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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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Appendix N for 2015

tumblr_static_42eoenlnx2uc8w4cww0s8cs8c_2048_v2

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

Planetary

The Man Who Was Thursday

Gladiator

Tales from the Crescent City

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

http://littlegreenpig.com/the-man-who-was-thursday/
http://littlegreenpig.com/the-man-who-was-thursday/

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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Laird Barron’s The Croning

Old Witch Laird Barron the Croning Review Cthulhu Dice

I recently had the pleasure of listening to Laird Barron’s book The Croning on audio book and I have to say that I enjoyed it immensely. I believe I read a story by Barron called “The Forest” once before and I remember I found the ending to be quite chilling, but for whatever reason I did not seek out more of his work. I can’t say why, but I had an idea of him in my head as leaning too hard on tough guy characters, to the point of assuming much of his writing would read as cliched.

Searching for audiobooks to listen to at work, I decided to give the Croning a try, and although I don’t think I was entirely wrong about Barron’s protagonists, I was definitely pleasantly surprised. Barron’s style brings to mind Jack London and RE Howard much more than Micky Spillane, which is to say, his characters are not one note, although the book does faintly drip with machismo.

There is heavy drinking and plenty of frank sexual description, but the narrator is far from a tough guy. For much of the story, the protagonist is in his eighties, and he is never depicted as being in control of the situation or even close to it. I won’t discuss the plot at length, but there is the usual stuff – grim, matriarchal cults worshiping an epochal entity known only as “Old Leech.” Servitor characters who seem to have skittered thier way out of Tod Browning’s Freaks. Rumpelstiltskin. The frightening disintegration of mental control and reality.

Since it is somewhat the site’s purview to relate things to Call of Cthulhu the role playing game and Lovecraft in general, for those who are not aware, Barron’s actual prose does not read or feel much like Lovecraft, but as the above paragraph suggests, there are certainly themes of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, although the more visceral nature of the characters tends to create a more gut wrenching and immediate horror. The Croning won’t feel out of place to the COC RPG player, either. There are sections of this book which may resemble a Call of Cthulhu campaign, and if, like me, you are tired of fishmen and Nyarlathotep, using the Cult of Old Leech in your game will be both familiar enough to entertain the easily amused and novel enough to interest those who might be losing it.

The Croning Laird Barron

I am now convinced to seek out more Laird Barron. I may move on to his short story collection, Occultation, or I may skip ahead to the recently released “tribute album” of Barron inspired fiction, the Children of Old Leech.

Have you read Laird Barron? If anyone can recommend me somewhere to go from here, I’d love to hear it. I’d also be interested in any recommendations for Weird Fiction audiobooks of quality.

Buy The Croning on Amazon

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Masks of Nyarlathotep Minisite Created

Masks of Nyarlathotep

I just launched the Masks of Nyarlathotep minisite is going to be a complete repository for running that specific campaign.

If there is specific Masks related information that you’d like to share, like a story from your Masks game, a cool idea for Masks game, a review on your website, anything Masks of Nyarlathotep related, please let me know and I’ll put it there so that we can all benefit. (Email me at matt@cthulhudice.com or on twitter at @COCDice).

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Creating Pulp Call of Cthulhu Characters

Pulp Call of Cthulhu

 

I’m creating a Pulp Call of Cthulhu campaign, and I’m looking to literally populate it with Pulp action heroes, in the same mode as this. I figured I’d translate a handful of characters to the Call of Cthulhu rules and then present them to my players and let them choose. I’m looking to avoid “superheroes” but pretty much any character is fair game.

I’ve started with the “big three.”

Doc Savage

The hardest to translate to the game: he has no flaws. He’s an exceptional combatant and also knows virtually everything. I decided to make him good at everything but make the others even better at some things.

The Shadow

Former World War One Flying Ace turned vigilante, exceptional driving, flying and shooting skills – also possesses some measure of quasi-mystical stealth and possibly the ability to see the darkness in men’s hearts. Depends on which version exactly you’re consulting. He’s going to have some kind of innate magic, for sure, I haven’t decided how powerful exactly to make him.

Tarzan

Burroughs describes the Apeman as an intelligent, handsome giant. The easiest to make, I think, enormous, physically perfect and quick witted, but with the disadvantage of not knowing much about stuff in general. Good at climbing, and of course, can talk to some jungle animals.

Pulp Call of Cthulhu

The Rest

I’m still thinking about any additional characters, as I’ve said, basically any fictional character “active” in the thirties is fair game. (Perhaps I’ll include Derleth’s Solar Pons as Sherlock Holmes is out, or perhaps someone can play both Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe). The big challenge is definitely going to be FEMALE characters. There is at least one player in my group who seems to favor them. I’d like to include a strong female character.

My knowledge of the genre is practical but limited… help me out! Leave a comment and some suggestions.

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Trail of Cthulhu Preparedness Explained

Trail of Cthulhu Preparedness

Do the investigators need a car to pick you up in a desolate spot in the woods? A player can make this happen by a) supplying a credible retroactive explanation of how she arranged it, and b) scoring a Preparedness success.

A point of some contention in the Trail of Cthulhu games I’ve run is the preparedness skill.

I have to admit, after reading this explanation by Robin D Laws, GUMSHOE system creator, I may have been being a bit to harsh. It does seem to be “Summon Retroactive Deus Ex Machina,” at least to some degree.

This is one of the issues that I personally have when running a game of Trail of Cthulhu. The system is closer to collaborative storytelling than I can really pull off given my personality and my preference for adversarial games. I don’t consider that reflecting badly on the system itself, more on my own inability to stop antagonizing my players with deathtraps and sanity blasting monsters.

Robin D Laws explains Trail of Cthulhu preparedness.

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REVIEW: Gateway: the Book of Wizards

Gateway Book of Wizards

Gateway: the Book of Wizards is one of the first Kickstarters I ever backed, and I finally received a week or two ago.

It contains nearly 100 illustrations that take you on a tour of an elaborate fantasy world, an urban-magical setting named Gateway. Gateway is a city populated by an authoritarian anti-magic government and ironically, wizards of every stripe, shape, and color.

The book reads much like Dinotopia, a series I treasured as a child, or even something like Brian Froud‘s work or the 1970’s classic Gnomes, in that it creates a portrait of a world, in a book, without really being a story of it’s own. In that sense, it lies somewhere between art book and fantasy novel.

gateway book of wizards

I found the book delightful. The art, which of course is the primary focus, sings, each wizard character having a distinct and delightful personality of their own. And the short chapters that accompanied each one were often just as strange and interesting. Case in point, when one is speaking about a magical barn that can read the future, the short text piece is actually a bit more interesting than the picture. Also, giant fish, people that become plants, people that become birds, paleomancy, vapormancy, ornithomancy, and maschramancy.

If you’re not sold, I don’t know exactly what you are looking for from me.

You can purchase the book at author Sean Andrew Murray’s Etsy store.

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Davros returns on the new season of Doctor Who

davros

I mean, that’s who it seems like to me. I’m a fourth doctor guy myself, I find all the new stuff very hit or miss, especially the most reasons seasons, but when it’s good, it’d good, you know.

Excited for Capaldi, mainly because his age will add a very different dynamic, hopefully feel a bit like the older series did. The teaser for the new series is below.

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A Partial List of Spells in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

I’ll be honest – I’ve mostly avoided Dungeons and Dragons 5th, even though I like a lot of the stuff I’ve read about it. Basically, that they are crowdsourcing it and also trying to solve a lot of the problems with 4th edition, which, uh, had some problems. Although a computer based character creator was a nice touch. The thing is, with any Dungeons and Dragons type business, there generally just isn’t enough Cthulhus*, which at the end of the day is what we’re all here for, isn’t it?

Without further ado, the list of Spells

Partial List of Dungeon's and Dragons Spells

The cleric spells look more interesting to me than the wizard spells, which is a darn crime. Pretty much the standard fare.

I found this on Facebook, on EN World’s Facebook page. FYI, Cthulhu Dice is also on Facebook.

*Don’t even start with the Mind Flayers, guy.