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There’s a wonderful video blog entry from Mark Kermode over at the BBC site that articulates something that has irritated me about a number of recent horror films. Watch this first and then we can carry on talking.

Pointless jump scares are one of the quickest ways to put me off a horror film. You know the kind of thing — the heroine is poking around in the creepy old house, and suddenly we get a loud spike of music and a close-up of a hand grabbing her shoulder. This is thenย revealed to be her boyfriend, who decided it would be a good idea to get her attention this way instead of, say, speaking to her. There is an immediate burst of fright which immediately dissipates into anti-climax.

What Nigel Floyd has identified in this clip is related, but subtly different. It’s the use of jump scares which do actually have some pay-off, in that they’re not just false alarms, but have not actually been “earned” through building up tension or atmosphere. If they’re overused and not given context then the film ends up likeย cinematic junk food: it sort of hits the spot at the time, but it leaves you feeling unsatisfied in the end.

Jump cuts and the like aren’t new developments in horror films. I remember jumping out of my seat when Jones the cat leaped out of a cupboard in Alien, back in 1979. That scene had a long build-up, though, and the scare with the cat was just the opening to a more sinister revelation. It didn’t just feel like one explosion in a string of firecrackers.

Like Kermode and Floyd, I am not a young man. I sometimes find myself getting irritated while watching a horror film that was obviously made for teenagers, and have to remind myself that I am no longer the target audience. With the boom of horror cinema recently, there are films coming out to appeal to diverse tastes, and this is a good thing.

Still, one of the pleasures of middle-age is being able to complain about the youth of today and how nothing is as good as it was, so thanks to Nigel Floyd for giving me something to be grumpy about.


Click here to get the Quick-Start rules.

The Kickstarter backers have had the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules for a while, but they are now freely available to all. This short document provides you with everything you need to get going, including the classic scenario, The Haunting. A really nice new addition is five illustrations of scenes for that story by Rachel Kahn:

Hey babe, wanna check out the old Corbitt House?

Hey babe, wanna check out the old Corbitt House?

I liked the process of distilling the game down to its essentials and I hope that the QS rules do just that. Please let us know what you think.

The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man

[Have no fear friends, no one will mention the ‘other’ version. Which other version you ask? Sorry, silly me.]

So many versions, but is the longest cut always the best one? In the case of The Wicker Man, perhaps it is. But there are a number of films that I felt lost something with a longer running time. Longer versions and corrected versions are of course of great interest to dedicated fans and are always perceived as ‘better’. No doubt Joshi’s corrected Lovecraft texts are preferable to the versions that saw print otherwise. But I’m not sure that this practise can be universally applied to all films and books.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is now almost impossible to obtain without the extra scenes, bringing it up to almost 3 hours. Some of those scenes are a bit dull and change the pacing of the film. Bladerunner is another example: lengthened, inconsistencies ironed out, etc. And let’s not even start of Star Wars. On the other hand we have Lord of the Rings. The extended editions put back lots of great scenes which I actually felt were missing when I saw the cinematic release. But I’ve largely given up watching deleted scenes in DVD extras. Almost without fail it’s clear why the scene was cut from the movie.

The same happens with books of course. Stephen King’s The Stand, I’m looking at you. How long before we see the ‘author’s cut’ of the Harry Potter books I wonder? The later books were fat, but the earlier ones were (probably rightly) edited down I believe. If Lovecraft was around today, would he also be writing the obligatory 1000-page novels? Would that be an improvement?

Would those films or books have gained the popularity they did if they had been originally released in their longer cut? Hard to say. But I think that in some cases perhaps not. Part of the popularity of a book or film can derive from its pacing, and sometimes slight ambiguities can add interest and intrigue which is lost when the story is clarified. The of course there’s nostalgia and a love for what you saw first. I’m watching the original series of Star Trek with my son. The version we have is digitally restored with some of the special effects redone. At times I’m aware that what I’m watching is a modernised version, but it hardly bothers me, and the clarity of image is wonderful.

So it comes down to a matter of taste. But I for one don’t automatically go for the 2-disk version, or the director’s cut.

Sometimes more is less.

Like Paul, I also went to GenCon this year. It was my third year out there, and I’ve taken to writing updates and review on a day-by-day basis of what I do at conventions ever since. These get uploaded on a daily basis during the convention to my Facebook and G+ feeds, but now I can copy them up here when I have access (my hotel computer I was using only kept me on for 30 minutes at a time and I could barely finish them then!) . So, for those that have not seen, here’s the story from this year’s GenCon in Indianapolis.


[GenCon – Days 0 and 1]

Back by popular demand, the daily convention review!

This year, GenCon was preceded by a trip to Phoenix to see my good friends Tim and Tara Roane. A good few days were spent relaxing and heading on a road trip down to Tombstone – first time I’d been able to make it down there since heading to a one-night poker tournament a good few years back as part of a Camarilla event. Good times, good company, and after 8 years of traveling to the US, I finally have a working phone over here now!

Much like my trip out to Phoenix, my AA flights were delayed last night (although only by about 30 min each) which made landing in Indianapolis later than I would have liked. However, finally here in one piece, and after checking in, catching up with my good friend Adam Temple, I was unpacked and headed to the convention centre to collect my badge from Will Call at a little after midnight.

On the way back from the 30 min check-in process, I bumped into Simon Rogers for a quick catch-up (he managed to spot me with my head buried in the new phone!) and then wandering past the always-busy Steak & Shake, I bumped into Matthew Moorman and friends that have played in games I’ve run at GenCon for the last couple of years. He hadn’t managed to make it into my games this year as they sold out quick, and it was discovered I had managed to bag a spot in a game of Unknown Armies he wanted to play on the Thursday… DOH! A good couple of hours passed catching up and having a good time before we all realized it had gone 2:30am and it was time to head off to sleep.

Up bright and early (and doing a pretty good impression of a zombie, I must say), I was up by 7am for breakfast and the trek to the convention centre. The Alexander hotel is about 4/5 blocks away from the convention centre, but it’s a wonderful, new hotel with great staff and great facilities. Just wish it was a bit closer! Arriving at the convention centre, it was my plan to stake out the trade hall to make it in for the morning rush. Thankfully, I managed to get into the Catalyst Games Studio line quick enough so I have copies of the Limited and Deluxe editions of Shadowrun 5th Ed to bring home with me now.

Following this, a run around the trade hall being the good ol’ mule that I offered to be for people, picking various bits up for people and stopping by various stands to catch up with people I’ve worked with over the course of the last year. It’s been a hectic year, but well worth it in the end!

From there, off to run the first game of mine at noon – Fear Itself, with a trip up to a deserted island in Scotland. One player down, but the others commented how much they enjoyed – even with one player stating they’d specifically hunted down a spot in my games after playing a Trail of Cthulhu game I ran back in 2011! That was a really nice moment for me – looks like I’m doing something right still ๐Ÿ˜‰ The scenario ran pretty differently overall to how it had previously, although with similarities to another run back in MK where the PCs weren’t brave/silly enough to actually go into the house they were sent to investigate! Instead, they spent their time researching the hell out of the place, it’s history and hitting all the right buttons to get a 100% success rate. All in all, a different, but very enjoyable result ๐Ÿ™‚

Next, on to my one game to play today – Unknown Armies! A game I only ever get to run at home these days, rarely playing it. It’s going to take a lot to top this one. A wonderfully crafted Street Level scenario, featuring a LOT of research, and more detailed and comprehensive character dossiers than I produced for the likes of my original Delta Green games (yeah, for those that played 842, this had a LOT more detail than even that did!). It was a very tense game featuring sensitive material, but one that was very rewarding. 4 hours was JUST enough to get it all in, but it could have easily run longer. I’ll definitely be on the look-out for games being run by Todd Furler in the future.ย  Steve Ellis and Matthew Moorman recommended him to me a while back, and I was very lucky to get into one of his games as they sell out very quickly indeed. Deservedly so too. He’s a fantastic GM, both in the quality of his scenarios and being wonderfully friendly.

Following the game, I was invited back to a room party being held back at the Embassy Suites in Downtown. Good company, wonderful cocktails, and plenty of new friends made, with another invite to return the following evening! A great way to round off a very successful first day ๐Ÿ™‚ I know I’m going to end up wishing once again that these conventions lasted longer than they do. Good times ahead!

Tomorrow: Call of Cthulhu in the morning, with absinthe flowing at 10am (it’s going to 4am by my body clock, so I don’t feel anywhere near as guilty!), Vampire the Masquerade, and Cthulhu LARP. Stay tuned – same bat time, same bat channel!


[GenCon – Day 2]

Most people who know me will be able to confirm that I’m not a morning person, and that I will sleep for long periods at a time, whenever possible. How I’ve managed to get up at 6:30am after just 4 hours sleep for two days in a row now is a unknown to me!

Repeat of the early morning start today. The cook at the hotel restaurant is getting to know how I like my eggs done now ๐Ÿ˜‰ I headed straight to the JW Marriot to run my 1890s Parisian Cthulhu adventure (nicely bumping into Steve and Paula Dempsey on the way over, which was great, although too brief… curse the tight schedule!), as it started at 10am, complete with the hip-flask full of absinthe. The scenario in this instance is the events that take place in and around the close of the second Salon de la Rose + Cross, etc. It’s a nice little sandbox game that people have taken in different directions before. Whilst few apart from me were wanting to indulge in absinthe in the morning, the moment of the game for me (besides Tristan who had come over from Australia and brought me a boomerang – which is DEFINITELY going in my regular gaming kit now as a way to get unruly players into line!) was when one PC accidentally achieved something that led to both saving them from a doom they didn’t know was coming for them at that point, and resulting in them being pretty stunned and out of their depth for a good while wondering what to do. The sadist GM in my loves to see PCs confronted with those kind of moments, just to see what the hell they will do next!

Running straight from 1890’s Paris, it was on to a 2-hour Vampire game – a Sabbat Black Hand game, where (to my surprise), I got to play a True Brujah ๐Ÿ™‚ To say it was the weakest moment of the convention so far is only because the rest of it been so good, but also that the session itself had a couple of fundamental problems. 2-hours was nowhere near enough time to run a game of that set-up, which was the biggest stumbling block. Also, a lack of primer documentation (or even character backgrounds) made it very difficult for newbies to understand what everything meant, so things went very slowly, leading to very little actually happening in game. If it had had more time, and there had been a bit more by way of character documentation (rather than just a sheet, even without character names!) then it could have been a really enjoyable session.

From there, I managed to swing by the trade hall for a few minutes and caught up with Paul Fricker for the first time in the convention over at the Chaosium stand. I’ve got a couple more last minute requests to bag from the trade hall tomorrow or Sunday, but with only 30 minutes in there, it wasn’t anywhere near enough to get anything done.

A quick blink-and-you-miss-it dinner and I was off to Cthulhu Larp. I thought the game was being run by the great crew at Elder Entertainment that I met last year, so I was surprised to find it was a different ground entirely, but it was still a fun little scenario (based around an auction in the 1950s of various rare and Mythos-esque artifacts… with at least one being a very direct nod to Clive Barker!). I think they’d already allocated the key characters before the convention, because those of us that turned up on time and selected them from the desk seemed to get PCs that weren’t really tied into the main plot, and whilst they had a little bit to do in game, didn’t really seem to have much relevance in the grand scheme of what was going on. Nonetheless, I managed to achieve the character goal that had been set as supposedly being really hard for the PC to achieve, and avoid death on numerous occasions! An artist, trying to obtain a painting by a certain Mr Pickman doesn’t have the money to meet the starting bid, so is expected to barter for favours and beg for money to make the shortfall… However, when no-one else bid, a bit of charm and negotiation to reduce the starting bid to within his finances worked perfectly ๐Ÿ™‚ To the surprise of the GM, I then find myself invited to a showing of more artwork… outside… in the boot of a car… two blocks away in an alley… As I like to say, my PCs may have lost a lot of sanity… but not ALL of it! Consequently, playing the weasel and paranoid loon had me dodging stabbing attempts, avoiding being shot at, and setting one bunch of rival cultists against the other. All in all, a pretty fun time in the end ๐Ÿ˜‰

As per the invite I received last night, I headed back over to the Embassy Suites for further cocktails and met up with friends from the previous day, along with some new arrivals. One such new arrival, Steve Robbins, looked pretty familiar, and it came up about a Cthulhu Larp two years ago… Suddenly, the gaming world seems even smaller, as half of the room suddenly realized we were ALL present for said game and that’s why we all thought we looked so familiar. Mind blown in a very happy way ๐Ÿ˜‰

After a bit longer drinking session than previously, I find myself back at the hotel at 3:30am and pretty much being non-stop since 9am yesterday morning. Up at 6:30am again is going to be painful… I’m already wondering how much coffee it’s going to take tomorrow – DOH!

Tomorrow: running Trail of Cthulhu in the morning, then playing Kobolds Ate My Baby and Cthulhu Larp. Half way through, and time seems to be passing far too quickly indeed. Good times though!


[GenCon – Day 3]

Three hours sleep is definitely not enough to survive a day intact! Crawling out of bed and then resorting to a taxi to a convention centre to make it to the gaming table in time, I ran my Trail of Cthulhu scenario for Mythos Expeditions. A trip out into the Pacific Ocean to Clipperton Island where things started to go wrong for the Investigators quickly ๐Ÿ˜‰ It was a fun game wherein the journalist PC really went to town on hamming up the reporting of the actions of the other PCs for her accounts. Good fun! The moment of the game for me though had to be when one PC was injured, something very visible happened around them (not giving any spoilers here), but they then proceeded to show every other PC and and inflict Stability loss upon them by witnessing it too. If only they realized the consequence ๐Ÿ˜‰ Also got to meet up with Tiffany Allen finally before the game! With such a packed schedule, nice to finally get chance to meet up ๐Ÿ™‚

Straight from Trail of Cthulhu to Kobolds Ate My Baby. Even though it was only a 2 hour session, I really found myself flagging through this one. Just so damned tired, nearly fell asleep at the gaming table and hadn’t got the energy to be very funny for this one as it needed. However, the standout moment for me was breaking into a chicken pen and being surrounded by Mafioso chickens. After challenging and defeating their Don in a one-on-one duel, making a magical, flaming frying pan appear in air helped to fry the rest of the chickens as they fell out of the pen, creating a mountain of fried chicken… Ummm… Now I wonder where I got the idea to have chicken for dinner ๐Ÿ˜‰

I had intended to pop into the dealer’s room, but simply ran out of time. I ran off to Union Station, grabbing chicken on the way, and met up with Eli and Mayghin of Elder Entertainment who ran an amazing King in Yellow larp last year. I was lucky enough to get in another Cthulhu larp of theirs this year, and was once again very very impressed. My costume choice (hearing it was set in a hotel resort on an island off the Texas coast) was my usual white suit, the kind of which I used to break out during the day for playing my Architect in Cam. The waistcoat set-up with my pocket watch chain being securely in place meant it foiled a pick-pocket attempt (hehe!), and got me plenty of complements as I wandered around Downtown later (including getting stopped by random people for photos) and the convention centre, as their wasn’t enough chance to change beforehand. The moment of the game that stood out though was the choice to throw a spanner in the works of a group photo actually paying off. With talk of stealing souls, etc. I decided it was a wise idea to flick up my fan to cover my face as the photo was taken. Bingo ๐Ÿ™‚ Insert being possessed by something pretty nasty, and photos will be forwarded when I see them appear on Facebook ๐Ÿ˜‰

Following the game, a group of us decided to catch up for a bit over pizza, given it’s been a year since we’ve seen each other in person. Good times, good company, but the advancing clock once again brought things to a close. On the way back to the hotel (a long route admittedly), I swung by Lori’s place to check in – another good choice, exchanging contact details and getting plans set for tomorrow if/when everything falls into place. Then, on the way out, waiting for a taxi back to the hotel, a face from the past (Derek) comes around the corner and recognizes me from the outfit – a fellow former-Architect from the Cam days. Brilliant piece of drive-by nostalgia ๐Ÿ™‚ Then, to cap off the night, as I sit down at 4:00am to complete my write-up, the check-in assistant at the front desk swing by to give me the 25c they promised they would get me at some point when I paid for the room on Wednesday and they didn’t have change at the time.

Memories, chances to catch up with friends I don’t get to see anywhere near as much as I would like, and unexpected moments that have made it a really good day. And, all on 3 hours sleep. Now, I’ve got to see if I can manage it on 2.5 hours… Something tells me I might just skip breakfast before heading to run Trail of Cthulhu at 10am… Or, in other words, in 6 hours… EEEK! Time flies too quick at GenCon!


[GenCon – Day 4]

I’m going to look back at this one day and wonder how I’ve been able to do so much on about two and a half hours sleep! To the sound of the air turning very blue as I responded to the alarm clock trying to get me out of bed at 7:00-ish. That was painful… After getting the majority of my packing done (and realizing just how little I’ve actually brought for myself this year from the trade hall!) I headed off to the Marriott, fueled on a LOT of coffee.

A full game for Trail of Cthulhu – Heaven in a Wild Flower. I really like this scenario, and it had the best reception to all the games I’ve run this convention, which made me very happy indeed. Likewise, also very happy to have Scott Jenks as a returning player for the third year in a row! Always good to catch up ๐Ÿ™‚ The moment of the adventure for me had to be a moment that was echoed from one of the playtest sessions where a PC answers a question they were given. This time, the PC decided to dance after giving their “found it!” response. The previous time… there was 100% more Tommy Gun involved! It went really well, although over-ran by an hour (not a problem though on the last day of the convention for most people).

After a quick run to the trade hall as it was closing to collect what few bits of other swag people had asked for, time to rest and meet up with Tiffany G. C. Allen before the meal at the Brazillian Stakehouse in the evening with Paul Fricker, Mike Mason, Charlie Krank, Meghan McLean, Pedro Ziviani, Sandy Petersen, Mark Morrison, Heidveig Helgadottir, and many others I would list, but I’m already making a shakey fist at the computer in the hotel lobby that is threatening to time me out and wipe my update before I finish as it has a time limit! In short, a wonderful evening with amazing company, incredible food (and much temptation of the cheesecake, pictures almost certainly to follow!) – what a night!

As most people are now heading to bed (a good six hours earlier than previous days for the convention)… that’s a wrap! GenCon is done for another year. Already making plans for next year, and working out how I’ll go about getting the hotel I want, and resolving to host a cocktail party of my own next time around. The Gentlemen Tippler will strike once again in the US!

The long trip home belongs tomorrow, and the return to normal life begins shortly after. I may have only been a few days in the end, but it was one hell of a ride ๐Ÿ™‚

Seems like it’s going to last forever and before you know it Sunday is here!

Saturday was spent in the trade hall for the most part, with my time divided between the Chaosium stand and wandering the aisles. Spoke to a lot of people about 7th edition, Orient Express and various other Chaosium goodies.

Sandy Petersen was busy demonstrating his new game, Cthulhu Wars, at the end of the Chaosium stand and I got to play in one game. I played the ‘Black Goat’ faction. It really is a fun game and I almost won, well, I came fourth. Yeah, OK, so there were only four players. The game lasted a little over an hour and at the end of it I was ready to play again, so that’s promising. Sandy has a whole bunch of resin miniatures that look wonderful. The humans are around 25mm, whilst Cthulhu himself must be 200mm+. Each faction has it’s own unique powers and goals. Sandy takes careful note of every game and how it plays. Apparently the humans can win, but have only done so twice in a thousand games. Humans aren’t a faction, I think the humans win if the players force a game ending with none of them actually fulfilling their winning criteria.

Strolling around the trade hall I was pleased to meet Sage LaTorra, one of the authors of Dungeon World. Also with Chris Birch to chat about Achtung Cthulhu.

3pm was time for the costume parade, some amazing costumes – photos will follow when I get home.

Saturday evening we were back to St Elmo’s for the Orient Express Dinner. Great to meet more of the Kickstarter backers; great food and great company.

Final day today. More time to spend on the Chaosium stand and hopefully I’ll make it around the rest of the aisles that I missed yesterday!