Tag Archives: 1920s

The Last Post

Horror on the Orient Express is at last pulling into its final destination. The first copies have arrived in backers’ houses generally with a resounding ker-thump, and a twinge of sore backs. You are warned, folks, the Thing on the Doorstep is actually a brick.

It was a two year journey, and far longer and stranger than any of us planned. To stretch the analogy, possibly to breaking point, we have dug the train out of snow-drifts, left friends stranded at out of the way stations, and scattered a trail of lost toothbrushes, odd socks and broken suitcases in far and foreign lands. However all these travails are forgotten as at last we hold the Brick  in our hands (and always remember, folks,  when picking it up keep your back straight and bend at the knees).

Stack of books - from Games from the Front blog

Stack of books – from Games from the Front blog

We already have a photo blog of the formal Unwrapping of the Campaign Box by Ty Snouffer from the Games from the Front blog, and a nice review on The Escapist by Adam Gauntlett (“Where the reprint expands on the original scenarios, it’s almost always for the better.”)

The short story collection Madness on the Orient Expressoverseen by the all-seeing editorial eye of James Lowder, will be out by the end of the year. The PDF is already available. Two of the original Horror on the Orient Express crew, myself and the erudite Geoff Gillan, have stories included in the anthology, along with a host of luminaries. It has an evocative cover, perfectly capturing that moment when one must confront the tentacled monstrosities that have taken over the dining car.

Cover art for Madness on the Orient Express

Cover art – Madness on the Orient Express

Like the people on the train above, this is our stop. But as our Kickstarted journey is ending, someone else’s is beginning: Bret Kramer of the splendid WordPress blog Tomes in Progress is crowdfunding the Third Issue of The Arkham Gazette, a magazine all about Lovecraft Country. If your investigators refuse to set foot on the Continent again after Orient Express, Bret will give them plenty of things to fear back home in the Americas.

Don’t be a stranger on the train. You’ll find Mark over at Campaign Coins. He also has his personal Twitter feed, more to do with our writing projects. If you want to haunt us, start there.

One more round of thanks before we go, first and foremost to the much lamented, redoubtable Lynn Willis, the original editor and visionary.  To Charlie Krank and Meghan McLean and Nick Nacario and Mike Mason and everyone at Chaosium who kept the dream alive, and took the reprint to heights we would never have dared dream. All the other writers, those who came back, those who joined us, and those who wished us well: Bernard, Carl, Christian, Darren, David, Geoff, Hans-Christian, Marion, Matthew, Michael, Mike, Nick, Oscar, Paul, Paul, Phil, Richard & Russell.

Most of all, we thank all you lovely Kickstarter backers, who kept faith in this ambitious project. Georges Nagelmackers could not have dug the Simplon Tunnel without help from his backers and without you this mighty tome would be but an unsavory gleam in a cephalopod eye. Together we have arrived at our destination, and now, alas, we part. This is our last stop on the journey of this blog. Our last post. Our last words, our last hurrah, and our last point of Sanity.

Good bye all, and thank you. It has been one hell of a ride.

 

Georges Nagelmackers and his train

Georges Nagelmackers, and his train, depart

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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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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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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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