Survival Horror

We’re back and we’re counting our shells, holding our breath and searching for somewhere to hide until dawn. This is our look at the subgenre of survival horror. While we might normally associate survival horror with video games, it certainly has a role in Call of Cthulhu. Sometimes you go looking for secrets man was not meant to know, and sometimes they come looking for you.

“He’s behind you!”

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We start out by trying to define what survival horror is, using examples from media. It’s a surprisingly hard thing to pin down. What are the common factors that define the genre and only the genre? Where do slasher movies end and survival horror begin? Who ate the last protein bar, probably condemning the rest of us to death? From there, we talk about how (and if) we would run a survival horror game. Finally, we wrap up the discussion by brainstorming a few survival horror plot hooks.

Some hooks are grabbier than others.

News

We have started playtesting the final chapter of A Poison Tree. This is the massive multi-generational campaign we are writing for Trail of Cthulhu. The first playtest started over 3 1/2 years ago, so this has been a long, strange trip. Given that the campaign takes place over the span of 350 years, this may not be unreasonable. It will still take us a while to finish writing this beast up, so don’t expect to see it before next year at the earliest. We shall keep you posted.

Speaking of epic campaigns we developed, Seth Skorkosky has released the first of a series of video reviews of The Two-Headed Serpent. His first episode covers the opening chapter, set in Bolivia. These reviews are aimed at potential Keepers, offering tips based on Seth’s experience of running the campaign. Unsurprisingly, spoilers abound.

Paul will be joining Mike Mason on the RPG Design subreddit for an AMA (Ask Me Anything — Reddit-speak for a Q&A session) from the 6th of May. Join them there if you have any questions about game design or would simply like to know if Paul would rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck.

If you hold on until the end of this episode, you will also find an interview with Susan O’Brien of Chaosium. She talks to Paul about the ongoing Kickstarter campaign for their new board game, Miskatonic University: The Restricted Collection. The campaign has been chewing through stretch goals like a hungry bookworm, so there are plenty of sanity-blasting goodies on offer. At the time of posting, you have just 7 days left to back the project. Best be quick!

Other Stuff

In our social media catch-up, we pick out a few choice posts from the Google+ thread about our Yog-Sothoth episode. Our discussion of Linus Larsson’s comments sent us off on tangents, namely Flatland and Flat Stanley. To keep things to time, we only pick out a few choice snippets from these threads. If you are interested in the topic, we highly recommend checking out the full discussion on our G+ Community.

Survival horror is all about struggling through situations that would destroy lesser people. The same can be said of any episode in which we sing, such as this one. This assault on your senses and moral fibre is our way of thanking those special people who back us at the $5 tier on Patreon. Just hold tight and wait for dawn.

Cats in Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraft

We’re back and we’re chasing our tails, trying to lick our nether regions and hissing at anyone who looks at us funny. Meow. This is our look into the role of cats in Call of Cthulhu. Lovecraft was famously fond of cats. He kept them as pets throughout his life, and wrote about their exploits in his letters and stories. Inevitably, this means that cats have found their way into Call of Cthulhu. As any cat owner will tell you, cats can turn up in the most unexpected places. I regularly had to rescue one of mine from up the living room chimney.

Although most of them have had the decency to stay out of my skull.

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We kick off by looking at cats in Lovecraft’s work. Along with his fiction, we find inky pawprints in his poetry, essays and correspondence. The main works we discuss are:

When researching this episode, we were surprised to realise that the goddess Bast does not actually appear in Lovecraft’s fiction. He mentions the city of Bubastis in passing, but its patron deity is merely name-checked in Cats and Dogs. Her presence in the Call of Cthulhu rulebook seems to owe more to Robert Bloch than Lovecraft. Even then, Bloch’s version of Bast is a very different creature, especially in The Brood of Bubastis. We discuss these variations and how they might influence our games.

Chaos tries to influence my games, usually by lying on my arms as I’m trying to write them.

Of course, we also look at Cats in Call of Cthulhu and some other Lovecraftian RPGs. There are a surprising number of games in which you can play a cat and fight eldritch horrors. We mention a few of them.

We also offer a few ideas about how you might use cats in your games. Personally, we let our feline friends bat our dice around the table whenever we need to roll. Paul’s cat, Ginnie, takes payment for this by drinking our tea, which seems a fair exchange.

News

All three of us managed to make it to Concrete Cow this time around and we even ran some games. In case you haven’t heard us mention it before, Concrete Cow is Milton Keynes’ own gaming convention, held twice a year in March and September. If you fancy coming along and joining one of our games there, the next one is scheduled for the 15th of September.

Other Stuff

Most of us have suffered cats yowling outside our windows at night. Their screeches can pierce the very soul, driving sleep far away, leaving only frustration and pain. Taking inspiration from these midnight serenades, we offer two new songs in this episode. These are our caterwauling way of saying thank you to those generous people who back us at the $5 level on Patreon. We have almost caught up with our backlog of people to sing to, so if you are still waiting, your torment is closer than you think.

Comedy in RPGs

Episode 127: Comedy in RPGs

We’re back and we’re splitting our sides, busting a gut and otherwise rupturing ourselves in the pursuit of comedy. It’s rare to find a gaming table where no one is laughing, even if the subject of the game is grim or horrible. Whether we like it or not, humour is a big part of RPGs. We may play Call of Cthulhu to scare ourselves, but more often than not, we dispel that fear with laughter. Sadly, the converse is rarely true, otherwise, games of Toon would end in glorious, screaming terror.

Toon cover

Or even more so, in Matt’s case.

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It may seem odd for a horror podcast to discuss comedy in RPGs, but as we’ve mentioned in other episodes, humour and horror often go hand-in-hand. Both rely on build-ups of tension, released by an unexpected, absurd or extreme revelation. And, obviously, both involve clowns.

Unsettling clown

Mr Tickles wants to play a game with you.

We talk about the role humour plays in our games, what it is that makes a game funny and how this can all go wrong. Sometimes we really don’t want a game to be comedic, and while we can never cut out those moments of release, we offer some ideas about how to encourage a more serious tone. There are also types of humour we might not want in our games, and we talk a little about how to address this when it comes up.

News

Matt recently received his long-awaited copy of the Temple Edition of Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. This might be the most expensive RPG book ever produced, and Matt talks a little about what makes it so special. He has also written a detailed article about his new precious, accompanied by plenty of photographs.

Covers of the Temple Edition

Possibly the most expensive RPG book in the world.

As we mentioned recently, The Lovecraft Tapes podcast has been running through Scott’s scenario Hell in Texas, from The Things We Leave Behind. Gabe from The Lovecraft Tapes interviewed Scott about the scenario, Call of Cthulhu and some other, rather strange things. Be warned that this interview contains mild spoilers for Hell in Texas.

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Laughter can be musical, like the chimes of delicate bells cascading in delight. Sometimes, however, it is nasal, braying or discordant, grating upon the nerves, leading the listener to imagine smothering the person laughing, or ripping out their vocal cords. The same is true of singing. We leave it to you to determine which applies to our latest efforts. Once again, we have two new $5 Patreon backers to thank in our own exuberant manner. We certainly laughed during the recording session, although maybe not in an entirely wholesome manner.

Inspiration and Development

We’re back and we’re baring all. The most common thing people seem to ask writers is “Where do you get your ideas?” Apparently, “By eating the brains of more talented writers” isn’t as helpful an answer as we’d hoped. Maybe discussing our creative process in depth might prove more useful. Please forgive us if we enjoy a light snack first.

Human brain

If it’s fresh enough, you can almost taste the synapses firing across your tongue.

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We have discussed the craft of scenario writing before, all the way back in episode 25. Our discussion then was more abstract, however, covering general principles. This time, we thought we should talk in specifics, giving examples from our own work. Obviously, this means that we are going to spoil certain aspects of some published scenarios. In particular, we analyse:

To explain our creative processes, we talk about the initial inspirations for these scenarios, how we grew them, how they changed during playtesting and development, and what we think we might change about them now with the benefit of experience. We have tried to avoid talking about too many plot details, but spoilers are inevitable.

Put your hands over your ears if you want to block them out. This never fails.

Given that two of the scenarios we discuss come from our Nameless Horrors collection, we thought we should spread the eldritch love. Our good friends at Chaosium have generously provided us with five copies of the book to offer as competition prizes. If you share one of our social media posts about this episode (on Facebook, Twitter or Google+), we will add your name to a random draw. We will probably do this when we next meet to record, on the 24th of March. It is probably best to tell us when you’ve shared something, as automatic notifications can sometimes be flaky. The five winners will each win a copy of Nameless Horrors. We would be happy to sign, inscribe or otherwise deface these books in any way that pleases you.

News

Matt shares his thoughts on his visit to the wonderfully named Sandy Balls, where he attended the Contingency convention. Thrill to his tales of terrifying games, eldritch cocktails and life-threatening sleep deprivation!

Scott gives a brief update on his latest recordings with the How We Roll Podcast. He has just started running them through The Two-Headed Serpent, which should keep everyone involved busy for the next year. The first episodes will probably go live in April or May and we will post links here when they are available.

We also mention a recent chat on our shiny new Discord server where we talked about writing scenarios for Call of Cthulhu. We shall try to arrange another chat soon. Keep an eye on our server for more details.

Other Stuff

We also give a surprising amount of our creative energies over to the songs we record for our $5 Patreon backers. Don’t be fooled by our apparent lack of talent — we put blood, sweat and tears into these recordings. OK, not our own, but the point still stands. There are two such recordings in this episode, with a great many more to come. If you are still waiting for your moment of horror, please bear with us. It is simply not safe for us to release two songs into the world at the same time.