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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Folk Horror

We’re back and we’re hiding in the hedgerows, weaving twisted little corn dollies and performing unspeakable acts of Morris dancing. This episode is our discussion of the very British subgenre of folk horror. In particular, we’re looking into the Folk Horror Revival and how it ties into the childhood fears of those old enough to remember the 1970s.

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Mike Mason, line editor of Call of Cthulhu, joins us for this discussion. As a lifelong fan of folk horror, who is just the right age to have been shaped by its heyday, he offers a wealth of information and insights. And, as we have learned at great expense, we should always make acceptable offerings.

We’ll be seeing this chap again next episode.

We mention a number of works of and about folk horror in the episode. There are probably too many to link to without making these notes as long as the unexpurgated Golden Bough, but here are some highlights:

And just to wrap things up, have 26 minutes of childhood nightmares from the 1970s:

News

Good friend of the Good Friends, Cory Welch, has shared some goodies with us. When Cory ran Blackwater Creek for the Skype of Cthulhu crew last year, he asked us to record the handouts as audio files. A musician friend of his, who records under the name Walkathon (Facebook page), created some suitably creepy background tracks. You can now find all these files in our new Downloads section.

We recently set up a Discord server (a free text/voice chat service) and have started hosting the occasional discussion there. For example, last week we had a voice chat about structuring Call of Cthulhu scenarios. It’s all very informal and chaotic, so please drop in whenever you fancy.

If you check your podcast feed, you should find the special episode we recorded at MK LitFest 2017. Our main topic of conversation was the connections between literature and roleplaying games, which seemed appropriate for a literary festival.

Mike Mason updated us on a few new products from Chaosium. Reign of Terror, the French Revolution expansion for Horror on the Orient Express, is now out in hardback. The new collection of Sandy Petersen’s scenarios (written in collaboration with Mike), Petersen’s Abominations, is out in PDF, with the print edition to follow in the very near future. The revised, 7th edition version of the classic solo adventure, Alone Against the Dark, will be available in PDF soon.

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When we head out to the wheat fields to perform our ancient rites, clothed only in moonlight, we sing in ecstasy. More specifically, we chant the glorious names of those people who have backed us on Patreon. There are two such rites captured in this very episode. We still have a great many more people to sing to, but the mystic energies involved make it dangerous to perform more than two in a fortnight. There shall be more strange and unhallowed songs next episode.