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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

on Amazon


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Krampus in Call of Cthulhu

The Krampus and Santa

It’s that time of year, when us Role Players are so soaked in roasted chesnuts and egg nog that we abortively begin plans to make Santa a villain in our Call of Cthulhu campaigns.

Of course, while a magic teleporting elf/weird Christian saint makes for an interesting challenge, the same region of the world that brought us Nicholas and the Christmas tree has an even more appropriate figure available for use in your imaginary monster fighting game of choice.

The Krampus

krampus, yule lord

The Krampus is a mythological figure from Germanic folklore who is in charge of punishing misbehaving children. He carries around branches of birch, tongue hanging out, ready to strike the loutish and greedy.
He is also sometimes depicted as having a burlap sack with which to spirit children away to the Black Forest.

Krampus is an obvious extension of the figure of Pan or the satyr. See Arthur Machen’s story The Great God Pan for more information on a Weird approach to Pan.

As a figure of nature and sexuality, the Krampus could also be depicted as being in cahoots, or an extension of, Shub Niggurath.

Some possible adventure hooks

Call of Cthulhu – In 1920’s rural Pennsylvania, a beast has been emerging and defiling women and stealing children. Locals say it is the Krampus, come to punish us for our godless ways. You suspect that it is something more. Easily ported to the present day, it can be an episode of the X-Files… or a Delta Green adventure.

Dreamlands – The men of Leng in the Dreamlands are also depicted as Satyrs. Is the Krampus a rogue man of Leng, dragging defenseless children off to the slave pits of Leng?

Cthulhu Invictus – The Roman Legions invaded Germany. Perhaps the lands had additional defenses besides barbarians?

How you actually want to portray the Krampus is up to you. Is he a Wilbur Whateley esque goat man half bred with Yog Sothoth? Is he actually the Krampus? A leftover from the age of myth and legend somehow still kicking around? Is he a mask of Nyarlathotep (known to wear the Horned God mask, I believe) or an avatar of Shub Niggurath?

Let me know how you end up using the fun little devil guy in the comments, or on Facebook or twitter!

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Pulp Call of Cthulhu Part 2: The Villains

Doctor Mabuse

If you’ve been following us for awhile, you might remember me mentioning I’ve been working on a Call of Cthulhu game where the Player Characters will play as Tarzan, Doc Savage, the Shadow, and other pulp style heroes and characters. (Flash Gordon? Karamenah? The Bride of Frankenstein?)

Lately, I’ve been considering the villains. Reading the latest League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Nemo: The Roses of Berlin, I’ve been inspired by the idea of using the villains of German Expressionist cinema to go against the somewhat more straightforward American heroes.

Think of it: Rotwang, Dr Caligari, Doctor Mabuse. Now, I’m not exactly opposed to throwing in Fu Manchu, Adolph Hitler, and John Sunlight, but I really like the Weirdness of the German contingent – we are still ostensibly dealing with the Cthulhu Mythos here. These are exactly the types to be reading from forbidden tomes.

What do you think? Who are your favorite thirties era villains?

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RPG Live Play Episode 1: Delta Green: Convergence Episode 1

I Want to Believe Delta Green Convergence Podcast Cthulhu Dice

I just uploaded our first episode of our Live Play RPG Podcast. There are plenty of other (dare I say better and more professional) RPG podcasts, but if you’re like me and you listen to a gazillion hours of podcasts a week, sometimes you just need something cool to listen to. I personally like these podcasts, we have dozens of hours in the can of Trail of Cthulhu podcasts, so I think we’ll be able to put these out somewhat regularly.

During this episode, we played Call of Cthulhu/Delta Green. We played a scenario in the classic Delta Green Rulebook, the lauded Convergence.

Some of us played a different introductory scenario, Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays, also from the original Delta Green rulebook. Some of us are more interested in Call of Cthulhu than others, and we are all primarily having a good time rather than trying to produce a professional sounding podcast, so listener beware. I know that’s a lot of warnings, so let me just say if you like Fly on the Wall style RPG recordings, this is probably something you’d enjoy. Also, we discuss Delta Green and it’s mythology quite a bit as we get going, so if you’re interested in learning a little about Delta Green, give it a listen.

The players are as follows:

Andrew Baillie as the Game Master
Matt Bevilacqua as Carla Steele
Chris Baillie as Clayton “Bruce” Armstrong
Gino Vasconseles as Sam Wells
Steven Riley as Issac Summers

We’re going to try and keep each recording to “about” an hour. In this case, that happened to work out nicely to coincide with the first day of “in game” time. Let me know if you enjoyed our first recording, there will be more Convergence to come, I really want to know what would make it better/more interesting, or if you just want to talk shop, let me know. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, or leave a comment!

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Sanity Check


Probably my favorite mechanic from the Call of Cthulhu RPG is also one of it’s trademarks – the sanity check. It is an incredibly simple yet compelling mechanic that largely defines the way the game works, places the crunchier players in numbers driven jeopardy, models the source material in an effective way, and encourages wild and fun roleplaying.

How does a sanity check work?

Your character in Call of Cthulhu is assigned a starting Sanity points value based on his attributes, and the amount of Cthulhu Mythos he knows/understands. When a player encounters something that is either Yog-Sothothery or would otherwise challenge their mental state, they have to make a sanity check.

In Call of Cthulhu (if you didn’t already know), most checks involve a d100+d10. The combination will generate a number between 1-100 – this result is tested against an skill, if it’s less, the check is a success. Otherwise, the check is a failure.

Each event in Call of Cthulhu that calls for a sanity check has a failure state and a success state. Sometimes, on a pass, you lose 0 sanity – other times, you still lose sanity, but not as much as those who failed.

Why is this so clever? Mainly, because it becomes easier and easier to fail a sanity check the more sanity checks you fail – the danger and excitement rachets up as you go.

The main problem that occurs with sanity checks in the games that I play is that the players will OFTEN try and talk their way out of having to roll one. An incident that gets discussed to this day in my gaming group involves a bridge disappearing in an underground cavern in while exploring Under the Pyramids. Somehow, making the group roll a sanity check in that scenario is evidence of my overbearing style – after all, having seen actual monsters, a bridge disappearing is hardly worth worrying about.

Dwight Frye as Willie

Sandy Peterson on the Sanity Mechanic

From a long piece that Call of Cthulhu fans should definitely read, Sandy Petersen talks about his own game:

As such I’d like to take full credit for inventing it. But I can’t, alas. The original concept was published in an article for the Sorcerer’s Apprentice magazine, where the authors (whose names are published in other interviews of mine) suggested that the player be given a Willpower stat or some such thing, and if he saw something too scary, he could take a Willpower check, and a bad enough failure could reduce it permanently. Reduce it permanently?! This was what I hung my hat on. I took the fundamental idea, called it Sanity, made it the focus of the game, and instead of, on rare occasions, lowering this stat, I had almost every encounter and event reduce one’s Sanity, till player-characters could become gibbering wrecks, or even turn into GM-controlled monsters.

It really is a stroke of ingenuity – the sanity mechanic is the fundamental idea behind one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Because it is unforgiving, challenging and fun – and apparently, as Petersen goes on to say, it was supposed to be even more unpleasant.

I knew I was on to something and kept refining the Sanity mechanic, in conjunction with the people at Chaosium, until it reached its current state. One big change was that I had concluded that Sanity should only diminish, and never increase, and the folks at Chaosium thought that was too negative even for a game about Cthulhu. They were right, I feel. And after all, Sanity still trends downwards, so I got my way in the end. If anything it’s more agonizing for the players this way, because they are fooled into thinking they can work their Sanity back up. Ha ha.

How often do players really regain sanity anyways?

An enduring design


The sanity check is great for creating tense gameplay. It is also great for two other reasons – firstly, it causes players to indulge in some wacky roleplaying. It is compulsory for players to “go insane” when losing sanity. Many players do not love to role play extravagantly, but there is something about the onset of paranoid schizophrenia that brings out the amateur dramatics. Many people’s most fond memories of Call of Cthulhu are related to the madness of themselves or their fellows.

The other is that the unforgiving descent into madness brought on by repeated exposure to the horrors of the world is one of the most “Lovecraftian” concepts to make it into the final game.

In the comments, tell me about the most fun you’ve had, playing an insane character, or demanding sanity checks from your players, or look us up on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ and tell us there!

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Mythcreants How to Keep Your Horror Game Scary


Over on the Mythcreants blog, there is a very pertinent article on how to keep your horror game scary. This is a tricky proposition!

Make it clear that you’re running a horror game from the moment you start inviting people to play. Even if the system you’re using implies horror, be explicit. Many a game has fallen apart because of PCs who saw shoggoths as nothing more than medieval tar monsters. The bottom line is, you can’t scare players who don’t want to be scared, and trying will only lead to aggravation all around.

There is plenty of helpful advice here. If you’re like me, every single time I run a game, I say to myself, “well, that went ok – how could that be better?” I’m preparing to run a game tonight – I haven’t exactly decided if I’m running a homebrew dungeon or some Call of Cthulhu, but I may try and put these lessons in practice myself this very evening.

Please let me know if you have any tips on running horror games in the comments, or on Facebook.

Or, if you think you could write an article on the subject, or any related subject, let me know via an e-mail to

The Link: Mythcreants: How to Keep Your Horror Campaign Scary

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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.


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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Sedefkar Simulacrum Project on Indiegogo

Sedefkar Simulacrum

Delphes Desvoivres, a companion of one of the writer’s of the new Orient Express supplement from Chaosium, is sculpting a life size duplicate of the Sedefkar Simulacrum, one of the mcguffins from the game. She is seeking crowdfunding for the project. Available rewards seem very cool, custom posters, prints, a box, and a small version of the Sedefkar Simulacrum. The kicker? For $35,000 you can get your very own life size Sedefkar Simulacrum.

Sedefkar Simulacrum Indiegogo Campaign
Post on Orient Express Writer’s Blog

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Batman, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Tom Riddle, and The Doctor in Pulp Cthulhu


The Peaches and Hot Sauce podcast network show “One Shot” is a high quality recording of role playing live play. The systems vary but in this circumstance, they played Call of Cthulhu, and enjoyably, the players played Indiana Jones, The Doctor (Who), Batman, Tom Riddle, and James Bond fighting the cults of Cthulhu.

I picked up a recommendation to this podcast from an ad on great game podcast Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff. This is one of the few “live play” podcasts that I was excited to listen to all the way through. I even laughed a few times.

The play had the feel of improvisational acting rather than the monotony that live play sometimes sinks into. I listened to all 2 plus hours at once, and I didn’t want to stop once I started. I also recommend the Scooby Doo/Call of Cthulhu Mashup. They also do loads of other games as well. (Dread, Everyone is John, Star Wars, etc)

Pulp Cthulhu Part 1
Pulp Cthulhu Part 2