Newspaper articles. Theyr’e the one thing that Call of Cthulhu scenarios seem to never get enough of. Whether it’s the front-page screemer alerting the general populace about some heinous and despicable murder, or the short and subtle clue buried away in a story about a creepy old church being condemned … somewhere along the way, most adventures feature Investigators carefully clipping something out of the local rag. Sometimes I wonder whether veteran CoC characters (if such a thing exists) dedicate entire rooms of their musty old houses just to house the piles of yellowing news clippings that they have accumulated over the years. I don’t even want to think about the fire risk 🙂
When typesetting Cthulhu scenarios, I usually try to put a fair amount of time and effort into making all the handouts / props look good … but, in particular, I always seem to end up spending a lot of time making the (ever-present) newspaper articles look just right for the era. I figure that the players will spend a fair amount of time looking over any handouts they are given (even the red herrings) … and if they *look* like they’re authentic period clippings, that can only reinforce the game’s setting.
I have typeset enough scenarios now that these days I have my own ready-to-go templates for things like “1920s clipping from the Arkham Advertiser”. Things like the excellent HPLHS Props and Fonts CDROM — literally worth its weight in vintage newspapers — help enormously. There are also some excellent resources out on the web for scanned up pages from real period newspapers and magazines, which can be invaluable when trying to track down weird and wonderful advertisements from the twenties (or earlier).
Recently I started some preliminary work for a future project laying out a PDF for an intriguing mini-campaign set in Kingsport, everybody’s favourite ethereal and mist-shrouded corner of Lovecraft Country. Because it features a *lot* of newspaper handouts, I thought it would be worth putting some effort into designing a new template for the local Kingsport newspaper, the “Kingsport Chronicle”. Part of this involves making some decisions about slightly different font choices and idiosyncracies of layout …. but one big part of defining the “identity” of a newspaper is having a nifty graphical masthead from which you can clip out segments to add to the top of supposedly front-page headlines. For my Arkham Advertiser article template, I just use the masthead from the prop newspaper designed by the HPLHS (included on the CDROM) — after all, it looks great and perfectly captures the era. But for my Kingsport template, I would obviously need something different … so I thought I would design it myself.
In looking around for inspiration, I spent a little time looking at various 1920s Massachusetts newspapers. I chanced upon some images of the Marblehead Messenger … which is of particular interest, since it’s generally accepted that Marblehead is the real-world “model” that Lovecraft had in mind when inventing Kingsport. It’s also of particular interest because the Marblehead Messenger has an unusually spiffy looking masthead (pictured below):
Now that’s something I’d be proud to have at the top of my prop handout about the creepy ghost ship found drifting in Kingsport harbour bedecked in glowing green tendrils of goo!
Reproducing the “look and feel” of something as elaborate as this masthead is no mean feat … but I thought I’d give it a go anyway. Starting with an old engraving of Marblehead harbour (liberated from an out-of-copyright book scanned up at archive.org), I spent quite a bit of time trying to track down a font which combines the vaguely black-letter, vaguely art nouveau feel of the ornate letters but also has the slab/block feel for the remaining letter. I found something sort of close and played around with laying text out on a spline path in Illustrator. Finally I pulled down some examples of real newspapers from the era to see what text elements and dividing lines should surround the masthead, and what info boxes should go to the left and right. The result is below:
(click for a larger version)
It’s not quite the same feel as the Marblehead masthead … but I’m pretty happy with the result, and parts of this pic will no doubt appear around the edges of many of my Kingsport-based news clippings from here on in.
In the interests of the Community, and in the give-stuff-away-for-free spirit of this blog, I am more than happy for this design to be used for free by others for non-commercial purposes (under a Creative Commons license). Anybody who wants to write their own Kingsport Chronicle headlines will probably want to grab the higher-resolution version of this pic (minus the yellow-paper effect) available here. If you do something truly creative and intriguing with this picture, I’d love to hear about it! If, after viewing this page, you find your dreams inexplicably plagued with uneasy yet indistinct sensations of antique ships and hypnotically undulating sea weeds … it’s not my fault, honest.