Monthly Archives: June 2013

You’ll Never Mask Alone

Unquestionably one of the most loved and enduring pieces ever written for Call of Cthulhu (or any Lovecraftian RPG) is the classic Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign. Despite the fact that it was written almost 30 years ago when the field was in its infancy it still tops most polls and was mentioned as a defining moment by pretty much every gaming luminary I interviewed for the State of the Tentacle series earlier this year.

About six years ago, a group of highly creative and talented folks hatched a plan over on the forums of Yog-sothoth.com. Their plan was to create a “Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion”, a book filled with source material, helpful hints and ideas, and all sorts of other stuff that would be helpful to a Keeper who was running this classic campaign. The project was headed up by Bret Kramer (WinstonP on the forum) but rapidly attracted a huge array of willing contributors.

Originally the plan was to release the Companion as a Chaosium monograph … but the book grew and grew and grew. And grew. Pretty soon it was obvious that this would be far beyond the normal monograph length. Since then lots of different methods of publication have been considered and many different road-blocks encountered. But the original team kept going and today their monumental efforts FINALLY bore fruit — not as a Chaosium book, or even as a book published by one of Chaosium’s licensees, but as a FREE resource released to the community.

MONC - Case of Cat's Cradle (Transit) - Handout 1

You can go to this page to download your own copy of the 572 page book. The current version is slightly pre-release still (in as much as the creative team is still busily editing the layout to incorporate voluminous copyreader notes) … but even in this form it is a beautiful piece of work and something that no Call of Cthulhu Keeper should be without.

I had a very small involvement with this project — quite late in its development I was approached to contribute quite a few handout designs to the Companion. The book includes several new scenarios (side adventures and a prequel) as well as significantly fleshing out one of the key clues from the original published campaign. I was priveleged to be able to contribute some of these newspaper articles, reports, but … most of all lots of hand-written notes. You can see some of my designs peppered through this post. Alternatively you can see ALL of them on this portfolio page.

MONC - God of Mitnal (Prequel) - Handouts 2,3 & 4

I sincerely hope the Cthulhu gaming community enjoys and celebrates the free release of the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion. But even moreso I hope everyone appreciates the enormous volume of work that has been put into this project by a staggering array of talented folks. It’s quite unbelievable that something so vast is being given away for free … and I strongly urge everyone whose game benefits from the work of these selfless many to consider somehow supporting their future works or indeed financially supporting Yog-Sothoth by way of a donation to keep the community going.

Now … go out and find out what happened to that Carlyle Expedition.

MONC - Elias' Nairobi Notes-01ax

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Font of All Madness

Recently, over on the Yog-sothoth.com forums someone asked an interesting question relating to hand-written props for a Call of Cthulhu game. In a nutshell: how do you create large hand-written documents where the writer’s slow descent-into-madness is evidenced through the qualities of his or her handwriting?

The most obvious way is to create such a thing manually, but this has some drawbacks (very time-consuming, limited to your own handwriting style, etc). Using one of the many “realistic handwriting fonts” that are readily available commercially or for free seems like an enticing alternative … but how do you go about the process of deteriorating the quality of the writing as the fictitious writer goes slowly mad?

The proper solution to this problem would be for someone to invent a family of fonts which captured the same glyph-shapes under different types of stress. But that sounds like a lot of work to create, and (to my knowledge) nobody has ever put that much time into this rather specific problem.

I’m certainly nowhere near skilled enough to create fonts like that … but I do have some knowledge of using modern font-editing programs to warp and modify existing fonts. So, as a quick-and-dirty pseudo “solution” to this problem I thought I would have a go at taking an existing (freeware) font and seeing what could be done to distort the glyphs in a way that suggested first mild emotional stress, then modest madness, then full-blown insanity.

The Experiment

Before I got to creating insane handwriting, I needed a “sane-looking” font which represented the writer in a normal (sane and emotionally-balanced) state. I cruised over to dafont.com and found an excellent free handwriting font called PhontPhreak’s Handwriting. I used two variants of this font to represent “normality” — the first is a fully-upright version.

Font of All Madness - Journal Sample 1and the second is a slanted version.

Font of All Madness - Journal Sample 2[Click images for larger versions]

Slanted handwriting always suggests (to me, anyway) a degree of urgency … like the writer is under some kind of pressure. So I thought that could represent a base-line of emotional duress from which to begin a descent into fonty madness.

Now, there are obviously many ways to convey insanity through writing in a prop. The mental conflict of the writer might make them angry or desperate, which might be conveyed through heavier strokes and bolder letters. Equally, the stresses of encountering something terrible might make someone nervous and frail, which could be suggested through a lighter more wispish handwriting. In order to allow for either option, I started off by making a lighter and heavier version of the slanted font.

Font of All Madness - Journal Samples 3+4[Click image for a larger version]

These I figure might be useful (in isolation or together with the base font) to document the earliest steps down the road to madness.

Armed with these I started playing around with manipulating the shapes of the letters. I did this in two main ways — firstly by warping the glyphs using a wavy-shaped envelope. That gives a kind of overall impression that the writer is struggling to make the normal letter shapes due to a “disturbed” state. The other distortion I tried involved adding in lots of extra points around the glyphs and randomly jittering them around. This gives a “shaky” effect, like the writers hand is unsteady. The samples below show what these look like for light, medium and heavy versions of the font. Most of the text is distorted by the “wave” effect; the bits circled in red are treated with the “shaky” effect, and the sections circled in purple have both effects applied.

Font of All Madness - Journal Samples 5+6+7[Click image for a larger version]

Each manipulation of the base font produces a new font in the broader “family” … so already by this stage there are over a dozen different but related fonts. Conceivably these could be mixed and matched in lots of different ways to make all sorts of different versions of the inevitably decline into drooling idiot.

One last thing I tried was to overlay a couple of these different variant glyph-shapes to create a “doubled-up” effect. Lots of fonts which aim to convey a “psycho killer” slash “Jack the Ripper” kind of vibe seem to obsess on the notion that a madman (or madwoman) would write the same letters multiple times on top of each other. Overlaying the earlier fonts kind of gives that effect. The samples below show this for the light, medium and heavy version of the font family.

Font of All Madness - Journal Samples 8+9+10[Click image for a larger version]

That’s where my experiment stopped … By the time all the different combinations of effects and weights had been multiplied out, I had created a family of sixteen variant fonts. Doubtless someone could extend this further, but for me I reckon that would give me a design arsenal to tackle lots of different props. Below is a contact sheet showing all the fonts, and below THAT some download links you can click to get the fonts themselves.

Font of All Madness - Contact Sheet[Click image for a larger version]

Downloads

The original font used as the basis of this experiment, PhontPhreak’s Handwriting can be downloaded from daFont.com and is free for personal OR commercial use. The variant fonts I have created can be downloaded as a ZIP file using the link below and are similarly free for personal or commercial use.

Download the Font of All Madness family (based on PhontPhreak’s Handwriting)

Download the journal sample in full, as a JPG


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