Dragonmeet 2018 Seminar

We’re back and we’re once again locked in battle with our good friends Baz and Gaz from The Smart Party. For the first time since 2015, we managed to arrange a joint seminar at Dragonmeet. Once again, we chose to make it a debate. This time the topic was “Are all RPGs simply customised versions of D&D?” Obviously, the answer is “no”, but we still found ourselves invited to prove this.

Unfortunately, Scott fell ill shortly before Dragonmeet and was unable to attend. We tagged Mike Mason in as a substitute Dorward, and he took on the role of moderator. This freed Paul up to be partisan. As for how that went… well, you’ll just have to listen to find out.

Thank you to everyone who attended and who asked some great questions. And many thanks to Joerg Sterner for sharing his photograph of the panel.

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?

Main Topic 

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.  

Violence in Call of Cthulhu

We’re back and we’re loading our shotguns, lighting a bundle of dynamite and laying waste to everything we see. This is our look at the role of violence in Call of Cthulhu. Boom!

Main Topic

If you’ve spent any time discussing Call of Cthulhu online, you’ve probably had someone tell you that if your investigator so much as enters combat, you’ve lost. This is a game of careful investigation, putting pieces together and learning secrets man was not meant to know. If that’s the case, why do most of our games end up with everything in smithereens?

Careful investigation in progress.

This is not to say that violence in Call of Cthulhu is a bad thing. We’ve all played plenty of fun, action-packed games. It just seems like the easy option sometimes. In the real world, we (as individuals, not a species) usually sort out our conflicts non-violently. An average group of investigators, on the other hand, tends to resolve most scenarios with extreme prejudice. Why is this and what are the alternatives?

Can’t we all just get along?

Following our usual format for such discussions, we look at the portrayal of violence in Lovecraft’s fiction, the role it plays in Call of Cthulhu and how we might put together a scenario that doesn’t rely on a violent resolution. Then we punch each other in the face and burn Paul’s house down.

News

Dragonmeet is mere weeks away and we’re giddy with excitement. All three of us plan to be there and we would love to meet you. For most of the day, we can be found in the podcast zone, doing podcast-related things. Then, at some point, we shall appear on a seminar with our good friends Baz and Gaz from the Smart Party. We will debate whether all RPGs are pale imitations of D&D (spoiler: they’re not). If you can’t make it in person, we plan to record the seminar and release it as a special episode.

Other Stuff

Violence is only one of the unspeakable acts that people perpetrate upon each other. Our singing is another. We sing twice in this episode, thanking two new $5 Patreon backers. Being torn apart by a rampaging mob of investigators has nothing on this.

And speaking of Patreon, issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is almost ready to go to press. This is the print fanzine we produce to say thank you to our backers. Anyone backing us by the end of this year will receive at least one copy. See our recent post for more details.

The Blasphemous Tome issue 4 cover

141: Improvisation in RPGs


Improvisation in RPGs

We’re back and we’re staring at the players with frightened eyes, peeling our tongues from the roofs of our mouths and drowning in flop sweat. This is our look at the role of improvisation in RPGs. Gulp.

Main Topic: Improvisation in RPGs 

Almost every new GM has felt that moment of panic when the players take the game in an unexpected direction. What should you do? Would it be fair to try to force them back towards what you have prepared? Are quick-witted enough to make stuff up instead? Why does this feel like one of those dreams where you’re back at school, sitting an exam you haven’t prepared for? And why the hell are you naked anyway?

Redacted
Nude pictures of the Good Friends are only available at the $100 Patreon tier.

We try to address some of these anxieties in our discussion. Improvisation is a natural part of any RPG and you already do a lot more of it than you might think. Every time a player character or an NPC speaks in a game, the players or GM are improvising. Unless you’re using read-aloud text, any narration is a stream of improvisation. (Don’t use read-aloud text. It makes you sound like a bored tour guide.) 

“On our left, we have a stone archway. Ahead, there’s another stone archway. Then, to the right of that stone archway, there’s a stone archway. Whoever built this place really loved stone archways. Anyway, roll for initiative”

With some confidence, it becomes simple enough to improvise more extensively, especially given some useful tools and techniques. Throughout the episode, we offer advice about how to prepare to improvise. This isn’t as much of an oxymoron as it sounds like. We also talk about techniques that will help you do so. One of our favourites is to steal ideas from other sources, usually films or books. In a recent video, Seth Skorokosky talks about stealing from published adventures — a technique we shall, in turn, steal for ourselves.

Probably the definitive work on improvisation in RPGs, which we mention in passing, is Graham Walmsley’s book Play Unsafe. It contains valuable advice for players and GMs alike, culled from improvisational theatre and comedy. It’s also short enough to read in a single sitting.

Play Unsafe cover

News

We offer a brief overview of what we got up to at Concrete Cow 18 1/2. Thank you to everyone who came along and played with us! We hope to see at least some of you in March for Concrete Cow 19.

Concrete Cow logo

We recorded this episode on Matt’s birthday, so you can listen as Paul gives Matt a present that he picked up at Gen Con. This little wooden contraption is apparently guaranteed to exorcise the demonic bad luck from dice. Should you suffer from a similar infestation, the Dice Devil’s Trap is available from Hrothgar’s Hoard.

Dice devil's trap
If your luck is as bad as Matt’s, inquire about their wholesale options.

This leads to a discussion about rubber chickens’ feet, because of course it does. See the video below for all the explanation we can offer.

Other Stuff

As we remind you in the episode, issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is bearing down on us like a hungry shoggoth. (If you want to argue about whether shoggoths get hungry, please find us on social media.) The Tome is the print-only fanzine we create for our Patreon backers. We recently offered up a sneak preview of the table of contents and of the cover, created by the amazing Evan Dorkin. If you would like to secure your copy or copies, simply back us on Patreon by the end of the year.

The Blasphemous Tome issue 4 cover

And in our social media catch-up, we share a new iTunes review. We are always delighted when someone writes a review of the podcast, whether on iTunes or elsewhere. They remind us that we are not just shouting into the void and, more importantly, they help new listeners find the podcast. Please help us crawl our way into more unsuspecting ears.

We also discuss a few comments on our recent episode about Nathan Ballingrud’s short story, “Wild Acre”. As usual, most of the discussion takes place on our Google+ Community. While we have heard the recent news that Google plans to shut down G+ next year, there is still plenty of time before they do so. For the time being, please join the discussion there. We shall find a new home soon.

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.

Main Topic

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.

Other Stuff

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.