Violence in Call of Cthulhu

We’re back and we’re loading our shotguns, lighting a bundle of dynamite and laying waste to everything we see. This is our look at the role of violence in Call of Cthulhu. Boom!

Main Topic

If you’ve spent any time discussing Call of Cthulhu online, you’ve probably had someone tell you that if your investigator so much as enters combat, you’ve lost. This is a game of careful investigation, putting pieces together and learning secrets man was not meant to know. If that’s the case, why do most of our games end up with everything in smithereens?

Careful investigation in progress.

This is not to say that violence in Call of Cthulhu is a bad thing. We’ve all played plenty of fun, action-packed games. It just seems like the easy option sometimes. In the real world, we (as individuals, not a species) usually sort out our conflicts non-violently. An average group of investigators, on the other hand, tends to resolve most scenarios with extreme prejudice. Why is this and what are the alternatives?

Can’t we all just get along?

Following our usual format for such discussions, we look at the portrayal of violence in Lovecraft’s fiction, the role it plays in Call of Cthulhu and how we might put together a scenario that doesn’t rely on a violent resolution. Then we punch each other in the face and burn Paul’s house down.

News

Dragonmeet is mere weeks away and we’re giddy with excitement. All three of us plan to be there and we would love to meet you. For most of the day, we can be found in the podcast zone, doing podcast-related things. Then, at some point, we shall appear on a seminar with our good friends Baz and Gaz from the Smart Party. We will debate whether all RPGs are pale imitations of D&D (spoiler: they’re not). If you can’t make it in person, we plan to record the seminar and release it as a special episode.

Other Stuff

Violence is only one of the unspeakable acts that people perpetrate upon each other. Our singing is another. We sing twice in this episode, thanking two new $5 Patreon backers. Being torn apart by a rampaging mob of investigators has nothing on this.

And speaking of Patreon, issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is almost ready to go to press. This is the print fanzine we produce to say thank you to our backers. Anyone backing us by the end of this year will receive at least one copy. See our recent post for more details.

The Blasphemous Tome issue 4 cover

The Thing

The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast takes a special look at John Carpenter’s horror/science fiction classic, The Thing. As well as discussing the film itself, we talk about how it might inspire our games of Call of Cthulhu and other tabletop RPGs.

If you are a horror film fan and this is your first visit to the Good Friends, you might be interested in some of the other similar episodes we’ve released:

We’re back and we’re eyeing each other suspiciously, freezing our bollocks off and watching in dismay as our blood sample runs screaming out the door. This is our look at John Carpenter’s 1982 science fiction/horror masterpiece, The Thing.

Main Topic

After years of independent features, The Thing was John Carpenter’s first studio film. It had a decent budget, strong cast and ground-breaking visual effects. After 35 years, it remains an enduring cult favourite. So why was The Thing a critical and commercial failure at the box office when first released?

Let’s poke around inside and find out.

We cut into the entrails of the film, examining its background along with our synopsis. Then, as you might expect, we let it infect us, transforming our games. We offer a few ideas about how The Thing could reshape itself as a Call of Cthulhu scenario. Given the apparent influence of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, this isn’t too tricky.

Although surprisingly few Lovecraft stories contain the line, “You gotta be fucking kidding.”

In our discussion, we mention a few related works:

News

We recently released a special episode, recorded live at the first Tabletop Gaming Live event in London. You can hear Mike Mason, Paul and Scott answer questions about all things Cthulhu. Alternatively, if you can stomach our faces, you could watch the video instead. We’d prefer that you didn’t stomach our faces, however. Stomachs are full of acid and that stuff stings.

Stomached face for reference.

Other Stuff

It would be remiss not to remind you that issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is approaching fast. This is the print-only fanzine that we produce to thank our Patreon backers. Issue 4 features a new Call of Cthulhu scenario from Matt Sanderson and an amazing cover from the equally amazing Evan Dorkin. If you would like to learn more about what lurks within and how you can invite it into your home, please see our recent post.

The Blasphemous Tome issue 4 cover

In our social media section, we discuss some of the feedback we received on our recent episode about the joy of failure. In particular, we mention a post from Uncaring Cosmos which really must be read in its entirety. You can find it and the rest of the discussion in our Google+ Community. (Yes, we know that Google has announced the closure of G+. We are currently investigating alternatives.)

Artist’s impression of Google shutting down G+

And we make passing mention of good friend of the Good Friends Frank Delventhal’s terrifying ability to blow up hot water bottles like balloons. We promised a video, so here it is. 

#AOBS2018me on stage with the hot #waterbottle

Posted by Strongman Frank on Saturday, 20 October 2018

Please don’t try this at home. Try it in public so everyone can enjoy the sight of your lungs rupturing like two wet paper bags.

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.

Mythos Deities: Nyarlathotep

We’re back and we’re learning hideous secrets from Nyarlathotep, Messenger of the Outer Gods, signing his black book and hoping we recognise him next time we meet him. He can be difficult to pick out of a crowd, with the thousand masks and all. Given his reputation for mocking humour, this is all going to end in deadly embarrassment.

Main Topic

Our discussion starts with an overview of Nyarlathotep’s role in Lovecraft’s fiction and his development by other writers. From there, we move on to his portrayal in the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Then we tie things up by brainstorming a few unusual ways we could use Nyarlathotep in our games.

When Nyarlathotep isn’t busy carrying messages for the Outer Gods, he’s a menace in the mosh pit.

In our discussion, we reference a few earlier episodes in which Nyarlathotep appeared. He gets everywhere!

News

For the past few months, Scott has been running the How We Roll podcast through The Two-Headed Serpent. This is the Pulp Cthulhu campaign we wrote for Chaosium and which was released last year. The first episodes are now available for download. Come, share in the heady mix of weirdness, madness and extreme violence that only How We Roll can offer!

Our Two-Headed Serpent heroes (and Keeper), courtesy of Rachael Tew.

Speaking of epic campaigns, we have now finished our initial playtest of A Poison Tree. This is the Trail of Cthulhu campaign that we have spent the last four years developing for Pelgrane Press. We are hard at work on writing it all up now and will keep you posted as things progress.

Other Stuff

In Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness, we learn of unspeakable rites performed in the Vermont woods, in which the mi-go chant the name of Nyarlathotep in twisted, buzzing voices. To hear such a thing would drive most mortals to madness. Alternatively, some might think, “Now there’s an idea!” and start singing their own unholy praises. We are very much in the latter camp. This episode contains two hideous incantations, crafted to please a pair of new Patreon backers.

And speaking of Patreon, we remind you that issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is currently assembling itself from essential saltes, protoplasm and lashings of blood. The paper cuts this thing inflicts can be murder. If you would like to ensure your copy, take a look at our page on the Tome for full details. Issue 4 features a brand-new, modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenario written by our own Matt Sanderson.