Call of Cthulhu for Beginners

We’re back at the beginning, where we started our grim journeys many years ago. Looking at our grey hair and wizened features, it’s difficult to imagine that we were ever young. Yet here were are, trying to remember what it was like to start playing Call of Cthulhu. This would be so much easier if we were able to literally cast our minds back through time. Does anyone have a number for the Yithians?

Main Topic 

Call of Cthulhu‘s position as one of the most popular tabletop RPGs means that it may be many people’s first game. Even if you have played something like Dungeons & Dragons before, Call of Cthulhu is different enough to warrant an introduction. So, after almost 150 episodes, we thought it was time to help people get into thiCall of Cthulhu thing.

Goal number 1: don’t let this chap eat you.

We offer some tips on Call of Cthulhu for beginners, both players and Keepers of Arcane Lore. Hell, we even explain that “Keeper of Arcane Lore” is Call of Cthulhu‘s eccentric way of describing a game master or GM. We also suggest some books and other resources to help set you on your path into darkness.

Between us, we’ve been playing Call of Cthulhu for around 90 years. This makes it tricky to remember what it was like to be a beginner. Luckily, we had some help for this episode. Lucy Fricker, Paul’s wife, recently ran her first game, so we asked her how she prepared her move to the other side of the GM’s screen. 

Although, sadly, that does mean not being able to see the artwork on the front of the screen.

And speaking of guests, we have a short interview with Mike Mason, line editor for Call of Cthulhu. Mike offers us some insight into the new Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. This is a new boxed set designed to ease fledgling Keepers into running the game.

News

All three of us plan to be at Dragonmeet in London this Saturday (the 1st of December). We shall spend most of the day in the podcast zone, talking to anyone who will let us. At 11 AM, we will take a break for a joint seminar with our good friends Baz and Gaz from the Smart Party. And at 2-3 PM, you can find Paul and Scott on the Chaosium stall, signing copies of Masks of Nyarlathotep alongside Mike Mason and Lynne Hardy. We can be talked into signing other things as well, within the bounds of decorum.

As you might have inferred from that last sentence, Masks of Nyarlathotep is now shipping worldwide. Our contributors’ copies turned up last week and they are massive! It’s going to be a toss-up whether this edition will be responsible for the deaths of more investigators or trees.

Paul also mentions his recent trip to Austria, where he met one of our listeners, Joerg Sterner. As Paul discovered, Joerg is the co-owner of Planet Harry, a games shop in Vienna. Paul completely failed to ask why it is called Planet Harry. We hope to rectify this when we see Joerg at Dragonmeet.

Other Stuff

Issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is now creeping across the globe, spreading madness and dismay. This is the print fanzine we create to thank all the lovely people who back us on Patreon. There is still time to snap up a copy for yourself. All you need to do is back us on Patreon by the end of the year.

350 little harbingers of madness safely tucked into envelopes.

The other thing we do for some of our Patreon backers is sing to them. This episode’s song is something rather special, however. A little while back, we had an iTunes review from Wilson MacGyver. He wrote about the small role listening to the podcast played in his wife’s cancer treatments. After reading this, we knew we’d need to set aside an entire segment to talk about their story. When Wilson backed us at the $5 level and made a special request for the song, we built the segment around that. Thank you again, Wilson, for sharing your and Priscilla Meredith’s experience with us all.  

It is rare for us to show our true faces. While we freely insinuate ourselves into sound waves, creeping into your ears like hungry little spiders, we usually spare you from the stark horror of our hideous visages. Now, however, we are ready to expose ourselves. We wear no masks.

This is the video of our recent seminar, Calling Cthulhu, at the Tabletop Gaming Live 2018 event at Alexandra Palace. If you prefer to spare yourself the horror of our naked faces, we have also released the audio as a special episode.

Tabletop Gaming Live 2018

This year saw the first Tabletop Gaming Live event at Alexandra Palace, London. While its focus is mainly on board games and war games, there was some RPG presence. Chaosium were in attendance, offering demo games of Call of Cthulhu and Runequest all through the weekend. 

Additionally, Mike Mason organised a panel discussion titled Calling Cthulhu and invited the Good Friends to flesh it out. Matt was unable to attend, but Paul and Scott joined the discussion. It’s largely a Q&A session in which we explain what Call of Cthulhu is, what upcoming releases to get excited about and what sinister techniques we use to make our players cry.

This recording was made by plugging our Zoom audio recorder into the PA system. It came out relatively well, although the size of the venue and the number of attendees mean there is a fair amount of echo and background noise. All in all, we thought it may make a divering special episode. We hope you enjoy it!

141: Improvisation in RPGs


Improvisation in RPGs

We’re back and we’re staring at the players with frightened eyes, peeling our tongues from the roofs of our mouths and drowning in flop sweat. This is our look at the role of improvisation in RPGs. Gulp.

Main Topic: Improvisation in RPGs 

Almost every new GM has felt that moment of panic when the players take the game in an unexpected direction. What should you do? Would it be fair to try to force them back towards what you have prepared? Are quick-witted enough to make stuff up instead? Why does this feel like one of those dreams where you’re back at school, sitting an exam you haven’t prepared for? And why the hell are you naked anyway?

Redacted
Nude pictures of the Good Friends are only available at the $100 Patreon tier.

We try to address some of these anxieties in our discussion. Improvisation is a natural part of any RPG and you already do a lot more of it than you might think. Every time a player character or an NPC speaks in a game, the players or GM are improvising. Unless you’re using read-aloud text, any narration is a stream of improvisation. (Don’t use read-aloud text. It makes you sound like a bored tour guide.) 

“On our left, we have a stone archway. Ahead, there’s another stone archway. Then, to the right of that stone archway, there’s a stone archway. Whoever built this place really loved stone archways. Anyway, roll for initiative”

With some confidence, it becomes simple enough to improvise more extensively, especially given some useful tools and techniques. Throughout the episode, we offer advice about how to prepare to improvise. This isn’t as much of an oxymoron as it sounds like. We also talk about techniques that will help you do so. One of our favourites is to steal ideas from other sources, usually films or books. In a recent video, Seth Skorokosky talks about stealing from published adventures — a technique we shall, in turn, steal for ourselves.

Probably the definitive work on improvisation in RPGs, which we mention in passing, is Graham Walmsley’s book Play Unsafe. It contains valuable advice for players and GMs alike, culled from improvisational theatre and comedy. It’s also short enough to read in a single sitting.

Play Unsafe cover

News

We offer a brief overview of what we got up to at Concrete Cow 18 1/2. Thank you to everyone who came along and played with us! We hope to see at least some of you in March for Concrete Cow 19.

Concrete Cow logo

We recorded this episode on Matt’s birthday, so you can listen as Paul gives Matt a present that he picked up at Gen Con. This little wooden contraption is apparently guaranteed to exorcise the demonic bad luck from dice. Should you suffer from a similar infestation, the Dice Devil’s Trap is available from Hrothgar’s Hoard.

Dice devil's trap
If your luck is as bad as Matt’s, inquire about their wholesale options.

This leads to a discussion about rubber chickens’ feet, because of course it does. See the video below for all the explanation we can offer.

Other Stuff

As we remind you in the episode, issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is bearing down on us like a hungry shoggoth. (If you want to argue about whether shoggoths get hungry, please find us on social media.) The Tome is the print-only fanzine we create for our Patreon backers. We recently offered up a sneak preview of the table of contents and of the cover, created by the amazing Evan Dorkin. If you would like to secure your copy or copies, simply back us on Patreon by the end of the year.

The Blasphemous Tome issue 4 cover

And in our social media catch-up, we share a new iTunes review. We are always delighted when someone writes a review of the podcast, whether on iTunes or elsewhere. They remind us that we are not just shouting into the void and, more importantly, they help new listeners find the podcast. Please help us crawl our way into more unsuspecting ears.

We also discuss a few comments on our recent episode about Nathan Ballingrud’s short story, “Wild Acre”. As usual, most of the discussion takes place on our Google+ Community. While we have heard the recent news that Google plans to shut down G+ next year, there is still plenty of time before they do so. For the time being, please join the discussion there. We shall find a new home soon.

Gen Con 2018

We’re back and we’re discussing all the nifty Cthulhu-related stuff that happened at Gen Con 2018 (and one non-Cthulhu thing). Well, I say “we”, but this largely means Paul, as he’s the only one of us who went. To stop this being a monologue, however, he interviewed some of the people he met there.

Some of Paul’s 60,000 closest friends gather to say hi.

Main Topic

Paul starts with news about the convention, including the Diana Jones Award, the Cool of Cthulhu panel (recorded by our good friends at the gold-ENnie-award-winning Miskatonic University Podcast) and the ENnie Awards

Now I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Chad without puppets, even if only of the finger variety.

He then tells Matt and Scott about all the interesting people he met. These include Chris Spivey of Darker Hue Studios (whose Harlem Unbound dominated the ENnies this year), Sam Riordan of MetaArcade (publishers of the Cthulhu Chronicles app), Bob Geis of You Too Can Cthulhu, and multi-award-winning writer and artist, Zak Smith. You can hear interviews with all of them in this episode.

Paul also mentions a number of listeners he met at the convention, including the hosts of the Dave and Gary podcast. Thank you to everyone who introduced yourselves!

As if Paul hadn’t worked hard enough to make Matt and Scott jealous, he also whipped out a box of goodies from the HP Lovecraft Historical Society that he had picked up at Gen Con. This was the Gamer Prop Set that accompanies the HPLHS’s upcoming Dark Adventure Radio Theatre presentation of Masks of Nyarlathotep. The box contains more authentic period handouts, props and eldritch marvels than you could shake a black sceptre at.

News

Paul and Scott will be joining Mike Mason at Tabletop Gaming Live 2018, at Alexandra Palace on the 29th of September. We will be giving a seminar at 12:00, titled Calling Cthulhu, as well as running some demo games.

Stygian Fox have released Fear’s Sharp Little Needles, their latest anthology of modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenarios. Matt and Scott have scenarios in the book, and Scott also has a short story in the accompanying fiction anthology, Puncture Wounds. Both of these publications are available as ebooks or print-on-demand hardcopies.

Scott also talks about his recent visit to the Grand Tribunal convention in Cheltenham. This friendly little get-together started out as an Ars Magica convention and has grown into something more general over the years. It takes place annually, with the next one due in August 2019. Highly recommended!

Other Stuff

If you miss Matt and Scott’s voices during the interviews, just hold on for a bit. Towards the end of the episode, we all sing our thanks to a Patreon backer. If you’re not sick of the sound of us after that, we have failed.

Speaking of Patreon rewards, we also remind you that we are busy preparing issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome. This is the annual old-school fanzine we produce for backers of the podcast. If you would like to know how to secure your copy and what to expect, check out our recent post.

And in our segment on recent social media posts, we mention a lively thread about our episode on the role of insanity in Lovecraft’s fiction. Most of the feedback we get comes via our Google+ Community, but this time it was a post to the Call of Cthulhu Facebook group that blew up.