Monday, February 28, 2011

What I Read (2004)

Whilst gradually gearing up for the big move, I stumbled upon my book log for 2004. Posting here is one more way of shifting my clutter from the real world to cyberspace, so here goes:

What I Read (2004)

Jan. 7, 2004 Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson "Some very good intentions, but I'm not convinced of feasibility."

Jan. 2004 Angel Chronicles Volume 1 by Nancy Holder "A solid novelization of 'Angel,' 'Reptile Boy,' and 'Lie to Me.'"

Jan. 20, 2004 Summer of the Gods: Scopes Trial by Edward J. Larson "Very interesting."

Jan. 25, 2004 Angel Chronicles Volume 2 by Richie Tankersley Cusick "Smooth adaptation of 3 strong episodes from Season 2."

Jan. 30, 2004 Philosophy of Law by Murphy & Coleman.

Feb. 9, 2004 Sleeping with Extraterrestrials by Wendy Kaminer "Not terribly exciting discussion of irrationalism--standard party line."

Feb. 15, 2004 Deep Water by Laura Anne Gilman & Josepha Sherman "One of the better Buffy books, good dialogue and humor."

Feb. 24, 2004 Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties by Vine Deloria, Jr. "Good, well-written history and argument on native treaties."

Feb. 29, 2004 Introduction to Existentialism by Marjorie Grene "Very useful introduction and critique."

March 9, 2004 Blooded by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder "Not a bad book, though the ending could be stronger."

March 20, 2004 Constitutional Choices by Laurence Tribe "Half-baked essays on cases Tribe was hired to work on."

March 28, 2004 Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson "Story of a young Haisla woman's search for brother, with flashbacks. Well-done, but ambiguous ending."

April 1, 2004 Willow Files Volume 1 by Yvonne Navaro "One of the best of the novelizations."

April 10, 2004 Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law by Catharine A. MacKinnon "A strong example of 'radical' feminism, much better than Dworkin."

April 15, 2004 Jean Paul-Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century by John Gerassi "Volume 1 of biography, up to 1945. Presents Sartre as brilliant but armchair until war."

April 22, 2004 Faith Trials Volume 1 by James Laurence "One of the best of the novelizations."

April 28, 2004 The Logic of Social Inquiry by Scott Greer "Somewhat useful."

May 20, 2004 Being & Nothingness by Sartre "I'm not at liberty to say."

May 23, 2004 How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis "Good advice."

May 31, 2004 Angel Chronicles Volume 3 by Nancy Holder "Straightforward novelization of 3 awesome episodes."

June 4, 2004 Notes from the Underground by Dostoyevski "An odd book, psychological self-analysis of a real misanthrope."

June 6, 2004 Midnighters # 1: The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfield "A fun book about a city where time stops for one hour every night and only a few kids know it."

June 11, 2004 Protestant-Catholic-Jew by Will Herberg "An important contribution to sociology of religion. Even dated, many truths still there."

June 11, 2004 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime "Excellent book from autistic kid's P.O.V."

June 23, 2004 God, Freedom, and Immortality by Antony Flew "Not terribly interesting--rather dry."

June 29, 2004 Girls Who Bite Back edited by Emily Pohl-Weary "Some damn good short stories."

July 5, 2004 Support Your Local Wizard by Diane Duane "Very good stories, especially the second one; will have to get more."

July 11, 2004 God Hates Fags (draft) by Michael Cobb "Rather incoherent hodge-podge of political and literary analyses; some interesting points."

July 13, 2004 Elle by Douglas Glover "Odd, funny & tragic novel of a girl stranded on an island who turns into bears."

July 19, 2004 Here Be Monsters by Cameron Dokey "Slightly below average Buffy novel about southern vamp mama."

July 23, 2004 Reflections of an Affirmative-Action Baby by Stephen L. Carter "A good look at a moderate opponent of racial preferences; should get others of his."

July 28, 2004 Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction by Michael J. Loux "Language games."

July 30, 2004 Our Fire Survives the Storm (manuscript) by Daniel Heath Justice "Nothing but the most important book in Native Lit next year!"

Aug. 8, 2004 The Book of Fours by Nancy Holder "A really strong novel tying together 4 Slayers."

Aug. 10, 2004 A Wizard Abroad by Diane Duane "A strong novel set in Ireland."

Aug. 18, 2004 National Deal: Fight for Canadian Constitution by Sheppard & Valpy "Focuses mostly on personalities involved; a broader survey would be nice."

Aug. 22, 2004 The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch "A well-written exploration of Laura."

Aug. 27, 2004 Kynship by Daniel Heath Justice "The Kyn face removal and Tarsa becomes a Wielder--the excellent beginning to something wondrous."

Aug. 28, 2004 Nietzsche by Lou Salomé "Crap."

Sep. 1, 2004 The Journals of Rupert Giles by Nancy Holder "Solid & straightforward."

Sep. 11, 2004 Houses of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski "Interesting experiment: post-modern creepy novel; ultimately unsatisfying."

Sep. 22, 2004 The Mysteries by Robert McGill "Starts slow but gets really good; told from several characters' P.O.V."

Sep. 29, 2004 Church & State in Canadian Education by C.B. Sissons "A dated book (1959) with a province-by-province overview. Useful for broad understanding of origins in each province."

Oct. 18, 2004 The Portable Hannah Arendt by Hannah Arendt "Discussions of totalitarianism, Little Rock, & Eichmann in Jerusalem were interesting."

Oct. 20, 2004 Catholic Education & Politics in Upper Canada by Franklin A. Walker "History until Confederation."

Oct. 21, 2004 Doomsday Deck by Diana C. Gallagher "Evil tarot card reader. About average."

Oct. 26, 2004 Hear Me Out: True Stories of TEACH by Planned Parenthood of Toronto "Fun to remember when queer was exciting and transgressive."

Nov. 1, 2004 The Overcoat & Other Short Stories by Nikolai Gogol "Usually humorous stories of bureaucrat."

Nov. 2, 2004 Canada's Religions: An Historical Overview by Robert Choquette "A fairly good overview."

Nov. 13, 2004 A Nation Under Lawyers by Mary Ann Glendon "A moderately interesting book about the changing nature and roll of lawyers."

Nov. 18, 2004 Power of Persuasion by Elizabeth Massie "Greek muses start gender wars. Starts good, ends bad."

Nov. 23, 2004 The Kreutzer Sonata & Other Short Stories by Leo Tolstoy "I especially liked 'The Death of Ivan Ilych', a haunting story."

Dec. 4, 2004 Islam Today by Akbar S. Ahmad "Rather boring overview."

Dec. 12, 2004 Dusted: The Complete Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Miles, et al. "Good reference book, even if I disagree much."

Dec. 12, 2004 Religious Conscience, the State, and the Law by McLaren & Coward, ed. "Good collection of essays on several interesting topics."

Dec. 18, 2004 The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad "By far the best Conrad I've ever read, involving a secret agent who uses his brother-in-law to blow up a building."

Dec. 18, 2004 The Canadian & American Constitutions in Comparative Perspective by Marian McKenna, ed. "A few useful essays."

Dec. 20, 2004 Christianity in Canada: Historical Essays by John S. Moir "Some good stuff but not tremendously useful."

Dec. 22, 2004 History of the Separation of Church and State in Canada by E.R. Stimson "Unscholarly history of the Clergy Reserves."

Dec. 24, 2004 The Byzantine Empire by Robert Browning "Overview, much focus on literature and architecture."

Dec. 25, 2004 Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis "Fun."

Dec. 26, 2004 The Wizard's Dilemma by Diane Duane "Mom gets cancer--a great book."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dungeon Crawl Classics # 45: "Malice of the Medusa" (Part 3)

See Part 2 here.

Sometimes a little luck goes a long way. This session began with the PCs arriving at Scorpion Rock, the fourth dungeon in Malice of the Medusa. They went inside Scorpion Rock briefly and saw that the first chamber was partitioned by a deep chasm. This was enough of an impediment that they went back outside and decided to follow the tracks leading away from Scorpion Rock, which led directly to the fifth and final dungeon in the module. Although the PCs had no way of knowing it, there really wasn't anything of value at Scorpion Rock and they managed to skip several encounters. Their luck got even better as they approached the fifth dungeon, which would normally be entered by a cave cut into the side of a hill. On the top of the hill are the ruins of a tower made out of a glossy black surface. One of the PCs went up to the top of the hill and poked around, and stumbled upon a secret passage that led to the second level of the dungeon--which allowed them to skip the entire first level! And then their luck held, as they carved a fairly direct path to the final battle against Ssedenka, the big-bad of the module. Ssedenka proved to be relatively easy prey, as she didn't have much firepower and had to rely on Charm or Hold Person to whittle the party down (and the PCs kept making their saving throws). It wasn't a short final battle, but it also wasn't a difficult one.

So with the PCs having skipped one dungeon and the entire first level of another, they finished the module a full session earlier than I had expected. On the whole it was a solid hack n' slash module, if anything a bit too easy (it's advertised as suitable for PCs of level 1-3, and the PCs I ran it for never encountered major combat difficulties even though they were level 1 through the whole module). It served as a good introduction to the genre to the two almost brand-new role-players I ran it for, and it was interesting that they split in stereotypical ways: the guy by far favored the combat-heavy nature of D&D, while the woman favored the role-playing and investigation heavy nature of Call of Cthulhu.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Clone Wars Campaign: Ycram Notwal, Befuddled Force Adept

Ycram Notwal was one of the original PCs in the Clone Wars campaign. The character, a middle-aged non-Jedi adept with the Force, was run by a player brand-new to the concept of role-playing games. Some people take to RPGs quickly and immerse themselves in the campaign; others take a little longer before they figure out how role-playing, dice rolling, and collaborative story-telling fit together to make a "game" that is far more complex than it might sound. And then there's a third category of people, who just never seem to understand what's happening or why--they just "don't get it." Ycram's player fell squarely into this last category, and she dropped out after the first story arc. Accordingly, Ycram is remembered more for inexplicable behavior and virtually disappearing for large segments of those sessions than for anything else. There are three things that come to mind when I think of Ycram's time as a PC: not once, in four sessions, did he use his Force powers; his player, confused at how role-playing worked, began making up background information and relationships with NPCs in the middle of a session, forcing me to scramble to keep the plot coherent; and an infamous incident with a spy-droid that went down as follows.

While Ycram was staying at the royal palace in the center of the city of Mongui, Ycram's player rolled high on a Perception check and Ycram accordingly noticed a spy-droid lurking about. The player stated that Ycram was going to follow it as it slowly drifted out of the palace and then began to pick up speed. The spy-droid took a circuitous path through a maze of city streets, and at every intersection Ycram's player declared that the character was continuing the pursuit. The player deftly succeeded on several further rolls to keep the spy-droid in sight, and then noticed it was headed toward the star-port. The player had Ycram continue the chase as it entered the star-port and headed toward a row of hangars. Then the player declared that Ycram was turning around and walking back to the palace. Everyone else at the table was like what?! A good five to ten minutes of game time had been spent on that little encounter, and, just as Ycram was about to discover what ship the spy-droid belonged to, he inexplicably walked away. The PCs never did find out the answer.

I actually found the character useful as an NPC later in the campaign. When last seen, Ycram was a patient at an asylum on Alderaan, ranting about how the planet was going to be destroyed . . .

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Minutes of the Lovecraft Studies Institute (# 6, Part 2) [Cthulhu]

PATRICK: It's getting late by the time the group finally arrives in Dunwich, and everyone is cold and tired. After the Bicks help unload gear, they immediately set off for Aylesbury (they're kind enough to take the orphaned girl with them back to Aylesbury, where they've promised to notify the authorities of what happened at the farmhouse). Their former passengers are left standing in the middle of a dirt road in front of a run-down building (clearly an old church) that has a homemade sign "Osborn's General Store" nailed to it. The store is closed, but the proprietor, one Joe Osborn, seems friendly enough and suggests several residents who have rooms to let. With only minor difficulty, arrangements are made: Dr. Konig will be staying in a room let by "Widow Morgan", a somewhat lascivious older woman; Wanjiku and Barnabus stay with the Ames family, a younger couple and their teenage son; and Symmes and Warren are put up (in separate rooms, of course) with the Jacksons, devout followers of a certain Minister Simon Teeples. Symmes remains enmeshed in his book, but seems to be nearing the end of that particular tome . . .

JOSHI: I was intrigued by Lovecraft's depiction of the villagers the protagonists speak to that night and the next morning. They seem, for the most part, reasonably polite and even helpful. Exceptions clearly exist, but I must confess the village seems underwhelming compared to the image evoked in one's mind by the constant warnings the protagonists received in Aylesbury about dangerous, "backwards" Dunwich. Can these differing portraits be reconciled?

CANNON: I agree with you, Joshi. Lovecraft carefully paints a picture of a village gradually falling into decay and ruin: lots overgrown with weeds, abandoned houses with broken windows, trash heaps in every backyard, rutted dirt roads, and the persistent smell of mold and decay. One expects something out of Deliverance, with backwoods local yokels suspicious of "yankees" and "foreigners". Instead, the protagonists encounter . . . cooperation. Dr. Konig learns from Widow Morgan that the missing Sister Francesca Olivetti boarded at the house during her stay in Dunwich, and was seen with all sorts of digging and climbing equipment; Ellen Hobbes, another local, reveals that Gabriel Knight and Basil Bathingwaite stayed in her house, until Bathingwaite received a phone call from New Orleans and left suddenly (Knight disappearing sometime later); Joe Osborn confirms the sale of tools, and is quite willing to help the protagonists purchase some of their own; and even Squire Whateley reluctantly consents to an interview with Scarlett Warren on the subject of underground caverns in Dunwich (in which she learns of two possible entrances, one on the Prescott farm and the other on the abandoned former estate of the now-dead Wilbur Whateley).

KING: I think Lovecraft is lulling the reader into a sense of complacency; if the villagers of Dunwich seem too nice, it might mean there's a reason for their behavior--one the protagonists aren't going to like! But in any event, it's not like they've received a welcome gift from the chamber of commerce. The local constable, Tristram Whateley, chews Warren out and strongly "suggests" she and the others leave. Worse, Warren and the others hear tell of the Potter boys, a vicious trio of brothers as likely to shoot a visitor as ask him in for tea. Near the end of the chapter, Gallowsong and Warren are forced to leap into a ditch to avoid being run down by a truck driven, no doubt, by the Potter boys. The boys' reckless driving runs another car off the road, which turns out to contain Dr. Littlestreet and his graduate assistant, Malcolm. Fortunately, they're unharmed in the crash, even if their vehicle will have to be towed out of the ditch.

PATRICK: Well, the chapter ends on an exciting note. The investigators have purchased spelunking equipment and plan to enter the foreboding caverns underneath Dunwich, hoping to find Sister Olivetti alive. Next time, I'm guessing we'll learn exactly what Lovecraft has in store for them down there.

KING: And I'd wager it won't be anything good . . .


Monday, February 21, 2011

Minutes of the Lovecraft Studies Institute (# 6, Part 1) [Cthulhu]



ATTENDANCE: Patrick, Bloch, King, Joshi, Cannon (Members). Three Guests.

2:25 P.M Meeting Convened

2:27 P.M. Approval of Minutes for Meeting of November 6, 2010

2:28 P.M. Chair proposes reading of "Harbingers" manuscript Chapter 6 ("Miasma"). UNANIMOUS

7:03 P.M. Reading concludes.

7:04 P.M. Chair proposes open discussion. UNANIMOUS


PATRICK: Thank you for your patience, ladies and gentlemen. The cipher Lovecraft used for this and the next handful of chapters was a difficult one to break. However, I think you'll agree with me that the results were certainly worth the wait. In this chapter alone, we're introduced to an interesting new character, experience profound tragedy, and witness the protagonists making substantial progress towards uncovering the mystery of Zeituni Wanjiku's missing team of investigators.


PATRICK: Yes. I have been reminded to share with you the fact that small portions of this and the previous chapters have not been deciphered to the Society's satisfaction. Specifically, brief passages are written in a symbolic language, using rough pictographs, and this has led to a variety of conflicting interpretations by our researchers. All seem to agree that the passages concerns dreams or nightmares suffered by the protagonists, and that those who are Harbingers have very different visions than those who are not, but beyond that the Society remains divided and expresses no opinion at the present. With that caveat expressed, let's please move forward.

KING: I'd like to start with a topic we've discussed before: Lovecraft's interesting willingness to introduce and discard characters. In this chapter, Father Murphy and Jacob Blackstone are "off-screen"--the former having travelled to Boston to explain his absence to his superiors in the church hierarchy (apparently, the charges against him have been temporarily stayed due to the intervention of a friendly judge on an appellate court) and the latter still recuperating in the hospital. Hoyt Symmes is present in present in theory but barely so in reality, with very little dialogue--having apparently obsessively immersed himself in an occult tome titled Damonomagie. Methinks this will not bode well for our poor encyclopaedia salesman!


KING: And then we have the introduction of a brand new character, an older Eastern European with ties to the Gilchrist Trust, a giant of a man named Dr. Otto Volker Konig. Konig arrives at the Gilchrist Trust with a letter in hand (sent by Wanjiku months previously) offering the man a position as a research assistant. The timing is perfect, as Wanjiku's "expedition" to Dunwich is about to be launched, but he's facing a major obstacle: Scarlett Warren feels it's too dangerous to proceed without Father Murphy and Jacob Blackstone, especially given Symmes distracted mental state. The arrival of Konig persuades her, however, and the group sets off for Dunwich in taxis driven by Joe Bicks and his wife, Bethesda. From there--

PATRICK: Joshi, are you okay?

[UNATTRIBUTED]: Here we go again . . .

JOSHI: Most certainly not! Have we learned nothing? Have my memos gone unread? We mustn't conduct our discussions in such a haphazard, unfocussed manner! Why, already we've skipped over the minor tremors that almost led to a chandelier falling on Wanjiku and the arrival (and subsequent departure) of Dr. Littlestreet, the alienist associated with Miskatonic University. We must have order, gentlemen, order!

BLOCH: Joshi, relax. We'll get to everything.

CANNON: Sorry old friend, but this is really for your own good. MOTION to conduct discussion in a "haphazard, unfocussed manner."



JOSHI: But Robert's Rules of Order does not cover . . .. Fine!

PATRICK: Where were we? Oh yes, on the outskirts of Aylesbury, the two-vehicle caravan comes across a scene of the type that would often be associated with the Great Depression: a trio of "local boys" (mill workers, actually) with leashed dogs are trying to scare off a poor family hoping to enter Aylesbury and find work. Dr. Konig insists that the caravan stop so he can intervene. Upon questioning, one of the surlier mill workers claims that what they're doing is "policy". The family, for their part, identifies themselves as the Joneses and state they've been travelling from town to town for weeks--the state of their clothing, wan faces, and meager possessions testify to the truth of their statement. Although Wanjiku and the Bicks are careful not to intervene, Konig, Warren, and Barnabus Gallowsong take pity on the Jones family and, after giving them a lift to the nearest bus stop, provide them with funds sufficient to take them to Boston or even New York.

CANNON: I think the scene demonstrates several key facts: the tender consciences of the protagonists; Wanjiku's unwillingness to provoke the wrath of the locals; and a small part of the puzzle as to why Aylesbury appears to be thriving when so many communities across the country are in the midst of economic collapse.

KING: I still think there's more to it than that . . .

BLOCH: What happens next reminds us we're reading Lovecraft and not a piece of social realism. Joe Bick's truck gets a flat on the poorly-maintained road to Dunwich. A light rain has started up, and as he works to change the tire, the sun begins to disappear behind the horizon. Suddenly, Wanjiku seems to realize a fact right in front of his face, and begins shouting "The Sign! We must make the Sign so they know we're protected!" He pulls a tube of yellow paint from his jacket pocket, but fumbles it in his hands and then steps on it, squeezing paint all over the floorboard of Mrs. Bicks' car. The others, for their part, remain calm and spring into action--Gallowsong begins etching the sign on the windows with a knife, Warren uses her lipstick, and Joe Bicks is persuaded to get back into his truck under the dubious pretense of there being "wolves about." Everyone is silent for a moment, and even Wanjiku breathes a sigh of relief, but then the roof of the car bulges inward as if a giant weight is resting on top of it! Small holes appear in the roof as if from claws, but the sign on the roof seems to work! The weight disappears, and Warren and Konig fancy they see a giant black winged creature flying away.

JOSHI: I will abide by the results of the earlier motion, but this is exactly why it's important to proceed in order. This particular event becomes sensible in light of Dr. Littlestreet's earlier visit to Gilchrist House. Remember, he shares with Wanjiku and the protagonists the fact that he has received several strange reports from the vicinity of Aylesbury in recent weeks and that he has, in fact, constructed a hypothesis: that a "miasma" of "bad air" has been causing hallucinations and correspondingly deranged conduct in those whose fragile mental states are susceptible to suggestion. Thus, although Littlestreet is not present for this so-called "attack", he would interpret it as another example to support his theory--Wanjiku believes that what he repeatedly refers to as simply a "good luck symbol" will somehow ward off danger, while Warren and Konig jointly construct a phantasmal monster. Others, like the sensible Bicks, notice nothing out of the ordinary altogether.

CANNON: But what about the holes--claw marks?--in the ceiling?

JOSHI: Perhaps they were portions of the roof that had simply rusted through and had not been noticed until it began to rain? In any event, what matters is not what we believe but whether the protagonists buy into Dr. Littlestreet's theory; and even more importantly, whether subsequent events bear it out. Thus, although this is mere speculation, Lovecraft could be telling a story of strange events that have a purely "natural" or, if you will, "secular" explanation--in other words, an anti-"Mythos" story.

KING: Interesting, but like you said, just speculation. I don't buy it. Too much strange stuff is going on for "bad air" or "sporocysts" to explain everything . . .

BLOCH: I think you're right, but this next event does seem to fit Dr. Littlestreet's theory. The group continues driving after sunset, and a cold, heavy rain begins to fall. Suddenly, Gallowsong notices a little girl standing right in the middle of the road! He calls out and tries to grab the wheel, and fortunately Bicks manages to stop the truck before it hits her. Mrs. Bicks, following behind in the car, is also able to stop in time. The protagonists get out of their vehicles, rush over to the drenched girl, and ask her what she's doing there. "Momma' and Poppa' won't get up" she wails.

KING: And I knew right then this wasn't going to end well . . .

BLOCH: They bring her back inside the relative warmth of the car and get her dried off. She seems terrified of Dr. Konig, and I can't say I blame her--a veritable giant speaking in a strange accent would probably unsettle some small children even in the best of circumstances. Warren decides to stay in the car and comfort the girl, while Dr. Konig and Gallowsong decide to check out the girl's home. It takes them some effort in the pitch blackness to even find the farmhouse, and at first it seems like they'll be left with more mysteries than answers: the place is deserted.

CANNON: Yes, but this is when the clever Barnabus Gallowsong decides to walk around to the rear of the farmhouse. He notes the storm doors of a cellar have been flung wide open, revealing the soft glow of light from inside. But just as importantly, he spots movement coming from a copse of trees in the distance. After summoning his ally, Barnabus cautiously moves towards the copse of trees and makes out the sound of sobbing coming from the other side. He pushes through, and realizes he's now standing among the tombstones of a family burial ground. And in the center, a teenaged boy is cradling the body of his sister, a shotgun laying at his feet. The body's advanced state of decay and the nearby unearthed coffin make clear this boy's madness: his sister has been dead for weeks! "She's still moving!" he says. Barnabus speaks compassionately to the boy, and is on the brink of convincing him to go with him and leave his sister's corpse, but then the lad realizes they plan on re-burying her and he dashes off into the night. Barnabus sets off after him, to no avail, while Konig takes upon himself the ominous task of searching the cellar.

KING: This is a well-written scene, but also a heart-wrenching one. As you might expect, a tragedy has taken place at this isolated farmhouse. The cellar contains a dying woman and two bodies, all suffering from shotgun wounds. Dr. Konig tries to save the woman, but she is beyond help. Under the still lingering smell of gunpowder, he detects a musty odor and is suddenly overcome by madness! The corpses begin to twitch and groan, then they slowly drag themselves towards him and try to grab hold of his arms. Dr. Konig tries to fight them off until he hears the comforting voice of Barnabus, returned from his fruitless search. "They're dead, Doctor, they're dead. Let them rest in peace now." Konig rubs his eyes and realizes he'd been grappling with an inert corpse! Barnabus pulls Konig out of the cellar and waits for the fresh air to clear the man's senses. Later, Barnabus drags the bodies out of the cellar and inters them in the family burial ground.

JOSHI: But most importantly, he notices a wide crack in the floor of the cellar, and later, he, Konig, and Wanjiku formulate an explanation for the tragedy: the recent tremors caused the crack in the dirt floor of the cellar, and Dr. Littlestreet's so-called "bad air" emanated from the crack and caused madness in the teenaged boy.

PATRICK: With the Bicks becoming more and more impatient to return to Aylesbury, the group continues the eventful drive to Dunwich. Finally, late that evening, they cross the Miskatonic River and find themselves among the so-called "Forgotten Village"--Dunwich.

[continued tomorrow]

My Childhood Family Vacations

My recollection of family vacations when I was a kid are of a combination of great fun and utter boredom. For two weeks most summers, the Patrick family would set off in a station wagon to visit various relatives and friends, hitting a variety of states in the mid-west and south.

The journey itself was always something I looked forward to: fast food, roadside attractions (life-size statues of the Flintstones!), reading in the car, and best of all, new comic books at every gas station!

(digression: gas stations and convenience stores rarely have comics these days, part of the reason I think their biggest audience has shifted from kids to collectors who frequent specialized comic shops)

The destinations, on the other hand, were as dull and endless as Ulysses. Example: Cowen, West Virginia, population 300, a town (at least in my memory) without stores, restaurants, attractions, or anything that could be of any possible interest to a kid. Add in distant relatives I barely remembered and old friends of my parents, and I could not wait to get back on the road again.

The Wife and I have already vowed we'll make sure Boomer gets to go on cool vacations--Disneyland, Comic-Con, Europe! Though, life being what it is, there's a good chance he'll get his fair share of distant relatives and random family friends as well . . .

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent [Game Review]

Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent was an impressive and surprisingly fun discovery. Downloadable for $ 4.99 from Steam, the game has a clever little storyline inspired by a mix of Twin Peaks and Fargo. Nelson Tethers, a detective in the FBI's Department of Puzzle Research, is sent to Scoggins, Minnesota, to discover why an eraser factory has closed down (the erasers are used in the White House!). To solve the mystery, he of course has to solve several puzzles along the way. The game presents a good mix of different types of puzzles, a helpful clue system, and a difficulty level that is challenging without being frustrating. Just as important, the cinematic cut scenes are enjoyable instead of being annoying as in so many games. It's not a long game, but a few evenings' entertainment for five bucks is hard to beat . . .

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Clone Wars Campaign: The Patient Man

An eagle-eyed reader has informed me that I forgot to post The Patient Man, a very short story featuring Horellius Creen, Tarn's Master in the Jedi Order. The story explains a little about Creen's motivations and has (to my mind) a cool action scene. Chronologically, it appears after Session 31.


Voluntarily destroying one’s life’s work was a task that carried with it a quantum of regret, even when its necessity had become apparent. Jedi Master Horellius Creen surveyed his dark, cavernous chambers deep under the Jedi Temple. Much to his satisfaction (and, recently, in no small part to his doing), this section of the massive Temple complex had never been refurbished, updated, or even thoroughly inspected since it was built generations ago. Although the rest of the Temple suffered from the unnatural pall of electric lighting, the irritating hum of computer banks, and the stench of disinfectant, this place was different.
This place was his and it was perfect.

Ancient, deteriorating scrolls of a substance few had ever touched—paper—filled every nook and corner. They had taken a lifetime to collect (or steal) from hundreds of worlds. Candles burned on every ledge, lighting the chamber with a soft, diffuse glow. An obvious fire hazard, but to Horellius Creen it was a reminder of the need for caution. And spread across the massive wooden table was a star chart. Small, precisely drawn circles marked every location the monolith had been sighted in during the past four thousand years.
But if there was a pattern, he could not see it. Not yet. With a sigh, he twitched a finger and tipped over every candle in the room simultaneously. The dry, brittle scrolls caught quickly and in seconds an inferno encircled him. He stood calmly in the center, protected by his mastery of the Force.
His plans had gone awry.
With the information contained in the head of that droid—a droid that had actually been inside the monolith—he could find the pattern. He was sure of it. And for a time it had been in his hands—if only he wasn’t so clumsy with electronics! His tentative explorations into the data had gone nowhere, and even worse, the boy had then absconded with it right under his nose. And even though he had managed to place people on the investigative team who had an interest in bringing Tarn back, weeks had passed without word.
Creen walked through the flames, followed long-forgotten tunnels, and eventually emerged into a sunlit shopping district almost two kilometers from the Temple. It had become clear to him in the past days that the Order had outlived its usefulness. He had to have time to think, to piece together the mystery of the monolith. Already the rumbling had begun—another Padawan disappeared, just months after the Order had finally lifted Creen’s house arrest. A promising young Jedi Knight dispatched off-world to investigate the disappearance, without approval from the Council. Soon they would discover how he had sent the female to Nar Shadda to get the head to begin with. And they would start asking again about “Jocasta” and what the boy had reported after his trial. He was deft and had parried so many questions for so many years, but now they wouldn’t be deterred. They would move slowly, of course, offer him a chance to defend himself, but ultimately they would ask for his lightsaber and search his papers for evidence.
He would not let his life’s work be sullied by their vulgar hands.
The spaceport was busy as always, but lines always gave way before a Jedi. Ticket in hand, Creen stopped into the large refresher room to splash cool water on his face. The Force had protected him against the flames, but he could still feel the heat on his face and in his mind. A life’s work destroyed, perhaps. But he had memorized every millimeter of that start chart, and the answers would come. In time, but they would come.
He didn’t foresee the attack, but he was ready. The Clone assault team followed standard procedure: they slowly eased open the door, lobbed in two gas grenades, waited a three count, and then rushed in two-by-two. Before they had even sighted their target, Creen had drawn the gas into a vortex with the Force and then pushed it outward with such fury that the first pair of Clones were knocked against the wall, their helmets cracked by the impact. The second pair opened fire, but Creen was already a blur of light and shadow. Their heads tumbled to the ground after their first shot but before they could get off a second. The third and final pair used the doorway for cover and unleashed a stream of blaster bolts. When the smoke and the gas had cleared, Creen had disappeared.
Cautiously, they called for backup and then edged into the room, kicking down the door to each stall. Creen allowed himself to drop from the ceiling and brought his blade down, point first, into a Clone trooper’s head. Before the second could react, the lightsaber had cut the Clone’s blaster rifle into two parts. The trooper was well trained and had no fear. He popped a concealed vibro-knife from its gauntlet sheath and charged. To Creen, the trooper moved in slow motion and could be killed in too many different ways to count.
Creen reflected as the vibro-knife moved down towards his face. The Jedi were certainly not behind this attack. Had his pursuits reached the ears of the Republic military or intelligence apparatuses? Unlikely. It could only be the work of his original apprentice, still not tired of playing games after all these many years. Regardless, Creen needed time to think, to put together the monolith’s pattern. Time alone with no distractions. A life on the run would certainly not be conducive to such an endeavour.
The decision having been made, Creen called upon the Force and the vibro-knife halted its downward plunge in mid-air. The clone trooper’s helmet then lifted slowly into the air and settled on the ground. Creen could see the sweat of effort on the trooper, as the soldier pored every inch of strength into pushing the dagger down. As well pour a cup of water on the sun.
For the first time in many days, Creen spoke. His harsh whisper echoed in the Clone’s ears.
You managed to subdue me after a long and difficult fight. You have already searched me thoroughly, and I am unarmed. You will take me to your superior and insist I be given solitary confinement.
I no longer present any danger.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lettres de l'intérieur [Book Review]

Lettres de l'intérieur ("Letters from the Inside") is the French translation of a book by Australian author John Marsden. The story is told solely through a series of letters between two teenage girls who know each other only through correspondence (one of them posted an ad in a magazine seeking pen-pals). About half-way through the book, there's a big twist--for those interested in SPOILERS here it is: one of the girls is incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility (it's actually not that big of a twist considering the title and the cover (at least of the French edition) of a teenage girl behind bars. The incarcerated girl has thus been lying for months, and once the other one discovers the lies, their relationship is strained. It's an interesting, solid story with a thought-provoking ending.

It also made me think, do kids still have pen pals anymore? I'd assume with the rise of the Internet, far fewer would correspond through old-fashioned letters. I remember having a couple of pen-pals as a kid: a guy who operated a comic book fan club devoted to Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, and a girl who lived in far away Canada . . .

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Cthulhu Companion [Book Review]

The Cthulhu Companion was a 64-page black-and-white book published by Chaosium in 1983 for use with the company's famous role-playing game. Material for the book came, in part, from player submissions to Different Worlds magazine.

Although long out-of-print, the book is available for a reasonably-priced download from the Chaosium website.

Chapter 1, The Cthulhu Mythos in Mesoamerican Religion, is a quite well-done melding of the Cthulhu Mythos with the real world religions of the Mayans, Atztecs, and other Mesoamerican civilizations. Written as if the Cthulhu Mythos were real, this would be a handy resource for anyone setting an archaeology-based campaign in this part of the world (though it's probably too detailed to be needed for just a session or two). The chapter includes an unrelated section, Further Notes on the Necronomicon, which is a fictional discussion of the etymology of the common names attributed to beings in the Cthulhu Mythos, with a focus on Latin, Greek, and Arabic histories. Some of this material has been included in the sixth edition of the core rulebook (and perhaps other editions; I haven't checked).

Chapter 2, Sourcebook Additions, is a hodgepodge of different material. There's a discussion of fictional prisons in various countries around the world, but it's not particularly interesting and there are no maps or stats provided to help the Keeper. Two new skills are introduced, "Photography" and "Lock Picking", but of course these are been integrated into the core game. Finally, there's a "Lovecraftian Timeline" which places the various incidents from Lovecraft's novels on to a calendar--this could actually be pretty handy for those who want to make sure their games mesh tightly with the published stories.

Chapter 3, Rulesbook Additions, begins with a list and description of over thirty new phobias. Many of these are listed in the 6th edition core rules, but the Cthulhu Companion provides a better explanation of how they might work in the game (a couple of them, Quixotism and Panzaism, seemed quite clever). Next, there are statistics and descriptions for several new beings from the Mythos: Abhoth, Atlach-Nacha, Cyaegha, Ghasts, Ghatanothoa, Gnoph-Keh, Gugs, Lloigor, Moon Beasts, Zhar, and Zoth-Ommog. Again, some of these have already been included in later editions of the core rules, so milage may vary.

A very short Chapter 4 is titled "Excerpts and Prayers" and consists of passages from famous books in the Mythos; I'm not actually sure whether these are wholly original or taken from published stories.

Chapter 5 is "Paper Chase", the first scenario in the book. It's designed to be played by a single Keeper and a single Investigator, and involves a ghoul with a propensity for book theft. It's a short scenario and I haven't run it, but I can imagine it would serve as a nice introduction for a new player who wants to get a feel for the game.

"The Mystery of Loch Feinn" serves as Chapter 6 and is a much longer scenario. Set in Scotland, the investigators are tasked with solving the murder of a paleontologist who thought he had stumbled upon the equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. The scenario involves the Lloigor, a strange race of beings who are normally invisible but occasionally take reptilian form. A particularly violent clan of Scots worships the Lloigor, and present a real risk to the investigators. I like the addition of a ruined castle and the mysterious dungeons underneath; this could be a quite atmospheric adventure and holds the potential to serve as a sort of "side quest" to investigators who happen to be in Scotland during part of a longer campaign.

Chapter 7, "The Rescue", is a scenario involving that classic menace: werewolves! The body of a State Department lawyer is found in the Appalachians, and the investigators are set on the trail to find his missing daughter. NPCs and the story's setting are described well, and there's several paragraphs of rules for dealing with lycanthropy in a CoC game. Werewolves aren't really my thing, but some Keepers might really like this one.

The last scenario, constituting Chapter 8, is "The Secret of Castronegro." This one requires the investigators to visit a small New Mexico town in order to investigate several weird disappearances. It's a very open-ended, unstructured scenario, with a lot of different leads for the investigators to follow up on. It's also rather deadly in spots, with a pack of wild dogs and an ambush by six armed villagers seeming especially fatal for unwary investigators. The major miscreants are a 300-year-old immortal wizard and his family.

The book concludes with some of Lovecraft's Mythos-related poetry and a "Sanity Quiz" which is actually a list of adjectives Lovecraft often used in his writing, along with some others, that may help a Keeper describe the indescribable.

As much of the supplemental material in the book has since been republished or integrated into later books, probably the best reason for downloading The Cthulhu Companion is if the premise of any of the longer scenarios (which are, to my mind, about average in quality) particularly strike your fancy.

Harbingers Campaign Sessions # 1-5 Commentary [Cthulhu]

Running a Call of Cthulhu campaign was, for me, a decision made out of a desire to direct a game that was 180-degree turn from the recently completed three-year long Star Wars Saga Edition game I'd directed. There's a lot I love about the Star Wars setting: familiar NPCs, the potential for exciting and cinematic action scenes, a plethora of archetypes suitable for PCs, a wide array of settings, etc. The problem I found as the campaign neared its end and the PCs had reached anywhere from Level 15 to Level 18 was coming up with suitable challenges for them. Not only were they the toughest S.O.B.s in the universe, but the mechanical complexity of combat meant I had to spend a *lot* of prep time getting ready for each session. I didn't feel that the players had a lot of genuine fear of dying during combat, and, as the characters established themselves and their personalities and motivations over time, certain types of stories become difficult or impossible to tell. So when that campaign reached it's well-planned and exciting climax, I was glad to have discovered something completely different to direct as a sort of "palate cleanser" in Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu game. It had elements that I knew would challenge my skills as a director: how to create an interesting story and keep the game moving without a lot of combat; how to tell those stories knowing that PCs are fragile and may be replaced often; and how to create a real sense of mood and atmosphere. I'm still dubious I've succeeded on a lot of these points, but the only way I'm going to get better is by practice. The game also introduces some new challenges to my player's skills as role-players: a focus on long-term character development; a chance to role-play human emotions that "action heroes" rarely experience, such as fear, grief, and insanity; and the very different decision-making that occurs when everyone knows that combat is genuinely deadly. I think the transition from Star Wars has been harder for some than others, and I've definitely noticed more absenteeism and less enthusiasm. Still, the lesson I learned from that long Star Wars campaign, where I had periods of as many as five PCs and periods (fortunately brief) of as few as two PCs is just to soldier on until, sooner or later, the right mix is in the group and things begin to gel.

We've now finished the first story arc in the Harbingers campaign, which has centered in and near the town of Aylesbury, Massachusetts. I *think* the PCs are going to be leaving Aylesbury in the next session, but they haven't left yet and who knows what will actually happen (at one time I was convinced they were planning on going to New Orleans; then I was convinced they were planning on going to Dunwich; now there are rumblings they might just stick around in Aylesbury; why doesn't anyone ever want to visit Omaha, Nebraska?) Still, it seemed like a good opportunity to give some brief commentary on the previous sessions. Each session has been recapped under the conceit of minutes of a literary appreciation society talking about a recently unearthed manuscript, and you'll see links to those recaps below.

This first session was billed as a one-shot, but I knew that if I made it work, I'd have a good chance of the players voting for CoC as our next campaign, so I laid a lot of seeds that could only be realized later. I really went all out in the atmosphere department: candles, spooky music, some ghastly artwork, mini-flashlights, custom "Investigator's Notepads", props for the clues, and a seating arrangement that was very different than that used during Star Wars. I think the atmosphere worked really well, especially because we played it on a Friday night; I haven't been able to create quite the same atmosphere since our regular campaign sessions are on Saturday afternoons, and even when the blinds are drawn it's still obviously light outside.

Overall I was quite happy how it turned out--I think some of the moments on the train were genuinely creepy, Jacob Blackstone's character really brought the role-playing when it came to grief over the accidental shooting of the bystander, and the gradually increasing intensity of the rats in the second half of the session brought the session to a dramatic ending. Here's some more specific things:

* The very first scene was supposed to be far more exciting (and potentially grisly), as the bankrupt stock broker was going to throw himself on the tracks as the train approached. Would any of the PCs try to save him? Would they make it in time? The guy role-playing the priest is just so good as being reasonable and persuasive (and made some good rolls to back it up) that we never got a chance to find out.

* The (now dead) Harleigh Matheson PC certainly made things interesting--spending large amounts of cash during the Depression, carrying a rifle with fixed bayonet in his luggage, trying to quietly break the lock to the basement at the Gilmore House (failing miserably), and attacking the rat queen with a ferocious vigor. These are the sorts of crazy things that can make fellow players be like what are you doing? but can also make games far more memorable than they would otherwise be; his insanely sucking on the teat of the giant rat comes instantly to mind as an example.

* I had specifically concocted the whole "Aylesbury Days" festival as an in-game reason why the local inns were booked and the PCs would have to travel to the Gilmore Farm that night (extra spooky!). However, once again, Father Murphy was just so persuasive and rolled so well on his Credit Rating skill that I couldn't imagine any reasonable innkeeper turning down his pleas to squeeze them in somewhere.

* I had the one and only example so far of time-period panic--one of the PCs asked whether there were phone booths in 1931 and I had no idea.

* As the recap implies, the second half of this was inspired by the first (and still one of my very favorite) Lovecraft stories I ever read, The Rats in the Walls.

* The thing with the Orobourus Purgotae spell (which is of course very fake Latin) is that it really only had a decent chance of succeeding if several characters worked together to cast it--this was a detail Father Murphy overlooked and the mistake almost killed him.

* There are a lot of plot-specific reasons for the idea of the Mark of the Harbingers, most of which are still unrevealed to the PCs. One of the more mundane reasons, however, is that I wanted to develop an answer to a question that had been bugging me: if these PCs aren't "professional investigators", why wouldn't they just run away and go home as soon as creepy things started happening to them? The Mark served to tie the PCs together (almost literally) in resolving a mystery that was very personal to them. To decide who would be branded with the Mark on the train, I had everyone roll percentile dice and compare it to their POW; if they failed, they were Marked. I expected maybe one PC would succeed, and was surprised when two of the five succeeded. The fact that one of the affected PCs has subsequently died has made the impact of the Mark less important (at least for now). One of the downsides of the whole concept, I would learn later, is that if one of the Marked PCs is absent from a session, the other Marked PCs have much less freedom of movement.

* I had a tough time figuring out whether to start the campaign proper in Aylesbury or Dunwich. I eventually chose Aylesbury because I thought it would be easier on both myself and the players to grow into their characters, as Dunwich has an almost overwhelming number of NPCs. This session begins the "Diggin' Up the World" published scenario, though I changed a lot of the details and the origin of the sporocysts. I've always found it hard to predict how long scenarios will take to accomplish; I was worried the PCs might not even take the whole session to complete it, and it turned out to provide enough plot for the next few sessions.

* As the recap implies, I was all over the map with Wanjiku's accent--there are a few accents I can do consistently, and his was *not* one of them.

* I really grew to like Sheriff Glanby over this and the next couple of sessions; the idea of a local boy making it to Harvard and then dropping out to return home and serve as Sheriff made him an interesting figure to me. I was kinda sad to see him get killed in a later session.

* The little scene near the end when Kurt Caughey throws himself against the bars and dislocates his shoulder reaching for the proffered shovel was effective; I could see the shocked looks on my players' faces.

* I originally created the gravedigger, Roddy McCallister, as a PC for a game a while back that only lasted a single session. He was so much fun to role-play that I brought him back here; think of an even creepier Peter Lorre and you'll be on the right track for his speech and mannerisms.

* The death of PC Harleigh Matheson was sudden and shocking, though it certainly did fit into the horror genre. Still, it was something of a pity because I had some good long-range storytelling plans for the character.

* Since I was directing a macabre game, I was eagerly hoping the PCs would decide to dig up Knight's body just for the gruesome exploding-grubs effect.

* The introduction of the Klan and the mobsters was done to add a little more personal danger and install some period flavor.

* I was impressed with the creative and unforeseen solution the PCs hit upon to remove the sporocysts from the infected Jacob Blackstone. When PCs come up with crazy schemes, here's my thought process: (1) does the attempt seems remotely feasible? (2) does it allows for an exciting or dramatic scene with an element of risk? (3) if yes to both questions, let them roll the dice and see what happens.

* Barnabus Gallowsong was knocked down to 1 hp by that gunshot; just a touch more, and we'd have had another dead PC on our hands. Whenever possible, I roll the dice on the table in front of everyone so there's no suspicion I'm fudging results one way or the other.

* When writing his character background, the player running Hoyt Symmes included mention of two mysterious books obtained years ago that Hoyt had never been able to read because they were shut with sturdy locked clasps and Hoyt didn't have the key. Little things like that are *great* for directors, because they spark the imagination and give me the chance to introduce story elements at my own pace that are still specifically tied to that PC.

* One of the issues I haven't figured out an overall approach to yet is combat, and you might get the sense of that in this session. Combat is exciting, and I know the players miss the fun and sense of accomplishment that comes from it. On the other hand, combat is so deadly in CoC that I'm loathe to have it take place unless it's initiated directly by the PCs or is the only reasonable reaction by NPCs. The problem is not just that an accumulation of dead PCs can stop a story in its tracks, but that, since healing is so slow in CoC, badly hurt characters can be more or less useless when the time comes that combat is necessary or inevitable.

* I have to admit, the puzzle box was something I thought would be investigated occasionally by the PCs over the course of many sessions when things seemed slow; I've had to scramble some since they've been quite keen on solving it so quickly. I actually got the idea for it from one of the item cards in the Arkham Horror board game.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Minutes of the Lovecraft Studies Institute (# 5) [Cthulhu]



ATTENDANCE: Patrick, Bloch, King, Joshi, Cannon (Members). Three Guests.

2:03 P.M Meeting Convened

2:05 P.M. Approval of Minutes for Meeting of November 6, 2010

2:05 P.M. Chair proposes reading of "Harbingers" manuscript Chapter 5 ("To a Danger Far or Near"). UNANIMOUS

6:15 P.M. Reading concludes.

6:16 P.M. Chair proposes open discussion. UNANIMOUS


PATRICK: [inaudible] beer? Thanks. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for coming. As you just heard, this chapter represents a turning point in the story. Until now, the protagonists have spent most of their time in the strangely successful town of Aylesbury, Massachusetts. At the end of this chapter, however, after a long period of debate, they seem committed to making the short drive to the infamous village of Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror. We'll have to wait until the next installment is decoded to learn whether or not this actually takes place or whether Lovecraft has misled us once again.

JOSHI: We've all noticed that previous chapters have often involved a variety of genres: horror, mystery, pulp adventure, gangster, etc. After careful consideration, I would like to theorize that Harbingers may reflect a conscious attempt by Lovecraft to meld these disparate avenues of storytelling into an original synthesis. This chapter, in particular, serves as a perfect example: we have the mystery of Hoyt Symmes' strange book comprised of metallic sheets; Father Murphy's clever but narrow escape from a demented terror; a tense stand-off with so-called "gunsels", and more.

CANNON: I think we need to wait before making any grand pronouncements, but you may be on to something, Joshi. After all, Lovecraft tried to meld police fiction with horror fiction in the much-maligned The Horror at Red Hook.

KING: I'm not convinced. A horror novel can include all sorts of material and still remain at its core a horror novel. Just cause I put some funny dialogue and a love scene in a book doesn't mean I'm writing romantic comedies.

JOSHI: True, but--

PATRICK: Gentlemen, perhaps we can agree to wait until further chapters are deciphered to resolve this debate? For now, I think we should focus on the chapter in front of us. As Joshi alluded to, this chapter begins with Hoyt Symmes waking from the fit he fell into in Chapter 4. Symmes finds himself in his bedroom at Gilchrist House, disoriented by the memory of the three-headed symbol spinning in his mind. After his thoughts clear, he realizes it's nighttime and struggles for a lantern on the bedstand. Stumbling for his dressing-gown, he notices that one of his trunks that he was careful to always keep locked is sitting there with the lid open a crack. A quick search reveals that one of his most prized possessions is missing--a strange book obtained years ago, consisting of thin metallic leaves held secure by a clasp that Symmes has never managed to pry open.

BLOCH: I'll take it from here--this is a classic mystery set-up. Symmes makes his way down the hallway and sees flickering light under the partially-cracked door of the drawing room. Pushing it open, he's stunned to see that Zeituni is standing before the fireplace, scribbling furiously into a notebook. There, in the flames, sits Symmes' strange book, unclasped. Its "pages" glow red hot, but markings are clearly visible--tiny French script, the symbols that Symmes has been dreaming about, and a single large word: Carcosa! Zeituni realizes Symmes is there and, startled, hides his notebook and dashes out of the room. Symmes retrieves his stolen book and confronts Zeituni. At first, Zeituni claims that Symmes must have dreamt the entire encounter, but eventually Zeituni confesses to having stolen the book out of curiosity. He claims that the three-headed insignia etched throughout the house is a "good luck charm" from his native tribe in Kenya, the Kikuyu. Before he can be pressed further on this dubious claim, however, both men hear the loud honking of a car outside.

PATRICK: Further evidence, in my opinion, that Zeituni is untrustworthy. After all, he could have simply asked Symmes to look at the book. And how did he know that the writing on the metallic plates would be revealed by fire? Or was he actually trying to destroy the book?

BLOCH: In any event, the car is Joe Bick's taxi. He tells Symmes that Barnabus Gallowsong never returned from his dangerous expedition to the sugar mill and must be in trouble. Symmes learns that both Father Murphy and Jacob Blackstone are still hospitalized, and decides to head there immediately to get help.

KING: I quite liked what happened next--keep the tension high, I always say. The scene shifts and we see Father Murphy waking up in the hospital, groggy from the sodium pentathol injected into him by the gangsters a chapter or two ago. He hears the squeaking wheel of a hospital cart coming down the hallway towards his room. It's dark and lonely, and the flickering lights make the hospital seem a desolate place. Murphy makes it to the doorway of his room and sees the candy striper pushing the cart; it takes a moment, and then a memory slams into place--the woman pushing the cart looks exactly like one of the women pushing the concessions cart on the train to Aylesbury. Murphy starts to run, but the creepy, cackling laugh behind him fills him with terror. The woman's face contorts, her bones crack and distend, and long claws grow from her fingertips. She lopes towards Murphy like some kind of ghastly hound. Finally, Murphy finds courage to dash for the stairwell. He slams the door behind him, and, thinking quickly, speculates that the creature might track as much by scent and sound as by sight. He removes a shoe and throws it down the stairwell and then run up the stairs. Seconds later, he hears what sounds like the door being torn off its hinges; the next moments are agonizing until he realizes his deception may have worked. Murphy cautiously returns to the hallway and, turning the corner, almost runs straight into Scarlett Warren.

PATRICK: I think you forgot a key aspect of that encounter; the creature uttered something in its demonic voice--"Companions of the Harbingers are under His protection; but perhaps He wouldn't begrudge me just a taste."

BLOCH: A nice touch. However, we're here to discuss the chapter, not recount it in its entirety. To summarize some of the next scenes, Warren and Murphy are soon met at the hospital by Hoyt Symmes. The three listen to Joe Bicks' description of what happened and decide they should try to rescue Barnabus, especially since there's no police presence in Aylesbury. In the car, Warren explains a little about what she thinks is going on--while living in Boston, she secretly (or so she thought) saw a local mob kingpin named Dexter Underhill murder a thug named "Pretty" Eddie Spinetti. It seems that Spinetti's body was recently fished out of the bay, and now Underhill suspects (quite wrongly) that Warren ratted him out and has sent his boys to bring her back to Boston for "questioning."

JOSHI: To be precise, there is some law enforcement presence in Aylesbury. We're told the State Police have cordoned off the roads out of Aylesbury in a manhunt for the criminals responsible for the shoot-out at City Hall. However, given the events on the train, at the Gilmore Farm, and elsewhere, it seems logical that the protagonists would seek to avoid any further entanglements with law enforcement.

BLOCH: In any event, the trio convince Bicks to drive them out to the old sugar mill. They find some tracks and other clues leading them in the direction of the hills behind the mill and bravely continue further. Gunshots suddenly ring out, but, with the rain and the darkness, miss by a mile. The protagonists keep their cool, and, instead of shooting back, shout that they're not police and only here to find their kidnapped companion. Father Murphy is especially convincing, particularly when he offers to trade himself for Barnabus. The gangsters know that, as hostages go, a priest is more valuable than a circus dwarf, and agree to the trade. Barnabus, unconscious from a serious gunshot wound to the chest, is rolled down the hill to where his companions are waiting. Father Murphy, meanwhile, is taken to a small cave the mobsters have found for temporary shelter from the rain. When the rain lets up, they drag him with them a few more miles on foot until they feel safe from the State Police patrols and let him go with a message for Scarlett Warren: come back and explain things to "Dexter" voluntarily, or things will get even worse for your and your friends.

CANNON: Was this a realistic portrayal of how hardened hit men would react?

KING: I'm not sure--I suppose we could give Lovecraft the benefit of the doubt; these mobsters are cold, tired, and on the edge. Their car has been burned to embers, the State Police are looking for them for the murder of cops, and they see figures approaching them in the darkness. It probably comes as some relief to realize that one of them is a priest who could actually aid in their getaway attempt. Of course, had Scarlett Warren made her presence known, then a very different, bloody result could have occurred.

CANNON: I'm still not 100% convinced, but everything seemed to work out okay for the protagonists; Murphy is found by a police patrol and returned to Aylesbury the next morning. The others have already returned and taken Barnabus to the hospital.

PATRICK: I think what happens later that day is significant. Without re-reading the chapter, I don't recall exactly how it takes place, but the protagonists continue to investigate the gold-colored puzzle box they received as an unintentional bequest from Abraham Gilmore in a previous chapter. Noticing that one side of the puzzle box contains symbols in an unknown language, they scour Zeituni Wankiju's library of theosophical writings and stumble upon a book that seems to include a discussion of the very same odd symbols: The Kranorian Annals, Fact or Fallacy, by Garson Casterwell. Casterwell, a private school teacher in Boston, writes about an ancient scroll he claims to have discovered in the dusty storeroom of a museum. According to Casterwell's book, the scroll is the key to the language of an eons-old lost civilization: Hyperborea, and a possible colony of that civilization, right under the investigators feet in northern Massachusetts, named Kranoria.

JOSHI: Although Hyperborea is referenced elsewhere in Lovecraft's fiction, we should remain cognizant that, for the characters in Harbingers, the existence of Hyperborea may seem a mere fable, on par with Atlantis or (to be slightly anachronistic) Shangri-La.

PATRICK: Fable or not, they're quite proactive in trying to figure out how to open the puzzle box. They immediately telegram Casterwell, and the man is so intrigued by the report of another Hyperborean artifact that he telegrams plans of his arrival in Aylesbury the next day. While they wait, the protagonists discuss what they should do next. Scarlet Warren is, at first, tempted to head to New Orleans and meet with the mysterious man who has been placing advertisements in the classified section of the newspaper, claiming to know a way to remove the symbol that has been branded onto the backs of the Harbingers. However, avoiding populated areas would make for a long, difficult, and expensive trip; but even more problematically, Symmes still has not had the charges against him dropped and cannot leave the county without becoming a fugitive Since Symmes and Warren cannot distance themselves too far from each other without growing lethargic and anxious, wherever they go, they have to go together.

CANNON: The compromise they strike seems a sensible enough one. Since Judge "Hangin' Tom" Mathis is not holding court until the next week (due to the shoot-out at the court house), they have nothing to gain from staying in Aylesbury. However, Zeituni is planning an immediate expedition to Dunwich (which is within county limits) to find his missing team of investigators (one of which, alas, has already been identified as the dead "hobo" in a previous chapter). Zeituni is going to go with or without help, but if the protagonists come with him, he offers an enticing package: $ 4 a day per person, letters of introduction with other branches of the Gilchrist Trust throughout the world, and the use of a small "puddle-jumper" plane to take them directly from an airfield near Aylesbury to New Orleans once Judge Mathis clears them to leave the county.

BLOCH: As Zeituni makes preparations for the "expedition" (and he succeeds in making the 12-mile drive to Dunwich seem like a major undertaking), Garson Casterwell arrives. The protagonists are, by this point, somewhat paranoid, and only let him examine a rubbing of the symbols on the puzzle box. The man is as excitable as kid on Christmas, and confirms that the symbols are Hyperborean. After several hours, he's only able to complete a rough translation--apparently, the script talks about "gates between colonies", travel across vast distances in the blink of an eye (perhaps even between worlds or dimensions of existence!), and references the name "Ezdagor" as the creator of the puzzle cube. Casterwell takes the rubbings with him back to Boston to perform a full translation, and promises to contact the protagonists when he's finished.

JOSHI: Gentlemen, I believe you have overlooked a short scene that may be a vital clue to solving the mysteries of Harbingers. In short, I refer to Mr. Hoyt Symmes encounter with the rival encyclopedia salesman, Dustin Weller.

KING: He was a creepy fellow, and he said some odd things, but I'm not sure what you're getting at, Joshi.

JOSHI: Perhaps you drifted off during the reading, Mr. King, but I can assure you that I did not. Dustin Weller was on the train during the prologue to this story. He was, it must be assumed, one of the victims of the hound-like creatures attacks, one of the participants in the off-putting mannerisms and concerted speech that so marked every voyager of that train as odd when it reached the station. The fact, then, that Weller seems so enthusiastic to meet Symmes again, whom Weller knows is a "Harbinger", and says that he dreams of him, is therefore evidence that the passengers on that train could, at its arrival in Aylesbury, be sorted into four groups: those completely unaffected, like Father Murphy and Jacob Blackstone; those who have been branded with what I shall refer to as the Mark of the Harbingers; those simply killed, like the porter; and those attacked by the hound-like creatures, partially drained of cerebral fluid, and somehow instilled with awareness of, and subservience to, the so-called "Harbingers." Weller is an exemplar of this last group, which could number in the hundreds from just that single train. I see our time is running short, and I have yet to address how this relates to the strange dreams our Harbingers have been having; and the very different dreams the others have been having. For now, the question I leave you with gentlemen, is what is the malevolent purpose behind the creation of this servile class of Harbinger-devotees? And what implications does this hold, then, for our quite unwilling Harbingers?

10:27 P.M Motion to Adjourn [UNANIMOUS]