Le Bateleur

I’d hoped to be able to offer a Trail of Cthulhu game at Concrete Cow on September 16 but I’m not sure my health is going to allow it.

A Gift of Fortune was going to involve bookhounds, dreamhounds and magicians vying for the lost tarot deck of Austin Osman Spare. I may try offering it at some future date.

Concrete Cow is a games convention held in Milton Keynes every six months and you should go if you’re at all interested in roleplaying games. The organisers take care to be kindly and courteous to all that attend.

I’ll probably keep up with the fanzine but I’ve shifted the focus of the next issue from Lamentations of the Flame Princess (never fear, the game is ably served by its own dedicated fanzine called The Undercroft, and you should buy it because it’s great) to… well, I’m not quite sure yet. Next issue may be The Metazine, a pretentious title for a zine about all the other zines out there, or be dedicated to a particular game like Trail of Cthulhu, or to a particular game attached to a particular theme, such as Archipelago, or address a more general theme, such as Live Action Role-Play or the outsider-edge of the Old School Renaissance.

I’d intended to offer an online game of Itra-Troll before the launch of Itras By: The Menagerie but that also looks tricky, in part due to technological issues. Sometimes you’ve just got to roll with the punches.

Hang in there, people: it’s another tough year.

Kitty Marshall Playing Cards
Playing cards made by suffragette Kitty Marshall during her incarceration 1910-1913.




Snake Eyes


I’m not saying an impromptu summoning at a nearby stone circle is a bad idea but… one dead witch, a player-character shot in the head and anathema pronounced upon the party by the surviving witches.

I’m generally disposed toward a Purist style of play but the group ain’t having it: it’s Pulp all the way.

We’ve a few other things prepped and ready-to-play but the group wants to continue with Fearful Symmetries. We’ll spend a bit more time working up spells and styles of Magic, as these turn out to be integral to the flavour and progress of the game.

The themes of the campaign run pretty deep – this was a playtest, so we tried to go into it without too many preconceptions – and we felt a little under-researched in one or two respects. I’ll take some time to hang out with the “folklore engine” from the draft of the book:

Now I may say to you, what perhaps I should not dare to say to anyone else: That I can alone carry on my visionary studies in London unannoy’d, & that I may converse with my friends in Eternity, See Visions, Dream Dreams & prophecy & speak Parables unobserv’d & at liberty from the Doubts of other Mortals; perhaps Doubts proceeding from Kindness, but Doubts are always pernicious, Especially when we Doubt our Friends…


James William Barnes casts “Crooked Bob’s Eternal Vigilance” in order to contact Robert Nottingham for advice about a certain magickal tome: “I call forth the straight path to the crooked man.”
Snake Eyes have appeared at the heart-centre of the Prophet of Albion: “The beginning of the world is nigh.” Can’t be good, can it? 
Oops. Hello Quachil, my old friend…


Black Dog to White Dog

End Game


We finally – ugh, the slings and arrows of everyday life – managed to kick off our mini-campaign of Fearful Symmetries last night. I’d better not say too much for fear of spoilers.

The heavens shall quake, the earth shall move & shudder & the mountains
With all their woods, the streams & valleys: wail in dismal fear
In the second “night”, the theme of women ruling is discussed but there is an emphasis on how the ability to create constricts them. Humanity is imprisoned by creation, and experience causes great pain…

Vala, or The Four Zoas
William Blake (1797-1807)

Alienist Hauke Greiner (57) and parapsychologist Emily Cheek (34) met Prophet of Albion James William Barnes (?-?) during last night’s session; a survivor, or one might say casualty, of our Bookhounds of London mini-campaign: they were moderately discommoded by finding him addressing the heavens from a box on Speaker’s Corner.

The PCs witnessed the maw of the sky run red, cozened a book scout and dowsed north-north-west from Oxford; Emily found herself upon a throne not of her choosing. Our ignorance of the work of William Blake runs fairly deep but it’s a chance to extemporize, and Innocence brings its own rewards.

Next week: witches. Yes, witches. Loves me some witches.

Here Hauke Greiner – a devoted student of Richard von Krafft-Ebing – practices his skills of Hynopsis. Our group seems disposed to the Pulp flavour of play in Trail of Cthulhu.
The players work out their True Names for the initiation into the Order of the Radcliffe Camera – a scene which turned out to harbour a major surprise.
Hauke and Emily meet the “Prophet of Albion”: they were in some doubt about his holiness and whether or not Crispina had divined the right person at all.



We’ll Always Have Paris

Matrilineal ancestors of the mother you’ve just shot in the head silently mouthing words you can no longer understand because you’ve given up all memory of your mother-tongue of Lakȟóta to the ritual to dismiss Quachil Uttaus…

Another Pillar of Sanity shattered when you realise you’ve travelled ten years into the future to witness the London blitz of 1941 and your only option is to turn back into the dread path of the Treader in the Dust…

Chanting the Hyperborean phrases gleaned from the handwritten copy of the Testament of Carnamagos bound in shagreen you retrieved from the broken-but-still-living husk of Lt Col Percival Fawcett, mapping the gestures of the dubious insignia he’d written into the endpapers of The Mummies of Mt. Ampato and East Peru (1912), gesticulating in accordance to the most secret moves of The First Temple of Umbanda Branca (1921), as you tear each never-to-be-regained memory from your colleagues to give to the approaching Outer God: It reaches out one huge hand to deliver the most despairing and meaningless gift of Immortality ever an Ape might receive…

The denouement of The Last Catalogue of Ramon Dégas did not disappoint: everyone ended in the Sanatorium. There was some discussion afterward about whether or not any of the player-characters would be in a fit state to return for our forthcoming Dreamhounds of Paris campaign.

Edward Cody will return, having lost all memory of his ancestry and the attendant meaning it gave to his existence, now engaged in a desperate bid to retrieve fragments of his preconscious memory by automatic writing; he’s been given a letter of introduction to the dream medium Robert Desnos.

“Crooked Bob” Nottingham, now bound to a wheelchair and long evenings spent alone in dusty libraries, will accompany Cody to Paris. He intends to decipher a document written in an invented language he discovered at Miskatonic University called The Society of Dreamers.

It all proved too much for dear old James William Barnes. The former rationalist and believer in scientific inquiry has founded the West Country Church of Christ Almighty and travels the by-ways and backwaters of America in a sandwich-board of corrugated iron.

Space Monkey took away the bound folder of Dreamhounds at the end of the session and was eyeing up Kiki de Montparnasse as his next player-character, remarking only that he had “lots of photos to use for inspiration.” Best not to ask.


A Twisted Spine


Following an attack by the Kane Gang, the discovery of a dead neighbour and some time spent in police custody after firing shots at an eight-limbed circus freak, one of the PCs saw fit to spend Cthulhu Mythos – I did warn him about Anagnorisis (p76, Trail of Cthulhu) – and ended up calling forth not only Lt Col Percival Fawcett, half-crazed Amazonian time-traveller and searcher for the Lost City of Muribeca, but Quachil Uttaus itself. Oops. Next session, I’m really going to let them have it.


Treaders in the Dust

Last night in The Last Catalogue of Ramon Dégas the player-characters met rival bookseller Colin Ballard and down-at-heel Arizonan book scout Alan Sheldon, tracked the rapidly-diminishing paper-trail of catalogue agents Aston Drummell and Hamilton Golding and saw the outside of their premises marked “Y” in the yellow chalk of the Yellow Paper Men; they found themselves dazzled by the sudden intervention of international woman of mystery Catalina de Moraes and her Hispano-Suiza sports car; they shadowed suspicions, bought drinks for the unworthy, found a dead body at Hathaway & Co. Fine Books on Fleet Street, shivered among worms and cobwebs and fear and examined a pile of dust they could not raise the courage to touch; the missing plate shown to them by Edna the Inebriate Woman gained them their first knowledge of the Mythos and cost them their Sanity; they found the sales ticket for The First Temple of Umbanda Branca by Zélio Fernandino de Moraes and friends and heard the dread whisper of Quachil Uttaus; the Kane Gang was casing the joint as the session ended. It was a warm-up really and boy, did the players burn those Investigative Abilities. Next I’m going to try running Gumshoe chases and combat.


The Last Catalogue of Ramon Dégas


The Last Stand, situated next to the Museum Tavern on the corner of Museum Street opposite the British Museum, specialises in antiquarian books on the Native American experience and first-hand accounts by the European interlopers in the lands of the Lakȟóta, with an accent on the authentic spiritual practices of the prairie peoples of South Dakota.

The bookshop, well-appointed, with three stories above that of the ground floor where much of the public-facing stock is kept, includes a first-floor reading room, a private flat, a roof-terrace and a dingy basement which contains a secret egress – never-yet-used and possibly stuck – to the pub next door. The shop has a thorough grounding in History and Science, rarer items in the related subjects of Victoriana and Criminology and is particularly renowned for its assortment of Cartographic prints and literature, the latter speciality drawing a range of collectors from the length and breadth not only of London, but of the south-east of England, notwithstanding the recent impact of the stock market crash on the book trade of 1930.

The proprietor is Edward Cody, proud son of a Lakȟóta mother who will hear nothing at all, thank you, of the manner in which one William Cody sired him in bigamous circumstances, owner too of the bookshop parrot “Buffalo Bill” – a creature as multilingual as his owner – and of a fearsome reputation at the auction houses of Bloomsbury, Mayfair and Belgravia.

His partner is Robert Nottingham, antiquarian, recently returned from a failed expedition to the Amazon to locate Percy Fawcett, who disappeared into the Brazilian Interior in 1925 searching for the lost city of Muribeca with a mysterious basalt idol he identified as Atlantean (Trail of Cthulhu, p176), a fiend for authenticity, scourge of forgers and filchers of rare items alike, and a well-known habitué of the Royal Geographical Society.

The third member of the confraternity is James William Barnes, an archaeologist in the mould of Basil Brown, self-taught, born and raised in the West Country and resident in one of the upstairs rooms of the neighbouring Museum Tavern, where he sometimes conducts less reputable deals on behalf of the bookshop. A keen believer in scientific progress, he keeps his doubts about the sometime shamanistic practices of Cody and the wilder topographical theories of Bob Nottingham to himself.

By using the excellent advice contained in Kenneth Hite’s Bookhounds of London on shared bookshop creation (p15), we soon found ourselves describing not only the sights and sounds of The Last Stand, but also those of the surrounding area, moving on to the bookshop’s deadly rivals in nearby Coptic Street, The Eye of Osiris, specialists in Egyptian Funerary Rites and Abyssinian Architecture – we’d very quickly found ourselves in the mode of the Pulp Arabesque – and then onto the altogether more friendly rivalry of the neighbouring Fine Books Oriental, purveyors of Japanorama and items of Sino-Eastern origin, adjacent specialist in numismatics King Croesus and, round the corner on Great Russell Street itself, The Red and the Black, a reputable source for the Classics and original artefacts of pottery. The unknown quantity was the recent arrival of Carpe Deus at the bottom of Museum Street, newcomers with the unfortunate reputation of buying up the stock of failing rivals at reduced prices.

It is a ferociously busy time for me right now but I find the game is so far up my street that I cannot resist any part of Bookhounds of London. We hope to begin The Last Catalogue of Ramon Dégas next week.

De Rerum Natura

Even if I knew nothing of the atoms, I would venture to assert on the evidence of the celestial phenomena themselves, supported by many other arguments, that the universe was certainly not created for us by divine power: it is so full of imperfections.



SJE on UK Roleplayers asks: “Have we reached Peak Cthulhu?”

There’s Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Achtung! Cthulhu; there’s World War Cthulhu and Raiders of R’lyeh. There’s CthulhuTech, a range of Lulu Cthulhu clothing and Cthulhu and brown rice, please.

Why? Brand recognition, says simonpaulburley; “Cthulhu players are – by definition – masochists.” The relentless ‘levelling-up’ in games of a similar vintage seems to me fairly masochistic, but I see what he’s getting at.

I love the way Call of Cthulhu sticks it to me. There’s nothing in there that pretends there’s anything inherently knowable about life. Everything comes from unanswerable darkness. Terror is the appropriate response; bring night sweats and a library card.

Or, as smiorgan puts it: “Cthulhu is a genre and particular kind of myth that can be adapted and reinterpreted.”

Which, in turn, gives rise to the related myth of HP Lovecraft as ‘master’ of his craft: nah, sorry. Like many original and important writers, he was somewhat rubbish. He had to come up with a new style to get his point across, and he wasn’t too clear about that was.

It’s that very ‘absence’ at the heart of Lovecraft that makes it mythic in scope: it’s at once ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’.

I find it inspiring that Lovecraft managed to come up with something important and long-lasting without excelling technically. You can pile up adjectives, fall out with your wife, write letters to lonely young men, it doesn’t matter; you can still ‘succeed’.

Lovecraft wouldn’t enjoy these interpretations: for him, his stories were doing what they said on the tin. He’ll just have to forgive us, the way we forgive him his racism and repressed sexuality.

The high-water mark comes for me in H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, by Michel Houellebecq, which in its English translation (Dorna Khazeni, 2005) was introduced by Stephen King:-

Houellebecq, writing years before second novel Atomised became a best-seller, makes a compelling case for the literary importance of Lovecraft: “His writing, in fact, is not implemented entirely through hypertrophy and delirium; there is also at times a delicacy in his work, a luminous depth that is altogether rare.”

I’m resisting the clues that lead me to Trail of Cthulhu. There’s a) Bookhounds of London, and b) Dreamhounds of Paris. I’m a) a bookseller, and b) a frustrated surrealist; and now, perhaps, c) a gamer who wants to smuggle Lovecraft’s (coded) meanings into his stories. You can interpret this how you like.