Category Archives: Convicts & Cthulhu

Have Another Tot of Rum (Convict’s Birthday)

Today (or technically yesterday) marks the four year anniversary of the release of the original Convicts & Cthulhu core book. So … happy birthday to C&C.

In past years we have tried to time our C&C releases so that we’re able to put out something new to celebrate the anniversary, but this year things have been so crazy that we haven’t been able to do that. Hopefully the brand new campaign PDF that we released back in April will satiate your need for new Convict content for a little longer.

We can offer three pieces of news about the future of Convicts & Cthulhu, though:

  • We now have a draft manuscript ready for the next Ticket of Leave (#16) — it’s titled “The Devil to Play” and concerns itself with convict theatres in the colony;
  • We believe that despite the many changes to GenCon, we will still have a Convicts & Cthulhu event at the con. More details to follow;
  • In creating the APOCTHULHU RPG we have crafted a customised version of a d100 system that we will use as the engine for our (long-planned) standalone Convicts & Cthulhu game. The same engine might also be useful for other gaming projects that have been on our backburner … so watch this space.

In the meantime … we offer our heartfelt thanks to those of you who have downloaded and read our Convicts games. And for those who have been in touch with details about your game runs — thank you from the bottom of our hearts; it’s your enjoyment of this unique setting that keeps us creating.

So … another tot of rum to celebrate (then it’s back to the ankle line).

 


A Convicts & Cthulhu Campaign

It’s been several months since we’ve released anything new for our (much-loved) Convicts & Cthulhu RPG. A few people have contacted me asking me if we’d somehow stopped supporting it … fear not, we would never do that. But, even before the current world events had come to disrupt everyone, real-life complications were (temporarily) biting deeply into the free-time of our normal C&C writers. This has slowed down the production of the next Ticket of Leave supplement *and* also preparations for our annual GenCon Convicts & Cthulhu game — the latter of which might depend a lot more on exactly what shape GenCon 2020 takes.

While talking with our small crew the other day, someone suggested that now that there are a LOT of Convicts & Cthulhu scenarios written — scattered through some 400 pages of free/PWYW content that is available to everyone — why don’t we stitch some together to form a campaign? Given the way that downloads of our free scenarios (and especially our free Convicts material) has skyrocketed in recent weeks, having a longer-form Convicts tale that people could just pick up and run seems like an idea whose time has come.

So — between Geoff and myself — we’ve created an eight-chapter “ready(-ish)-to-run” campaign which binds together a selection of scenarios and seeds from the core Convicts & Cthulhu book as well as scenarios from:

All up, the campaign has 8 chapters (six core “campaign arc” chapters and 2 optional chapters). We estimate it will take an Investigator group 10-15 sessions to play. It’s an open framework which would also allow a few extra optional chapters to be inserted if you wanted something longer.

You can download the 33-page PDF which contains the campaign outline as a free download from here on the Cthulhu Reborn blog. We will also put the same file up on DriveThruRPG as a Pay-What-You-Want title (in case you would like to chip a small donation our way to help us keep making new Convicts supplements).

We’ve called the campaign notes a “String-A-Line” supplement to distinguish it from our original Convicts & Cthulhu scenario/sourcebook releases (“Tickets of Leave”) and our NPC-specific supplements (“Musters”). The term “stringing a line” comes from the “Flash Talk” slang spoken by convicts in the colony — it refers to the practice of spinning a long and elaborate story to someone to keep them occupied and distracted while one’s accomplice(s) silently robs them of their goods. It seems like a good analogy for running an RPG campaign (except for the stealing bit, obviously :)).

The campaign we’ve created is called “New Dawn Fades (or The Testing of New South Wales)” and concerns itself with a string of peculiar events which begin at the time of the Investigators’ arrival in the colony in early 1803 and extend through the next 2 years. The odd occurrences are linked thanks to the involvement of a shadowy group who are subtly (and not-so-subtly) pulling strings in NSW to fit their own agenda.

What’s In The String-A-Line?

Given that each of the scenarios themselves exist already in published forms (in the C&C core and the different Ticket of Leave supplements, respectively), we haven’t reprinted them but have instead created some “glue” to stitch these individual tales into a larger narrative. The String-A-Line supplement is thus a kind of framework or playbook that allows you to take those pre-existing publications and mash their component parts together into a harmonious whole.Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve described in the String-A-Line:

  • Description of the shadowy organization who is at the heart of this campaign
  • An option to involve a well-known historical figure in the machinations
  • A summary of several ongoing linking elements that bind the stories together. These include NPCs both friendly and adversarial, colonial organizations that recur through the campaign, and some running mysteries
  • Six brand-new “campaign handouts” that can be given to players as Investigators begin to unravel pieces of the underlying backstory.
  • Eight chapter descriptions (each describing changes/additions to the vanilla published scenarios, how the action ties into the ongoing campaign arc, and the outcomes and loose-ends from each scenario).
  • Six ready-to-play Convicts & Cthulhu investigators

Spoilers Hereafter

If you think you might one day be a player in this campaign, perhaps stop reading here. For everyone else, here’s a quick summary of how the New Dawn Fades campaign unfolds through its eight chapters.

Chapter 1: Un-Fresh Off The Boat

The Investigators begin as passengers (and convicts) on a pair of ships which has just arrived in Sydney Harbour from England. A mysterious illness has broken out onboard meaning the ship is refused permission to dock until after it has served a period of quarantine. One person on board simply can’t wait and makes a break overboard, breaking quarantine. The Investigators – as the only uninfected people on board – are asked to give chase. When they track down the missing man, they find that disgusting Mythos creatures were being smuggled into the colony inside his body. But who could have wanted to bring such terrifying monstrosities to New South Wales?

Chapter 2: Night Terrors

As “reward” for their quick-thinking actions in Chapter 1, the Investigators are drafted into the Sydney Night Watch — the motley group who enforces the curfew and patrols the streets at night. This chapter introduces life after dark in Sydney. As the Investigators run their patrols they have a range of  colourful encounters. Many of these are mundane but help to paint a vivid picture of what life on the streets of Sydney is like. However, others relate to the trail of havoc created by an unbound Mythos Creature – following up on these will draw the Investigators towards eliminating the menace it poses to the colony.

Chapter 3: Shyneth as the Gold

As part of their Night Watch duties, the Investigators must pretend to be criminals to meet with an American ship off the NSW coast so they can take possession of smuggled distilling equipment as part of a ‘sting’ operation. A criminal gang was supposed to deliver these items to a remote location near Banks’ Town. In order to find out who receives the illegal items the Investigators must make the rendezvous. When they do, they find a weird group who are happily using distilled essences for some rather unorthodox purposes.

Chapter 4: Night of the Convict Dead

An unusual spate of deaths has been reported on the streets of Sydney Town. In each case a pair of corpses is located adjacent to one another – one looking fresh, the other oddly decayed. Investigating these strange discoveries puts the Investigators on the trail of a dark-hearted man with ambitions to become a necromancer. His designs for the dead in Sydney’s burial grounds needs to be stopped, lest he accidentally trigger a mass zombie resurrection that he has no chance of controlling.

Chapter 5: The Lights of Botany Bay

A strange man in Black Robes has appeared in Sydney calling himself “Solander”. He urgently wants to reach the unsettled shores of Botany Bay and apparently has (somehow) swayed Governor King to arrange a military expedition at short notice. King has ordered the Investigators to “volunteer” to help since they already have experience of the Botany Bay region from their earlier smuggling ‘sting.’

Chapter 6: The Dispensatory of Doctor Macdead

Strange tales have recently been reaching Sydney about bizarre medical conditions reported at the hospital at Parramatta. Looking into these reports of mutations and such, the Investigators quickly establish a common link – all the patients had been treated by a private (highly unqualified) doctor named Macdead. Finding the good doctor, however, proves more complicated than expected. In recent weeks he has been arrested (for passing a forged promissory note) and was sent as punishment to the remote secondary punishment settlement of Coal River. But even in his absence, someone (or something) seems to have ambitions to continue visiting horrible medical alterations upon innocent settlers and convicts of the Parramatta region.

Chapter 7: The Orphan School Horror

The Female Orphan School is one of the few charitable institutions to be created in the harsh colony. Girls at the school have begun to report mysterious and eerie phenomenon in the weeks leading up to Christmas, prompting some to think that the school is haunted.

Chapter 8: The Death Knells

Sydney Town awakes one morning to news of a terrible night of carnage that has left three members of the Night Watch dead and a curious axe left embedded in the Harbour Bell which is used to signal the arrival of new ships. The dead are people who the Investigators knew well from their own service in the Night Watch, so the foul murders strike home in a personal way. But who could have wanted to carry out such an apparently motiveless spree of killings right on the shores of Sydney Harbour?

Getting the Campaign

Convicts & Cthulhu String-A-Line #1: New Dawn Fades is available right now, as a free download using the link below.

33 pages; 8.3MB PDF

In order to run the campaign, you will also need the C&C Core book and the six Ticket of Leave supplements from which the scenarios are drawn. Links to the latter are included at the top of this post. You can get the C&C core either from DriveThru RPG (“Pay What You Want”) or from here on the blog (see the C&C Downloads page). The DTRPG page also offers softcover print copies.

Playing the Campaign

We hope that existing fans of the Convicts & Cthulhu setting will consider using (or adapting) this campaign framework to create hours of amazing entertainment for their gaming group. Equally we hope that some folks who haven’t yet dipped their toes into the gritty world of Convicts might find this lengthy campaign just the ticket to inspire them to transport a group of friends to the penal settlements of early Australia to do battle with shadowy adversaries and save the colonies from an even more brutal fate.

If you and your friends give this campaign a spin we’d love to hear how it went. And if you decide to record and share your online games as “Actual Play” recordings, we’d definitely like to let other C&C fans know so they can check it out!

May the New Dawn never fade on your version of New South Wales!


Beneath Our Radiant Southern Cross

So, today is Australia Day — the day that Australia celebrates its “founding.” Unlike many other countries Australia’s national day doesn’t really celebrate the creation of the nation of Australia (that came into effect on January 1, 1901) but rather the day that European colonization began. Since that also marked the beginning of 200+ years of mistreatment of Indigenous Australians, who had been here for 60,000+ years before that, many feel it is a somewhat distasteful thing to celebrate … but for now that’s how things are.

The first British colonization of Australia was in the form of the penal settlement at New South Wales founded in 1788, centred around Sydney township. This was an extraordinarily brutal and corrupt colony, where convicts served as de facto slaves and cruel military-style justice was meted out for even minor transgressions. Doubtless life was pretty miserable for many people … but the combination of human cruelty, an empty and unexplored land (from a European point-of-view), and a thoroughly unfamiliar landscape (whose animals and plants no European really understood) has much potential for tales of darkness and horror. Since 2016 we have been exploring that setting in a RPG-sense through the lens of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Convicts & Cthulhu is our line of (free, or at-cost) game supplements for running Lovecraftian horror scenarios and campaigns in the brutality of early Australian convict settlement.

Over the past 3.5 years we have created a *lot* of material for Convicts & Cthulhu — the product line now has 19 titles. This can make it a little difficult for newcomers to understand what’s what. On this, the 232nd anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of convict ships, I thought I would have a go at demystifying C&C by briefly walking through everything we’ve made to date. If you just want to grab it ALL in one go, we have an up-to-date ZIP file which lets you do just that (the so-called “Bundle of Misery”, but be warned it is 111MB).

The Core Convicts & Cthulhu (1st Ed) book is a 96-page supplement which describes the setting and includes rules (referencing Call of Cthulhu’s 7th Edition) for running games of Lovecraftian horror in the penal settlements. The book is available as a free/PWYW PDF or as a PWYW softcover book (which has its base level set at the POD print cost of the book; so as close to “free” as we can make it).

Things that are included in this book: Enough historical info for GMs/players to understand the key flavour of the setting, templates for creating investigators — either European or Indigenous Australian, notes on social classes and literacy in the era, ideas about structuring investigative scenarios in a place where few “musty old tomes” exist. It also has a gazetteer of convict-era New South Wales (with particular attention to places in Sydney), as well as notes on Dark Cults that the GM can use in his or her scenarios as well as Lovecraftian horrors old and new. The book’s rounded out with a short introductory scenario called “Un-Fresh Off The Boat” which I have run numerous times at conventions around the world to great success.

Ticket of Leave Supplements

We began publishing short (and later, not-so-short) PDF supplements with an eye towards giving GMs tools for creating memorable scenarios. Most of these “Ticket of Leave” supplements are themed around one aspect of life in the penal colonies, providing historical notes on that topic as well as a scenario or scenario-outline that heavily features that thematic element. To date we’ve released 15 of these, totalling 278 pages of scenario-related Convict material. All of it has been released as free/PWYW PDF titles.

Ticket of Leave #1 is titled “Night Terrors” and explores the phenomenon of the “Night Watch” a group of soldiers and other hangers-on who were given the unenviable task of patrolling around the colony at night to keep the peace and deter breaches of curfew or other wrongdoing by convicts (or soldiers). Since the Night Watch is charged with poking its nose into all manner of after-dark activities, the possibilities of it accidentally stumbling upon weird or horrific manifestations is … well, much higher than anyone would really prefer.

Ticket of Leave #2 is titled “Tri-Colour Terror” and investigates the precarious relationship between the British Empire and France during the era of Convicts & Cthulhu. France and England were bitter foes for much of the 18th Century, periodically at war, occasionally at a kind of uneasy peace. When Australia was founded several French scientific expeditions were dispatched to explore parts of its coastline; this was more than a little alarming to early Australian colonists — these ships are allowed to re-provision at Sydney … but are those so-called French “scientists” really here to spy on behalf of Napoleon?

Ticket of Leave #3 is titled “Criminal Enterprise” and explores the seedy underbelly of crime in the penal settlements. It’s easy to think that because the ne’er-do-well convicts sentenced to the prison colony are kept under close guard, their opportunities to continue their criminality is small. That wasn’t always the case … and even when it was, the soldiers and civilians running the colony weren’t exactly above breaking the law themselves in one way or another. Even in this oppressive regime there are criminal gangs — and how much easier is it for them when they have access to the skills of hundreds of convicted thieves, counterfeiters, and the like.

Ticket of Leave #4 is titled “The Vanishing Ensign” and explores some of the military logistics of keeping track of troops and settlers in a sparsely-populated but vast colony. From time to time, the Governor needs to arrange for a grand Muster — a literal stocktake of the whole colony. This can present a great opportunity to have player-characters sucked into an endeavour that literally spans a visit to every nook and cranny (and tiny isolated farmstead) in the colony. What happens when the data being collected reveals some weirdness? The scenario in this supplement explores one such case — many disparate places have official records of a soldier called “Ensign Dobley” assigned to serve there … but nobody knows who he is, and nobody has seen him for many weeks. What is the truth behind this weird “vanishing man”?

Ticket of Leave #5 is titled “The Damned and the Degenerate” and is an exception to the general pattern of these supplements being scenario-related. This PDF aims to massively-supercharge the range of player character options for your Convicts & Cthulhu games. Due to space constraints we could only include a dozen or so profession templates in the core book — in this supplement we go to town on providing a wealth of different character types. These are divided into convict “professions”, free-settler “professions” and Indigenous Australian “professions”. It also provides statted examples of many of the profession types, highlighting the diversity of different types of player/non-player characters that can populate a C&C game.

Ticket of Leave #6 is titled “Night of the Convict Dead” and explores burial grounds and funerary traditions in the early colonial days. Naturally enough, cemeteries and similar houses of the dead make great sites for several different types of Lovecraftian tales of darkness. In the scenario portion of this supplement, a familiar trope of horror stories is given a uniquely Convict-era twist, presenting the players with an unusual type of dark horde of rising terrors.

 

Ticket of Leave #7 is titled “Seams of Peril” and explores a rather singular real-life incident concerning the apparent early discovery of gold in the colony. Many people may be familiar with the Australian gold-rushes of the 1850s and later, but decades earlier an enterprising convict concocted a convincing tale about having stumbled upon a valuable seam of gold while working an assignment out in the unexplored backwaters of the colony. His plan: to convince the greedy gaolers to grant him a pardon in exchange for its location (presumably with the idea of him being far away before they realized they were conned). This amazing-but-real setup has potential as the basis for a horrific tale which takes player characters far out into the remote corners of New South Wales … but the promised gold at the end of the trek isn’t actually gold at all.

Ticket of Leave #8 is titled “Gentlemen Convicts” and explores the curious phenomenon of wealthy individuals who found themselves sentenced to Transportation to New South Wales. Most stereotypical depictions of convicts shows them as grubby and drawn from the poorer classes of Great Britain — these convicts were not like that at all. Sometimes they were convicted as “high society thieves” or master counterfeiters … but just as often they were lawyers or prominent citizens whose political dabblings had brought them on the wrong side of the powers-that-be, to be convicted on trumped-up charges. Gentlemen convicts provide both an interesting character option, and a whole new strata of society to weave into C&C games.

Ticket of Leave #9 is titled “Orphan School Horror” and provides a creepy Christmas haunting scenario. The Female Orphan School is one of the few vaguely charitable institutions in early Sydney — a place for abandoned girls to live and be educated to perform crafts or domestic service. What happens when ghostly apparitions start being reported by some of the girls? The Master and Matron of the school want nothing to do with such “superstitious nonsense” but the manifestations still keep being reported, and some girls have “fallen into a swoon.” What is going on?

Ticket of Leave #10 is titled “The Doom That Came To Five Dock” and is a purely scenario-based scenario. Several ships plying the route between Parramatta and Sydney have reported that the small waystation and dock building at Five Dock has been utterly destroyed, seemingly overnight. As the location is usually unpopulated, nobody really knows what happened, but it must have been something fairly drastic to cause such extensive destruction in such a short time. Of course it’s the player character’s job to travel up the river to Five Dock to see what the heck made such a mess of everything. It’s not something they (or anyone) would expect, and some may not return from the trek.

Ticket of Leave #11 is titled “The Dispensatory of Doctor MacDead” and explores medical practice in the early colonies. It’s hard to credit today, but the only real qualification that someone needed to call themselves a physician is … to call oneself a physician. While the colony itself tended to employ people with established credentials in Britain, there was nothing to stop someone setting up a private practice with absolutely no training or experience at all. This led to quacks and charlatans — all of which is great fodder for a Lovecraftian tale of dubious medicine.

Ticket of Leave #12 is our very first GenCon scenario, titled “Fallen Stars.” A strange shooting star was observed by many crossing the night sky above Sydney and elsewhere in the colony. Some people in outlying regions heard a crash as the thing fell to earth. This event has raised interest among the few scientific men of the colony … so much so that they want to mount an expedition out into the unexplored districts at the colony’s edge, in the hope of retrieving the meteorite. As it happens, this long and harrowing trek — not to mention the meteorite itself — holds more than its fair share of surprises.

Ticket of Leave #13 is titled “The Thirteenth Convict” and explores superstition and folk magic in the early days of Australian settlement. Recent archaeological research has shown that it was not uncommon for colonial-era buildings to be constructed with strange “witch marks” carved into wood … or with objects hidden in the walls. Both were common “good luck” charms of the day, aimed at keeping evil spirits at bay. But what happens, as in the scenario included in the PDF, when the thing you buried in your wall isn’t what it seems to be …?

Ticket of Leave #14 is our second GenCon scenario, titled “Hark, Now Hear The Sailor’s Cry.” It explores the maritime world of sealers and whalers in the southern waters in the early days of white settlement. While convicts and gaolers lived out their grubby lives, enterprising ship captains from around the world eyed off these waters as a source of potential wealth. They too lived grubby lives, sometimes aboard ships and sometimes aboard makeshift camps built on otherwise unsettled islands in Bass’s Straits and elsewhere. In this scenario, one such whaling ship — a vessel hailing out of Kinsport, Mass. — is found dead in the water. Naturally the player characters are the ones dispatched to investigate; is this American ship part of some dubious (spying?) enterprise … and if so, what the heck happened to the crew?

Ticket of Leave #15 is our most recent C&C release, titled “The Death Knells.” It has some details about different types of ways in which music or musical instrumentation was used in daily life in the early penal settlements. Its scenario part riffs on a real-world historical mystery — the uncertain fate of several church bells transported to the colony on an early ship, but apparently never used in any structure. A night of carnage has left several dead on the shores of Sydney Harbour and a strange French naval axe embedded in the harbour bell … who could have committed these bizarre crimes?

Other Supplements

In addition to the Ticket of Leave supplements, we’ve also put out a few other themed supplements. Two of these are shorter releases themed around real-world figures who would make handy NPCs (or even player characters) in an investigation. These supplements are called “Musters” and the two we’ve released so far are:

We have also released a Convicts & Cthulhu Prop Document Pack which contains some PDF-fillable versions of key documents that convicts might carry or aspire to carry (e.g., Tickets of Leave or Pardons), as well as templates to help GMs make newspaper clues for their scenarios.

Frequently Asked Questions about C&C

As I have spoken to a great many folks at conventions about Convicts & Cthulhu, there have been a few common things that have come up.

Q: Do I need to be an expert in the historical era to use this material?

A: Absolutely not. We deliberately wrote the C&C core book — and every supplement that came thereafter — with the assumption that most readers wouldn’t be familiar with the history surrounding the era or setting. In truth, even readers who have been schooled in Australia usually don’t get to hear about some of the grubbier (i.e., more realistic) elements of their early colonial history — it is, to a greater or lesser extent, glossed over in favour of a more “whitewashed” narrative. Because of that, even readers who know zilch about Australian history, or even British colonialism for that matter, should be able to pick up these books and create a rollicking fun (and somewhat historically accurate) game.

Q: What if I don’t want to run a historical game? Is this material useful to me at all?

A: We set out to make a game that would be fun for people who love historical gaming … but have been quite surprised to hear that several folks have downloaded and used our material for entirely different purposes. The most fun-sounding thing we’ve heard about is someone inventing their own “space prison” settlement in the far future and using the C&C material — with appropriate changes of names and weapons tech — to sketch out a grimy and corrupt penal colony on some far distant planet. Sounds fun to us …

Q: What if my players don’t want to be Convicts?

A: While there are lots of convicts in the early settlements, there are also lots of soldiers, administrators, surgeons, Aboriginal trackers, amateur scientists, merchants, and the like. It is easily possible to run a game in which nobody is incarcerated … but equally well, playtests have shown that playing a convict can be surprisingly fun too. Groups which combine some convicts and some free-settler or military characters also offers some interesting dynamics. The setting is flexible enough that the GM can easily find character types that will generate a style of game that works for the expectations of their players. Well … unless the players expect an easy or safe ride … in which case I don’t think Lovecraftian roleplaying is for them.


Today is Talk Like A Convict Day!

Several people have contacted us recently to alert us to a great new article about Convict Australia over on the (always-interesting and informative) Atlas Obscura. The article is about the “Flash” language that was used by convicts — a kind of “thieves cant” — and its collation into a book published in 1819. This was Australia’s first “dictionary.” The article’s a great read and we’d definitely suggest all Convicts & Cthulhu fans scoot over and read it.

The topic of convict slang and the “Flash” language are both mentioned in the core Convicts & Cthulhu book (see the box on the top of page 25 of the C&C 1e book). There you can find a few examples of terms from the dictionary as well as a link to the FREE copy of original book. We haven’t looked at the recently-published “updated” version of the book that’s mentioned in the AO article, but from the publishers website it seems to take the original 1819 text and add some historical footnotes about documented usage of some words. For gaming purposes, we’d suggest the free version — but then again we just like free stuff.

Liven up your next C&C game with some convict slang!  Why just have your credulous NPCs fooled by a run-of-the-mill conman peddling a tale when they could be the victim of a LETTER-RACKET (see below)?

LETTER-RACKET: going about to respectable houses with a letter or
statement, detailing some case of extreme distress, as shipwreck,
sufferings by fire, etc.; by which many benevolent, but credulous,
persons, are induced to relieve the fictitious wants of the imposters,
who are generally men, or women, of genteel address, and unfold a
plausible tale of affliction.

(from A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language, 
James Hardy Vaux, 1819.)

Ticket of Leave #15: The Death Knells, Released!

We’re excited today to be announcing the release of Convicts & Cthulhu Ticket of Leave #15: The Death Knells. This is a release jointly written by yours truly (scenario bits) and Geoff Gillan (the sourcebook bits). The PDF of this substantial (27-page) supplement of dark convict doings and Mythos machinations, is available right now FREE here on the Cthulhu Reborn blog. This version includes stats for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition.

The genesis for this supplement came about when I had some extended-time off earlier this year and started thinking about all the different angles we have already covered for the Convicts & Cthulhu penal colony setting. We’ve had ghostly apparitions, horrors hidden buried inside the walls of buildings, spooky abandoned whaling ships, creepy 17th Century medical experiments, fallen meteorites, enormous cicadas eating Five Dock, quicklime zombies, and more. Surely we’ve covered everything? … And then it came to me: we have never done anything about musical performance in the colony. So I thought it might be a fun topic to explore, and wrote asking Geoff if he had any relevant historical resources — of course he had a bunch, and then also went off and did some extensive research. He’s superhumanly committed that way; he’s really the heart and soul of the Convicts & Cthulhu game. And also an endless fount of new ideas — in response to the request to chase up my idea, he identified a bundle of other great ideas for future topics we could cove as well!

Music is not something that immediately springs to mind when you think about the penal colonies of early Australia, but in reality it was something that was integral to several different aspects of colonial life. The British military has a long tradition of regimental bands, and even the bottom-of-the-barrel NSW Corps had its own band — not to mention the drummers and fifers that were assigned to various companies. These musicians (usually part-time) were responsible for performing the stirring tunes accompanying government-run events, as well as playing at military ceremonies … such as when an errant soldier was literally “drummed out” of their regiment. Leaving aside the military, music also played a part in the life of the more well-off free settlers. Those who could afford to have a pianoforte shipped out from England certainly used it regularly as a source of evening entertainment (lacking any other medium). Convicts who knew how to play the fiddle or pennywhistle could also earn money by performing tunes at parties thrown by the toffs, or just busking on the streets of Sydney Town or Parramatta. For all these reasons, the notion of a “professional” musician as a C&C investigator is not as far-fetched as it sounds (and we include a profession template in the PDF to cover just this mode of play).

Quite separate to the music of Europeans in New South Wales, the musical traditions of the Indigenous owners of the country were also a major part of daily life. For Aboriginal peoples, the concept of musical performance in ceremony was (and indeed still is today) a very important aspect of spiritual life, and the Songlines taught verbally from generation-to-generation also served as an important practical tool for daily life. Some, especially, served as a kind of musical “map” which allowed for a traveller to navigate unknown terrain safely without fear of becoming lost.

The springboard for the scenario in Ticket of Leave #15 is a relatively-obscure Cthulhu Mythos story of extra-dimensional horror. (I’ll happily send a free copy of the printed C&C core book to the first person to guess the author and title in comments below). The scenario begins when investigators are asked to find out who was responsible for a horrible night of carnage that has seen the murders of three members of Sydney’s Night Watch (see ToL#1). Not only were these three men strangled silently in the night, but whoever committed the foul crime also quizzically left a large hand-axe, apparently of French origin, embedded in the brass of the large bell which stands adjacent to the Government Wharf. Both the Night Watch and the Colonial Government want the perpetrator caught and tried immediately … but, as usual, it turns out not to be anywhere near as simple as that.

Ticket of Leave #15 is available right now, via the link below. It will soon also be up on DTRPG as a Pay-What-You-Want title (if you’d like to generously flick us some money to help keep the C&C line thriving!).

Ticket of Leave #15: The Death Knells (STATTED version) [27 pages; 5.0MB]

As always with material published here on Cthulhu Reborn, this file is released under a Creative Commons License, which means you’re free to do whatever (non-commercial) things you’d like to do. If you do something cool with this scenario, say make an Actual Play recording of your C&C group running through the adventure — let us know and we’ll mention it here on the blog!


Ticket of Leave #15 Coming Soon

It’s been a while since we’ve provided an update on the various projects that are being written, edited, and typeset here at Cthulhu Reborn. One thing that is hopefully not too far away from being ready is our next Ticket of Leave supplement for the Convicts & Cthulhu setting.

This new Ticket of Leave — our fifteenth supplement in that line, and our 19th Convicts release overall — will be based around the subject of music in the early penal colonies of Australia. Titled “The Death Knells” it will feature a scenario which ties in with the general music-related theme.

As always, Reuben Dodd (of Sorrowking Studios) has done a sterling job at drawing a nifty new illustration to go along with the macabre scenario. He truly is a national treasure.

Ticket of Leave #15: The Death Knells should be an October release, here and on DriveThruRPG (fingers-crossed).


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