Friday, April 29, 2011

Call of Cthulhu RPG --- Minions, Cultists and Scooby-Doo

I used to run CoC a while back and thought I would share a few tidbits about spicing up your game. One thing I used to do was run The Scooby-Doo option. The predictability of knowing that you will be dealing with, at a minimum, cultists if not outright monsters took a bit of the edge out of the game, I found. Instead I told the players that I was going to roll secretly before the game started to determine if the whole thing was a fake or setup by standard criminals to keep people away or possibly a misguided not-very-dangerous group of occult followers.
investigators group photo
This meant that the players did not always know that there was real trouble afoot or just a Scooby-Doo kind of send up by bootleggers. Believe it or not, it really kept the players on their toes and more open to the possibility of normal circumstances, rather than being sure that everything was corruption and evil. You can also use these small scenarios to introduce an NPC, who although does not begin to be evil, forms into an arch enemy or at least become a major adversary (read this as J. Jonah Jameson to Peter Parker) who might be a local police chief, a gangland enemy or a wealthy collector of antiquities who is thwarted out of collectable items by the players. Use your imagination to build your story arc.
Necronomicon Fun

You can interweave these scenarios together to make a campaign and to speed up or tone down the play. It also allows players to gain important skills and pick up items both mundane and occult. For example, the local kooky and harmless cult of Theosophists might actually have an important book in their library or an artifact that could lead the investigators to something important. The bootleggers might have a cache of guns or money so useful in funding investigating.
Light Reading

This presumed the GM is capable of generating a series of low-impact scenarios, but still reward the players with important experience in investigation and handing out a few gems of information. It also lets them build up a network of people who might support or help the investigators over the long haul. The police would be happy that the investigators find a murderer or bootleggers or the local townspeople would be able to forward information to the investigators.
Cthulhu-Doo Where Are You

This type of play will keep the players on their toes, but not so paranoid and distrustful that it makes them over wary of every NPC, major or minor. A series of fun, one evening scenarios will also allow the group to jell as well as give the Game Master a feeling about the wants of the group overall. The combined series of minor scenarios will help you create a tapestry for the background of the group and will lend added depth to individual characters. Slow, creeping madness is always better than a huge shock and a premature end of the group.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pickman’s Sampler – From Arkham to You

The stars are right!  The mad chocolatier of Arkham in the Little Candy Shop of Horrors has produced another confectionary wonder:  The Pickman’s Sampler, just in time for the Equinox Bunny. 


Pickman's Sampler

Pickman's Sampler Contents
They are all so wonderful, which one will be eaten first?
Pickman's Sampler Ad from Arkham
See our Ad in your local newspaper
Pickman's Sampler -- Our Founder
They are so delightful, you’ll just lose your mind!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


I made this photo in about 1986 with my Canon  T-70 camera with B & W 100 ASA fine grain film.  It was printed on east European postcard paper, the type that you could address on the back so you send in the mail.  I used this type of paper because it made a 20s or 30s type postcard prop and gave it an instant period look.  The T-70 works great with low light when tripoded and this one had an auto exposure of just less than 30 seconds.  By using available, soft light and reflecting it with tin pie plates and white sheets, it gets a much less hard edge look and again a vintage feel.  This photo has no Photoshop manipulation and is pretty much as scanned other than the added tag.  The digital age has made photographing much easier, at least in post-production.
Clockwise from the left is a Montenegrin Gasser pistol with ivory grips from the 1870s.  They were popular in the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire from the 1870s to the turn of the century.  Above that is a cased 1930s German Zeiss Ikon camera.  The lamp base is a 1920s Carrera marble electric table lamp.  The skull is in fact a piece of pottery sculpture that is half skull and half Greek classical helmet and aged to look ancient.  I bought that piece from the artist in the 1970s and don’t recall her name.  The binoculars are French circa the turn of the century and were made in Paris.  The pipe is a Turkish made calabash pipe from the early 1980s.  The central bronze figure is a Medieval Greek Orthodox bishop’s staff head or crosier of two snakes, with articulated tongues.  The piece is slightly crushed from having been buried for hundreds of years.* This wonderful artifact was later given as a gift to a good friend.  The watch to the left is a rolled gold hunter from the turn of the century.  The book in the center is Lost Worlds, which I had since the middle 1970s and had been an inspiration with it illustrations of ruins in deserts and jungles.

I hope this post gives people ideas about photographing their props for Victorian RPGs and Steampunk..   For example, you could put together a story about the strange skull and the staff piece.  Check out my first Lost Worlds Photo post for more items.
*Information on these Greek Orthodox Bishop’s accouterments is fairly lean.  The above piece is bronze and was originally gilded.  It is missing the small central cross that rises between the snakes.  Click on this link to go to a site about the crosier to the left and other eastern rite crosiers and staffs.

UPDATE:  I found some information on Wikipedia about snake headed crosiers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

American Civil War Sesquicentennial -- With Added Steampunk

Today is the 150th anniversary (sesquicentennial) of the official start of the American Civil War with the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, at 4:30 a.m. and lasted for 34 straight hours.  This date is the generally agreed upon date for the start of the American Civil War (War Between the States, War of Northern Aggression take what title you will), although there were earlier shots fired.  I’ll leave any political bickering and nitpicking for the plethora of other sites and create my own revisionist history, with added steampunk!
Steampunk Civil War -- Harper’s weekly Jan 26, 1861
View of Ft. Sumter in Charleston harbor, looking east to west.  The siege is lifted with arrival of aerial and undersurface relief fleet.  South Carolina is in tense negotiations with the Union about the status of the Charleston harbor forts and other Union facilities by Governor Pickens, who has offered a monetary settlement for assets and debts of ex-Union possessions.  Negotiations are further clouded by other states leaving the Union.  The Republic of Texas has pledged to support secessionists.  Cotton prices are soaring on the stock exchange.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cthulhu: I Am PerfecZ

Here is an interesting website selling gaming figures that are rather different from the general mass.  Many of these are limited edition made from a hand-built up master and cast in resin.  There is clearly a lot of love in these Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraft inspired pieces. l.designs toys!

The mollusk Cthulhu impression is also very different.  Sometimes it's good to be different!

I really like the Japanese forest spirit rock people the best, they are cute and disconcerting at the same time.  They are the very epitome of alienness and unfathomable sentience.
These Munchkin Cthulhu figures are hysterical (call the Arkham Sanitarium).  They are just perfect.  Click on the link to find them.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Call of Cthulhu RPG – Be Prepared, Even When You Are Not

Or, "What has its got in its pocketses"? Adventurers find the darndest things of use in a pinch, even a found ring.

Here is a short list of handy items for a Call of Chtulhu player character to have in his/her pockets or person. Most of them are very common things, found everywhere, but oh so useful to the cunning-minded. An additional plus is that none of them are illegal and apt to be overlooked in a search. I have left off some obvious items like flashlights, burglar tools, guns and the like because they would not normally be carried everyday. This list is for common pocket items only. I suppose there is even a use for pocket lint as tinder in making a fire. The idea is to think and carry items correct for your character and era.
Turn of the century mail order or salesman sample antique clothing catalog
For example: Matchbook/lighter/matchbox, common string, magnifying glass, pen knife multi blade, small notebook with pencil, handkerchief, business cards, shoelaces, pocket watch/wrist watch, ring, brooch, paperclips and a couple rubber bands, keys, comb and pocket mirror, toothpick, whistle, a bit of wax, cough drops, gloves, umbrella/cane, hat, a piece of chalk, compass, fountain pen, coins, tobacco, & etc.

Turn of the century mail order or salesman sample antique clothing catalogMatches or lighter is pretty obvious: make an emergency light or set a fire. Common string is more than just tying up packages – with a bent paperclip as a hook you can fish for a key or open a latch. Stout enough string can make a trap to trip or make a racket. Magnifying glass can start a fire, make glyphs large enough to read and all the typical uses. Pen knife is seldom considered a danger, but many have screwdrivers, scissors, file, along with a small sharp blade. Business cards can be left as a sign to others you have been there, work as a makeshift note card and make a nice shim for wiggling tables at your favorite restaurant. A whistle or compass may be on your watch chain. Watches are import for telling the present time and for telling time elapsed. You can also use a watch to calculate speed if you are handy. Paperclips can be bend into various useful shapes. Rubber bands have uses too if you are going to be a Mac Gyver type character. At the least, you can shoot them at each other.
Turn of the century mail order or salesman sample antique clothing catalog

A bit of soft wax can be used to make an impression of a key or a seal stone. It will also burn. Cough drops are just nice to have. You can use the rubber bands to launch the cough drops at people. A piece of chalk is always useful whether you are in a sewer or making a journey to the center of the earth. A compass is obvious, but they are also set into knife handles and the like. Some items are always on your person like cuff links, neck ties, coat buttons, hat pins, glasses, false teeth, handkerchief and would elicit no surprise from somebody searching you and would be in no danger of confiscation by crooks, culties or police.   That bit of twine or loose button just might save your life.  Think, think, think.

Update Sept 2015, Propnomicon has an excellent article about what people used before duct tape – adhesive plaster aka sticking plaster.  It seems a very necessary article for the 1920s and 1930s adventurer and is often overlooked in the inventory.  I certainly did.  His article is well worth viewing.