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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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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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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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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