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!

We’re back and we’re heading into uncomfortable territory. This is our discussion about extreme subject matter in games. As you might surmise, the conversation gets a little unpleasant at times. It is hard to talk about things that genuinely upset us without talking about things that, um, genuinely upset us. Inevitably, this leads us to discuss topics such as sexual violence, cruelty to children and animals, gore, necrophilia and cannibalism. If you are worried that we might bring up something you really don’t want to hear, it’s probably safest to assume that we do.

We start off by trying to define our terms, using examples from media — mainly horror films — that exemplify what we mean by “extreme”. We largely focus on the difficulties of portraying extreme content, whether this is repelling your audience, being so focused on transgression that you fail to do anything interesting or crossing the line into unintentional farce.

This episode isn’t just a catalogue of atrocities, however. We try to identify where our own boundaries lie, how to handle it when a game crosses the line and possible techniques to stop players becoming uncomfortable (in the wrong way) without neutering the game. This last topic in particular, tricky as it is, is one we care passionately about. All three of us run a lot of horror games at conventions or online, often for people we’ve never met before, and there is a world of difference between making someone’s skin crawl in a fun way and stirring up horrible emotions that will leave them upset afterwards. Finding that balance isn’t always easy and we’ve all made missteps.

This was one of the longest recording sessions we’ve had. We spent the best part of three hours dissecting these topics, trying to work out where our respective boundaries lie and why they are there. We were stopped only by sore feet and the encroachment of teatime. Paul has been fairly brutal in cutting down our rambling, removing redundant examples and circular arguments. We hope that we have left you with only the juiciest meat of the discussion.

Episode 96: Pontypool

We’re back and we’re trying to make even less sense than usual. This is for your protection. Pontypool has taught us the hidden dangers that lie in meaning, so we’re going to follow the advice of William S Burroughs and exterminate all rational thought.

William S Burroughs

Cut the word lines. And step out into silence. It is yours. It is everybody’s. You do not see the trees when you walk down the street because of ‘The “Word” Tree’.

While Pontypool is not based on the work of Burroughs, his influence coats it like a viscous splatter of undifferentiated tissue. This is possibly the strangest zombie film ever made, if you can even call it a zombie film, more concerned with linguistics than brain-eating. It deals with a maddening memetic plague, spreading like a virus through the English language. Any word could be the one that sends you into a spiral of cannibalistic insanity.

Saying “week” instead of “fortnight” has this effect on me.

While there is little action or violence in Pontypool, its strange ideas, claustrophobic setting and slow build up of dread are all great inspiration for horror RPGs. We spend some time picking these elements apart and discussing how we would use them in our games.

To be fair, this kind of thing happens in most games I run.

And speaking of horrible things coming from human mouths, spreading madness and suffering, there is more singing in this episode. We have a new $5 backer on Patreon, so we are singing our thanks in our own, indescribable manner. In fact, we have a lot of thanks to offer in this episode. This is probably because of the upcoming cut-off for issue 2 of our backer-only fanzine, The Blasphemous Tome. Time is running out!

The faces we pull while singing are far more alarming than this.

As we mention at the start of the episode, Matt appeared on a recent panel discussion hosted by Thom Raley of Into the Darkness. If you fancy learning more about scenario design or simply want to marvel at Matt’s groaning bookshelves, click below!

And in our Lovecraftian Word of the Fortnight Week segment, we mention a marvellous sketch from Burnistoun that mixes Lovecraftian horror and the mundanity of dealing with the council. Well, here it is in all its sanity-blasting glory.

If you liked that, you may also enjoy their cosmic-horror-tinged Epiphany Continuum sketch.