In episode 137 we discussed Nathan Ballingrud‘s short story Wild Acre. A few days ago, Mr Ballingrud generously took some time to record an interview with us. We discuss Wild Acre and its themes of trauma, as well as the wider role of madness in horror, as well as where Nathan’s work is taking him these days. Given Nathan’s interest in RPGs, we also talk about Call of Cthulhu and how it relates to his work as a writer.

Nathan Ballingrud
Nathan Ballingrud

While we largely focus on North American Lake Monsters, Nathan shares some details about his upcoming book, The Atlas of Hell. He also mentions the film adaptation of his novella, The Visible Filth. This has been made by Babak Anvari, the director behind the wonderful Under the Shadow. The film, which is still awaiting a title, is due out in April of 2019.

The Visible Filth

The conversation also drifts into our mutual love of horror. Some of the answers Nathan offers could almost have come from our episode about the appeal of horror. He neatly sums up in a few minutes what it took us an entire episode to pin down!

We also make mention of Storium, which we then completely fail to explain. Storium is a website that bridges the gap between choose-your-own-adventure books and multiplayer RPGs. You can create your own games, writing content and walking players through your game world. Hell, maybe you can plot out the setting for your next novel there too!

137: Wild Acre

Episode 137: Wild Acre

We’re back and we’re checking the undergrowth for sinister shapes, getting ready to run for our lives and preparing to deal with the consequences. This episode is our discussion of Nathan Ballingrud’s short story, Wild Acre. While Wild Acre isn’t Lovecraftian horror, we thought it would make a good follow-up to our recent episode about insanity in Call of Cthulhu. It is an unusual story, raising questions about the portrayal of trauma in horror.

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While the emotional impact of encounters with the impossible is a common theme in horror fiction, Wild Acre takes an unconventional approach. Most of the story explores the protagonist’s inability to cope with a traumatic event he experiences in its opening. The realistic and uncomfortable portrayal of PTSD provides a strong contrast to how the topic is usually handled in games. We use this to further explore some of the themes we have discussed over our past couple of episodes.

North American Lake Monsters

As well as writing some of the emotionally complex horror fiction of recent years, Ballingrud is also a long-time Call of Cthulhu Keeper. We had hoped to include an interview with him in this episode but scheduling problems got in the way. All being well, we shall record one soon and put it out as a bonus.

The Best of the Best Horror of the Year cover

Wild Acre can be found in Ballingrud’s excellent collection North American Lake Monsters, as well as The Best of the Best Horror of the Year.

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Scott mentions his recent visit to The Haunted City: Modern Monsters and Urban Myths, a day of talks organised by the London Fortean Society. In particular, he discusses the presentation about Lovecraft and the occult given by good friend of The Good Friends, Justin Woodman.

Other Stuff

We have started putting together issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome. This is the 1980s-style fanzine we create for those wonderful people who back us via Patreon. We plan to send the ‘zine out in early December, along with our Christmas cards. If you have a short (500-word maximum) piece of writing or some black-and-white artwork you’d like to submit, we would love to hear from you! The Blasphemous Tome is licensed by Chaosium, so we are able to include content developed for Call of Cthulhu.

Another way we “thank” some of our Patreon backers is to sing to them. It’s been a while since we had two new $5 backers to thank in this way, but we give you both barrels of song in this episode.

We also share a new iTunes review and some choice comments on our recent episode about player engagement. If you enjoy the podcast, we would love to hear from you on our Google+ Community and would be delighted if you posted a review on iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts.

Insanity in Call of Cthulhu

Episode 136: Insanity in Call of Cthulhu

We’re back and we’re building on last episode‘s discussion of the theme of mental illness in Lovecraft’s work. This time, we turn our attention to the role of insanity in Call of Cthulhu. Obviously, Call of Cthulhu is based upon Lovecraft’s writings, but how much does the sanity system actually reflect the source material? Moreover, does it in any way model real-world mental illness and trauma? And should it even try to?

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We each come to this topic with different perspectives, which leads to some lively debate. While it never becomes heated, it is one of the more intense discussions we’ve had. There has been some criticism of Call of Cthulhu for trivialising mental health problems and we tackle this head-on. We hope the result is nuanced and doesn’t come across as dismissive of such concerns.

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Cults are another huge part of Call of Cthulhu. Paul suggests some inspiration in the form of Wild Wild Country. This recent Netflix documentary tells the story of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, an Indian guru who created a religious community in Oregon in the 1980s.

Paul also mentions his recent visit to the Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. If you want to try to work out what was really in Tolkien’s pipe, the exhibition will run until the 28th of October 2018.

Other Stuff

There was some confusion in our last set of show notes. We warned you of singing when there was none. This may have caused unnecessary tension and puckering of orifices. We apologise. The confusion came about after some last-minute editing and reordering to synchronise our Masks of Nyarlathotep episodes with the release of the PDF. Let us reassure you that there is no singing in this episode. We do have some new $5 Patreon backers to thank, but the disruptions of summer prevented Paul from mixing our idiosyncratic vocal stylings. Next time, however…

Insanity in Lovecraft

We’re back and we’re tackling a potentially contentious subject. If you spend much time on gaming forums or social media, you may have stumbled across debates about whether mental illness is a fit subject for gaming. Many horror games have a sanity mechanic of some description, an idea that began with Call of Cthulhu. Of course, Call of Cthulhu, in turn, picked this theme up from Lovecraft’s fiction. But is the portrayal of insanity in Lovecraft what we assume it is? If not, how might this inform our games?

135: Insanity in Lovecraft

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We start by discussing Lovecraft’s family history and his own experiences with mental illness. These undoubtedly shaped his work, and we offer some thoughts on the matter. Then, we move on to a few examples of insanity from Lovecraft’s work, trying to determine whether it’s as major a theme as conventional wisdom holds. Finally, we try to understand what madness really means in Lovecraft’s work. All this forms the foundations for our upcoming discussion of the portrayal of mental illness and trauma in Call of Cthulhu.

If you’ve noticed that Lovecraft looks dour in most photographs, we offer some theories about this too.

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Paul mentions Torchlight Candles and their unusual combustible wares, designed for gamers. The melting brains sound especially gruesome, although sadly they’re not currently listed on their website.

The smoke that rises from this candle is laced with maddening dreams. Or is that patchouli?

Matt then leads us into a discussion about Kickstarters. He can’t help himself. We briefly discuss the recent release of The Fall of Delta Green, the new 1960s setting from Pelgrane Press. Then, we move our focus to something far more sanity-blasting: a new line of plushes from the nightmarish entities behind C is for Cthulhu. I really don’t know why we encourage them.

Not pictured: the twisted visage of Lovecraft, screaming wordlessly from beyond the grave.

One of our listeners, Dominic Allen, got in touch to say that he and Simon Maeder are performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Their play, Providence: The Shadow Over Lovecraft, will be on between the 2nd and 25th of August at the Assembly Rooms, starting at 5 PM. The trailer looks rather wonderful. Paul plans to go on the 15th, so please say hi if you spot him in the audience.

Other Stuff

We are legally compelled to warn you that this episode contains our first bout of singing for a while. In case you’ve forgotten, we offer thanks to $5 Patreon backers in the form of what we pretend is song. This one should cost you no more than 0/1D4 SAN. Honest.

We also spend a little time discussing the feedback we received about our episode on subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu. If you would like to descend deeper into the discussion, the bulk of it may be found on our Google+ Community, or in the hidden spaces beneath your home.

 

Masks of Nyarlathotep part 2

Masks of Nyarlathotep part 2

Would you like a peek behind the new Masks of Nyarlathotep? After last episode‘s spoiler-free discussion of the classic campaign, this time we’re revealing all. Mike Mason and Lynne Hardy from Chaosium join Paul Fricker and Scott Dorward for an extended chat. This means we have the full team responsible for the revision offering insights into what to expect from the new Masks of Nyarlathotep.

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Unfortunately, Matt wasn’t able to join us for the main discussion. Sure, having a day job assures him a steady income and plenty of money to spend on plush abominations, but we freelancers get to talk about games during working hours. It seems like a fair trade-off. We managed to record some additional segments with him, however, in which he discusses his own experiences with the campaign.

Masks of Nyarlathotep cover

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Appropriately enough, our good friends at the How We Roll Podcast are preparing to play the new Peru chapter of Masks of Nyarlathotep. They have asked Scott to run it for them, as he wrote it, and it would have been rude to say no. The recording should happen in August, with episodes appearing later in the year. Watch this space for more details.

How We Roll podcast

And speaking of How We Roll, they are currently releasing their recording of Scott’s scenario Bleak Prospect, from Nameless Horrors. This is a particularly gruesome game and the crew have done a great job of bringing it to skin-crawling life.

Since we recorded this episode, we have learnt that The Two-Headed Serpent has made the ENnie shortlist for Best Adventure. Paul has put together a short insert and slipped it into the news segment. ENnies voting opens on the 11th of July and closes at midnight EDT on the 21st of July. We would be delighted if you voted for our ophidian baby or any of the fine Call of Cthulhu products from our good friends at Chaosium.

Other Stuff

Wherever a cult of Nyarlathotep gathers, one expects to witness blasphemies. There will be blood sacrifices, orgiastic rites and, of course, chants in alien languages that make the air itself bleed. This episode is a little light on the first two, but we do sing some hellish praises. It’s been a while since we had a new $5 Patreon backer to thank, so maybe your nightmares have subsided. We only hope that the psychic wounds we inflict are suitable offerings to our dark master.

Patreon

And it’s not only cults who lurk in the dark places of the world, discussing secrets that would break saner minds. We have a lively Google+ community where listeners have offered thoughts on our episode about subterranean spaces in Lovecraft and Call of Cthulhu. Please, come and join us down here in the dark. The echo isn’t too bad once you get used to it and, if you really try, you can ignore the nibbling on your ankle.