The Two-Headed Serpent

We’re back and we’re cocking our hats, lighting some torches and wondering where the hell all these snakes came from. Why did it have to be snakes? This is our look at how we developed The Two-Headed Serpent, the epic Pulp Cthulhu campaign published by Chaosium.

Main Topic

Appropriately enough, this episode serves two purposes. As well as offering insights into The Two-Headed Serpent, we also talk about how we put the whole thing together. A few listeners have asked us for advice on writing campaigns and we thought we’d use this episode to explain how we do so. We spell out our development process, from initial concept to editing. Obviously, not everyone who writes a campaign does so for publication, so we also offer some advice about less formal approaches.

Obviously, this discussion includes spoilers. We’ve tried to keep these to a minimum, however. You could potentially listen to this episode and still play The Two-Headed Serpent. We give away a few plot points, including one major reveal, but leave plenty of surprises that could bite unsuspecting pulp heroes.

If you need a refresher about what Pulp Cthulhu is and how it differs from Call of Cthulhu, you may find our episode on the subject useful. And if you’d like to hear what The Two-Headed Serpent is like in play, Scott is currently running it for the How We Roll podcast.

Rachael Tew’s rendering of our doomed brave heroes.

News

Our good friends at Torchlight Candles have sent us something unusual. Few things we receive in the post are quite so fragrant and most are decidedly less odd. The Insanity Candle is a uniquely pyrotechnic way to track Sanity in Call of Cthulhu. By planting a scented replica of your investigator’s brain in a wax head, you can track SAN loss by melting it. As a bonus, once your investigator has been reduced to a puddle of maddened goo, you will find a secret message hidden in their remains. This may be the strangest Call of Cthulhu product that Chaosium have licensed. 

As you may have heard us mention once or twice, issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is now out. We’ve released our first batch into the winds like so many playful nightgaunts. Many have found their targets, bringing glorious nightmares with them. It’s not too late to get your copy, however. All you have to do is back us via Patreon by the end of the year. Full details can be found in our recent post.

The Blasphemous Tome issue 4 cover

Other Stuff

Our good friends at Chaosium have generously provided us with a copy of The Two-Headed Serpent to give away to one lucky listener. We’ve decided to hold a slightly different competition than our usual lucky dip based on social media shares. Of course, if you’d still like to share this episode, we shan’t complain! Full details of the competition can be found towards the end of the episode.

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.  

The Blasphemous Tome issue 4 cover

Issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is going to press!

This is the print-only fanzine that we create for Patreon backers of The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast. It contains articles about RPGs, horror films and weird fiction, not to mention plenty of sanity-blasting artwork and original content for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.

Everyone backing us via Patreon by the end of this year will receive at least one copy of the Tome.

  • $1 backers receive one copy
  • $3 backers receive one signed copy
  • $5 backers receive two copies, one signed

Featured in this issue is a new Call of Cthulhu scenario by our very own Matt Sanderson, titled “The Hero Affirmed”.

December in Detroit. The bitter cold claims the lives of more and more homeless people every year. The largely abandoned districts of the city offer shelter from the cold winter nights. But the homeless are not the only ones seeking shelter. Something else has come in out of the snow, looking for the warmest of hosts.

The cover, along with several pieces of internal artwork, comes from many-time Eisner-Award-Winning comic artist Evan Dorkin. We also have illustrations from many of our other favourite eldritch artists, including Daupo, Lucy Fricker, Bev Gordon, Bethan Harris, John Sumrow, Jef Wilkins and Jonathan Wyke.

Other articles in this issue include:

  • The Ludomancers
    • Our favourite game sessions of the past year
  • Lovers at Home
    • An eerie tale of domestic horror by Noah Lloyd
  • Mythos Fiction: Favourite Novels 
    • Scott’s series of recommendations continues
  • The Hero Affirmed
    • A brand new, full-length Call of Cthulhu scenario from Matt Sanderson
  • Vinyl Corner
    • Paul discusses another musical artefact from the 1970s
  • The Sanderson Collection
    • Matt reveals another rarity from the dusty corners of his library
  • The Stranger on the Style
    • A bucolic scenario seed for Call of Cthulhu by Sean F Smith
  • 2018: A Year in Horror Films
    • Scott talks about the films that impressed and disappointed him
  • The Path
    • A hauntingly weird tale by Anthony Lee-Dudley
  • Episodes of Insanity
    • Insights into our favourite episodes of 2018
  • Die, Die, Die!
    • Matt punishes another die that failed him
  • Plush of the Month
    • Matt makes Scott sad
  • Finding My Family
    • Call of Cthulhu plot hook by Adam Alexander
  • Strange Eons
    • Scott’s look at Robert Bloch’s unjustly forgotten Mythos novel

If you would like to receive one or more copies of The Blasphemous Tome, all you have to do is back us on Patreon before the end of the year. If you are a backer before we ship out our first batch in late November, you will also receive one of our custom, Mythos-themed Christmas cards. Even unspeakable horrors deserve a little festive cheer.

Tomes from years gone by

Please note that we do not sell copies of The Blasphemous Tome. It is purely a reward for the wonderful people who back us via Patreon.

The Blasphemous Tome is licensed for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game by Chaosium, inc.

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.

We have some very exciting news. The cover for the next issue of The Blasphemous Tome comes courtesy of many-time Eisner Award-winning comic artist and good friend of the Good Friends, Evan Dorkin!

Evan has also generously sent us a multitude of Lovecraftian spot art, which will be found dotted throughout the issue. Having seen the rough versions, I can tell you that they are ghoulishly delightful.

If you want more details about what to expect, check out our recent post announcing issue 4. And if you need more information about what The Blasphemous Tome is, we have you covered as well.