Tag Archives: European scenarios

Milan at last

Last time, I talked about our journey through dream-haunted Switzerland in May 2018. As any reader of Horror on the Orient Express knows, after Lausanne, the next stop is Milan.

Our train journey to Italy was through the landscape of our imagination, between mountains and the lakes, past the Chateau de Chillon, and into the Simplon Tunnel. Lago Maggiore was sprinkled with tiny islets topped with medieval towers.

Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore

We sped through the Simplon Tunnel so fast we were unable to get a satisfactory photograph (next time, we’ll get off at the station). The train rushed on and deposited us in the grandeur of Milano Centrale. We walked through the busy town and rounded a nondescript corner and came upon the grandeur of the Duomo unaware. She looked unutterably gorgeous, and wore her seven centuries like a queen.

Duomo

The Grand Old Lady

We explored the shadowy nave, where we found some statues that did not seem entirely ecclesiastical. This one looked as if it had got sick of the skull it was carrying and was eyeing us off for a fresh one.

Statue in the Duomo

Fenalik in the Duomo?

We just crept quietly by this one, studiously looking the other way so as not to catch its eye.

Statue in the Duomo

Could it be the Skinless One?

We then scaled the rooftops where Mark did his best Fenalik impression amid the soaring spires.

Mark on the Duomo roof

Amid the Spires

Next we sauntered through the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II, opened in 1877 as the world’s first shopping mall. During  construction the architect plunged from the roof top to his death. Was this by bad luck or unhallowed design?

Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II

The Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II

Interior - Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II

It looks like a long way to fall.

We emerged at the Teatro Alla Scalla, where we had a back stage tour of this exuberant confectionery box of a theater.

Teatro Alla Scalla

Teatro Alla Scalla

Teatro Alla Scalla

Inside the Teatro Alla Scalla

Mark was awestruck to find himself in the actual locations that Bernard Caleo used to such great effect in his scenario Note for Note in Horror on the Orient Express. There’s something to be said for being a tourist of the imagination.

Mark and Aida

As sung by the Diva Caterina

We have just a few remaining cities left to visit on the route followed by the campaign, as we visited London, Paris, Venice and Istanbul in 2010. Perhaps in a year or two we will finally visit Trieste, Zagreb, Belgrade and Sofia, albeit travelling in considerably less style than the fabled Orient Express of the Roaring Twenties.

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The Train Rolls On

In May 2018 we filled in some missing stops in our original Horror on the Orient Express train tour of Europe. This time we headed from Geneva to Lausanne along the shores of Lake Leman and then on to Milan.

In St Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva, in what would become a theme, we first descended to the basement, where an archaeological excavation had uncovered an intriguing well. Get out of this one investigators. Mark remembers the well on the cover of the original Call of Cthulhu Companion, they’re best avoided.

The Well St Peters

It must be an Extreme Climb roll

Then we climbed the bell tower, past the monsters carved upon the pews.

Wood carving - St Peters

We don’t know what it is but it’s looking at us funny

Atop the tower we gazed out over the Old City where once a certain Dr Frankenstein studied, and speculated which alleys his monster roamed.

We then boarded our iron steed and headed off, passing exquisite lakeside villas as we left the town. Now which was the one that that nice young couple, the Shelleys, and Lord Byron regaled each other with ghost stories?

Train to Laussanne

Train to Laussanne

In the 1920s Switzerland was considered a cheap destination for British tourists, with the pound sterling strong against the Swiss franc. Alas no more. The Swiss franc is eye-wateringly expensive against the Australian dollar. It says something about affordability in Switzerland that during an excursion across Lac Leman into the medieval French town of Yvoire we found the prices (in euros) delightfully affordable.

Yvoire wall and roses

The roses in Yvoire made me nervous

By coincidence, or sinister design, a sumptuous masked ball paraded through Yvoire during our visit. We remained at a cautious distance from the revelers in case a mask should be accidentally let drop by the incautious claw to reveal the inhuman features beneath.

Yvoire Masked Ball Procession

A Strangely Sinister Procession

We also had a side jaunt to the walled town of Gruyere in order to eat our bodyweight in fondue and visit the Giger bar, an appropriately Gothic launch for our Horror on the Orient Express tour.

Giger Bar-Gruyere

Is this bar weird or have we drunk too many Mojitos?

The Giger Bar at Night, Gruyere

Perhaps best not go in there at night

Or you might meet one of these.

Gruyere at night

And Redcap was never seen again…

We stopped off in the lakeside town of Nyon. In the enchanting Museum of the Lake we found a strange wooden figure, allegedly an old life saving manikin, but we feared a more sinister purpose.

Life Saving dummy Nyon

Simulacrum in Nyon

Then we visited the castle, which had been used as both a prison and asylum. We found something rather …. odd … in the attic.

The attic in Nyon was not normal

The attic in Nyon was not normal

Perhaps, after all, we needed one of these.

Old straitjacket

Old straitjacket

We hurried back to the safety of the train and only left once we reached Laussane. There we had booked into the most expensive hotel of the trip, as recommended by our 1920s guidebook, in an effort to soothe our jangled nerves. The Chateau D’Ouchy was a magnificent and luxuriant pile by the lake, whose cosy cocoon we reluctantly left in order to  take the funicular from the shore to the top of the town.

Chateau Douchy

Chateau D’ Ouchy

There we climbed the ancient bell tower of Notre Dame Cathedral pausing to admire the historic pews with medieval carvings. During the Renaissance the works of the ancient Greeks were rediscovered and spread through Europe. The devout custodians of Notre Dame were not impressed by the ungodly works of Aristotle so carved a picture of the philosopher being ridden by ‘the maid Phyllis’, on the side of the pew. This was the Renaissance equivalent of a sick burn.

Aristotle being ridden by the maid Phyllis

Take that Aristotle, you heathen

Finally we located a certain café near the theatre, le Chat Noir.

Le Chat Noir in Laussane

Where did that Skinless One sticker come from?

Fortunately no unearthly visitors disturbed our rest that night, and there were no taxidermy shops listed in the business directory, but we did find this sweet Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits model train carriage which now adorns Mark’s desk.

Orient Express in miniature

A tiny train in direst peril…

The next morning we were back on the train and off to Milan. That’s a tale for another blog…

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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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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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A Provençal Dragon

Horror on the Orient Express placemat [Source: Chaosium]

The Wagons-Lit logo is two rampart lions. For Horror on the Orient Express merchandise Chaosium under Meghan’s sterling art direction has created a new and unique logo, putting a fantastical spin on the traditional image and updated the two lions to a tarasque and a manticore.  The tarasque is a Provençal dragon and thus an authentic European monster.

According to my handy  Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts (Walker & Co. 1971) the tarasque lived on the banks of the Rhone near the town of Tarascon. It was “bigger than an ox…with a lion’s head and mouth; its jaws contained vast teeth, it had six bear’s paws, a carapace studied with spikes and a viper’s tail.”   The redoubtable St Martha, yet another Biblical figure who somehow found her way to Europe, tamed it by drenching it with holy water.

In case the description is not vivid enough a delightful Tarascon statue  gives a presumably authentic view of the monster, given that it is located near St Martha’s tomb. To my eye, it looks a little worried. We can assume that the statue depicts the moment after St Martha tamed it when the monster noticed the approach of the good townsfolk of Tarascon, who failed to trust in its wholehearted conversion and stoned it to death.

Tarasque statue [Source: Tarascon website]

This week we were briefly excited when the pelaton in the Tour de France sped through Tarascon, but try as we might we could not catch a glimpse of the tarasque.

The manticore has an interesting lineage, born in Persia and making its way by rumor to Europe.  My Dictionary quotes Aristotle, quoting Ctesias (Alexander the Great’s personal physician, whose works are now lost): “the Indian wild beast called the ‘marticoras’ has a triple row of teeth in both upper and lower jaw; that it is as big as a lion and equally hairy, and that its feet resemble those of the lion; that it resembles man in its face and ears; that its eyes are blue, and its color vermilion; and has the faculty of shooting off arrow-wise the spines that are attached to its tail.” The same source notes that it can run as swiftly as a deer, no bad image for train. It is thought to born of garbled travelers’ tales of tigers.

Manticore [Source:

Manticore [Source: A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts]

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Sacred Spaces, and Why They Scare Us

Once aboard the Horror on the Orient Express the intrepid investigators should seize the chance to explore the many  famous cathedrals en route.  Not only do these cathedrals husband thousands of years of history, but in several cities they hold valuable clues to the mystery at hand.  Besides, climbing the bell towers of Europe is one way to keep fit and allow the fleet of foot to outrace, if not the ravening Cthulhoid monstrosity, then at least their less fleet friends.

Notre Dame Dragon

Dragon carving from Notre Dame, Paris [Europe 2010]

Cathedrals are also vast and spooky spaces. They are deliberately built on an inhuman scale to impress the faithful with their insignificance in the sight of God. If the Cathedral is in any way wealthy it will be packed with tombs, statues, mosaics, alter screens and carvings, gargoyles and effigies,  crypts and relics,  all of which can be used by Keepers to instill a few harmless horrors in their players. It keeps them alert, gets the heart pumping, and does them no end of good.

Interior of Aya Sofia, Istanbul [Source: Europe 2010]

Interior of Aya Sofia, Istanbul [Europe 2010]

The Horror on the Orient Express takes place in winter, a time of early darkness, and general gloom. The shadows clustering in the nave, and thickening amid the vaults of the ceiling far overhead, may indeed be caused by the dwindling daylight, or  perhaps something more sinister.  Do the investigators wish to wait and find out? That flapping sound from the bell tower is probably just a flag blowing in the wind. Does some intrepid soul wish to climb up, and see for themselves?

Notre Dame interior [Source: Europe 2010]

Interior of Notre Dame, Paris [Europe 2010]

The writer par excellence who evoked the horror of the sacred space was M.R. James. A Cambridge don, he wrote a mere thirty ghost stories. He is the writer to read if you seek an imp in a Cathedral close,  a demon guarding an Abbot’s treasure  or a devil-haunted vicarage. The antithesis of Lovecraft, M.R. James wrote in spare, erudite prose. His ghosts are glimpsed only in snatches, generally as his terrified narrator is running for their life and sanity. His haunts are utterly malevolent. Sometimes they hunt a murderer, or avenge a theft. More often their vindictiveness is attracted  by accident. The hapless hero of  ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You my Lad’ simply blows an old whistle and is hunted by a terrible figure “with an intensely horrible face of crumpled linen”, while the luckless protagonist of ‘The Diary of Mr Poynter’ draws supernatural ire merely by making a very unfortunate choice in wall-paper.

“Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” [Source: Dream Quest magazine, G.W. Thomas]

The stories of M.R. James are very adaptable to Call of Cthulhu scenarios set in England and the Continent, featuring as they do a cast of bookish dons and antiquarian  scholars. The only problem in plotting these stories as scenarios lies in their inscrutable malevolence. There is often simply no way to fend off the haunt. In other words, no way to save the haunted.

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