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RPGs, science fiction, fantasy, gadgets, and anything else that comes up.Daniel Stacknoreply@blogger.comBlogger554125
Updated: 4 days 21 hours ago

Call of Cthulhu Actual Play: Against the Cthulhu Cult of Boston

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 03:09


I'll be making a small adjustment for this actual play. I'll be focusing less on what happened during play - though I will cover that - and more discussing the makeup of the adventure. I think that is probably more of interest to my readers.

One of my players commented how she didn't recall any adventures actually involving Cthulhu. With our previous adventure featuring some Thralls of Cthulhu that seemed a great opportunity to make use of the worldwide Cthulhu Cult.

Adventure NotesI started with the ending - I had a vision of cultists trying to rise R'lyeh in Boston Harbor. Yes, it's supposed to be in the Pacific Ocean but I decided to adjust that and say R'lyeh is an extradimensional place. It is perhaps easiest to rise from the Pacific, but if the stars are right, it can be risen out of any water. I knew they'd need a tome so I broke the adventure into two parts - the first concerning them acquiring the tome they needed and the second them making use of it.

With that I needed a bunch of NPCs. I decided to make all the members of the Cthulhu Cult - very often I find it easy to make cultists into "orcs" - and I'm sure I'll do so again. One of the things I took note of from Lovecraft's classic "The Call of Cthulhu" was, horror of horrors, multi-ethnic and multiracial, things that horrified Lovecraft. So I had an idea for such a cult in Boston. In my markdown notebook I recorded the following people:

  • Jean-Claude Ristil - Haitian born, budding sorcerer, leader of the group
  • Agewe Baptiste - Haitian born as well, childhood friend of Ristil. Skilled with knife, very scarred
  • Finn Leary - 1st generation Irish-American, second-story man, good with gun
  • Pablo Torres - Puerto Rican immigrant, skilled rifleman
  • Ricardo López - Cuban revolutionary against Spain, older man - born 1860, making him in his mid-50s. Often field leader of this crew. 
  • Thomas Greenshields - Scottish immigrant, intellectual, fond of pistols, engineering student. Given them access to more cultured places. Arsonist. 
  • Fang Li - 2nd generation Chinese-American. Grandfathers both worked on transcontinental railroad, later settled in Boston. Fang family has laundromat. Li not a huge fan of that. Rails against the treatment of Chinese by American government. 

We're not talking super-deep, multi layered characterizations. However, with these rough notes they all looked different and brought different things to the table. They were all men - though in the previous adventure the adversaries were both women (and they will likely appear again).
The first part of this adventure, a single session, then would need to deal with the cult getting noticed stealing the book. Enter roommates and lovers Dmitri Zadornoz and James Higgins. They recently came across and stole the 1850s tome Adam Jones' R'lyeh, annotated by Rev. Thomas Miller. Obsessed with the work, they wanted to share it with the world. The two worked at a jobber printer - a press for smaller jobs. On Thanksgiving, when the printer was closed, they printed a pamphlet with excerpts from the book - and their own ramblings. And they planned to do so on Christmas as well. But the cult has gotten wind of the book and wants it.
What is the book? It's a book of my own creation. I created a companion for explorer Henry Hudson, Adam Jones. I posited that he had come across references to R'lyeh while on the Pacific Ocean. He wrote his own mad ravings about it and published a book about it in 1605. He became obsessed with finding a Deep One city - his calculations showing it to be beyond what is now known as Hudson Bay. His calculations were off - it was actually near modern Innsmouth. Along with Hudson, Jones was lost in the final 1610-1611 voyage of Hudson (as was Hudson, due to crew mutiny). In the mid-19th century the Reverend Thomas Miller came across Jones' work and modernized it - though the Presbytery of Boston had a fit when they saw what he'd been working on and the book was suppressed, with only a few copies surviving. I decided to give it a short study time, making it a rather valuable Mythos tome and one much desired. 
Adam Jones' R'lyeh, annotated by Rev. Thomas Miller 
  • Sanity Loss - 1d8
  • Cthulhu Mythos - +3/+7
  • Mythos Rating - 20
  • Study - 2 weeks
  • Spells: Mist of R'lyeh, Enchant Club, Call/Dismiss Cthulhu, Align the Stars, Summon Deep Ones
On the night of Christmas Higgins and Zadornoz were working on printing a new pamphlets. However, Ristil's cult struck. They killed Higgins and lit the press on fire. Zadornoz had stepped out and fled when he saw what happened. However, other cult members were waiting for him at his apartment - which they'd already hit, obtaining the book. Zadornoz escaped there as well, though he was shot and wounded. Disowned by his father, a rabbi, for being in a homosexual relationship, he was still on good terms with his sister - and his sister was engaged to a medical student who helped run an underground clinic to help defray the costs of medical school.
The adventure opened with police Captain McShane asking the investigators to look into the fire - remnants of the pamphlets made it clear what sort of strangeness was going on. I'd set things up so that I didn't need to worry about the investigators stopping the cult from getting the book - they already had it. But the characters had to learn about the cult - and have a chance of saving Zadornoz. 
Whether they succeeded or not, the second part of the adventure was about getting their own copy of Adam Jones' R'lyeh. I added details for them to follow Zadornoz's backtrail, including the book shop he stole it from - Dale's Rare Books, owned by Curtis Dale. Dale would be able to point them to other places the book could be obtained, included the libraries at the Miskatonic University and Harvard University. I did also note that the cult would likely be monitoring the investigators and try to interfere.

I also dictated the book would specify the raising of R'lyeh would need to be done in parts. The initial spell had to be cast on a very foggy night so as to obscure the realigning of the stars. As it turns out, mid-January 1915 was extremely foggy in Boston. That would allow for the raising of a small island. If a proper sacrifice could be made to one of Cthulhu's starspawn, true R'lyeh could indeed be brought to our world. All hail Cthulhu. Iä  Iä !
Actual Play NotesSetting: Boston. Friday, December 25th, 1914 - Monday, January 18, 1915
Characters:

  • Colin O'Connor: Civil engineer from Dunmore, Ireland. Employed as a civil engineer by the city of Boston.
  • Lola Diaz Azar: Archaeologist hailing from Puerto Rico, born of a Puerto Rican mother and Middle Eastern father. Agent of the New England Watch and Ward Society, specializing in occult tomes.
  • Nathaniel Quincy, MD, Captain, US Army (Ret.) Former army doctor, served in Nicaragua and the Philippines. Now working as a medical examiner for Essex County.

The characters quickly gathered information at the burnt jobber press and found their way to Zadornoz and Higgins' apartment, driven by a Boston police officer. There they saw the place already ransacked but did find notes about Zadornoz's estranged family and they traveled to the family's modest home. While his father, Rabbi Yuri Zadornoz, was not helpful, his sister Susanna was - and was able to point out where her fiance David Kablukov ran a secret clinic. Unfortunately, the cult converged on the house. Baptiste, Torres, and Li attacked. It was not a fair fight and rapidly broke down into chaos in and around the house. Baptiste nearly killed Azar with his machete. O'Connor and Quincy struggled in battle with Li but eventually defeated him. Torres killed Yuri and their police driver. Baptiste and Torres left, gaining information and nearly running down Susana in their car. This proved an object lesson on the deadliness of combat in Call of Cthulhu. Quincy stabilized Azar and got her to the hospital. They tipped the police off to the location of the clinic but did not go there themselves - but they did hear tales of a horrifying police battle that killed two more officers with Zadornoz and Kablukov killed as well - with strange reports of zombies.
With three police officers killed in one night, the city was enraged. McShane made sure they had the resources they needed to stop the cult. After Azar recovered they went to Dale's Rare Books and from there the Miskatonic University at Arkham. It was there that cultist Leary tried to run them down, badly hurting O'Connor. Azar and Quincy persuaded Henry Armitage to give them access to Adam Jones' R'lyeh which they read while O'Connor recovered - and learned some forbidden magic from the tome - especially of interest being a way to banish Cthulhu.
When the fog came on January 18 they scoured the waterfront and found a fishermen who described the strange people who paid a fortune to rent his boat - even if they never returned it he'd have enough to buy a new boat. Cults ready for the end of the world don't see much a need for money. The fishermen had a general idea where they were going and with some money, they rented another boat and he took them out.
Sure enough, there was indeed a new island, one that glowed green in the fog. And on it was a horrid, giant, winged octopus-like creature. Not Cthulhu but one of his servants. The ritual had begun. It was too much for O'Connor, whose mind snapped. He had no memory of how they had arrived. Meanwhile, Quincy and Azar chanted the banishing spell. Quincy had to stop as O'Connor started advancing towards the cult, confused. Quincy tackled him as Azar completed the spell. As Cthulhu's servant vanished the island sank. They all found themselves in the cold waters of the harbor. The investigators quickly made for their boat, hoping the cult (especially machete man) would not survive the experience.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

RPG Review: Malleus Monstrorum for Call of Cthulhu

Thu, 01/24/2019 - 01:35

One of my favorite supplements for Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu RPG is Malleus Monstrorum. Though written for the 6th edition of the game, in my experience it can be converted on the fly to other editions. It is out of print, with physical copies selling in excess of $100.00. It is available digitally from Chaosium and DrivethruRPG.

The book is about 300 pages long and is illustrated in black and white, as was typical for pre-7th edition Chaosium books. Regrettably the book is not bookmarked, something that would have been rather useful. The artwork is somewhat unconventional - a combination of black and white photographs, sketches, pictographs, drawings of statues, etc.

Malleus Monstorum is essentially a "Monster Manual" for Call of Cthulhu. It is divided into various classifications, such as servitor races, independent races, gods, animals, etc. It has a lot of creatures from the works of HP Lovecraft, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, HG Wells, Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, etc. Some of the species presented are quite surprising, like Wells' Martians and their Tripods from War of the Worlds.

Not only are the main deities of the Mythos included, but many of them have multiple avatars presented for them - with several for Cthulhu and even more for Nyarlathotep.

The book has a number of appendices - one of the more useful ones is advice for adapting creatures from other sources, such as creatures from Doctor Who and Star Trek.

The most logical 7th edition book to compare this with would be S. Petersen's Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors. That work is a much more gorgeous book but is also more narrowly focused - it is more of a spotter guide with a much smaller number of creatures.

I greatly enjoy the Malleus Monstorum both for its game stats and as an inspiration. It is great to have stats for most every creature one could want for the game all in one place. I personally have a tendency to use these stats as a starting point, adjusting them to fit the needs of a given scenario. I'd love to see Chaosium release a version of the book for Roll20 - it'd be great to have a library of stats available for online play.

Malleus Monstorum is also a great book for inspiration. The non-traditional artwork, while not dense, serves as a great source of ideas, as do the sheer number of creatures. The descriptions of the creatures are also great for mining for scenario ideas. I've had many scenarios originate from spending some time with this book, coupled with contemplating interesting ways to use the beings within.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Great Molasses Flood in Call of Cthulhu

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 01:37


Today, January 15, 2019, marks the 100th anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood in Boston. On that day, around noon, a massive tidal wave of molasses flooded the North End neighborhood. Supports for elevated trains were damaged, buildings toppled. Twenty one people died and around 150 were injured. I've written of this before in my review of Stephen Puleo's Dark Tide, the best (and one of the only) source of information for this disaster.

I find Boston of the 1910s to be a fascinating period in history and have been running a Call of Cthulhu campaign set in 1914 - it's about to reach 1915. They might eventually merge with a previous campaign, one that began in France at the end of World War One - but whose second adventure was about the Molasses Flood.

What makes the era so fascinating? It was a time of extreme tension. Immigrants were pouring into cities and traditional power bases were being disrupted as the immigrants found their voices. It was also a time of extreme hardship, with brutal work conditions and few worker protections. When examining old Boston Globe archives from that period I found an advertisement for Grape Nuts Cereal - and it suggested eating them would keep you healthy, helping you avoid missing work and losing your job due to illness.

In this period were a number of new movements - in the United States these included communism and anarchism - often linked together though they had very different desires. Anarchists were quite terrifying to Americans of the day - and understandably so. There was reason for the caricature of the bomb-throwing anarchist. Many heads of state were killed by anarchists, including US President McKinley. Anarchists blew up a Boston Police Station. They made use of mail bombs.

When a great tank of molasses spilled 2.3 million gallons of molasses onto the city streets, the initial assumption was it was done by anarchists. This isn't surprising. Anarchists had threatened the tank as it was used in the production of industrial alcohol, essential for the munitions of the Great War. It was built in a hurry to take advantage of the economic opportunity provided by the war - with poor quality. It often leaked onto the streets.

One of the things I dislike in my own Call of Cthulhu games is having the Mythos responsible for events in human history. It's something that can work if used sparingly but it is very easy to overdo - and can get very tasteless. For example, I would consider it offensive to say "the Holocaust was all for a magic spell that Hitler was casting that required the deaths of millions". However, if one's group were comfortable with the subject matter (and I'm not certain I would be), I could see having an individual Nazi sorcerer taking advantage of the horrid circumstances.

For the Great Molasses Flood, it was such a major event that it would seem a great opportunity for inclusion in a historic game. When I ran an adventure during the Flood, I had it kill a cultist of Tsathoggua in his basement shrine- which unleashed a Formless Spawn no longer under his control. This Spawn was able to easily conceal itself in the molasses that covered everything in the area for days after.

Should our current game reach this point, I'd probably not repeat the same adventure - unless something happens to force a divergence, I consider them taking place in the same universe, so I'd say that was happening in the background. However, there are a number of other possibilities that come to mind. I've taken advantage of the criminal connections that anarchists of the era had and have had cultists often integrate with such groups - some as true believers, some just taking advantage of them.

It is quite likely that some cultists will be displaced by the Flood. The North End was a crowded immigrant neighborhood. One might have been killed by the Flood, leaving his trove of artifacts unprotected - causing a cultist war, if one supposes multiple sorcerous factions in the city. One can easily imagine the early investigation centering around known anarchists, possibly causing a cultist to accelerate his or her plans. One might be arrested, causing followers to attempt a break-out.

Also consider the possibility of using the Flood as a great opportunity to bring investigators together. People struggled to survive and help with rescue efforts. They might even wind up rescuing a cultist...

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Call of Cthulhu Actual Play - Still Waters

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 02:29


Though based in Boston, the investigators do make occasional forays. When an opportunity to acquire a forbidden tome in Biloxi, Mississippi arises, the Watch and Ward Society sends one of their agents and her allies. Professor Victor Davies was willing to donate the Vishakhapatnam Fragment to Harvard University in return for access to some of Harvard's restricted texts. Not a perfect deal, but the chance to take the Fragment out of circulation could not be ignored.

Based on the adventure "Still Waters" by L.N. Isynwill and Doug Lyons from Chaosium's The Great Old Ones book.


Setting: Boston. Tuesday, October 13 - Wednesday, October 14, 1914, Davies Landing, Mississippi.

Cast of Characters:Investigators:
  • Colin O'Connor: Civil engineer from Dunmore, Ireland. Employed as a civil engineer by the city of Boston.
  • Lola Diaz Azar: Archaeologist hailing from Puerto Rico, born of a Puerto Rican mother and Middle Eastern father. Agent of the New England Watch and Ward Society, specializing in occult tomes.
  • Nathaniel Quincy, MD, Captain, US Army (Ret.) Former army doctor, served in Nicaragua and the Philippines. Now working as a medical examiner for Essex County.


NPCs:
  • Victor Davies, bibliophile and historian
  • Philippa Davies, Victor's daughter. Former classmate of Lola
  • Claude Lareen - Townsperson in Davies' Landing
  • Raymond Brown, Davies' butler
  • Adele Brown. Raymond's wife

SummaryAs the investigators prepped for their train ride, Lola received a telegram from Philippa, a former university classmate, looking forward to seeing her again and telling her there would be a car waiting to take them to Sunset Hall, their modest mansion, on the evening of October 13.
They completed a long train ride, with a transfer in New Orleans, and reached Davies' Landing on schedule. It was a cold, drizzly evening - unseasonably chill. There was no car waiting for them. No one got off with them. The small town was not electrified - a small dangling light bulb at the platform was powered by a gasoline generator. A little after 7 PM, the sun had set and the last remnants of twilight were fading.
They worked their way into the small town, with all the windows dark. Sunset Hall was perhaps three miles away - certainly walkable, but not a pleasant walk in the rain and with their baggage. Dogs noticed their arrival and barked - and barked, and barked. Eventually one of the houses opened to them, owned by Mr. Claude Lareen. Claude lit his stove and made the investigators some coffee, offering to take them to Sunset Hall. His wife was less than thrilled, worried about "Old Bill" - supposedly a giant alligator that preys on animals and people - a legend Claude assured them - a small donation helped smooth things over - for the church of course.
The ride was not by automobile but by horse drawn wagon. Reaching the estate they saw the garage doors open and the garage empty, with tire tracks showing there was normally a vehicle there. A generator provided electricity to the estate. 
Within they found some horrors - Raymond and Adele Brown both dead, their internal organs removed and piled neatly. An investigation by Nathanial estimated they'd been dead for perhaps a day. 
An investigation of the house did not turn up the Davies. It did turn up some interesting and disturbing clues however:
  • A number of minor Mythos tomes in the library. 
  • Acquisitions logs showing willingness to steal and kill for getting new books.
  • A truck in a barn (but not the Davies' Packard).
  • An obsession with competitors - competitors supposedly based out of the supposedly Rosethorne Mansion, only a few miles away.
  • An obsession with the Rosethorne family - Patricia and Nathaly, twin sisters, were supposedly the last of them. Brody Rosethorne was a slave trader and then a prominent Klansman after the Civil War. He and his wife died in 1875. The twins then lived with distant relatives in Florida and are recorded as having died of typhoid in 1879.
  • A spell to quicken mental faculties - requiring incestuous activities - which photos indicate did take place between the two Davies.
  • A record for a copy of a key to the Rosethorne Mansion.
  • A memo to ready the Fragments for pickup - they were indeed expected.
Claude went to summon the sheriff while the investigators got the truck running (it was in mediocre shape) and drove to the Rosethorne Mansion, arriving around midnight.
Near the mansion they found the Davies' Packard, hidden in the woods. In the trunk of the Packard were the Fragments - a series of metal plates with Sanskrit writing. They parked by it and approached the mansion. It was nearly empty but in a fireplace they found a hidden stairwell down, requiring two people to open the door. On an iron tablet made visible by the door were a pair of inscriptions:Dedicatory To Our Flesh: Daughters, look once upon this and preserve. A Great Power gives your dying parents leave to ward back
Death at a price paid gladly, for the clay is cold and wormy. Now taken from this place, yet you shall return when the years are right.
We mark our path for you. There is life below, as you shall know, and in the still waters, and in the sea. We shall meet again.Around the Dedicatory flowed a different script in Roman letters:Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh
wgah’ naglfhtagnDescending the steps they found living chambers - with the Davies at a table, dead and mutilated, nailed in place. On Victor was a paper saying "I Liked Books Too Much" and on Philippa a note saying "I Am A Naughty Book Grabber!".

Then they were visited pair of hideous, squid-like women. Patricia and Nataly, alive and...  somewhat well. They weren't like the fish-men from Innsmouth they had seen, they were more... alien. The sight of them was too much for Colin who found himself enamored of all things of the sea. He pledged himself to them.  Nathaly charged at them while Patricia played a alien-sounding organ, singing songs of their imminent death.

Nathaniel tried dragging Colin away, without much success, as he dodged the non-human claws of Nathaly. Lola fled to their vehicles and grabbed a gasoline can, igniting the place on fire. That broke the spell for Colin, who allowed himself to be dragged away. The sisters fled deeper into the basement.

The fire damaged the mansion, but did not destroy it, owing to the rain. Returning to it they discovered the sisters had an escape route - a tunnel leading into the river - and an emptied out library. They also learned a yacht departed Davies Landing in the early morning of the 14th, after the fire - the Nathaly. The squid-women were free and at sea.

Nevertheless they took some solace in obtaining a number of tomes and removing them from circulation.
Adventure NotesAside from the move to an earlier period (from the 1920s to 1914), I found the geography a bit odd. Biloxi was listed as the closest city but the adventure also was on the Chickasway River - I assume that's fictional, though there is a Chickaswhay River (slightly different spelling) but it does not reach the Gulf. I decided to move this to the Biloxi River.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Film Review - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 03:33


Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is easily my favorite Spider-Man film, one of my top superhero films, and one of my top animated films. 
It’s a rare film - one that takes a lot of chances and wins. My younger daughter, aged 13, is a superhero fan, though more in the DC camp, loved it. She chose to see it a second time over an Aquaman viewing. 
So what about it is so awesome? I’m going to go into some spoiler territory here, though I’ll try to keep it mild for those who haven’t seen it (go see it). 
I’ll start with the animation/style. Into the Spider-Verse feels like a comic book made into a film. It features text captions, comic books, multiple panels on the screen at once, etc. With multiple Spider-beings from different universes, it gives them all their own art styles - Spider-Man Noir, from an alternate 1930s, is in black and white. He literally cannot see color. And where he goes the wind follows. And it smells like rain. Peni Parker and her SP/dr suit are presented in a quasi-anime style. Spider-Ham (yes, he is in this film) is in Loony Toons style. The city environment of New York was gorgeous. It felt like a New York.
From that paragraph you’be an idea of the chances the film took. It could have been laughable - and there were some laughs to be sure - but really it had a high chance of falling into farce and deftly avoided that. 
We’ve also got Peter Parker. He breezes through his origin story - a story that is essentially the Rami Spider-Man trilogy, with upside-down kissing, stopping of trains, and emo dancing. But he goes beyond that. We see Peter Parker’s life go south. He gets married to Mary-Jane but the marriage goes south. Eventually they split up and we are treated to a going-on middle-age, getting a little chunky, depressed Peter Parker. I think this was an essential decision. The Spider-Man films struggle allowing Peter to be anything other than a high school, maybe college, student. For most of his career in the comics he has been beyond that. This Peter could have been played for laughs - and again, there are some deliberate laughs, but there’s some real genius here. Though a bit burnt out and defeated by life, this Peter Parker still has it. He’s still a genius, he’s still a hero. He’s still filled with compassion, though it may take a little poking to get to it.
We also get a Spider-Woman - Gwen Stacy, from another universe. She was an absolute joy to experience. Like the main Peter Parker, she’s taken some beatings from life and while heroic, she is distant, not wanting to get hurt by losing more people she cares about. It goes without saying, that every Spider-Being has their own “Uncle Ben” equivalent. 
Finally there’s the main Spider-Person of the film, Miles Morales. In a film with over half a dozen Spider-Beings, he is never overshadowed. It is his movie. He is a young Afro-Latino boy who is attending a boarding STEM-type school. He has a good family life. He has a bit of an awkward relationship with his father (not wanting rides to school on Mondays from his dad - in a police car, with his dad a cop). He is especially close to his father’s estranged brother, his Uncle Aaron. Aaron isn’t quite on the right side of the law but the two nevertheless clearly love each other. 
The film shows us Miles getting bit by his own radioactive spider and the treat of him discovering his powers (“it’s a puberty thing”). 
Much of the film is spent with the Spider-Beings meeting each other. Rather than avoiding origin stories, the film gives us one for each of them - breezing through them, but not holding back. 
We know that Peter’s great challenge was learning that with great power comes great responsibility. That’s not quite Miles’ challenge. Miles is plunged into a world of super-beings with no warning and is in dire circumstances. And he is, quite frankly, terrified. It doesn’t totally paralyze him - he wants to do the right thing. But he can’t quite control his powers - he has trouble unsticking to walls and can’t consciously control some powers he received beyond the traditional ones. I hope I’m not giving away anything when I write his whole arc is getting to the point where he masters those powers. But is is beautifully done. The best dialogue in the film is between Miles and Peter. Miles wants to know when he’ll be ready - when he’ll really be Spider-Man. ”You won’t. It’s all it is, Miles. A leap of faith.” That is Miles’ “with great power comes great responsibility”. And the payoff is one of the most beautifully done superhero scenes.
Gwen and Peter are the other main Spider-Beings (though all were given some great moments and felt fully realized). And they had their own arcs. Gwen needing to be able to open up again. And Peter moving past his mistakes and repairing his life. Peter is especially sad - in my opinion there’s some scenes that show him slipping towards suicidal tendencies. But mentoring Miles allows him to see he still has stuff to offer - there’s no guarantee he won’t mess things up again - for him to, moving forward will be a leap of faith.
The music was fantastic - a combination of an instrumental score and a lot of hip-hop and rap. Sometimes played together to great effect. 
The voice acting was great - they made some great decisions on who they chose to do the voices and the actors delivered. It was poignant having one last speaking Stan Lee cameo - one that drives the plot (and touchingly, the film ended with a dedication to both Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, both of whom passed away in 2018).

The film ends with the possibility of sequels - of many sequels. Amazing Spider-Man 2 was designed for the possibility of creating a “cinematic universe” for Spider-Man. It failed pretty spectacularly. Into the Spider-Verse pulled it off fantastically. I want to see more of all of these Spider-Beings - together or separately. I especially want to see more of Miles Morales.























Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Call of Cthulhu Actual Play - A Mythos Love Story

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 02:15


Not all tales of the Mythos involve a world-shattering threat. Some are mysteries as to why people become someone they weren't previously. Sometimes this answer is more than the questioner can handle.

Inspired by the adventure capsule "People Change" from Chaosium's Escape from Innsmouth adventure.


Setting: Boston. Friday, August 14, 1914. A drizzly cool day.

Cast of Characters:

  • Investigators:
    • Colin O'Connor: Civil engineer from Dunmore, Ireland. Employed as a civil engineer by the city of Boston.
    • Lola Diaz Azar: Archaeologist hailing from Puerto Rico, born of a Puerto Rican mother and Middle Eastern father. Agent of the New England Watch and Ward Society, specializing in occult tomes.
    • Nathaniel Quincy, MD, Captain, US Army (Ret.) Former army doctor, served in Nicaragua and the Philippines. Now working as a medical examiner for Essex County.
  • NPCs:
    • Jonathan Longstreet: Civil engineer. Widower. Working on building the Dorchester Subway. About 50 years old. Fought in Spanish-American war.
    • Jessica  Longstreet: Jonathan's daughter. About 21 years old. Attending Smith College. Got engaged this June. Will be returning to campus over in September for her senior year.
    • Adam Wilkes: Jessica's missing fiancé. Harvard student. Engaged to Jennifer. Bit of an elitist snob, a bit shook up when he learned his ancestry.
    • Margaret Wilkes: Singer, performer, has married up. Likes the money, not crazy about husband but likes the access to stuff he gets her.
    • Emilia Wilkes: Teen age sister of Adam. A bit spoiled but an ok kid. May be a good source of info - she doesn’t know everything but she does know of Adam’s true parentage from a relative who talked too much.
    • Ethan Wilkes: Wealthy investor. Finances a number of moving picture production companies in New York City and Las Angeles. A bit distant.
    • Vic Martin: Deep One hybrid. Once had a rather torrid affair with Margaret Sullivan that continued into early days of her marriage. Used to look a bit like Ethan. Now could only pass for human in extremely low light or at a distance. Occasionally goes to Innsmouth still. Had done business for Innsmouth outside the town when he looked more human.
    • Ruby Merritt: Chauffeur, general "get things gone" person for the Wilkes. Older middle-aged, willing to get hands dirty.
Plot Summary:Police Captain McShane asked the investigators to look into some weirdness - what seemed to be a burglary had some weirdness beneath it. Jonathan Longstreet's Cambridge apartment had been robbed. Much of his daughter Jennifer's jewelry had been stolen - jewelry she had received from her  fiancé who had been missing for the past year.
Interviewing Jonathan and Jessica they learned the jewelry had originally been to Adam from his mother. They were very strange, having an alien look to them - the closest analogue being Polynesian, but that was a rough approximation. Adam had vanished about a week ago and requests to his family went unanswered - they were Boston Brahmins and less than pleased at his being engaged to a middle-class woman. Two days ago the Wilkes chauffeur and all-around troubleshooter came by to collect the jewelry. Jessica refused, saying she would return it only at Adam's direct request. Yesterday the house was robbed, with all the jewelry save the engagement ring and necklace she had been wearing. Jennifer indicated that Adam had not been doing well since mid-July - coming down with a nasty rash and flaking skin.
Beyond the strangeness, the police were not particularly eager to go agains the wealthy Wilkes family. The investigators paid a visit to their Back Bay home. There they managed to secure an interview with his mother Margaret and his teenage sister Emilia. They had walked into some family conflict with Emilia eager to spill some dirt - she'd learned that Margaret had been having a relationship with a Vic Martin of Innsmouth at the time she married Ethan, with Vic being Adam's birth father. He'd left the scene shortly after, but not before leaving some notes and jewelry behind for Adam which he might need should "the time come". She'd thought nothing of it until recently, with Adam coming down with the same skin condition that Vic had had before his departure. (Note - this was not a pleasant conversation, much at the instigation of Ms. Azar...)
Looking at the notes, Doctor Quincy was able to piece together it was some sort of "ritual" to call "Deep Ones" to the shore with an offering of the strange alien jewelry. Adam was at their small boathouse on Turtle Island, one of the smaller Harbor Islands.
The investigators chartered a fishing trawler that was idle while waiting for spare parts for its winches to take them to Turtle Island. Upon arrival they found Adam - looking very scaly (and naked) as he completed his Deep One summoning ritual. They took a small launch to the island where they made contact with Adam - who was not looking well, with unblinking eyes, webbed hands and feet, and a generally scaly appearance. Doctor Quinn was able to confirm a metamorphosis was indeed going on, one he could not stop. And then about a dozen Deep Ones arrived - strange, fish-like humanoids. Including Vic Martin, who had been living under the sea for twenty years now. Vic croaked an explanation that they had their own undersea civilization that should be left alone - unless the surface world wanted to learn just how numerous they were.
Knowing that Jessica and Jonathan were unlikely to believe this strange tale, Colin O'Connor studied the ritual Adam had used and performed it so that Jessica could see for herself what Adam had become. She was horrified - though Adam did indicate he had learned that pairings with humans were not only possible but encouraged... 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Turtledove's Timeline-191

Sun, 12/16/2018 - 00:23


In the American Civil War, Confederate General Lee's Special Order 191 fell into Union hands, providing Union General McClellan with the location of the Army of Northern Virginia. This allowed for Union victory at the Battle of Antietam which provided President Lincoln with the proper conditions to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, making the Civil War a war against slavery. This prevented France and the United Kingdom from recognizing the Confederacy.

This is a common point of divergence in alternate history fiction. On its own, the rebelling states did not have a chance of victory if the Union chose to fight until victory. Their only real chances was to either convince the Union that victory was not worth fighting for or to secure foreign assistance. Harry Turtledove posited in this series that if the orders did not fall into Union hands, France and the UK would recognize the Confederacy, forcing an end to the Civil War.

The first novel in this series, How Few Remain, featured the Second Mexican War. In it, the Confederacy purchased the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua from Emperor Maximilian (a European puppet who in real history was forced out of power for a variety of reasons, including that of the reunited USA not being very happy with him). The USA declared war in response to this expansion but again found themselves alone against a Confederacy with strong European allies. It also featured a still alive former President Lincoln, blamed for the loss of the Confederacy, splitting progressive Republicans out of their party into a Socialist party.

While How Few Remain featured historical characters as viewpoint characters, starting in the Great War trilogy, the viewpoint characters became purely fictional, though they often interacted with historical characters like Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Al Smith, Louis Armstrong, etc. After the conclusion of the Great War, Turtledove quickly covered the 20+ years between wars, with analogs of the Great Depression and an American version of the Nazi party taking over one of the American governments, complete with a Holocaust on American soil.

Over the past few months I've been rereading books in this series. In all honesty, I'm going to have to describe the writing quality as... ok. There's a lot of repeated facts and descriptions. I think the term "zinc oxide" is used a few hundred times as we are treated to repeated descriptions of a fair-skinned American sailor's battles with sunburn.

With that caveat, it's a series with some pretty awesome ideas. It shows both the United States and Confederate States becoming more entangled with European alliances as they jockey for power - with some predictable results upon the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. I'm staying a bit clear of spoilers in this discussion, but we learn at the start of the Great War series that Woodrow Wilson is indeed president - of the Confederacy - with Theodore Roosevelt as president of the USA.

In this timeline, the Republican party is a very minor power in the USA, with a strong Socialist party taking their place against the Democratic majority (of which Theodore Roosevelt is a part). The Confederacy is not able to hold onto slavery for very long due to the objections of their European allies - however black Confederates are not citizens, they are "legal residents" with far fewer rights than the ruling whites. Under this backdrop, the oppressive whites of the Confederacy find themselves dealing with a "black red" revolution, as many of its black residents embrace communism. 

The USA is less oppressive towards blacks, but that isn't saying much. Many whites in the USA blame them for the War of Secession (as the Civil War is called). Blacks attempting to flee to the USA are typically sent back to the CSA.

Border towns and cities prove interesting places - in several novels, Covington, Kentucky is a major location. It is a Confederate city across the Ohio river from Union Cincinnati, Ohio. It is a major battleground and changes hands multiple times, with numerous underground organizations.

One of my pet peeves with RPGs set in the Old West is they so frequently resort to having a victorious Confederacy. Sometimes this is done with a painful ignoring of many of the historical facts of the Confederacy. I really like the Deadlands RPG but I find its "and just like that the Confederacy decided racism was bad" to be extremely jarring. However, Turtledove's portrayal of the two nations strikes me as a lot more believable. The Confederacy is extremely dependent on both having European allies and Union ineptitude. By the 20th century, the Union has its own allies and has become extremely militarized. The novels do not portray every white in the Confederacy as a raging racist, but it does portray it as a racist government - and aren't much kinder to the United States.

One thing the novels do really get across is how fortunate the United States is to have emerged from the Civil War a single nation. It's difficult to imagine history flowing so similar to our own with such major changes, but it is difficult to imagine those nations as being friendly with each other. But as a thought exercise I find it quite compelling. As far as if one would enjoy such reading such novels, I find people tend to discover early on if Turtledove's writing style works for them.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fiction Review: 14

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 02:33

This July I started a new job. Beyond the cool work, free food, and awesome headquarters, there's a ton of interesting social groups that meet physically and/or on Slack. One group I'm in is a reading group which has introduced me to fiction that is of interest to me but that I might not have otherwise read.

Earlier this year we read Peter Clines' 14. It is a book about a group of people in a very strange Las Angeles apartment building. The rent is very cheap but it's never advertised - people always hear about it via word of mouth. The apartments are weird and unique. One is always very cool - the same constant temperature, no matter what. Another has a kitchen where any light bulb is always extremely dim. Another has a layout where nothing is directly connected to a wall - power outlets are on the floor, kitchen counters are a few inches away from the walls, etc. And is is two stories tall for some reason.

Our main protagonist is Nate, a data entry temp (who has been at the same place for years) at some minor Hollywood trade magazine. Many of the other characters are odd - religious zealot, weird artist, recently divorced older dude who seems to be good at everything.

Published in 2012 it really evokes its time. It's at the tail end of the Great Recession, and none of the characters are well-off. Many work for some Hollywood-related industry, though none are actors.

Nate is obsessed with the weirdness of the building. He wants to understand why it is the way it is, who owns it, etc. He also really wants some purpose in his life. He hates his job. Uncovering the mystery of the building becomes that purpose. Others in the building join him, becoming a "Scooby gang".

I'm hesitant to give many more details, but it has a strong Lovecraftian influence, along with some strong doses of weird science - the Tesla seen in Atomic Robo and The Prestige would be right at home here. There is a lot of weirdness here. I'd call it "Lovecraft Lite" - I don't mean that in a bad way, rather a lot of weirdness, a lot of danger, some horrible fates and cosmic horror, but the possibility of something resembling a happy ending - for some of the characters.

I enjoyed reading this. Some people in my reading group compared it to Lost - I never really got into Lost so I can't speak to that. I was pleased that the mystery built up but much of it was explained as the book progressed. I was also able to predict some plot developments - areas where Clines dropped some hints beforehand. I also enjoyed his realization of Las Angeles - being a New Yorker originally and having been in the Boston area for over two decades now, I kinda consider anything west of the Hudson River to be "the west". But Clines' LA seemed real - not the glitzy Hollywood version, but the one in which many people live and work.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ripping from the Headlines - Raiding Old Newspapers for Call of Cthulhu

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 13:51
One of the challenges I found in setting a Call of Cthulhu campaign in Boston was in understanding what the city was really like around a century ago. Sometimes I find it easier to do things in a fictional city or in one I've never been in than as opposed to one some 25 miles away from me - a city I go to regularly and which is the cultural center of my area.

I've found raiding Boston Globe archives to have been an awesome exercise. Check out the following weather forecast from August 14, 1914.

So what's interesting to me? First, as someone who is obsessed with details, it's nice to have. To be honest, if an adventure would work better with different weather, I'd happily use the different weather and get it "wrong". A heatwave instead of the modest temperatures in this forecast wouldn't cause a game to self-destruct.
But what really got my attention was "The Temperature Yesterday at Thompson's Spa. Going through the archives of 1914 it seems every issue gave that as the baseline for the weather. And I found myself wondering "what was Thompson's Spa". Apparently in New England "spa" became used as a soda fountain. The first reference to it seems to be from a Pennsylvania newspaper article in 1895 about Boston - "In Boston, Thompson’s Spa, the greatest soda resort at the Hub, easily clears for its owners 50 thousand dollars a year" (Why Are Some Boston Area Convenience Stores Called Spas?) From some more browsing I've discovered Thompson's Spa was an incredibly popular soda fountain/restaurant. It was also in Newspaper Row, right across the street from the Boston Globe, per this January 2, 1917 Globe article:



These sorts of insights are great for background. The papers are also great inspiration for adventures. Consider the following minor story from the August 14, 1914 Boston Globe
I didn't find any follow-up to this. So stolen jewelry? The little article is rife for Mythos implications. Perhaps the jewelry is the type favored by Deep Ones. Or sacred to the King in Yellow. Was the owner aware of their significance? Did he come by it legitimately? Or did he steal it and it was stolen back? I find I like these types of articles, rife for being filled in. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Call of Cthulhu Actual Play - Ashes of the Feast

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 02:03
The world doesn't know it yet, but the shots which will trigger the Great War have just been fired. In Boston, the Hub of the Universe, massive construction projects are underway, building the infrastructure which will serve the city for the rest of this century and beyond. However, that construction has unearthed a hidden evil...


Setting: Boston. Monday, June 29, 1914

Cast of Characters:

  • Colin O'Connor: Civil engineer from Dunmore, Ireland. Working on the Dorchester Tunnel.
  • Lola Diaz Azar: Archaeologist hailing from Puerto Rico, born of a Puerto Rican mother and Middle Eastern father.
  • Nathaniel Quincy, MD, Captain, US Army (Ret.) Former army doctor, served in Nicaragua and the Philippines.


The three investigators had assembled at a home in South Boston on Summer Street. With the Dorchester tunnel extension to the Cambridge Subway being built a number of homes were being moved. Under one of them the house movers had found a hidden chamber of horrors. The three had special skills.  O'Connor was an engineer working on the tunnel. Azar had worked with O'Connor before when the Tremont Street Tunnel uncovered ancient fishweirs. Doctor Quincy had treated a number of the injured from the construction - and handled his fair share of corpses.
The house had belonged to Finn O’Riabhaigh, who was killed in an apparent power struggle in his anarchist organization back in 1910. He was also apparently the "cannibal killer" who had terrorized Boston and surrounding area in the noughties and early 1910 - apparently operating in the basement of his anarchist publication. He had at least one accomplice - Sergey Baranov, who oddly enough was in the newspaper headlines today, though less prevalently than that of assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary.
Unfortunately, the basement was discovered on Friday and over the weekend a guard had been killed - his throat slit - and some items likely removed from the basement.

Relevant articles found in the newspaper included:

May 11, 1910 
ANARCHIST HORROR IN SOUTH BOSTON CANNIBAL KILLER SLAIN, ACCOMPLICE IN COMA  Responding to reports of a struggle, police found a gruesome scene in the basements of an anarchist newsletter headquarters. In the basement of the “Universal Brotherhood”, the organization’s leader, Finn O'Riabhaigh was found dead, with his throat slit. He had apparently been in the act of consuming a human corpse, that of Mister Rocco Altieri, a southern Italian immigrant. This bizarre murder matches the modus operandi of several unsolved murders over the past five years in the city and surrounding communities. 
Also found was Sergey Baranov, with both a similar wound to the throat and a gunshot wound. At the time of this writing Baranov was in surgery with an unclear prognosis. 
O’Riabhaigh was editor and publisher of the anarchist newsletter, the “Universal Brotherhood”. He had previously been charged with a variety of misdemeanors. Evidence collected in the basement linked him to several other killings. A search of the building revealed the newsletter’s mailing list to be missing. No such list was found in O’Riabhaigh's home on Summer Street. Police Lieutenant Brian McShane indicated this horror was further evidence “of the anarchist depravity infesting Boston”.
  May 14, 1910 Baranov Charged as Accessory  At his hospital bed in Boston City Hospital, police Lieutenant Brian McShane formally arrested Sergey Baranov as an accessory to the murder of Rocco Altieri.  Unable to speak due to a severed larynx, Baranov gave a plea of not guilty in writing. 
December 6, 1910 Sergey Baranov Found Guilty  After a two-week trial and only four hours of deliberations, a jury found Sergey Baranov guilty of being an accessory to the murder of Rocco Altieri. Baranov remained silent as he heard the verdict – as he had throughout the trial – not only did he not testify in his own defense, he remains unable to speak due to his larynx having been damaged beyond the ability of his doctors to repair. Judge Charles Jenney had agreed to allow Baranov to testify with pad and paper should it have been necessary.   Attorney General Dana Malone had also unsuccessfully pursued a charge of first-degree murder. 
 December 13, 1910  Sergey Baranov Sentenced  Sergey Baranov, convicted accomplice in the Anarchist Cannibal Killings, was sentenced to 25 years as an accomplish to murder. He began his sentence at Charlestown State Prison.  
June 29, 1914  Sergey Baranov Seriously Ill  Notorious participant in the Anarchist Cannibal Killings, Sergey Baranov was transferred to the Charlestown State Prison’s infirmary yesterday, having contracted an unknown disease with symptoms similar to that of malaria.  
Though the police had been unable to find the anarchist member list, the investigators did - in the hidden basement. They also found signs of cannibal activities here - a holding cell, tables with manacles, and lots of blades.
Interestingly, the anarchist member list was in alphabetical order by first name, aside from the first two names - his two main lieutenants perhaps?


The second name was the accomplice, Baranov. Perhaps Gallagher would be a name worth checking. Research indicated it was indeed a worthwhile name to look into:
Boston Globe, January 10, 1911
During this investigation, their liaison with the police, Brian McShane, now a captain, informed them that former Attorney General, Dana Malone, had been taken to the hospital - suffering from the same mysterious illness that Baranov had.
They paid a visit to Easmon Gallagher's Back Bay house - failing to break into it or bluff their way in they wound up entering via the roof after gaining entry to a neighbor's house. Unfortunately, they were quickly discovered by Gallagher, holding a deadly looking knife, He cheerfully acknowledged he was a member of the Universal Brotherhood - and through communion with human flesh, would live forever - as well as having the power to infect others with horrid diseases. To illustrate his power (and insanity - he was not a quiet type of insane cultist) he called upon "the great fist of Yog-Sothoth", and with a wave of his hand, Azar flew off the stairwell balcony to the floor below, screaming in pain as her ankle fractured. He waved off bullets from Quincy's guns although he and O'Connor were able to eventually stop him - though fatally, as he fought like an insane maniac. 
In Gallagher's library they found The Book of the Flesh. It was a bit of a horrific tome, talking about how to eat people for eternal life. It also discussed diseases. Quincy and O'Connor couldn't comprehend it but Azar finally was able to understand it well enough to use it to reverse the effects on former AG Malone - though it was too late for Baranov - no great loss.
Captain McShane and Dana Malone were able to shield the trio from major legal consequences of their actions, though they all found themselves out of jobs - and soon working for either the state or the city in various functions - so as to be on hand should similar eldritch horrors plague the commonwealth...
Keeper NotesThis was the kick-off of a new game. It was inspired by a picture of a house being moved as part of the construction of the Dorchester Tunnel extension to the Cambridge Subway - today's Red Line. Though the picture is now in the public domain, I found it in Boston's Red Line: Bridging the Charles from Alewife to Braintree (Images of America).
The anarchists in question are quite fictional, though in the early 20th century anarchists were the terrorists of the day. Boston was a major location of anarchist activity, attracting the attention of anarchist leaders such as Luigi Galleani, 
Captain McShane is fictional, However, Dana Malone was a real person, having served in the Massachusetts legislature and was District Attorney for the Northwest District and Attorney General of Massachusetts.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

SJWs, Alt-Right, and Fascists, Oh My! Real World Horrors in RPGs

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 00:43


There's a lot of controversy going on with the latest incarnation of Vampire: The Masquerade. Apparently, in the new Camarilla book Vampires are posited as being behind the Chehen anti-gay purges - somehow related to hiding the true threat of Sharia law or something. To be honest, I found the editing of the text a little hard to follow.

White Wolf's owners, Paradox Interactive, has announced they are recalling a pair of books with such offending text as well as exercising greater control over White Wolf and no longer developing products in-house.

The backlash has ranged from "about time" to "they're not really taking responsibility" to "they are caving into social justice warriors".

I'm thinking a bit about what I would consider to be, at best, a horribly clumsy attempt at including real-world horrors into an RPG. At worst, it was an act of ill intent, trivializing the real suffering of LGBT people to push an agenda I find abhorrent. Truthfully, I'm not familiar enough with the particulars to judge. It's something I've really only seen at the periphery. I do know that I'm not fond of a number of people involved in the 5th edition - but I'm not certain as to their current status.

I also know that when I was most familiar with Vampire:the Masquerade, in the early to mid-1990s, the audience was a very diverse group. I knew a number of women who were fans of the game. Ditto many people of LGBT identity. Lots of goths. When I attended a Nine Inch Nails and David Bowie concert in 1995 there were a lot of Vampire: the Masquerade t-shirts in the audience.

I'm a proud "social justice warrior". I've protested Trump's anti-immigration and refugee policies at Copley Square. I've attended Pride parades in Boston. I fall pretty much on the side of "WTF were they thinking?" I've friends of a variety of politics. I freely acknowledge that it is possible for people of good conscience to disagree with each other. I was once a Libertarian-leaning Republican who is now a liberal Democrat. But I draw the line at people who embrace hatred and cruelty. Much to my shock and horror, I've encountered a few actual, "Hitler was right" fascists. And there I don't have tolerance.

There's a lot real-life horrible stuff happening in Chechnya, particularly to people of LGBT identity. A horror game will likely find itself face to face with real-world horrors. But what does one do about it? I get the argument that a game - or fiction - is not obligated to ignore such horrors. And I'd understand people not wanting to read or watch them. But if such horrors are included, I believe they need to be done with care and sensitivity that was clearly not shown here. Again, assuming no ill intent.

Where I think White Wolf went wrong is turning acts of real-world horror into "a vampire did it". When I play historical games I avoid making supernatural beings the causes for real-world horrors. In my opinion, it cheapens them. It takes away from the fact that real people chose to perpetrate horrors such as the Killing Fields, the Holocaust, American slavery, Native American genocide, Armenian genocide, trench warfare, etc.

I find fiction works better when they keep that maxim in mind. For example, the recent Wonder Woman film rejected the notion that Ares, god of war, was behind World War I. He took advantage of the war, but humanity caused the war without any divine help. In Atomic Robo, Baron Heinrich von Helsingard allied himself with the Nazis to be able to use their resources, but he was not behind their atrocities. He was a monster of a human being who had no problem dealing out death and destruction. But he was not some man behind the shadows causing the Third Reich so as to have a smoke screen for his work.

I want to touch on the "snowflake" pejorative. Not wanting one's entertainment to be filled with real-world horrors does not make one a snowflake. You're not weak if you are triggered by something horrible. I've family who deal with PTSD - they're not weak for avoiding things that trigger them. It's reasonable for a parent of young children to not want to play a game that features the death/kidnapping of children. With an LGBT player in my group, I don't believe I'd use an adventure that involved the killings of such people. I'd exercise an abundance of caution about introducing things that might trigger friends and family. And if as GM you shove such things down your players throats, knowing such sensitivities, that makes you an asshole.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

1910s vs. 1920s United States in Call of Cthulhu - A Quick Overview

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 01:30


The default era in the Call of Cthulhu RPG is the 1920s. The 1930s, a common era for pulp campaigns, is another well known era. I've kicked off a 1910s campaign. One of the things that I'm working on is making the period stand out differently. This is an incredibly brief, stream of consciousness capsule - any of these paragraphs could be an entire post - or book! This is a fairly US-centric blog post.

What are the important differences? Let's start off with the my starting year of 1914. Very quickly, immigration is going to drop off. The Great War helps bring about a drop-off, with European nations occupied with war. However, immigration laws in 1921 and 1924 will do even more of a job in slamming the door on immigration, specifically targeting "undesirable" immigrants such as Italians, Slavs, Poles, and Jews from Eastern Europe. It also reinforced bans on Asian immigration.

Politics are a bit different. The German, Ottoman, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian Empires will all fall as a result of the Great War. A variety of new nations will emerge from these empires.

One thing about 1920s characters is it is easy to explain any previous military experience - having served in the Great War. The United States was officially neutral in the Great War until 1917 and did not engage in earnest until 1918. Prior to that it had a fairly small military. With that caveat, there are some military conflicts the United States was involved in. 1898 saw the Spanish-American War, giving the United States an empire. Many of these acquisitions were no happier about being part of the United States than they were as being part of the Spanish Empire. The military was actively involved in suppressing rebellion in places like the Philippines and Cuba. The United States occupied Nicaragua in 1912, an occupation lasting until 1933 (with a brief break). The US also backed the independence of Panama from Colombia to facilitate the building of the Panama Canal. The United States became involved in the Mexican Revolution, including a 1916 Punitive Expedition (which is an important aspect of the 1920s Trail of Cthulhu adventure Many Fires).

Economically, the Great War introduces rapid inflation which continues after the war. A dollar in 1914 is worth $1.16 in 1917 and $1.37 in 1918. It peaks in 1921 with a 1914 dollar worth nearly twice that of a 1921 one -  $1.94.  It dips a bit as the decade continues - in 1928 dollars, a common starting year for Cthulhu campaigns, it is worth $1.73. Economics seems boring from an RPG perspective, but it caused quite a bit of pain, especially in cases where payroll did not keep up with inflation. This was a major contributing factor of the 1919 Boston Police Strike, with Boston's police officers living on poverty wages. While employment was good during the war, after the war the US economy struggled to absorb returning veterans. There was a brief recession from August 1918 to March 1919 followed by a more severe one (sometimes considered a depression), from January 1920 to July 1921. After this the Roaring Twenties kicked off, economically speaking.

This era saw much more anarchist activity and the socialist party was very active. 1910 saw the first socialist elected to the US Congress, with the election of Victor Berger as a Representative from Wisconsin. He ran afoul of the Espionage Act in 1919 and was blocked from his seat. Socialist Eugene Debs ran for president several times, getting 6% of the vote in 1912 - and was arrested in 1918 for violating the Sedition Act.

Race relations were not particularly good during this era. (Nor were they good in the 1920s for that matter). President Wilson was racist, even by the standards of the day. He introduced segregation to the Federal government - as a result of Reconstruction, the Federal government was actually integrated far more than society at large. Wilson also fired 15 out of 17 African-American supervisors within the Federal government. The Great Migration began in 1916, with many African-Americans  moving out of the rural southern United States. 1919 unfortunately saw the "Red Summer", with many race riots. To quote W.E.B. DuBois's poem "Returning Soldiers":
We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting. Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.Not all states allowed women to vote in the 1910s - prior to 1910 only four did. Voting rights were inconsistent - none in some states, presidential elections only in others, primaries, in others, etc. It wasn't until 1920 that the passage of the 19th Amendment granted women nationwide full voting rights.

The technology isn't radically different but there are some highlights. There is no consumer radio. The best that can be done for portable music is the 78 rpm disc record - often no more than 3 minutes in length per side. The automobile is present but not to the dominant levels that the 1920s will see. Movie studios began moving from New York to California in the 1910s. Longer films ("feature length") came to prominence in this decade and it was the 1910s that saw actors getting credit for their roles.

This is a stream of consciousness post so it's hard to think of a good way to close, as I jump from topic to topic. But one thing which comes to mind - Americans loved to drink. As I've been diving through 1910s Boston Globe issues on line, I've been seeing a lot of advertisements for beer and spirits - some on the front page. Some fortification is probably in order before facing a shoggoth...



Photo Credit - Tremont Street, Boston, circa 1910. Boston Public Library.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Introducing Cthulhu Boston: 1914

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 03:38

After mulling over a few options for gaming this autumn and winter, I'm kicking off a game set in Boston of 1914. The First World War has been in the news a lot lately, with today being the centennial of the armistice. I came across a quote by Lt. Colonel William Murray which struck me - "No more horrors. No more mud and misery. Just everlasting peace."

I don't plan on setting the bulk of the game in Europe. It is set in Boston. Here in the United States we sat out much of the war, joining it in spring of 1917 and not being in Europe in earnest until near the end of the conflict.

I've been looking through old newspapers - our game will be starting on June 29, 1914 - the day after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. It is noteworthy that while this was certainly seen as a major event, there was no clue that the spark which would ignite the world into war had just gone off. You see that in the papers over the next few days, with the story fading until the saber-rattling began to get obvious.

I've been doing a lot of research on Boston of the 1920s for my regular Call of Cthulhu game. I was surprised how much the years prior to the 1920s caught me. It's not that the 1920s in Boston were boring - far from it. But the 1910s spoke to me - screamed at me really, with ideas for adventures. Physically, Boston was "under construction", with elevated trains and subways rapidly expanding. A story about a fish weir being discovered in 1913 as part of the construction of the Boylston Street Tunnel caught my eye - .Deep Ones perhaps?

Boston was also home to a lot of political unrest, with Boston being a hotbed of the anarchist movement.

As the timeline moves forward I've a number of ideas. My initial inclination was, should the game make it to 1917, have the characters spend some time in Europe. That's still on the table, but I've also been learning about the home front and there was a lot going on, with America rapidly mobilized - and not welcoming dissent at all, with the remnants of John Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts being re-weaponized. Not everyone was caught up in the draft, with many eligible Americans being viewed as essential on the home front. Could not investigators find themselves recruited into investigating why Innsmouth is ignoring the draft?

I've a number of inspirations for this era. First, I need to point out Dennis Lehane's novel, The Given Day, set in post-World War 1 Boston. It covers the Influenza Epidemic, the Molasses Flood, anarchist terrorism, and climaxes with the Boston Police Strike of 1919. From a non-fiction perspective, I've been slowly working my way through David Kennedy's Over Here: The First World War and American Society. It's a little dry at points, but it gives a nice overview of World War 1 America. I managed to snag the six-volume Our Times by Mark Sullivan, written in the 1930s and covering America from the 1890s to the the 1920s. It's a bit too long for me to commit to reading from start to finish but I'm finding it a nice reference with a contemporary perspective, giving insight as to what the people who lived through the era considered important. I've also been raiding the Images of America series - for example, Boston's Red Line: Bridging the Charles from Alewife to Briantree is loaded with inspiration. A picture of a house literally being moved to make room for the digging of a subway tunnel gave me an idea for an adventure. Way back in 1996 I watched the PBS/BBC production The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century. It's never been made available for streaming or DVD, tough two years ago I stumbled across a DVD version of questionable legality.

As far as official materials for the RPG go, it's a fairly untapped era. Chaosium did do a single adventure, No Man's Land. Pelgrane Press has a number of Great War adventures for Trail of Cthulhu that could conceivably be adapted. And there are a lot of 1920s scenarios that could be moved a decade earlier without any ill effect. I do have a bit more free time than I did a few months ago, allowing me to flex my creative muscles a bit more than I have in quite some time.
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