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.

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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.

Other Stuff

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.

 

The Last Feast of Harlequin

We’re back and we’re touching up our greasepaint, frolicking with wild abandon and preparing for our unspeakable transformation. This episode is our look at Thomas Ligotti’s weird tale The Last Feast of Harlequin. While Ligotti may arguably have written stronger stories, this established his reputation as one of the finest modern writers of weird fiction. More importantly for the interests of the podcast, it is one of the few explicitly Lovecraftian tales he has written.

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Ligotti described The Last Feast of Harlequin as the first of his stories that he didn’t want to throw away, an understatement that should qualify Ligotti as an honorary Briton. While his work has become weirder and more idiosyncratic since this story, The Last Feast of Harlequin is an iconic tale, mixing elements of Lovecraft’s The Festival and The Shadow Over Innsmouth into something original and utterly nightmarish. It is a fine introduction to his writing and to his nihilistic world-view. The latter aspect makes The Last Feast of Harlequin especially rich inspiration for Call of Cthulhu. We dissect it enthusiastically in search of juicy morsels we can steal for our games.

In our discussion, we mention a few useful resources for those interested in learning more about Ligotti and his work.

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Scott is continuing to run The Two-Headed Serpent for the How We Roll podcast. There is no fixed date for the release yet, but we shall let you know here and on social media when it happens.

As you have undoubtedly noticed, we have a new website design. During the overhaul, we decided to add a new MailChimp mailing list. Its main goal is to let listeners know when we release episodes, but we shall also include updates on new publications, personal appearances, conventions and so on. If you would like to subscribe, please visit our Follow Us page for more details.

Speaking of conventions, all three of us will be at the Continuum 2018 convention in Leicester this summer. We plan to run lots of games, record a live episode and get disgracefully drunk at the bar. If you fancy joining us for any of these activities, we would love to see you there.

Other Stuff

In our regular social media catch-up segment, we mention the recent thread on Google+ about our Folk Horror episode. This was a particularly lively discussion, so please check it out if you want to learn what’s waiting for you in the hedgerow.

Sure, he looks harmless, until the moment he pulls your wet bits out to replace his rotten stuffing.

The secret clowns of Mirocaw practice their hideous rites while hidden safely beneath the earth. We afford no such restraint, screeching our celebrations into microphones and sending them out to a world ill-prepared for such horrors. This episode, we thank two new $5 Patreon backers through the medium of what some might describe as song. We still have a number of people to sing to, so please bear with us if you haven’t heard our eerie childlike chanting yet. It is only a matter of time before our words touch you, reshaping your world, your flesh and your very sense of self.

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:

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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.

Milton Keynes LitFest 2017 Seminar

We’re back with another special recording to tide you over during that long, bleak fortnight between regular episodes. This time, we’re coming to you from MK LitFest 2017, the first ever Milton Keynes literary festival. We recorded this last September, but have been waiting for the ideal time to put it out.

Given the setting, we decided to discuss the connections between fiction and RPGs. The theme for the evening was “Made in Milton Keynes”, so we also wove in some background about the development of Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. Paul may come from Buckingham, but he playtested the game at MK-RPG. Close enough!

Sadly, Matt was unable to take part. He had just returned from a business trip to Stuttgart, bringing a nasty chest infection back with him. Don’t worry — the rest of us didn’t miss out! He shared it prolifically, which is why we sound like Deep Ones on our recordings from late last year.

 

Mike Mason generously took some time out to join us. As line editor of Call of Cthulhu, he had plenty of insights to offer on both strands of the conversation. Also, as he reveals in this episode, he used to live in Milton Keynes, making this some kind of hideous homecoming for him. I’m sure Robert Olmstead would sympathise.

MK LitFest will return in 2018, between Friday the 21st and Monday the 24th of September.

The Shunned House

Episode 116: The Shunned House

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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.

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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!