Into the Jungle…

Hey everybody,
Today is game day, and for today’s blog I’m throwing myself into the Forgotten Age campaign like there’s no tomorrow! Traditionally, I used to write up my Arkham Horror LCG blogs in pairs, so four blogs to cover the whole campaign. However, I’ve really gotten into this one, and have played the next three scenarios in pretty quick succession, so buckle up as we go on a trans-continental journey, from Arkham to the jungles of Mexico!

We’re back in Arkham – I won’t say “safely back”, for obvious reasons – for Threads of Fate, and Ichtaca has joined the investigators, demanding that we return the Relic of Ages to its rightful place. Upon checking, we discover that both Harlan and Alejandro appear to be in danger. Ichtaca impatiently leaves, so it’s up to the investigators to find out just what’s going on.

I loved this one. We’re back in Arkham, so we’ve got the familiar locations that we love so much. The encounter set uses much from the core set, including stuff from the Midnight Masks once again. I’ve lost count of how many times these treacheries are used in other scenarios, but I just love it – it feels very Arkham to me, you know? We have the Dark Cults encounter set as well, which I do enjoy, and a new set of cultists, the Pnakotic Brotherhood, who function slightly differently to the regular cultists in that engaging them adds doom to them, and their stats are buffed for each point of doom on them. So we have a lot of cultists gathering doom to themselves, and each card in the agenda deck only has a threshold of 6. Added to this, when you advance the agenda, you might well be adding doom to begin proceedings. Added to this, there is a new treachery card, Conspiracy of Blood, which lowers the threshold by 1 until you parlay with a cultist. It’s just brutal, but the whole thing works so well together that I can’t help but love it!

The big change about this one, though, is that we have three act decks in play, and the text of all of them is considered in play. There’s a lot to keep track of, but the scenario just acts like it is one giant investigation, and as such it works beautifully – yes, there’s a lot going on, but it doesn’t feel particularly hectic or anything. Instead, we’re faced with what feels very much like a board game version of the game, as we move around the fairly static locations and choose our path to investigate. I like this a lot, because it feels like we can actually play the game, rather than it continually surprising us with new locations and stuff.

That’s not to say that there are no surprises. Each act deck symbolises a strand of the investigation – looking for Harlan, looking for Alejandro, and looking for the relic itself – and the decks are built based on earlier story choices that we have made. This really gives it great replayability, I must say! As the investigation progresses, we meet folks who turn out to be enemies, and so have to defeat them to triumph in the end. I think the scenario wasn’t particularly difficult in this respect, the most annoying aspect (for me) was the inclusion of the Nightgaunt deck, as I really hate those guys! But I love an Arkham teeming with cultists, and the opportunity to uncover a conspiracy, and I think this scenario really delivered on that front!

In the end, I was able to complete all three of the act decks with two rounds of doom to spare, so recovered Alejandro, the Relic of Ages, and Ichtaca is still on side. Turns out, we’re going back to the jungle to restore the relic, so at the end of the game there was another opportunity to resupply ourselves. I have no idea whether taking a blanket along this time will be of any use, but between the two investigators, I have a decent spread of all the available items now, except for the pick axe, so let’s see whether that’ll turn out to be an almighty blunder!

The next scenario is The Boundary Beyond, and we’re in Mexico City as we try to get some information from Alejandro’s academic buddies. Something doesn’t feel quite right, though, and soon the modern-day locations start to be replaced by their ancient equivalents. The fabric of reality seems to be tearing, and the past is starting to intrude into the present, quite literally!!

This was a very interesting scenario to me. The exploration deck is made up of two versions of these ancient locations, and if you’re at a location that has a matching symbol to one that you draw from that deck, you travel to it, placing that card on top of your current location. However, there’s a 1/6 chance that you’ll draw the right card, not accounting for the added treachery cards, so you can actually spend a lot of wasted time trying to find that location. The idea is great, but the fact that you’re trying to make it happen, in-game, while the story makes it sound more like a disaster movie where you have no control over it, I did feel like this was a bit of a fail, overall. Perhaps if the locations were in the encounter deck, and you replaced them but took a sanity hit if it happened to the location where your investigators are, it might have worked better (though I feel like that’s been done already…)

To add insult to injury, the Harbinger of Valusia turns up again in this one, albeit still with the same amount of damage as when we left her. What a nightmare! Of course, I love recurring elements like this, but it did make for a difficult climax as the Harbinger was at the location where we need to be to advance the Act deck.

After the excitement of the temporal distortion, we have another Interlude where our supplies become important once more. I found that I didn’t mind it this time around, probably because there wasn’t anything quite so horrible coming my way! But we then leave the city behind, and venture once more into the jungle…

Heart of the Elders is one of the more bizarre scenarios for this game, for sure! Within the encounter cards are three distinct decks, and they’re all split off as we first explore the jungle around the mouth of a mysterious cave, before then delving into the cave to see just what we can see. I get it, of course – depending on the outcome to the last scenario, you have the possibility to actually skip the first of the two mini-scenarios, so it’s clear that the developers wouldn’t want to make a dud scenario when this was still in the monthly release model.

The second of these mini-scenarios was really interesting, as the choice of supplies that we’ve brought along was really informing the gameplay, such as locations having effects like taking damage unless you’ve brought a rope, etc. I think this is what I like as regards the supplies theme – so far, it’s been fairly limited in-game to allowing us to look at the Exploration deck if we have a compass, or somesuch, but otherwise these things have been confined to the book-keeping sections of the campaign. Hopefully they’ll take on yet more importance to the actual scenario as time moves on!

Not since Path to Carcosa have I not understood what it is that I’m trying to do, but here I think there is a level of obfuscation that feels similar to The Circle Undone, where I ended up siding with the Silver Twilight Lodge and “winning” before the campaign was truly over. This time, I have a relic, and I’m returning it to the jungle, along with an Aztec lady and a Mexican academic. After delving into the cave, I end up discovering a portal to Yoth, where several Yithians come out and said academic casually tells them to take my brains! What the?!

Okay, so from reading Lovecraft I know that the Yithians are on the friendlier end of the spectrum when it comes to extraterrestrial beings, but it still feels like a betrayal, and I kinda wish that I hadn’t tried to rescue him now! I know that it’s easy to say at this point, but I did feel like there was something up with Alejandro during the initial scenarios, but I guess it’s too late to worry now. It’s going to be interesting to see where we’re headed next, anyway!

So scenario five is bonkers, but I still find this campaign kinda fascinating. It’s definitely harder than I was expecting, but I don’t think it’s as merciless yet as many people seemed to make out back in the day. I mean, the treacheries are so annoying, and some enemies can be just brutal, but I think I’ve got a really good investigator duo in Ursula and Lily, as I have high investigation and high evade, and high combat abilities. Luckily, willpower hasn’t been a big issue so far, but with Lily having a lot of mystic cards in her deck, there are ways and means there.

Overall, I seem to be doing quite well, and I’m getting a good amount of experience to level my investigators up – in total, I’ve now gained 24 experience points, and while I have been taking the opportunity to level up cards regularly, I still have 11 points unspent following the last two scenarios. I think it’s curious that we’re headed to an Other World after the third mythos pack of the cycle, as historically these things were saved for the finale, but I wonder if that means we could potentially have even more weirdness to come? At any rate, I think it’s a decent stopping point to regroup and refuel, and I’ve also passed the threshold for the next Discipline for Lily Chen, which is quite exciting!

The Conspiracy Deepens…

Hey everybody,
It’s game day once more, and time to continue on with my investigations into The Innsmouth Conspiracy. It’s been a couple of weeks since I last played this game, where I had just begun to realise what might be happening in the blighted coastal town…

5. Horror in High Gear

The fifth scenario sees us racing to the lighthouse at Falcon Point, after the revelations from the last scenario. This one is very interesting to me, it’s not very Lovecraftian, as it is basically a car chase in card game form, and it owes a lot to The Essex County Express from The Dunwich Legacy. The locations are all points along the Old Innsmouth Road, and when you reveal a location, it will have the “Road x” keyword, which tells you to put the next location from the deck in line. However, if you have to place more than 1 card, you also draw from a “long way round” deck, which slows your progress significantly.

Your investigators are in a vehicle, and as a reaction can get in or out, but are either classed as being in or being out of that car. Now, I couldn’t find an answer to this point when I was playing, but I decided that entering a location in the vehicle did not mean that I revealed that location – there were a couple of locations where you could spend clues to scout ahead, and peek at the next location in line, so playing the way I did meant that I could check for any “long way round” cards and avoid them.

This one was very much about location management, and we had a pretty decent headstart that made almost a mockery of the fact that several Hunter enemies were gathering at the furthest location from us. A couple of villains did pop up during the game, though mainly it was a case of investigating the locations so as to get the clues to spend that allowed us to safely exit that location. As such, Zoey didn’t have a great deal to do during her turns. I was also quite lucky in that Stella had a good combo from Lantern and Granny Orne, allowing her to buff her investigation attribute as well as lowering the shroud value of locations she’s at. That was a big help, anyway!

So I managed to evade pursuit before sunrise, and somehow was able to get 5VPs into the bargain! I think it’s definitely time to get the decks sorted out, and trade up on some cards.

6. A Light in the Fog

The next scenario is much more of a classic, creepy investigation. We’re at the Falcon Point lighthouse, in an attempt to get some answers. Everything starts off fairly standard, though I thought it could be quite brutal that doom hangs over from one Agenda to the next, meaning you’re on a fairly tight timer to get this done! Once Oceiros Marsh is defeated, the investigators have the key to explore further in the depths beneath the lighthouse, and things get very interesting as we have another of these scenarios where you’re exploring locations but it does feel very much like we’re in there – each row of locations is only connected horizontally, so you have to keep coming back to the central shaft to go further down. Very atmospheric.

Now, I’m not going to lie, I think I played this one very wrongly indeed! See, I didn’t seem to be getting very far in terms of investigation – I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be looking for, etc. So I was aiming to resign when – bam! The lighthouse was basically washed away, and the caverns I was exploring began to flood. Wondering if maybe the Agenda would still present me with some way to fail forward, I carried on blithely playing, only to reach Resolution 3, in which The Investigators are Killed. Yikes!

Now, normally I’m of the mind that I would never look at the reverse of cards that I had not revealed during the course of a game, mindful of replayability etc. But I did turn over a couple of locations and found that there is another location that can still allow for you to resign, and so reach a more favourable conclusion, so I think I might need to re-set and try again. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all!

But that said, this is what the game is all about, isn’t it? Arkham Horror LCG is not meant to be easy, you’re meant to just about make it through. While I am considering re-playing this scenario, I’m also thinking that I might just accept that this is how it ends for Stella and Zoey’s journey, drowning beneath Falcon Point lighthouse, and basically re-start the campaign at a later date. It has been a very protracted campaign this time, after all, which makes me wonder if my heart really has been in it with these investigators. I’m going to give it some thought, and see maybe at the weekend if I can come to a decision.  

If this is how it ends, then I think it has been a pretty good campaign, overall. Returning to Innsmouth does feel a little bit more forced, somehow, than the Dunwich Legacy campaign, which seemed to follow on naturally. I have the impression that The Innsmouth Conspiracy is a prequel to the Lovecraft story, and so goes some way to prepare us for the eventual raid by the feds, but it did somehow just feel a little bit forced, to me. Nevertheless, the actual story of the campaign, at least so far as I got in there, does move along quite well. We have a bit of back-and-forth across the timeline, as we move between the past and the present. The scenarios each play quite differently, and so there is a lot of variety to be had throughout.

Definitely an interesting campaign…

The Conspiracy Continues…

Hey everybody,
It’s Tuesday, which means it’s game day here at, and today I am finally back with The Innsmouth Conspiracy for Arkham Horror LCG! I know, it’s been an age! Well, three months. But still! The last time I played this game was November, when I played the third scenario, but neglected to keep any photos of the game as it progressed. Even so, I think it’s time to see where I’m up to with the campaign!

3. In Too Deep
In Too Deep was released around the time this game took off – and when I say took off, I mean you couldn’t buy packs of it anywhere. In Too Deep was the first casualty, for me, and it took me months to get hold of it – I think it might actually have been the case that the rest of the campaign had been released by then, but anyway.

I really liked this scenario. We have the town of Innsmouth laid out before us once again, though the town has been invaded by “foul things from the depths of the sea”, and of course we need to get across town to hook up with Agent Dawson. The locals and these foul things have erected barriers in the streets though, impeding our progress, and so we need to wend our way through and remove these where we can.

For some reason, I don’t have any pictures of me playing through this one, which is quite sad really, as I seem to recall it was a good one! There is something of a timebound mechanic, as always, so while at first I had hoped to explore a bit of the town, as time goes on more enemies are shuffled into the deck, and the town comes more and more under control of these mutant hybrids.

Campaign Log
The only memories I recovered this time were a meeting with Joe Sergeant, and a jailbreak. I managed to earn a total of 5VP, but I can’t spend it yet. Interestingly, if you were defeated or made it through, the same resolution is applied at the end. I suppose it’s another of those fail forward situations, though, where we need to keep the story moving!

4. Devil Reef
At long last, I’m back in Innsmouth! It’s been a total of three months on hiatus, but here I am again, battling with the deep ones as I try to work out what’s going on. Devil Reef is another of these back-in-time moments, much like the second scenario (I wonder if they’re going to do this throughout, so each even-numbered scenario recalls more memories?) We’ve decided to go out to Devil Reef, and Agent Dawson is along for the ride this time.

This scenario is another of those build-the-map types where we start out with a few locations to travel to, but they build out from there. The objective is to find three keys, which are linked to three artifacts, which are to be discovered at three special locations, which spawn in turn from three of the five starting locations. So it’s very much a discovery type of adventure, and with there being two dead-ends, it does mean you either get lucky, or you waste your time. More excitingly, we’re on a boat asset card, which we use to travel around.

Campaign Log
I managed to discover the artifacts, though the Terror of Devil reef still lives. 3 more VPs are now mine, and I can spend them once more – again, there’s that sense of the game really staggering how we level up this time around. I like it! The subsequent Interlude, however, reinforces the idea that we’re only recovering memories, and each of the artifacts needs to be recovered properly, so it seems we’re next off to Falcon Point Lighthouse…

The storyline is definitely interesting, although part of me does feel a little bit like it is straining this time to provide a narrative around one of HP Lovecraft’s most famous stories. I am a big sucker for wanting to recreate the board game in card game form, and have delighted previously with things like the Dunwich Legacy, but here, things do seem to be a little bit forced. I think perhaps that’s down to the way it is presented though, as flashbacks come and we attempt to piece together what on earth is happening. Maybe when I’ve gone further in the campaign, I’ll change my mind? For now, though, I am delighted to have the blessed/cursed mechanic, I’m delighted that we’re in Innsmouth, but I’m just not a hundred percent made up on whether I really like this one…

The End of the Horror

Hey everybody,
Tuesday is of course game day here at, and a Yuletide Tuesday can only mean one thing – let’s play Eldritch Horror! It’s been a wild ride over the last few years, but we’ve reached the final expansion for that tremendous game: welcome to my Christmastime review of Masks of Nyarlathotep! This big box expansion was released three years ago now, and has been languishing untouched for far too long – so I am very pleased to have finally gotten round to playing a game with it! Up to now, though, I have only played one game, so this is very much a first impressions sort of blog, rather than an exhaustive review!

The expansion comes in a big box, but it’s worth noting right off the bat that there is no side board in this one. Curious, for many, especially because the content is only slightly more expansive than that of a small box expansion, but I suppose the amount of work that has gone into this box needs to be taken into account. So let’s start looking at what we get for our money!

Comparisons are bound to be made with Arkham Horror, of course, being the former big-box boardgame set in this universe, and it’s interesting to me that there is the inclusion in here of a mechanic that is lifted straight from the older game – personal stories. These are small cards that you take control of at the start of the game for your investigator – only two cards per investigator, though the entire game line is represented here, going right back to the core set, so don’t worry if you think someone might be missed! The front of the first card has a copy of that investigator’s picture, then the back tells you what they’re trying to do. When that condition has been met, you get to move to the front of the second card, which will give you a permanent boost effect for the remainder of the game. The story also has a second condition to watch for, however, which is usually determined by the game itself; if that is met, then you flip the second card and gain a permanent burden instead. For example, if Daisy Walker takes a rest action and spends 5 clues, she gains her permanent boost, which is to gain a free Tome asset, and in addition she reduces the sanity loss from Tome assets by 1. However, if she’s reduced to 1 health or 1 sanity, she gains the amnesia condition (or discards 1 clue or 1 spell if she already has the amnesia condition). All of the cards include their respective expansion symbol, too, so you know where they came from (and can sort them into those expansions, if you so wish).

It’s a very nice side-quest effect to have as part of the game, though I always feel like these things take something of a back seat to the actual game itself, especially in the game I was playing, which was against the new Ancient One, Nyarlathotep himself! There are two Ancient Ones in the box, which I guess bumps this up from a small box expansion. Nyarlathotep comes with just four mysteries, two special encounters and a wad of research encounters as we’d expect, and also a deck of four Adventures. We first saw this mechanic back in Mountains of Madness, of course, though here the Adventure is much more central to the story, as each of Nyarlathotep’s mysteries is tied to one of the Adventures, and completing that Adventure will solve the mystery. As a bit of mitigation, then, you only need to solve 2 mysteries to win, but it was a nice way to implement his Masks mechanic that is so integral to the character in other Arkham Files games. Each Adventure is linked with one of the Masks, such as the Bloated Woman or the Dark Pharaoh. The investigators are tasked with essentially stopping these cults to solve the mysteries, which I thought was a very interesting way of implementing this. I was also on the right hand side of the board for the longest time that I think I have ever played in this game! Each cult is linked to a part of the world, mainly Africa, Shanghai and Australia. Having Sefina Rousseau as one of my investigators helped in that sense, then, as she starts in Sydney after all! Nyarlathotep’s Cultists give out Corruption conditions, which allows for you to gain benefits at the expense of gathering Eldritch Tokens – if an investigator ever has tokens equal to their max sanity, they are devoured. It’s definitely an interesting mechanic, and I think this is perhaps the craziest incarnation of the Crawling Chaos that we’ve seen – he’s come a long way from being one of the simplest Ancient Ones to defeat in Arkham Horror!

The other Ancient One is Antediluvium, a reference to the Biblical flood. In game terms, we seem to be attempting to put down cultist uprisings, this time represented by a new take on the Mystic Ruins encounter deck that we last saw in the Strange Remnants small box expansion. The Ruins deck this time features encounters in Atlantis, Hyperborea, Mu and Pnakotus, so once again they’re really spreading out across the board. It’s a wonderful idea, and one that I had hoped we would see more of when Eldritch Horror first came out – the bland, numbered spaces on the board are all in specific locations, after all! There are no special encounters for Antediluvium, instead just a bunch of research encounters and the standard 6 mysteries, three of which are needed for victory. Taken side by side with Nyarlathotep, I find Antediluvium to be a little bit boring, though they are united by having the theme of international cultist rings, and I do like the new Mystic Ruins deck.

Seven new investigators join the team, rounding out the cast with a couple of new faces that were first seen in the second edition of Mansions of Madness, such as Agatha Crane and Carson Sinclair. Many of these feel like old timers now though, through their inclusion in the Arkham Horror LCG! Masks of Nyarlathotep brings the total number of investigators available for the game up to 55, which beats out Arkham Horror by 7, as it happens! There are some new monsters, including a horrific Star Vampire, and some new Epic Monsters. We get a dozen new Prelude cards to help make games of Eldritch Horror more varied and interesting, and we get three new gate tokens for the generic numbered spaces – Hyperborea, R’yleh, and Atlantis. New assets, unique assets, conditions, spells and artifacts round out the box.

One of the selling points for this box was the new campaign system, which seemed to fall pretty flat when it was released. I think that’s not entirely unfounded – a single page that describes the process doesn’t really seem a lot, after all. In a nutshell, you play six games with the same investigators, and if you’re devoured then you’re permanently out. Surviving investigators don’t come across to the next game with all possessions, but conditions do survive. It’s quite thematic, and I suppose it’s really not a bad way of doing this, but given how we’ve seen campaigns develop for other games, it does feel a bit simplistic.

That said, I don’t think I play something like Eldritch Horror for the campaign idea. I’ve said something similar when talking about the Hellboy board game a few weeks ago, but I do like the idea of a game existing on its own, and being played for the sake of the game, not as another step on the ladder, or whatever. Games of Eldritch Horror have fluctuated fairly wildly for me, either taking 1-2 hours max, or an entire evening. And I would rather keep it as a game that takes a while but one that I don’t feel it necessary to make more regular time for. I mean, I haven’t played a game of this since last year’s Dreamlands game, and that’s fine. (I mean, it isn’t, because I really enjoy it and would love to play more of it! But you know what I mean!)

As a finale to Eldritch Horror, I think it does fall a tiny bit flat. I don’t know if it was designed to be a full stop for the game, or whether there had been plans for more expansions that ended up shelved, but I think there could have perhaps been more added if it was in fact designed to finish off the product line. More generic encounters, maybe? Or more cards that allowed for mixing of expansions, much like Miskatonic Horror for the older game? I don’t really know how that could be implemented, as the Prelude mechanic seems to be a decent way of treating the whole game line as a big sandbox, but I’m sure there could be more done there. As it is, that big box does feel a little empty in comparison with other entries in the line, and that kinda makes me a bit sad for it as a whole. But this is the trap that I’ve previously warned against, and we need to take it on what is in there: Nyarlathotep is a fairly complex Ancient One, and I imagine he would have cheapened any small box by requiring so much content. It’s great to have him as part of the game, and his companion deity does provide another good opportunity to revisit the Mystic Ruins idea. We then have more of the same, in the great tradition of Eldritch Horror expansions, with the Personal Stories forming a nice little addition and gives content to the entire game series. Overall, I’m very pleased to have this stuff available for me to play with for many years to come, I suppose I just wish the game had gone out with more of a bang!

Now that I’ve explored each of the expansions for the game, I’d like to continue with covering Eldritch Horror with more gameplay style blogs, maybe with some degree of storytelling as each game unfolds. The game I played with this expansion ended up with many such storytelling points, including Sefina gaining a Dark Pact and going well down the wrong road, while Daniela really levelled herself up as a monster-hunting beast! There will no doubt be fun times ahead for the blog as I carry forth this plan, so stay tuned for this, and more!

November Retrospective

Hey everybody,
The end of the year is fast approaching, and it’s been really great to have these monthly retrospective blogs to look back on the progress that I’ve made with all manner of projects – hopefully they’ve been as interesting to read as they have been to write!

For November, the pace seems to have been a bit slow, as we slide towards the festive season. I’ve been reading a lot of weird fiction this month, which has shown itself in two blogs covering a variety of stories from contemporaries and followers of HP Lovecraft, before then the man himself popping up last week with The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. I do love a bit of cosmic horror, and I think it’s been good to read some of the more extended mythos stuff this time around. It’s all very uneven, of course, and a lot of these stories could hardly be called masterpieces, though they are fun, which for me is the main thing. I am planning to read more of Lovecraft’s own horror stories over Christmas, of course, so do stay tuned for the traditional Mythos Delvings blog!

Reading so much weird fiction has, of course, gotten me back into playing the LCG. Having kinda planned out a series of games with Trish and Agnes, playing through some of the standalone scenarios, I’ve since pushed this idea to the side in favour of an actual campaign once again: The Innsmouth Conspiracy has well and truly started! I’ve built new decks, for Stella and Zoey, and hope to finish that in the coming week or so. I’ve got next week off work, so fingers crossed I can have more games then, if nothing else!

I have been trying to get somewhere with my painting though, and after a month off in October, I’ve been back to the Genestealer Cults, getting more Neophyte Hybrids painted up alongside an Acolyte Iconward and a Clamavus. These characters weren’t part of my original scheme, so it may mean that I end up not completing the 500-point list by the end of the year – that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it! I’m hoping to move onto the truck next, and still have the 5 Hybrid Metamorphs to do something with. So, we’ll see how far we get. But hopefully it’ll be a nice-looking little force, so I’m excited for that!

The Genestealer Cult hasn’t really been languishing for it, but I have moved on a little bit to another little project. After starting to read the third novel in the Grey Knights series, Hammer of Daemons, I’ve obviously moved on to these fellas once again, as it’s now a bit of a tradition for me to see how far I can get with them! I’ve got another 5-man Strike Squad on the table currently, along with a Brother-Captain. My painted Grey Knights are currently somewhere on a par with my painted Genestealer Cultists, in terms of size, so I suppose there’s a nice symmetry there in terms of building up both of the smaller forces. While I did initially think 9th edition might mean a slimming-down of my backlog, both of these armies are quite beautiful, and I really feel that I want to keep them.

My big news for November is that I’ve actually played my first game of Warhammer 40k this year, at last! Lockdowns do get in the way of these things, don’t they? JP and I took the tried-and-tested Chaos Space Marines vs Necrons out for a spin, but as ever, we spent most of the evening talking about all manner of junk and didn’t get much gaming actually done! I’m still not wholly sure about 9th edition, if I’m honest – I think it might be the subject for another blog, but I’m still not entirely in love with it. Which is slightly concerning, because if the recent pattern still holds true, we’ve only got about 18 months left before 10th edition rolls around…

It hasn’t even changed a great deal from 8th edition, really, it’s just the additional stuff in the rules have made it feel like it’s an overly complicated game now. When I sat down with the core rules a while back to try to make sense of them, it really surprised me just how little has actually changed. It certainly isn’t the seismic change from 7th to 8th that I experienced as my first edition change, but there’s something just stopping me from really enjoying it. I think this is probably something to explore in another blog, though. I might have a smaller-scale game with the Genestealer Cult and my mate James’ Black Templars soon, though, so maybe playing with a smaller model count might make things a bit better to understand, etc! Of course, that has its own problems when playing with an older Codex for the Genestealer Cult. Hm.

At any rate, I have been thinking that I would like to get more of my Necrons painted – I do have a lot of Necrons painted, for sure, but I need another ten Immortals, 5 Lychguard and 5 Tomb Blades to be finished before I can say that I’m happy with the force as it is. I’ll then be turning my attention to the stuff that I currently have painted, but which could be done better – some stuff like the Annihilation Barge could do with a bit of work to make it a bit more visually appealing, I think. So, I’d like to try and get the models that I think of as “finished” up to a better standard. Then there’s all manner of other units I need to turn my attention to.

I’m really chuffed to have got my hands on the new set for Warcry, Red Harvest, and have already started to build up some of the models from it. The design team are really knocking it out of the proverbial right now with this stuff, and I am utterly bowled-over by how good this stuff is. I think the terrain is what got me interested in this box, but the actual game content seems to be really great, too. It’s always nice when you get something like this – essentially a box of plastic – and there is a great rule set to go alongside it! My current plans, though, are to build up the new Tarantulos Brood warband, then potentially try them out in some regular games of Warcry with the core set stuff. It might be quite some time before all of that terrain is built, after all!

I have no more plans to attach to any of my hobby things right now, though. I think I just want to concentrate on getting my Genestealer Cultists done, and seeing where I can get to with the Grey Knights and the Necrons. If I can build and/or paint anything else, then that’s a bonus for me! I’m looking forward to making my way fully through the Innsmouth Conspiracy, and will have some more thoughts up here when that is all said and done. Who knows what else the month of December may hold? I do have some time off to look forward to, so there could be many exciting things yet to fill 2021!

The Innsmouth Conspiracy

Hey everybody,
It’s been a long time since I have played through a campaign for the Arkham Horror LCG but, here I am! After a recent look through the stuff that I have for the game, and that quick game with the Curse of the Rougarou standalone scenario, I’d decided to build some decks and go for a proper campaign once again. I had already sleeved up the Stella Clark starter deck, but I’ve swapped out a few of those cards now for a little more bespoke play, and after a quick search online, I thought I’d pair her with Zoey Samaras, as that seemed like an interesting combo. My previous games with a Survivor deck were in the Carcosa campaign, and I don’t think the pair of Survivor/Seeker worked particularly well (despite coming through that campaign really well, I admit!) so I’ve gone for Survivor/Guardian this time. New for me, both decks are made up of pairs of cards as well, rather than the more random mish-mash of card types I like to build! So there ought to be a certain degree of consistency as I play my way through this campaign – but we shall see!

As ever with these types of blogs, I’ll be discussing spoilers for the story, so please beware!

1. The Pit of Despair
This is a very interesting set up for the campaign. The investigator(s) wake up in a tidal tunnel, with some pretty severe memory loss, and realise they need to get out of there before they drown – especially having called out for help and heard fishy growls in the darkness. The game makes use of key tokens, colour-coded, which have no inherent meaning but are placed on locations and claimed when said location is fully explored. When you go to another location, if you’re in possession of a certain key, you’ll be instructed to read a certain flashback from the campaign guide, and note down a recovered memory. Now, it’s very tempting to just try and escape from this tidal hell, but recovery of these memories is actually key (pun somewhat intended), as they will allow you to remove certain tokens from the chaos bag for the rest of the campaign, making things that little bit easier!

I was a big fan, anyway, and I think I can safely say that I made the right choice of campaign with Innsmouth! Stella and Zoey are both pretty terrible at investigating locations though, and it’s only through Stella’s mechanic of gaining extra turns, and buffs following failed skill tests, that we made it through! But blimey – Zoey with a survival knife is brutal…

Campaign Log
I successfully recovered all four memories – the meeting with Thomas Dawson, the battle with a horrifying devil, the decision to stick together, and the encounter with a secret cult. After a short interlude, where Agent Harper helps me to piece all of these things together, 5 VPs are mine, but I can’t spend it yet.

2. The Vanishing of Elina Harper
Five weeks prior, the investigators are recruited by Thomas Dawson to help find Agent Harper, who has gone radio-silent on a job in Innsmouth. We get to the blighted town, and split up to try to find her. What follows is almost Innsmouth Horror but in card form, and it’s a lot of fun! Much like previous times where we’ve gotten to explore Arkham or Dunwich in the card game, I’ve enjoyed seeing sites that I’ve known from the board game. This scenario is very reminiscent of The Midnight Masks from the core set, and even uses some of those encounter cards. We’re trying to find the kidnapper and the hideout where Agent Harper is being held, so go round the town gaining clues, which we use to draw cards from a Leads deck, one of which can go into play (but we can see up to three). So in true detective style, we need to keep track of what we’ve seen to narrow down where she can be – advancing the act deck is done by making an accusation, but if we’re wrong, bad things might happen! We then need to fully investigate the real hideout, and defeat the kidnapper (who gains a health bonus), before we are victorious.

This was a very nice twist on the core set scenario, and one that I enjoyed a great deal. Something that I think worth mentioning about this game is how each subsequent campaign has built on the core set so beautifully, it still feels like the same game, but my goodness, it’s come a long way since the Night of the Zealot!

Campaign Log
So we rescued Elina Harper, and Zoey has taken her into her deck. There is also a Thomas Dawson ally card that could have been claimed, though I don’t know how – I probably did something wrong at an earlier point! I’ve gained three more VPs, and the mission was successful, so I can finally spend that experience! I’ve upgraded Survival Knife and Vicious Blow for Zoey, and Granny Orne for Stella, as well as swapping out her A Test of Will for Sharp Vision. Stella has fast become my go-to clue gatherer, so I think it makes sense to try to bolster that where I can. I’ll also try to help Zoey the same, because I think it would be more effective to have the ability for both of my investigators to be flexible.

So far, then, I think this has been a very strong opening to the campaign. I don’t know where I’m headed, truth be told, but I would imagine there is going to be some sort of confrontation with Dagon (given what I know of the lore) and I would expect the final pack of the campaign to take me to the underwater otherworld of Y’ha-nthlei, but that’s probably getting a bit too meta about it. I don’t know what to expect, though interestingly I didn’t have the same feeling of utter doubt as I did during the Path to Carcosa cycle, where I was wondering just what the right / best choice might have been. It’s not that this is a more prescriptive campaign, or anything, but I think it’s going to be interesting to see how this one plays out as time goes on.

One other point before I sign off – The Innsmouth Conspiracy introduces bless/curse tokens to the game. Finally! It’s a classic mechanic from other Arkham games, and I can only assume they have been at a loss as to how to introduce it in this one because of the lack of dice. Basically, we’re limited to 10 of either token in play at any one time, and various card effects will allow us to add in blessed tokens to the bag, which are worth +2 to the skill test, but do require you to draw again. They aren’t returned to the bag when drawn, so you’ll need to keep playing cards to replenish them. So far, I’ve only encountered player cards that interact with the blessed side of things, but I’ve heard that subsequent scenarios do have more to do with both types of tokens, so it’ll be an interesting ride to see how that all works out.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Hey everybody,
While I normally wait until the very end of the year for my mythos reading blogs, as I wrote the other week, I have been indulging myself a little early this time around, and have been reading the longest piece of fiction from the pen of HP Lovecraft: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward!

This novella comes in slightly ahead of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and At the Mountains of Madness. Never published in full during his lifetime, it is a curious story in parts, and is firmly in Lovecraft’s vein of witchcraft and alchemy rather than the more cosmic horror – although the story does mark the first mention of Yog Sothoth in his output. The tale chronicles the madness of young Charles Dexter Ward, something of a bookish antiquarian who discovers an ancestor so abhorred that all mention of him was struck from the historical record, which naturally sparks his curiosity. His research is broad, and he unearths a lot of history which begins to consume him – quite literally, as it turns out. His ancestor, Joseph Curwen, was linked to the Salem Witch Trials, and moved to Providence to effectively start over as people became curious about his longevity and perpetual youth. After more than a century, when the rumours became too many to ignore, it was pitchforks at the ready, and Curwen was apparently killed. Well, once Charles discovers some of his paperwork, and retreats to his laboratory in the attic, things get a bit messy and the rumours start to fly in present-day Providence, leading his family doctor to investigate what’s going on. Turns out, Curwen body-snatched Charles from beyond the grave, and was born anew. It’s up to the good doctor to put an end to it all.

What a wild ride! This story seemed somehow very cinematic, whether it was because of Lovecraft’s choice of the omniscient narrator this time, rather than first-person narration, or just the fact it was a much more low-key cosmic threat? Sure, Yog Sothoth is up there in the spheres, and Curwen and his mates are digging up famous folks to bring them back to life in the pursuit of their knowledge. But it’s not all cyclopean madness from outer space, you know? The historical touches were really nice, and it was interesting to see how the story of Curwen’s life in the 18th century could be seen to mirror the present-day narration with Charles. I did feel quite sorry for the central protagonist, though it’s arguable that the stuff in which he was dabbling could only have led to one conclusion, and he really ought to have known better. But it’s almost a case of curiosity killed the cat here. I was a little unclear on the whole premise of who was who, at one point – there’s Charles, his new associate Dr Allen, and then there’s Curwen’s reincarnated spirit. Which might have been intended to be Dr Allen, but then it seems that Curwen’s spirit inhabited Charles’ body, as they were so alike anyway. So who was Dr Allen? And what did the family doctor find behind the portrait? Not sure on a lot of that. Apparently Lovecraft never revised this, though, so maybe it would have been cleared up if he had come back to it?

There is a bit of a walking tour of Providence that forms the majority of the preamble, which I’ve read some negative reviews for, though personally I don’t mind it so much. It’s all part of Lovecraft’s style, after all, giving us these verbal street maps and so on. There is a touch of the autobiography in here, as well, and the excellent notes that accompany the Penguin Modern Classics edition are really quite exhaustive in providing the background on the real people and real places that Lovecraft uses to give the tale that air of authenticity. I would say that it’s definitely worth reading, even if you prefer your Lovecraft to have huge mythos beasties and the like, because of its place within Lovecraft’s canon at large. I’m certainly glad to have finally gotten round to it, at any rate. There are some flaws in there, some plot elements that could perhaps have benefited from more development (the vampirism in particular), although I accept that a lot of Lovecraft’s style comes from hints and suggestions, and he leaves it up to us to decide what form the horror should take. The sense of atmosphere that comes out of the piece though – in particular in building up to the confrontation with Curwen in 1771 – is really very nicely done, and I thought the suspense as we learnt more of the past was really good. Dr Whittle’s exploration of the catacombs towards the end was just pure Lovecraft, and I think was the highlight for sure. Overall, I think it’s a good weird tale, I enjoyed the magical elements as a change to the more fantastical story elements.  

What’s Going On?

Hey everybody,
It feels like it’s been a while since I had a catch-up blog here, though it’s not exactly like things have been hectic or anything, so I’m not sure what’s up with that. At any rate, November is quickly slipping away and it won’t be too long before I’m here with my penultimate Retrospective post of the year! That said, I thought it might be nice to just take five minutes and ramble about what’s been going on, almost to move me along with some things so that the Retrospective post will actually be a decent read!

I’ve been very heavily immersed in weird tales the last couple of weeks. I’ve been reading a wide variety of weird fiction by many contemporaries of HP Lovecraft, and have also made an early start on reading more by the man himself, stay tuned for a blog coming next week on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward! It’s always nice to read some of these stories at this time of year, as it seems really cosy and whatnot, now that the days are shorter and colder. Just the ticket for reading about weird and fantastical goings-on!

Perhaps inevitably, then, I have returned my attentions to the LCG, and have built up a couple of decks for tackling The Innsmouth Conspiracy! I finally picked up the first mythos pack for the cycle a good few weeks ago now, after feeling a bit disappointed during its release that I couldn’t play it because of missing that pack. I’ve had the Stella Clark pre-built deck sleeved up for about 12 months now, but after a half-hearted attempt with her and Winifred Habbamock at the Excelsior Hotel, which felt like it was going nowhere fast, I have changed the deck a little bit, including some cards which I think (hope!) will play better with my overall plans for her. I’ve paired her with Zoey Samaras from The Dunwich Legacy, too, as I had read on reddit that she was a decent companion. But I suppose it doesn’t really matter a great deal, as my pair of Daisy and Ashcan Pete for the Carcosa cycle really shouldn’t have been anywhere near as good as it turned out!

I’ve retired my idea of playing Trish and Agnes with the standalone scenarios, as well, favouring instead the idea of playing a proper cycle (I have enough of the unplayed, after all!) and slotting in some of the standalone stuff when I feel like it. We’ll see how that goes, anyway! For now, though, I’m very excited to be getting into another campaign for the winter season!

While I might be poised to start playing the Arkham Horror LCG once more, I have for now turned my attentions back to Warhammer 40k, and to the Grey Knights, no less! It’s another of my winter traditions, it seems, to be thinking about the incorruptible Chapter 666, and for the last couple of years I’ve been reading the novels in the Grey Knights omnibus. Hammer of Daemons is the third in the trilogy, and while I’ve only just started to read it, I am quite excited already to be seeing where this one goes!

I didn’t really get very far at all with my Grey Knights last year, in terms of painting them, so it’ll be interesting to see what progress is made this year, if any! I don’t think I’m going to be getting rid of these chaps anytime soon, though. I haven’t yet picked up the codex, unfortunately, but I’ve been hearing some very interesting things about how they play now in 9th edition, so I am curious to see what I can do with them on the table.

After basically taking October off in terms of painting, I have once more been painting miniatures, both Necrons and Genestealer Cults – my dreams of a 500 point force fully painted by the end of the year are still alive, people! I’m hard at work on another 10-man Neophyte squad, although I have somehow along the way also picked up the Acolyte Iconward, and the Clamavus, both of which I’m also painting as I go. It’s been quite the slog, if I’m honest, but I’m trying to make myself do a little bit each day, and so far, as you can see, they’re not looking totally terrible. I think a few more sessions can see the squad finished, if not the two characters, as well. Fingers crossed!

My biggest, and most exciting news, though, is finally getting in a game of 40k this year! Necrons vs Chaos Space Marines, me and my buddy JP back gaming, even if neither of us was really clear on the rules and spent the first 4 hours of our game day just talking about nonsense and general catching-up. We played one full round, after which I think I was ahead on points, though it was getting pretty late for a school night and we had to call it a day around midnight. A lot of fun was had, a lot of hobby love was rekindled, and we’re intending to play again soon, hopefully with the same armies and terrain set-up! Much to my chagrin, I hadn’t really looked at the models I brought with me, so ended up with a mixed squad of Immortals representing all-tesla chaps. So I’ve been building up five more Immortals, all-tesla, all the time. That will give me a massive blob of 40 Immortals, 20 each of gauss and tesla.

It actually prompted me to look into the possibility of an all-gunline Necron army, using the models that I either have ready or have on the to-build or to-paint pile. I can squeeze almost 2000 points of this stuff out of Immortals and Warriors, Tomb Blades, and the supporting artillery of a Doomsday Ark, an Annihilation Barge and a Triarch Stalker. Interesting… maybe one day I might try it!

I do like the Tomb Blades though, even if they are just horrendous models to build and to paint! I’ve got five tesla bikes, and three gauss bikes, all of which need painting, but I think I might make more of an effort with these at some point, because they have been a tremendous threat on the table – not because they’re particularly amazing, but their speed makes them look like a threat, so they formed a fairly decent distraction while the Praetorians I brought went up the other side of the table and ended up with Slay the Warlord between their pistol attacks and voidblades!

Despite seeing some really curious comments about Necrons being underpowered online, I thought that the new codex made them perform really well in the partial game we played a fortnight ago. However, I suppose that is against an army that is still using an 8th edition book.

Fingers crossed we can get in that rematch game soon, anyway! Stay tuned for more Genestealer Cults updates, and the exciting start of my Innsmouth Conspiracy campaign!!

Beyond the Mythos: 2021 edition (part two)

Hey everybody,
I quite enjoyed my November mythos dive last year, reading some of the weird fiction of Lovecraft’s circle and broadening my horizons accordingly! So much so, I thought I’d do it again! This is part two of a two-part series covering some of the wider mythos tales out there, you can read part one here. Much like last time, I’m once again going to cover one of Lovecraft’s collaborations to mix things up a bit, but first, let’s head to Lovecraft’s disciple, August Derleth. The man who, along with Donald Wandrei, almost single-handedly ensured the survival of Lovecraft’s work and name as an American author by collecting and publishing a volume of his work, founding a publishing house along the way specifically to do so, he is nevertheless divisive among Lovecraft scholars for his later development of the Cthulhu mythos into something that many see as far-removed from Lovecraft’s own vision.

So let’s take a look at The Dweller in Darkness. It’s one that I’ve read before, and one that I find really quite nicely evocative of the great white north. We have legends of Rick’s Lake, where people have gone missing in curious circumstances for a while – the reappearance of a frozen missionary, said to have disappeared 300 years ago but whose remains are determined to have only been dead five years, intrigues a local academic, who heads up there and promptly goes missing, too. His graduate students from the university follow his trail, and set up a Dictaphone to record the eerie nocturnal sounds. The story has got a lot to like about it, there is a lot of atmosphere here and a lot of local colour. Derleth was well-known for this aspect of his writing, of course, and it’s something that I recall from having previously read his tales. Where it falls down, for me, is how Derleth seems fond of using Lovecraft and his writings as a factual source, and not fiction. Here, the missing academic had asked for his students to send him a copy of The Outsider & Others, the first volume of Lovecraft published by Arkham House. It always wrenches me out of the story, but it seems to be a hallmark of his style – Lovecraft himself appeared as a character in The Return of Hastur that I read last year. The story also has a fairly substantial discussion of Derleth’s ideas for the Cthulhu mythos pantheon, where the Great Old Ones are set in opposition to each other as elemental deities. To some extent, it feels like name-dropping rather than anything more. The story ends with the students calling down Cthugha, the fire god, to destroy the area around Rick’s Lake, which it transpires is the earthly haven for Nyarlathotep – after having been advised to do so by the desperate voice of their professor on the Dictaphone. As I said, there is a lot to enjoy here, it somehow just falls a bit short because of the use of Lovecraft himself, as I said.

From Derleth to the man himself now, and one of Lovecraft’s collaborations. The Electric Executioner is one of those titles that has intrigued me since I came across is years ago. A collaboration with Adolphe de Castro, it tells the story of a mining investigator tasked with finding a missing mine worker, who has absconded to Mexico with a lot of the company paperwork. Hardly the most auspicious start to the tale, but on the narrator’s train ride in to Mexico City, things take a sinister turn when he is suddenly joined in his otherwise deserted compartment by a man with a large suitcase. The man overpowers him, and tells him that he has been selected as the first human test subject for his electrocution device, a device that has been shunned by the state of New York as a method of execution. The man is more than a little deranged, and seems to be trying to bring about the return of Quetzalcoatl to the world, determined to kill everybody before the feathered god returns. The narrator manages to stall enough before launching into some faux-Aztec patois, which causes the man to inadvertently kill himself with the device. But that’s not all – the man disappears from the carriage, and when the narrator is told that the mining thief has been found dead in the mountains. It turns out the mine thief is none other than the chap from the train, so how did his body get from the carriage floor to that cave system? It’s okay – a little creepy, but nothing really as exciting as I was perhaps hoping. The mine thief chap does make some ritual mumblings which sound like Aztec-inflected versions of the usual Lovecraftian cult chants, including a “Cthulhutl” and “Yog-Sototl” which made me smile. Ultimately, it does feel a little bit silly, the way the narrator is able to convince the madman to model his execution device.

Interestingly, though, this story is one where we can see the original, as it had been published previously by de Castro as The Automatic Executioner. It is quite an interesting read, to see what Lovecraft added to the original. Mainly, it seems to be the atmosphere and tension, although it also seems to be the case that the narrator is watered down a bit to emphasize the difference between himself and his would-be attacker. The odd cultist reference is just peppered in for effect, and the final act with the discovery of the body is increased for further horrific effect.

To Clark Ashton Smith next, and a couple of stories that have that curious early fantasy feel to them. Ubbo-Sathla is a short story that tells of a man who finds a strange, pulsating crystal in a curio shop in London, takes it home, and gazes into its depths. He is aware of the pre-human civilisations of Hyperborea, and has read of such times in the Book of Eibon, and so gradually finds himself being subsumed by the stone until he loses all sense of self, travelling back in time to the very birth of the world, when the god Ubbo-Sathla exists in yeasty splendour. Fairly interesting stuff, if a little bit gross when describing the big god guy. Notable for being a bit of a crossover with Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, the story starts in the best tradition of weird tales, but quickly turns into that kind of dark fantasy that is common with CAS.

And speaking of dark fantasy, The Dark Eidolon is a short story from Smith’s Zothique series, which are a kind of future-fantasy that imagines a continent emerging somewhere in the Indian ocean, taking in parts of India, Arabia and Australia/Indonesia. While it is couched as a future (“Dying Earth” is the term that I’ve seen on Wikipedia, a setting at the end of the Earth’s lifespan) there is that element of Arabian Nights-style fantasy that seems to be prevalent in the fantasy of this time. The story details the revenge of the sorcerer Namirrha, who was almost trampled to death by the horse of the Prince Zotulla. Namirrha throws in his lot with the archfiend Thasaidon and builds a palace right next to Zotulla, from whence he sends ghostly horses each night to terrorise his foe. Thasaidon refuses to outright destroy Zotulla however, as destruction of Zotulla and his realm will deprive the fiend of many subjects. Namirrha then sells his soul to Thamagorgos, Lord of the Abyss, and invites Zotulla to his palace for a feast. There, Namirrha is attended by all manner of zombies and half-rotten ghouls, before forcing Zotulla to drink a poisoned draught that places the emperor’s spirit in a statue of Thasaidon, while Namirrha himself takes over Zotulla’s body. Thasaidon, furious at this turn of events, gives Zotulla the power to kill his body, driving Namirrha back into his own skin with no memory of these events. Namirrha proceeds to attack himself in madness, while the demon horses of Thamagorgos destroy the entire land. The story is quite grisly, to say the least, and definitely tends towards the bombastic at the end! Borne out of a need for revenge, the lengths Namirrha goes to are quite extraordinary, if I’m honest – especially the morbid feast and the destruction of the entire land. It’s interesting, I suppose, because it’s probably the most pulp-y story that I’ve read so far! I tend not to think of Lovecraft’s stories as being the kind of adventure-serial pulp stories printed like Zorro and Flash Gordon back in the day, but they do all belong to this kind of genre!

Let’s talk about the older generation for the moment. Ambrose Bierce isn’t particularly remembered today, but he did come up with the names Carcosa, Hastur, Hyades and others that so captured the imagination of Lovecraft and later mythos writers. An Inhabitant of Carcosa is one of those stories that is often quoted as the inspiration of the name but doesn’t really develop any ideas in the way they were later used. The unnamed narrator finds himself in an unfamiliar wilderness and is worried about how he came to be there – as his last memory was of falling asleep with a fever. Further exploration shows an area with old tombstones, and while resting beneath a tree, notices a stone with his own name, date of birth and date of death. He realises that he must be amid the ruins of ancient Carcosa, and has clearly died from the fever. I liked this story quite a lot – it was interesting for seeing so many references to stuff like Carcosa and Hali, which were taken up in later works such as The King in Yellow and yet have been altered from their original setting here.

Haïta the Shepherd is a strange tale, notable for the introduction of Hastur, who is here a benevolent shepherd god. Haïta, who has hitherto been a pious worshipper at the shrine of Hastur, threatens to stop his devotions unless Hastur helps to save his flock from drowning. Haïta is visited by a mysterious maiden who disappears as soon as she questions him, but a hermit he cares for identifies her has happiness. There’s a classical feeling to this story, and it reminds me a little of some of Lovecraft’s more pastoral works. It is a bit curious, I think because of the name of Hastur looming in the background there – having all of the baggage of the Cthulhu mythos that has come along since, and seeing what that has made of the name, it lends an atmosphere to an otherwise fairly placid tale. I suppose it goes to show the imagination of some of the mythos writers, who could turn out so much from so little.

I’ll finish with Robert Bloch. Bloch was another of Lovecraft’s proteges, and of course later went on to have a successful career as a screenwriter, after gaining notoriety from his novel Psycho. Lovecraft used a fictionalised version of Bloch in The Haunter of the Dark, Robert Blake, after Bloch himself had used a fictionalised version of Lovecraft in The Shambler from the Stars. The story almost appears autobiographical, as the narrator is a young student who is also struggling to make it as a writer of weird fiction, despite several rejections. He determines to gain occult knowledge in order to perfect his craft, and obtains a copy of De Vermis Mysteriis, an occult tome introduced here by Bloch and analogous to the Necronomicon. Reaching out to a “mystic dreamer” from New England, the two meet and pore over the work, but unfortunately, said mystic dreamer reads a passage aloud and accidentally summons a vampiric daemon creature, which devours him. The narrator, in panic, burns the man’s house down and flees. The story has that element of Bloch’s sense of humour in how the horror comes through an accidental daemon summoning, and I feel there is something akin to Clark Ashton Smith’s humour there. The star vampire is of course familiar to any Arkham Files gamer as one of the stable of monsters. Lovecraft enthusiastically approved the idea of killing off this fictionalised version of himself, and his sequel The Haunter of the Dark was written shortly after this tale was published, almost as a direct sequel. Bloch then wrote a sequel to Haunter, closing out the trilogy with The Shadow from the Steeple. But I think I’ll save that one for another time…

Beyond the Mythos: 2021 edition (part one)

Hey everybody,
Welcome to the first of a two-part blog series charting my wider reading within the Cthulhu mythos this year! After my first exposure to writers within the mythos last year – authors from Lovecraft’s circle such as Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E Howard and August Derleth – I thought it would be nice to do the same thing again this year, branching yet further, and have spent a couple of weeks almost immersed in these weird, weird tales! I’ve read so many that it would probably be too unwieldy to confine to a single blog post.

Without further ago, let’s dive in!

The Horror from the Hills is the novella by Frank Belknap Long that introduces Chaugnar Faugn to the mythos – the weird elephantine deity from the Far East. What is thought to be a statue or idol of the deity is brought to a museum in New York, under a cloud of some brutal killings. When the museum curator, Algernon Harris, notices the trunk has changed position after one such murder, we go into academic overdrive as he tries to dig deeper into the whole affair. Visiting the psychic Roger Little, he and the museum’s director learn of dark beasts in the Spanish Pyrenees, which seem to be linked with Chaugnar Faugn’s legend. All hell breaks loose when Harris receives a call to say the idol has disappeared; Little, learning of a killing spree around the city, unveils his ‘entropy machine’, a device that can send things back through time. The three chase Chaugnar Faugn down the eastern seaboard, attacking it with a green light that is eventually able to break down the god’s corporeal self to send it back through time to a point where it hadn’t existed, though Little fears that it is not the last that the Earth has seen of Chaugnar Faugn.

Somewhere in this story there is a really good mythos tale. I think part of me was put off by the fact that it runs a bit too long, unnecessary for some parts, and another part of me feels distinctly turned off by the sort of casual racism that’s even more rampant than in Lovecraft. It’s always interesting to read tales that have had a major impact on the mythos that are not by Lovecraft, of course, and I am glad to have read it to see what it’s all about. But I do feel as though some fat could have been trimmed – the story is almost famous for including verbatim a dream that Lovecraft told to Long, and while it’s interesting to have that in facsimile copy, I feel a bit like it was unnecessary. You almost end up reading this for the meta reason of reading the dream, and not because the story is actually good. That sounds a bit harsh, actually. Like I say, there is a good tale in there somewhere – I think I’d have preferred it to have been a bit leaner in the telling.

I’ve also read The Hounds of Tindalos, also by Long, which has the distinction of being the first mythos tale to be published by someone other than Lovecraft. It’s a bit barmy, if I’m honest, and deals with Halpin Chalmers and his efforts to time travel through the use of an exotic drug from the East. Chalmers goes back, but is spotted by some supernatural beasts, the Hounds, who can attack people by entering our dimension through angles (as opposed to the curves of time that, apparently, Einstein propounded). As such, Chalmers softens all of the angles of his room with plaster of Paris, but he delves too deep and the plaster crumbles, and the Hounds get him.

While being slightly bonkers, not least for all the scientific theory put forward in the story, it’s nevertheless kinda fascinating to read. I know of the Hounds from their many, many appearances in the Arkham Files series of games, and indeed they’re later mentioned by Lovecraft himself in The Whisperer in Darkness. The story is told alongside some newspaper snippets, giving it a sort of documentary feel, which I really enjoyed. However, I’m not a big fan of Long’s style here – not many people simply “say” things; instead, we have far too many “murmurs” and the like, which gives the impression that the protagonists are all muttering to each other. I’m all for literary variety, but why can’t people just have their speech reported, and be done with?

There are common elements between both Long stories that tie themselves strongly to the Cthulhu mythos, such as the weird science and the horror of creatures from other times and dimensions. That Long and Lovecraft were friends probably accounts a lot for this (it was apparently Long who persuaded Lovecraft’s aunts to take him back in after his marriage ended). I wouldn’t say that Long simply reproduces Lovecraft, though – I think there is a definite sense that this is a different author, if only because Long can’t seem to sustain the baroque, florid language that is so often Lovecraft’s hallmark.

Henry Kuttner is a new discovery for me this mythos season. Another of Lovecraft’s circle, Kuttner wrote quite a few short stories for the mythos. The Secret of Kralitz is a story somewhat in the mould of Lovecraft’s genealogy-type stories, where a family secret is passed down the generations. It’s short, and has some tangential links to the mythos as the protagonist learns of his family’s unholy alliance with Cthulhu etc. It was Kuttner’s first story that has links to the mythos, though he had been selling stories and poems to pulp magazines for years by this point. The Salem Horror is by far my favourite of his stories that I’ve read so far. It’s got strong overtones of The Dreams in the Witch House, though being set in Salem gives it a lot of atmosphere with very little work. The author Carson is renting the so-called Witch House in which he hopes to finish his current novel – though it proves difficult because of the noisy street outside. Following a rat into the cellar, he finds an underground room that is promptly dubbed The Witch Room, having stone mosaics in the floor, and also a curious metal disk. The Room attracts several mystics, including Michael Leigh, who takes a particular interest. When the grave of Abigail Prinn, the former occupant of the house, is robbed and her body disappears, Carson is overcome with a nervous exhaustion and retreats to the solitude of the Room, only to witness the mummified cadaver of Prinn attempting to bring forth the gelatinous mass of Nyogtha – to be thwarted by the timely return of Leigh.

While perhaps a little derivative of Dreams in the Witch-House, I still found this to be a really enjoyable tale, and very atmospheric. There are letters from Lovecraft to Kuttner where the former gives him notes, including geographical, and helps with the tone. We’re basically reading pulp stories from their 1930s heyday, so we can’t really expect high art! It was good, I thought, and I’m definitely intrigued to read more of his work.

Let’s mix it up a bit next, and move to Lovecraft himself!

Out of the Aeons is one of Lovecraft’s collaborations with Hazel Heald, which bears something of a familiar sense to the earlier Horror in the Museum, both stories being concerned with mummies as museum exhibits. The story was published in 1935, and is quite notable for its long central discussion of the Nameless Cults of Von Junzt, which details the prehistoric cult of Ghatanothoa, a Medusa-like ancient one whose gaze turns a person’s body to stone, yet preserves their mind intact. Creepy! It’s all brought about when a mummy is discovered on a heretofore undiscovered Pacific island in the 1870s. The mummy is installed at a small museum in Boston, and is largely unnoticed until the 1920s sees a sensational account of it published in the newspapers. A swarm of visitors ensues, many of which are described in Lovecraft’s less-than-charming manner, and it seems like these cultists (for want of a better term) are trying to revive the mummy. See, Von Junzt relates the story of an ancient civilisation of Mu, dating roughly 200,000 years prior, that worshipped Ghatanothoa. A priest of Shub-Niggurath attempts to destroy Ghatanothoa’s power over the people with a magical warding scroll, which is replaced by the High Priests shortly before he goes off to confront the deity. The popular press naturally speculates that the mummy is this priest, and that the so-called true scroll still exists, and will bring him back to life. A series of disturbing events takes place in the museum, culminating in the death of two intruders, one of whom seems to have been petrified when the mummy’s eyes suddenly open. See, the mummy is indeed the priest, and upon his retinas can be faintly seen the outline of Ghatanothoa, caught in that moment before his own mummification. As the mummy is examined in the museum laboratory, it is discovered to have a perfectly-preserved brain, after all these millennia.

What a wild ride! This story is replete with references to the mythos, including the Mi-Go of Yuggoth, who of course remove the brains of their test subjects. Coincidence? I get the impression, at times, that Lovecraft is almost more free and easy with his references when revising other peoples’ works than when writing his own. Nameless Cults is the creation of Robert E Howard, so it’s nice to see it explored in this one a bit more fully.

Speaking of Robert E Howard, I’ve been reading more of his weird tales – and man, they are weird! The Children of the Night is one of these early mentions of the Nameless Cults tome, although mentioned in passing as a vehicle for a story that is much more racially motivated than even Lovecraft often wrote! The story begins with a circle of scientist-philosopher types discussing the possibility of surviving ancient cults in the world, with the narrator paying particular attention to the physical attributes to one of these chaps in the circle. When they start passing round a flint axe head, the narrator is attacked and seems to hallucinate a past life, where he was a warrior tribesman who tried to purge the forest of a sub-human culture referred to as the Children of the Night. Coming to, he struggles with the present reality and attempts to kill the guy who hit him. It’s all overlain with racial commentary that was quite prevalent at the time, though as we look back through the lens of where such talk took us, it can make for some very uncomfortable reading.

The Black Stone, also by Howard, is the second of these early mentions of the Nameless Cults. More of a Lovecraftian story than others I’ve read by Howard, it deals with the narrator’s trip into a small village in Hungary to study a fabled black stone, mentioned in several accounts with teasing, tantalising references to archaic rituals and subsequent madnesses. On hearing some of the history of the village and the surrounding valley, the narrator spends the night in front of the stone and witnesses an obscene ritual that culminates with the sacrifice of a baby and a young girl to a horrific toad-like monstrosity. Thinking it just a dream, further investigation shows that, in actual fact, such rituals were a regular occurrence before the Turks invaded. While the narrator himself manages to cling to his sanity, it otherwise has many of the hallmarks of the classic weird tale, and has much in common with the work of Lovecraft.

The third Howard story that I’ve read this time around is The Thing on the Roof. It’s a short tale of two scholars, one of whom (Tussmann) goes searching for a temple in Honduras after reading about it in the Nameless Cults. Within the temple is the mummy of the last high priest, around whose neck is a carved toad amulet which is talked of as “the key”. The reports of hidden treasure are, it seems, exaggerated, but he has brought something back home with him – a hideous commotion sounds from the roof, and Tussmann’s body is found with the head caved in, and the jewel stolen. The room is wrecked, and a strange gelatinous secretion is found around the window. Very atmospheric. Very nice! I did quite enjoy this one, there are a lot of classic mythos bits and pieces in here. It also ties in with the Black Stone, and the toad-like god. Very nice, indeed!