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Updated: 1 week 3 days ago

Stepping Away and a New Beginning

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 00:27


After maintaining this blog for nearly seven years (an eternity in internet time), I've decided to step away from it.

When I first began I wasn't 100% certain what it would be about. For a while I thought it would be a blog related to OSR type RPGs but I found my own tastes not firmly rooted there. Looking at the history of the blog, I see a lot of Call of Cthulhu which is hardly surprising.

However, some lack of consistency definitely made it tough for me find a defined niche and over the past few months I've been giving some thought to starting a new, more narrowly focused blog. The imminent end of Google+ played a part in these thoughts, with much of my traffic coming from that site. I write because I enjoy writing, but I do enjoy growing an audience.

My plan to start a narrowly-focused blog took a turn when I had the opportunity to join the Rolling Boxcars blog. Talking with the contributors (one of whom I game with on Discord already) and going through their archives (some of which I was already familiar with) quickly showed a good match. Add to it a modest Patreon and a Discord Server with an interesting community and I was very pleased with what I found.

I've already written my first article for that blog which will go live in March and I anticipate about 3-4 articles per month - a little bit less than me at my peak here, though that peak proved brutal to maintain. I'm not going to deactivate this blog and it is possible I might make an occasional update here if I've something of an extremely limited interest. I've also been giving some thought to trying some occasional writing on  Medium for some politically related posts - something I've tried to stay away from on this blog.

Thank you to everyone who read one or more of my posts, commented, and linked. Like I said, I'm not writing in pursuit of a massive audience, but it sure is nice to know some people enjoyed what I've had to say. I hope you'll follow me and others on the Rolling Boxcars blog.

While I'm tempted to end with a Hobbit quote about roads, I find myself thinking about Stephen King and The Dark Tower. So I'll leave you with words of wisdom from that work...

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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