Cthulhu on the horizon!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today I want to talk about some of the news from FFG about new Cthulhu-themed games coming on the horizon that I’ve only recently had the time to digest (the new Star Wars trailer dropping has primarily been responsible for my tardiness here!) So let’s kick off the Halloween season with a look at the next big box expansion for Eldritch Horror: Masks of Nyarlathotep!

Masks of Nyarlathotep

This was an expansion that was both entirely expected, and yet completely blew me away with the announcement last week. I mean, for sure we would be getting Nyarlathotep in the game soon enough – it’s a Cthulhu mythos game, what would it be without the wearer of a thousand masks? But I had entirely been expecting to see him in a small-box expansion, with some specific Mask monsters, and nothing more than that. Oh, how wrong I was!

Masks of Nyarlathotep introduces a campaign mode of play to Eldritch Horror, and currently we only have a few lines towards the end of the announcement that tell us what is involved here:

When taking on a Campaign, players will need to win multiple games, with consequences and benefits carrying over to the next game after each threat is sealed away from the world. If stopping any single Ancient One seems an impossible task, can the investigators possibly hope to succeed as these otherworldly beings attack one after another?

However, earlier in the article we learn that there are several cults springing up across the world, each seeming to worship a different entity, and it’s up to the investigators to stop them. While my first thoughts about campaign play were that we could play games using different expansions, and they would all somehow feature into this mode, I think rather it will be implemented as more self-contained within this box. I’m going to guess, then, that this expansion won’t have a new sideboard, but instead will just be choc-full of cards that allow for several different gameplay experiences, maybe even mini-Ancient Ones like the Heralds from Arkham Horror, all of which will add up to some climactic endgame against Nyarlathotep himself. Nyarlathotep will still appear as a more regular AO if you want to just play a straight game with him involved, but for the campaign mode he’s probably going to have some kind of mechanic that makes him stronger the more Mask villains we don’t defeat, or something.

We’ll see in Q1, 2018!

Omens of the Pharaoh

The next bit of news I was really happy to see was the new Elder Sign expansion, Omens of the Pharaoh!

Have you played Elder Sign: Omens? It’s a pretty good re-interpretation of the card game for Android/iOS, and features an expansion based on the sinister goings-on in Egypt. The Dark Pharaoh, Nephren-ka, has already made it into Eldritch Horror of course, and now he’s making his malevolent presence felt here, too!

I really like how the new mode for Elder Sign has allowed games to move out of the museum. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the classic game where you’re wandering the deserted exhibits at night, but Omens of Ice was an incredibly flavourful (and difficult!) game, and while I still haven’t managed to get round to Omens of the Deep, I’m sure that will also be a delight.

Whoever made the connection between having locations to explore inside a museum, and locations in a more general sense, should definitely feel a deep sense of pride at that achievement!

Adding the Egyptian horror feel to this game is definitely something to be pleased about, as it’s a classic setting for the mythos, though if we’ve already had the frozen Alaskan wilderness, the deep sea and now Egypt, I wonder whether this line of ‘Omens of’ expansions can continue for much longer? I’m guessing there will be an Amazonian jungle (or some kind of tropical theme) expansion at some point, but then what?

FFG’s Lovecraftian games are always a true delight, and I cannot wait to add both of these games to my collection when they arrive early next year!

Let the campaign commence!

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and today I wanted to talk a bit about the Arkham Horror LCG, which I’ve started to play again as part of a campaign rather than just the one-off games I had back at Christmas while I was learning the ropes. I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, as the game has been incredibly popular for months already, but I thought I’d just ramble a bit about it all, and then talk about the first game in the Night of the Zealot campaign that I had a couple of weeks ago!

Arkham Horror LCG

Deck-building
Before I go any further, I think it’s probably useful to have read my earlier blog where I talk a lot about my reactions to the game after playing through each of the core set scenarios. Back then, I was playing as Roland Banks with the starter deck suggested in the rulebook, and I didn’t feel any need to deck-build throughout the attempts. I was gaining experience, as I was trying out the campaign back then also, but the deck-building options just didn’t really do anything for me.

This time around, I’m playing different decks, headed up by Skids O’Toole and Daisy Walker. The Ex-Con and the Librarian; it’s got rom-com written all over it! Again, I’ve just mashed the ten level-0 cards from each of their possible character classes, along with ten level-0 neutral cards, to form the decks to start with. However, right from the off, I’m seeing how it can be exceptionally useful to actually deck-build here, and I’m now considering buying a second core set in order to widen my options.

The decks that are possible with the core set cards just feel very narrow, I think because we only get one copy of each class card and, to build a 30-card deck for the investigator, we need therefore to include all of those class cards. With two core sets, you could use two copies (the maximum allowed) of five cards, and refine your deck accordingly. I’m sure you don’t need me to lecture you on the art of deck-building, of course, but I think it’s worth pointing out anyway. While I’m writing this blog, I still haven’t pulled the trigger on a second core set, mainly because I’m in the middle of buying a house, but I do foresee getting it before the end of the summer, for sure.

Campaign Play
Something that I talked about at some length in my earlier blog was the idea that I didn’t want to play the core set scenarios again after the first run-through, due to the fact I knew what was happening in the story there. While this is true, and is probably the biggest factor in my not picking the game up again for the last six months, I found the game to still hold a lot of my attention despite this factor this time around.

One thing that was immediately apparent was the added benefits and disadvantages of playing with more than one investigator. For a start, the number of clues spawned at locations was doubled, meaning the game was potentially sped up that much more. However, the number of encounter cards drawn was also doubled, but as these cards were – either by accident or design – predominantly affecting the investigator who drew them, it didn’t really impact on the game overall. For example, Skids drew a card that forced him to make a skill test, then Daisy drew a card that affected the location only she was at.

Comparisons with Lord of the Rings LCG have been made all over the place, naturally, and I don’t think they’re particularly wrong, but the way the encounter deck is built with predominantly treachery effects rather than enemies means that adding more investigators usually isn’t as much a hindrance to the game as it is for the older LCG. Of course, oftentimes you do need to spend clues equal to the number of investigators to advance the act deck, leading to a nice sense of balance in the game overall.

I’m surprised at how little overall impact knowing how the story ends actually had on my enjoyment of the game this time around, however. I still managed to defeat the Ghoul Priest (mainly thanks to some very lucky cards from Skids, I have to say!) and I still opted to burn my house down – but knowing this would be coming didn’t stop me from having a good time! So that was very pleasing!

Arkham Horror LCG

The Gathering
So I’ve completed the first scenario, and both investigators managed to score six Victory points by the end of the game. Skids O’Toole has gained the company of the lovely zealot Lita Chandler, and I’ve used two of his experience points to upgrade the deck. One point went on upgrading the Leo De Luca ally, and with the second I swapped out Pickpocketing for some Extra Ammunition. With only two target cards for this in the deck, I think that’ll be one of the first things I do when I upgrade to a second core set!

Daisy didn’t seem to have as many interesting options, however. I’ve upgraded her Magnifying Glass, but that’s it. I was hoping I could get a few more Tome assets, but again, with only one core set, the pickings are slim. Of course, once I truly get underway, I should have more options from the Dunwich cards as well!

Something that I found really interesting, however, was just how much this process actually felt like a real RPG. The ability to level-up your character has, at its core, a sense of where you want that character to go. Do you choose to level-up their combat ability, or their mental attributes instead? In doing so, I feel like I made a conscious decision to refine the Skids deck into something less self-serving than the Rogue cards he starts out with make it feel. His character story tells of how he stole in order to pay for his mother’s operation, yet she died while he was in prison. There’s a noble streak to the character, and so I want to try and make something more of that, if I can, through the deck-building options. In something of a similar vein, Daisy is all about reading books, but the addition of the Mystic class to her deck allows her to actually gain knowledge from all that reading – in the form of spells. I’m considering making her something of a cleric-style character, therefore, though I need a wider card pool to choose from to do this. At any rate, I thought this was a really interesting aspect of the game, and one that I hadn’t quite expected to come across so well!

So the house has burnt down, and Skids has got four experience points and one point of mental trauma for his trouble. Daisy still has five experience points left to use, so hopefully she’ll be able to get more for them after the next scenario!

I’m hoping to write these campaign updates on a semi-regular basis, so stay tuned to see how well my daring duo get on!

Mythos delvings

Hey everybody!
Continuing my tradition of reading more Lovecraftian weird tales over the festive break, I thought I’d provide another run-down of the stories I’ve been enjoying in the third annual ‘Mythos delvings’ blog entry!

The bulk of this year’s reading has been taken up with The King in Yellow, RW Chambers’ collection of short stories that revolve around the mysterious, diabolical play that has the power to drive people to insanity just by reading it. The book is a collection of ten stories that reference to a varying extent the play, and was published in 1895, when Lovecraft was just 5 years old. The stories vary considerably, but I have to say that my stand-out favourite is the first, The Repairer of Reputations. It’s a story that has all of the hallmarks of the classic weird tale, with a narrator that slides into insanity over his perceived rank of the King of Carcosa. The story has got an element of early science fiction to it, set in 1920s New York and contains startling reference to America’s victory over Germany in a world war, as well as describing America as having produced a nobility following some kind of cleansing of foreign elements. A particularly morbid aspect is the legalisation of suicide, and the story involves the opening of a “lethal chamber” where folks can go to kill themselves with ease. We follow the narrator, Hildred Castaigne, as he seeks to secure his succession as king in the Imperial Dynasty of America, with the help of the eponymous Repairer of Reputations, Dr Wilde. Hildred seeks to remove his cousin Louis from the “succession”, but is thwarted and cast into an asylum, where he dies. The story is an excellent study in weird fiction, and the horror comes out as we see Hildred slowly spiral into madness. There’s an excellent description of a mechanical safe that he uses to store his diadem, but which Louis dismisses as a biscuit box, and I’ve subsequently read that the lethal chamber could actually be a subway station, as seen through the deluded eyes of Hildred. It’s certainly one of the best short stories I’ve read in a long while!

While I did like the stories in this book, it was more because I’m a longtime Lovecraftian gamer, and so got to see who these people are who turn up in the games, such as the aforementioned Hildred Castaigne, Jeanne d’Ys, et al. However, it has very little in common with the Mythos overall, except for the odd exclamation about the lake of Hali and whatnot. Hastur is just another of these exclamations, and it doesn’t feel like Chambers really had any sort of idea for the concepts other than throwing them out as weird-sounding stuff. Of course, Lovecraft used the word as well, without much expansion, and it was August Derleth who eventually turned him into the elder god that we gamers are familiar with today. The concept of The King in Yellow as a play that causes insanity is interesting, but again, isn’t really fleshed out other than mentioning it offhandedly. It’s something very similar to Lovecraft’s own Necronomicon, which also causes madness in its readers, though I do feel that Lovecraft provides more meat for those bones. Perhaps it’s just my over-familiarity with Lovecraft as opposed to having just last week read Chambers.

Lovecraft hasn’t been neglected, of course, as I’ve been reading quite a few of his shorter stories. To start with, The Tree is perhaps one of the most un-Lovecraftian stories I’ve ever read, dealing with a pair of sculptors in ancient Greece. As a classicist, I liked it, but as a fan of weird fiction, it didn’t really feel all that, well, weird. It’s a short story, though. The Cats of Ulthar is perhaps one of Lovecraft’s more famous stories, showcasing his love of felines in a creepy little tale about the community of Ulthar, where an elderly couple kill any cats that turn up near their hovel. When a traveler’s kitten disappears, this couple is suspected, and the guy calls down a curse on the two; all of the cats in Ulthar disappear for a day, then return much fatter than they were previously. Turns out this mysterious traveler caused the cats to eat the couple…

We’re off to Kingsport for the next couple of stories, starting with The Terrible Old Man, which tells of an attempted robbery on one of the denizens of the town, only for the robbers to disappear, turning up as mutilated corpses in the sea. The story is nice and short, and has just the right amount of suspense and creepiness to it that makes it delightful. The Strange High House in the Mist is almost a sequel, dealing with the philosopher Thomas Olsen’s intrepid exploration of the strange house of the title. Olsen is hosted by the weird occupant for several hours, as he talks of the past and whatnot, before having a fantastical encounter with the god Nodens. Olsen returns to Kingsport, but even the Terrible Old Man notices the difference in him. It’s an odd story, again fairly replete with lore for an enthusiastic Arkham Horror player!

The Horror at Red Hook is a tale I’ve read before, and features our good friend Thomas Malone from the Arkham Horror base game. The story details some black magic goings-on in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, and revolves around the strange case of Robert Suydam, who is revealed to be an occult practitioner using magic and human sacrifice to retain his youth. As one does. The story is interesting to me, as it features a police inspector as the main protagonist rather than the usual idle intellectual; I’ve mentioned before how many of Lovecraft’s stories usually derive their horror from the fact that these intellectual types are at risk of losing their mind, a much more valuable commodity than physical harm. The story is an interesting one, though does suffer from some of Lovecraft’s strident racism. As with most of these things, though, I read them for the enjoyment of seeing stuff from the board/card game universe.

The Rats in the Walls is another that I’ve read before, and reminds me of a somewhat disastrous date I was on back in 2011 or 2012. The story, anyway, is set in England, in the wonderfully gothic “Exham Priory”. The tale basically deals with rats in the walls, which prompt the unnamed narrator to dream of his family’s ancient and morbid history. Basically, the De La Poer family kept human cattle in an underground city to serve as a stock of flesh to satisfy their cannibalistic urges. The narrator, following an expedition into the lower levels of the house, goes insane at the revelations of his family’s history, and is committed to an asylum, shortly after which the Priory collapses. It’s got perhaps more of the gothic horror to it than the more usual cosmic horror, though we do get a gasp of Nyarlathotep towards the end. The expedition under the Priory has all the suspense of classic Lovecraft, however, and the physical descent beneath the foundations nicely mirrors the figurative descent into the family history – and into madness.

I’ll finish with The Shunned House, which is another of these classic horror story types that Lovecraft does so well. The unnamed protagonist becomes fascinated by the history of a house on Benefit Street in Providence, RI. Along with his uncle, he looks into the history of the Harris family, and discovers all kinds of peculiar goings-on with the members of that family. Turns out the house is built on top of the burial site of a French daemon-worshiper, who has been leeching the souls of the house’s inhabitants since the eighteenth century. The protagonist and his uncle spend the night in the cellar, and his uncle is claimed by this diabolist, leading the protagonist to pour a load of sulfuric acid into the hell-pit, cleansing the house. The story is just great, with the sort of increasing build-up of suspense that Lovecraft does so well. It’s a straight-up ghost story, without any of the cosmic horror attributes of the Cthulhu mythos around it, but even so, it’s definitely worth having a read!

Omens of Ice

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day here at spalanz.com, and this week I’m taking a look at the latest expansion for Elder Sign: Omens of Ice! (This blog was originally slated to come out in Halloween week, where it would have made more thematic sense…)

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

Elder Sign is one of my favourite games to break out for an evening of cosmic horror and dice rolling. The Gates of Arkham expansion from early 2015 introduced a new mode of play for the game, where we left the museum behind and ventured into the various neighbourhoods of the town. Omens of Ice is an expansion in the very same mould, as we venture into the Alaskan wilderness, following the mysterious goings-on in the wake of the discovery of a statue of Ithaqua…

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

I love the snow theme in pretty much any game (The Frozen Wastes for Runebound being a prime example of this!) and was truly enraptured by the Mountains of Madness expansion for Eldritch Horror for the amount of theme that comes through in the gameplay there. Omens of Ice feels very similar to these games, as you need to ration your supplies as you face the biting cold.

Omens of Ice features a staged encounter deck, where the cards you encounter in stage one vary between the green (easy) and yellow (normal) difficulty, while stage two are only the yellow and red (hard) cards. I really like this because it allows the designers to make the game feel like you’re trudging into the wilderness, and passing into stage two actually means something. It really echoes the source material such as Algernon Blackwood’s The Wendigo, where the earlier part of the story feels ‘safe’ while the later parts in the wilderness are most assuredly not!

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

The Expedition Camp card replaces the Museum Entry card, and acts like that card in every way. The Track card tracks both your supplies (based on the time of year) and the length of your adventure. Supplies are a new commodity that have an impact on the game that can, for instance, affect the stamina of your investigators if you don’t have any. The day track is linked to the clock, unsurprisingly, and advances whenever the clock strikes midnight. If the track reaches the end during Summer, you just add two doom tokens to the Ancient One track and move back to the Day 7 space; in Winter, however, if you take too long on your investigation, you’ll lose the game!

The day track also governs the Storm mechanic. Storm tokens act like penalties on encounter cards, and are placed on encounters through various effects, such as on the Ancient One track or through failing to complete an encounter, as well as through the day track. Some of them are blank, but some of them will cause you to lose health or supplies, etc. Some of them are blank, however, merely clouds threatening on the horizon rather than an actual threat for you to deal with!

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

There is also a new deck of Alaskan Mythos Cards that features some horrible new effects to reflect the biting winter conditions.

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

The new investigators are a mixed bag already in the Arkham Horror universe, while the Ancient Ones feature the iconic Ithaqua himself, naturally! The item and spell cards are the usual mix of giving your investigators bonus dice – including two items that each allow you to take the red or yellow die even if it is locked. Not sure how game-breaking that could be, as while it is a pain when you have a bunch of stuff you can’t use because the die is locked, it’s still a fundamental aspect of the struggle in this game. I haven’t yet had the specific situation come up to see how game-changing it could be, but the thought is there…

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

Overall, I really like this expansion a lot. It’s difficult, don’t get me wrong – I haven’t actually managed to win a game yet, with the timed mechanic from the day tracker causing me a lot of problems – but it’s also super-thematic, which is something that I really enjoy about FFG’s Lovecraftian games. While I wouldn’t call the Call of Cthulhu LCG a misstep, I do feel that the co-operative struggle against the Ancient Ones is a much better way to implement mythos games, and was really pleased to see that avenue for the upcoming Arkham Horror LCG.

EDIT: Since writing this blog, FFG have announced a fourth expansion to Elder Sign, Omens of the Deep, again using the Gates of Arkham mode for gameplay. Looks like this is now the set manner for the game, and I can’t wait for both it and further ‘Omens of’ expansions to come out. Maybe Omens of the Sands for an Under the Pyramids-style expansion? We’ll have to wait and see!

The Dreamlands!!

Well stop the panic about no new big-box expansion for Eldritch Horror on the horizon, because FFG have now previewed the upcoming Dreamlands expansion and it looks like it should be amazing!! I’m trying not to do too many game day blogs that merely look forward to upcoming stuff, but I’ve had this one on my mind all weekend, so need to talk about it!

Eldritch Horror The Dreamlands

This expansion brings us an Other World on the sideboard for the first time ever in an Arkham Files board game. At the start of the game, you place portals through which you can access the Dreamlands board, which is a fantastic way of mixing up the way in which you move between the boards. I really like this idea, not least it’s because it’s really quite thematic. All of the Arkham Horror boards, and both of those for Eldritch Horror thus far, have had the same mechanic: go somewhere, and access a new board. This idea of moving around like this just really appeals to me, and is the main focus for me wanting to write this short, excited blog now!

It is, of course, early days, but I’m wondering what kind of secondary mechanics we’ll be seeing in this box. Mountains of Madness introduced us to the Focus mechanic, and Under the Pyramids allowed us to decrease our skills as well as increase them. So I’m assuming we’ll see something more, but I guess it’ll remain to be seen…

At any rate, I’m really looking forward to getting this box. I find it really interesting that we’re now seeing Other Worlds on expansion boards, which really opens the door for all kinds of different expansion experiences, and the way we get there sounds super cool. I still hope we get to see something like a more expanded Europe, and an enlarged New England showing the traditional Arkham/Dunwich/Innsmouth/Kingsport locations, however!

Can’t wait!

Phobias!

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day here at spalanz.com and, because I’ve been so tied-up with writing an essay lately, I’ve not managed to get in as many games as I’d like. Consequently, this will only be a little blog for today as I take a look at some of the smaller stuff available to expand your games of Elder Sign. Let’s begin!

Elder Sign Grave Consequences

Fantasy Flight recently released Grave Consequences, a small expansion of print-on-demand cards to enhance the play experience. This is really a collection of three mini-expansions, modular by nature, that echo a lot of the content put out for Arkham Horror back in the day.

Elder Sign Grave Consequences

Most obvious of the Arkham tie-ins is the deck of Epic Battle cards. If you’re not careful and the Ancient One’s doom track fills up, it’s usually a case of battling back and forth as you try to remove doom tokens before being devoured, but now we have this little deck that adds a bit more theme to the final confrontation. It’s very similar to the deck introduced in Kingsport Horror, with each card usually split in two, describing effects when the investigators attack, and when the Ancient One attacks back. Some cards are ‘battle events’ that tell you to do different stuff before drawing a new card. Either way, it’s a nice addition.

Elder Sign Grave Consequences

The real meat of this mini expansion, for me, is the Phobias deck. Whenever an investigator goes insane, rather than being devoured, they replenish their sanity but draw one of these cards, which has some kind of lasting effect for the rest of the game. Very similar to the Injury and Madness cards introduced in Dunwich Horror, this is really what I got the expansion for.

The third and final deck is the Epitaph deck, which acts as something of a parting shot for a devoured investigator. When your chap is devoured, you draw one of these cards and resolve its effects, before then placing your character chit on the card back. Personally I would have preferred to see an Injury deck to parallel the Phobias deck, but maybe that will be for another expansion. At any rate, it does add a nice bit of theme to the game!

The rest of the stuff I’m going to talk about today is promotional material that is largely freely available online, thanks to the terrific folks over at boardgamegeek.com.

Elder Sign promo ancient one cards

In October/November every year, FFG run an event called Arkham Nights, which allows folks to come together to play one of the many Lovecraftian-themed games the company produces. Each year, a bag of swag is given out that has ties to some of these games, the most recent event having domain cards for Call of Cthulhu LCG, for instance. However, since 2011, all of these events have also featured a promotional Ancient One card for Elder Sign, which I think is both really cool and bums me out, because I can’t make it to these things to enjoy the goodness!

2011: Daoloth Render of the Veils
2012: Shub Niggurath A Thousand Young
2013: Yog-Sothoth The Beyond One
2014: The Dark God Primordial Evil
2015: Ubbo-Sathla Unbegotten Source

While it bums me out that I don’t get to enjoy the properly-printed cards, Ancient Ones are normally a card where it doesn’t matter if the cardstock is different. I know some folks like to shuffle it up and pick their AO at random, but I prefer to know who I’m facing (largely I choose the AO because I don’t want to be playing the same ones over and over).

All of these new Ancient Ones has something interesting to offer. I particularly enjoy Daoloth, whose gameplay effect really makes you consider if you want to visit that Other World for its Elder Signs, or else leave it in play in case a Mythos card forces you to place a monster. I recently played against The Dark God for the first time, whose effect quite sinister in that he forces you to lose one stamina and one sanity or lock a green die on the AO card for the remainder of the round. It sounds pretty bad, though there are plenty of ways around this kind of loss that it isn’t always that bad.

Their effects can be quite alarming, however, and they often feel like they’re more complicated than the regular release Ancient Ones. Ubbo-Sathla, from last year’s Arkham Nights, has a lot of interaction with monsters on the table, and while he’s one that I find myself looking forward to going up against, I foresee some complicated game-states to come!

Lastly, we have the two promo adventure cards, The Hand of Solace and Log of the Persephone, which can be seen on the right of my tweet above. Unlike the promo AO cards, these ones really need to be the proper printing, of course, as they’ll get mixed into the deck. FFG made these available via coupons printed in the back of some of the books they published that tie into the Arkham universe such the Dark Waters trilogy. For the cost of shipping, and tearing a page out of the book, you could get the cards sent to you. Personally, I’m not a fan of tearing up books, but additional material for my favourite games is perhaps worth it!

A lot of people on the internet will tell you that these books are crap, but I actually liked those that I’ve read so far, and have even written a blog on the Dark Waters trilogy!

As for the cards themselves, well they’re nothing particularly great, just more of the same really. I think I more enjoyed the Oliver Grayson ally card for Arkham Horror, actually. Of course, it’s nice to have these things, but I honestly think I get more of a kick out of having the thematic connection to a book that I enjoyed, which makes me wonder if the people who say they tore the coupon out for the cards then tossed the book unread actually enjoy having this stuff as much as me…

So there you have it, a bit of a whirlwind tour through the extra bits available for Elder Sign, a game that I haven’t played recently as often as I would like!

Mythos delvings

Hey everybody!
Continuing with my tradition of reading Lovecraft at Christmas, I thought I’d present another little look here at some of the tales that I’ve been enjoying this year!

To start with, I’ve had a look at Under the Pyramids, a tale ghost-written by Lovecraft for Harry Houdini in 1924. My main reason for this was the purchase of the expansion to Eldritch Horror for Christmas, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The story isn’t too bad, a classic Lovecraftian story that sees the protagonist (Houdini himself) exploring Egypt on his way to an Australian tour, only to be bound and gagged by a band of Arabs and dropped into a cleft in the earth. Being Houdini, of course, he manages to escape, whereupon he wanders the dark corridors underneath an ancient temple, and encounters the horrible mutant-mummies worshipping the fearsome monster that inspired the building of the sphinx. Lovecraft’s usual protagonists tend to be bookish professor-types, so having the celebrated magician is a novelty. Overall, a fairly enjoyable tale, though I can’t say it was as good as some of Lovecraft’s other stories. Despite an obvious knowledge of Egypt, I feel that the attempt to superimpose his usual brand of cosmic horror onto an established culture fell a little short.

Continuing with reading the “collaborations”, I’ve also taken a look at The Horror in the Museum, one of Lovecraft’s “revisions” to a story by Hazel Heald. This story is a curious beast, describing the protagonist Stephen Jones as he accepts an offer to spend the night in the waxwork museum of George Rogers. Rogers attacks Jones, before being himself killed by the elder god Rhan-Tegoth, to whom Rogers had been sacrificing his “guests” for years. The story ends as Rogers becomes another exhibit in the museum. I say it’s a curious beast because the inclusion of the elder god seemed a bit strange, almost forced, when considered around the story of the museum. However, it’s an enjoyable-enough story, and one that fans of Lovecraftian boardgames will no doubt appreciate for its tale of Rhan-Tegoth, who was featured in Innsmouth Horror. I also feel that it’s something of an important story in the wider terms of the mythos – Lovecraft made his living through revising other peoples’ work as much as selling his own to magazines such as Weird Tales, and this story seems to be one of the more prevalent ones. The contents of the museum are equally like a roll-call of the mythos, featuring statues of Night Gaunts, Chaugnar Faugn, and Cthulhu himself.

Back to Lovecraft’s own work now, and let’s start with Cool Air. It’s a fairly creepy tale, while remaining quite innocuous at the same time. It tells the story of a chap who moves into an apartment in New York underneath a doctor, and the two hit it off after the narrator is treated for a heart attack. The doctor lives in an apartment that is entirely refrigerated, and when the system breaks down, it eventually transpires that the doctor died 18 years previously, and had managed to cling on to life by keeping his apartment so cold. It’s a fairly straightforward story, and to some extent you can totally see the end coming. But yeah, it’s certainly an interesting story.

While Cool Air might seem less like a Lovecraft story simply because of its lack of mythos-related stuff, Pickman’s Model is certainly more on track. We follow the narrator, Thurber, as he visits his artist friend, Richard Upton Pickman, in his Boston studio. Pickman is famous for his grotesque faces, much like Goya, but part of this story involves a visit to his basement studio, where the proceedings are interrupted by a weird scratching sound. Pickman discharges a revolver at whatever it is that makes a scratching, while the narrator checks out Pickman’s latest work, a diabolical image, the model for whom apparently exists as a real entity. It’s the usual suspenseful story with a mind-bending denouement, as the narrator finds a photograph of a monster Pickman was using to paint the work from. It’s a short, yet really good story, one that I can definitely recommend. Pickman himself is figure so closely connected to the mythos in the boardgaming world that I was just as excited to finally learn about as for reading the story on its own merits!

Beyond the Wall of Sleep involves an intern at a mental hospital where a murderer is brought in, who turns out to be having some disturbing dreams. The intern uses some telepathic radio equipment he built in college to try to communicate with the man, and learns he is playing host to an extra-terrestrial being. It’s an interesting story, with some really interesting ideas, though it does seem a little off somehow. I think the idea of strapping these radio things to their heads and communicating telepathically is a bit goofy, but the whole thing about a patient at an asylum being possessed by a star-being is very Lovecraftian, and very much in keeping with the whole gothic horror stuff. Definitely worth checking out at least the once.

Returning to Eldritch Horror tie-ins, The Outsider is a curious tale that seems to recount a dream, having a healthy dose of horror and non-sequiturs. The Outsider of the title narrates a tale of loneliness, as he lives alone in a vast, crumbling castle. One day, he climbs to the top of one of the towers, where he enters a strange, marbled world of an old churchyard. Exploring his surroundings, he finds a strangely familiar castle, full of the sounds of revelry. However, upon climbing through the window, the revelers scatter in terror. It turns out there’s a disgusting abhuman creature in there. The twist is that he was looking in a mirror, of course. The story is one of Lovecraft’s most-reprinted, apparently, the dream-like quality accounting for reams of commentary. I quite liked it, for my part – the twist at the end is masterful, explaining a lot of the earlier dream-like story and tying it all together quite neatly. At the end, a couple of references are made to Nephren-ka and Nitocris, the latter having appeared in Under the Pyramids in the underground chamber scene.

Finally, and something of the main event of this season, was The Haunter of the Dark. Lovecraft wrote this story in 1935, in response to a letter in the Weird Tales magazine that suggested he wrote a story killing off the author Robert Bloch (author of Psycho, among other things), who had himself killed off a Lovecraft-inspired character in his own story, The Shambler from the Stars. The author Robert Blake moves to College Hill in Providence, RI, and is drawn to the steeple of an old church he can see across town. He investigates the dilapidated church, discovering a curious stone among some other occult artifacts, along with the classic Lovecraftian library of books such as the Necronomicon and Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Following this expedition, Blake comes increasingly under the spell of a mysterious entity that only comes out in the dark. After a series of storms knock out the electricity in the town, some sinister activity at the church precedes the discovery of Blake dead, presumed of electric shock. This one is what I would call classic Lovecraft. The suspense that comes through as Blake explores the church, then the tension during the night of storms – it’s all just classic gothic horror!

A great selection this time round, I have to say!