Category Archives: Fun

The Blog of Many Covers

This is the story of how books can go strange, far places, change their covers and yet stay the same.

In 2016 I was lucky enough to have a story included in She Walks in Shadows, the first all-woman Lovecraftian anthology, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles of Innsmouth Free Press. If you don’t have a copy of this you can get the e-book by supporting Silvia’s Patreon at the $2 level. Bargain.

She Walks in Shadows

She Walks in Shadows

Silvia started the project because people were wondering about the paucity of female writers being published in Lovecraftian anthologies. You can read her musings on the reasons on her blog page. Two years after publication the stories that stay with me are ‘Eight Seconds’, by Pandora Hope, which shows just how long a mother’s love needs to last, and ‘The Thing in the Cheerleading Squad’ by Molly Tanzer, a terrific retake on ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’. Silvia was a really wonderful editor who has gone out of her way to keep us in touch with the project as it moved through its various incarnations.

My story, ‘Turn Out the Lights’ was a speculative tale on the life of Sarah Phillips Lovecraft, Howard’s mother. The story is available as a free sampleShe Walks in Shadows went on to win the World Fantasy Award for best anthology 2016, edging out Chaosium’s King in Yellow anthology, Cassilda’s Song, edited by Joseph S. Pulver.

She Walks in Shadows was reprinted in America (same stories, different cover) as Cthulhu’s Daughters.

Cthulhu's Daughters

Cthulhu’s Daughters

The anthology has has now been translated into Turkish, and has yet another very cool cover. But, no I don’t know what ‘Golgede Yuruyen Kiz’ means either. I’m assuming it means She Walks in Shadows but Google Translate confidently tells me the word in the middle means ‘Screaming’. So let’s not go there.

She Walks In Shadows, Turkish Cover

She Walks In Shadows, in Turkish.

However perhaps 2019 is Chaosium’s year as they are releasing Sisterhood, edited by Nate Peterson. Sisterhood includes my story, ‘Unburdened Flesh’, a strange tale of a Venetian nunnery during time of plague. It was inspired by the alternative history which we created for Venice in Horror on the Orient Express, and explores the history of the outre Brotherhood of the Skin.

Sisterhood

We’re all sisters, under the skin.

I’ve been in quite a few anthologies, but Mark’s favorite cover is from Tales of Cthulhu Invictus by Golden Goblin Press. The collection features stories set in Ancient Rome and the cover is a re-imagining of the classic ending of ‘Call of Cthulhu’ but with Cthulhu menacing a trireme. And for my part, I’m quite pleased with my story too, ‘Magnum Innominandum’, about a patrician noblewoman dealing with a little slave problem. Suffice to say it ends with madness, death, despair and toads.

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus

Cthulhu is not amused.

 

In other literature-related news, another of my Horror on the Orient Express co-authors is also writing fiction. Geoff Gillan, who masterminded the plot for the entire campaign, has just started self-publishing his own new series, The Man from Z.O.M.B.I.E. This is the undead Cold War spy thriller you’ve been dying to read – just like the lead character.

The Man from Z.O.M.B.I.E.

The Man from Z.O.M.B.I.E.

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An Australian in Trieste

Our friend and collaborator, Russell Waters, who wrote ‘Cold Wind Blowing’, the Horror on the Orient Express chapter set in Trieste, visited the city recently and has sent back an account of his travels. Until Mark & I finally reach the city this wonderful description will have to suffice. Be warned, if you are planning to play in the campaign there are spoilers in this post!

Now, over to Russell to tell of his journey…


 

In Trieste

Outside the Postojna Caves. (Note the T-shirt!)

Upon arriving in Trieste we checked into our hotel, which overlooked the waterfront. As we were there in September, we didn’t have to contend with the bora, although as we arrived and wove our way down from the surrounding hills and through the narrow streets leading leading to our hotel on the waterfront, I’d been delighted to note that some of the streets, (mainly those that were steeply sloping) did have chains strung between poles. Whether this was to assist pedestrians struggling against the blast of the bora, as I’d read in the 1920s era Baedekers that formed my original research for ‘Cold Wind Blowing’, or whether it was to prevent pedestrians stepping off the narrow pavement onto the roadway was less clear.

Trieste (which I discovered is pronounced in three syllables: tree-est-uh) is still a pretty town, at least in the area near the harbor, where there are still many old buildings. There is a single canal, of sorts, which runs inland from the harbor and ends at the church of Sant Antonio Turmaturgo and gives a Venice feel to the immediate area.

Trieste

Not Venice, Trieste!

Whilst I was keen to visit some of the 1920s tourist sites in Trieste I’d read about in Baedekers, we’d been recommended to visit Castello Di Miramare, which lies a short distance from town. Built for the Austrian Arch-duke Ferdinand Maximilian (Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico), the castle was completed after his capture and execution in Mexico, so he never actually lived in it. I found his bedroom most interesting; Maximilian had been a successful navy officer, and his bedroom had a lowered artificial ceiling and wood paneled walls to make it more like a ship’s cabin. The ceiling of the dining room has a compass rose and an indicator linked to a wind vane on the roof so that the diners can know the wind direction at any time!

Back in town we visited the Cathedral and the Castello, both sitting on top of a hill and named after San Guisto. Johann Winckelmann was buried at the Cathedral, although the actual site of his grave is unknown. The Castello has an interesting museum that features a range of medieval weaponry and is adjacent Roman ruins which, according to some old photos we saw, have been a popular place to promenade and even picnic since the early 1900s.

One of the things I really wanted to see was the Johann Winckelmann monument, which features in ‘Cold Wind Blowing’ and provides the Investigators with their first inkling that “looking up Johann Winckelmann in Trieste” may be more difficult than they thought. Ironically, we fell foul of one of the obstacles I’d set up for Investigators; the Museum in which the monument is situated closes between 13.00h to 16.00h! Fortunately, our weather was fine, so we were able to spend some time at the Cathedral and then exploring nearby streets until it reopened.

The monument has its own building at the end of L’Orto Lapidario, the lapidary garden accessed from the museum. As well as the monument, the building houses an exhibit about Winckelmann and some statuary, including a torso missing head, arms and legs, which aroused my immediate suspicion. Some early designs for the monument apparently included a scene of Winckelmann’s murderer being broken on the Wheel (as actually happened) so perhaps it is a good thing that they eventually went for something a little less confronting!

Johann Winckelmann monument

Note suspicious torso on the right

Whilst in Trieste, we also saw (but didn’t travel through) the tunnel formerly used by the local tram service (now automobiles only); a tramcar (the trams were not running at the time due to an accident back in 2016 which had still not been repaired) and pleasingly, a Roman amphitheatre. I say pleasingly because the Investigators visit a cellar in which one wall appears to be part of a buried amphitheatre, and the amphitheatre we saw was not excavated until the 1930s!

Clues found in Trieste lead the Investigators to the caves at Postumia, now Postojna in Slovenia. Because Marissa and I were not following the Orient Express route, but coming into Italy from Austria via Slovenia, we had actually visited Postojna before Trieste, but I’m mentioning it now to better fit the Horror on the Orient Express chronology.

Entrance to Postojna Cavern

Cavern entrance

Even back in the 1920s the caves were a big tourist attraction in the area, and our visit reflected this, with large tourist groups being sorted by language so that multilingual guides can then lead their groups on the tours. The caves extend for about 24 km (about 14.5 miles), but the tour only takes in part of this. As was the case for tourists in the 1920s, we initially took seats on a train which traveled 2.5 km (1.5 miles) into the caves before disembarking and walking another few kilometres. There were plenty of signs of underground waterways, but generally the caves were mercifully dry and we didn’t have to go wading at all, or find any dark lake with mysterious stalagmites dotting its shore. To my great delight, we did see some olm, which were kept in a dimly lit aquarium/terrarium (having no natural pigmentation, bright lights distress them). The specimens we saw were about 20-25 cms (6-8 inches) long; not too threatening at that size. The olm are a real feature of the caverns, and are used as a mascot/logo by the cave operators.

Olm

Olm decoration at Postojna

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In with the new year and out with the old

2018 was certainly a stellar year for us.

First things first. Reign of Terror was published. We originally developed this scenario as a secret history, a prelude to the Horror on the Orient Express campaign, back in 2013.  Over the years the book grew and took shape as intrepid writers Darren Watson  and James Coquillat contributed additional background history, scenarios and scenario seeds to fully flesh out the experience of horror role-playing during the French Revolution. We were incredibly honoured to receive the 2018 Gold Ennie for Best Supplement for the book.

Reign of Terror hardcover

Then the PDF of the new edition of Terror Australis was launched (with the book itself due in 2019). This is a whole new edition of the first Call of Cthulhu project we ever worked on in 1987. It has new scenarios, new background, and all new scares! Dean Engelhardt of Cthulhu Reborn did a wonderful job assembling this new version, and it has great new writing from our longtime Aussie mates Marion Anderson, Phil Anderson, Geoff Gillan, John Hughes, Richard Watts and others.

Terror Australis

Do you think it might be friendly?

Just in time for Halloween, the official Call of Cthulhu computer game arrived from Focus Home Entertainment. Mark had wicked fun coming up with ideas for the story line with the clever folks at Cyanide Studio in Paris.

og_image

Finally, Mark’s scenario ‘Dead-Man Stomp’ was included in the new Call of Cthulhu starter set. He has always loved this jazz-fused scenario co-written with Lynn Willis, and this new 7th edition version is with a new co-writer, his friend Chris Spivey, who wrote the incredible supplement Harlem Unbound. In fact, “Dead Man Stomp” was Chris’ gateway to the world of Cthulhu, so this collaboration is especially meaningful.

Call of Cthulhu starter set

Sure let’s visit this spooky old house. What could possibly go wrong?

However we are not ones to rest on our laurels. You want more? We have a stellar line up for 2019!

For starters, we’ll be running two new scenarios from the upcoming Reign of Terror 2  as well as my 1920s Samoan scenario ‘Curse of Aforgomon’ at Arcanacon 2019 on 26 & 27 January here in Melbourne. The new 18th century scenarios are by Kelly Grant (Parisian investigators are sent to recover animals from a former aristo’s menagerie), and James Coquillat (a cold snap turns deadly, and then gets worse). So you can go mad in Revolutionary France or perish miserably in Samoa, you choose. Tip: avoid coconut palm groves! And Madame La Guillotine. And don’t get the two confused.

Arcanacon 2019

Crash landing in  a tropical paradise was only the start…

Mark has been invited to Poland in March 2019 as a special guest at CarcosaCon, a Call of Cthulhu convention in a genuine Polish castle. The Czocha Castle is located in Sucha village in Poland, and was nearly burned down in 1793, the same year as Reign of Terror…

Carcosa-con 2019

One previous owner… how do you spell that again? D-R-A-C-U-L-A.

And we have even more Revolutionary Horror to come, with Reign of Terror 2 in the pipeline. This features our scenario, Love Eterne, in which our citizen investigators thwart an aristo’s attempt to flee Paris and find themselves facing a horror worse than even Madame La Guillotine, as well as the new scenarios from Kelly and James, and a longer scenario from Darren Watson about a most peculiar investigation.

What’s that you say? You want more? We continue working on our Cthulhu by Gaslight campaign, Curse of Seven, and I have contributed a scenario, ‘Market Forces’ to the new RuneQuest relaunch, so stay tuned!

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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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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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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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