Kevin Ross, Monstruwacan

I mentioned the other day that we had a big, BIG, announcement that we’ve been keeping under our hats for a week or so. Something very exciting. Here it is:

Kevin Ross — perhaps the most prolific and well-regarded author of Call of Cthulhu material in the history of the game — is writing a sourcebook chapter for the APOCTHULHU core rules!

I have been trying to entice Kevin to write something for Cthulhu Reborn for quite some time, but he is a very busy writer with a long waiting list of people who want to make use of his many and varied talents. But, we have struck lucky on this particular occasion and inveigled ourselves into his schedule … and it was all thanks to William Hope Hodgson.

As we’ve mentioned here on the blog several times, a key goal of APOCTHULHU is to be a reusable and multipurpose engine that can fuel games set in many different versions of the Post-Apocalypse. When asking around for ideas of example literary or film settings we could use as examples of things GMs could try, Kevin casually replied in an email “of course, you’ll have already considered William Hope Hodgson’s Night Land.”

I must confess, dear reader, that I’d only vaguely heard of Hodgson’s sprawling novel The Night Land which takes in a far future when the sun has burned itself out and the remnants of humanity live in a vast pyramid. It sounded kind of intriguing, but as Kevin described more and more about the weirdly horrific world of the novel — complete with vast and alien horrors that lurk in the countryside poised to devour the last humans — the more compelling it sounded.

After Jo and I picked our jaws up off the floor we hastily asked Kevin whether he might be enticed to write up the Night Land setting as a sourcebook chapter for APOCTHULHU. To our collective excitement, he said yes, and in a couple of weeks’ (!) time we had a letter-perfect game rendition of Hodgson’s bizarre and dangerous world. I could try to describe its scope and grandeur and tremendous potential as a RPG setting, but I’m sure I could not top Kevin’s description:

The Night Land is a dark fantasy world, perhaps the darkest such setting ever imagined. The powers of Evil rule this world, from the least living creature to the Great Old One-like Watchers, to the perhaps even more potent residents of The House of Silence and the glowing vaporous pit of The Shine. Here are entities to rival or even surpass the potency of Cthulhu himself, entities so terrible their mere presence causes men to go mad or rush into their monstrously alien grasp.

All of this makes The Night Land a superb setting for roleplaying adventures. With its brooding atmosphere, its harsh environment, and its host of different horrific creatures, the Night Land as written is like somebody’s dark fantasy roleplaying campaign: a cross between Tolkien’s Mordor, Fantasy Flight Games’ Midnight setting for D&D, and the trenches of the first World War. Stocked with hordes of nightmarish Lovecraftian creatures.

It’s worth mentioning that H.P. Lovecraft waxed lyrical about William Hope Hodgson in his seminal 1927 essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, and specifically wrote a review of The Night Land which I still think is one of the best summaries of the novel’s strengths (and weaknesses):

Of rather uneven stylistic quality, but vast occasional power in its suggestion of lurking worlds and beings behind the ordinary surface of life, is the work of William Hope Hodgson, known today far less than it deserves to be. Despite a tendency toward conventionally sentimental conceptions of the universe, and of man’s relation to it and to his fellows, Mr. Hodgson is perhaps second only to Algernon Blackwood in his serious treatment of unreality. Few can equal him in adumbrating the nearness of nameless forces and monstrous besieging entities through casual hints and insignificant details, or in conveying feelings of the spectral and the abnormal in connection with regions or buildings …

The Night Land (1912) is a long-extended (538 pp.) tale of the earth’s infinitely remote future billions of billions of years ahead, after the death of the sun. It is told in a rather clumsy fashion, as the dreams of a man in the seventeenth century, whose mind merges with its own future incarnation; and is seriously marred by painful verboseness, repetitiousness, artificial and nauseously sticky romantic sentimentality, and an attempt at archaic language even more grotesque and absurd than that in [WHH’s other tale] Glen Carrig.

Allowing for all its faults, it is yet one of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever written. The picture of a night-black, dead planet, with the remains of the human race concentrated in a stupendously vast mental pyramid and besieged by monstrous, hybrid, and altogether unknown forces of the darkness, is something that no reader can ever forget: Shapes and entities of an altogether non-human and inconceivable sort — the prowlers of the black, man forsaken, and unexplored world outside the pyramid — are suggested and partly described with ineffable potency; while the night-land landscape with its chasms and slopes and dying volcanism takes on an almost sentient terror beneath the author’s touch.

Midway in the book the central figure ventures outside the pyramid on a quest through death haunted realms untrod by man for millions of years — and in his slow, minutely described, day-by-day progress over unthinkable leagues of immemorial blackness there is a sense of cosmic alienage, breathless mystery, and terrified expectancy unrivalled in the whole range of literature. The last quarter of the book drags woefully, but fails to spoil the tremendous power of the whole.

Kevin’s Night Land chapter for APOCTHULHU represents a self-contained sourcebook covering everything about the Night Land setting, from Survivor creation through to a detailed gazetteer of the weird geography of the setting and a statted bestiary of strange horrors. We’re expecting it will stretch to 40-ish pages, maybe a bit more.

William Hope Hodgson fans rejoice! Fans of dark and grim pseudo-fantasy-scifi rejoice! Fans of Kevin Ross rejoice!

Watch this space for future updates about APOCTHULHU and about Kevin’s excellent adaptation of WHH’s epic Night Land setting.

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