Open Source Cthulhu


Someone, or something, generated a for-sale book out of open source articles on the Call of Cthulhu CCG and LCG, of all things. Fascinating, especially considering the “seller” is asking $62.11 for a 100 page paperback.

Maybe it’s a sideline for a higher education textbook publisher? Hey-yo!

Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum

Originally published in 1652, Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum was a monster of a book that collected alchemical works from the likes of John Dee, Edward Kelley and Elias Ashmole. Now it’s to be reprinted by Ouroboros Press in a corrected edition based off the original errata sheets.[1]

It looks to be full of neat content good for waving around as an alchemist’s handbook or wizard’s grimoire. As a “stout octavo” edition, I can only hope it’s as good for the party’s occult expert or resident potion-stirrer thwacking a nincompoop about the cranium as putting out small fires.

[1] Tying it to role-playing games in an unexpected way.

The Beast is Dead

George R. R. Martin implies he’s finished A Dance with Dragons.

To put that in a personal context for myself, the first novel, A Game of Thrones, published just before I began my freshman year of high school. The most recent volume, A Feast for Crows, came out in 2005. That was the first year I attended Carnage. The book hit the week before the convention.

In fact, I saw Feast for Crows at Carnage. We were playing a GURPS Banestorm adventure when Chuck strolled up and handed one of the players a copy. She squeed a bit. I think that was the first time I encountered the series at all.

Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier

While laid low over the past weekend with a cold, I took the opportunity to delve into some books that lay untouched on my bookshelf for too long. One of them was Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier by Brad and Sherry Steiger. It’s a massive tome that I picked up mostly because I kept hearing ads for it on some podcasts and at the time, I had more Paperbackswap credits than I had uses for.

As it turns out, it’s something of an informal encyclopedia on none other than conspiracies and secret societies in history. Rosicrucians, the Trilateral Commission, the Rockefellers, the assassination of political figures throughout the centuries; it’s all in there. Hundreds of oddball topics get some page time in this book. It’s a great way to skip around subjects. You can read up on the Theosophy movement and Madame Blavatsky, then move on to orgone radiation before taking in the Knights Templar.

It’s all grounded in historical fact, mind you. There are no flights of fancy or bisociation. The Steigers’ short articles, typically drawing on Internet resources, but also many traditional works, present the real world perspective as their book is nominally non-fiction — in that they don’t purport that the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s workings actually achieved anything, just that there was an order and its members did stuff like that.

Coming off Things That Never Were and my refresher course in Suppressed Transmission, this book reminded me that it’s not all about making stuff up for role-playing games. There’s still plenty of ideas to mine here, but it’s a sober testament to the fact this stuff changed real people’s real lives, for good or worse.

Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier is published by Visible Ink Press and is available today.

I’m going to let you in on a source for cheap role-playing books: Like the name implies, it’s a website that abstracts swapping books. You list the books you no longer want and create a list of those you do. As people request books from you, which you mail off to them, you get credits, which can be spent to get the books on your wish list or you find via browsing. Think of it as turning one book into another for the cost of packing and postage.

In addition to my fiction and non-fiction reading, Paperbackswap has turned out to be a resource for picking up role-playing books on the cheap. Plus, a couple titles I threw on my list for fun — GURPS Technomancer and GURPS Voodoo — both appeared. Battle-worn, well-loved copies, but still there. Most of what I’ve picked up are GURPS supplements, but I also acquired Uresia: Grave of Heaven.

There are, however, two provisos. This is not a speedy process. Most of the role-playing books I’ve acquired through Paperbackswap sat on my wish list for a year or more before someone happened to list the book, or it became my turn to receive a copy. You have to be prepared to play the long game. It doesn’t hurt to have GURPS Places of Mystery in my queue, no matter how long it takes to show up, if ever.

Two, these books are typically not in collection-grade condition. In fact, if a role-playing book has gotten to the point that the owner is willing to list it on Paperbackswap, it’s probably seen a lot of action. Which can work out great, if it’s a title that normally demands high prices. You get the content with none of the worries about maintaining the book’s condition or feeling bad about how much you paid.

Paperbackswap isn’t a guarantee of getting cheap role-playing books, but it never hurts to set up that wish list. You even get two credits to start off when you sign up.

Things That Never Were

“Call it speculative nonfiction, or cryptojournalism, or historico-literary ranting, or guided daydreaming or collective-unconscious channeling, or edutainment disinformation, or fabulaic mimesis, or polymorphously perverse media-jamming, or any other semi-oxymoronic term you care to employ, so long as the new phrase conveys the proper sense of daring, erudition, obstinate refusal to accept consensus reality, playfulness, willingness to go out on a limb then saw the limb away, and all the other qualities traditionally associated with humanity’s greatest rebels, outcasts, eccentrics, visionaries, saints, madmen and plain old bullgoose loonies.”

That’s just the start of a glowing introduction from Paul di Filippo to Matthew Rossi’s Things That Never Were, a collection of short essays that range across the fields of history, science and their pseudo-counterparts. In one, he cobbles together an expedition team including Ehrich Weiss, H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard among others who delve into the caverns of Pellucidar and Atvatabari to stop the dero threat once and for all. In another, he posits a war of espionage between Roger Bacon and Kubilai Khan, the greatest minds of the west and east, respectively.

Every essay is a freewheeling mish-mash of ideas ranging from the ultimate fate of the Library of Alexandria — hidden in a dimensional fold by genius mathematician Hypatia — to a bevvy of potential causes of the Tunguska blast of 1908 — too numerous to sum up. Rossi pulls from a wide variety of esoteric source of information without much discernment. The writing of Theosophists are as much fair game as The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. In short, it’s a smorgasbord of ideas ripe for the picking for a role-playing campaign.

As fun as Rossi’s rapid-fire, scattershot mingling of fact, fiction and supposition is to read and feel your brain prickle at the madness of it all, it can be daunting to pick out the one or two things one wants from an essay while the author pinwheels around, invoking as many geek touchstones as possible, particularly Lovecraft’s mythos. Rossi usually cites his sources, particularly with extensive quotes to set the stage, but I often found myself wishing for annotations expanding on a throwaway namecheck, references to other essays in the book — he often brings a name or topic up “as I’ve mentioned before” when they appear later in the book — and footnotes of further books to research.

It’s fun, it’s readable and it’s so similar to some of the plot seeds I’ve written here that I think we’ve both drawn from the same inspirational well, the Suppressed Transmission column by Kenneth Hite. But that’s fine. There’s more than enough weirdness in the world for everyone to write about. And I appreciated being reminded about this book on a recent thread lamenting the unavailability of unpublished transmissions; it was a lot like stumbling onto Suppressed Transmission‘s cousin and being just as enraptured.

Things That Never Were is published by Monkeybrain Books and can be purchased on Amazon — and possibly conventional retailers; I didn’t check.

The Fell Types

Roman and small caps, probably cut by Christoffel van Dijck.

Lovecraftian prop blog Propnomicon recently posted about the Fell types, a series of typefaces dating from the 17th century that are now freely available download as fonts:

From mid-16th century until the end of the 17th, interference with printing by the British Crown thwarted the development of type founding in England—most type used by 17th century English printers was of Dutch origin. The lack of material inspired Bishop of Oxford Doctor John Fell to purchase punches & matrices from Holland ca. 1670–1672 for use by the Oxford University Press. The so-named Fell types, presumed to be the work of Dutch punchcutter Dirck Voskens, mark a noticeable jump from previous designs, with considerably shorter extenders, higher stroke contrast, narrowing of round letters, and flattened serifs on the baseline and descenders.

Aside from looking awesome, these fonts would be great for handouts to share extracts from grimoires, banned tomes and books that were never written in your role-playing games. And they’re open source, too, so they’re free for the taking.

Thanks to Igino Marini for putting in the effort behind this typeface revival and making them open source.

For Sale: Slightly Used Turtles

A copy clearly used, but not necessarily well loved.

Monday evening, I found myself browsing through Crow Bookshop on Church St. As part of my used book browsing routine, I always hit the science fiction and fantasy section, as well as the game shelf. I don’t often find anything, but it’s a habit that’s paid off in the past. This time, I found a very nice copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, the game lovingly spoken of by so many role-players. I’m not usually one to play the “it was so cheap, I couldn’t pass it up” card, but I gave away my TMNT books a couple years back — which I had bought as part of my “buy everything that someone, anyone ever may have recommended” phase, which thankfully ended quickly — and frankly, came to regret doing so. I’m a hoarder, I know, but they’re books, damnit.

So for seven bucks, I bought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness. This copy even has a character sheet in the back, making it a sort of upgrade from the last copy I owned. Now, will I use this copy? If I take my own medicine, then yes, I should. The members of my role-playing group — currently stalled on Broken Spokes for scheduling reasons, surprise, surprise — are Palladium players from back in the day, so I think they would take to a Ninja Turtles game readily. In fact, I can imagine a proposed one-shot spinning out from there, but that wouldn’t stop the endemic scheduling issues.

A lot of my role-playing library came from used book stores or online equivalents like eBay. There’s a Barnes & Noble over in South Burlington with a used books section that, for whatever reason, was a veritable spring of role-playing material. I picked up a lot of Mage: the Ascension and other White Wolf titles there for cheap. I discovered Changeling: the Dreaming because its brightly colored spine caught my eye from the bottom shelf.

Maybe it has to do with being near the local university, pulling in students looking to dump a load of books for quick cash. Whatever the reason, that place was a gold mine, once this discerning shopper realized the trick was to comb through the over-sized shelf in the science fiction and fantasy section, where all the graphic novels, trade paperbacks and role-playing books were tossed together. Often there would be caches of books from a particular game line, as though someone chose to wash their hands completely of In Nomine or whatever.

I don’t cruise the used book stores as I once did. Part of that is portion of the book-selling industry largely shifted online in the last ten years. The local shop with stacks of battered paperbacks have a hard time competing with online sellers for all the usual reasons: overhead costs, variety of inventory and so on.

My buying habits changed, too. Two years or so into the role-playing hobby, I realized I was buying a lot of books, reading them once and then shelving them. I didn’t have a role-playing group at the time and was feeding my desire for hobby-related stimulus by amassing a frankly useless library of role-playing material. I mean “useless” in the sense I couldn’t possibly utilize all the material in a meaningful fashion, beyond superficially skimming plot seeds and character ideas for use in whatever game I happened to run, which I wasn’t even doing at the time.

I’m a lot pickier these days. I still try to buy used when I can, though. A couple months after a book’s release, the odds are some unhappy role-player’s going to offload it on eBay,’s trade and sales forum or some other similar venue. As long as I’m patient, and I typically am because I’ve played the “gotta have it now!” role enough to know it’s not worth the fleeting glow of getting something on the first day of release, then I can let other people find out what the game’s really like and then make a more informed decision.

Of course, there are still the times when I impulsively buy Teenage Mutants Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness because it’s on the shelf and I let the book hoarding tendency override my sensible consumer tendency. It’s an on-going struggle.

Read an RPG Book in Public Week Begins Today

Today marks the start of the first Read an RPG Book in Public Week, an effort from WJ Walton of The Escapist to promote and normalize role-playing games in everyday settings. As Walton says:

The point is to make the roleplaying hobby more visible, to get it “out of the basement” and into public areas where more people can see it. This will make others more aware of the hobby – some may ask you what your book is about, giving you the opportunity to explain the hobby to them. A few of those may be interested enough to try it themselves. Former gamers may see what you’re reading and think about the great times they used to have with roleplaying, and possibly even try it again.

I have my own funny hang-ups about being overtly nerdy in public. Patches on my bookbag? Fine. Wearing a convention badge when going out to eat? I waver about 50-50 between taking it off and leaving it on. But I get squirrelly when it comes to reading a role-playing game book anywhere less isolated than my favorite reading rock by Lake Champlain. Even when I do my adventure writing at Muddy Waters, it’s on a plain old laptop in an innocuous Open Office document.

We’ll see if I can get the gumption up to break one out at Muddy Waters some weekday evening, say. I’m working my way through The Unexplained at the moment, and there’s still an unhealthily tall stack of other supplements demanding my attention. Fortunately, if I don’t find the nerve, I can try again in July and October. Yes, Read an RPG Book in Public Week is a tri-annual event, because the hobby needs the positive exposure, frankly.

But please, like WJ Walton says, don’t “freak the normies” with Kill Puppies for Satan or World of Synnibar. Role-players have enough of a undeserved bad rap without giving people valid ammunition.

Richard Shaver’s Underworld

If you’re not sure what to do with the dero and tero referenced in The Dyatlov Incident, check this post at The Gralien Report out. Micah Hanks covers a quartet of books about the forms of the underworld and its inhabitants through human history, as well as the particular expression that Richard Shaver brought to the public’s attention through the Amazing Stories magazine.

Little or elusive people, extensive realms beneath the surface of Earth and problematic relations between the overworlders and underworlders are long-running tropes in role playing games. Just look at the Dungeons & Dragons‘ recurring setting element, the Underdark, one of the highest profile examples. The Shaver underworld, with its detrimental robots — or “dero” — and the fallen remains of a by-gone civilization that left Earth for a planet with a less harmful sun gives the whole thing a delightful pulp flavor.

The Shaver Mystery has an ancient, lost world to explore beneath the ground, antagonists in the dero, who delight in kidnapping and tormenting surface dwellers and potential allies in the tero, the remnants of the original race below. It’s everything a role playing game needs. From Hanks’ write-up, it sounds like the key books for someone wanting to add them to their arsenal of material would be Caverns, Cauldrons and Concealed Creatures and This Tragic Earth are the best suited as idea vaults. The other two, Pulp Winds and The Pulsifer Saga, are examples of how other authors took Shaver’s ideas and ran with them in their own fictional works.