Making Brand New Antiques

The other day I promised to provide a few hints about projects that Cthulhu Reborn has been working on for different Call of Cthulhu publishers … and in a few days I hope to be able to provide a bunch of information about something special that I have been working on for Sixtystone, that is veeeeery close to being ready to go. The great thing about that project is that not only have I done some funky work on character sheet design … but Sixtystone have also trusted me to completely design the look of the book, create the layout and provide most of the art! Watch this space for more soon!

In the meantime, though, I thought I would talk a bit about something altogether different … I am working on a project for Chaosium (as yet unannounced, so I can’t say too much) that involves creating a mountain of prop documents with a “1920s Arkham, MA” feel to them. Readers of this blog will know that I’ve done lots of period props before … but the sheer scale of this particular job was quite astounding. Below is an example of the kind of thing that I have created.

New Antique Tut - 7 - Final

Doing a lot of this type of work in a short time frame has been quite an interesting experience, and it has really honed my skills at … well, at making brand new things that look like they are really old. Over time I have developed quite a selection of techniques for using digital tools — designed to make crisp and precise artworks — to make things that are not at all crisp or precise. I thought that folks might be interested in seeing how different techniques can come together to make something like the example above look old … so here’s a quick run-through of how I approach creating designs like this.

Although the techniques I mention below make particular reference to features in Adobe Illustrator (my tool of choice), I’m sure that most if not all of them are also available in other drawing packages. BTW: for all images shown on this page, you can click to see larger versions.

The first key design decision for prop documents is the choice of fonts … its usually pretty easy to find fonts that look vaguely period-specific, even using free fonts or the standard set that comes with modern Operating Systems. Usually I try to find a period-specific referemce image of the type of prop I’m designing, then pick fonts that are “close enough”. Here’s the “Burial or Removal Permit” prop in its raw form — just a bunch of text formatted with some vaguely 1920s-looking fonts:

New Antique Tut - 1 - PreTrackingWhile that already looks pretty reasonable, there are a few things that stop it looking truly vintage. One of the first things I like to do is to tweak the inter-character spacing in text (technically called the “tracking”) of the text. Modern fonts and computer typesetting seems to usually create text where the letters are quite tightly spaced, but old hand-set type was much, much looser — doubtless there’s some historical reason for this. Once you’re used to looking at true vintage typography, samples spaced in a “modern” way just jump out at you as non-authentic. Fortunately, modern drawing and typesetting tools give you a fair amount of control over a number of parameters (including tracking), so you can tweak away to create that wider-spaced look. Here’s a screenshot of Adobe Illustrator’s way of doing this:

New Antique Tut - 1a - Set Tracking

And here’s what our sample looks like with some wider character spacing for most of the text:

New Antique Tut - 2 - PreStrokeTo my eyes, this is already starting to look more like an old document. The next thing to address, though, is the crispness of the lettering — most fonts (and typesetting software) aim to create things that look crisp, but here we want something that looks a bit rough around the edges. One easy way we can make things look less crisp is by adding a stroke (basically a line) to the outside of the text. Adobe Illustrator lets you pick the width of the stroke as well as its colour, so you can achieve several different degrees of de-crisping:

New Antique Tut - 2a - Add Stroke

And here’s our prop with thin black outline strokes added to all the lettering.

New Antique Tut - 3 - PreRoughenSee how that beautiful crispness of the original typeset text has been grunged up a little? But we can go even further … Old typesetting methods were pretty error-prone: real-world offset type would pick up ink unevenly and if there was dust or other grime around the place it was pretty easy for lots of randomness to creep into the outline of letters. If you don’t believe me, go look at some scans of 1920s newspapers! Adobe Illustrator has a nifty way of similarly adding randomness to shapes — and thankfully also to lettering — by means of its “roughen” filter. This basically divides up a shape or letter outline into lots of small segments and randomly perturbs each one by an amount within a range you specify. Here’s how you can use it to add some randomness to our text:

New Antique Tut - 3a - Add Roughen

And here’s what the prop looks like with everything grunged up just a bit. This effect can easily go overboard, so it’s important to show some restraint (otherwise the text can get entirely unreadable) — here I am telling Illustrator that it can only perturb the outline of text by at most 0.1mm but that it can randomly shunt things around 79 spots per inch around the perimeter of the letter.

New Antique Tut - 4 - PreOpacityThe next thing I usually do to make text seem even more “indistinct” (in a vintage printing kind of way) is to give it a variable level of opacity to model the differing amounts of ink that were picked up by different parts of the type. While some letters will have picked up a whole bunch of ink, dust and grime will have caused other letters to pick up less than they should, and in extreme cases maybe left part of the letter entirely free of ink. We can digitally do something similar using my all-time favourite feature of Adobe Illustrator — the Opacity Mask. You can read detailed descriptions of what these are elsewhere I’m sure … but effectively Opacity Masks let you specify how see-through an object should be at different points across its surface by providing ANOTHER monochrome bitmap or shape (the mask). Wherever the mask is white, the original image will show through perfectly; where it’s grey it will show through partially, and where the mask is black the source image won’t be visible at all. When your mask looks like this:

New Antique Tut - 4a - Opacity Stress

you can create a subtle effect which makes you subconsciously see grimy old type instead of nice, new computer typeset type. You put the mask on top of the text you want to make grungy, select the two and tell Illustrator to go:

New Antique Tut - 4b - Make Opacity Mask

Here’s the result for our prop — it’s pretty subtle, but quite effective.

New Antique Tut - 5 - PreGlowThere’s still another way in which we can try to emulate some of the grungy effects of real-world printing. Depending on the type of paper being used, real-world samples tend to bleed a little bit around the edges (this happens even with inkjet printers a bit) — that makes the edges seem sort of a bit blurry or faded. We can model this using an “outer glow” effect in digital drawing tools. Here’s the same prop but with a small amount of black outer glow added to all text:

New Antique Tut - 6 - PrePaperNotice how this makes everything seem just slightly blurry … but in a way which looks like something printed a long time ago. Finally, we can add in some realistic paper texture to make things looks like a real-world document:

New Antique Tut - 7 - FinalWhen adding paper, I have found it is usually a good idea to make the text ever-so-slightly transparent (maybe setting opacity at 90%). That way, some of the paper texture still shows through even in the printed parts, and it generally looks more like a printed document instead of a piece of paper with some text perched in front of it.

And that’s our prop … I hope this brief tutorial walk-through of the vintage prop creation process is helpful or instructive to other designers and artists out there. I have used all of these techniques (sometimes separately, sometimes together) to create a LOT of different period props — when it works, they can look very convincing indeed! At least to my eyes . . .

Gumbo Cthulhu: The Goblin’s Secret Recipe

It’s been pretty quiet here on Cthulhu Reborn … but as usual that isn’t a sign that we’re not working hard on Lovecraftian project but rather a sign that we’re TOO busy to find time to blog. Right now CR is working hard on multiple projects for Chaosium, something for Sixtystone and a project for Golden Goblin Press. On top of that we’ve been working in the background on some freebie projects for release here … and hope to make a big announcement on that front soon.

For now, though, I thought I would post a bit of information about the various commercial projects that will feature art or writing from us … starting with the excellent Tales of The Crescent City by Oscar Rios’ Golden Goblin Press.

Most folks would probably already know that Cthulhu Reborn was lucky enough to be involved with designing handouts/props for Golden Goblin Press’ first book, Island of Ignorance (which can be seen here … and downloaded in deluxe high-res format for free). Working on that book was a great experience, not least because the whole team — and Oscar in particular — was so damn enthusiastic and so devoted to making every aspect of the book the best it could POSSIBLY be. Ultimately that enthusiasm not only created an impressive book (which went on to win an award as Best Adventure published in 2013) but delivered it pretty much exactly to the original schedule. This is a feat which few Kickstarter projects EVER manage … and I’m very proud to have been a (small) part of the team which achieved it!

Obviously not content to rest on his laurels, Oscar is back again with a second Kickstarter, this time seeking to publish a book of scenarios set in 1920s New Orleans. And once again Cthulhu Reborn has been asked to contribute most of the handouts (some samples below).

Crescent City - Blood Lines 3a - French Journal from 1740s CTales of the Crescent City looks set to be another great book, and a project that I am very excited to be involved with for several reasons. For one, it takes as its template one of my favourite Call of Cthulhu scenario collections of recent years — Miskatonic River Press’ Tales of the Sleepless City. But maybe the biggest drawcard for me is that the New Orleans book revists one of my all-time favourite scenarios (by one of my all-time favourite writers): Kevin Ross’ 1989 adventure “Tell Me, Have You Seen The Yellow Sign.” Not only has Oscar somehow coaxed Kevin into writing a sequel adventure to this classic scenario of decadence and depravity, but as as stretch goal (already unlocked) he has arranged for Kevin to revise and remix the original scenario as well!

Crescent City - Blood Lines 2 - Family Tree E2 creasedI am really looking forward to really sinking my teeth into handout design for Tales of the Crescent City over the next couple of weeks … but in the meantime, the Kickstarter itself still has a few days to run (at the time I write this). So, if you are at all interested in Lovecraftian scenarios set on the crumbling streets and haunted environs of New Orleans … I’d suggest you definitely consider backing the project. While it funded within hours of going live, there are still additional stretch goals that will add even more scenarios … and that’s something that benefits all backers (including me! :-))

Look To The Future . . .

Welcome to 2014 … I hope it is all you want it to be.

The beginning of a new year is always a great opportunity to look back on everything that’s happened in the past 12 months … and for Cthulhu Reborn that has been a lot. We’ve launched our first commercial PDF product, run a series of interviews with some of the most influential Lovecraftian game designers, mapped out the evolution of Call of Cthulhu skills, created a family of insane handwriting fonts, and … er … a whole bunch of other stuff.

As always, more than half of what has kept us busy over 2013 is still in the pile marked “waiting to be released”, with our art, writing and design work currently upcoming in products from three or four different publishers, not to mention several projects we plan to release ourselves via this blog. It’s all rather dizzying in fact … but a good kind of dizzy (like when you’ve just finished your fifth Space Mead daiquiri). The pic below gives a few hints and teasers about things that are “coming soon” from Cthulhu Reborn, with a few other highlights from 2013 mixed in for good measure.

2013 Unreleased Sampler Montage

The Descent of Skills

(or more properly, “The Descent of Skills, and Selection in Relation to Call of Cthulhu)

So, the other day I was busy converting an old, old scenario across to work with one of the newer editions of the Call of Cthulhu rules. I’ve done this a few times and I am always amazed at how little change there has been to the core set of skills that Sandy Petersen dreamed up for the game over 30 years ago. In all that time, while there have been some additions and modifications to the set of non-combat skills, overall much more has stayed the same.

But, there are a couple of notable cases where things have just dropped off the radar completely … and one of these (Linguist) was something I stumbled across during my scenario conversion. That got me wondering … just how many tweaks and changes have there really been to the CoC skill set over the past 30 years? How many things have, like Linguist, sort of just disappeared never to be seen again. Curious, I embarked upon some research — pulling out a bunch of books and character sheets and lining them up against one another. Based on this I found I could draw up a nifty (if large) “family tree” for CoC skills, like this:

CoC Skill Family Tree(click on the image for a larger JPEG version)

Because it’s hard to see much detail when zoomed right out, here’s a close up section of the “family tree”:CoC Skill Family Tree (section2, sml)

So … what does this family tree say about the way in which Call of Cthulhu has evolved over the years? Well … I guess it largely confirms what I thought. There are a whole bunch of skills that are in the current edition (and even the forthcoming 7th edition) which hark all the way back to Sandy’s 1981 version of the game. A couple have gone through some minor but weird changes — who would have thought “Spot Hidden” was originally “Spot Hidden Object”? It used to be much easier to Dodge in 1st Edition CoC (base chance was DEX x 5 not DEX x 2).

How many things — other than Linguist — have gone the way of the Dodo? Well, not many really … Operate (other) died early on. Pick Pocket seems to died out with 5th Edition rules in 1992. A number of things have merged and changed name too.

I also discovered a few oddly persistant skills lurking somewhere around the periphery, occasionally dropping in and out. The weirdest one I noticed was Sailing: this was suggested in the 1920s Guidebook that came along with the 2nd Edition back in 1983, but never really made it onto any character sheets and was not carried into the 3rd Edition (1986). But in the same year, when the first Gaslight came out, Sailing was in there … but it dies out again when we come to 4th Edition (1989). Then, almost a decade later, Delta Green resurrects it again in both the core book (1997) and in Delta Green: Countdown (1999). Talk about a skill that just won’t give up and die!

Anyway … in case anyone has any use for this poster of the CoC Skill “family tree” … you can use either the larger image version obtained by clicking the image above. Or you can grab one of these PDFs:

  The Descent of Skills (as a single, gigantic page)

  The Descent of Skills (split over 12 pages, ideal substitute for wallpaper)

All You Goblins, Show Your Faces

Well … it’s been a while since I last updated this blog. But rest assured my silence certainly does not mean that I haven’t been busy working on a range of exciting Cthulhu-related projects. Some of these are for (hopefully) free publication here on Cthulhu Reborn, but many are jobs for Chaosium and other Call of Cthulhu publishers. My post today is about one of these.

I’m sure by now that many people have heard about the “new kid on the block” in Call of Cthulhu publishing, Oscar Rios’ Golden Goblin Publishing. The flagship product which launched this new endeavour was a successful Kickstarter for a book called “Island of Ignorance (The Third Cthulhu Companion).” This book collects a miscellany of interesting source material along with five highly-regarded scenarios. On all fronts this is an excellent book. If you were a Kickstarter backer for a printer copy, you probably have yours by now — and if you weren’t a backer you can now buy a copy (either PDF or softcopy) direct from the Golden Goblin Store.

Now my role in this wonderful project was as the supplier of props/handouts for the various scenarios in the book. I made a gallery of these designs available a little while ago, after several folks expressed curiousity about what handout goodness they would get if/when they bought the book. Island of Ignorance - Consumption 1 - Massachusetts Drivers LicenseBut … the good folk over at Golden Goblin were also keen that these props be made available in PDF form, so that nobody need risk the spine of their beautiful book to photocopy handouts for their game. So today, I am happy to release — in conjunction with Golden Goblin — the “Islands of Ignorance” PDF prop pack.

You can download the prop pack for free using the link below. It spans to 26 pages and is a smidge over 14MB. Every prop from “Island of Ignorance” is presented here in higher-resolution/larger size than the versions included with the book itself. Plus, as an added treat for loyal goblins, you get each handout in two versions — one which is the basic prop design with minimal textures and fx, which the second is the textured versions. I hope you and your players enjoy these handouts …

  Island of Ignorance Prop Pack [26 pages, 14MB]



We here at Cthulhu Reborn always love hearing about the insane things folks do with our props/handouts/scenarios/character sheets. If you want to share something cool, feel free to send us a (Lovecraftian, ie eerily portentious) note using the form below.


As someone who tries to create beautiful prop documents for Lovecraftian games, one thing I have developed a sharp eye for is attention to detail in historical accuracy. It really is the difference between a “quickly-thrown-together-handout-for-my-group’s-homebrew” and a high-quality art item you’d expect to see in a published book.

One thing for which I have also developed a keen sense of is the (small) community of people who aim to create props/handouts to the highest quality. The highest exemplar in this field is the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, whose work has been featured in their own products but also in recent releases from Miskatonic River Press. A lesser-known, but similarly excellent, source of high-quality prop documents is the GEEDUNK Props sets produced in 2010 and 2011 by Michael Fanara of Little Ferret Films.

GEEDUNK Banner Black

Michael designed a series of prop documents to supplement previously published scenarios, employing very similar templates and fonts as those used by the HPL Historical Society. And, even better, he released these props sets for free.

So why haven’t most people heard of the GEEDUNK Props? … Well, the biggest reason is that Michael’s website “went dark” a little over a year ago. This is a great shame, as the GEEDUNK Props represent an amazing resource to Call of Cthulhu Keepers who are looking for some ready-made high-quality props to spice up many of the most-popular scenarios and campaigns published for the game.

GEEDUNK Collage - BTMoM no caption

In the interests of keeping this excellent set of props “in print” and available under their original (Creative Commons) license, Cthulhu Reborn have decided to create a mirror site for the GEEDUNK Props. This isn’t intended as an attempt to claim these fantastic props as our own … but rather a means to keep them available to the community.

We hope that by making these resources available, Call of Cthulhu gamers will continue to enjoy the fruits of Michael’s considerable efforts … and maybe it might also inspire other prop-makers to aim for the same level of quality when designing their own props.

GEEDUNK Collage - Edge of Darkness no caption

The GEEDUNK Props sets provide enhanced props for the following campaigns and scenarios:

  • Edge of Darkness (from the CoC 5th and 6th Ed rules)
  • Masks of Nyarlathotep
  • Beyond the Mountains of Madness
  • Fungi From Yuggoth
  • Secrets of San Francisco
  • Pagan Call (a Cthulhu Dark Ages campaign published for free on the C:DA site)

Click here to go to the mirror and take a look.

Manufacturing Aylesbury

One of the thing I like most about designing props for Lovecraftian games is that it gives me the intriguing opportunity to design the “look” of some small part of the Lovecraftian world — whether that be the way that a particular period newspaper will look when read by Investigators, or the way in which a low-quality smart-phone video of a Mythos manifestation might look. Sure they are only small bits of “invention” … but I like to think that by creating little aspects of the Lovecraftian universe in a form that is highly evocative of a historical or geographic reality, players of the games might get drawn into the game just that little bit more.

The most fun things to create visually are things that have some kind of “place” in the weird alternate New England that Lovecraft created as a setting for his stories — what is often called today “Lovecraft Country”. Fortunately there are a LOT of Lovecraftian game scenarios which use this setting in some way or other, so I get asked to make newspaper reports, weird hand-written witch diaries, and other assorted Lovecraft Country paraphernalia suprisingly often.

One of the most extensive pieces of creation I’ve done to date is a whole raft of material set in Kingsport, including an entire “look and feel” for the local newspaper, the Kingsport Chronicle. I’ve previously blogged about that monumental piece of (ongoing) work.

Kingsport Chronicle Header lores

A more recent request for newspaper props — to help illustrate the scenarios in the upcoming Golden Goblin book “The Island of Ignorance” — took me to the more obscure town of Aylesbury. One of the scenarios in that book called for a newspaper prop to be created, an article from the local Aylesbury paper “The Aylesbury Transcript”. Being a (presumably) much smaller town than Arkham or Kingsport, I figured the style for this prop should evoke a “small rural local rag” … Surprisingly it’s pretty easy to find some good scanned examples onling of rustic newspapers from the 1920s — reading them really brings home the “small town” remoteness of these places in the era (the front page might include a column of dozens of single sentence news entries like “Joe Blogs is building new paving for his farmhouse” or “Miss Johnson is leaving on Tuesday to visit relatives in California”).

For the prop in question (pictured as part of the montage below), I ended up basing a design on “The Turners Falls Reporter” (a small-town Massachusetts paper). As I was creating it I realized this wasn’t the first time I’d visited Aylesbury for a prop … other work for a different Call of Cthulhu licensee book (still unreleased) had taken me there a year or so earlier, as shown below.

Aylesbury Montage

While the newspaper clipping created for the scenario really only shows a small part of a page of “The Aylesbury Transcript”, the process of creating it involved mocking up an entire masthead for the newspaper, as shown below. I figure that if anyone else ever wants to create a prop involving this newspaper, they should feel free to use this design free of cost (high-res version available here).

Aylesbury Transcript Masthead @150

Other Projects

In other, non-Lovecraft-Country news, there have been several other really neat projects which I have been priveleged to support in recent months by way of pieces of design work. I was lucky enough to contribute a small selection of art pieces for the forthcoming “Horror on the Orient Express”, 2nd Edition. This has always been my favourite of Chaosium’s CoC campaigns, so having the chance to contribute to its relaunch (albeit in a minor way) was a hugely satisfying experience — thanks, in no small part to the professionalism of editor Mark Morrison (who is a real pro who’s contributions to the game’s long history are frequently undervalued IMHO).

But the other MAJOR thing that has been occupying my time is work for the  shiny new Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. I was asked to contribute character sheet designs for the new edition books … which really is an amazing honour. Originally I thought I might get to contribute a 1920s design … and if I were extremely lucky a modern day one as well. But, as followers of the Kickstarter will know, stretch goals unlocked along the campaign have added a booklet called “Cthulhu Through The Ages” which has notes on running 7th Edition games in numerous others settings — and guess what? All of those settings need new character sheets. So all up I think I many end up contributing something like 9 or 10 different designs. The montage below shows some of the elements that have already been sketched out for these sheets (although there are many things still to finalize).

7e Charsheet Montage


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