Thursday, 6 August 2015

So, turns out I've not written anything on this blog for close to two years. The last post was about trying to pull my finger out and get stuff written. I'm not really producing stuff at a rate I'm happy with but, let's see, there's this.

(there's other stuff in the pipeline, some of which has got really good feedback, but let's concentrate on one thing at a time)

The Things We Leave Behind is an anthology of five dark scenarios for the table top RPG Call of Cthulhu. It is recommended for mature audiences. I've written one of the scenarios, Roots, which is perhaps the darkest and most uncomfortable thing I've ever written.

What is a table top RPG?
I'm using this term to differentiate from computer games which are described as RPGs. A table top RPG is a game where a bunch of friends sit around a table and play a game together, most of them creating characters and describing their interactions with a storyline not unlike that of a computer game, but presented to them by another player rather than a computer. They often roll dice and write things on bits of paper.

What is a Cthulhu?
In case you've read this word before and have no idea what Cthulhu means, then here's a brief description. Cthulhu is a fictional creature, an alien, gigantic in size, that roamed the earth before humans evolved, and has been followed by secretive cults ever since, and though it is now trapped beneath the sea it will eventually rise again ("when the stars are right"). But, to strip away all the drama, it's a giant octopus-headed bipedal devil god thing with bat wings. Like Godzilla in fancy dress.

Okay, so what is Call of Cthulhu?
The game Call of Cthulhu gets it's name from the story The Call of Cthulhu, written in 1926 by H.P. Lovecraft, detailing investigations into the various cults that worship Cthulhu, and evidence of the dreams the creature could send to sensitive minds; it includes an account of a sailor who witnesses Cthulhu briefly when its tomb temporarily rises above the waves. The game is based around this and other related stories by H.P. Lovecraft, and other authors like him, that suggests the world is inhabited by all sorts of horrors, mostly alien, that have been here before humanity was, and will eventually reclaim the world, dispelling the illusion of a rational world. The game, like the stories, tend to have a high concentration of characters driven mad, assuming they don't stumble into a dangerous, hungry, inhuman monster and get themselves devoured first. Collectively these creatures, the inhuman gods they worship (and that definitely exist), and the strange sci-fi technology and arcane magics that spring from the knowledge of such things are known as The Cthulhu Mythos.

What is The Things We Leave Behind?
It's a book being produced by Stygian Fox, with five scenarios that are set in the world of the Call of Cthulhu game, but highlight the fact that humans are just as capable of doing horrible things as the creatures of The Cthulhu Mythos. That's not to say that there aren't horrible creatures in the stories, merely that they coexist alongside the evil that man is capable of doing to each other. The mature label is to indicate that there's some dark stuff in here. It's easy to dismiss horror about horrible creatures from the deep, but stories that touch on abducted children or missing teenagers hit a little closer to home.

What is the scenario Roots about?
I can't say too much about it without spoiling the game for potential players, but the premise of the scenario is that a teenaged girl, probably related to one of the player characters, goes missing during a camping trip with friends in the woods. The characters are contacted by her desperate mother to go out and find her. It's a horror story, a mystery... I'm sure you can imagine the sorts of dark places that this story could go.

It does tap slightly into my love of fairy-tales, one in particular, but it eschews the happy ever afters. It also had a little inspiration from a number of horror films which I can't name here, again for fear of spoiling the investigation (which, in part, resembles the remake of one of those films, though I hadn't seen it at the time of writing). When the first season of True Detective came out soon after I'd finished writing it I did wonder if they might follow a similar trajectory... again, I can't say too much but there is a similar off-the-beaten-track' vibe to it. The town in the scenario is named after a rock song I'm a fan of, and which has since been the song played for the first dance at my wedding, and there's at least one other joke name in the story for anyone who likes a bit of word play.

I pushed myself well out of my comfort zone to write the piece, to imagine something that would make me feel uncomfortable if I were to witness it in a film, read it in a book or stumble across it in a game where I was playing an investigator. So if some of it comes across as being creepy then rest assured, I found it creepy too. I'd recommend anyone thinking of running the scenario to carefully consider how it might affect certain players. The bad guys in the story have screwed up moral compasses, and will tend to be more predatory towards certain investigators. It might be kind to 'draw a veil' over their eventual fates.

All that said, here's a link to the Kickstarter campaign. If I've intrigued you, please give it a look and consider throwing money at us.