Mucking about in the Shadow of Lovecraft

Over the weekend two librarians and a dilettante journeyed into the wild hills of Massachusetts, seeking clues into a decades old mystery…

Actually I joined Dan Harms and Brian Courtemanche on a tour of select sites in Central Massachusetts. Since we all had previously been to the Salem-Marblehead-Ipswich area, we decided to check out some of the spots that inspired Lovecraft’s fiction, in this case “The Dunwich Horror“. Dan, suspiciously consulting a heavily annotated black tome, directed us along our merry way. Unfortunately we selected one of the coldest days of the year to embark on our jaunt, so we were on a constant look-out for Ithaqua. (Links to Brian and Dan‘s versions of events.)

First up on our itinerary was Worcester’s Bancroft Tower… Dan muttered something about needing a good site to summon Lob (or what that Yug?)-something or other. I should have been suspicious but my excitement over our pending endeavor made me blind to his eldritch scheming.

Next up was the Wilbraham/Hampden/Monson area. We visited several spots – a home where Lovecraft had stayed while visiting the area, a site thick with whippoorwills, and an eerie ravine – in Monson. Tornado damage from a pair of twisters in June of last year was still in evidence in the region, though strange tracks in the mud and the occasional streak of noxious orange ichor belie the official account.

Next we made our way to Hapden, hoping to see Goat Rock, the inspiration for Dunwich’s Sentinel Hill. After a brief stop in the town’s Old Cemetery (Brian insisted he needed “a pinch of graveyard soil for a certain Necromantic Rite, as described by von Juntz” (and I should note it was interesting to see how the oldest stones were all of Connecticut brownstone rather than the slate I’m used to elsewhere in the state) we headed west, looking for a clear place to espy the rumor-haunted peak.

Wisely electing not to ascend the summit, due to both the frigid air and a certain distinct unwholesome quality to the surrounding forest, which seemed almost to reach out and grasp at us when we drew near. Instead we retreated to a local eatery and had a lively discussion as to the state of Lovecraftian gaming.

I note with interest this snippet from the wikipedia entry for Hampden:

“Several factors, however, changed the destiny of the town. The lack of transportation to deliver the materials manufactured is probably the greatest deterrent. When the proposed railroad from Stafford to Springfield failed, quarries and mills were forced to use limited facilities, thereby slowing delivery of goods.

Fires leveled some of the mills and, with the lack of marketing, other businesses failed. The advent of automobiles enabled men to find occupations outside of the town.”

Echoes of Dunwich, perhaps, albeit a different era than that doomed town?

Our next stop was Wilbraham itself. Dan, who showed too much interest in nearby Rattlesnake Mountain, wanted to see two cemeteries there- for academic purposes he insisted. We examined a curious metal marker in Woodland Dell Cemetery and then several antique markers in nearby Adams Cemetery. While he was gleefully mocking the various tragedies recorded on the aged stones, I noticed our companion Mr. Courtemanche had taken this opportunity to converse with a hunched, limping figure, clad in a heavy coat and a hat that obscured his features. He insisted that the stranger was an acquaintance who was helping him procure “rare tomes and other documents long thought lost for his ‘special collection'”. I shudder now to think of him and his ungainly canter as he departed.

Our next stop, some miles distant, was Shutesbury, MA, and some curious stone chambers north of the village. We passed to the west of the Quabbin Reservoir, where four villages were drowned for the sake of a glass of water in Boston. Shutesbury itself, though picturesque, was strangely empty, as if the people themselves were hiding away from whatever horrors we sought there. Our destination were a series of mysterious stone chambers north of town along Mount Mineral Road. I note with some worry that the area is owned by a spirtualist group, who consider the place somewhere where one can “reconnect to nature”. Hmmm…

Perhaps fortunately for our sakes, the roads to the chambers were far too ice-covered for us to continue, and with the hour growing late, we journeyed north, seeking Bear’s Den a waterfall and small cave northwest of New Salem. Some driving about (and a brief looksee at the Hessian Stone) we found the trail to the site. With the help of some friendly locals, we found our way to the ice-covered falls. Despite the distractions of my companions who seemed intent on finding some heretofore unknown entrance “to the Voorish chambers named by the Arab”, I was struck by the beauty of the site.

Sunset was almost upon us, so we decided to conclude our expedition, after a quick visit to an especially antique cemetery in Lancaster. As the darknesses shrouded us and stretched out shadows (and fearful of my companion’s intentions after some of their stranger activities…) I conceived of a desperate ploy and distracted them from their occult machinations with a game of Arkham Horror, loaned from the collection of a mysterious recluse in my area. We battled against Yig and, thanks to my two companion’s unique knowledge of that Great Old One, we were triumphant.


Shadow Alchemy (revised) is done(ish) and other news

Today I submitted my revised draft of “Shadow Alchemy”, my scenario for Forgotten Corners of Lovecraft Country vol. 1.  I revamped the plot the scenario, streamlining things by taking out a layer of characters, which allowed me to shorten it from about 18,000 words to 13,000.  While my target was 10k, I’m still mostly satisfied with how it turned out (save for losing the text of one of the handouts… where the hell is that notebook?!?).  I know there are a few places where I was less than economical with my words, so I’m sure Oscar will find ample targets for his editor’s pen.

In other news, yesterday was the birthday of one of my favorite Call of Cthulhu authors, Kevin Ross.  Kevin authored some of my favorite CoC books – Kingsport and Innsmouth, as well as great scenarios like “Dust to Dust” and the fantastic modern campaign Our Ladies of Sorrow.  Happy Birthday, Kevin!

The Year in Cthulhu (gaming)

Now that 2011 has gone bye bye, I thought I might look back at the past 12 months and assess the state of Lovecraftian gaming. By the numbers we have a grand total of four (4!) in-print books for Call of Cthulhu, two reprints, five monographs, and two pdf only products; for Trail of Cthulhu we have two in-print books and eight pdf releases. I think this speaks to the vitality of Trail as well as Pelgrane’s embrace of PDF releases and the relative sluggishness (to be kind) of the Call of Cthulhu game line.

Let’s break this down company by company


Chaosium put out but a single new book this year- the Cthulhu Invictus Companion. Clocking in at 64 pages it is rather a slight book (I’ve not read it and can’t really comment on the quality beyond noting it was authored by the same people who wrote Cthulhu Invictus, which bodes well). This release was followed by a reissue of Curse of the Chthonians, osteinsibly as a “second edition” but doing little more than removing references to out-of-date rules (no more Oratory skill checks!) and, apparently, doubling the font size. Even generous reviewers were openly surprised by this move. Unlike the Dreamlands book, also reprinted, the source material is painfully dated, with scnarios that are little more than expanded narratives with statistics.

Cthulhu Invictus Companion

Curse of the Chthonians (reprint)

H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands (reprint)

As to the monographs, I confess I have only read some of them, so I can’t speak to the quality of each one. I did pick up a copy of The Sevenfold Path, entirely based on my enjoyment of author Jeff Moeller’s previous work. I’ve not yet finished it, but I am not disappointed so far. The same can also be said for Horrors of War; I’ve listened to a podcast version of the scenario “Goodnight Vienna” already and I think the book offers some interesting scenarios anchored around WW2. Finally I picked up Dead Leave Fall, a scenario collection and the latest installment in their annual Halloween scenario competition. I’ve only skimmed it, but there are a couple of scenario that look interesting.

The Dreaming Prince (monograph)

The Gods Hate Me (monograph)

Dead Leaves Fall (monograph)

The Sevenfold Path (monograph)

Colonial Terrors (monograph)

Pelgrane Press:

Pelgrane had one of (if not the) best books of the year in their Bookhounds of London, a sourcebook and, to coin a term, a campaign anchor for a game set among the community of occult book dealers in Depression-era London. What a setting! More than just a great idea, the book is a cornucopia of detail about London in the period, accompanied by beautiful maps of the city. I splurged and picked up the limited edition version, which came with a copy of The Occult Guide to London, an in-game resource book and prop AND murder-mystery all in one, as well as some period ephemera (ostensibly related to the murder-mystery) and a satchel dressed up to appear to be a possession of the murder victim. While we’ve yet to crack the case, I unreservedly loved this book.

As for their other published book, Out of Time, I haven’t picked up a copy yet but, I suspect it keeps up the same quality level of Pelgrane’s other releases.

Bookhounds of London

Out of Time

The Big Hoodoo (pdf only)

They also release a raft of individual scenarios (or discrete campaign chunks), dwarfing the competition in quantity if not total page count. I’m rather old-fashioned though, and really hate to get a PDF without a print edition as well, so I’m waiting to get these once they’re in print.

Cthulhu Apocalypse Pt. 1: The Dead White World (pdf only)

Cthulhu Apocalypse Pt. 2: The Apocalypse Machine (pdf only)

Hell Fire (pdf only)

Invasive Prodecures (pdf only)

Many Fires (pdf only)

The Rending Box (pdf only)

The Repairer of Reputations (pdf only)

Miskatonic River Press:

I must first note that I’ve written for MRP and am currently working on a project for MRP, so my comments are colored by knowing (and liking) the crew at MRP. With that caveat, I must confess that, while I generally liked The Legacy of Arrius Lurco (MRP’s sole release for the year), I didn’t love it. I think it comes down to a different sense of game style; Oscar Rios’ campaign is unabashedly ‘Swords and Sandals’ and I’m more a gritty, personal horror sort of guy. Obviously my mild feelings weren’t so widely held, because Lurco got very favorable reviews and, apparently, was enough of a seller that MRP released their first PDF only release hot on its heels. Lux in Tenebra (Light in Darkness) is a sort of spiritual twin of Chaosium’s Cthulhu Invictus Companion, covering different ground for the Invictus setting.

The Legacy of Arrius Lurco

Lux in Tenebras (pdf only)

Cubicle 7:

Cubicle 7, while only releasing one book, released a monster in Shadows Over Scotland, a guidebook to Scotland in the 20s, including six scenarios. A lovely hard-back book, Shadows was a fascinating read, stuffed full of fun ideas and more than enough to fuel a Scotland campaign. The only book to give Bookhounds of London a run for the best book of the year.

Shadows Over Scotland

Goodman Games:

Goodman continues to put out scenario in a pulp vein; I’ve not yet read their release this year, but will give it a look-see at some point.

The Long Reach of Evil

Everybody else:

A couple other folks put out a release this year. I probably won’t take a look at these (I don’t play Cthulhu Live and don’t usually get PDF only books), but kudos to these folks for getting a book done.

Cthulhu Live: the Island (pdf only)

The Red Eye of Azathoth (mostly pdf)


Of course, it goes with out saying that there are books promised that are, as I write this at least, unreleased. Here are those books…

Chaosium: Pulp Cthulhu, Blackmoore Global Laboratories, Cthulhu by Gaslight, 3rd Ed., Atomic Age Cthulhu, the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion

Cubicle 7: Folklore

Supergenius Games: Deep in the Heart of Texas

Miskatonic River Press: Tales of the Sleepless City

Sixtystone Press: Lost in the Lights, Ghouls: Eaters of the Dead, the Investigator’s Weapons Compendium: Classic Era

I mention these not to mock, but to suggest what, hopefully, is coming soon. 2011 was a pretty slow year for Cthulhu book. While the quality of the releases- save Chaosium’s weak tea- was high, I’d really like to see more releases of a wide variety. I’m glad the licensees are at least keeping up the standards of the game.

Here’s hoping for 2012?