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!

We’re back and we’re still being haunted by those hellish dreams surfacing from lost R’yeh like bubbles of pure madness. This is the second part of our discussion of Lovecraft’s classic weird tale, The Call of Cthulhu. Last episode we talked about the first two acts of the story. This time, we wrap up the synopsis, discuss adaptations and influences, and look for gaming inspiration. There are a surprising number of elements of the story that have seen little examination in RPGs, despite its fame.

Including what kind of saving throw you would need to avoid contracting piles from spending strange aeons squatting on a cold stone plinth.

No discussion of The Call of Cthulhu would be complete without a look at the 2005 film by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society. This is the definitive adaptation, faithful to Lovecraft in a way few other films even attempt. Happily, Sean Branney and Andrew Leman of the HPLHS were able to join us for an extended interview. They offer their thoughts on the story and insights into how the film was made. They also share a few tantalising details of current and future projects. One of the most ambitious of these — an audiobook of Lovecraft’s complete fiction — is available for pre-order now.

Time and holidays have worked against us this episode. We were unable to meet to record our usual last-minute inserts. This means that the news segment is shorter than usual. We still managed to slip in a mention of the new Kickstarter campaign for Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 3. We were unsure of the launch date when we recorded, but the campaign has now started.

Enough new playing pieces to rupture the fabric of space/time itself.

The other result of our inability to meet was a further delay in thanking new backers. A number of generous people have pledged money via Patreon recently and we promise to thank them all next episode. Two of them (so far) have backed us at the $5 level, which means we shall sing to them. Expect a pair of sanity-blasting exultations of horror next time!

We’re back and we’re indulging in some therapeutic negativity. Normally, we use the podcast to talk about things we like. This time we’re venting our bile ducts, spewing forth about aspects of gaming, books and films that give us dyspepsia. We are generally positive, or at least as positive as people who write about soul-crushing horrors in a cold and uncaring universe can be. It turns out, however, that there are an awful lot of things that irritate us.

Buy Matt a cocktail at a convention, ask what irritates him and clear your schedule for the following week.

We gave a lot of thought to things to drop down the memory hole, but actually spent most of our prep time debating whether our listeners would know what the memory hole was. Having seen some of the learned comments you lot post on social media, I have every faith in you! That said, we still may need to explain what we’re doing with the concept. As this is episode 101, Paul suggested we do a riff on the long-running BBC panel show, Room 101. We tried not to ape it too closely, partly so we could make it our own, but mostly to avoid painful and unnecessary lawsuits.

We would put lawyers in Room 101, but that would leave us without some of our favourite players.

Room 101, the TV series, is inspired by George Orwell’s novel, 1984. The book’s Room 101 is a torture chamber tailored to each prisoner, containing their idea of the worst thing in the world. The TV programme interprets this as somewhere that panellists may consign the things they would like to remove from existence. Not only is this wrong, but 1984 already includes such a conceit in the form of the memory hole. We explain this a little more in the episode itself.

Forget mundane horrors like rats. Scott’s Room 101 is filled with incorrect interpretations of Room 101.

Speaking of the worst thing in the world, we sing again in this episode. This is our enthusiastic but fundamentally misguided way of thanking our generous $5 Patreon backers. If the singing sounds slightly less awful than usual, it’s because Mike Mason joined us for this recording. He is trained in this kind of thing and tried to curb our worst excesses.

We, on the other hand, take this kind of approach to singing.

Our normally short news segment is a little longer than usual. There seems to be a lot going on. We mention the ongoing Kickstarter campaigns for Q Workshop’s metal Cthulhu dice and for Triple Ace Games Mythos Cthulhu Mythos book badges. If you are interested in the latter, you had better act quickly. The campaign will end around 24 hours after this episode goes live. We also have news of the release of Chaosium’s Grand Grimoire of Mythos Magic and issue 2 of our own Blasphemous Tome fanzine.

Fly, my pretties, fly!

We also mention a couple of videos in the episode, both dice-related. The first is Mike Mason’s brief overview of the Q-Workshop Cthulhu metal dice set. The second is Louis Zocchi of GameScience, explaining what is wrong with most polyhedral dice. I never realised how passionate someone could be on the subject of RPG dice until I watched Colonel Zocchi’s video. I shall never be able to look at the contents of my dice pouch in quite the same way again.

We’re back and we’ve made it to 100! There’s no sign of our telegram from the Queen yet, but it will surely be here any minute. We have spent countless hours sitting around in a drafty shed or clustering around a microphone perched on a teetering pile of books to get here. Much of that time was spent in helpless laughter or streams of virulent profanity, but Paul has done an excellent job of editing around this to leave you with something resembling a podcast. And now we have 100 episodes to show for it (or 102, if you count the specials, which we are choosing not to). We could scarcely be more excited!

Lovecraft smiling

This episode is so exciting that it almost made Howie grin.

To celebrate our centuried status, we thought we’d tackle a big topic. As Call of Cthulhu writers, it’s no exaggeration to say that Lovecraft plays a central role in our lives. He is a larger presence than many people we actually know in person and who aren’t dead. But why is this the case? What is it about the man and his work that exerts such a hold on us?

Lovecraft was a complex figure, and while this episode is largely a celebration of what we love about his work, we try not to shy away from his negative aspects, most notably his racism. We hope the result is a balanced, reasonable discussion.

The latter part of the episode is given over to an interview with Sandy Petersen, creator of Call of Cthulhu, in which he discusses the influence Lovecraft has had on his own life and work. Unsurprisingly, he has some deep and fascinating insights to share.

Clearly the smile of a man who has spent decades getting to the heart of Lovecraft.

And, once again, there is singing. We have a large number of Patreon backers to thank, including several at the $5 level. Regular listeners will know that this means that we create aural nightmares to thank these brave and generous people. We actually tried to sing this time instead of just making strange, gibbering noises. I’m not convinced the result is any less disturbing. Once again, to limit the damage done, we have restricted ourselves to two songs. This means that there are still several people waiting for us to sing our thanks to them, and we will share them over the next few episodes.

We’re back and we’re getting some of that old-time religion. When we say old-time, we mean pre-Christian. Or maybe we mean dating back to 1917. It can be so hard to tell sometimes. Our subject for this episode is the god Dagon, who had a long history before Lovecraft got ahold of him, so means different things to different people.

Part man, part fish, part wifi repeater.

Our discussion takes us from Dagon’s origins, through his appearances in the Old Testament, on to his rebirth in fiction as the god of the Deep Ones, and finally to his place in popular culture and gaming. While Dagon may not be the only real-world deity Lovecraft used, this reinvention is bolder and more iconic than that of Nodens, Bast or Hypnos.

Also, none of their priests got to wear fish on their heads.

This episode is not just a history lesson. We also talk about how we might use Dagon in our games, finding more interesting angles than “big stompy Deep One”.  The fact that Dagon is so sketchily defined in Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraftian fiction gives our imaginations plenty to space to run free.

And there are few spaces wider than the ocean depths.

If our look at Dagon proves popular, we plan to return to this format and examine other Mythos deities in future episodes. Our recent discussion of The Seven Geases reminded us how much some of these gods have changed between their first appearances in fiction and their entries in the Call of Cthulhu rules. By digging into their histories, we hope we can find new and interesting ways of using them in our games.

Although even we would struggle to make them this different.

The Deep Ones of Innsmouth croak out warbling, blasphemous hymns to their benefactors, and who are we to defy tradition? We have a number of new Patreon backers to sing to, possibly because of the rapidly approaching cut-off for issue 2 of the Blasphemous Tome. Only two of the songs are in this episode, however. You can have too much of a good thing, or whatever it is we do. There will be more song in episode 99.

“Now flap your gill slits and get some vibrato going…”

In the news segment, we make mention of Chaosium’s recent release of our Pulp Cthulhu campaign, The Two-Headed Serpent. This is a huge event for us. We spent three years putting this beast together and we are thrilled to unleash it upon the world.

We also mention the current Kickstarter campaign for Stygian Fox’s new Call of Cthulhu scenario anthology, Fear’s Sharp Little Needles. Matt and Scott both have scenarios in this book, and we have been delighted with the progress we’ve seen on the project as a whole. The Kickstarter has funded and is busy racking up stretch goals. The campaign will wrap up at the end of February, so act soon if you want to back it!