Openness is a Warm Pseudopod

It’s a weird thing, but of all the things I have posted to the Cthulhu Reborn blog in the past year, the #1 most read article — by far — has been my dissection of the Open Cthulhu SRD. I’m not sure how to interpret that: maybe it means that people just like reading about controversial topics, or that my own humble publishing efforts are too niche to be exciting to most.

Regardless, it is still great that so many people have taken the time to read through my analysis. Several readers have also asked me whether I could write a more detailed overview as well … and I’m still thinking about whether I really have the spare time to do that, although I’d like to.

Anyway, my own analytical skills aside, there are a couple of small pieces of news/observation that I’d like to share here since they’re related to Open Licensing, the complications of Mythos IP, or both.

Open Cthulhu Has A Website

An announcement was made today to those on the Open Cthulhu beta-testers email list that the Open Cthulhu team have created a website to host material related to their game. This is a bit of a surprise to me, since things seem to have been pretty quiet on that front for a couple of months.

Looking through their website (www.opencthulhu.org), it currently seems to have not much more than just an open link to download the Open Cthulhu SRD (i.e., a way of getting the PDF without signing up to their beta scheme; something a few folks have asked me about). There does seem to be a suggestion that the site will be used to host original scenarios for Open Cthulhu and translation notes for running pre-existing scenarios with their system. I guess this suggests that beta testers are still running games of Open Cthulhu somewhere … I guess I will keep a watching brief on the site to see whether anything new materializes. I’m not holding my breath, but who knows?

[BTW: it’s worth reiterating again that the Open Cthulhu RPG team has nothing *at all* to do with the closed online Cthulhu community which is at http://www.opencthulhu.com. It’s an unfortunate confusion of two separate things.]

 

A Horror By Any Other Name …

One of the significant points that came up in the conversation about whether it is even possible to have a truly “open” Cthulhu Mythos game is the hideously complex state of actual (and purported) IP ownership of different Mythos names/books/creatures/gods. This has already been discussed here previously.

Recently I have been reading Pelgrane Press’ ENnie Award Winning Fall of Delta Green which hybridizes the Mythos-infused-conspiracy setting of Delta Green with the game mechanics of Gumshoe and then rewinds the clock to the 1960s. It’s a great book, but when I was reading through the section describing Mythos gods and creatures I noticed there are some obvious substitutions of different names for familiar critters and Mythos powers. Then I remembered that something similar occurs in the Delta Green Handler’s Guide. Clearly, when Arc Dream was preparing Delta Green and when Ken Hite was porting bits of it over to Fall, some effort was made to “skirt around” some of the contentious names. Or maybe names that people *thought* might be contentious.

If you haven’t noticed this in either book … an example of what I’m talking about is that neither DG or FoDG seems to want to mention “Ithaqua” or “Cthugha” by name, presumably since both are literary creations of August Derleth. So, a somewhat similar entity is described but given a different name. Hence the god of ultimate coldness is Itla-Shua, and the mindless ball of flame is Qu-tugkwa (also referred to in some places as Kheshthogha).

The table below summarises all the various substitutions that I was able to notice (along with my speculation as to why they may have been seen as necessary). Since the whole topic has been raised as important to future game designers, I figure it’s worth getting the DG/FoDG approach summarised as one data point on a convoluted mandala of misery. I do find it a bit ironic that the RPG hobby is once again moving into an era when euphemistic renaming of horrors seem necessary to get around the voracious appetites of an outside community — only this time it’s not AD&D renaming demons an devils to avoid the ire of 1980s Televangelists, it’s Mythos publishers doing much the same to dodge the complexity of IP ownership in the “shared” universe launched by HPL.

Table 1: Name Substitutions in the Delta Green Handlers Guide (DGHG, Arc Dream) and Fall of Delta Green (FoDG, Pelgrane).

Possibly “Unsafe” Name Why Possibly Unsafe? Delta Green / FoDG Rename
Abhoth Abhoth is a literary creation of Clark Ashton Smith A-Abhi and Obhoth
Atlach-Nacha Atlach-Nacha is a literary creation of Clark Ashton Smith Tleche-Naka
Avatars of Y’Golonac Y’Golonac is a literary creation of Ramsay Campbell Avatars of the Headless One
Byakhee Although Byakhee are based on a description by Lovecraft (in The Festival) it is generally considered that Chaosium/ Sandy Petersen invented the name Byakhee Winged Servitors (DGHG), possibly Ai-Apa (FoDG)
Cthugha Cthugha is a literary creation of August Derleth Qu-tugkwa and Kheshthogha
Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath Although Lovecraft’s stories speak of Shub-Niggurath as being the “Goat with a Thousand Young” some believe that the name Dark Young was a Call of Cthulhu / Sandy Petersen invention Haedi Nigritiae (Latin for Young Goats of Darkness)
Fire Vampires Fire Vampires (at least as they appear in Call of Cthulhu) are the servitors of Cthugha invented by August Derleth. There is a separate invention of Donald Wandrei that uses the name “Fire Vampires” but in a different sense. Ifrits
Flying Polyps Although Lovecraft’s description of the enemies of the Great Race specifically describes their ability to fly and also their “half-polypous” nature, it is conceivable that the name “Flying Polyp” was a Call of Cthulhu / Sandy Petersen invention Muuruup (FoDG, an Australian Aboriginal word) and
Spectral Polyps (DGHG)
Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua The Formless Spawn are a literary creation of Clark Ashton Smith Kythamila (FoDG, referencing a planet mentioned in Lovecraft’s collaboration “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”)

Slime of Tsathoggua (DGHG)

Gla’aki Gla’aki is a literary creation of Ramsay Campbell Giliszta (FoDG) although DGHG uses the Gla’aki name unchanged as well as Eihort and Insects from Shagghai which are omitted from FoDG
Hounds of Tindalos Hounds of Tindalos are a literary invention of Frank Belknap Long Hounds of the Angles (DGHG) although FoDG uses the Hounds of Tindalos name
Ithaqua Ithaqua is a name coined by August Derleth Itla-Shua
Lloigor The Lloigor are a literary creation of Colin Wilson Xin and Lung-Xin (FoDG) although DGHG uses the Lloigor name unchanged
Star Vampires Star Vampires are a literary creation of Robert Bloch Feaster from the Stars
Tulzscha Although Tulzcha is based on a description by Lovecraft (in The Festival) it is generally considered that the name Tulzcha was invented for Chaosium’s “Kingsport” sourcebook Qu-Tugkwa (DGHG)
Y’Golonac Y’Golonac is a literary creation of Ramsay Campbell The Headless One

Stumbling Out of Aladdin’s Cave

As long-time readers of Cthulhu Reborn will know, we started out making high-quality free PDFs of “rescued” scenarios, mostly written by big-name Call of Cthulhu writers from the game’s golden (1990s) age. We haven’t put out any new releases of this type for a bit, although we are certainly always on the lookout for things to give the deluxe “rescuing” treatment. [Downloads of all the previously rescued scenarios can be found here.]

Recently I had the privilege of an extended conversation with Kevin Ross, one of the absolute biggest names in CoC writing in the golden age and an occasional writer of awesome new stuff (e.g., Down Darker Trails and its campaign book Shadows Over Stillwater). In the midst of the chat I wheeled out my standard nonchalant question, “So, do you have any awesome scenarios that never found their way to publication?”

To my sheer delight Kevin said, “oh sure; there’s some things in my filing cabinet that would fit the bill.” And that is how I managed to get my hands on three different Kevin Ross scenarios back from the early EARLY days of Call of Cthulhu. Some of these were old enough that they were typewritten — not computer printouts — but each of them are great examples of Kevin’s style.

So, we will be progressively working on converting, illustrating, and laying out these “lost gems” for eventual release as glossy PDFs. They won’t be finished until next year, but I’m excited enough about them that I felt I had to share it with you guys!

 


Today is Talk Like A Convict Day!

Several people have contacted us recently to alert us to a great new article about Convict Australia over on the (always-interesting and informative) Atlas Obscura. The article is about the “Flash” language that was used by convicts — a kind of “thieves cant” — and its collation into a book published in 1819. This was Australia’s first “dictionary.” The article’s a great read and we’d definitely suggest all Convicts & Cthulhu fans scoot over and read it.

The topic of convict slang and the “Flash” language are both mentioned in the core Convicts & Cthulhu book (see the box on the top of page 25 of the C&C 1e book). There you can find a few examples of terms from the dictionary as well as a link to the FREE copy of original book. We haven’t looked at the recently-published “updated” version of the book that’s mentioned in the AO article, but from the publishers website it seems to take the original 1819 text and add some historical footnotes about documented usage of some words. For gaming purposes, we’d suggest the free version — but then again we just like free stuff.

Liven up your next C&C game with some convict slang!  Why just have your credulous NPCs fooled by a run-of-the-mill conman peddling a tale when they could be the victim of a LETTER-RACKET (see below)?

LETTER-RACKET: going about to respectable houses with a letter or
statement, detailing some case of extreme distress, as shipwreck,
sufferings by fire, etc.; by which many benevolent, but credulous,
persons, are induced to relieve the fictitious wants of the imposters,
who are generally men, or women, of genteel address, and unfold a
plausible tale of affliction.

(from A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language, 
James Hardy Vaux, 1819.)

Ticket of Leave #15: The Death Knells, Released!

We’re excited today to be announcing the release of Convicts & Cthulhu Ticket of Leave #15: The Death Knells. This is a release jointly written by yours truly (scenario bits) and Geoff Gillan (the sourcebook bits). The PDF of this substantial (27-page) supplement of dark convict doings and Mythos machinations, is available right now FREE here on the Cthulhu Reborn blog. This version includes stats for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition.

The genesis for this supplement came about when I had some extended-time off earlier this year and started thinking about all the different angles we have already covered for the Convicts & Cthulhu penal colony setting. We’ve had ghostly apparitions, horrors hidden buried inside the walls of buildings, spooky abandoned whaling ships, creepy 17th Century medical experiments, fallen meteorites, enormous cicadas eating Five Dock, quicklime zombies, and more. Surely we’ve covered everything? … And then it came to me: we have never done anything about musical performance in the colony. So I thought it might be a fun topic to explore, and wrote asking Geoff if he had any relevant historical resources — of course he had a bunch, and then also went off and did some extensive research. He’s superhumanly committed that way; he’s really the heart and soul of the Convicts & Cthulhu game. And also an endless fount of new ideas — in response to the request to chase up my idea, he identified a bundle of other great ideas for future topics we could cove as well!

Music is not something that immediately springs to mind when you think about the penal colonies of early Australia, but in reality it was something that was integral to several different aspects of colonial life. The British military has a long tradition of regimental bands, and even the bottom-of-the-barrel NSW Corps had its own band — not to mention the drummers and fifers that were assigned to various companies. These musicians (usually part-time) were responsible for performing the stirring tunes accompanying government-run events, as well as playing at military ceremonies … such as when an errant soldier was literally “drummed out” of their regiment. Leaving aside the military, music also played a part in the life of the more well-off free settlers. Those who could afford to have a pianoforte shipped out from England certainly used it regularly as a source of evening entertainment (lacking any other medium). Convicts who knew how to play the fiddle or pennywhistle could also earn money by performing tunes at parties thrown by the toffs, or just busking on the streets of Sydney Town or Parramatta. For all these reasons, the notion of a “professional” musician as a C&C investigator is not as far-fetched as it sounds (and we include a profession template in the PDF to cover just this mode of play).

Quite separate to the music of Europeans in New South Wales, the musical traditions of the Indigenous owners of the country were also a major part of daily life. For Aboriginal peoples, the concept of musical performance in ceremony was (and indeed still is today) a very important aspect of spiritual life, and the Songlines taught verbally from generation-to-generation also served as an important practical tool for daily life. Some, especially, served as a kind of musical “map” which allowed for a traveller to navigate unknown terrain safely without fear of becoming lost.

The springboard for the scenario in Ticket of Leave #15 is a relatively-obscure Cthulhu Mythos story of extra-dimensional horror. (I’ll happily send a free copy of the printed C&C core book to the first person to guess the author and title in comments below). The scenario begins when investigators are asked to find out who was responsible for a horrible night of carnage that has seen the murders of three members of Sydney’s Night Watch (see ToL#1). Not only were these three men strangled silently in the night, but whoever committed the foul crime also quizzically left a large hand-axe, apparently of French origin, embedded in the brass of the large bell which stands adjacent to the Government Wharf. Both the Night Watch and the Colonial Government want the perpetrator caught and tried immediately … but, as usual, it turns out not to be anywhere near as simple as that.

Ticket of Leave #15 is available right now, via the link below. It will soon also be up on DTRPG as a Pay-What-You-Want title (if you’d like to generously flick us some money to help keep the C&C line thriving!).

Ticket of Leave #15: The Death Knells (STATTED version) [27 pages; 5.0MB]

As always with material published here on Cthulhu Reborn, this file is released under a Creative Commons License, which means you’re free to do whatever (non-commercial) things you’d like to do. If you do something cool with this scenario, say make an Actual Play recording of your C&C group running through the adventure — let us know and we’ll mention it here on the blog!


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