Subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu

We’re back and we’re strapping on our headlamps, checking our harnesses and spelunking like our lives depended upon it. This is our look into subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraft. From his work, Lovecraft seemed to be both drawn to and disturbed by deep, dark holes and the mysteries lurking within.

“Verrry interesting…”

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Many of Lovecraft’s stories involve the buried remains of alien cities, caverns best left unexplored or tunnels dug by things that should not be. It’s only natural that many Call of Cthulhu scenarios should build upon this. Or build under. We’re not quite sure how this works.

All right, maybe you can build over and under at the same time.

We try to get to the bottom of the appeal of subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu, but the deeper we dig, the more we find to explore. As well as archetypal dungeon-based scenario designs inherited from D&D, we find connections to mythology, symbolism and Hollow Earth theory. We could so easily get lost down here. Before struggling to the surface, however, we find time to offer a few scenario seeds involving sinister underworlds.

News

UK Games Expo is this weekend (1st-3rd of June). Matt and Scott will be there on Friday, running games in the Cthulhu Masters tournament, signing books and generally milling around. Please say hi if you spot us!

Paul attended another Scream Unseen presentation at the Milton Keynes Odeon and offers a very brief review of The Strangers: Prey at Night. This leads to a discussion of what we thought of the first film. Apparently, we don’t like anything. I blame being old and grumpy.

Speaking of ageing, on the 7th of June, The Good Friends of Jackson Elias turns 5. You could be excused for thinking we’re older, given all the grey hair. Back in those innocent days of 2013, we huddled around a shared microphone in Paul’s shed for the first time. 131 episodes and 8 specials later, it’s hard to imagine life without the podcast. Thank you to everyone who has joined us along the way!

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Down here in the darkness, robbed of daylight, hearing is crucial to survival. Every sound could mean the difference between life and death. Was that water dripping on limestone or claws snickering across the cavern floor? The intrusion of a bellowing cacophony could be fatal at a time like this. Mercifully, perhaps, none of the new Patreon backers we thank this month sponsored us at the $5 level, so you are spared our singing for now.

Although the acoustics down here could have birthed something special.

You might still hear snatches of conversation echoing around you, however. These are comments from our various social media presences. Stay very still and they won’t eat you. You can find most of the discussion of our recent episode about comedy in RPGs over on our Google+ Community, or carved on the walls of the lost city that lies buried deep beneath your cellar floor. Google+ might prove easier to access.

Inspiration and Development

We’re back and we’re baring all. The most common thing people seem to ask writers is “Where do you get your ideas?” Apparently, “By eating the brains of more talented writers” isn’t as helpful an answer as we’d hoped. Maybe discussing our creative process in depth might prove more useful. Please forgive us if we enjoy a light snack first.

Human brain

If it’s fresh enough, you can almost taste the synapses firing across your tongue.

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We have discussed the craft of scenario writing before, all the way back in episode 25. Our discussion then was more abstract, however, covering general principles. This time, we thought we should talk in specifics, giving examples from our own work. Obviously, this means that we are going to spoil certain aspects of some published scenarios. In particular, we analyse:

To explain our creative processes, we talk about the initial inspirations for these scenarios, how we grew them, how they changed during playtesting and development, and what we think we might change about them now with the benefit of experience. We have tried to avoid talking about too many plot details, but spoilers are inevitable.

Put your hands over your ears if you want to block them out. This never fails.

Given that two of the scenarios we discuss come from our Nameless Horrors collection, we thought we should spread the eldritch love. Our good friends at Chaosium have generously provided us with five copies of the book to offer as competition prizes. If you share one of our social media posts about this episode (on Facebook, Twitter or Google+), we will add your name to a random draw. We will probably do this when we next meet to record, on the 24th of March. It is probably best to tell us when you’ve shared something, as automatic notifications can sometimes be flaky. The five winners will each win a copy of Nameless Horrors. We would be happy to sign, inscribe or otherwise deface these books in any way that pleases you.

News

Matt shares his thoughts on his visit to the wonderfully named Sandy Balls, where he attended the Contingency convention. Thrill to his tales of terrifying games, eldritch cocktails and life-threatening sleep deprivation!

Scott gives a brief update on his latest recordings with the How We Roll Podcast. He has just started running them through The Two-Headed Serpent, which should keep everyone involved busy for the next year. The first episodes will probably go live in April or May and we will post links here when they are available.

We also mention a recent chat on our shiny new Discord server where we talked about writing scenarios for Call of Cthulhu. We shall try to arrange another chat soon. Keep an eye on our server for more details.

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We also give a surprising amount of our creative energies over to the songs we record for our $5 Patreon backers. Don’t be fooled by our apparent lack of talent — we put blood, sweat and tears into these recordings. OK, not our own, but the point still stands. There are two such recordings in this episode, with a great many more to come. If you are still waiting for your moment of horror, please bear with us. It is simply not safe for us to release two songs into the world at the same time.

Sorcerer

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We’re back and we’re scratching pentagrams into the floor, muttering blasphemous incantations and making ill-advised pacts with demons. This episode is our discussion of Ron Edwards’ influential indie RPG, Sorcerer. Kicking off a self-publishing revolution in the late 1990s, Sorcerer was arguably a manifesto as much as a game. This is not to say that it’s not fun or interesting to play. It’s a challenging RPG, but a rewarding one.

 

In our discussion, we make reference to the indie games website, The Forge. While the discussion forum is no longer active, its archived content is still accessible. If you have any interest in playing Sorcerer (or other indie games of the period), there are plenty of insightful threads to be found there. Another useful resource we mention is Christopher Kubasik’s Play Sorcerer. While the book itself was never completed, you can find several chapters on the linked blog. This is essential reading for Sorcerer GMs. Kubasik also created the TV series, The Booth at the End, which explores many of the same themes as Sorcerer. Finally, we mention the range of Sorcerer mini-supplements, as well as the excellent Dictionary of Mu.

News

One of the perils of recording these segments in advance is that sometimes the news isn’t as fresh as we’d like. We’ve already mentioned that Scott has been running his Call of Cthulhu scenario Blackwater Creek for the How We Roll podcast crew, but seeing that it came up in the episode, we shall take the opportunity to plug it again. You can download the recordings, along with many other Call of Cthulhu actual plays, from the How We Roll website. It was a fun game with a great bunch of players. We hope to do more stuff with them again.

As we also mention in the news segment, we will be attending Dragonmeet in London, on Saturday the 2nd of December. While we are not giving any seminars, we still hope to see some of you there and maybe have a chat over a pint.

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As you can plainly hear, we all had nasty colds when recording. Whether or not this made our singing any worse is debatable. It definitely sounds like we’re trying to conjure up unholy spirits from the very bowels of Hell, but this is actually our way of saying thanks. When particularly generous backers pledge $5 per episode on Patreon, we sing their praises. As you may surmise from the results, whatever we received in exchange for our immortal souls, it wasn’t musical talent.