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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