The Call of Cthulhu part 2

We’re back and we’re still being haunted by those hellish dreams surfacing from lost R’yeh like bubbles of pure madness. This is the second part of our discussion of Lovecraft’s classic weird tale, The Call of Cthulhu. Last episode we talked about the first two acts of the story. This time, we wrap up the synopsis, discuss adaptations and influences, and look for gaming inspiration. There are a surprising number of elements of the story that have seen little examination in RPGs, despite its fame.

Including what kind of saving throw you would need to avoid contracting piles from spending strange aeons squatting on a cold stone plinth.

No discussion of The Call of Cthulhu would be complete without a look at the 2005 film by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society. This is the definitive adaptation, faithful to Lovecraft in a way few other films even attempt. Happily, Sean Branney and Andrew Leman of the HPLHS were able to join us for an extended interview. They offer their thoughts on the story and insights into how the film was made. They also share a few tantalising details of current and future projects. One of the most ambitious of these — an audiobook of Lovecraft’s complete fiction — is available for pre-order now.

Time and holidays have worked against us this episode. We were unable to meet to record our usual last-minute inserts. This means that the news segment is shorter than usual. We still managed to slip in a mention of the new Kickstarter campaign for Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 3. We were unsure of the launch date when we recorded, but the campaign has now started.

Enough new playing pieces to rupture the fabric of space/time itself.

The other result of our inability to meet was a further delay in thanking new backers. A number of generous people have pledged money via Patreon recently and we promise to thank them all next episode. Two of them (so far) have backed us at the $5 level, which means we shall sing to them. Expect a pair of sanity-blasting exultations of horror next time!

 

The Call of Cthulhu part 1

We’re back and we’re talking about one of Lovecraft’s best-known stories. The Call of Cthulhu probably boasts more name recognition than any other Lovecraft tale. This is largely due to the ubiquity of old squidhead himself. Between the term “Cthulhu Mythos” and Chaosium using the story’s name for their groundbreaking RPG, Cthulhu has found a prominent place in pop culture. Despite that, comparatively few people who have heard the name know much about the story he comes from.

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is enough gin to briefly wipe away memories of this abomination.

This is the first of two episodes about The Call of Cthulhu. This time we’re focusing on the story itself, or at least the first two-thirds of it. The next episode will cover the climax of the story, an overview of its various adaptations into other media and some ideas about how to use elements in your Call of Cthulhu games. That said, if you can’t work out how to incorporate The Call of Cthulhu into Call of Cthulhu, maybe it’s time to give up.

I mean, his name’s right there in the title and everything!

If you aren’t happy with merely hearing our insights, we have some added treats for you. Mike Mason, line editor of Call of Cthulhu, generously recorded some readings for us. Listen out for his eldritch tones throughout the episode. And none other than Sandy Petersen, creator of Call of Cthulhu (not The Call of Cthulhu — this could turn into an Abbott & Costello routine if we’re not careful) joins us for a short segment to discuss the influence of this particular story on his work. And speaking of his work, Sandy mentions a few future projects to look forward to. Chaosium is developing Tales of Sandy Petersen, a collection of Sandy’s Call of Cthulhu scenarios. There is also Sandy’s Cthulhu Mythos for Pathfinder book to look forward to. If you can’t wait for these goodies, however, fret not! The Kickstarter campaign for Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 3 has just launched.

In the news segment, we mention that a number of projects we worked on are up for ENnie Awards. If you would like to vote for any of them, they are: Pulp Cthulhu (Best Supplement), the Keeper Screen Pack (Best Aid/Accessory, Best Cartography), The Things We Leave Behind (Best Adventure, Best Electronic Book), the Call of Cthulhu Investigator Handbook (Best Cover) and the Call of Cthulhu — 7th Edition Slipcase Set (Best Production Values). Be quick! Voting ends on the 21st of July.

 

We also mention that we will be at Necronomicon in Providence, from the 17th to the 20th of August. While there, we will record a special episode with our good friends from the Miskatonic University podcast. We’re scheduled to appear on a few panels, run some games and spend a disgraceful amount of time in the bar. If you are at Necronomicon, please find us and say hi!

 

The second most merciful thing in the world, I think, is that there is no singing in this episode. While another brave soul has offered his name up to the dark gods of cacophony by pledging at the $5 level on Patreon, we still need to check some details before we can perform the appropriate rites. You shall have to wait until next episode for us to call down doom upon all who listen.

Event Horizon

We’re back and we’re heading out into uncharted space. Where better to talk about horror movies? This time it’s the turn of 1997’s Event Horizon, an ambitious film that blends science fiction, cosmic horror, religious imagery and extreme gore to create something that should have been exceptional. It is blessed with a terrific cast, imaginative production design and special effects that largely stand up 20 years on. So where did it all go wrong?

And why waste expensive special effects on people who are only going to gouge their eyes out?

Event Horizon is not a terrible film, but it is a flawed one. These flaws make it useful to discuss, as they provide some strong counter-examples of the things that make stories and games work. We spend much of the episode teasing out the lessons Event Horizon can teach us and learning how we can avoid making the same mistakes.

Avoiding hull breaches is a good start.

That is not to say that our discussion is entirely negative. We got most of that out of our system in the last episodeEvent Horizon has plenty of redeeming features. There are juicy ideas and images we can steal for our games, some of which are genuinely nightmarish. And any film that gives Sam Neil free rein to chew the scenery can’t be all bad.

Although some of the scenery looks like it could chew back.

Speaking of things that aren’t entirely awful, we sing again in this episode. Yes, I know I’m being generous here. We are gradually working our way through our backlog of $5 Patreon backers, thanking each with a custom soundscape dragged from a Hell dimension through perversions of technology. It is only safe to create two of these per episode, which means that it has taken a while to catch up. We still have two more brave souls to sing to, which means we should be current by episode 103.

In space, no one can hear you sing.

In our news segment, Matt mentions the Kickstarter campaign for the 7th Guest board game. It still has over three weeks to run at the time of posting, so there is plenty of time to back a game full of maddening puzzles with which to vex and alienate your friends. We also discuss some actual play recordings of scenarios we have written, promising to gather links on this very website. Well, here they are. And, of course, we should link to Bret Kramer’s series of articles on August Derleth’s posthumous collaborations with Lovecraft. Thank you for sparing us the task of rereading them ourselves, Bret!

The Memory Hole

We’re back and we’re indulging in some therapeutic negativity. Normally, we use the podcast to talk about things we like. This time we’re venting our bile ducts, spewing forth about aspects of gaming, books and films that give us dyspepsia. We are generally positive, or at least as positive as people who write about soul-crushing horrors in a cold and uncaring universe can be. It turns out, however, that there are an awful lot of things that irritate us.

Buy Matt a cocktail at a convention, ask what irritates him and clear your schedule for the following week.

We gave a lot of thought to things to drop down the memory hole, but actually spent most of our prep time debating whether our listeners would know what the memory hole was. Having seen some of the learned comments you lot post on social media, I have every faith in you! That said, we still may need to explain what we’re doing with the concept. As this is episode 101, Paul suggested we do a riff on the long-running BBC panel show, Room 101. We tried not to ape it too closely, partly so we could make it our own, but mostly to avoid painful and unnecessary lawsuits.

We would put lawyers in Room 101, but that would leave us without some of our favourite players.

Room 101, the TV series, is inspired by George Orwell’s novel, 1984. The book’s Room 101 is a torture chamber tailored to each prisoner, containing their idea of the worst thing in the world. The TV programme interprets this as somewhere that panellists may consign the things they would like to remove from existence. Not only is this wrong, but 1984 already includes such a conceit in the form of the memory hole. We explain this a little more in the episode itself.

Forget mundane horrors like rats. Scott’s Room 101 is filled with incorrect interpretations of Room 101.

Speaking of the worst thing in the world, we sing again in this episode. This is our enthusiastic but fundamentally misguided way of thanking our generous $5 Patreon backers. If the singing sounds slightly less awful than usual, it’s because Mike Mason joined us for this recording. He is trained in this kind of thing and tried to curb our worst excesses.

We, on the other hand, take this kind of approach to singing.

Our normally short news segment is a little longer than usual. There seems to be a lot going on. We mention the ongoing Kickstarter campaigns for Q Workshop’s metal Cthulhu dice and for Triple Ace Games Mythos Cthulhu Mythos book badges. If you are interested in the latter, you had better act quickly. The campaign will end around 24 hours after this episode goes live. We also have news of the release of Chaosium’s Grand Grimoire of Mythos Magic and issue 2 of our own Blasphemous Tome fanzine.

Fly, my pretties, fly!

We also mention a couple of videos in the episode, both dice-related. The first is Mike Mason’s brief overview of the Q-Workshop Cthulhu metal dice set. The second is Louis Zocchi of GameScience, explaining what is wrong with most polyhedral dice. I never realised how passionate someone could be on the subject of RPG dice until I watched Colonel Zocchi’s video. I shall never be able to look at the contents of my dice pouch in quite the same way again.

We’re back and we’re getting some of that old-time religion. When we say old-time, we mean pre-Christian. Or maybe we mean dating back to 1917. It can be so hard to tell sometimes. Our subject for this episode is the god Dagon, who had a long history before Lovecraft got ahold of him, so means different things to different people.

Part man, part fish, part wifi repeater.

Our discussion takes us from Dagon’s origins, through his appearances in the Old Testament, on to his rebirth in fiction as the god of the Deep Ones, and finally to his place in popular culture and gaming. While Dagon may not be the only real-world deity Lovecraft used, this reinvention is bolder and more iconic than that of Nodens, Bast or Hypnos.

Also, none of their priests got to wear fish on their heads.

This episode is not just a history lesson. We also talk about how we might use Dagon in our games, finding more interesting angles than “big stompy Deep One”.  The fact that Dagon is so sketchily defined in Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraftian fiction gives our imaginations plenty to space to run free.

And there are few spaces wider than the ocean depths.

If our look at Dagon proves popular, we plan to return to this format and examine other Mythos deities in future episodes. Our recent discussion of The Seven Geases reminded us how much some of these gods have changed between their first appearances in fiction and their entries in the Call of Cthulhu rules. By digging into their histories, we hope we can find new and interesting ways of using them in our games.

Although even we would struggle to make them this different.

The Deep Ones of Innsmouth croak out warbling, blasphemous hymns to their benefactors, and who are we to defy tradition? We have a number of new Patreon backers to sing to, possibly because of the rapidly approaching cut-off for issue 2 of the Blasphemous Tome. Only two of the songs are in this episode, however. You can have too much of a good thing, or whatever it is we do. There will be more song in episode 99.

“Now flap your gill slits and get some vibrato going…”

In the news segment, we make mention of Chaosium’s recent release of our Pulp Cthulhu campaign, The Two-Headed Serpent. This is a huge event for us. We spent three years putting this beast together and we are thrilled to unleash it upon the world.

We also mention the current Kickstarter campaign for Stygian Fox’s new Call of Cthulhu scenario anthology, Fear’s Sharp Little Needles. Matt and Scott both have scenarios in this book, and we have been delighted with the progress we’ve seen on the project as a whole. The Kickstarter has funded and is busy racking up stretch goals. The campaign will wrap up at the end of February, so act soon if you want to back it!