Call of Cthulhu for Beginners

We’re back at the beginning, where we started our grim journeys many years ago. Looking at our grey hair and wizened features, it’s difficult to imagine that we were ever young. Yet here were are, trying to remember what it was like to start playing Call of Cthulhu. This would be so much easier if we were able to literally cast our minds back through time. Does anyone have a number for the Yithians?

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Call of Cthulhu‘s position as one of the most popular tabletop RPGs means that it may be many people’s first game. Even if you have played something like Dungeons & Dragons before, Call of Cthulhu is different enough to warrant an introduction. So, after almost 150 episodes, we thought it was time to help people get into thiCall of Cthulhu thing.

Goal number 1: don’t let this chap eat you.

We offer some tips on Call of Cthulhu for beginners, both players and Keepers of Arcane Lore. Hell, we even explain that “Keeper of Arcane Lore” is Call of Cthulhu‘s eccentric way of describing a game master or GM. We also suggest some books and other resources to help set you on your path into darkness.

Between us, we’ve been playing Call of Cthulhu for around 90 years. This makes it tricky to remember what it was like to be a beginner. Luckily, we had some help for this episode. Lucy Fricker, Paul’s wife, recently ran her first game, so we asked her how she prepared her move to the other side of the GM’s screen. 

Although, sadly, that does mean not being able to see the artwork on the front of the screen.

And speaking of guests, we have a short interview with Mike Mason, line editor for Call of Cthulhu. Mike offers us some insight into the new Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. This is a new boxed set designed to ease fledgling Keepers into running the game.

News

All three of us plan to be at Dragonmeet in London this Saturday (the 1st of December). We shall spend most of the day in the podcast zone, talking to anyone who will let us. At 11 AM, we will take a break for a joint seminar with our good friends Baz and Gaz from the Smart Party. And at 2-3 PM, you can find Paul and Scott on the Chaosium stall, signing copies of Masks of Nyarlathotep alongside Mike Mason and Lynne Hardy. We can be talked into signing other things as well, within the bounds of decorum.

As you might have inferred from that last sentence, Masks of Nyarlathotep is now shipping worldwide. Our contributors’ copies turned up last week and they are massive! It’s going to be a toss-up whether this edition will be responsible for the deaths of more investigators or trees.

Paul also mentions his recent trip to Austria, where he met one of our listeners, Joerg Sterner. As Paul discovered, Joerg is the co-owner of Planet Harry, a games shop in Vienna. Paul completely failed to ask why it is called Planet Harry. We hope to rectify this when we see Joerg at Dragonmeet.

Other Stuff

Issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is now creeping across the globe, spreading madness and dismay. This is the print fanzine we create to thank all the lovely people who back us on Patreon. There is still time to snap up a copy for yourself. All you need to do is back us on Patreon by the end of the year.

350 little harbingers of madness safely tucked into envelopes.

The other thing we do for some of our Patreon backers is sing to them. This episode’s song is something rather special, however. A little while back, we had an iTunes review from Wilson MacGyver. He wrote about the small role listening to the podcast played in his wife’s cancer treatments. After reading this, we knew we’d need to set aside an entire segment to talk about their story. When Wilson backed us at the $5 level and made a special request for the song, we built the segment around that. Thank you again, Wilson, for sharing your and Priscilla Meredith’s experience with us all.  

Mythos Deities: Nyarlathotep

We’re back and we’re learning hideous secrets from Nyarlathotep, Messenger of the Outer Gods, signing his black book and hoping we recognise him next time we meet him. He can be difficult to pick out of a crowd, with the thousand masks and all. Given his reputation for mocking humour, this is all going to end in deadly embarrassment.

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Our discussion starts with an overview of Nyarlathotep’s role in Lovecraft’s fiction and his development by other writers. From there, we move on to his portrayal in the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Then we tie things up by brainstorming a few unusual ways we could use Nyarlathotep in our games.

When Nyarlathotep isn’t busy carrying messages for the Outer Gods, he’s a menace in the mosh pit.

In our discussion, we reference a few earlier episodes in which Nyarlathotep appeared. He gets everywhere!

News

For the past few months, Scott has been running the How We Roll podcast through The Two-Headed Serpent. This is the Pulp Cthulhu campaign we wrote for Chaosium and which was released last year. The first episodes are now available for download. Come, share in the heady mix of weirdness, madness and extreme violence that only How We Roll can offer!

Our Two-Headed Serpent heroes (and Keeper), courtesy of Rachael Tew.

Speaking of epic campaigns, we have now finished our initial playtest of A Poison Tree. This is the Trail of Cthulhu campaign that we have spent the last four years developing for Pelgrane Press. We are hard at work on writing it all up now and will keep you posted as things progress.

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In Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness, we learn of unspeakable rites performed in the Vermont woods, in which the mi-go chant the name of Nyarlathotep in twisted, buzzing voices. To hear such a thing would drive most mortals to madness. Alternatively, some might think, “Now there’s an idea!” and start singing their own unholy praises. We are very much in the latter camp. This episode contains two hideous incantations, crafted to please a pair of new Patreon backers.

And speaking of Patreon, we remind you that issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is currently assembling itself from essential saltes, protoplasm and lashings of blood. The paper cuts this thing inflicts can be murder. If you would like to ensure your copy, take a look at our page on the Tome for full details. Issue 4 features a brand-new, modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenario written by our own Matt Sanderson.

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.

News

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.

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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.

 

Subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu

We’re back and we’re strapping on our headlamps, checking our harnesses and spelunking like our lives depended upon it. This is our look into subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraft. From his work, Lovecraft seemed to be both drawn to and disturbed by deep, dark holes and the mysteries lurking within.

“Verrry interesting…”

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Many of Lovecraft’s stories involve the buried remains of alien cities, caverns best left unexplored or tunnels dug by things that should not be. It’s only natural that many Call of Cthulhu scenarios should build upon this. Or build under. We’re not quite sure how this works.

All right, maybe you can build over and under at the same time.

We try to get to the bottom of the appeal of subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu, but the deeper we dig, the more we find to explore. As well as archetypal dungeon-based scenario designs inherited from D&D, we find connections to mythology, symbolism and Hollow Earth theory. We could so easily get lost down here. Before struggling to the surface, however, we find time to offer a few scenario seeds involving sinister underworlds.

News

UK Games Expo is this weekend (1st-3rd of June). Matt and Scott will be there on Friday, running games in the Cthulhu Masters tournament, signing books and generally milling around. Please say hi if you spot us!

Paul attended another Scream Unseen presentation at the Milton Keynes Odeon and offers a very brief review of The Strangers: Prey at Night. This leads to a discussion of what we thought of the first film. Apparently, we don’t like anything. I blame being old and grumpy.

Speaking of ageing, on the 7th of June, The Good Friends of Jackson Elias turns 5. You could be excused for thinking we’re older, given all the grey hair. Back in those innocent days of 2013, we huddled around a shared microphone in Paul’s shed for the first time. 131 episodes and 8 specials later, it’s hard to imagine life without the podcast. Thank you to everyone who has joined us along the way!

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Down here in the darkness, robbed of daylight, hearing is crucial to survival. Every sound could mean the difference between life and death. Was that water dripping on limestone or claws snickering across the cavern floor? The intrusion of a bellowing cacophony could be fatal at a time like this. Mercifully, perhaps, none of the new Patreon backers we thank this month sponsored us at the $5 level, so you are spared our singing for now.

Although the acoustics down here could have birthed something special.

You might still hear snatches of conversation echoing around you, however. These are comments from our various social media presences. Stay very still and they won’t eat you. You can find most of the discussion of our recent episode about comedy in RPGs over on our Google+ Community, or carved on the walls of the lost city that lies buried deep beneath your cellar floor. Google+ might prove easier to access.

Mythos Deities: Yog-Sothoth

We’re back, standing atop Sentinel Hill, chill wind whipping under our robes, shrieking until our lungs hurt. Damn, that wind’s cold! This is our discussion of Yog-Sothoth, the All-in-One, the Gate, the Key, the Lurker at the Threshold and any number of other names. You can tell Yog-Sothoth is an important deity: he has almost as many monikers as Nyarlathotep has avatars. And while his personal appearances are mercifully few, his presence in Lovecraftian fiction and gaming is strong enough to warp space and time themselves.

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This is our latest dissection of a Lovecraftian deity. We examined Dagon in episode 98 and Shub-Niggurath in 115. Our overview of Lovecraftian gods in episode 67 and of religion in the Mythos in episodes 118 and 119 also relate. Following our usual format, we look at the origins of Yog-Sothoth, how he developed through fiction, how he appears in Call of Cthulhu, and what we might do with him in our games. Well, other than run screaming.

Or adding some tasty meatballs.

News

All three of us will be at the Concrete Cow convention in Milton Keynes on Saturday the 17th of March. We’re running a few Call of Cthulhu games between us, and it would be lovely to find some of you at our tables. Otherwise, please look for us between games –we’d be delighted to have a chat. It’s a small con and we’re slow-moving targets.

The Lovecraft Tapes actual play podcast is currently making their way through Scott’s scenario Hell in Texas, from The Things We Leave Behind. They take a more comedic approach than most Call of Cthulhu actual plays, with quick-fire quips and running gags aplenty. Despite this, they still take the investigation itself seriously, embracing the horror. Add some great characterisation and the result is compelling. Hell in Texas starts at episode 32, although it is well worth starting from the beginning to understand the larger continuity (and also because it’s damn good fun).

Time is running out for the competition we announced in episode 124 to win a copy of Nameless Horrors. It’s not too late to enter, however. If you’d like to do so, simply share any of our social media announcements about the last episode and let us know. We shall perform the draw on the 24th of March and announce the 5 lucky winners shortly afterwards.

Also on the 24th of March, we shall be holding a voice chat with our Patreon backers using our shiny new Discord server. If you are a patron, you should already have access to the backer-only channel there. Please let us know ahead of time if this doesn’t seem to be the case. We shall start the talk at 6 PM GMT (1 PM EST, 10 AM PST, 7 PM CET) and run for about an hour. We shall send out email reminders via Patreon beforehand, along with a link to the server.

And we have been nominated for a Golden Geek Award in the category of Best RPG Podcast. If you would like more details, including how to vote, please see our recent post. We would be ever so grateful if you voted for us!

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As Wilbur Whateley cries his blasphemous praises to the leering stars above, so do we. While his chants are designed to tear reality asunder, bringing about the end of humanity, ours merely praise our new $5 Patreon backers. Any destruction of humanity is purely coincidental. There are two such minor apocalypses in this episode. We still have a few more people to sing to, but those waiting should not grow complacent. Your time shall come soon.