in your hands what men died for, screaming…

20140621064238-POSTER_FINAL

 

A year ago, two of my friends asked me to help them on their quest to create a replica of the Sedefkar Simulacrum, the dreaded artifact which is a centerpiece of Horror on The Orient Express.

I had told them time and time again, as ageing writers tend to do, about that seminal moment a quarter of a century ago when Mark Morrison sat in my kitchen near Paris over a mug of coffee and said: “We should do a European sourcebook together”. This was the beginning of the campaign which you will soon hold in your hands in an updated, revised, greatly enhanced version.

Denys, who is a great gamesmaster and player, told me that his companion, Delphes, an artist, had started to sculpt the Sedefkar Simulacrum, THE ultimate prop for HOTOE.

A year later, with permission from Chaosium and praise from fellow writers Mark Morrison and Richard Watts, the crowdfunding has started.

Check it out, and do help us to get the word out among Call of Cthulhu Keepers and players, as well as collectors of arcane Lovecraftian artifacts:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-sedefkar-simulacrum
Mark Morrison: “Delphes’ arresting statue of the Sedefkar Simulacrum brings the full weight of its exquisite horror to the gaming table, and makes each scenario victory that much more rewarding. Players will long to see it completed, but dread the results. I can’t think of a better way to bring the story to life.”

We had a great time putting up the trailer with a very professional team, and I hope many of the pledgers for the campaign will be intrigued by this. ( I hasten to add that this project has been vetted by Chaosium but is being done  separately by Denys Corel, Delphes Desvoivres and their team).  Come aboard for the ride…

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The Pitch Has Dropped

Last April I speculated in this post on the Leiberesque qualities of the Pitch Drop. This University of Queensland experiment was set up in 1927 to illustrate that solids, under certain circumstances, act as liquids. Pitch was boiled and sealed in a vacuum over a funnel. Since then ever so agonisingly slowly, yet inevitably, drip by drip, the pitch has dropped.

The Pitch Drop

The historical Pitch Drop, courtesy of the UQ website

The Pitch Drop has become the world’s longest running and some would say, most boring, experiment. At the time of writing last year, the ninth drop was trembling on the brink – metaphorically speaking, as time moves very slowly for pitch.

The Pitch Drop exemplifies Deep Time, that washes around our own brief lives and cannot be hurried or slowed by any human agency. Lovecraft would have loved it, I am sure, as Deep Time features so constantly in his stories. In one of his letters he dismissed the entire span of human life on earth as (cosmically speaking) an ephemeral accident.

The Pitch Drop

The Pitch Drop live feed snapshot as of 29 April 2014 10:24 am, courtesy of the UQ website.

Professor John Mainstone was custodian of the Pitch Drop for fifty years yet missed all three drops that occurred on his watch, once by mere minutes. How’s that for cruel irony? And here’s a crueller blow. The ninth pitch drop has finally dropped. However Time had already intervened with stately finality for Professor Mainstone, who died in August last year. Sadly, the pitch drops for no man.

On this note, alert readers will notice in the photograph above that the nine previous drops have now been removed, to give the tenth drop a good long run-up.

Professor John Maidstone and his nemesis, courtesy of UQP, http://smp.uq.edu.au/content/pitch-drop-experiment

The late Professor John Mainstone and his nemesis, courtesy of  the UQ website.

The good news is that the current custodian, Professor Andrew White, describes himself as just “four pitch drops old”, thus showing the right mind set for the job.

You can see the Pitch Drop by live feed here. You can also join the band of devoted enthusiasts who are now waiting for the tenth pitch drop. Their motto is “Keep Up the Watch”. Their optimistic credo: “Only 14 or so years to go”. Just remember that as you watch the pitch, the pitch is also watching you.

It is of course a natural jump from time to trains. Check out this beautiful replica of a 1919 Orient Express dining car. Again, alert readers may notice a little something odd, especially about the scale and the interior.

Henrik Lego train exterior

Henrik Hoexbroe train exterior, courtesy of the Brothers Brick website

Yes, the heroic Henrik Hoexbroe has painstakingly created a 1919 Orient Express dining car, inside and out, in Lego.

Henrik Hoexbro Lego train interior, courtesy of the Brothers Brick website

Henrik Hoexbroe train interior, courtesy of the Brothers Brick website

Thanks so very much to our friend and fellow Horror on the Orient Express writer, Phil, for sending us the link. It really only needs a little Cthulhu and a few Lego figures with arms stiffly poised in horror, and expressions of tiny terror on their faces, to make the illusion complete.

You can see more of Henrik’s beautiful train on his Flickr page, along with other  train equipment and paraphernalia, all painstakingly re-created in Lego. This degree of exemplary craftsmanship, as well as tolerance of extreme eyestrain, shows a loving patience worthy of the tenth drop.

 

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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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