Category Archives: Chaosium

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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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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We Can Hear the Train A Coming

Clouds of soot and steam are billowing through the tunnel and a whistle is wailing close at hand. Or is it a train whistle? Possibly it is the thin, monotonous piping of an unseen flute… Here are some reviews, previews and Kickstarters that have got us really excited!

Horror on the Orient Express –
Die Hard Game Fan preview by Alex Lucard

Horror on the Orient Express - Campaign Book

Horror on the Orient Express – Campaign Book

Alex from Die Hard Game Fan is a huge Call of Cthulhu fan, and he has compiled an exhaustive and detailed preview of all the books. It’s great to see him get all fired up over our remixed beast. He gets a couple of little details wrong here and there but you can’t deny the man’s enthusiasm. It’s great to see the new work getting so much attention. But, a warning for those contemplating playing the campaign: Alex tries to be spoiler-lite, but really, there are still plenty of spoilers. Players had best avoid his preview.

Book I
Book II
Book III
Book IV
Items and props

Mr Shiny Playtest image 2013

Mr Shiny Playtest image 2013

Once again the redoubtable Mr Shiny, aka Jeff Carey, is sending six foolhardy, I mean brave, investigators from London to Constantinople on a deluxe play through of the entire campaign. He has launched a Kickstarter to fund the game: Jeff will take up to six players (and up to 10 more as non-player characters towards the end of the campaign) on a longer journey, delving into some of the new horrors, I mean chapters, that were not yet available last year.

The main players will be able to develop their own characters for this epic event to be held from Saturday 8 August through Wednesday 13 August 2014 (immediately before the Gen Con game fair) in Indianapolis.
We visited Jeff’s game at GenCon 2013 and it was incredible. The props, atmosphere and dedication by all involved made this a memorable experience for the players. Indeed, their gaunt and horrified faces, not to mention the loss of several visible limbs, were the talk of GenCon. This year, it could be you!

The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast –
Episode 26 “The Good Friends ride the Orient Express”

The Good Friends of Jackson Elias

The Good Friends of Jackson Elias

Scott Dorward interviews Keeper Matt Nott and his players (including Paul Fricker, Call of Cthulhu 7th edition author) about playing through the new revised edition, using 7th edition rules. Matt’s investigators were one of two groups to playtest the entire campaign for us. There are many cool things that come up in their discussion which we wish we’d put in (who knew what other horrors lurked out on the Lido?) A great listen, but did we say SPOILERS? Oh my yes, for Keepers only this one!

Tales of the Crescent City

Tales of the Crescent City

Tales of the Crescent City

Our good friend and fellow train scenario writer Oscar Rios is nearing the end of his second Kickstarter with Golden Goblin Press, a collection of scenarios set in 1920s New Orleans. What’s particularly exciting about this one is that our original Cthulhu co-conspirator Kevin A. Ross has not only fully revised his seminal scenario “Tell Me Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?” for this book, he’s also gone ahead and written a sequel. If you’ve ever seen that three-armed squiggly version of the Yellow Sign, yup, that was Kevin’s.

Here’s a great article from Cthulhu Reborn friend Dean Englehardt where he talks about making the props for Oscar’s new book.

One of Dean Engelhardt's handout for Tales of the Crescent City

One of Dean Engelhardt’s handout for Tales of the Crescent City

Meanwhile at Chaosium, Meghan keeps feeding the beast… every day the book gets better, and it will soon be off to the printer. Many thanks to all of the backers who took the extra time to send in corrections for us!

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The Blight Before Christmas

Horror on the Orient Express proof copy

Horror on the Orient Express proof copy

Lovely news this morning from the Kickstarter update: the proofing PDF of Horror on the Orient Express has been released to all the folks who backed the project at PDF level and above. What a marvelous and frequently creepy Christmas present. After all of our many hours talking, writing, editing and playing this massive new edition it is a real thrill that it is finally in the hands of the people who made it possible: the backers.

What happens next is that we do one last sweep for errant typos with the kind help of 1,274 friends, and then the book goes to the printer in late January 2014. Those of you who didn’t back the PDF will be able to buy a copy from the Chaosium website then. We will include a link here once It Lives. You can believe that we are planning a splendid party when we get our own physical copies.

And now it’s holiday time. Here’s a little festive poem for you all. I originally wrote this for the Chaosium Digest, Volume 9, Issue 4, published for Christmas 1994. Great Cthulhu, that was over 20 years ago. Curiously enough, this was the very same issue where Mark’s scenario Deadwave first appeared. Thanks Shannon Appel, for editing the Digest all those years ago and to multiverse.org for hosting a copy these days.

THE BLIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

‘Twas the night before Christmas at the Crack’d & Crooked Manse,
And I cursed all weak stomachs as I set out the traps.
I had pleaded for strychnine, and pleaded in vain,
For the mice were all stirring as Christmas time came.
My meditations were ruptured by a rap on the door,
Of such force and foreboding I was flung to the floor.
To the front room I hastened; through the curtain I saw,
A caller not human, but a tiny jackdaw!
His beak sharp and wicked; his feathers a’bristle,
And affixed in his beak was a well-sealed epistle!
The door at once opened, and the strange message given,
The black bird took flight ‘cross the moon’s gibbous ribbon.
I called out a cheer, as he gave one last caw,
For what did I hear but a faint, `Nevermore’!
I read the crabbed Latin to my friends’ sleepy faces:
`Fellow searcher after horror haunting strange and far places-,
`College chum, soul-buddy, companion in fright,
`Yours, Wilbur Whateley (Arriving tonight).’
Oh the flurry! The scurry! The things to be done!
My friends made excuses and left at a run.
I searched out my copy of the Necronomicon,
And removed and then hid that damned p. 751.
The dog lay by his kennel with a .44,
And fired off six shots as Wilb stepped through the door.
For yes! there he was, my companion of years,
His face, lean and saturnine, wreathed in fond leers;
A bundle of tentacles wrapped round his waist,
And his byakhee steaming from the black gulfs of space.
Oh the merriment, the riots, the japes and the shouts!
The volley of fire from the back of the house!
We talked of old times and our pals in the brood,
Then raided the kitchen for cephalopod food.
Wilb exclaimed in delight at the small noises off,
`Tis not a mouse but a tiny shoggoth!’
So we piped a weird tune, and lured it into a sack,
(Would make a good present for Y’Golonac).
By then dawn was afoot, and Wilb had to take flight;
His byakhee would melt were it touched by the light.
A handshake, a grin, one more chorus we sang;
And his last words called back as the winged horror sprang:
`The greeting for all seasons, if I’m not mistaken,
Is “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”‘

By Penelope Love, with Mark “Black Gulfs of Space” Morrison.
Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, H.P. Lovecraft & Edgar Allan Poe.

It’s been a great year for us. We hope it’s been a great year for you! Here’s to more adventures in Worlds Beyond in 2014.

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GenCon Penultimate Trip Playtest

Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Downtown Union Station. The hotel had once been a train station.  After working on the Horror on the Orient Express for so long, anything to do with trains makes us anxious. The staff in the lobby seemed friendly. Or did their smiling faces mask some deep seated, potentially train-related, evil?

Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Donwtown Union Station

The roof looked solid enough.

We nervously followed the hand-scrawled directions we had been given to our destination. The door was ajar…

Penultimate playtest door

We sensed something was wrong as soon as we arrived.

It was Gencon Indy 2013 and beyond that unhallowed entrance, Jeff “Mr. Shiny” Carey and his stalwart fellow Keepers, Brandon  and Joe, were running the Kickstarter Horror on the Orient Express GenCon Penultimate Trip for six intrepid, and perhaps ever so slightly insane players, Paul, Marc, Samuel, Steve, Graham and Suzanne.

These hardy souls played for five days and nights, and when I mean, nights, I am talking 4 am in the morning. We arrived on the third day to find the players in good spirits, although their investigators were starting to fray at the edges.  The Keepers were displaying incredible stamina as they steamed remorselessly onward to Constantinople.

The playtest was also incredibly useful for us as we were able to make several important edits that will help the final book, based on player feedback.

In the photographs below I am going to show some of the room, players, Keepers, props and handouts. If you are going to play Horror on the Orient Express stop reading now for fear of the forbidden knowledge you may accidentally glean from these blasphemous images.

Jeff and his fellows Keepers had done an amazing job and must have spent hours lovingly recreating handouts and props. It was a huge thrill, and truly humbling, to see our work reproduced in such meticulous style.  The room was atmospherically lit.

The Unhallowed Shrine, er, Playtest

The Exit Sign was clearly marked. Why, oh why, did they not use it?

The props were gorgeous. The players informed us in hushed and worried tones that their full-size Simulacrum had a disconcerting habit of reassembling itself when they went out for meals. No matter how scattered its components around the room, when they returned it was always neatly arrayed in the center of the table.

TThe Unseen Forces were tidy souls.

The Unseen Forces were tidy souls.

The handouts were wonderful. Again people, the following image contains a massive spoiler so please do not not look unless you are genuinely never going to play Horror on the Orient Express for as long as you live, and peeking between fingers doesn’t work. By the way, I know you’re going to look anyway so I blurred the particularly blasphemous part.

Devils Simulare

That was when he wished he had never learned Latin.

In honor of the hotel’s history some of the rooms were immaculately restored Pullman cars. Jeff and his family were staying in one of these cars and in a truly heroic act of generosity Jeff offered his room to Mark to play his Kickstarter Secret Orient Express History game.  This meant neither Jeff nor his folks got to bed until after midnight. It is not often that a Pullman car represents a heart-warming gift to a fellow Keeper.

Jeff's Pullman Car

Jeff’s Pullman Car, with Mark and the Secret History players in the foreground

And yes, these four players now know a secret of the history of the Horror on the Orient Express than no-one else will ever know. You can see by their worried faces that the knowledge is already taking its toll. Thank you, Jeff and family, for sharing the horror.

Graham’s Flickr album for the Horror on the Orient Express contains some evocative photographs of the game, players and Keepers, but again there are spoilers galore so don’t look if you are planning to play the scenarios.

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