The uncharacteristic heat of the season (at least for Yorkshire) continues, and so does News from Pnakotus!
Join me and Marty as we discuss all manner of games and Lovecraftiana in this August edition of YSDC's "news & views" podcast. Featuring discussion of: props sets for roleplayers, the future of Cthulhu magazines, suppressed memories and yet more horror from Arkham. All this and more (whether you want it or not) in the 68th transmission of News from Pnakotus.
New from Pnakotus: Eternal
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Below is an accompanying video to go along with this episode's "show & tell" segment (i.e. yes, an actual "show" bit...). Oh Marty, what did you do to the cover...?
NfP is an Advanced Podcast featuring artwork, chapters and links inside the file – making it easy to skip straight to the parts you want, go back and listen again or find out further information.
Can't get enough of the new edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep? Now shipping from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is a box of over 100 in-game props for Chaosium's classic Call of Cthulhu campaign.
On pre-order since June, the 4 lb box is available to purchase immediately at the full retail price of $129 USD, so if you're after some realistic faux documents and props at a quality the HPLHS is known for, you can enhance your game at the table with this extensive collection.
Masks of Nyarlathotep - Gamer Prop Set
All 109 prop documents, handouts, and maps from the Chaosium game supplement, designed and printed in the most realistic manner possible.
Twenty-one more bonus props.
An Ediphone wax cylinder case that holds a custom USB drive containing eight props that are audio files recorded by professional actors (transcripts included).
A set of 6 Nansen Passports issued by the League of Nations and a set of custom passport stamps .
Available as a physical product only, except the audio which is provided in digital format.
Issue #25 of The Unspeakable Oath has just been released. TUO #25 marks the final issue under the publisher's old subscription model, with a promise of the magazine being resurrected in a new (as yet unannounced) format.
You can pick up all 68 pages of TUO #25 in both PDF and print via DriveThruRPG, now.
The Unspeakable Oath #25
With strange aeons, even death may die. But The Unspeakable Oath never will. This 25th issue brings you artefacts, tomes, and scenario seeds for Call of Cthulhu...four Delta Green scenarios (three short and sharp, one sprawling and lurid)...Delta Green features on privacy (or the lack thereof) and tactics for agents... and gripping explorations of the webs of Atlach-Nacha.
After a long and protracted birth, the Punktown setting book for Call of Cthulhu (and BRP) has been released.
Originally a Kickstarter from Miskatonic River Press in 2012, various development problems (and the closure of MRP) meant that the Punktown setting book, based on the works of Jeffrey Thomas, has now been completed and made available through Chronicle City (@AngusA).
The print edition of Punktown is still in process but it's good to see that even elderly Kickstarters (6th Edition Call of Cthulhu) can still see the light of day!
An RPG Setting for Call of Cthulhu Sixth Edition and BRP uses Chaosium's system to explore a dark, futuristic world fraught with untold perils created by author Jeffrey Thomas. Imagine Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Minority Report, Total Recall and the rest of the dark, not-too-distant-future genre. Now add aliens, mutants, robots and Lovecraftian horror. Blend them together, an you get a hint of what Punktown is like.
This reference explores the city itself, the alien races, the weaponry, the creatures, mutations, cybernetics, drugs, sanity (and the inevitable loss thereof), and the options of adding the Cthulhu Mythos into the mix. As written in Thomas' work, the mythos is already there, threatening life as Punktowners know it. If you're a cyberpunk fan, if you're a horror fan, or if you're both, this book is for you.
Keep your eyes wide, your pistol close, and mind the snipes. Those who venture into Punktown never leave the same... if they leave at all.
Depends a bit on what you do with it.
At the bottom of the barrel, there's the simple matter of using it to reveal clues - that does absolutely nothing by itself to build tension, but it does move the story along, and ensures that the investigators get enough clues to move the story forward to its logical conclusion.
A use that's just a bit higher up than that would be using using spot/listen/perception rolls as opportunities for investigators to avoid traps, lurking monsters, and that sort of thing - as last chances for headstrong investigators to avoid sanity-blasting horror and stomach-churning body horror, death, and destruction.
And then, a little higher still up the food chain of uses, there are all the different ways you can use things like weird sounds, smells, tastes, etc. to reveal just enough vague and ambiguous information about something to creep the players out and let them know something WRONG is going on, without giving them the relief of painting the complete picture.
For that purpose, consider the sorts of ways that Lovecraft (for example) uses things like sounds and smells to an unsettling effect:
I'll never forget the impact from a story one role-player told me about a D&D game where the DM decided to play around with sound for monsters, and had a whole dungeon planned out where the monsters could be heard before they were seen. However, the first (presumably common, basic, low-level) monsters the party encountered were something on the other side of a door in a hallway of the dungeon or whatever, which the investigators first perceived as the pitter-pattering sound of little feet in the dark, creepy dungeon, on the other side of the door, then scratching at the door, and then pounding.... What were the monsters? Maybe they were lowly goblins, or zombies, or skeletons, or whatever, but the party never found out - they were so creeped out by the atmospheric description of the dungeon, and by the eerie sounds of the monster, that, rather than fighting as expected, the party barricaded themselves into the room, and then settled in for a night of horror role-playing as the tried to defend the room from whatever was outside of it. The role-playing session ended when the noises stopped the following morning, and the party booked it out of the dungeon, never to return to it.
There's an ancient power to things like unsettling noises in the dark, a power that never really went away even after modern humans all but eradicated all of earth's other monsters, leaving only human beings behind as the Thing in the Dark. Tap into that power, and make use of it.
Think of horrible things - sights, sounds, tastes, smells, etc. - that a successful roll might reveal.
And, think of all the horrible things that a failed roll may reveal, far too late!
Or, flip it around, and think of ways that a failed roll might thoroughly distort the perhaps mundane truth in creepy ways that might be even more horrible than if they were seen or heard correctly. Hollywood horror movies are full of "jump scares" that basically amount to people who didn't see the spring-loaded cat in the box, or didn't hear their friend walking up behind them to put a hand on their shoulder, or whatever: those are, in effect, failed perception rolls! Modern horror movies also full of almost hallucinatory moments that come from failing to see or hear something clearly in the dark or whatever: a failure of perception might cause an investigator to think she's seeing a completely dead body moving out of the corner of her eye, or think he's seeing a moving shadow looming in the corner of a room. (I can tell you from real life experience that being in the wrong places at the wrong times of night with just the wrong amount of silence and darkness results in our eyes and ears playing all sorts of tricks on us, and full-on sensory deprivation can really do some weird things to one's perception through senses most people don't realize they even have, such as the sense of the shape, size, and position of one's own body....)
When my brother used to run Vampire: the Masquerade games, he used to do that sort of thing subtly in moments leading up to climactic scenes of his stories, and sometimes it could result in scenes where absolutely nothing was threatening the characters, but the weird, surreal suggestion of unearthly things happening just out of sight or just beyond hearing resulted in some of the most creepy moments of the game. He used to just describe creepy faint sounds, or creepy things moving in corners or in shadows, and just have us roll dice afterward to let us know if it was something that was really there, or just a trick of the eye/ear/whatever. No doubt, it's a YMMV sort of thing, but in our case, it resulted in some moments that were so unsettling, we'd just have our characters flee from the area without sticking around to see the plot points or whatever, and that group didn't get creeped out very easily.
Anyway, just a couple of ideas, I hope they help.
I enjoy your analysis and personal insight. I think there are logical mechanical solutions that could all be grounded in some facet of realism here. The "realism" of it is less important to me than the creation of a compelling narrative.
So if we set "realism level" aside, I'd like people's perspective on the story-driving aspects of these skills. I want to know how people craft tension of perception in their games when using a generalized perception skill/characteristic. My brain just automatically goes to: "Well, Chuck is great at detecting anything so there is no point in trying to surprise someone with a shuffle down a corridor, or a shadow. Or is that statement the solution right there? There is still deliberate vaguery inserted into what people "detect," no matter the method.
"You perceive a subtle shadow moving along the wall."
"Crap, wonder what that could be?"
"And you also hear a faint murmuring coming from the ceiling."
"The games afoot! But it's afoot in every conceivable way and my great perception skill still hasn't answered anything definitive for me. So why did I bother spending points on perception when the answer I get is always going to be vague? It's vague if I succeed. It's even more vague if I don't."
I can see how there is still an unknown in the example above, and unknowns are good. But then we are back to what has succeeding at a skill check accomplished? And is that any different from what happened with Spot Hidden or Listen descriptions as separate? It's different in that with separated skills people really didn't know about one of those. Now they succeed at any check more often than not. So, where the rubber meets the road is what a perception skill check is capable of delivering and how successful a Keeper is at appropriate description.
I'm not trying to be difficult or cynical here and I recognize that I may just be overthinking this. At the end of the day, the skills are irrelevant so long as the tension happens. I just want the mechanics to aide in crafting said tension and I'm struggling to see how being good at any type of perception builds tension rather than removing it.