Masks of Nyarlathotep Session 7

When the narrative last left the investigators[1], they had arrived in London and begun making inquiries with Jackson Elias’ known contacts in the city. Noontime found them pondering their next move over meat pies. What could be accomplished while waiting to hear from Inspector Barrington? Review of the clippings gathered from Mr. Mahony at The Scoop[2], including one Ryan helped himself to from the desk, prompt Jake Spadowski to suggest visiting the artist Miles Shipley, noted in an article as having gained some amount of note with the visceral, repulsive imagery in his paintings.

A stroke of luck in perusing the Times‘ art section revealed that while Mr. Shipley’s exhibition had ended, the artist himself could be found in Holbein Mewes. The investigators cabs it there without delay, to find themselves deposited before a decaying two story brick house. The eldery woman who greets them at the door is wary at first, but eventually ushers them in when von Fasselstein hints at interest in buying some of Shipley’s work. The artist just so happens to be on break at the moment, so the party marches up to the third floor garret, in which Miles creates his works of art.

The rows of paintings leaned against the wall shared in common unsettling scenes filled with figures and landscapes not known on Earth. While Ryan is preoccupied by a portrait of an amorphous figure that bore a strong resemblance to the horror he confronted under Juju House in Harlem, the piece that stands out among all others was a landscape of a black mountain with a tentacled figure rising behind it, one long, red tentacle in particular waving in the air. And most tellingly are the figures on the ground, all wearing red headbands just like those found on the mysterious assailants in New York City, seeming to worship the tentacled figure.

This catches everyone’s attention. Continue reading

Masks of Nyarlathotep Session 2

We started off last week down two investigators. Their players were called away by real life, so Ms Harlow and the good minister could no longer aid in the pursuit of Jackson Elias’ killers. That left Professor von Fasselstein and his assistant Sophie, Mr Ryan and Mr Spadowski — that’s my barnstormer — to pull together some of the strands tripped over so far: not only the murder of Jackson, but any connections to the Carlyle expedition.

To that end, we found ourselves moving toward the surviving Carlyle, Robert’s sister. But apparently tooling up in a roadster to the Westchester home of a very rich person is not the done way of making a social call, so the group finangled its way into attending a war widows benefit Ms Carlyle organized.

That’s all we really got done that evening. It was a lot of faffing about with social and societal conventions. You can’t call up a psychoanalyst or lawyer on the weekend. Not even the state medical board. And even when you do get hold of them on Monday, they’re not going to be terribly helpful. Patient records and treatment notes are typically kept from the avidly curious onlooker’s eyes.

Personally, I found myself constrained by two concerns: the perennial foil “that’s not what my character would do” and an uncertainty about whether the situation warranted extreme efforts. Sure, we could have burgled the exports shop to rifle the paperwork, but it didn’t seem to me that events had accelerated to an importance or urgency where vigilante break-ins were justified.

Jackson Elias was murdered, yes, but that’s what police are for. And that does remind me, I don’t know if we’ve interacted with the police at all, having stumbled upon a crime scene. At the very least, it might behoove us to attempt to piggyback their own investigation, if unofficially.

In summary, we’re in a weird space where none of the player characters are exceptionally well-suited to a situation like this, but we’ll try because damnit, we’re player characters and the GM’s got a big, fat book on top of the core rules. And that counts for something.

Hail, Miskatonic

My Miskatonic University pennant, installed for the consternation of passers-by.

Propnomicon, maker of fine Cthulhiana for some time now, recently wrapped up another prop package, this time featuring ephemera from stately Miskatonic University. In addition to an embroidered patch and cloisonné pin of the school seal, field notebooks and postcards of campus landmarks, the highlight of the package was no doubt the red and white Miskatonic pennant, which you can see displayed to the left.

A Miskatonic pennant was something I’d sought for quite a while. Just as I resigned myself to having design and fabricate my own — based on an old Vermont pennant dating from the same era — the announcement went up that the next prop package would include one.  I jumped on board immediately. There were production delays and shipping gaffes that required the application of a steam iron, but at long last, I am the happy owner of my own emblem of Miskatonic pride, which I now have in my office window at work, so everyone can have no clue from what school I graduated.

Now the pennants are out there, true alumni of M.U. can get the full effect by waving their pennants while singing the alma mater, Hail, Miskatonic, also courtesy of Propnomicon.

Masks of Nyarlathotep Session 1

Last week, I got in on the ground floor of the sprawling Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign. Previously, the group had played through a couple one-off scenarios, but I wasn’t able to make the scheduling line up properly. So I was glad to be able to skate in at the last minute with the rough notion of a Great War veteran turned barnstorming pilot, who eventually became named Jake Spadowski.

I’m embarrassed to admit I suffered some sort of systems crash shortly after we started playing. I don’t know if it was a lack of food or a surfeit of unhealthy, pizza-related food, but it pretty much did me in for the evening. In combination with my usual reticent nature when first role-playing with a group and a brand new, hazily sketched-out notion of a character and I wound up not having much to contribute to the action.

Happily, Dan’s German professor carried the evening ably. Someone’s bestest friend ever died, there was a brief interplay with the perpetrators, we followed business cards and receipts and all that fun stuff.

That’s about all I have to report for the evening. Sad, isn’t it?

Next time my brain shuts down like that, I hope I have the presence of mind to get up and walk around the room for a bit, rather than slowly sliding down the couch in a drowsy heap. That can’t have been a good first impression.

On the Road to Raise Up the Ancient One

Here’s a quickie one-shot notion for you: a group of lifelong friends hop in the car to drive cross-country. They’re on the road to experience the event of a lifetime: their cult’s raising of an ancient one from the vasty deep of time and space.

Plot points of interest might include:

  • Racing fellow cultists from a rival lodge, competing to be the sacrificial offering that clinches the ceremony.
  • Staying ahead of the scattered agents of the Brotherhood of Argus, meddling do-gooders sworn to block the advances of the player character’s beloved ancient master.
  • Resisting the temptation of mutual deflowerment, making one unsuitable for sacrifice.
  • Living up to the expectations of one’s father or mother, a leading figure in the global cult organization.
  • Juggling the duties of the cult with one’s uninitiated significant other.

My friend Joe characterized it as a Call of Cthulhu / Ribbon Drive crossover. I couldn’t comment.

Miskatonic 1957-58 Antarctic Expedition Props For Sale

Remnants of the Goat Island expedition.

Propnomicon tipped me off to a new opportunity for Miskatonic memorabilia hounds. The Goat Island Project uncovered a cache of field books and mission patches from Miskatonic University’s 1957-58 Antarctic expedition to Goat Island.

Ordering details for both patches and fieldbooks are at Diary of a Mad Natural Historian. Like most fan prop projects, the production run is probably a small one, so order yours now.

[TotalCon 2010] Call of Cthulhu: Curse of the Betrothed

Dice, character sheet, notebook and duckie. What more does a hardy investigator need?

Call of Cthulhu beckoned me on Saturday morning. It’s one of those games that inspires as many different interpretations as there have been of Lovecraft’s mythos in general. Pulp adventure with tommy guns and dynamite, a gore and splatter fest, psychological horror, or metaphors for a weird Rhode Islander’s views on society, race and class; I’ve seen them all proposed and explained. My own Call of Cthulhu experience is limited to a handful of GMs, however, so I wanted to take a plunge into unknown waters.

As it turned out, this particular Cthulhu GM, Bob, not only had a practice of running daylong campaigns, but also had a dedicated following of players who sign up for all his games. I’ve let myself be put off by that in the past, but I’ve also played some exceptionally awesome games after pushing through that hesitance. After all, if the GM gets repeat players like that, they’re doing something right.

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To Impulse!

In the spirit of carpe jugulum, this afternoon I spontaneously decided to tag along with a crew going to TotalCon next month. I just got done going through the online registration process. Fingers crossed I haven’t missed out on everything I signed up for.

My wishlist of games includes:

  • Abduction: CE4, one of Brad Younie’s paranormal investigation adventures using his game The Unexplained.
  • Curse of the Betrothed, a Call of Cthulhu adventure.
  • Spirits Among the Ruins, another Unexplained adventure, centered around a lithic observatory in the New Hampshire woods.
  • Palace of the Vampire Queen, a Basic Dungeons & Dragons game run by one of the venerable old men of the hobby, Frank Mentzer.

TotalCon uses a ticketing system, so apparently whatever games I don’t get into are substituted for by a generic ticket. I’ve never been a convention that uses tickets before, so we’ll see how that goes.

Physical Evidence

. . . there are few things louder or more terrifying than the shrieks of a 13-year old girl discovering a preserved Lovecraftian beastie chilling in the freezer. Trust me, I know.

Propnomicon, This Week’s Crass Commercialism


My heavily patched book bag.

Propnomicon is a blog devoted to sharing and crafting physical props based on the stories of the Cthulhu mythos. Posts share images from individuals’ projects constructing twisted idols and the classic “thing in a jar” from Miskatonic University’s archives, among other inventive crafts.

Also, and this is my favorite part, the author of Propnomicon goes beyond one-off projects. From time to time, limited runs of mythos-based props come up for sale. Consider, for example, this patch from Miskatonic University’s Antarctic expedition from At the Mountains of Madness, pictured to the right. That one’s sewn to my everyday book bag. The artist has also designed a patch for the Australian expedition from The Shadow Out of Time, as well as die-cut pins of both designs.

I love props like these, because they have the feeling of verisimilitude well beyond the more self-aware “Fightin’ Cephalopods” T-shirts. One time, a stranger asked me to tell him about “this Antarctic expedition,” which has to be the ultimate compliment for a propmaker.


Ready to contain all the Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know that you can scrawl in a frenzied hand.

As part of a recent prop package, now sadly sold out, along with a Miskatonic U. patch and pin, the artist offered M.U. field notebooks. What better props with which to take notes and sketch maps for your Call of Cthulhu game than something your character would have gotten from the supply cupboard of the science building — or picked off the body of a hapless researcher? I missed out on the package deal of patch, notebooks and a postcard, but I was able to snag a set of just the notebooks, which is what I really wanted in the first place.

They look just great, don’t they? I’m going to have to make myself actually write in them.