I was invited to join the hosts of the Miskatonic University Podcast again, this time to talk about many of the things I have been up to recently. We spend some time talking about my recently released Pulp Cthulhu campaign, A Cold Fire Within. Then we discuss the Kingsport issues of The Arkham Gazette and how my trip to Marblehead provided inspiration for a new NPC that Keepers can drop into their game. After that, we talk a little more about my part in An Inner Darkness from Golden Goblin Press, a scenario anthology that sheds light on society’s ills of the 1920s. That segues nicely into my first announcement of the episode: “A Dread Gift of Flame,” a fundraiser in conjunction with Stygian Fox Publishing in support of the trans community. And then I make another announcement: I’m working as an editor with a new imprint, Stay Strange Publishing.
Thanks again to all my play testers for journeying with me across space and time and places that are neither: Arianne Adair, Erik Brandvig, Brandon Drake Forcier-Reed, Rose Forcier-Reed, J Kenneth Johnson, Mark R Loveland II, Patrick Loveland, Maxwell Mahaffa, Jay Mueller, Ben Plont, and David Ruiz.
Thank you to my editors, Lynne Hardy and Mike Mason for your diligence and support.
Thanks to the Mariusz Gandzel for that cover. Thanks to Kristina Carroll, Emanuele Desiati, Andrey Fetisov,
Doruk Golcu, Victor Leza, and Pat Loboyko for the interior art. And thanks to Matt Ryan for cartography.
Thank you to Nicholas Nacario for layout and Keith Mageau for proofreading.
And thank you to Gail Marie Christiansen Smith. You supported me as best you could, no matter how hard I resisted and despite the frustrations I heaped on you. You taught me to read when no one else would. You were endlessly proud of me when I was incapable of being so. You did what you could to understand a confusing and confused kid and the confusing and confused adult I became. I wish you could have seen this.
Here I am, hard at work on fresh horrors, courtesy of Nick Gucker
Two New Releases
In the last few months, two previously announced Call of Cthulhu books through Kickstarter have made their way into wide release.
Fear’s Sharp Little Needles from Stygian Fox is a collection of short scenarios (around 2,500 words each) set in the modern day. There are over twenty writers in it with me, so there are bound to be some favorites in there. Some of the scenarios, including my own “Waiting To Be Born,” can easily be run for one player. As a solo experience, mine becomes survival horror as the investigator wakes up in dire straits (if you survive–my partner didn’t when I ran her through it). There’s a more conventional hook for a group of investigators available, as well.
Devil’s Swamp from New Comet Games is a source book and scenario collection based in the Bridgewater Triangle, an area of reputed paranormal activity in Massachusetts. My scenario, “Deeper Than Skin,” was a stretch goal for its Kickstarter campaign.
What’s Coming Next?
That’s a good question, and I don’t have an answer myself. I have five scenarios, two articles, and a book-length campaign (and probably some things I’ve forgotten), waiting for publication from a few different publishers. I also have a couple of orphaned scenarios that I’d like to have come out at some point. The majority of these haven’t been announced publicly yet, so there’s not much more I can say yet, other than that I eagerly await their release into the world.
I’m play-testing the scenario I’ve written most recently, and it’s been a great experience. This one is quite dreamlike in many ways, and I got to exercise my imagination with it. Like a lot of what I’ve written over the last couple of years, I took the opportunity to expand beyond my previous horizons, trying new things, which I hope are successful. I sometimes wonder if what I’ve written is horrific enough, but I think I was successful this time. I asked a player what she wanted to do after being attacked by the villain. In response, she said, “I projectile vomit in her face.” I suppose that means it’s effective. It’s not all disgusting, though; the players had to make a number of hard decisions in an extremely difficult situations.
Me, as Envisioned by Nick Gucker
I attended the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon in Portland, Oregon, again this year with my partner. Nick Gucker, whose art you may have seen in the numerous books he’s illustrated, was drawing custom illustrations. I’ve picked up some of his art (prints, stickers, T-shirts, and illustrations) at previous conventions, so I was interested in having him do something unique for me. I didn’t have any particular desires in subject matter, so I finally decided to see what he could do with me as that subject. Later that day, he revealed the result, and I was delighted.
I joined the hosts of the Miskatonic University Podcast for episode 133 and their main topic of Pulp Cthulhu‘s sixth chapter. That chapter explores how magic works in the setting, as well as the game’s primary optional rules: psychic powers and weird science. My upcom
ing campaign, A Cold Fire Within, prominently features psychic phenomena, so I lent my experience to the discussion. I also talked briefly about my recent trip to Portland, Oregon, for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon. On the forum thread for the episode, I list my viewing highlights from the festival, all of which will hopefully be available to view at some point.
A Cold Fire Within and Other Writings
The PULP CTHULHU Rule Book
I returned the revised manuscript for the aforementioned Pulp Cthulhu campaign A Cold Fire Within in August, a couple of weeks after returning from NecronomiCon. It is scheduled to move into production in 2018, and I hope for us all to have it in our hands toward the end of that year. Chaosium and I will have more to say later, but some hints appear in that podcast regarding its stylistic aims. Pulp Cthulhu allows me to take the player characters deeper into corners of Lovecraft’s universe than usual.
I’m currently working on my scenario “Deeper than Skin” for New Comet Games‘ Devil’s Swampafter its successful Kickstarter for a source book on Massachusetts’s Hockomock Swamp.
I’ve also turned in another article to Sentinel Hill Press for its Kingsport issue of The Arkham Gazette, this time for an NPC inspired by an artistic figure from Marblehead, the real-world basis for Lovecraft’s fictional town.
Sadsadsex Album Release on Bandcamp
The first album as such from kittycat lollipop, sadsadsex, is out now. These songs, along with the first two tracks on last month’s re-release of False Starts and Second Chances, were the first we wrote, recorded, and performed. They were sent via CD-R and electronic file to various reviewers, Internet radio stations, and mp3 sites, often to the confusion (sometimes dismaying, sometimes delightful) of the recipient. Kittycat lollipop was the first act mentioned in the inaugural Great Demo Review in San Diego CityBeat, serving as a cautionary tale. During the description of how all the paper’s columnists took part in reviewing everything that was sent in, our reviewer was described excitedly snatching up the CD upon seeing our name and subsequently regretting that decision. I still treasure this memory.
Kittycat lollipop, you scare me. You remind me of Soft Cell’s “Sex Dwarf”–you know, the one about “luring disco doggies [sic] to a life of vice”? That kind of thing leaves a mark on little Catholic schoolgirls, ya know? I like the first song here [“A Reunion (of sorts)”], though–kind of Figurine-meets-Fischerspooner. Go with more of that. — Kelly Davis, San Diego CityBeat
“There Is a New Star in the Skies Tonight” was written at the end of this first group of songs, joining the live-set rotation with the second show. It strikes me as a bridge between the early songs and what came later, easily fitting with either. My deadpan vocals were giving way to something more frenetic, even unhinged at times. I often looked at my lyrics as not just observations of the flawed world around me but as warnings, including to myself. Perhaps I was becoming more and more frustrated and desperate.
Film projection was a key component of our performances, one we used whenever feasible. Patrick Loveland shot a series of films tied to the initial songs. Since serving as our beloved filmographer, Patrick has become an accomplished author. His debut novel, A Tear in the Veil, a delirious admixture of genres and life experiences, was recently released.
One of those films was edited into a proper video and posted on YouTube, featuring stop-motion animation created by Patrick, as well as treated shots of one of Golden Gate Park’s windmills.
As mentioned previously, he created videos for both the songs in our CD-R single. Here they are. The video for “What Then?” remains a highlight of kittycat lollipop’s existence for me.
Lastly, in celebration of Halloween, here are photos taken during a 2006 house party.
I am part of the Kickstarter campaign for Devil’s Swamp, a Call of Cthulhu supplement based on the Hockomock Swamp from New Comet Games. The $20,000 stretch goal adds a scenario written by me to the book. At this moment, the campaign has just passed $17,000, with 18 days remaining. I expect the campaign will surpass the amount required for my inclusion in the finished book, but you never know. And there are far more stretch goals after mine, including unannounced writers. The stretch goal to include a scenario by Brian Courtemanche has already been reached. Take a look, and, if you are so moved, join in on making this a reality.
Announcement of My Upcoming Campaign
The big news during the Campaigns for Call of Cthulhu panel at NecronomiCon this year was that Masks of Nyarlathotep, one of roleplaying’s most famous campaigns, will get a significantly updated and expanded edition, shepherded by Mike Mason with the help of a stellar group of writers, Lynne Hardy, Paul Fricker, and Scott Dorward.
Of much more minor note was the announcement of my own campaign for Pulp Cthulhu, A Cold Fire Within. The campaign should be out at some point in 2018, and there will be more to say about it in due course.
Release of the First Kittycat Lollipop Single on Bandcamp
From 2005 to 2009, I created and performed music as part of kittycat lollipop, a strange mix of often upbeat electronic music and darkly surreal lyrics. These were in the days when MySpace dominated the music scene, and, while kittycat lollipop never garnered much attention, we connected with fans and like-minded bands around the world, as well as confusing local audiences with our live performances. I was busy enough with it that I left RPG writing for a few years. After having a number of RPG projects fall through, I chose to concentrate on the creative pursuit that was actually going somewhere. Eventually, kittycat lollipop came to an end, and I returned to RPGs fully when I jumped at the chance to work with Keith Herber, a writer and editor I greatly admire, on New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley. In 2010, Strange Aeons II finally saw publication, eight years after I wrote my scenario for it.
I performed for the first time in six years a few months ago. My partner in kittycat lollipop was in town, and we both played solo noise sets. Certainly, having something of a reunion put me in mind of those days, so I’ve decided to start putting our songs up on Bandcamp for those who fondly remember them or those who might want to come to them with fresh ears. The first single is up now, and it can be downloaded for free. The band page also has links to YouTube videos based on the films that were sometimes projected at our performances.
Photograph by Titanium Exposure
Photograph by Titanium Exposure
Duct tape mask. Photograph by Sam Lopez of Stay Strange
I’ve had a busy couple of freelancing years and rarely seem to take the time to talk about what’s keeping me busy outside of some scattershot mentions on social media. Let’s rectify that a bit.
Kickstarter for Fear’s Sharp Little Needles
As I write, Stygian Fox Publishing’s Kickstarter for Fear’s Sharp Little Needles is underway, ending on March 1st. Recommended for mature audiences, the book is a collection of more than twenty modern-day micro-scenarios for Call of Cthulhu. They’re intended for Keepers to easily pick up and run in one session. The publisher’s previous CoC book, The Things We Leave Behind, has been very well received, and this Kickstarter is far past its initial goal, with more stretch goals waiting to be unlocked (including a PDF fiction anthology for backers). As an author involved in this, I’m in great and varied company. “Waiting To Be Born” is by far the shortest scenario I’ve written (by about a third), which was an interesting challenge.
On the opposite end of the length spectrum, I recently turned in a fifty-thousand-word first draft to a publisher. This, then, is by far the longest thing I’ve written (albeit a campaign of six linked scenarios rather than a single one). The word count provided its own interesting challenge, and I suppose, no matter the length allowed, it never seems quite enough. My outlined research notes alone came to about twenty thousand words. Of course, few of those words directly made it into the draft. Nonetheless, being able to refer to that (thankfully searchable) outline was a great benefit. Even if something I gleaned from a fictional or nonfictional source didn’t make it directly into the campaign, it all provided a foundation, even in its absence or allusion.
I fell in love again with outlining my research notes while working on an article for the upcoming Kingsport issue of The Arkham Gazette earlier this year, using nested bullet points to organize the information. While that article is only eleven thousand words currently, I dived deep into the source material, W. H. Pugmire’s tale “The Fungal Stain” and the many HPL and REH stories that inspired it. Following are a couple of examples pulled from that outline.
The fungal avatar
First appears to narrator when he reads The People of the Monolith in bookshop
Possibly his first time doing so in Kingsport, since he is visiting
Later can’t recall if he read it aloud
He sometimes does read poetry aloud
Likes to feel the words on his lips
Face “seems all wrong, more bestial than human”
The way she lifts her curious mouth to “drink in the evening air” seems unnatural
Tall? Must bend to kiss accordionist and narrator
Narrator fancies he can sense her bestial appetite
The narrator is able to run when she kisses the accordionist a second time
Touches narrator’s hand when taking The People of the Monolith
Hums an odd song
Issues as mist from her unmoving mouth
The thickening fog meets and mingles with her exhalation
Draws listener to her with “almost unconscious motion”
Listener creeps toward her slowly
May not be sexual (narrator considers women an “alien race”)
The Black Stone is composed of a dully gleaming black stone, whose unmarred surface creates an illusion of semi-transparency
Characters inscribed on Black Stone
Completely blotted out up to ten feet from the base
Narrator climbs up and discovers the rest are more or less defaced
Natural stone seat near Black Stone
Narrator leans back in it
Narrator believes Geoffrey must have sat in when he composed poem
Gazing at the Black Stone for any length of time causes insanity (The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia)
Those who sleep nearby are haunted in their dreams the rest of their lives
Visions usually at night, particularly witch holidays like Midsummer’s Night
What is it?
A tower of an obscured castle?
“New made I rise, a pillar of dark stone, a nascent thing on Yuggoth’s hoary sod”?
The witch in the vision
Naked young woman
Long black hair
Riveting, eh? There were a couple of other writing projects I was involved with over the course of 2016, as well as some others pending, including some more possibilities with publishers I’ve never written for.
My Appearance on the Miskatonic University Podcast
After writing my three-part series on Lovecraft’s racism, I was invited to participate in a long-awaited special episode of theMiskatonic University Podcast., which aired on January 12, 2017. The discussion between me and Keepers Chad and Jon centered around Robert M. Price’s controversial opening remarks at NecronomiCon 2015, wherein he presented his perspective on jihadism and political correctness by drawing on Lovecraft. We attempted to provide context and analysis of the meaning of Price’s words, as well as some of their repercussions at the convention. I appreciated being asked to join in on what I hope was a valuable and interesting discussion.
This has been my focus for the last few years, and I’ve written an occasional scenario or article during that time. Last year, I copyedited the first three releases for TimeWatch, Pelgrane Press’s GUMSHOE game of time-traveling agents protecting the universe from chronal disruption. I also provided assistance with part of Cthulhu Confidential, the first GUMSHOE One-2-One game. Unfortunately, I was unable to fit the entirety of that book into my schedule. As you might surmise, my focus flipped over to writing at the beginning of 2016. There are many reasons for this change, but a crucial one is simply time. As with many freelancers, that work is not my only source of income. I currently work full time for the county library, which provides both stability and a career I love. I realized that maintaining steady copyediting work under those circumstances wasn’t working–not if I wanted time for anything other than work, no matter how enjoyable. So, I made the difficult decision to take an extended hiatus and focus on writing. Anyway, on to the future–it keeps coming, no matter what we do.
I did. It was my first time and everything. Yes, I’m a little tardy in summing up my experience. I was out of town for two weeks for not only Gen Con but NecronomiCon as well, and had work waiting or on its way to me when I returned. But, finally, I’m passing on a few thoughts.
So, how was it? It was quite nice, really. As a first-time attendee of such an enormous and long-running convention dedicated to gaming, I was prepared to be overwhelmed, which was indeed the right mindset. Having experienced Comic-Con International‘s staggering expansion over the last twenty years, I have developed convention survival skills that serve me well. While Gen Con isn’t as big (you don’t need to squeeze through people or perpetually stand in line), it’s still difficult to see and do everything you’d like to.
I got to reconnect with and meet a lot of people that I’ve worked with. I picked up contributor’s copies of Eternal Liesand The Esoterrorists, 2nd Edition from Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press, who released ten new books at the convention. As with all things Pelgrane, they’re beautiful books, and I’m honored to have had a hand in them as a copyeditor. Eternal Lies is Trail of Cthulhu‘s foray into the kind of globe-trotting campaign that Lovecraftian roleplaying is renowned for, and The Esoterrorists, 2nd Edition is a refinement with additional material for the game of occult conspiracies that introduced GUMSHOE’s investigative genre emulation to roleplaying. I met Mike Mason at the Chaosium booth, congratulated him on Call of Cthulhu‘s 7th edition, and told him how much my group enjoyed playtesting it. His new role as line editor hadn’t been announced yet, so I didn’t have an opportunity to congratulate him on that as well. He gave me a print copy of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules (the updated version is now available for download). I met lots of other great people and chatted with them about their games, and I attended some instructive panels on freelancing in the industry.
Gen Con’s a game convention, but I didn’t sign up for any beforehand for a couple of reasons. Again, not having attended before, I wasn’t sure how much time I could devote to that activity. Also, I wasn’t able to log on when game registration went live, and, considering what I’d heard about how quickly games fill up, I wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t much available for me. I started hearing about Games on Demand in the days before the convention, so I knew to check that out.
I don’t have a lot of experience with playing games in convention settings, so the hard-working folks behind this have set the high standard that I will now judge all such activities by. It was an excellent opportunity to try out different games. The flexibility Games on Demand provides worked out just great, and I got to play in five fun games over the course of the convention (and if I’d wanted more, I’m sure I could have gotten into some). It could sometimes be hard to hear over all the commotion, but I’m sure players at the adjoining tables were occasionally frustrated by my own volume.
I played School Daze written and run by Tracy Barnett and Carolina Death Crawl presented by Adam Drew. I played in a Dungeon World game run by Will Hindmarch, the head writer of Eternal Lies; I also played Always/Never/Now, his cyberpunk game based on Lady Blackbird, run by Mark Causey. And I got to try out Monsterhearts, run by Anne, a game I’d been intrigued by for a while. I read it a couple of months ago, and it was definitely interesting but not necessarily something I foresaw getting a group together for, especially for a campaign. With the wrong group of players, Monsterhearts could be a disaster. That’s true of any game, but the sexually charged subject matter in this game makes the chance of blundering into the wrong group and having an uncomfortable experience seem a little higher than usual. I’m quite happy that I had a great time with it, developing more of an emotional attachment to the characters than I almost ever do, especially in such a short time. I’d love to be able to explore that particular story further.
Sex has never been a big part of my roleplaying experience. Even in games where players take more time with creating backgrounds and developing characters during play, romantic connections are rare or an afterthought. And, when I’m the GM, it’s not something I press. But thinking back on it lately, I realized there were more positive experiences with it in my history than I initially remembered, some quite recent. It was far easier for me to recall the awkward or annoying experiences, the ones that help make me trepidatious about including such material. It’s a quandry that we are generally more comfortable with roleplaying violence than we are with romance and sex. I know I’m not alone in this; it’s been a fairly frequent subject of discussion lately. Here are two recent Google Hangouts on the part sex can have in roleplaying: Indie+ Sex and Dice, with game designers discussing how it factors into design and gameplay, and Sex & RPGs, where two of the Games on Demand folks discuss how they approach sex in their games.
I also got to experience the X-Card at Games on Demand, a device for creating a safe playing space by allowing any player at any time to non-verbally indicate that the game has veered into uncomfortable material. Of the five games I played, only one didn’t utilize it (and, in that one, we had a discussion beforehand about what themes we didn’t want to include). After its introduction each time, the card sat in the center of the table, accessible but, ultimately, unused. Regardless of its inactivation, I think its presence was a positive one. Just because no one at any point saw fit to use it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t doing its job. I found it reassuring, even though there’s very little, at least in the abstract, that I am likely to object to in a game (it depends on presentation, and I’m more likely to be annoyed than outright offended). Possibly I was more reassured to know that everyone else had recourse to it, in case I or anyone else verged into uncomfortable territory. Certainly, when you’re playing a game like Monsterhearts with complete strangers, a device like the X-Card can be very welcome indeed.
So I did indeed have a great time, both productive and fun. I’m going to do my level best to get there next year. And I expect I’ll make some time for games.
Golden Goblin Press has started a Kickstarter campaign for its first book, Island of Ignorance, the Third Cthulhu Companion. The Kickstarter went up on Friday, 4/19, and it’s been heading steadily toward its initial goal since.
Oscar Rios is in charge of Golden Goblin Press. He’s well regarded for his numerous contributions to the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, including the integral role he’s played at Miskatonic River Press since the beginning, both as a writer and an associate editor.
I’ve worked with him or been published alongside him a number of times. As impressive as his bibliography is already, I don’t think we’ve really begun to see what he’s capable of, because he keeps getting better and better. His Cthulhu Invictus campaign, The Legacy of Arrius Lurco, stands eye-to-eye with any Call of Cthulhu campaign, which is saying a lot for a game renowned for its campaigns. And “The Tenement,” one of his latest offerings (included in Tales of the Sleepless City), is a masterful exercise in dread and despair. Under his leadership, Golden Goblin Press promises to be an exciting and vital new CoC licensee.
Two books I worked on were published recently. Finally! (Working in publishing is an exercise in patience.) Paul Carrick was one of the many great artists contributing to both books.
Paul Carrick’s cover for TALES OF THE SLEEPLESS CITY
I was a copyeditor on Tales of the Sleepless City, a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios from Miskatonic River Press. It’s another beautiful book from them (their production quality keeps getting better and better). Each scenario spotlights an area of New York City in the 1920s, full of great atmosphere and details to bring the cosmopolis to life. Some friends and I got to play in a couple of the scenarios (“To Awaken What Never Sleeps” and “The Fishers of Men”) at MythosCon in 2011, courtesy of MRP president Tom Lynch.
Paul Carrick’s nightmarish painting from “This Village Was Made for Us”
I wrote a scenario, “This Village Was Made for Us,” and some scenario seeds for Atomic-Age Cthulhu from Chaosium. This Call of Cthulhu collection takes place during the 1950s, a previously neglected era for the game. It also provides resources to create characters and run games during the period. My scenario takes place in one of the communities established to support the nuclear industry, a surreal and oppressive environment for an investigation. I recently received my copy, and I look forward to reading the rest of the scenarios. Brian Sammons put it together, and it was great working with him again. I made my first RPG submission pitch to Brian back in 2002, for Strange Aeons II.