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Campaign Coins at GenCon Indy 2013

Campaign Coins at GenCon Indy 2013

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

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

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

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

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

The Penultimate Trip playthrough at GenCon

The Penultimate Trip playthrough at GenCon

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

The super-sized Simulacrum

The super-sized Simulacrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Compleat Strategist (est. 1975) in New York

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

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A Visit to Chaosium

chaosium-cthulhu

Stained-glass Cthulhu at Chaosium

Penny and I have arrived in America on the first stop of our 2013 GenCon Horror on the Orient Express tour. We have even taken our first train, the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). It did not have  a salon car where white-clad waiters served champagne, but it did get us out to Charlie Krank’s place in Hayward from the airport. We’ve since been recovering from our jet lag, eating some amazing vegetarian food in the Bay Area and playing some games.

mark-at-chaosium

Back in the office at Chaosium, 2013

On Monday we visited the Chaosium offices, and for the first time saw a printout of the complete layout of Horror on the Orient Express, which Meghan has prepared to show everyone who comes to the Chaosium booth (#501) at GenCon Indy. It’s amazing to see the book printed out: a huge stack of paper larger than Beyond the Mountains of Madness. Meghan has done a fantastic job with the layout, and it was great to see the new art, particularly the new version of the Sedefkar Simulacrum, which is so blasphemous we can’t show you yet. We also met Nick, who showed us the Traveler’s Companion bound and printed up as a sample GenCon preview edition. We hope this little book that will be a useful player aid at the gaming table. It has a guide for each city on the route, accompanied by wonderful city maps by Steff Worthington.

We also got to go to the all-new expanded wing of the Chaosium warehouse to see boxes and boxes of Orient Express loot: T-shirts, medallions, commemorative coins, placemats, matchboxes, mugs, coasters and more. Chaosium have been sending out photos of all the merchandise as part of the Kickstarter updates, but it’s another thing again to see a massive wall of boxes. There’s so much stuff there you have to scale the front stack to get to the stack behind it.

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Boxes and boxes and boxes of Orient Express swag

The nearby row of mi-go brain cases made me wonder what if that’s what happened to previous writers who missed their deadlines, because I flubbed a few.

Assuming the vacant space on the bottom right is not reserved for me, we leave on Tuesday for the real world gibbering madness that is GenCon…

migo

Mi-go brain cases

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The Dreamlands Express I: The Geography of Dreams

Warning: Here be spoilers…

I cannot live up to the enchantment of Christian’s previous post about Poissy but this post is also concerned with coincidence and other odd ways in which a writer’s mind works.

A fragment found folded between the seat and the wall on the Orient Express:

Last night in my compartment of the Orient Express I dreamed of a train so marvelous that in the morning my pillow was wet with tears of joy. It was no creation of iron and steam but of airy palaces borne aloft on the backs of vast beasts. Yet when I woke my heart was sore, for someone on this marvelous train did kill a cat, and in that land this of all things was forbidden.

Istanbul Cat 1

This cat has just read the last paragraph and is not impressed.

So somehow a Dreamlands Express has shunted itself onto the back of the Orient Express, no mean feat for a dream world where technology has to be ‘fixed’ for at least 500 years in the waking world before it can exist.

This Express was born out of a discussion with Mark about a key issue with the plot of the Horror on the Orient Express. One particular enemy is simply too strong and can reduce unprepared parties to “one insane investigator, a 12-year old, and an NPC whose player has left to go to College”. Don’t laugh. That’s a near-direct quote.

Was there a way to provide  a weapon against this enemy for weaker parties while allowing stronger parties to tackle it on their own?  That was how the Dreamlands Express evolved, first with a fragment of an idea for the weapon, then an idea for a murder, then an idea for a mystery. Finally the train itself lumbered into view.

I don’t want to talk further about the scenario. I do want to talk about itineraries though. I compiled the train’s route  using the descriptions from an old copy of the H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands supplement and the haunting visions of Lovecraft’s stories. We then had to make some pretty strange decisions about some of these dream cities.

The city of Aira, for instance. It was the dream of the shepherd boy Iranon, in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Quest of Iranon. It was listed in both the text and the map of the early editions of H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, but has vanished from the latest edition (something we did not actually know until informed by Steff Worthington, resolute map artist). Did Aira actually ever exist, and if it did exist could it be visited?

The city of Zar in country of Zak posed a textual problem: was it the city of Zar in the Country of Zak, or the City of Zak in the country of Zar. Or was it just Zar. Or Zak. Lovecraft is no help as he contents himself with obscure hints; “no dreamer should set foot upon the sloping meadows of Zar, for it is told that he who treads them may nevermore return to his native shore.”

Finally, who or what is the eidolon Lathi that rules over the city of Thalarion? A definition I found spoke of Helen of Troy’s starring role in the Illiad, when ancient historians of Classical Greek world agreed that Helen was never in the city during the Trojan war. By placing her there Homer created an eidolon, a ghost of a woman who never existed in that time or place. How does that help us evoke Thalarion, whose ‘streets are white with the unburied bones of those that have looked upon the eidolon Lathi’? If they’re unlucky, your investigators will find out…

‘The Quest of Iranon’ by H.P. Lovecraft originally appeared in Weird Tales March 1939. [Source: FineBooks Magazine]

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Library Use made easy

While Mark was running the Milan playtest the players got really interested in a mural in La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. The Egyptian style mural was one of four in the roof of the Galleria, visible from their hotel room in the Hotel de la Ville (situated in the Galleria itself).

The mural’s Egyptian theme intrigued the players who had tickets to see Aida at La Scala. They spent some time trying to get a closer view. However there’s no closer view to be got without climbing the sheer stone façade of the Galleria. There’s a black and white illustration in the 1991 boxed set but showing a colour photograph to the players gives the image that much more impact.

Mark found some wonderful photos on Absolutely Faaabulous, a fashionista blog (of course; this is Milan after all):

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Egyptian mural above the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (Source: Absolutely Faaabulous blog)

Close up of the mural. (Source: Absolutely Faaabulous blog)

Close up of the mural (Source: Absolutely Faaabulous blog)

The same blog also passed on a delightful rumour about the mysterious properties of a mosaic of a bull in the floor of the Galleria. If you spin three times on one foot on the bull’s testicles, your wish will come true. This is not quite as romantic as singing along with the singer on the stage of La Scala but has certainly had a deleterious effect on the bull’s testicles.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele handily connects La Scala Opera House to the Duomo Cathedral, these three beautiful buildings forming the heart of Milan.

On another Google Images related note, why describe the luxurious hotel to your investigators when you can show them a picture? In writing the Travelers’ Guide I am listing some truly opulent hotels in all of the cities (with some mid-price options for the less spend-thrift investigators). Some of these hotels are still in operation and their websites often provide historical images. Here’s several for the Beau-Rivage Palace, Lausanne:

Beau-Rivage Palace historical photograph (Source: Hotel official website)

Beau-Rivage Palace historical photograph (Source: hotel official website)

When you’re trying to describe a luxury hotel a picture certainly works wonders. The players invariably gasp and head for the cheaper option.

This has all been a lot easier than it was the first time around in 1991. It is a great age to be running Cthulhu scenarios, where you can have arresting images delivered to the tabletop via tablet or laptop.

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The Dream Cities of Istanbul and Providence

A seat is now empty, but the train moves on. Let us follow Randolph Carter, and journey in search of cities lost in time and dreams.

As part of my research for the Traveler’s Companion, I’m reading Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories and the City. This isn’t the place to talk about Pamuk’s stature as a writer. It is Pamuk’s Istanbul that I am concerned with here, the city of his childhood in the 1950 and 60s, and how this can be related back to a Lovecraftian experience of Istanbul in the 1920s.

Pamuk evokes a city of winter, of darkness, of shadow, of twilight, of gloom and poverty. He lingers lovingly over every detail of the slow ruin of the grand old mansions lining the Bosporus. Pamuk’s city is permeated with an aching consciousness of loss, huzun,  a Turkish word he re-interprets as a communal melancholy suffered by Istanbul residents, arising from a deep awareness of their city’s fall from greatness.

Lovecraft’s twilight city, his dream Providence, is a fleeting glimpse filled with ‘the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things, and the maddening need to place again what had once had an awesome and momentous place.’

These are two very different writers confronting the same vision, and both writers assert the primacy of their dream city over the reality, to the point where reality shadows the dream. At the time of writing Istanbul, Pamuk had never left the city, and indeed had returned to live in the same apartment building that he lived in as a child. He felt the city fed his imagination and he would lose too much if he left. Lovecraft stayed in Providence and on College Hill, apart from a short unhappy stint in New York. He could not abandon the city that stood at the center of his craft. His tombstone reads, simply, ‘I am Providence.’

Pamuk also collected newspaper columnist jottings, some of which he shares in a chapter of Istanbul. Here is an admonition from our period, 1929, a final word on lost places and lost times:

“Like all the clocks that adorn our city’s public spaces, the two great clocks on either side of the bridge at Karaköy don’t tell the time so much as guess it; by suggesting that a ferry still tied to the pier has long since departed, and at other times suggesting that a long-departed ferry is still tied to the pier; they torture the residents of Istanbul with hope.”

H.P. Lovecraft's grave, Providence

H.P. Lovecraft’s grave with the dedication “I am Providence”. Photo taken on HPL’s 100th birthday; note the brain-shaped fungus, lovingly laid. (Providence, 1990)

 

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Omelette aux Truffes

I am currently working on the Traveler’s Companion, a booklet for players. 1920s tourist information for  the Balkans has proven difficult to come by in English, especially with my 25% Library Use. The  area was beyond the itinerary of all but the most  ambitious Western European travelers and Baedekers shed no light for me. I trawled through some earlier material indexed at archive.org and found Through Savage Europe, the adventures of Harry De Windt, the intrepid correspondent for the Westminster Gazette and his trusty “bioscope artist”, the redoubtable Mr Mackenzie. Although published in 1907, well before our 1920s setting, this little volume gave me a lovely vignette of the Orient Express, as our weary and paprika-stained travelers climb aboard just outside of Sofia.  It evokes the train as a rolling Shangri-La and perfectly captures the wonder contemporary travelers felt towards the Express.

 Through Savage Europe, Harry De Windt, 1907 p. 195

Through Savage Europe, Harry De Windt, 1907 p. 196

Through Savage Europe, Harry De Windt, 1907, p. 196

Through Savage Europe, Harry De Windt, 1907, p. 197

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