Category Archives: Fun

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

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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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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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The Simulacrum Lives!

Figures fill our worlds. Shop front dummies.  Statues in public places. Images on screens. What do these figures want? What do they mean? Do their eyes follow us when we’re not looking back at them?

When we visited the United States recently for GenCon Indy and Necronomicon Providence we were thinking of Horror on the Orient Express as it steamed inexorably towards its publication date. However we were not dwelling on a certain arcane artifact that features within it. My mind was running mainly on proof reading and header styles.  And on that note, if you plan to play in Horror on the Orient Express, please stop reading as I am about to offer certain insights into said artifact that may or may not be involved in the investigators’ continent-spanning quest.

In San Francisco I pointed out a shopfront dummy to Mark. ‘why, I said, gaily, ‘That looks just like You-Know-What.’  Chuckling at the coincidence we took a photograph.

The First Simulacrum

The First Simulacrum

Shortly afterwards we saw another figure. This time the coincidence seemed slightly less amusing. Was it because the figure was now, how can put this, unnervingly incomplete? Was it because that this was when we felt the first, haunting sense, of being followed? Nevertheless we were tourists. It was broad daylight. What could go wrong? We do what tourists do. We took a photograph.

The Second Simulacrum

The Second Simulacrum

We left San Francisco without further sightings of any mysterious figures. Surely, even if we were being – followed –  we could easily elude our follower in the crowds of GenCon Indy? So it proved, for the first few days.

On the third day I was fool enough to leave the convention, and venture down the quiet mall next door. It was a bright, sunny day. Little did I think to discover the horror…oh the horror…

The Third Simulacrum

The Third Simulacrum

Who as this good doctor, and why was he being threatened by a crowd of amputated legs? I looked closer.

The Right and Left Legs

The Right and Left Legs

I hurried back to the convention center and mingled gratefully with the happy, oblivious crowds. I hoped I might forget. But it was not to be.  We found nowhere to hide in New York. It tracked us down, even in broad daylight and amid the bustling crowds of Times Square. Look – up there! On the Times Square Screens!

The Fourth Simulacrum

The Fourth Simulacrum

It was too much. We fled New York for the peace of Providence, Rhode Island. Surely in this quiet university town we could lose this sense of being followed by an implacable and vindictive force?  What harm could come from browsing in the hallowed and venerable precincts of the Brown university bookshop?

The Fifth Simulacrum

The Fifth Simulacrum

Averting our eyes from that dreadful, insensate, blank visage we fled the bookshop, seeking the peace of the dreaming, pristine lawns of the university. Surely no horror would dare set foot upon this sacred turf – ARRRRGGGGHH!

The Sixth Simulacrum

The Sixth Simulacrum

Has anyone seen Mark? It’s been a few weeks now and I’m starting to get quite worried.

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Call of GenCon

Campaign Coins at GenCon Indy 2013

Campaign Coins at GenCon Indy 2013

GenCon Indy has come and gone, leaving us frazzled and exhausted but very content. Even though there was lots of Call of Cthulhu activity, our main focus was running our Campaign Coins booth. We were able to combine the worlds by displaying the Medallion of Ithaqua that we made for the Chaosium Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter reward. It was so insanely popular that it seems likely that they will be available for direct sale before too long. We also look forward to making the Innsmouth gold coins for Chaosium for 7th Edition.

Running a booth at GenCon is somewhat like being stuck on Alcatraz. You can see the lights of San Francisco but you can’t get off the Rock. So many games being played, so many cool stores, but we were a little bit busy selling money.

Happily, some of the other Cthulhu vendors managed to visit. Chris Birch of Modiphius Entertainment swung by with a couple of sweet Achtung! Cthulhu scenarios by Sarah Newton, Three Kings and Heroes of the Sea. They were originally produced as PDFs and the books look truly fantastic printed. Massive congratulations to Sarah, Chris, Dim and Michael for their ENnie Award win for Best Adventure. I also scored a copy from the Arc Dream posse of the brand new Dreamlands campaign by Dennis Detwiller, The Sense of the Sleight of Hand Man. Can’t wait to read this one as it is set in the Dreamlands, where Penny has been spending some time of late. The layout and illustrations (by Dennis himself) are beautiful and horrible at the same time, as it should be. Arc Dream also smashed out an ENnie award for The Unspeakable Oath. Righteous.

The Traveler’s Guide, proof copy (artwork not final)

Perhaps the most exciting book of all was the GenCon 2013 pre-publication proof copy of Le Guide Du Voyager aka The Traveler’s Guide, written by Penny under the nom de plume of P.E. Jensen. There was also the brilliant publication of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter guide, as well as Missed Dues, the 7th ed convention scenarios by Mike Mason and Paul Fricker. The fiction collection Undead and Unbound also made its debut at the show, co-edited by David Conyers, who has helped out in the Constantinople chapter of Orient Express.

The Penultimate Trip playthrough at GenCon

The Penultimate Trip playthrough at GenCon

After hours we managed a lot more Call of Cthulhu related nocturnal activities. On Wednesday night we visited the group who were going through the week-long play-through of the Orient Express campaign, helmed by Mr Shiny himself, Jeff Carey, with able assistance from Brandon and Joe. Held at the Crowne Plaza hotel, a hotel with actual Pullman railway cars as rooms, this was a one of a kind role-playing extravaganza and Jeff and his team had gone all out.

The super-sized Simulacrum

The super-sized Simulacrum

The game featured costumes, lighting, music, props, a life-size cut-out Simulacrum and a diabolical full-body Simulacrum suit, unique hand-made handouts, severed eyeballs (with a complimentary eye patch) and more. As the editor, I was gobsmacked by the love and dedication that Jeff and the crew showed towards bringing our train to life. The players really enjoyed it but also gave some interesting feedback on one of the scenarios that I will try to fix in post.

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One Night at GenCon players (from top): Tom, Jason, Travis, me, Thomas

Two nights later it was my turn. Four players had signed up for the One Night At GenCon game, a secret Orient Express scenario that would only ever be played once. They alone would receive the printed copies and nobody in the room would ever speak of it again. It turned out to be one of the best role-playing games I have ever run. Jeff and his family kindly let us take up residence in their Pullman carriage to run the game. I was still plotting the scenario on the plane over and Penny stepped in to write the character backgrounds. Seeing the four players (complete strangers to each other before then) inhabit these characters and make them their own was marvellous. I can speak no more of what happened within that carriage. It was something I must not and cannot recall, because their Kickstarter pledges totalled $3000 for the privilege. I must confess that I found that a little stressful, as by the terms of the contract the scenario could only be played once, so that was the playtest. Luckily it went well.

On Saturday night we had the Orient Express and Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter backers dinner with Sandy Petersen, the 7th ed authors and the Chaosium crew in attendance at St Elmo’s, home of the Flaming Shrimp, or in my case the Flaming Saltine Cracker. We vegetarians spoil everything. Penny and I sat next to Steven and Nikki from Steve Jackson games, as well as backers Patrick and Travis. It was a wonderful evening and hopefully I didn’t babble too much, like the insane cultist that I am. It was a real pleasure talking to Steven, as he had many perceptive questions about the new campaign versus the 1991 campaign. I was pretty happy as I think we have answered most of them in the new draft. You can see photos from the dinner and lots more Chaosium-related GenConnery at Mike Mason’s Angry Zoog blog.

Afterwards, because I didn’t want the night to end, I went to a bar with Mike Mason and Paul Fricker and backer Paul, only to run into Adam Crossingham from Sixtystone Press, in one of those weird GenCon coincidences. It was great meeting Adam and his layout guru Chris, as I was able to congratulate them on Investigator Weapons Volume 1 (particularly as author Hans has written such a fantastic article on guns in the 1920s for Horror on the Orient Express)  and I also got to hear about the upcoming Colonial Lovecraft Country by Kevin Ross. In fact, Adam’s next stop after GenCon is the Boston Historical Society.

Not so for Penny and I. We departed for New York. This was intended as a glorious tourism stopover with the Art Deco Empire State Building as the highlight, but lo and behold our hotel was right around the corner from The Compleat Strategist, one of the oldest game stores in the country (established 1975). It was a real thrill to walk in there and see a full shelf of Chaosium books. In fact, owner Mike recalled getting the first books from the Chaosium guys way back in the Lake Geneva days of GenCon.

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The Compleat Strategist (est. 1975) in New York

The Cthulhu coincidences keep on coming. Let’s see what Providence holds.

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Terror in Venice

As the writer of Death in a Gondola for Horror on the Orient Express  it seems to me that everyone is picking up on the ghoulish gondolier theme. Terror in Venice is the upcoming expansion for the Call of Cthulhu card game from Fantasy Flight Games, and look what’s on the cover:

Terror in Venice [Source: Fantasy Flight Games]

Terror in Venice [Source: Fantasy Flight Games]

Who wouldn’t want to go for a romantic cruise through that slime-infested ooze? Although I don’t suppose that lady is enjoying the  ride. Perhaps she thinks that Deep One is after her champagne.

Fantasy Flight produce two games that Mark and I play at lot, Elder Signs and Mansions of Madness  (although I hate it when I have to solve those stupid cardboard clues). I enjoy  games involving pattern recognition but fail mightily at strategy and in chess have never really recovered from having an eight-year old beat me using Scholar’s Mate. Twice.  Elder Signs to me was the game of 2013 when the nephews went from sanity dribbling utter loss to destroying Azathoth at 9 minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve. Also Fantasy Flight always put a capable looking woman  on the cover of their Cthulhu games, a reminder that unlike in Lovecraft’s stories, investigators are not always men.

Venice has not featured as often as you might think in the litany of weird tales.  The only novel I can think of offhand is Wilkie Collin’s ripping supernatural detective fiction crossover, The Haunted Hotel.

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins [Source: http://www.wilkie-collins.info/books]

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins [Source: http://www.wilkie-collins.info]

My favorite story, The Black Gondolier by Fritz Leiber, is set in Venice, naturally, but Venice, L.A. It features a gondolier made of primordial ooze (otherwise known as oil).  Leiber is very Lovecraftian in his weird tales as he re-casts  commonplace modern technologies in a bizarre and terrifying light.

The Black Gondolier and Other Stories [Source: Booktopia]

The Black Gondolier and Other Stories [Source: Booktopia]

So next time you’re in Venice, whether Italy or California, and a gondolier invites you for a ride, just keep an eye for tentacles sneaking out from under his jaunty striped shirt when you’re not nervously peering over the side.

Gondolas [Source: Europe 2013]

Gondolas at the Gritti Palace Hotel

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