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.

The Wicker Man

We’re back and we’re erecting monstrous effigies, playing deadly games and proclaiming that Sumer is Icumen In. OK, it’s February, but we’re sure that summer is out there somewhere. In fact, as we mention, the cast and crew of The Wicker Man had to pretend that a Scottish November offered the warmth of late spring. We Britons are good at lying to ourselves about the weather.

And we can always find ways to keep the chill off.

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As we’ve just implied, this episode is our look at the 1973 classic British horror film, The Wicker Man. Christopher Lee may have claimed that it wasn’t truly a horror film, but, with all due respect, he was wrong. This is one of the Unholy Trinity of folk horror film, as discussed in the last episode. A deeply disturbing look at a clash of faiths, leading to grisly consequences, it is filled with pagan imagery and nihilistic hopelessness. It’s also a musical, so do sing along as you scream!

“Please release me, let me go…”

Once again, Mike Mason, line editor of Call of Cthulhu, joins our discussion. Like Scott and all other right-thinking people, Mike proclaims The Wicker Man as his favourite film. As a result, our conversation gets progressively more enthusiastic and geeky as we lose ourselves in its pagan ecstasies.

Not quite enough to strip off and dance naked for joy, but it was close.

In the course of the episode, we mention a few related projects:

Oh, Jesus Christ! Oh, Lord!

News

We mention that Scott was recently interviewed for a local radio programme on Secklow 105.5. The interview hasn’t been broadcast yet, but we shall be sure to post a link once it is available.

Matt mentions that the first session of his playthrough with Into the Darkness of his Intersections scenario should be available. This is the short campaign set in 1970s Istanbul that he wrote for the World War Cthulhu: Cold War corebook. It’s not actually out yet, unfortunately. We can offer the character creation session to tide you over, however. If you subscribe to the linked channel as well, you will be notified when the first episode is available.

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As The Wicker Man blends music and terror, so do we. There are two new songs in this episode, each a potent incantation of primal ecstasy. These, as ever, are our means of thanking new Patreon backers. The old gods themselves cower before our chants, so we limit ourselves to two songs per episode. With the recent influx of new backers, this means that we are still working our way through a considerable backlog. If you are still waiting, we thank you for your patience and promise that your song will come soon. Some fates are too terrible to be avoided forever.

Folk Horror

We’re back and we’re hiding in the hedgerows, weaving twisted little corn dollies and performing unspeakable acts of Morris dancing. This episode is our discussion of the very British subgenre of folk horror. In particular, we’re looking into the Folk Horror Revival and how it ties into the childhood fears of those old enough to remember the 1970s.

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Mike Mason, line editor of Call of Cthulhu, joins us for this discussion. As a lifelong fan of folk horror, who is just the right age to have been shaped by its heyday, he offers a wealth of information and insights. And, as we have learned at great expense, we should always make acceptable offerings.

We’ll be seeing this chap again next episode.

We mention a number of works of and about folk horror in the episode. There are probably too many to link to without making these notes as long as the unexpurgated Golden Bough, but here are some highlights:

And just to wrap things up, have 26 minutes of childhood nightmares from the 1970s:

News

Good friend of the Good Friends, Cory Welch, has shared some goodies with us. When Cory ran Blackwater Creek for the Skype of Cthulhu crew last year, he asked us to record the handouts as audio files. A musician friend of his, who records under the name Walkathon (Facebook page), created some suitably creepy background tracks. You can now find all these files in our new Downloads section.

We recently set up a Discord server (a free text/voice chat service) and have started hosting the occasional discussion there. For example, last week we had a voice chat about structuring Call of Cthulhu scenarios. It’s all very informal and chaotic, so please drop in whenever you fancy.

If you check your podcast feed, you should find the special episode we recorded at MK LitFest 2017. Our main topic of conversation was the connections between literature and roleplaying games, which seemed appropriate for a literary festival.

Mike Mason updated us on a few new products from Chaosium. Reign of Terror, the French Revolution expansion for Horror on the Orient Express, is now out in hardback. The new collection of Sandy Petersen’s scenarios (written in collaboration with Mike), Petersen’s Abominations, is out in PDF, with the print edition to follow in the very near future. The revised, 7th edition version of the classic solo adventure, Alone Against the Dark, will be available in PDF soon.

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When we head out to the wheat fields to perform our ancient rites, clothed only in moonlight, we sing in ecstasy. More specifically, we chant the glorious names of those people who have backed us on Patreon. There are two such rites captured in this very episode. We still have a great many more people to sing to, but the mystic energies involved make it dangerous to perform more than two in a fortnight. There shall be more strange and unhallowed songs next episode.

The Stone Tape

The Stone Tape

We’re back and we’re watching in helpless terror as echoes of the dead past haunt us, screaming endlessly. This is our look at the classic 1972 British horror film, The Stone Tape. Fittingly, the BBC originally broadcast it as a ghost story for Christmas. We may be a day late on that front, but the nights are still cold and dark, and the air filled with ancient menace.

And weird dancing lights, for some reason.

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Although not explicitly Lovecraftian, The Stone Tape shares some themes with Lovecraft’s work, especially in its scientific investigation of the unknown. This is not too surprising, considering the script was written by Nigel Kneale of Quatermass fame _who we mentioned in episode 5). His work is always easy to mine for Call of Cthulhu inspiration, and we cheerfully do so in this episode.

“If you can write a stat block for the Colour Out of Space, you should be able to manage a bunch of spooky lights.”

News

At the time of posting, you only have around 24 hours to back the Idol of Cthulhu Kickstarter Campaign. This features a new scenario from our very own Matt Sanderson, adding new layers of horror to Lovecraft’s tale, The Call of Cthulhu.

And speaking of time-limited offers, you have less than a week to act if you would like a copy of issue 3 of The Blasphemous Tome, the 1980s-style fanzine we produce for our Patreon backers. This is the first issue to be licensed by Chaosium and features a brand-new, fully statted scenario for Pulp Cthulhu. If you would like a copy, simply back us at any pledge level by the end of 2017. The Tome will then find its way into your hands, as if by eldritch and unwholesome magic.

Our good friends over at Chaosium have announced an exciting new scheme. The Miskatonic Repository allows Call of Cthulhu fans to publish and sell their own material, subject to editorial approval. Chaosium have even provided templates and art packs to make the process easier. The first publications are already available, with many more in the pipeline.

And, in a Christmas miracle, Patreon have cancelled the changes to their fee structures. Backers will not be charged extra processing fees, and will continue to pay only the amount they pledge. Even so, we will continue to investigate alternative options for backers. Watch this space for updates.

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We are still working our way through a long list of people to sing our thanks to. This is our hideous way of praising those brave people who back us on Patreon at the $5 level. For reasons of basic human decency, we limit ourselves to two songs per episode. The recent surge of backers brought on by the new Blasphemous Tome means shall we be singing for many episodes to come.

 

The Shunned House

Episode 116: The Shunned House

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We’re back and we’re digging into another Lovecraft story, looking for the horrors that lie beneath. The Shunned House is one of the more minor of Lovecraft’s major stories, if that makes any sense. It is a lengthy, substantial piece that certainly shares thematic elements with his Mythos tales, if not any explicit continuity. Whether or not this makes it an interesting or worthwhile tale is debatable, and debate this we do!

The shunned house of the story is a real place, located on the delightfully scenic Benefit Street in Providence. While attending Necronomicon this summer, we took the opportunity to make an unhallowed pilgrimage. It is someone’s home, however, so we did no more than lurk outside like a gaggle of creepy cultists. I imagine the owners are used to this by now. Despite the house’s evil reputation, we escaped with our flesh undissolved and no more than the usual thirst for human blood.

Paul shuns the Shunned House by the simple economy of turning his back on it.

As ever, we also look at the influences that shaped The Shunned House, its handful of adaptations and some ideas about what we can steal for gaming. Most of these ideas seem to involve flamethrowers.

To be fair, many of our Call of Cthulhu sessions end up this way.

In the context of gaming, we also mention Marcus Rowland’s excellent Forgotten Futures RPG. Rowland has used this as a vehicle for adapting many Victorian and Edwardian fiction settings to gaming. Of specific relevance to this episode is The Carnacki Cylinders, which draws upon William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Finder. Listeners who like the scientific approach to monster hunting in The Shunned House will find much of interest here. The shadow of Carnacki (possibly cast by his electrical pentacle) lies large over The Shunned House.

We also make passing reference to the ongoing Lovecraft Reread column on Tor.com. Along with the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast, this is one of our favourite resources for gaining insights into Lovecraft’s work.

News

The first episode of How We Roll‘s recording of Blackwater Creek is now out. Scott, who wrote the scenario, takes on the role of Keeper and tries his damnedest to creep out the players. There should be another 7 episodes after this one, with the horror building steadily throughout.

We mention in the episode that we recorded the seminar that Paul, Scott and Mike Mason presented at the Milton Keynes Literary Festival. The topic was the relationship between RPGs and fiction, with a special emphasis on Call of Cthulhu. It went rather well, or so we believe, with a good turnout and some lively questions from the audience. Our plan was to release it by now, but it’s not quite ready yet. Keep an eye on your RSS feed and it should be there in the not-too-distant future.

Also, we have invited listeners to submit articles and artwork for issue 3 of The Blasphemous Tome. This is the annual fanzine we create and send to all our Patreon backers. If you have a short article (300-1,000 words) or some black-and-white artwork, please send it our way. The deadline is the 20th of November.

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Once again, there is singing in this episode. As regular listeners know to their cost, we sing the praises of those who back us on Patreon at the $5 level. Both subjects of this episode’s songs presented unique challenges, but I think we had the ambition and hubris to tackle them. The refusal to acknowledge one’s limitations will take you further than talent and hard work. Well, that’s what we keep telling ourselves.

One of the recipients of our merciless song is the actual play podcast, The Esoteric Order of Roleplayers. We promised to link to them in the show, so here we go. Enjoy!