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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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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