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Showing posts from 2018

Fiction Review: 14

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This July I started a new job. Beyond the cool work, free food, and awesome headquarters, there's a ton of interesting social groups that meet physically and/or on Slack. One group I'm in is a reading group which has introduced me to fiction that is of interest to me but that I might not have otherwise read.

Earlier this year we read Peter Clines' 14. It is a book about a group of people in a very strange Las Angeles apartment building. The rent is very cheap but it's never advertised - people always hear about it via word of mouth. The apartments are weird and unique. One is always very cool - the same constant temperature, no matter what. Another has a kitchen where any light bulb is always extremely dim. Another has a layout where nothing is directly connected to a wall - power outlets are on the floor, kitchen counters are a few inches away from the walls, etc. And is is two stories tall for some reason.

Our main protagonist is Nate, a data entry temp (who has bee…

Ripping from the Headlines - Raiding Old Newspapers for Call of Cthulhu

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One of the challenges I found in setting a Call of Cthulhu campaign in Boston was in understanding what the city was really like around a century ago. Sometimes I find it easier to do things in a fictional city or in one I've never been in than as opposed to one some 25 miles away from me - a city I go to regularly and which is the cultural center of my area.

I've found raiding Boston Globe archives to have been an awesome exercise. Check out the following weather forecast from August 14, 1914.

So what's interesting to me? First, as someone who is obsessed with details, it's nice to have. To be honest, if an adventure would work better with different weather, I'd happily use the different weather and get it "wrong". A heatwave instead of the modest temperatures in this forecast wouldn't cause a game to self-destruct.
But what really got my attention was "The Temperature Yesterday at Thompson's Spa. Going through the archives of 1914 it seems …

Call of Cthulhu Actual Play - Ashes of the Feast

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The world doesn't know it yet, but the shots which will trigger the Great War have just been fired. In Boston, the Hub of the Universe, massive construction projects are underway, building the infrastructure which will serve the city for the rest of this century and beyond. However, that construction has unearthed a hidden evil...


Setting: Boston. Monday, June 29, 1914

Cast of Characters:

Colin O'Connor: Civil engineer from Dunmore, Ireland. Working on the Dorchester Tunnel.Lola Diaz Azar: Archaeologist hailing from Puerto Rico, born of a Puerto Rican mother and Middle Eastern father.Nathaniel Quincy, MD, Captain, US Army (Ret.) Former army doctor, served in Nicaragua and the Philippines.

The three investigators had assembled at a home in South Boston on Summer Street. With the Dorchester tunnel extension to the Cambridge Subway being built a number of homes were being moved. Under one of them the house movers had found a hidden chamber of horrors. The three had special skills.  …

SJWs, Alt-Right, and Fascists, Oh My! Real World Horrors in RPGs

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There's a lot of controversy going on with the latest incarnation of Vampire: The Masquerade. Apparently, in the new Camarilla book Vampires are posited as being behind the Chehen anti-gay purges - somehow related to hiding the true threat of Sharia law or something. To be honest, I found the editing of the text a little hard to follow.

White Wolf's owners, Paradox Interactive, has announced they are recalling a pair of books with such offending text as well as exercising greater control over White Wolf and no longer developing products in-house.

The backlash has ranged from "about time" to "they're not really taking responsibility" to "they are caving into social justice warriors".

I'm thinking a bit about what I would consider to be, at best, a horribly clumsy attempt at including real-world horrors into an RPG. At worst, it was an act of ill intent, trivializing the real suffering of LGBT people to push an agenda I find abhorrent. Trut…

1910s vs. 1920s United States in Call of Cthulhu - A Quick Overview

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The default era in the Call of Cthulhu RPG is the 1920s. The 1930s, a common era for pulp campaigns, is another well known era. I've kicked off a 1910s campaign. One of the things that I'm working on is making the period stand out differently. This is an incredibly brief, stream of consciousness capsule - any of these paragraphs could be an entire post - or book! This is a fairly US-centric blog post.

What are the important differences? Let's start off with the my starting year of 1914. Very quickly, immigration is going to drop off. The Great War helps bring about a drop-off, with European nations occupied with war. However, immigration laws in 1921 and 1924 will do even more of a job in slamming the door on immigration, specifically targeting "undesirable" immigrants such as Italians, Slavs, Poles, and Jews from Eastern Europe. It also reinforced bans on Asian immigration.

Politics are a bit different. The German, Ottoman, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian Empires…

Introducing Cthulhu Boston: 1914

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After mulling over a few options for gaming this autumn and winter, I'm kicking off a game set in Boston of 1914. The First World War has been in the news a lot lately, with today being the centennial of the armistice. I came across a quote by Lt. Colonel William Murray which struck me - "No more horrors. No more mud and misery. Just everlasting peace."

I don't plan on setting the bulk of the game in Europe. It is set in Boston. Here in the United States we sat out much of the war, joining it in spring of 1917 and not being in Europe in earnest until near the end of the conflict.

I've been looking through old newspapers - our game will be starting on June 29, 1914 - the day after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. It is noteworthy that while this was certainly seen as a major event, there was no clue that the spark which would ignite the world into war had just gone off. You see that in the papers over the next few days, with the story f…

Summary of my 1920s Call of Cthulhu Campaign

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Going over my notes I'm a little surprised to discover I've had a Call of Cthulhu campaign that's reached a decent length. It seemed reasonable for my own purposes to summarize and it might be of interest to others... The more recent adventures have writeups at this site, the older ones have rougher writeups I might post at some point.

No Man's Land Parts 1-2Setting: October 2-4, 1918; Argonne Forest Investigators:  Radford Brown, Jonathan Clark, Eli Cornish, Antonio Manzi, Fredrick Tardiff 
American soldiers vs. Illoigor
Under the BlackSetting: January 19-20, 1919; Boston and Arkham Investigators: Radford Brown, Jonathan Clark, Eli Cornish, Pietro Gorgonza, Antonio Manzi, Kirk Schroeder (RIP), Fredrick Tardiff
The Great Molasses Flood provides slays a cultist and unleashes out of control Dark Spawn.
The House on the EdgeSetting: March 21-24, 1919; Kingsport Investigators: Radford Brown (RIP), Eli Cornish, Pietro Gorgonza, Antonio Manzi, Fredrick Tardiff
A mystical h…

Banned in Boston and the Cthulhu Mythos

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While Boston has a modern reputation as a liberal bastion (though it pales next to its neighbor, the People's Republic of Cambridge), embedded in its history is a strong undercurrent of conservatism. One example of this is the crusade launched by Anthony Comstock and embraced the New England Watch and Ward Society. Under this regime, books, plays, films, music, etc. of objectionable moral character would be banned in Boston.

Some of the works banned in Boston include:

Leaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanThe Sun Also Rises by Ernest HemingwayOil! by Upton SinclairStrange Interlude by Eugene O'NeillStrange Fruit by Lillian SmithA Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway When I was a kid, the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain was still popular, though by the 1990s they were undergoing a rapid decline and the chain no longe exists today. However, its initial success is due to the Banned in Boston movement - in 1929 the play Strange Interlude being unable to be performed in Boston so it…

Hooray, I Have Time for a New Campaign

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The past few months and years have been busy and I'm finally starting to see things loosening up. I've completed my last graduate class and endured a mercifully brief bout of unemployment.

I'm at the point of feeling able to actually plan out a bit more ambitious game. Most of my thoughts are in the Chaosium-family of games.

The most likely is probably a continuation of my ongoing Call of Cthulhu game, which began at the end of World War I and has reached mid-1921. I've some of the original players but, as is typical for Call of Cthulhu, none of the original characters are active. One is still around but after sanity and luck-blasting adventures, has retired from active adventuring. I've toyed with a global-spanning campaign like Masks of Nyarlathotep but find myself thinking a lot about focusing the game on Boston - certainly with forays into the wider world as appropriate.

Frustrated with the lack of an official Boston supplement for Call of Cthulhu, I've be…

Remembering Greg Stafford

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Greg Stafford passed away on October 11, 2018.

He was a giant in the gaming industry. He created the world of Glorantha. He founded Chaosium and Issaries. He created or co-created countless role-playing, board, and computer games. Among these are RuneQuest, Ghostbusters, Prince Valiant, Pendragon, and HeroQuest. He helped boil down RuneQuest into its essentials, creating the Basic Role-Playing game. As head of Chaosium, he published the first Call of Cthulhu RPG and made the decision to publish Mythos fiction.

That's an amazing resume. So many of his games are noteworthy. Ghostbusters, written by Chaosium for West End Games, was the origin of the D6 System which went on to power Star Wars - and was a superb game in its own right. RuneQuest was a new way of looking at fantasy RPGs, being entirely skill-based, with no character classes or levels. It is most people's introduction to Glorantha, a world infused with myth and magic. Pendragon was unique in being a generational game…

Meditations on Lankhmar Gaming

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I recently took my backer draft copy of the DCC Lankhmar set out for a few adventures. It's been fun - I find DCC to be a pretty good system for the setting.

This got me thinking of my own history with Lankhmar - an experience which, judging by articles and interviews, is similar to DCC Lankhmar author Michael Curtis'. I first encountered Nehwon, the world of Lankhmar, in the pages of AD&D's 1st edition Deities and Demigods. It gave stats for Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, the gods of Nehwon, various creatures, and gave an extremely high level overview of some of the organizations to be found there. It also mentioned the books these stories could be found in. Books I could not find.

A few years later TSR came out with a Lankhmar: City of Adventure supplement for AD&D. I loved it - a guide to Lankhmar and Nehwon. Lots of new rules for PCs. Looking back it did have the oddity of re-skinning white magic to be clerical magic and black magic to be standard magic-user magi…

Fiction Review: The War of the Worlds

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My first encounter with H.G. Wells' classic The War of the Worlds was as a broadcast of the 1950s film version of it - on WPIX Channel 11 in New York I believe. I later read the novel for a high school book report and greatly enjoyed. It remains a favorite of mine to this day - every few years I find myself rereading it.

The novel tells of the invasion of then-modern England - the suburbs around London in the late 19th century - by Martians. It is told by an unnamed narrator, a journalist by trade, and how he and his wife dealt with the invasion. It also gives a view of the invasion in London from the perspective of the narrator's brother, a medical student.

The Martians arrive in meteor-like cylinders which serve as small bases of operations for their invasion. The Martians march across the landscape on nimble tripods. These tripods carry various weapons - most notably a heat ray and "black smoke" projectors - a type of poison gas. Red weeds from Mars proliferate w…