Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Second Lash at: Brian Sammons

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A couple of weeks ago we published our interview with Brian Sammons, one of the foremost authors writing for Call of Cthulhu today. Response to this published interview was enormous, greatly exceeding our expectations. One thing that several folks suggested was that it would be great if, in light of his erudite comments, we could quiz Brian with a couple of followup questions. Hide though he may try, Mr Sammons doesn’t have Spot Hidden enough to elude us … so we tracked him down for a second visit from “State of the Tentacle.” Here’s what happened:

CthulhuReborn: Welcome back … ready for another couple of questions?

BrianS: OK.

CR: One thing that featured heavily in early Call of Cthulhu products, but which has largely disappeared is gaming material themed around travelling to otherworldly or “Mythos” locations. Why do you think that exotic locales for Cthulhuoid adventuring have gradually been replaced by scenarios set in more mundane places, and is there a case for revisiting some of those outre places?

BrianS: Good question. I have no idea. Maybe because all the good otherworldly or strange places have already been done? Maybe because people want to make things more “real” or they think people just relate to such places easier? I guess doing that could shift the feeling of the game more towards horror at the expense of the fantasy or sci-fi elements that were also part of some of Lovecraft’s stories. Maybe it’s just because no one has been thinking of good ideas to go along with those cool places? Occasionally they will still get some mention and focus in a game. I did a scenario set in Irem for the upcoming Chaosium book; Houses of R’lyeh, but honestly, the majority of stuff I have done has also been set in real world locations. Here’s hoping that more of those exotic and terrifying locales get some love in future releases.

CR: How much priority do you think publishers of Lovecraftian roleplaying games should put on recruiting new gamers to the hobby? Any thoughts on what might make such games more attractive to new people?

BrianS: I think makers of all RPGs need to try their best to recruit new blood for the hobby, so Lovecraftian games should be no different. The RPG community seems to be shrinking dramatically, at least to me. The last GenCon I went to was noticeably smaller than the one I went to before that some years back. Around where I live there used to be 5 RPG game/comic book shops within driving distance. Now only one remains. Sure, I guess online retail is killing a lot of brick and mortar stores regardless of what they’re selling, but it seems especially evident when it comes to RPG games. Then there’s this: when you go to a RPG-centered convention, what’s the average age of those in attendance? If you do have a local shop that sells RPGs and runs games there too, what age are the folks rolling dice? On the RPG forums, how old are most of the members? For my experience, the vast majority of RPG fans I know, know of, or just see are all around my age, plus or minus ten years or so. And I’m not exactly a spring chicken any more.

So all this means to me that sadly, our beloved hobby is dying. Without an infusion of new blood it’s destined to shrink and shrink and shrink. I hope I’m wrong, I don’t like to be that pessimistic towards something I like so much, but there it is. So yeah, RPG game makers should do anything and everything possible to get new people interested in trying out their games. And if you’re a parent of children old enough to understand the basics of role playing, by all means, invite them and their friends to the game table and get them involved. Maybe don’t start them off on Call of Cthulhu, but D&D has been the gateway drug for many a gamer, so start there.

As far as what can RPG companies do to attract new players to their games, that I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does right now. If they did, this wouldn’t be a problem.

CR: Well, you’ve survived two rounds beset by the Flailing Tentacles From Sunken R’lyeh … I guess we’d better let you go. Thanks for your time!

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State of the Tentacle: Stuart Boon

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Hot on the heels of our much-read interview with Call of Cthulhu stalwart Brian Sammons CthulhuReborn is delighted to welcome one of the newest stars of that sqamous constellation … Stuart Boon. Many folks would know that Stuart is the author of 2012’s phenomenally-successful (and much awarded) Shadows Over Scotland … and those who have been following closely at home may have noticed that on the strength of that fine tome, he has been given the creative reins of Cubicle 7’s Cthulhu Britannica line. We’re happy to have him along to talk about life, the universe, and Cthulhu Mythos plans to deprive us of both …

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Introduction

Stuart Boon is an interesting fellow … so much so that writing a brief biographical intro to this interview proved to be a little challenging — there are so many intriguing, colourful and possibly spurious rumours about his past that I fear that if ever mankind were to ever piece them all together they would open up such terrifying vistas that we would all wind up fleeing into the merciful arms of a new Dark Age. Well, maybe not … but there are too many entertaining notes to include them all here (although you can click over to this page for an extended version of this bio sketch to see more of them).

sott - Cthulhu-Britannica-FolkloreHailing originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Stuart has been roleplaying since 1978 (when his eldest sister allowed him to draw the maps for her D&D group). He moved to the United Kingdom in 2002 and now lives and works in Scotland with his wife Michele. Shadows Over Scotland was his first gaming publication … but since its publication he has been extraordinarly busy guiding a whole range of books currently in-the-works for release by Cubicle 7 under the Cthulhu Britannica banner. The first fruits of this labour have been the resurrection and substantial rewriting of the previously-announced book Cthulhu Britannica: Folklore, whose physical book release is imminent (the book is already available as a PDF). he is also hard at work on a number of other legacy products for the Cthulhu Britannica line, including the forthcoming (and much-anticipated) London box set.

sott - DHLegacyofFrankenstein_coverNot content with a ridiculous work-load as line developer, Stuart has also written scenarios for publishers Chaosium (Call of Cthulhu), Miskatonic River Press (Call of Cthulhu), Savage Mojo (Savage Worlds), and Sixtystone Press (Call of Cthulhu), among others. In addition to writing for roleplaying games, Stuart dabbles in fiction and most recently has had his short story ‘A Rending Crack Of Thunder’ published in Tales of Promethea, a collection of short fiction inspired by the award-winning, critically acclaimed roleplaying game Dark Harvest: The Legacy of Frankenstein.

By day, Stuart is a lecturer and educational developer at the University of Strathclyde and, when academic and gaming occasionally meet, acts as a guest lecturer on the subject of writing for roleplaying. In his (now virtually non-existent) spare time, Stuart is an avid film and music fan, an active role-player, and spends entirely too much time indoors. He is currently working on a number of projects involving the Cthulhu Mythos whilst trying to retain what is left of his sanity.

Stuart can be found on Facebook and lurking behind his shockingly infrequently updated blog.

CthulhuReborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?

call-of-cthulhu-1st-coverStuart: I think one of the milestones in Lovecraftian roleplaying came along right at the beginning with the design of the first edition of Call of Cthulhu that gave us player characters who are not super-human, not heroes, but just normal, everyday folk. I’ve role-played an alcoholic plumber, a disillusioned and unemployed landscape painter, and a geriatric missionary turned investigative busybody. These are Lovecraftian ‘everymen’ dragged into extraordinary circumstance and facing off against the impossible. That makes for epic and, yes, often tragic, role-playing where our own human insignificance is highlighted against a maddening, alien chaos lurking behind every shadow and ever perpetuated by the ageless, cosmic horrors of the Lovecraftian mythos. Whether the adventure ends in success or in some truly horrible defeat, that distinctly human journey and struggle against the unknown is always entertaining.

A long list of excellent scenarios and campaigns has given us important milestones as well, raising the bar on what Lovecraftian adventure could achieve and aspire to. From Shadows Of Yog-Sothoth to Masks of Nyarlathotep and from the Spawn of Azathoth to Beyond the Mountains of Madness, the campaigns and their stories got bigger, better, and more challenging. I think the fact that Call of Cthulhu has continued to evolve may be seen as another important milestone. Playing a part in that evolution, I don’t think we can underplay the significance of Chaosium licensing to other game publishers and allowing Pagan Publishing, Miskatonic River Press, Cubicle 7 Entertainment, Pelgrane Press, Goodman Games and Sixtystone Press—to name a few—to produce sourcebooks, scenarios, and campaigns for the game.

As it stands now, the Lovecraftian gaming community is wonderfully diverse and continues to put out some amazing products. I think the fact that so many Lovecraftian roleplaying products are winning prestigious awards stands as a testament to the success of the game and its numerous providers. That isn’t to say there haven’t been mis-steps along the way. Every business has its trials and Chaosium has had its fair share. Brian Sammons has already mentioned the Mythos card game, which I suspect is behind a number of problems. In addition a ‘mis-step’ for me would the stagnation and questionable quality brought about by focusing on reprinting past successes and the Miskatonic University Library Association (MULA) monographs, respectively. The concomitant lack of innovation and variability of quality certainly muddied Chaosium’s reputation for a time and provided a low point in Lovecraftian gaming generally.

CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?

Stuart: With so many different publishers now in play, one thing we all benefit from is a wealth of opportunities for Lovecraftian roleplaying. There’s so much creativity that we can call on and it impacts so many more aspects of the game. Over the past 30 years, Lovecraftian roleplaying has grown to encompass other eras (e.g. Cthulhu by Gaslight, CthulhuTech, Cthulhu Dark Ages, etc.), other settings (e.g. Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, Japan, etc.), and other systems (e.g. Trail of Cthulhu, The Laundry, the upcoming tremulus, etc.). Most publishers are doing well at the moment in focusing on their independent, creative properties and offering players different, rich, and detailed visions on the mythos.

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I think, for the most part, the Lovecraftian roleplaying sector has diversified itself quite well. My own roleplaying sessions frequently jump between classic Call of Cthulhu, The Laundry, and Cthulhu by Gaslight. As long as there is an appetite for this variation then I think we’ll see more and different aspects of Lovecraftian roleplaying emerging. At the moment, it’s a very rich environment for players.

What could be done better? That is a more difficult question, but one small thing that does pop to mind is that the industry could make better use of player input. I think the recent backlash against the proposed 7th Edition of the Call of Cthulhu rules provides a good example of the need for this. I think publishers, designers, and writers would do better to listen to Keepers and players, not just reactively but actively considering players’ interests. I personally find online forums like Yog-Sothoth.com invaluable for keeping in touch with players and gauging how well things are received.

CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?

Stuart: At the moment, gaming and geek culture seem to be having something of a golden age and I think Lovecraftian roleplaying is, in part, benefitting from that. In fact, all things Lovecraftian seem to be having a heyday. I’m still hopeful that Guillermo del Toro will get to direct At The Mountains Of Madness! At any rate, I think that this surge of interest combined with a sense of opportunity is driving the sector at the moment. It feels very positive.

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I’m not sure whether or not that surge of interest is translating into lots of new players, but writers and game designers can feel confident that there is a healthy audience for Lovecraftian adventures and source material. And coming back to my earlier point, with more authors and more publishers on tap, we can expect a broader and more varied output across the whole of Lovecraftian roleplaying. With more than 20 products released in 2012 for Call of Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian RPGs, and with so many of them being well received, I think we can look forward to the future full of interesting developments and hopefully more award-winning campaigns and sourcebooks.

sott - superhero-cthulhu-plush-5986And as a footnote here, it is nice to see Lovecraftian board games also benefitting from this growing interest. Lovecraft fans really can’t be disappointed by the amount of Cthulhu-related material and media available. Although personally, I think Cthulhu plush toys and other attempts at Great Old One cuteness are truly unspeakable, but apparently that’s just me!

CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?

Stuart: Competition comes to mind, especially as we occupy such a niche area of horror roleplaying. But personally I think the competition that we see at the moment is very healthy and most companies do seem to be mindful of keeping things original and finding their own dark corner of the niche to work from. A lot of people seem to worry about diversification leading ultimately to a proliferation of indistinguishable or ‘vanilla’ products coming out, but I’m not sure the market is big enough support that kind of thing. I also don’t think the buying public would put up with it.

I see Kickstarter as a potential challenge to the viability/prosperity of the hobby, though I know a lot of people who would disagree with me. I think we haven’t fully seen the impact that Kickstarter will have on local stores, on game publishers, and on individual authors and designers. I may be wrong and it might all be sunshine, but I would be surprised if that was the result. I do question a model that largely removes editorial structures and quality assurance. I know how boring that sounds, but all of the really good scenarios, campaigns, and sourcebooks we love have been vetted by publishers and benefitted from processes designed to ensure that they will be good. Like any tool, I suppose, Kickstarter could be used to create wonderful things or a whole load of dross.

CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?

Stuart: Wow. That’s a good question. Two things come to mind—one more generic than the other: first, I would like to see the different systems and eras better supported. I’d certainly like to see more content coming out for Cthulhu by Gaslight and other poor cousins to classic era Call of Cthulhu. We all love the 1920s but there are so many other opportunities for interesting roleplaying. So, yes, I’d like to see more companies—especially the more established providers who can take a chance from time to time—committing to publishing outside the ‘safe’ Jazz age. Plans are afoot to develop numerous new eras (e.g. an Old West and Atomic-Age Cthulhu, for example), and that same hope applies to these new ventures.

Second, and more specifically, I would like to see more game publishers putting out prestige products. Most of us Anglophone players will have gazed with hungry and jealous eyes at the supplements and rulebooks produced by the French, Spanish, and Germans. The Editions Sans-Détour version of Beyond the Mountains of Madness (Par-delà les Montagnes Hallucinées) was mind-bogglingly gorgeous, a stunning piece of art in itself, and a huge success. The recent French and Spanish editions of the Call of Cthulhu rules—L’Appel de Cthulhu and La Llamada de Cthulhu, respectively—are beautiful full-colour versions that put the English rules to shame. I’d love to see the mooted new edition of Call of Cthulhu and the Kickstarted Horror on the Orient Express answering the call and produced to this quality. Well, one can dream…

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CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?

Stuart: Ah, I love a bit of divination. Looking positively forward we might see a greater variety of well-supported Lovecraftian roleplaying games turning out great stories and adventures in beautifully laid out books and PDFs that are a pleasure to use and read. Looking forward more negatively we might see local game stores killed off by Amazon with a knock-on effect hitting game publishers hard and possibly a few players having to leave the field. But more realistically, I suspect we will be very much in the same position we are now with most game publishers just getting by and doing their best to satisfy the small but dedicated audience of Lovecraftian role-players. Hopefully we’ll see more award-winning sourcebooks and campaigns, and a new generation of players lining up to do battle with the Great Old Ones.

CR: Stuart … thank’s for your time! Would you be willing to stick around to answer a question or two from the readers?

Stuart: Happy to … count me in!

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State of the Tentacle: Brian Sammons

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CthulhuReborn is delighted to welcome the inestimable Brian Sammons — one of the most prolific and innovative cultists currently writing for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu product lines — to our top-secret non-Euclidean undersea base.

Introduction

Brian has been writing for the Call of Cthulhu game for years. His first book Secrets came out in 1997. Since then he’s been in quite a few books from Chaosium and have done other gaming bits for Pagan Publishing, Miskatonic River Press, Kenzer & Company, and others. Brian’s most recent Cthulhu related projects include scenarios for the Gaslight setting, the Old West setting, the upcoming Punktown book, Tales of the Sleepless City, Atomic Age Cthulhu, Houses of R’lyeh, Doors to Darkness, and more. Basically, if it’s in Chaosium’s “Coming Soon” list for Call of Cthulhu … chances are Brian’s words are in it somewhere. The same can be said for most of the books Chaosium has published over the past several years. His fingerprints are literally everywhere. Some folks may not be aware that the vast majority of books Chaosium has produced in recent history have been editorially “outsourced” in so much as a freelancer editor is appointed to do all the hard yards to wrangle a team of writers and effectively hand Chaosium a finished book. Brian has been this unsung (and uncredited) editorial hero for many of the books in which his work has appeared (and will appear … hopefully sooner rather than later).

Brian also writes horror fiction, often with a Lovecraftian bent, and his work has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines such as the amazing Dead But Dreaming 2. Recently he’s also started editing fiction books such as Cthulhu Unbound  3 from Permuted Press and the upcoming fiction collections that will (hopefully) soon be out from Chaosium: Undead & Unbound (doing new things with old monsters), Eldritch Chrome (think cyberpunk Cthulhu stories), The Edge of Sundown (horror stories in the American old west), Steampunk Cthulhu (the name sort of says it all), and Atomic Age Cthulhu (Lovecraftian horror set in the 1950s that will support the release of the Call of Cthulhu RPG book of the same name).

How Brian finds time to do all this, I must say I really don’t know … If you want to keep tabs on his inhuman efforts, you can find him on Facebook, or alternatively at his web page: http://brian_sammons.webs.com/

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Brian has bravely agreed to come along for a fireside conversation about the past, present and (possible) future of Lovecraftian roleplaying … (and here we mean “fireside conversation” in a Wicker Man sense of the word, rather than anything to do with smores). Here’s how it all went down …

CthulhuReborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?

BrianS: For me, what made Call of Cthulhu (and the other Lovecraftian games that followed it) stand out was its emphasis on story, plot, characters, and not just killing stuff real good. In fact, for years it was THE only game where combat was the last thing you wanted your characters to ever have to do. To further cement this idea, Call of Cthulhu released some amazing and award winning campaigns and scenarios that were far more than an interesting looking dungeon or some new baddie to beat up. The best were truly epic, suitable to be novels or movies in their own right. Hell, since then some people have turned them into novels, like the novelization of someone’s Horror on the Orient Express campaign. To be honest, I don’t know how good that will be but it is fun to see it happen. In addition to Chaosium’s classic campaigns, it cannot be overstated what a huge thing Pagan Publishing’s Delta Green setting was. It not only took the Call of Cthulhu game and put an amazing and unique spin on it, made it into something uniquely Pagan, but at long last there was a Lovecraftian game set in the modern day that wasn’t just an afterthought. Yes, I’m thinking of Chaosium’s Cthulhu Now setting, which I actually did a book for back in the day, so I can’t be more unbiased as that.

As for the mis-steps, well the biggest one for Chaosium and Call of Cthulhu was their Mythos card game that all but sunk the company and put them millions of dollars into debt. Then there were the bad old days where Chaosium wasn’t producing any new content, other than fan made monographs that were hit or miss at the best of times, and not paying authors and artists what and when they said they would. I give Chaosium credit for making it through all that, as many other RPG companies folded under far fewer troubles, but you can’t forget how bad things were for a good bit of time there.

CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?

BrianS: I think the more Cthulhu/Lovecraft gaming the better. I’ve heard some folks say that things are getting perhaps too watered down, or oversaturated, but I don’t agree with that. If someone wants to do Lovecraftian horror in a dark future (like MRP’s upcoming Punktown) or set it in during WWII (Achtung! Cthulhu) or do a totally stripped down version of Lovecraftian gaming (Cthulhu Dark) or one that you play with dominos (Macabre Tales), well that’s great in my book. If any of those things are not your cup of tea, don’t play them, no one has a gun to your head making you buy them. But for those that want to try something a little different, now they can.

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My only fear, and maybe this is just me, is some of the homogenization going on in the proposed future. Without putting too fine of a point on things, I think it’s great there is both Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu in existence, but one does not have to bleed into the other. Each can exist as their own unique thing, and that’s what makes them good. But there are some folks out there that would like to change one game so that it’s more like the other and that I’m not a fan of. When Pagan Publishing releases its new Delta Green game, I hope it is thoroughly Delta Green and doesn’t feel the need to borrow any elements of other games just because they’re the flavour of the moment.

CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?

BrianS: Variety. As I said before, there are tons and tons of flavours of Lovecraftian gaming goodness for people to choose from. Even within venerable Call of Cthulhu. That’s one of the reasons that I did the book: Strange Aeons 2 for them some time back and more recently Atomic Age Cthulhu. I like taking the norm and setting it in new locations and times. I’m not a real fan of the Cthulhu Invictus setting, but that’s just my personal tastes. I’m glad that stuff is out there for those that want to play Romans against cosmic horrors. Conversely, there are rumours and whispers for a long time of Cthulhu in Colonial America and Cthulhu in the Old West and both of those I’m dying to see and play.

Also, one of the reasons there’s so much Lovecraft love right now is because Cthulhu is more popular than ever before. He’s almost become mainstream. I mean Cthulhu and HPL have even been in South Park and Scooby-Doo. A lot of the video games that come out today have nods to Mythos in it, even if they’re not horror games. There’s a running gag that everything is better if you just add Cthulhu and there seems to be something to be said for that. We might, just might, mind you, at long last get a big budget Lovecraft movie if del Toro gets to make his Mountains of Madness movie. I never thought I’d see that. It’s a good time to be a Cthulhu cultists.

CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?

Tales of the Sleepless City (rgb)BrianS: Cliques and us vs. them mentality. I’ve seen it on a lot of RPG and Lovecraftian fan forums and it makes me sad or downright angry. Dimwits who think they have authority to pronounce what is or is not Lovecraftian or worthy of being include in Call or Cthulhu. People who don’t just champion their favourite flavour of Lovecraftian gaming (which is fine) but do so at the expense of other games (which is bull****). I call it the five-year-old mentality, that what I like must be the best, because I like it, but what you like is just stupid, because it must be stupid because I don’t like it. You can’t have a civil discussion or debate with those people, their narrow minds won’t allow it. Yes there has always been trolls and overly opinionated idiots on the Internet, but is seems to me that it has begun to be an epidemic in some places.

CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?

Constantinople Luggage StickerBrianS: No idea, but if I had a really great idea, I wouldn’t share it here, I’d be busy making it. But really, there’s so much new, different, and promising-looking Lovecraftian stuff on the horizon, that it looks like a bright future for our favourite hobby. How long we’ll have to wait for that future, i.e. for all the cool stuff to come out, well that is the question. Special mention must be given to Chaosium and the long awaited re-release of Horror on the Orient Express. I’d like to see Chaosium do more of that in the future.

CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?

BrianS: I hope Chaosium is still around and putting out books for Call of Cthulhu. That and just the continued survival of good old fashioned pen and paper RPG-ing with real friends around a table, as opposed to video games over the Internet. I think some of these little publishers will be gone, as I don’t think the hobby can support all of them. That’s not a comment on the quality of their games, it’s just how I feel about the shrinking market of RPGs in general. I hope I’m wrong.

CR: Brian … thank you so much for your time!


State of the Tentacle, 2013

Here’s another small teaser for something I will be publishing via the CthulhuReborn blog — in bite-sized chunks — over the next couple of months.

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For a while, I have been sort of interested in thinking about some of the “big picture” questions around Lovecraftian roleplaying … you know, like “where is this hobby heading?” and “what types of new products *might* publishers unleash upon us in the next few years?” As most readers would know, there’s now over 3 decades of history to roleplaying games of some form or another based around Lovecraft’s writings and extrapolations therefrom. We’ve seen some periods of great innovation — certainly the first few years after Call of Cthulhu was initially published, then a decade or so later — but equally we’ve seen long stretches where pretty much the same sorts of products (sometimes slowly) emerge.

It’s my thinking that right now we are in a period which could potentially be one of those periods of rapid innovation. Why do I think that? Well, in the last couple of years, thanks to a combination of a much larger pool of licensees and the creation of a few entirely different systems for Lovecraftian gaming (Trail of Cthulhu, Laundry, Macabre Tales, Cthulhu Dark), the publishing world of Lovecraftian RPGs has changed pretty drastically. No longer it it just one principal company producting supplements for a single game, and as a consequence the direction of the hobby has gone from one governed largely by a single creative vision to one that includes lots of different people’s vision of what it should become.

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I am sort of curious about where this is all going … but (despite lots of searching) I haven’t really seen anywhere where there is good, informed discussion about these “big picture” questions. Various forums are filled with detail-oriented discussions about specific topics such as proposed changes to specific game mechanics, but nothing much about how different visions and publisher aspirations might re-write some of the very philosophical foundations of our favourite hobby.

So I decided to try to use the CthulhuReborn blog as a place to get something like that happening.

Now … my personal opinions about what’s great about the past, present and future of Lovecraftian gaming might be of interest to a scant handful of readers (actually, sometimes it’s not even enough to interest *me*), but those opinions don’t really mean much in the big scheme of things. Instead, I thought a much more interesting exercise would be to try to get in touch with the “heavy-hitters” of the hobby — some of the publishers themselves, some of the “old hands” who have been writing for the game for decades, and some of the newer stars of the hobby. The goal would be to interview some of these guys about what *they* thought was great about the past and present and where they saw the future of the hobby (perhaps) going over the next few years.

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To my surprise, not only did several folks from that illustrious circle express interest in such a project, several also agreed to participate as interviewees.

So, I am hoping over the next few months to start printing some of these (unedited) interview transcripts here on the blog. I have decided the call the overall project “State of the Tentacle, 2013” — since the goal is, by the end to have a capsule summary of what kind of shape several of the hobby’s leading lights thought it was in, and how it could change (for better or worse) as things unfold.

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Coming in 2013: First Commercial Prop Resource

Welcome to 2013 … here’s hoping this will be a great year for Lovecraftian roleplaying in general — there certainly seem to be a bunch of cool projects waiting in the wings to come out this year, so fingers crossed.

For my own small part, I have a few plans in store for 2013 as well. The first one I would like to announce is that I am hoping in the not-too-distant-future to release the first commercial PDF under the Cthulhu Reborn name. “What’s that?”, you say, “I thought this site was here to put out free stuff for everyone to download and use!” Well, yes, that’s mainly what it’s for (and I’ll certainly continue to use it in that way — with several free things currently well in to their latter phases of development). But I thought I would experiment a bit with creating a commercial product — not so much to make mega-bucks (here’s a hint: nobody producing Lovecraftian RPGs makes mega-bucks) — but rather to investigate other channels for distributing stuff. If you feel miffed, I’m sorry.

Mutable Deceptions 1 - Front Cover (lo-res)

Anyway, the PDF that I’m planning to release for a modest fee later in the year is something I’ve been working on for a while. It’s a collection of PDF templates to ease the burden when it comes to creating prop newspaper clippings from the 1920s and 1930s. I’ve done a LOT of these for various people over the last couple of years (some are available here on the site as part of downloadable scenarios) — I’ve developed lots of little tips, techniques and templates that go a long way towards making news articles seem “realistic.” The idea of this product is to encapsulate as much of that expertise as possible, within the constraints of the PDF format,  into a pre-packaged product that you can use. The PDF template set will be called Mutable Deceptions.

Here’s a bit of a product blurb from the introduction of the PDF:

Period newspaper props and handouts are a much-treasured staple of most Investigative and Mystery roleplaying games, in particular Jazz Age horror games like Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu. Players love the tactile thrill of receiving a well-crafted newspaper clipping, whether it be the clue which kicks off an investigation, the reward for hours of hard library research, or a piece of misdirection designed to send them off on a wild goose chase.

But making your own realistic-looking period newspaper clippings is not necessarily a quick and easy task. There are distinctive typographic styles, including font choice and layout conventions, which distinguish well-crafted period-authentic props from those which have been hastily-drafted using modern word processing software. And, in keeping with high standards of realism set by commercial products, such handouts should also incorporate evocative graphics in the form of realistic photographs or advertisements appearing on the reverse-side of the page.

So, what’s a Gamemaster/Keeper/Dungeon Master to do in situations where he or she wants to create an authentic-looking newspaper prop for a new scenario?,Or for a published scenario which lacks good-quality handouts? Or maybe a quick newspaper report mid-adventure recording the consequences of actions taken by the players? Or which leads them off on a tangent of their own devising?

Mutable Deceptions 1 - Arrangement (lo-res)

Mutable Deceptions, Volume 1 aims to make the process of creating realistic-looking newspaper props from 1920s and 1930s quick and easy. It does this by providing a selection of article templates, each a fillable PDF form. Included in this package are fourteen templates of varying shapes and sizes which can be effortlessly customised to create an endless array of 1920s/1930s-authentic props. Bring your own text, or manipulate the bizarre real-world stories already pre-filled into the forms.

As a bonus, a sampling of 1920s photos are provided for you to use as you like to embellish your handouts with just the right type of blurry, grainy illustration.

Baffle your players. Have them chasing shadows. It doesn’t get any easier than this.

Dispensing with the marketing-speak and atmospheric lighting … what the heck will this package look like? Well, it will be a collection of three PDFs — one being an instruction booklet, one being a 20 page booklet of templates in black & white, and the third being the same templates but with a faux aged paper texture rendered under the text you type. Rather than just giving you blank templates, I have scoured a bunch of old newspapers to find enough weird and wonderful articles — each of which seems like it could have been part of a Cthulhuoid investigation — and pre-filled them into the forms so you can see what the finished product might look like. So, when you open up the templates file in Acrobat Reader, it looks a bit like this:

Mutable Deceptions 1 - Acro Reader Snap

Obviously you can delete the text that’s in these fields .. or if you love the story, tweak it to become part of your game. You can even apply some formatting to the article bodies (e.g., centre some lines as shown in the right hand example above, selectively set font sizes, tweak line and paragraph spacing to fit what you need into the space provided). Once you’re happy with the prop, you can just print the page of the template you’ve tweaked — along with the corresponding reverse side — and your prop is done. Alternatively you can save your filled-in form for later work. Make dozens of variant saved PDFs if you like.

So, when is this going to be available and how much will it cost? … well, the templates are all done (you can see printed versions of many of them in the montage photos above). These represent the output of weeks and weeks of typesetting and research. I still need to do some testing of the PDF forms on different platforms (Acrobat Reader is a great piece of software, but using the more advanced features of the PDF format can get a bit hairy). And I still need to knock together the instruction booklet, though the text and pictures already exist. In a perfect world, none of this should take too long … As to cost, I still haven’t decided — it’s not going to be super-expensive, though.

BTW: in case it’s not blindingly obvious — there’s nothing in the Mutable Deceptions product that is linked to any specific RPG game system. It’s just a set of prop templates. You can use them equally well for a Lovecraftian tabletop game … or for your next Gangster-era LARP … a d20 game set during the Great Depression … or any other non-commercial purpose you can think of. The basic product license won’t cover commercial uses of the templates, though — so if you’re James Cameron and want to use these for props in your next movie (Titanic 2: Titanic-er?) — well, you should get in touch … 🙂


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