Monthly Archives: September 2020

This Week in the Apocalypse

APOCTHULHU is continuing to get a lot of attention — from us, of course, but also from a few other folks.

Earlier this week, Michael Fryda reviewed the APOCTHULHU core book and Quickstart on his YouTube reviews channel. Obviously the visuals show only the physical Quickstart book, since the full rulebook is still PDF-only (for a short while anyway). His review narration talks about both books … and is very thorough. The video runs to 32 minutes.

Also this week, Teilzeit Helden a German-language gaming magazine published an online review for APOCTHULHU which is similarly thorough (albeit in German, obviously). If you can read German, you can see the review here — it’s a great piece which looks at the ways in which APOCTHULHU differs from previous games and the ways in which it keeps up the well-worn heritage of Lovecraftian investigative games.

In terms of other news … there are a couple of other things worth mentioning:

  • We’ve just finished up creating the print master files for the APOCTHULHU core book; in fact we sent them off to the printer today. Before you get excited about books going on sale immediately, I should stress that it usually takes a month at least for print proofs to be created and mailed around the world … and all that has to happen before we can safely put books on sale. But, things are proceeding to plan so far.
  • APOCTHULHU will receive it’s (AFAIK) online convention premiere this weekend when superstar author and John Mellencamp fanboy Chad Bowser runs his Quickstart scenario for ConVocation, the YSDC-affiliated convention. I will be there and try to report on each and every bad Mellencamp pun that he throws into the game. My twitter finger might get tired … 🙂

Because the Night Belongs to Horrors (Part 2)

Continuing (and concluding) the interview between Jo Kreil — my fellow APOCTHULHU co-conspirator — and Kevin Ross. As explained in part 1, Kevin contributed an entire chapter to the APOCTHULHU core book devoted to The Night Land, a dark futuristic world described by William Hope Hodgson in a 1913 novel of the same name.

Jo: What drew you to the Night Land as a setting for APOCTHULHU?

Kevin: It’s a really great setting. As others have said before, this is what the Earth would look like if the Great Old Ones and their monstrous followers rose up and took over; or imagine the whole world was Mordor and there were several Saurons around. The Watchers are these gigantic mountain-like figures with weird features, and they’re all held in check or in stasis by equally strange phenomena (lights shining up out of the ground, a halo around their head, giant torches burning in front of them). The story itself is a quest through this horrible night-black wasteland to rescue a woman who may be the reincarnation of the narrator’s lost love.

I’ll be honest, one of the things that ended up striking me about the Night Land as an RPG setting was how much it reminded me of the old Gamma World RPG we played back in the 80s, only much much darker. As I was writing the [forthcoming –ed] scenarios I realized I was having the PCs exploring these old haunted ruins and coming across technology that was completely alien to them since the people of the Great Redoubt seldom if ever ventured outside the protective circle, and they never visited any of the strange sites around them for fear of running afoul of the Evil in the land. That whole set-up, of questers exploring these places and encountering weird monsters and finding and learning to use this alien tech, it all reminded me of Gamma World. I also liked the idea of writing something that was a mix of horror, fantasy, and science fiction, with a bit of Lovecraftian/cosmic horror mixed in, without falling back into the tropes of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Jo: Are there any other stories of Hodgson’s you think would fit APOCTHULHU?

Kevin: I can’t think of anything offhand, but The House on the Borderland features an end-of-the-world vision that jibes with what’s shown in The Night Land. At one point I’d considered writing a Cthulhu adventure with a house that travels through time as a result of its “possession” by a fragment of Yog-Sothoth. That would have echoed both House on the Borderland and Night Land, and in fact might have been a good bridge between the settings/games.

Now that I think of it, I suppose you could create an APOCTHULHU setting in which climate change has melted the icecaps and you have survivors on ships traveling the globe looking for shelter, while other ships full of cultists hunt for sacrifices for the countless marine horrors that now roam the seas. A nautical version of the Night Land, if you will. Hmmm… DEAN?!?!

Jo: Can you tell us about any other projects you might have in the works?

Kevin: Right now I’m working on the last of three adventures for the Night Land setting book Dean’s going to publish perhaps later this year. This book will have the sourcebook from the APOCTHULHU core, expanded somewhat with tips on describing the setting, inspirational sources, and a much-expanded bestiary. It will also have three full-length adventures, the last of which is basically a huge sandbox campaign that introduces a whole new region of the Night Land. I’ve had a lot of fun writing for the setting, and I hope other people enjoy reading it and playing in it.

Keeping in the Hodgson vein, earlier this year there was a Kickstarted roleplaying game called “Grey Seas Are Dreaming of My Death”, which recreated a haunted Sargasso Sea setting explicitly inspired by Hodgson’s writings. I backed it, and since I was working on the Night Land at the time and was on something of a Hodgson kick, I contacted the creator and offered to write an adventure for it. He agreed, so I wrote a brief one-nighter scenario called “The Song of Damned” which combines elements from HPL’s “Call of Cthulhu” and E.H. Visiak’s novel Medusa. That should be out later this fall.

I’ve pretty much retired from writing Call of Cthulhu material these days, but Chaosium still has a couple of books’ worth of adventure and setting material for the Down Darker Trails western setting which I wrote and/or edited. Sixtystone Press still has the three-volume Colonial Lovecraft Country setting I wrote and edited for them many years ago. And there’s a short piracy campaign for Modiphius’s Conan RPG called Waves Stained Crimson (with my old pal Todd Woods) that is still awaiting publication.


Thanks to Kevin for agreeing to share his wisdom about Hodgson and the process of digesting The Night Land for game usage. If you’re curious to get a look at the sourcebook material for “The Night Land”, you might consider checking out the PDF version of the APOCTHULHU core rules, available right now on DTRPG. That book will be released in print later in the year (and all early purchasers of the PDF given a discount code for the print book).

The expanded standalone book of Night Land material — including Kevin’s trilogy of scenarios — is still in the writing stage, but we’re hoping to have something out (in PDF at least) around Christmas. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, though, there’s more than enough in the material Kevin’s written for the core APOCTHULHU book — along with the nifty all-new map of The Night Land we’ve included — to run plenty of Night Land scenarios of your own devising. If you make anything cool … let us know about it. We’d love to hear about your experiences with the setting!

Because the Night Belongs to Horrors (Part 1)

It’s been a little over a fortnight since we launched the PDF of the full APOCTHULHU rulebook. The response has been fantastic — well exceeding what we had dared to hope for in terms of sales. We’ve also got some great feedback and some nice ratings and reviews (although we’re always on the lookout for more in any of these categories!)

One topic that has been specifically called out in virtually every piece of feedback and review that we’ve received has been Kevin Ross’ source material adapting The Night Land, a dark Post-Apocalyptic novel written by William Hope Hodgson. The rich imagination of Hodgson certainly lends itself to roleplaying, and it’s a shame that his novel buries this under so many layers of archaic language and attitudes. The feedback we’ve been getting agrees with my own personal opinion (mentioned when Miskatonic University Podcast interviewed Jo Kreil, APOCTHULHU co-creator, and me). Namely that Kevin has distilled all the key horrific concepts and nightmarish imagery in the Hodgson novel down to a perfectly-packaged form for games (while simultaneously slicing away all the elements that make the novel so unapproachable).

We definitely do have further plans for The Night Land setting. Kevin will be expanding on the sourcebook material (which forms a chapter in the core APOCTHULHU rulebook), pairing it with a trilogy of scenarios and publishing this wonderful amalgam as a self-contained book. At this point in time, the additional writing for this expansion is still ongoing — Kevin’s sketched out a lot of great material for the scenarios and has written one in full, but is still hard at work writing the others.

Because we’ve had so much interest about this RPG version of Hodgson’s world, I asked my co-conspirator Jo to pay a virtual visit the vast pyramid Kevin has built for himself somewhere in the American Midwest and ask him a few questions about The Night Land, the material he wrote for APOCTHULHU and his thoughts about Hodgson’s writing in general. The first half of Jo’s interview appears below — I’ll put up the second half tomorrow.

Who the heck is this Kevin guy anyway?

Kevin Ross is someone whose name should be well-known to pretty much everyone who’s ever bought a Call of Cthulhu supplement. He has been writing, compiling, and editing material for the game for over 30 years. He helped create the Lovecraft Country series of books, designed the game’s infamous — and now ubiquitous — Yellow Sign symbol, helmed the award-winning 3rd edition of Cthulhu by Gaslight, and created the award-winning Down Darker Trails (old west) and forthcoming Colonial Lovecraft Country (18th century American) settings. In short, he is one of the defining voices whose insane screams echo across the game’s long history, right down to this very day.

In addition to his Lovecraftian game writing, Kevin has also contributed material to Modiphius Entertainments’ Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of RPG, and been involved as an editor on several fiction anthologies.

“The House of Silence” by Anna Helena Szymborska

The Interview (part 1)

Jo: Tell us a bit about your APOCTHULHU setting?

Kevin: My setting is an adaptation of William Hope Hodgson’s novel The Night Land. The novel postulates an Earth millions of years in the future, when the sun has gone out, leaving the world drowned in utter darkness. This would be bad enough in and of itself, but the world has been overrun with gigantic evil forces, and humanity has mostly been wiped out or died out. Now the few million people left live in a gigantic pyramid, the Great Redoubt, surrounded by a protective energy circle that keeps out the forces of evil that inhabit the pitch-black world. The latter range from enormous mountain-sized Watchers (think Great Old Ones in terms of size and potency), as well as a number of smaller but no less deadly creatures, such as horse-sized Night-Hounds, various bands of sub-humans, bloodthirsty giants, shoggoth-like “black mounds”, and the enigmatic shrouded Silent Ones.

Jo: What drew you to this project?

Kevin: Dean has been after me to write something for Cthulhu Reborn for some time, but my interests have been drifting farther and farther from explicitly Lovecraftian subjects so I’m afraid I haven’t been very cooperative. When he was asking around for suggestions for post-apocalyptic inspirational material for the APOCTHULHU project I rattled off a list that included The Night Land. I think I’d actually given him one of my extra copies of the book when he’d visisted here last summer, so he knew I was interested in the book, and he half-heartedly asked if I wanted to write it up for APOCTHULHU . Now, I have to admit I’ve had difficulties actually reading the damn book (see below), but I took this as a challenge to finally muscle through it, as I’ve always believed it would make a helluva great setting for an RPG.

“The Battle” by Anna Helena Szymborska

Jo: For those unfamiliar with him, tell us a bit about Hodgson. He is sadly overlooked by many weird fiction fans.

Kevin: Hodgson was a British writer in the early 1900s. He had been a sailor in his youth, but he ended up hating the hard life on the sea, so he quit to go into a career in physical fitness, as well as writing fiction. Many of his stories and a couple of his novels deal with nautical settings, and a number of his horror tales are set in the Sargasso Sea. His novels are The House on the Borderland, The Ghost Pirates, The Boats of the Glen Carrig, and The Night Land. (Amusingly, Arkham House published an omnibus volume collecting all four novels, and a copy of this book, or a damned good facsimile, shows up in the second episode of the Lovecraft Country series on HBO.) Lovecraft and several members of his circle were big fans of Hodgson’s, when they could find his work. Hodgson died in Belgium in WWI; though he had been seriously wounded and taken out of action, he returned to the front and was killed in a shelling attack.

Jo: What is the Night Land exactly?

Kevin: The setting of Hodgson’s novel is one of the grimmest fantasy settings imaginable, with all manner of terrifying creatures and strange locations. Unfortunately, he affected a deliberately archaic style when he wrote it, and the style makes it extremely hard to read. I know, I tried several times and never got more than a quarter of the way through before giving up in frustration. Fortunately, a guy named James Stoddard rewrote Hodgson’s story in a modern style, trimming off the fat and boiling 500 pages of story down to less than 300. THAT’S the version I read and reread while writing the Night Land sourcebook for APOCTHULHU . I later went back and checked the sourcebook for accuracy by giving a close skim/read of Hodgson’s original, finding a few places where Stoddard added a few things, but otherwise finding it to be a faithful and much more palatable version of the story. I know of a number of people who’ve struggled with reading the original, and even Lovecraft and other writers have decried the unnecessarily archaic style and the excessively sappy love story element of the plot; the latter didn’t bother me, but the former is torturous.

(interview to be continued tomorrow)

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