Category Archives: Library Use

Posts about the cool things we have discovered about Europe and the train.

De Horrore Cosmico

It will be ripe in a yeare’s time to have up ye Legions from Underneath, and then there are no Boundes to what shal be oures.

In the new edition of Horror on the Orient Express we included “Sanguis Omnia Vincet”, a historical scenario by Oscar Rios set in Nova Roma aka Constantinople 330 AD. It tells of the events which set in motion the madness that follows, many centuries later.

That got us interested in Cthulhu Invictus. The playtest was particularly fun, and the players had a great time as investigators who were Roman soldiers. So, when Oscar Rios invited us to contribute a scenario to his new Golden Goblin Press project, De Horrore Cosmico, we jumped in with both sandals.

De Horrore Cosmico

De Horrore Cosmico

De Horrore Cosmico is Kickstarting now and many stretch goals have already been unlocked – in fact, not only did Mark help with the scenario, he will be making three Roman coins (a Sestertius, Denarius and Aurius) in his other gaming life as one half of Campaign Coins.

The idea behind the book is surely inspired by the divine Jupiter himself; Ancient Roman scenarios based on classic Lovecraft stories. Our scenario is ‘The Case of Tillius Orestes Sempronius’, a tale of a young man who has strangely lost his memory. Or as Lovecraft might well have put it, ‘From a private villa in Tusculum there recently disappeared an exceedingly singular person’. We very much enjoyed speculating on how the events of the story would unfold in an earlier age.

The other writers are the legendary Chad Bowser (co-creator of Cthulhu Invictus) and the imperious Oscar Rios, along with veteran authors Stuart Boon and Jeffrey Moeller, and new recruit, Phredd Groves. Lisa Padol is co-editing the book with Oscar.

Oscar then bravely decided to add a fiction anthology as a stretch goal and thus the idea for Tales of Cthulhu Invictus was born, edited by the wonderful Brian M. Sammons. I was delighted when my story ‘Signs of the Black Stars’ was accepted, especially as I based it on an obscure piece of Lovecraftania, ‘The Very Old Folk’.

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus

Lovecraft was a lucid dreamer and the dreams he describes in his Selected Letters have an amazing, and occasionally, terrifying verve and momentum. You can see where the Dreamlands came from. On the night of October 31, 1927, inspired by the neighbours’ Halloween celebrations, Lovecraft had a nightmare from which he had to force himself awake, a dream of being an ancient Roman by the name of Lucius Caelius Rufus investigating a strange Iberian hill tribe. He wrote about his dream to several of his correspondents; it has that vivid and inexorable pace of nightmare that Lovecraft could summon up so well. You can read his description of the dream courtesy of the University of Adelaide. (Ia! Truly Lovecraft fans are found in strange, far places.)

In my story I decided the incident in which Lucius Caelius Rufus came so memorably unstuck was caused by a certain entity evoked in a wonderful invocation that Lovecraft generously passed on to a very young Robert Bloch, for use in his story, ‘The Shambler from the Stars’: Tibi, magnum Innominandum, signa stellarum nigrarum et bufoniformis Sadoquae sigillum. The quote gave me the title of they story, ‘Signs of the Black Stars’, and I used Caelius Rufus as a historical figure in an affectionate tribute to old Grandpa himself.

Our interest in Ancient Rome has long roots. As a child travelling with my Classics-loving father around Europe I visited many a Roman ruin. He once severely embarrassed my teenage self by reciting (from memory, bless him) Horace’s Ode to a Sacred Spring at an actual sacred spring near the Temple of Hercules in the ancient Roman spa town of Glanum. I’ve now read some of the Classics for myself, in translation I hasten to add, and I am only sorry that my true enjoyment of these works came too late to share with my father, who has now passed away.

Many are the good men who weep for his dying,
none of them, Virgil, weep more profusely than you.
– Horace, A Lament For Quintilius

On a happier note, Mark has already co-written a project about Ancient Rome: QED: Cosmo’s Casebook is a game for history students in Year 7, in which you win legal trials in the time of the Roman Republic. The themes and lore are accurate, but there are also a lot of jokes. Mark had a great time writing this with fellow Orient Express author Nick Hagger, and videogame artist colleague Lewis Mitchell. The game is free, and you can learn all the secrets of the Ancient Rome – how did they clean their wigs (urine) and the never-fail cure for hiccups (kissing a she-mule).

QED: Cosmo's Casebook

QED: Cosmo’s Casebook

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The Pitch Has Dropped

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

The Pitch Drop

The historical Pitch Drop, courtesy of the UQ website

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

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

The Pitch Drop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henrik Lego train exterior

Henrik Hoexbroe train exterior, courtesy of the Brothers Brick website

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

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

Henrik Hoexbroe train interior, courtesy of the Brothers Brick website

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

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

 

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Roll Library Use (and Dexterity)

Interior of the 'Old Man' building (1874)

Interior of the ‘Old Man’ building (1874)

This charming, and slightly alarming, photograph was taken in 1874 and shows the old Cincinnati Library. Five levels of cast iron balconies held what must have been an enormous amount of books while busts of Shakespeare, Milton and Franklin stood guard over the checkerboard marble floor (out of sight, below). The  Call of Cthulhu enthusiast can only regard this lovely literary edifice with awe, and wonder about the Occupational Health and Safety priorities of the 1870s, while considering how best to chase investigators through this three dimensional bookish maze.

Although considered the height of modern architecture when built, with central heating and an elevator, this delightful library was considered dilapidated and overcrowded by the 1920s. Sadly for those who love to combine reading with abseiling it was neglected for the next three decades and finally demolished in 1955.

On the topic of libraries, the new edition of Horror on the Orient Express has been re-edited with a bigger emphasis on  Library Use in the research sections of each scenario. The original publication gave information on the over-arching plot elements in the London chapter of the campaign, but subsequent cities would only provide research on their immediate scenario clues. So, we have expanded the library entries at cities along the way so that the investigators can keep researching and learning new things.

Where did we get this idea? From the playtesters, of course. Whereas the original 1991 scenario authors were mindful of the needs of their particular plot, it took the 2013 players to remind us that investigators will always seek answers. So, we thank our new playtesters, and in particular Darren who not only participated in the campaign from mysterious start to bloody end, but also helped us with real world research, and unearthed the marvelous photo above. We look at that and think he is missing the thrill of the chase – in fact, he is now helping on an all-new Call of Cthulhu project, so he has the mania now. There is no hope for him.

Providence Athenaeum - exterior

Providence Athenaeum – exterior

Finally, no post on libraries would be complete without some photographs of my favorite library – and also haunt of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and poet Sarah Helen Whitman – the Providence Athenaeum . When we visited the Athenaeum in 2013 during Necromonicon it was hosting a H.P. Lovecraft exhibition, appropriately enough in the basement. Given its literary history one expects investigators fleeing out every window, while formless horrors stalk the hapless librarians within. However we found a building of real beauty – a Temple to Wisdom, if there ever was one.

Providence Athenaeum - ground floor

Providence Athenaeum – ground floor

Appreciation of the library’s real world merits and aura of literary serenity has not stopped me from using it as the model for the Miskatonic University library ever since. However, anyone tempted to steal a volume of forbidden lore, be warned:

No one had seen me take the [book]—but still
A blank laugh echoed in my whirling head,
And I could guess what nighted worlds of ill
Lurked in that volume I had coveted.
The way grew strange—the walls alike and madding—
And far behind me, unseen feet were padding.

– ‘Pursuit’, Fungi from Yuggoth, H.P. Lovecraft

 

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London and back again

Cthulhu Britannica: London

Cthulhu Britannica: London

In Horror on the Orient Express the investigators travel from London and back again, although it’s not entirely likely that the same investigators will return (either in mind or body).

As it happens, the players spend a comparatively small amount of play time in London. There is an optional scenario provided which may keep them in town a little longer, but in both of our full playtests, both groups felt getting on to the main task was more urgent.

However, it’s definitely a perfect place to start the campaign, and if you want to run a prequel adventure to get the investigators together then London is the place to do it.

Happily London is looking swankier than ever, with the super deluxe Cthulhu Britannica: London from those dandy chaps at Cubicle 7 now on Kickstarter (but not for long, it finishes this Thursday 12 December!). This boxed set will have a complete guide to London, tons of period handouts and maps and also thanks to Kickstarter there will be a complete campaign book written by Mr. 7th Edition himself Mike Mason, along with Black Library headkicker Graham McNeill and the Proto-dimensional Scott Dorward. I must say, that looks so good there’s a risk your players will be having so much scary fun in London they won’t want to get on the train!

All in all, it’s a good time to be a Cthulhu Keeper, and a great time to be a writer. Kickstarter is allowing us to put together the books we’ve always wanted to at quality we could only dream about, and that’s all thanks to the enthusiastic folks who are willing to support our endeavours. We dips our lids to you!

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Island of Ignorance

‘We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity and it was not meant that we should voyage far…’ – H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Island of Ignorance - the Third Cthulhu Companion, Golden Goblin Press

We’re delighted to spread the world that Golden Goblin’s Island of Ignorance is now out in PDF with the physical books soon to follow. Island of Ignorance kicks off with essays on fiendish cultists, devilish artefacts and new Mythos beings. Geoff Gillan’s essay on the Golden Goblin is expansive and entertaining, taking in the origin of the Goblin, its various manifestations, and its chequered history as mascot of a fictitious and ill-fated publishing company.

Scott David Anolowski’s essay on the Devil’s opera, ‘Requiem for Shaggai’, tells of a cursed opera that dooms all who try to produce it. I’m a big fan of the documentary, The Curse of the Gothic Opera, which follows the travails of an eclectic band of musical enthusiasts as they try to mount a production of Havergal Brian’s ‘impossible’ First Symphony. I could immediately see a similar scenario involving the investigators in ‘Requiem’.

‘With Blue Uncertain Stumbling’ by Jeff Moeller is a creepy and atmospheric scenario with a terrific back story that makes excellent use of what I assume are genuine myths of the island of Key West. I can really see the players and Keeper having a whale of a time with this one. Just mind the flies.

‘Consumption’ by Brian M. Sammons is a gleeful tale of small town conspiracy which offers a different play experience and would provide a change of pace for seasoned investigators who don’t mind a little, er, meat in their scenarios.

‘Darkness Illuminated’ by Jon Hook makes ingenious use of a morally ambiguous narrative – there are no good guys in this scenario, possibly not even the investigators.

‘The Lonely Point Lighthouse’ by Oscar Rios has a stand out setting, however the back story had plot holes that interfered with my enjoyment as a reader. A seasoned Keeper should be able to focus on the setting and situation, which offer plenty of opportunities to scare the crap out of the players.

‘Let the Children Come to Me’ by Mark Shireman uses child abuse. It has a trigger warning but this did not prepare me for the fetishizing of the description of the abuse in a section that only Keepers are going to read. This should have been edited out. I couldn’t read past the first page and thus can’t comment on the scenario.

To sum up Island of Ignorance has terrific scenarios but out of five scenarios, two use the disempowerment of powerful females as a theme, and two use the degradation of children. My feeling is that in the end the multiple calls on these themes unbalance the book.

What I love about this project is that  Golden Goblin ran a model Kickstarter campaign. It was well organised, had regular updates, and delivered on schedule. As final touch Oscar Rios and the gang thank their Kickstarter backers right out of the gates on the first page, giving straight back to those whose generosity supported the project. We know from experience that this takes dedication, time and effort.

I look forward to the next book about New Orleans, Tales of the Crescent City. I am also very happy that we have the good fortune to have one of our scenarios appearing in the next Golden Goblin Cthulhu Invictus  book, De Horrore Cosmico. This is scheduled for release in 2014. So keep an eye out for more Kickstarter Campaigns coming soon from Golden Goblin. Assuming there isn’t a repeat of than unfortunate incident where the entire warehouse burned down leaving behind two corpses, each clutching a statuette of a Golden Goblin…

Tales of the Crescent City

Tales of the Crescent City

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Capturing Lovecraft Country

This week, I’m featuring some atmospheric photographs from our 1990 New England trip, accompanied by quotations from the Lovecraft  stories in which the location appears. So get ready to snuggle in and enjoy the scenes with a cup of cocoa, and do make sure the door is closed, and locked, behind you. It was closed, wasn’t it, a moment ago?

The Haunter of the Dark 

Of all the distant objects on Federal Hill, a certain huge, dark church most fascinated Blake. It stood out with especial distinctness at certain hours of the day, and at sunset the great tower and tapering steeple loomed blackly against the flaming sky. – The Haunter of the Dark

Haunter-of-the-dark

St John’s Church, Providence (Starry Wisdom Church)

St John’s was demolished in 1992. Although I quite like the out of focus photograph, as if a  pictorial hint that all is not well, I regret that I’ll never be able to take a better photograph of it now.

The Shunned House

The house was – and for that matter still is – of a kind to attract the attention of the curious…Benefit Street…was laid out as a lane winding amongst the graveyards of the first settlers, and straightened only when the removal of the bodies to the North Burial Ground made it decently possible to cut through the old family plots – The Shunned House

Shunned-house

135 Benefit Street, Providence

The house, as a matter of fact, still stands. I understand it recently sold. I hope the new owner  takes a genial view of curious Lovecraft enthusiasts peering in through the ground floor window in the hope of catching sight of a giant, pallid elbow.

Old Burial Ground, Kingsport

Beside the road at its crest a still higher summit rose, bleak and wind-swept, and I saw that it was a burying-ground where black gravestones stuck ghoulishly through the snow like the decayed fingernails of a gigantic corpse. – The Festival

Kingsport-graveyard

Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1990

Though it pleased me, I would have relished it better if there had been footprints in the snow, and people in the streets, and a few windows without drawn curtains – The Festival

The photograph does not do justice to the  eerie subsidence in these New England graveyards, as though something was tunneling diligently beneath – but perhaps it is best if what this is remains something we must not and cannot recall.

And finally a last word from Lovecraft in a more reflective mood, writing of his beloved Providence:

I never can be tied to raw, new things,
For I first saw the light in an old town,
Where from my window huddled roofs sloped down
To a quaint harbour rich with visionings.
Streets with carved doorways where the sunset beams
Flooded old fanlights and small window-panes,
And Georgian steeples topped with gilded vanes –
These were the sights that shaped my childhood dreams.
– Background 

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Visiting Lovecraft Country

In 1990 Mark and I traveled to Rhode Island and Massachusetts for Lovecraft’s centennial. In company with the redoubtable Keith Herber and his friend Rick we visited Salem, Providence, and several of the towns that inspired Kingsport and Arkham. Keith was at that time writing his landmark series of books on Lovecraft Country for Chaosium and we could not have wished for a more engaging travel companion; when we return to New England next month for NecronomiCon Providence we will miss his sly smile and ready laugh.

One goal of our trip in 1990 was to try to rediscover Lovecraft Country by visiting each of the towns he had used as the basis of his famous fictional versions. When we stayed in a low-ceilinged Salem guesthouse which had been continuously inhabited for 300 years we were half expecting to see Brown Jenkin scamper across the counterpane.

Arkham cemetery

Arkham cemetery (Salem cemetery, Massachusetts, 1990)

Most of Lovecraft’s invented towns were based on two or three actual towns, frequently combing the geographic location of one with the architecture or atmosphere of another.

Arkham is generally based on Salem, however Salem is a sea port and Arkham is inland. Lovecraft probably originally based Arkham on New Salem, a town in the Swift river valley, which became the Miskatonic. The nearby town of Oakham most likely contributed to the fictional name.

Arkham

Arkham (Salem, Massachusetts 1990)

When proposals to dam the Swift river to create the Quabbin reservoir were proposed in the late 1920s, the ever-scrupulous Lovecraft felt forced to move his mythical town. Arkham became geographically identical to Salem.

The hamlet of Greenwich appears to be the inspiration for Dunwich, in terms of physical proximity to New Salem, although other, more rural towns were mentioned by Lovecraft as closer in spirit to its isolated “backwoods” atmosphere. Lovecraft, again for reasons of geographic accuracy, ceased to use Dunwich as a location once plans for the reservoir were mooted.

Dunwich

Dunwich (New England backwoods 1990)

The Quabbin reservoir was eventually created several years after Lovecraft’s death in 1937, and Greenwich was indeed razed and drowned. The reservoir features, unnamed, in ‘The Color Out of Space’, where nothing will make the narrator drink the new town water of Arkham.

Kingsport is based on Marblehead and the nearby Rockport.

Kingsport-houses

Kingsport (Marblehead, 1990)

Innsmouth is inspired by Newburyport’s architecture, but geographically placed on the fishing village of Gloucester. Hence the narrator of ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ gets on the bus at Newburyport and then travels to Innsmouth.

Innsmouth

Innsmouth (Newburyport, Massachusetts, 1990)

With thanks to the following eldritch tomes for refreshing my failing memory:

Eckhardt, Jason C. Off the Ancient Track: A Lovecraftian Guide to New England and Adjacent New York,  Necronomicon Press 1987

Cooke, Jon. B. (ed.) H.P. Lovecraft Centennial Guidebook: A Handbook of the Weekend of Events Celebration the 100th Birthday of a Great Horror Writer. ‘Lovecraft’s New England: The Haunted Backwaters of HPL’, Murray, W. Montilla Publications 1990

At the time I took some notes of the epitaphs on the tombstones in the Salem and Newburyport graveyards. The notebook in which I recorded them is long lost, but these days we have Wikipedia to fill in the blanks. It is fitting, for this post, that the last words belong to the dead:

Remember me as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I,
As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for death and follow me.

– Epitaph on a New England gravestone

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