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!

Signs of Carcosa

Hey everybody!
It’s the first game day of 2017! I’m hoping to have lots of awesome games on the blog over the next 52 weeks, and I think I’m starting with an absolute cracker! As per my Christmastime tradition now, I’ve been playing Eldritch Horror with the new expansion, though in this case, “new” is kinda pushing it a little. With no new big box expansion for the game until later this month, I’d been saving the smaller box, Signs of Carcosa, until the festive period – no mean feat, considering the game was released in June!

Eldritch Horror Signs of Carcosa

So, Signs of Carcosa is a small-box expansion that follows in the manner of Strange Remnants in that it includes new investigators as well as a new Ancient One, and a glut of new cards to support that ancient enemy. Signs of Carcosa is particularly exciting for me, because we have four investigators from the Arkham Horror base game, which is always something of an event in these circumstances – they’re investigators who have been a part of this mythos for so long now, after all!

Eldritch Horror Signs of Carcosa

Hastur is the big bad guy from this expansion, and while his subtitle there might be “the unspeakable one”, this is very much a King In Yellow-themed expansion, similar to The Yellow Sign expansion for Arkham Horror. Naturally, there isn’t a lot of focus thrown specifically on the play from RW Chambers’ short story collection, but its presence does loom large in many of the game pieces. Encounters in the various board locations focus on artists and seeing the Yellow Sign, etc, while all of the Other World encounters are focused on Lost Carcosa.

Much like Strange Remnants brought back the focus mechanic from Mountains of Madness, Signs of Carcosa brings back the impairments mechanic from Under the Pyramids, which has a lot of focus placed on it through Hastur’s ability, along with a lot of the fail conditions on the encounter cards.

Hastur is one of the more difficult of the ancient ones to defeat in other games such as Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, but his incarnation here seems at first glance to be much more simple – you only need to solve two mysteries to win! However, these mysteries have a reliance on spending clues, and there are a lot of Mythos cards that will force you to discard your clues, which makes solving even two of Hastur’s mysteries a lot more difficult than it perhaps might seem! I actually managed to win the match against him, but it was a close-run thing, and the eventual win was actually highly luck-dependent, as I’d had an Other World encounter that gave me the clues I needed to go on to solve the mystery. One of my investigators had already gone insane, and I was keeping another pretty much permanently in London in an effort to spawn more clues before they kept getting discarded!

Eldritch Horror Signs of Carcosa

We also get the now-usual batch of new assets and artifacts (mostly King in Yellow-themed, of course!), new spells and unique assets, and Hastur gets three sets of special encounters. Considering you only need to solve two mysteries to win, he comes with a total of eight – a nice touch for replayability! The new Prelude cards offer some interesting set-up options, including doling out copies of the new Promise of Power condition card, one that allows the influence of The King in Yellow to be felt even if Hastur isn’t the ancient one, and another that brings the Order of the Silver Twilight to the game through a fifth reserve slot. I really like the Order, and for years had tried to make a Silver Twilight deck work in Call of Cthulhu, so it’s always fun when they show up. Part of me hopes we’ll get something of a full-on expansion with them in or something, but I also like the way they insinuate themselves into other expansions.

All in all, this was a fun box. Didn’t feel quite as exciting as Strange Remnants, which has a lot of stuff going on of course, but anything that adds so integral an ancient one as Hastur to the game has got to be close to the top of anybody’s wish list!

 

Saturday reflections

I seem to have been writing a lot of rambling posts lately, so why buck the trend when I can just continue in this vein and waffle on about stuff that has been happening and all the rest of it – you know you love it!

First of all, this happened today. Lots and lots of Age of Sigmar goodness, centred around the new campaign book, Godbeasts. This is a really amazing-looking book, full of battle plans and amazing artwork, and all manner of painting guides – including guides for the realmgates and a realm of battle board! I also picked up the new painting book, as it was fairly cheap and, flicking through it in store, it looked so much better than I thought it was!

I’m really excited to add some Lizardmen/Seraphon to my collection at last. I’ve talked about this previously, but my very first interaction with the Warhammer universe was with this piece of amazing artwork:

Warhammer Invasion

It just captivated me, and once I had started buying models, I did actually purchase a sizable number of Lizardmen kits, only to then sell them on ebay because I wasn’t doing anything with them. However, I’ve never really stopped wanting to get some models painted, and when the Seraphon were released for Age of Sigmar, the only reason I didn’t drop hundreds on an army of these guys was that I was still in the middle of painting up my Stormcast Eternals. But I’ve finally picked up a couple of boxes, and I feel wonderful for having these guys in my life!

The best part of all of this, however, is that I’d returned some kits that I honestly didn’t know why I’d bought them – such as the Blood Angels Chaplain, a second Illuminor Szeras, and the Beastmen Minotaurs. In retrospect, I don’t know why I bought any of these things, though it clearly felt like a good idea at the time! If I’d have thought it through, I might have worked out exactly how much all of this was worth and really try to maximise my return, but I just took a bunch of stuff back, and bought all that stuff in the linked instagram picture for just £2.40. Awesome! So that was an extremely good day.

I’m particularly pleased to just downsize the amount of stuff I’ve collected about me recently, and turn it into things that I want. Not that I didn’t want the other stuff at the time, of course, but anyway! Very exciting to have some Lizardmen, that I hope to get round to soon!

Eldritch Horror Signs of Carcosa

Moving away from Warhammer, this announcement went up yesterday for the next small-box expansion to Eldritch Horror. We’re finally getting Hastur, you guys!! We’re also in for some of the Arkham Horror base game investigators, which is another exciting point. I try not to spoil myself for these things, and just discover the game when I get it, but it’s going to be hard this time around, as Hastur has got to be one of the more interesting Ancient Ones. Stay tuned for awesome!

I’m actually quite surprised to note that I haven’t really been keeping abreast of a lot of the new game releases lately, though in checking through the recent news archive from FFG, there doesn’t really seem to be a lot coming up that is particularly exciting. It’s good to see the upcoming LCG stuff, but there haven’t really been any exciting board games coming out of late (still not sure what to think about Rebellion). At least it means I won’t be filling my flat with any more stuff for the time being!