A Dream Reborn: Porphyry & Asphodel (Penelope Love)

I have a not-so-guilty confession to make … I have always loved the Cthulhu scenarios written for Chaosium by Melbourne-based writer Penelope Love.

If you’re not familiar with her work — and a lot of it is probably now out of print — I would heartily recommend it to anyone. Penny was one of the writers in the “Golden Era” of Call of Cthulhu (well, at least that’s how I always think of the early-to-mid-90s … what with it being the era of the Herber/Ross Lovecraft Country series and some of the all-time classic campaigns like Horrror on the Orient Express) … and for several years was a key contributor to several different Chaosium product lines. Her work was unique in that it was imbued with a kind of almost indefinable sense of “emotional depth” absent from most gaming material, making her narratives seem just that bit more “adult” and intelligent than the norm. In addition to her work as a game writer, Penny writes sci-fi (and occasionally Mythos-themed) fiction and has been published in all sorts of places — for those that are interested, I have tried to summarize a quick Penelope Love bibliography at the bottom of this post.

So, anyway … way back in the “Golden Era” of Call of Cthulhu, in 1992 to be precise, Penelope wrote a Dreamlands scenario called “Porphyry and Asphodel”. I’m not really sure of the circumstances — quite possibly it was intended that it be included as a new scenario for the Third Edition of Dreamlands (also published in 1992) but later dropped from that book. Who knows? In any event, Chaosium’s loss proved to be a gain for the (small but devoted) online community of CoC fans — because Penny decided to make her finished manuscript available for free, by publishing it in the email-based Chaosium Digest (volume 8, numbers 6-9; November 1994).

I remember reading “Porphyry and Asphodel” when it first appeared in 1994 and being totally blown away by it … like so many of the best Dreamlands scenarios, it perfectly captures the elusive atmosphere of Lovecraft’s dream stories; it balances whimsy and horror in a very organic way; it draws together elements from a couple of Lovecraft’s central Randolph Carter cycle of stories in an intriguing way. That it was published for free rather than gracing the pages of a Chaosium book speaks volumes about the publisher’s inability at the time (and maybe still today?) to find a business model that would allow them to finance publication of the mountain of high-quality submissions they were sitting on top of.

The version of “Porphyry and Asphodel” published in the Chaosium Digest was flat, unformatted text. It also lacked one important ingredient — a map of the “Castle of Sleep”, which forms a very important part of the adventure (although it’s easy to imagine how it would be laid out). I thought that I would have a shot at fixing both of these small impediments by producing a typeset PDF version of the scenario (complete with map). It’s my hope that through a little bit of formatting and some simple artwork (please remember, my art budget here is $zero) … this wonderful scenario will become accessible to a whole new audience.

My PDF layout for the scenario runs to twenty-six pages of formatted text and art, including covers, two full-colour maps and a prop-quality newspaper clipping. All-up, it’s about 8.9MB in size.

To give you some idea of what you’ll be getting if you download the PDF, here’s a couple of pictures from the book. Here’s the front cover:

I can’t include a full image of the castle map (for spoiler-reasons), but here’s a part of that map:

And here’s a sample page layout (page 11 to be precise):

Download Penelope Love’s “Porphyry and Asphodel” (26 pages, 8.9MB)

As always with all content that I publish here on Cthulhu Reborn, this is provided as a copyrighted file but freely distributable under a Creative Commons license. That means basically, you can do whatever you want with this material … except make money out of it. In case it isn’t blindingly obvious, the copyright holder here is Penelope Love for the text and me for the layout.

Happy dreams

A (likely incomplete) Penelope Love Bibliography

Call of Cthulhu game material:

1987: Terror Australis (co-author of most of the book)

1990: Tatterdemallion (with Richard Watts and Kevin Ross, from Fatal Experiments)

1991: Horror on the Orient Express (Venice chapter)

1992: Furious Driving (from Fearful Passages)

1992: Chateau of Blood (from Blood Brothers 2) [Hammer film type scenario; awesome]

1992: minor contribution to Kevin Ross’ Escape from Innsmouth

1993: The Masterwork of Nicholas Forby (from Sacraments of Evil) [Gaslight scenario]

1993: column in The Unspeakable Oath, Issue 10

2007: The Old Damned House (with Liam Routt, from the 2nd Edition of Mansions of Madness)

Elric game material:

1993: Melniboné: Dragon Isle and Dreaming City sourcebook (with Geoff Gillan, Mark Morrison and Richard Watts)

Call of Cthulhu fiction:

1995: “Unseen” (from Made in Goatswood)

2010: “The Whisper of Ancient Secrets” from Cthulhu’s Dark Cults


1993: The Castle of Eyes (Chaosium)

2004: The Widow’s Tale (‘A Novel of Glorantha’, Tradetalk)

Sci-Fi Short Fiction:

1995: “Here Be Dragons” in Eidolon (Winter, 1995)

1999: “Short Cut” in Spooky Tales

2000: “The Dry-Witch” in Eidolon (Autumn, 2000)

2005: “The Unlawful Priest of Todesfall” in Daikaiju! Giant Monster Tales

2007: “Tell Him I Too Have Known” in Fantastic Wonder Stories

2009: “The Janus’ Tale” in Canterbury 2100: Pilgrimages in a New World

2010: “Border Crossing” in Belong

5 responses to “A Dream Reborn: Porphyry & Asphodel (Penelope Love)

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