Monthly Archives: February 2012

Conspiracy Reborn: Geoff Gillan’s “The Past Is Doomed”

Geoff Gillan should be familar to many fans of Call of Cthulhu. Although he didn’t write a huge volume of scenarios for the game, he *did* create (and partially write) one of the game’s all-time classic campaigns, Horror on the Orient Express. And the handful of scenario he did contribute to Chaosium books in the early 1990s (including scenarios in both Blood Brothers books, Fearful Passages and Tales of the Miskatonic Valley) were in equal parts intriguing and spell-binding … in a horrific kind of way. To be honest, I wish Geoff wrote more Cthulhu stuff.

[for a more detailed bibliography of Geoff Gillan’s gaming and fiction writing, check out his page on the Cthulhu Wiki]

But here’s the thing … he *did* write more for Call of Cthulhu, including a scenario called “The Past Is Doomed” which eventually got published in the Chaosium Digest. My understanding is that this was intended as Geoff’s contribution to a modern day scenario compendium which Chaosium planned but ultimately pulled the plug on.

Back when Geoff first put this out for free on the email digest, I thought it was kinda insane … but in a good way. You know, in a similar way that anything that Grant Morrison touches has a special kind of weird that makes your brain hurt, but somehow seems like underneath it all there’s something profoundly intelligent. That’s the sort of insane I’m talking about.

It’s really hard to say much about “The Past Is Doomed” without giving away some of its many-layered (and somewhat elusive) secrets. I can say that it’s set in Arkham, in the 1990s and it begins as an investigation into the disappearance of a well-known, if somewhat eccentric author. At its roots, it is a scenario which blends equal parts occult conspiracy with a curious obsession with the history of America in the 20th Century. Indeed, in Geoff’s intro he describes it providing some kind of thematic link between traditional 1920s Cthulhu and whatever Lovecraft’s haunted town of Arkham must have become in the modern era.

As I have been working my way through the highlights of the Cthulhu material published in the Chaosium Digest, Geoff’s scenario stood out as something very worthy of being turned into a glossy PDF. It contains so many bizarre, yet compelling ideas that it would be a shame for it to languish in text-only form in an email archive somewhere. But, unlike the other scenarios that I have released here on Cthulhu Reborn, the digest text of “The Past Is Doomed” represents more of a sketch of how the scenario might be — mainly because Geoff never really developed it too far before Chaosium’s project evaporated. I guess that I could have just re-published it in that form … but I figured it would be fairly easy to put a little flesh on the places where the scenario’s (rotting) skeleton was still showing, and put out something that is more representative of how Geoff’s adventure might have looked if it had been developed further.

Normally I shy awy from monkeying around with other people’s text … it tends to annoy the original authors no end. But, in this case, via some well-connected folks I was able to make contact with Geoff and talk to him about his original vision for “The Past Is Doomed” and how it might be augmented in a sympathetic way (i.e., a way I could monkey with the text that wouldn’t end up with Mr Gillan coming after me with an axe).

So that’s what I did … anybody who goes to the trouble to compare this PDF with the original Chaosium Digest version, will see that there has been a lot of text added by way of concrete handouts to get Investigators from plot point A to plot point B more tangibly. There has also been a level of additional exposition of some of the most elusive ideas, in an effort to make them a little more accessible without entirely spoiling the weird and otherworldly feel of the original.

One thing I talked quite a lot about with Geoff was whether it was a good idea to update “The Past Is Doomed” from a scenario set in the “now” of the 1990s (i.e., when it was written) to the “now” of … well, now. Eventually, we decided that the themes of the scenario worked a lot better in the pre-Millennial angst of the 1990s, so we left it there. I guess that makes it a kind of retro piece.


This is the largest project that I have released here on Cthulhu Reborn, both in terms of the number of pages of the PDF, the amount of handout material, and the complexity of the page layout. All up it spans to 48 pages — 32 pages of scenario text, a couple of covers and 14 pages of (mostly double-sided) handouts. There is a *lot* of artwork in this layout, both in terms of spot artwork and maps, but particularly in page textures. There are something like 14 different page textures that I designed, all of which you’ll probably only just notice as some faint subliminal in the background. All of this adds size … so if you want to grab this freebie, you will be up for downloading 40MB of PDF.

To give you an idea of what you’ll be getting if you download this PDF, here’s a montage of a few of the page-layouts:


The story elements of “The Past Is Doomed” include some mind-bending warping of the boundaries between historical era. That seemed to lend itself to some intriguing opportunities for making some unusual artwork via the joys of Photoshop.

Then there was the chance to make some page textures that thematically evoked the idea of time being warped somehow:


To download the PDF adaptation of Geoff Gillan’s The Past Is Doomed, click the link below:

  Download Geoff Gillan’s “The Past Is Doomed” (48 pages, 40MB)

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 Geoff Gillan for the text and me for the layout.

On a personal note, I would really like to thank Geoff for being so open to my efforts to adapt his adventure via the addition of a considerable amount of text of my own writing. Thanks also to Andy Miller for his excellent work doing copy-editing for this book!

On The Trail of The Green Fairy

Trail of Cthulhu is a pretty cool game … it’s a kind of similar-but-different take on Lovecraftian roleplaying from good ol’ Call of Cthulhu, taking intriguing steps into narrative roleplaying.

Plus it has loads of really cool scenarios and campaigns, which take Cthulhu roleplaying into completely different (some would say almost heretical)  realms.

One thing Trail of Cthulhu does not yet have (IMHO) is an attractive character sheet — the standard offering that comes with the game is doubtless very functional (listing many character gen rules as footnotes on the sheet itself) but it’s not very aesthetically pleasing.

Recently I was contacted here on Cthulhu Reborn by Matthew Strachan who runs a pretty unusual game of Trail set in 1890s Paris. Matthew discovered the Art Nouveau CoC sheet hosted here on the blog (actually one of the most downloaded item); he wondered whether such a beast might be designed for Trail. I thought it sounded like an interesting challenge, so I thought I’d give it a bash.

Below are some snapshots of the design I came up with. One of the design goals was to do something that isn’t identical to the 1890’s Art Nouveau sheet (what would be the fun in that … plus that design is now part of Chaosium’s 3rd Edition Gaslight book). Another goal was to experiment with making something that looked a bit hand-drawn. In the end I made two variants of the sheet — one of which is very hand-drawn, the other which still features lots of straight lines.

Here’s what the two designs look like (click for larger versions):

Sheet Fronts

Sheet Backs

Details & Artwork

The Victorian-looking Trail of Cthulhu logo is something I designed specifically for this project, as is the multi-layered texture underneath the logo bar. Both of those can be seen in more detail below. The name “Absinthe-Hounds of Paris” is also an invention … but one that I hope Matthew’s group will embrace in some form or other (even if only to inspire in-game refreshments :-))

And, BTW, in case anyone is interested … yes, it definitely is much harder to make something on a computer that looks authentically hand-drawn.

PDF Version

You can grab a PDF version of either the straight-line or hand-drawn version of the 1890’s Trail of Cthulhu sheet by clicking on the links below:

  Hand-Drawn 1890’s Trail Sheet (2 sided, formatted for US Letter)

  Straight-Line 1890’s Trail Sheet (2 sided, formatted for US Letter)

  Hand-Drawn Sheet with extra skills from “Bookhounds of London”

As with everything I release here on Cthulhu Reborn these designs are copyrighted, but offered free under a Creative Commons License. That means you can do pretty much anything you want with this material, except make money from it. Now … given that the 1890s isn’t (yet) a published setting for the Trail of Cthulhu game (it’s pretty much focussed on the 1930s and 1950s so far), I’m not sure how someone would use this. But there’s lots of creative people out there, so I’m sure someone will figure out something. Or maybe one day there *will* be an “Absinthe-Hounds” book … heck, I’d buy a copy!

A Nightmare Reborn: Mark Morrison’s Deadwave

The name Mark Morrison is one of those iconic ones that should be familiar to anyone who has followed for any length of time Chaosium’s two flagship roleplaying lines, Call of Cthulhu and Elric/Stormbringer.

Those who were around in the early days of CoC history (say, the late 1980s and early 1990s) would certainly recognize Mark’s name from his numerous superb scenario contributions to books from that era — perhaps most famously his still-much-referenced scenario from Mansions of Madness (Crack’d and Crooked Manse) and the scenarios in Terror Australis. Many would also remember the long-running column that he wrote for The Unspeakable Oath, titled “The Case of Mark Edward Morrison” and his contributions to a couple of classic campaigns (Horror on the Orient Express and At Your Door).

Even new-comers to the game would likely have run across Mark’s work — his introductory scenario Dead Man Stomp has been printed in all editions of the Call of Cthulhu rulebook since 1992.

[for a more extensive bibliography of Mark’s Cthulhu work, as well as a summary of his contribution to Elric, check out this page on the Cthulhu Wiki]

What fewer may know is that Mark wrote quite a lot of additional material for Call of Cthulhu, mostly for convention play, that has never been published. The “vaults” of the Cthulhu Conglomerate (the Melbourne-based group of writers in which Mark was a key contributor) have taken on almost legendary status.

In 1994 Mark published a (non-convention) scenario in the Chaosium Digest, called Deadwave. It’s my understanding that this was something that had been submitted to Chaosium for consideration on a couple of occasions, but which for whatever reason had never been published by them. Which really is a shame, because it is a superb — and in many ways innovative — piece. When I first read Deadwave back in the day, my mind was literally swimming with its possibilities … because, unlike traditional scenarios, Mark’s scenario is designed to be slotted into an ongoing campaign in a way which factors in prior events in the campaign and uses them to turn the Investigators’ world on its end. It provides a series of quite detailed events, but in a way that is designed to be flexibly customised by the Keeper, all with the ultimate goal of corroding whatever safe and mundane world the players’ characters have built around themselves. Had Trail of Cthulhu existed 15 years earlier, you might have described Deadwave as a unremitting attack by a Mythos force on the Investigators’ Sources of Stability.

When I first started adapting old scenarios from the Chaosium Digest as free high-production-value PDFs, Mark’s scenario was one of those that immediately sprang to mind as being worthy of (finally) being published in such a form. I’m very pleased that I have finally been able to produce such a layout for Deadwave … and even more thrilled that Mark agreed to contribute a brand-new short introduction to the PDF.

In producing the PDF version of Deadwave, I have exercised a slight editorial hand (which those who have read the plain-text version from the Chaosium Digest will notice). Mostly all I’ve done is a little reorganisation and the addition of some bridging text. However, I have made one significant augmentation. At the time when Mark was writing the scenario there was exactly one time-period/setting for Call of Cthulhu — what we would today call the “classic era” (ie the 1920s). However, due to the remarkably flexible way that he had constructed the scenario, it works pretty much just as well for any era of the game where there is some level of Industrial-age technology or later. That means, with just the substitution of a few words here and there, Deadwave could be a Gaslight scenario, or a modern-day scenario … or probably even a near future scenario. I recognized this fact while copy-editing, and decided to include some notes throughout the text to help Keepers take advantage of this flexibility.

My PDF for Deadwave runs to twenty-nine pages, made up of seventeen pages of scenario, a couple of covers and three separate collections of high-quality (double-sided) newspaper props. All up it’s about 15MB in size. Scroll down to the bottom of this posting for the download link, or scoot over to my Downloads page where you can get this and numerous other goodies, all for free.

To give you an idea of what you’ll be getting if you download this PDF, here’s a montage of a few of the page-layouts:


The multi-era nature of the scenario also ended up being reflected in the graphic design of the PDF, starting with the covers (above) — the idea for those was to include a “strip” which looked like it was printed in the 1890s, another from the 1920s and a third one from modern-day. The internal art is similarly schizophrenic when it comes to era — samples representatives of all the eras are present throughout:

(above pic, courtesy of the talented AlwaysDisconcerted: check out her page on DeviantArt)


One of the interesting challenges of producing a scenario which can be run in three different eras of the game was deciding what to do about handouts: Mark’s original text described two newspaper handouts which are quite important to the early phases of the adventure. Now, obviously a handout which renders these in a 1920s newspaper style isn’t going to be very useful for either Gaslight or modern games (when newspaper looked quite different). I could have just produced some generic non-period-specific handouts, I guess … but in the end I decided to take the plunge and design three separate layouts for each newspaper article, one for each era. Here’s a montage of one of these articles rendered in the three different styles:


To download the PDF adaptation of Mark Morrison’s Deadwave, click the link below:

Download Mark Morrison’s “Deadwave” (29 pages, 14.7MB)

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 Mark Morrison for the text and me for the layout.

Now … go forth and create The Deadwave

I hope that some folks out there get some use out of this rendition of Deadwave — a lot of work has gone into both the writing (a long time ago), and the design (more recently). But I am very happy that finally, a couple of decades after its writing, Mark’s work is finally out there in a version that (hopefully) does it more justice than the plain text of the Chaosium Digest.

Given the unique and flexible nature of the scenario, there are an endless number of ways that Keepers might weave Deadwave into their scenarios … I’d be fascinated to hear how it infects people’s games (and would encourage anyone who runs it to post on or elsewhere to share some details of their own rendition of this poisonous little tale of revenge).

Pleasant nightmares!

All Things Move Toward Their End

So, it’s been a little slow here on Cthulhu Reborn with regard to updates on upcoming free PDF projects … but like some evil shoggoth-filled cauldron, things have been bubbling away with a malevolent evil (though hopefully less smell). So much so in fact that I now have not one, but two scenarios that are almost ready to be released here.


The first of these is Mark Morrison’s legendary scenario Deadwave … which I have spruiked here several times since I had it *almost* ready to release in November. Suffice to say that a variety of real-world commitments and other distractions kept this beast at the 99% mark for longer than I would have preferred … but now all I am waiting on is a hasty glance from a proof-reader, some (hopefully minor) fixes from that … and it will be out!

In the months that this project has been stalled, I have managed to take the opportunity to add a few bells and whistles to the layout. These have mostly been reverse-sides to all six newspaper handouts (two from the 1920s, two from the Gaslight era, and two modern ones). I’ve also taken the time to put together a back cover, which has a blurb which I think quite nicely sums up what Deadwave is about:


The Past Is Doomed

The second PDF which I haven’t mentioned before, but is getting pretty close to completion is Geoff Gillan’s 1990s conspiracy piece “The Past Is Doomed.” I’m sure most folks know Geoff as the mastermind behind Horror on the Orient Express (one of the all-time best campaigns for any RPG, IMHO) … but he also wrote some really intriguing and frightening one-shot scenarios for various Chaosium compendiums in the mid-1990s. This scenario dates from this era also, and was published in the Chaosium Digest, where it has sort of been sitting in obscurity ever since.

I will post more about it in the coming weeks, but for now here’s a sneak peek at my cover design for this strange tale of the Mythos Conspiracy against History (for want of a better tagline):

%d bloggers like this: