The Shunned House

Episode 116: The Shunned House

Main Topic

We’re back and we’re digging into another Lovecraft story, looking for the horrors that lie beneath. The Shunned House is one of the more minor of Lovecraft’s major stories, if that makes any sense. It is a lengthy, substantial piece that certainly shares thematic elements with his Mythos tales, if not any explicit continuity. Whether or not this makes it an interesting or worthwhile tale is debatable, and debate this we do!

The shunned house of the story is a real place, located on the delightfully scenic Benefit Street in Providence. While attending Necronomicon this summer, we took the opportunity to make an unhallowed pilgrimage. It is someone’s home, however, so we did no more than lurk outside like a gaggle of creepy cultists. I imagine the owners are used to this by now. Despite the house’s evil reputation, we escaped with our flesh undissolved and no more than the usual thirst for human blood.

Paul shuns the Shunned House by the simple economy of turning his back on it.

As ever, we also look at the influences that shaped The Shunned House, its handful of adaptations and some ideas about what we can steal for gaming. Most of these ideas seem to involve flamethrowers.

To be fair, many of our Call of Cthulhu sessions end up this way.

In the context of gaming, we also mention Marcus Rowland’s excellent Forgotten Futures RPG. Rowland has used this as a vehicle for adapting many Victorian and Edwardian fiction settings to gaming. Of specific relevance to this episode is The Carnacki Cylinders, which draws upon William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Finder. Listeners who like the scientific approach to monster hunting in The Shunned House will find much of interest here. The shadow of Carnacki (possibly cast by his electrical pentacle) lies large over The Shunned House.

We also make passing reference to the ongoing Lovecraft Reread column on Tor.com. Along with the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast, this is one of our favourite resources for gaining insights into Lovecraft’s work.

News

The first episode of How We Roll‘s recording of Blackwater Creek is now out. Scott, who wrote the scenario, takes on the role of Keeper and tries his damnedest to creep out the players. There should be another 7 episodes after this one, with the horror building steadily throughout.

We mention in the episode that we recorded the seminar that Paul, Scott and Mike Mason presented at the Milton Keynes Literary Festival. The topic was the relationship between RPGs and fiction, with a special emphasis on Call of Cthulhu. It went rather well, or so we believe, with a good turnout and some lively questions from the audience. Our plan was to release it by now, but it’s not quite ready yet. Keep an eye on your RSS feed and it should be there in the not-too-distant future.

Also, we have invited listeners to submit articles and artwork for issue 3 of The Blasphemous Tome. This is the annual fanzine we create and send to all our Patreon backers. If you have a short article (300-1,000 words) or some black-and-white artwork, please send it our way. The deadline is the 20th of November.

Other Stuff

Once again, there is singing in this episode. As regular listeners know to their cost, we sing the praises of those who back us on Patreon at the $5 level. Both subjects of this episode’s songs presented unique challenges, but I think we had the ambition and hubris to tackle them. The refusal to acknowledge one’s limitations will take you further than talent and hard work. Well, that’s what we keep telling ourselves.

One of the recipients of our merciless song is the actual play podcast, The Esoteric Order of Roleplayers. We promised to link to them in the show, so here we go. Enjoy!

Social Conflicts in RPGs

Episode 114: social conflicts in RPGs

Main Topic

We’re back and we’re intimidating goons, charming cult leaders and fast-talking the slow-witted. This is our look at the use of social conflicts in RPGs. By this, we don’t mean arguments over whose turn it was to bring the snacks or whether that roll of 00 was really cocked. Instead, we’re talking about the use of social skills in games to resolve conflicts. That said, we do mention a little bit about what to do when out-of-game conflicts bleed into play.

Fisticuffs, of course. Fisticuffs resolve everything.

We talk a little about the kinds of things we expect social mechanics to resolve in our games, how we implement them and how we’ve seen them go wrong. Especially in a game like Call of Cthulhu, social conflicts are a vital tool for the players, but not everyone can agree on what they do. Are they a form of subtle influence, a way of cutting through ambiguity or a means to control other characters?

“OK, I rolled 01 on my Persuade roll. Dance for me!”

News

Illness prevented us from meeting in person this week to record last-minute inserts. We have tried to use the wonders of modern technology to work around this, so we at least have a news segment. The first thing to report is that we are starting work on issue 3 of The Blasphemous Tome. This is the fanzine we produce for those generous people who back us via Patreon. It only exists in a physical form (unlike its creators, who have transcended and exist on many planes). Our aim this year is to send it out with our Christmas cards. Of course, events may prevent this, but we hope to give you something blasphemous to put under your tree this year.

The Blasphemous Tome issue 1 cover

We even taught this issue to sing carols. Well, “sing” “carols”. It’s the thought that counts.

The other news item takes the form of some thanks and a mini-review. While we were in the US last month, we were delighted to meet Evan Dorkin at our signing at The Compleat Strategist in New York City. As I’ve mentioned before, Evan has been one of my favourite comic creators since I encountered Milk and Cheese in the early 1990s. He brought us copies of the first collection of Calla Cthulhu, the new Lovecraftian comic he is writing with his wife, Sarah Dyer. It is an action-packed, young-adult take on the Mythos, which still has plenty to appeal to old farts like me. This collection is published by Dark Horse Comics, and you can read Calla’s ongoing adventures via the Stela Comics app.

Calla Cthulhu cover

Other Stuff

Our inability to meet this week also means that we were unable to record our usual Patreon thanks. We have a couple of people to sing to, but you have been spared for this episode. On the other hand, this should only add to the sense of mounting dread. There is no escape.

We’re back, and we’re doing unspeakable things to innocent villagers. It’s all right, though. Master told us to. And who are we to question Master? Generous Master feeds us only the best table scraps, sometimes before they go mouldy. Kindly Master keeps a roof over our heads and it hardly leaks on sunny days. Gentle Master only beats us when we deserve it. We seem to deserve it a lot. Master is wise and benevolent, or so he keeps telling us. We would never dare to contradict Master. We love Master.

All of this is our snivelling way of introducing our look at Paul Czege’s 2003 RPG, My Life with Master, published by his own Half Meme Press imprint. My Life with Master describes itself as “a roleplaying game of villainy, self-loathing and unrequited love”. In it, players take on the roles of minions (no, not the wacky Tic Tac type) who, driven by self-loathing, carry out the increasingly horrific commands of an abusive Master until they hit breaking point.

Don’t worry! My Life with Master is not as bleak as all this makes it sound. It is shot through with black humour, with plenty of comic relief to take the edge off the horror. More importantly, it follows the attempts of the minions to connect with other human beings, overcoming the self-loathing that makes them such perfect instruments of cruelty. These attempts finally give the minions strength to rise up against their Master, but only after much suffering and degradation.

Oh, and then they kill Master. Ungrateful wretches!

Speaking of being compelled to do horrible things by outside forces, we sing to some new Patreon backers in this episode. We have had a recent influx of new backers, and we still have a few more to sing to, but we are limiting ourselves to two songs per episode. This is partly to give Paul time to twist and compress our voices into the aural bezoars that squat deep in the stomach of an episode, but mostly to avoid overwhelming our listeners. Hearing more than two of our cacophonous soundscapes at once risks incurring dancing teeth, brain palpitations and explosive tinnitus.

And, in extreme cases, spontaneous bowties.

A large part of this surge in patrons is due to the imminence of issue 2 of The Blasphemous Tome, our backer-only print fanzine. We now have a cut-off date: the 10th of March. If you are a backer on this date, you will receive at least one copy of the ‘zine. See this article for more details.

In our introductory chat, we mention that Paul recently visited the Bodleian Library in Oxford, finding plenty of gaming inspiration but no copies of the Necronomicon, and that Scott was a recent guest on the Miskatonic University Podcast. We also get rather excited by our upcoming 100th episode, due out in a fortnight. We’re as surprised as you are that we made it this far!

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.