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The Red Baron shooting Down UFOS – There’s No Way this Doesn’t Make a Brilliant Game Seed

Red Baron shooting down UFOs  Call of Cthulhu game ideas

An article on the Mirror website back from February reveals a brilliant game seed for Call of Cthulhu – the Red Baron was apparently out and about shooting down UFOs over the trenches. Dubious veracity aside, this is interesting stuff:

He supposedly spotted an UFO that looked like an upside down silver saucer with orange lights during an early morning mission in the clear blue skies above Belgium in the spring of 1917.

Fellow German Air Force ace Peter Waitzrick, who reportedly witnessed the dogfight, said: “We were terrified because we’d never seen anything like it before. The Baron immediately opened fire and the thing went down like a rock, shearing off tree limbs as it crashed into the woods.”

Two occupants allegedly survived the crash and clambered from the wreck before running into the trees.

The mind expands at the potential gaming. The Red Baron is already a super interesting character – I’ve always enjoyed his portrayal in Kim Newman’s The Bloody Red Baron, although I’m sure there are a great deal many more historically accurate adaptations than casting the Baron as a giant monstrous vampire bat.

Some gaming ideas from this story:

Aerial Mi-Go Combat Mini Game

Whether or not your players are going to be flying Fokkers, Vickers, or riding on a zeppelin, come up with a clever way to game – Call of Cthulhu is not a game that generally features aerial combat, so it could be a nice change of pace for your players. See the climax of the live action The Whisperer in Darkness for more inspiration.

Frenzied Hunt through the Woods

In the mood for a little paranoiac role playing? Your players could play German soldier tasked with collecting the escapees from the Baron’s kills… this could go a few different ways. Action oriented stealth adventure or perhaps, a Thing esque “is the Baron an alien” type scenario?

Let me know what you’d do with this as a starting point.

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REVIEW: The King in Yellow as adapted by INJ Culbard

The King in Yellow by INJ Culbard

Robert Chambers’ The The King in Yellow contains two of my absolute favorite short stories of all time, certainly two of my favorite pieces of weird fiction of all time, and the book in it’s entirety is a beautiful piece of fin-de-siecle weirdness that has few real contemporaries.

I have greatly enjoyed INJ Culbard’s Lovecraft adaptations so far. His art is excellently matched to the subject matter and his choices when transforming the stories have clearly been made carefully and I think, for the most part, made correctly.

He has decided, one would imagine for reasons of length, not to adapt the entire book. Instead, he adapts just four stories from Chambers’ book – “The Repairer of Reputations”, “The Yellow Sign”, “The Mask”, and “In the Court of the Dragon”. These stories are the “weirdest” in the book, and Culbard has chosen to link them via a (very loose) framing story. The main characters of each story mention each other.

I find this conceit to be unnecessary. I also found that the adaptation was not as lyrical as the Lovecraft adaptations. Perhaps it speaks to the difference in prose and dialog, but there seemed to be much more missing than in his version of Mountains of Madness, for example. (Now that can’t possibly be true, given how Mountains of Madness reads.)

"The Yellow Sign" from The Repairer of Reputations in Culbard's the King in Yellow

However, I greatly enjoyed the actual representation the characters were given in the this book. The squamous unnamed carriage driver in The Yellow Sign looked appropriately gross, and the deco landscape of 1890’s Paris and New York is lovingly rendered.

If you’ve read the other Culbard Lovecraft adaptations and enjoyed them, there is no reason not to get this book, you’ll probably enjoy it. Also, King in Yellow completists will no doubt find this interesting. If you haven’t read the Chambers’s book, I would recommend at least seeking out The Repairer of Reputations and The Yellow Sign in advance of picking up this volume.

The King in Yellow by INJ Culbard on Amazon

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Avoiding Total Party Kill (TPK)

total party kill

What is Total Party Kill?

Total Party Kill is something you may have to contend to when you play Call of Cthulhu. One ill considered confrontation with one monster is sometimes enough to annihilate an entire adventuring party, especially one unprepared for a fire vampire.

Total Party Kill is, of course, that vaunted goal of the adversarial Dungeon Daddy. To match wits with the players and defeat the utterly is the goal. Of course, it shouldn’t really be much of a challenge to kill an entire group of players when you are running the game considering you are in complete control of the game world.

Hereafter I’m not typing out Total Party Kill anymore – I’m calling it TPK.

Why is Total Party Kill bad?

Probably isn’t fair to say that TPK is bad, objectively. In my Lamentation of the Flame Princess game, a TPK happens now and then. In that game, the setting and play style makes it feel appropriate to have the entire party die every now and then.

The problem arises when the game is not best served by having the entire party die. In a Call of Cthulhu investigation, frequently there is a central mystery that must be solved for the game to feel played to everyone’s satisfaction. Now, I’m of the mindset that you shouldn’t have to jump through excessive hoops in order to product your sensitive widdle players but I also believe that in this context, death should have meaning and at least a little emotional weight. In many other games, the experience is more about building character and drama, two things which are not well served by having characters die en masse.

What to do to prevent TPK in Call of Cthulhu?

Well, don’t kill all your players, dude. Don’t leave everything up to chance. I think that is important not to let the players know that it wasn’t the gaze of Yog Sothoth that recalled the Fire Vampire but the benevolence of their Keeper. They should never know that you have spared them death.

Another option to consider is alternate consequences. The sanity system is built right into the game – it will allow you a way to damage your players without incinerating them. You could also consider a timely maiming. There’s no question that will do the trick from time to time.

It is important to give their actions consequence and not to disturb the illusion of 1 to 1 reprisal for a mistake, but it is also important to have a fun, dramatic game.

What do you do to avoid TPK in your Call of Cthulhu games or in any game? Let me know in the comments or the social medias.

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The Perils of Long Campaigns

Bored of a long campaign

So I’ve been playing Eternal Lies, the long term so-called mega campaign from Pelgrane Press. We’ve actually been recording it, I’m not sure when or if it will be released, we’ve been plagued with recording and alcohol related play quality issues throughout. However, the main challenge that we’ve faced has not been an overabundance of beer or poor mic placement, but burnout.

The campaign has been going for over a year. We’ve done our best to avoid getting tired of the themes of Eternal Lies (sex, violence, the ever present nectar and oral fixations), and the ever changing and exotic locales do a great deal to enhance this.

I took steps as well to eliminate what I felt was the worst problem with Masks of Nyarlathotep, the lack of character persistence. I’m not sure if this has contributed to the malaise of the players. That is to say, I am sure that they were dying too often in Masks, but maybe not enough in Eternal Lies.

It might be an issue with GUMSHOE, not so much a complaint against the system, but that we were playing it wrong at first and are still unfamiliar with it. The sanity vs stability pools have never been entirely clear to me. In one shot games, it generally never even matters but with characters persisting over thirty-plus sessions, the rules have become more and more important.

It might have been worthwhile to use COC to play Eternal Lies as they did on the Yog Sothoth recordings.

What do you guys/gals think? Is there a way you fight player boredom in long campaigns? Are you all just so incredible at running games that you never encounter this problem? I’d love to hear what you have to say, either in the comments or in Twitter or Facebook.

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Sandy Petersen, Greg Stafford, and Chaosium

Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen return to Chaosium

Well, Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen return to Chaosium, pretty big news. If you’re like me, you may not have realized that the new edition of Call of Cthulhu 7th edition was in such dire shape, but apparently it is.

Hopefully, this comes with a minimum of people losing their jobs and means more and prompt delivery of Cthulhu themed pretending games.

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Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start rules Video Tutorials

Call of Cthulhu Video Tutorial

Paul Fricker, of The Good Friends of Jackson Elias and co-author of the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition podcast has created a series of video tutorials on Call of Cthulhu 7th edition.

Character Creation:

Game System:

Sanity Rules:

These are pretty broad strokes, but if by some strange chance you haven’t yet played Call of Cthulhu or are concerned about switching to the newest edition, these videos should be a big help.

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No Clues Without Consequence, GUMSHOE, and Eternal Lies


I’ve been reading Will Hindmarch‘s excellent analysis of the GUMSHOE system, No Clues Without Consequence.

GUMSHOE is an interesting thing, because even though my players and I tend to favor d20 based games like B/X DND or Call of Cthulhu, we seem to return again and again to GUMSHOE.

Point of fact: we’re deep into Eternal Lies, the mega campaign for Trail of Cthulhu. We could have probably converted to Call of Cthulhu but who has time for that? I barely have time to prepare for a session each week.

It has been a learning experience, to be sure. We’d played probably 6-10 hours of GUMSHOE before, but to be frank, it became obvious almost immediately that we weren’t doing it right. Too much rolling – in GUMSHOE, you don’t have to make a check in order to get a clue, something which is nearly impossible to swallow if you’re a Call of Cthulhu player. Not because it is objectionable, but because it is so foreign.

Those will come out as a podcast someday. I wish I had read No Clues Without Consequence a lot earlier than now, though.

There is another reason this is of interest to me: GREAT DETECTIVE, the RPG system my friend Andrew and I are writing, is now moving to a GUMSHOE design. We went back and forth and the usefulness of creating our own system. Eventually, we decided “why?” GUMSHOE is OpenGL. They have a system specifically for investigations. Let’s use it.

So the moral? I have to get better at GUMSHOE.

BONUS: The One Shot podcast recorded a rules explanation with Kenneth Hite, creator of Trail of Cthulhu. A nice, brief, easy intro to GUMSHOE and Night’s Black Agents.

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Playing Vampire the Masquerade for the First Time

lestat playing vampire the masquerade

My gaming group has just started a game of Vampire: The Masquerade. Although I was disinterested for many years in the setting (too cool, I guess), I’ve since realized that I love games set in the late 90’s, especially games where we can start by playing Nerfherder’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme.

We’ve decided to forgo any LARPing type elements and play it typical tabletop style, but the game itself presents an interesting challenge for us.

A Lot of Talking

We generally play two different types of games – we play Call of Cthulhu/Trail of Cthulhu with lots of rolling, adventure, and fighting, or B/X games with lots of rolling, adventure, and fighting. Although I did get to do some dominating, in general, playing Vampire: The Masquerade is a role playing driven affair. Which is good, because it challenges us to become better at role playing games.

Music helps – we had a mix tape that we played as we headed into Chicago – each character picked a song. (Bach, Sleater Kinney, Beck, and George Michael if you’re interested).

As we journeyed through various clubs and parties in Chicago, we played a ton of the Smiths, the Cure, Bauhaus. I think some riot grrl would make a nice addition.

It’s a good thing that I’m not running this game – my time would obsessively be spent mining Anno Dracula books for historical characters to jam into the game as vampires.

The current Bundle of Holding is Vampire: The Masquerade. Seems like a cheap way to get into the game if you’ve never tried it.

Let me know in the comments if you’re a Vampire fan or if you have any general tips for Role playing heavy games.

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Appendix N for 2015


Familiar with Appendix N? The AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide featured a short essay from Gary Gygax, filed under Appendix N, which was essentially a recommended reading list and a collection of all the influences that Gygax had brought to bear on his foundational role playing game document.

In an act of some might say UNPRECENDENTED narcissism, because I think it might be fun, I thought I might share my current Appendix N going into the new year. Writing two midsized campaigns as well as working on two different new game books, I need a fair amount of fuel for my influence fire.

Here are the things that I’m turning into games at the moment:

Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin


The Man Who Was Thursday


Tales from the Crescent City

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Mainly this stuff is feeding a campaign that I’ve been writing for a long time – the player characters will play a variety of 1930’s superhero/pulp hero type figures (Flash Gordon! The Shadow! Jill Trent!) and face off against a cabal of supervillains attempting to use Carcosan artifacts to …do evil stuff. I know what happens, I just have to do all the busy work of designing the maps or areas and all that jazz. Since we’re wrapping up Eternal Lies, I need to put something else together, so I figured we’d try out Call of Cthulhu 7th edition… by houseruling it all to hell.

Love to hear what is inspiring you to make games. What’s your Appendix N?

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REVIEW: Horror on the Orient Express

horror on the orient express

DISCLAIMER: I haven’t yet been able to play Horror on the Orient Express.

I backed the Chaosium kickstarter for Horror on the Orient Express what feels like a million years ago. It turns out that it funded in 2012, which explains why I feel like I’ve been waiting for it forever.

The Horror on the Orient Express scenario is a very long, some might say epic scenario that takes place across Europe in the 1920s during the last great era of the luxury train line The Orient Express. The scenario itself involves a cult (WHAT) who are seeking a powerful mcguffin that is spread out across Europe. The nature of the cult and the mcguffin (The Sedefkar Simulacrum) lend the main story a strong emphasis on body horror.

The main campaign has been in existence for some time, and although I’m not especially familiar with it, my understanding is that it is not changed over much in this new presentation, just suffused with an incredible amount of new material.

And there IS an incredible amount of new material here. Aside from the main campaign, which takes place in the standard Call of Cthulhu setting of the 1920’s upper class, the campaign also includes supplementary adventures for Cthulhu Invictus, The Dreamlands, Cthulhu by Gaslight, and the modern day.

My boxed set also included a very large amount of prop documents and other physical ephemera. Tickets, stickers, buttons, maps, etcetera. You can check out the CthulhuDice instagram page for loads of “unboxing” pictures.

So – the verdict:

I can’t very well give Horror on the Orient Express a bad review, given the sheer amount of stuff you get. Even if you just buy the rulebooks, they come in a huge box. I can’t fit them on my shelf. All the props have to occupy a separate little area in CthulhuDice headquarters (luckily they came with a convenient tote bag). The writing and design is very strong, the art is great, the production is excellent.

Murder on the Orient Express Quad

However, keep a few things in mind. The campaign is long and involved. Including the supplementary scenarios will make playing through the box a several month long affair. (Unless you have a gaming group that meets daily. Mine has trouble getting together once a week!) It involves plenty of the grotesque and a fair amount gore, so everyone should have a strong stomach. Although that sort of stuff doesn’t bother me particularly, I do think there is a bit too much of it in Cthulhu/Lovecraft based RPG, and not nearly enough existential terror. (Although I do understand the appeal of mutilating your player characters in various ways).



Also, much of the scenario and especially the endgame are incredibly deadly. There is an extended section on  a train where a vampire is after the players – I’m not sure I’ve ever met a group of players who could survive that section. The danger with especially deadly long campaigns is that losing too many player characters leads to a weird disconnect in motivations – the original group is working at the behest of their close friend, the Professor – at some point, the players have become a motley collection of second cousins and press ganged locals who have ended up risking their lives for murky reasons.

However, if your group is in the market for long, pulpy, and difficult adventure, you can probably look no further than The Horror on the Orient Express. I doubt very much that you’ll be disappointed.

Horror on the Orient Express at Chaosium

Our Instagram Unboxing

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