Thursday, March 31, 2011

Harbingers Campaign Sessions # 6-8 Commentary [Call of Cthulhu]

Sessions 6-8 of the Harbingers campaign took place in Dunwich. I always tell my players that story arcs are usually three to five sessions long, but it's actually quite rare they're only three--this one ended rather abruptly due to all the PCs dying in a shootout with hillbilly cannibals. These things happen.

Here are some notes on each session.


* As the recap implies, several of the PCs had been receiving strange dreams since the beginning of the campaign. I hadn't put them in the recaps since the other players didn't know about them, but now that they're all dead (the characters, not the players), it doesn't seem like secrecy is an issue. The Harbingers tended to receive dreams about a labyrinthine city full of geometrically absurd architecture. In some of the dreams, they took part in a strange theatrical production before a violent crowd of thousands on an island with jutting stone monoliths. Meanwhile, the non-Harbingers received dreams that all had to do with Dunwich and that contained imagery and cryptic hints that aided them in some way. To give this a mechanical effect, I let them draw from a deck of tarot-like cards that carried a minor pre-determined bonus to a skill or action that worked for just that session. Interestingly, none of the bonuses were ever actually used in the sessions, nor did these PCs discover who was sending them these dreams or why (as a director, I always find it fascinating and usually unpredictable to see which story threads are followed and which are neglected by the players) .

* Whereas the first story arc (Aylesbury) had an ever-changing cast of PCs due to players coming in and out, this story arc settled down to a stable three: Scarlet Warren, Barnabus Gallowsong, and a new PC, Dr. Otto Konig (a life-saver, as there were some days I thought the campaign would have to be abandoned due to not enough players). Having a stable and predictable cast made for better story-telling and role-playing, and made my life as a director much easier. I had forgotten though, how a smaller number of PCs means that the story can progress much faster, as there's fewer opinions on what should be done, fewer character-driven side encounters, fewer people rolling dice and reporting results, and so forth. I had to scramble to keep up at some points and stay one step ahead of them.

* I liked the scene with the impoverished family traveling along dusty roads and going from town to town trying to find work and being turned away by locals with dogs. Not exactly original, but I felt I hadn't given much period flavor of life during the Depression because Aylesbury was depicted as (mysteriously) thriving and at that point the PCs hadn't yet ventured elsewhere. Speaking of them, the PCs really showed themselves to be extremely kind and generous, a reaction I wasn't sure I would see.

* Dr. Littlestreet was introduced for both a long-term reason (which hasn't yet come to pass) and the short-term goal of seeing how the PCs would react to a theory that described all the strange phenomena they had encountered in purely naturalistic terms (a "miasma" of "bad air" causing hallucinations and delusions in the Miskatonic Valley). Suffice it to say, they didn't buy it.

* The encounter involving the farmhouse with the murdered family is a slightly-altered version of "Earth, Sky, Soul" from the Dunwich: Return to the Forgotten Village sourcebook. The first time I read the mini-scenario, I thought it was kinda dumb--there's not much for the PCs to do, no problems to really solve, no challenges or risk of failure. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to see it as a great mood-setter as it portrays human tragedy better than probably any other scenario I've seen.

* As for Dunwich itself, I actually found it much harder to prepare because it was so thoroughly detailed in the sourcebook. I felt a strange duty to "accurately" portray the NPCs and lay-out of the village and its surroundings! (it's not like sourcebook author Keith Herber is going to call me up and yell at me for saying the blacksmith lived at the wrong house . . .) However, I knew the PCs weren't going to stay in Dunwich for the whole campaign (what a dismal and depressing campaign that would be), and I had some time limitations in prepping the story arc, so I tried to focus on a few key NPCs (Osborn, the Whateleys, Mother Bishop) and plot points (the caverns under the village and the menace of the Potters). The PCs never did follow up on the lead they had about who had sent the telegram luring the original characters to Abraham Gilmore's farm in the first place (way back in Session # 1), but at this point only one of the original PCs was still in the campaign.

* During the Aylesbury story-arc, I spent a lot of time having NPCs talk about what a mean, dangerous lot the Dunwich villagers were--so much so, that after this session one of the players accurately observed that the locals were much nicer than they thought they would be. This was probably a combination of the Dunwich NPCs they happened to meet and some not-so-awesome role-playing on my part, but I tried to improve things in the next couple of sessions.


* Scarlet Warren's abrupt disappearance "off camera" at the beginning of the session was due to The Wife being seven months pregnant and needing a nap. I can't blame her, and when she woke up she gave new life to "Official Party Back-Up Character", Pete the Drifter (since deceased). I rolled Pete up using the character "Ashcan Pete" from the Arkham Horror board game as inspiration, and he came in quite useful in this session and the next one. It was quite amusing to see how his personality and Southern accent changed depending on who was running him.

* I knew those Potter boys would be up to no good and come into conflict with the PCs, I just wasn't sure how or why. A couple of failed Navigation rolls gave me a good excuse to introduce them.

* For the caverns under Dunwich, I stuck pretty close to the material in the sourcebook. I found I had to do a lot of work to translate the maps into a format I could use, as they're rather confusing in the book. Even now, I'm of two minds about whether it was better to use the caverns as they were in the book or whether I should have created my own; as is, they have a nice feel of mystery, but they also don't contain a lot that engages the PCs in danger or problem-solving (at least on the upper level).

* The PCs did a great job role-playing the rescue of Sister Olivetti, and I was happy how her story and that of Gabriel Knight tied together the Aylesbury and Dunwich story arcs.

* A dramatic family emergency cut this session short, but the upside was that it gave me more time to prepare more of the caverns for the next session.


* This time I had much more prepared than necessary, as the PCs encountered the pentagonal complex but couldn't be lured to go further into the Greater Caverns and stumble upon the true source of Dunwich's degeneration and misery (those who know what I'm talking about know what I'm talking about; I'm 75% glad they didn't find it and therefore survived, and 25% regretful I didn't get to present the awesome, instantly memorable scene that would have resulted).

* I was a little chagrined to realize that two of my players recognized the name Gabriel Knight and had actually played the mid-90s computer game. I remember reading about it in computer game magazines when I was a teenager and it seemed cool, but I never managed to play it. Still, the name stuck around in my mind all these years and it seemed a natural moniker for a missing private investigator. I'll have to be more careful next time!

* I've already talked about the TPK ending some here. For Temple Potter's farmhouse, I used the layout and interior of the Woodie House from "The Worm That Walks" chapter of the infamous Shadows of Yog-Sothoth campaign. I think it worked really well. In the Dunwich sourcebook, the Potters are serial killers but aren't actually cannibals (that's another NPC, David Ray Condon); for expediency and horror, I decided to combine the two.

* I briefly entertained the thought of the players' new characters arriving in Dunwich to sort out what happened to their former dead characters, but I quickly realized I had already told most of the story I wanted to tell in Dunwich--and that there would be no guarantee the new PCs could defeat the Potters either. Moving the campaign on to the Crescent City seems like a lot more fun, picking up with some of the long-term story threads I've planted there.

Torchwood: "Adam" (S2, E5)

Jack: "You changed us."
Adam: "For the better. You didn't remember who you were. I helped you."

Adam, Season Two, Episode Five

("An alien with the power to change memories infiltrates Torchwood. Can the team save themselves before it's too late?")


* Insight into Jack's mysterious past as a boy on the Bo Shen Peninsula, along with the revelation of who Gray really is.

* Moving music.

* The role-reversal of Tosh and Owen when they're affected by Adam's memory swipe. The actors are so good, you could imagine them having always been like that.


* They made it too obvious too quickly what Adam was doing and that he didn't belong; they could have played with his presence a little more, like in the earlier Torchwood novel with the same concept, Border Princes.

* The roundtable discussion at the end, where Jack convinces everyone to take the ret-con, was pretty cheesy.


* Apparently, nothing.


* Owen gives Gwen a medical exam and sees no physiological clues as to her memory loss.

* Gwen lays down next to Rhys and snuggles; Owen calls his mother and she brushes him off.


* Brief discussion of the scenes depicting Adam's membership in the group.

* Filming Jack's life as a boy; creating the colony through CGI but using a real house for some of the exterior scenes.

* Brief discussion of Ianto's false memories of being a serial killer.

* Filming the scene where Adam tries to persuade Jack not to kill him.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Minutes of the Lovecraft Studies Institute # 8 (Part 2) [Call of Cthulhu]

PATRICK: As the spelunkers discuss how to protect themselves from the sporocysts, the cavern is illuminated from above by a circle of bright light--it's clear there is a hole in the ceiling, and the sun is directly overhead! The light illuminates a rope dangling from a shaft, with a bucket at the bottom, and the explorers quickly surmise that they're standing at the bottom of an ancient well.

KING: Pity any poor bastard who hauls that bucket up hoping for a refreshing drink . . .

PATRICK: Barnabus has a flash of insight. He takes the container of oily liquid found in the strange pentagonal structure and douses some of the sporocysts with it--they quickly melt as if sprinkled with acid, and a narrow path opens up. Barnabus and Pete clamber up the rope and manage to pull up Sister Olivetti without being infected, but Dr. Konig is not so lucky. He can literally see the sporocyst under his skin, crawling up his arm. He goes almost mad trying to remove it, stabbing himself with a knife and clawing at his skin with his nails. He finally manages to tear the creature out, but the experience certainly leaves him shaken.

CANNON: If no one minds, perhaps we can gloss over the next scenes and get to the climax? The protagonists emerge at an abandoned farm. It takes them some time to work out where they are, but eventually they realize they're just a few miles from the Prescott farm. They head there planning to have some words with Jonah Prescott, but he's away. More ominously, Zeituni Wanjiku is nowhere to be found.

BLOCH: Meanwhile, Scarlet Warren has been continuing her search for Hoyt Symmes. She's found the "place of power" Symmes was headed to--a set of ancient stone cairns near Squaw Creek south of Dunwich. At the site, she finds a partially painted pentagram, Symmes' book (Damanomagie), and traces of what looks like fresh blood on one of the cairns. She visits a local tourist attraction named Martin's Acres, and learns that the Potter boys were seen passing by soon after Symmes. Worried that the Potters may have kidnapped him (or worse), Warren decides she needs to find the rest of her companions immediately. She returns to Dunwich and sees Jonah Prescott coming out of Osborn's. She asks whether her companions used his entrance to the cavern, and discerns that he's acting nervous. With a clever combination of persuasion and threats, she extracts a crucial bit of information: the Potters showed up at Prescott's farm barely a half an hour after Gallowsong and Dr. Konig went inside. The Potters forced Prescott to seal the entrance and, at gunpoint, made Wanjiku come with them. The timeline may seem a little confusing, as some of what Warren is doing appears later in the chapter but actually takes place before the spelunkers emerge from the caverns--I've taken a careful look, however, and it all makes sense.

KING: In other words, that little altercation in the swamp had some major consequences!

CANNON: Suffice it to say, Warren reunites with Gallowsong and Dr. Konig at Prescott's farm and they immediately set about planning a rescue of their missing allies. Warren tries to convince some of the locals to help, but even the village constable seems afraid of the Potters. The protagonists leave a thankful but still groggy Francesca Olivetti in the care of Dr. Littlestreet and prepare for what could be their last night on Earth.

KING: I think what happens next is the first big "action scene" since Chapter 1, and I have to say it had me on the edge of my seat. Barnabus, Warren, and Dr. Konig convince Dr. Littlestreet's assistant to drop them off near where the Potters live and act as a getaway driver. Pete, the drifter, is persuaded to serve as a lookout, but is too frightened to do much more. Conversation with a neighbor reveals that the Potters make use of an abandoned barn for a still, so the protagonists ready their weapons and decide to search it first, hoping to find their missing companions inside. Unfortunately, the trio of would-be rescuers are spotted approaching the still by Jed and Jubal Potter, and shots ring out. Darkness and some cover from nearby trees means the battle is inconclusive, but the Potter cousins realize they're outgunned and decide to run away in order "to fortify the house." Feeling momentarily flush with victory in scaring them off, Dr. Konig heads to the front of the barn and pulls open the doors--only to take the full brunt of a shotgun blast! The Potters' still was booby-trapped to keep out intruders, and the good doctor is dead before his body even hits the ground. The worst part of it is that there's nothing in the barn besides the still.

PATRICK: Shocking, and a little sad--I thought he was an interesting character, with great potential to develop.

KING: And if that was shocking, just wait. Pete hears the sound of the shotgun blast and, fortified by some whiskey illicitly provided by Malcolm, decides to lend a hand. He picks up Dr. Konig's hunting rifle and vows vengeance. The trio approach the Potter farm and manage to sneak up to its back door without being seen. Surreptitiously peering through the windows, they see grisly sights--human body parts in the kitchen, a lampshade made from the stretched and dried skin of a human face, and more. The Potters are serial killers and cannibals, and it may already be too late for Symmes and Wanjiku.

BLOCH: The need for urgent action is clear. Barnabus adroitly scales the wall and decides to drop down the chimney, taking advantage of his diminutive size. Meanwhile, Pete and Scarlet break a back window to provide a distraction. As guns a' blazing rescues go, it wasn't exactly SWAT team tactics; but it didn't seem unreasonable either. These aren't soldiers, they're ordinary people who happen to be put into a terrible situation.

JOSHI: Quite so.

KING: And the plan might have worked, had their aim been better. Warren and Pete have clear shots at Jubal Potter but can't bring him down, while Barnabus, stealthily emerging from the fireplace, draws a bead on Temple Potter's back--but still misses!

PATRICK: And within seconds, it's all over. Jubal (only wounded from Warren's derringer) drops her and Pete, while Temple's shotgun takes care of Barnabus Gallowsong. Mercifully, the chapter ends there, and we can only shudder to think of what happens next.

JOSHI: And so gentlemen, we return to the question raised at the beginning of our discussion--how can the story unfold after this carnage? The manuscript still contains several chapters we've yet to decipher, and story has not been brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

BLOCH: I for one would like to see the overall plot pick up a little. Hints, ominous signs, strange dreams, and such are important for setting the mood. But now I think it's time to get down to brass tacks. What are the Harbingers? What do the strange markings mean? What role, if any, does the Gilchrist Trust have to play in all of this? Lovecraft is going to have to show that he can continue the plot after killing off several key characters early on--no mean feat even for a writer of his skill.

PATRICK: I suppose all we can do is wait and see.

10:20 Motion to Adjourn [UNANIMOUS]

Monday, March 28, 2011

What I Read (2000)

Getting caught up on some other stuff, so in the meantime here's what I read in the year 2000.

Jan. 2, 2000 The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch "Tome about angel's manipulation of men to destroy Ten Commandments. First third, about friendship between Max & Onno was very well done, but then angels get heavy-handed (killing characters with meteorites and falling trees) and ending is disappointing."

Jan. 3, 2000 Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison "Sci-Fi collection about master escape & disguise artist turned cop. Action scenes are very good, but need to flesh out characters and world better."

Jan. 4, 2000 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn "Story of Soviet prisoner in labor camp. Very interesting, similar to King Rat."

Jan. 5, 2000 Naked in a Public Place by Elizabeth Grundy "Cheap romance novel. Girl ends up with asshole. Why?"

Jan. 5, 2000 The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan "Collection of interrelated short stories about Chinese and Chinese-Americans. Starts slow but really starts to grow. Some short stories are best I've read in a long time."

Jan. 27, 2000 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë "Classic about a woman's relationship with a man who has an insane wife. Gets somewhat preachy near the end, but still very good; especially like use of first person style."

Feb. 6, 2000 A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr "Famous trial of the Woburn toxic contamination. Interesting, scary, and thought-provoking insight into the minds of lawyers. Very well done."

Feb. 13, 2000 Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes by John Milton "Long poem about Lucifer's fall and temptation of man, shorter poem about Jesus, and short one about Samson. Beautiful use of language and imagery."

Feb. 19, 2000 New Essays on Paradise Lost edited by Thomas Kranidas "Over my head and beyond my depth; critical analyses from a literary point of view. Had difficulty grasping most of it."

Feb. 25, 2000 The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells "Classic tale of an island of a doctor and his experiments. Enjoyable, surprising. Not moralistic."

Feb. 27, 2000 Practical Guide to Legal Writing & Legal Method by Dernbach, Singleton, Wharton, Runtenberg "Self-explanatory. Too many long examples."

Mar. 5, 2000 Frankenstein (second time) by Mary Shelley "Famed story of a scientist's success in creating new life and the consequences. Echoes of Paradise Lost, etc. Great story, more gothic and terrible than the schlocky movies."

Mar. 9, 2000 The Stranger (second time) by Albert Camus "Enjoyed it more the second time. The man really cares little about anything. Interesting how the trial focuses on how he treated his mother instead of the crime itself."

Apr. 6, 2000 Emile, Julie & Other Writings by Jean Jacques Rosseau "Heavily abridged collection of Rousseau's writings on education; idea of harming from vice instead of instilling virtue is interesting, theories on education of women are revolting."

Apr. 11, 2000 The Story of My Life by Helen Keller "Keller's autobiography written at age 22. Amazing story and amazing accomplishment."

Apr. 17, 2000 The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald "Story of the newly rich Gatsby's attempt to rekindle an old flame. Beautiful imagery, well-written."

Apr. 27, 2000 Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson "Very good. Especially like characterization of Long Jong Silver; not a stereotypical villain--morally ambiguous."

May 4, 2000 Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out edited by Loraine Hutchins & Lani Kaghumanu "Collection of over 70 short pieces by bisexuals. Many coming out stories. Very leftist, feminist. Average quality, nothing especially insightful."

May 6, 2000 The Breast by Phillip Roth "Short, occasionally funny story of a man transformed into a female breast."

May 6, 2000 How to Survive a Lawyer by Stephen Baker "Occasionally humorous book about lawyers. Not as funny as I hoped it would be."

May 6, 2000 The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris "Mystery novel starring the famed Hannibal Lector and Clarice Starling. Very good, movie is very faithful."

May 8, 2000 The Warden by Anthony Trollope "Story of a churchman's struggle to decide if he holds his position justly. Clear, thoughtful, full characters."

May 9, 2000 Freud & Jung A Dual Introduction by Anthony Storr & Anthony Stevens "Intro to Freud was very well done. Focused on core beliefs in clear language. Objective & hit highs and lows. Intro to Jung was not as good. Heavily biased in his favor."

May 10, 2000 The Nichomachean Ethics by Aristotle "Aristotle's view that the supreme good of life is happiness and happiness comes from living the virtues. Long, unnecessary passages, and boring."

May 11, 2000 Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak "Beautiful story of life before, during, and after the Russian Revolution. Really shows how life was during such chaotic times."

[it's always interesting to look at what I wrote about the books and what my actual memory of them is; with Doctor Zhivago, for example, I remember slogging through a confusing book full of hundreds of characters with long names that didn't go anywhere. Perhaps I mixed it up in my mind with War & Peace?]

May 12, 2000 The Ambassador by Henry James "Story of Americans in Europe. Charming, beautiful language that is very evocative. Clever dialogue. Definitely worth reading."

May 13, 2000 The Centaur by John Updike "Tale of a hard-luck teacher and his son. Tough first chapter but once you get used to the style turns out pretty good."

June 6, 2000 Who Am I? An Autobiography of Emotion, Mind, and Spirit by Yi-Fu Tuan "Autobiography of a famous Chinese gay geographer. Well-written, a very lonely man."

June 7, 2000 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou "Beautiful and well-written autobiography. Funny, sad, and touching--should pick up the sequels."

June 26, 2000 Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut "Story of the last colony of humanity. Very funny. Makes you remember how silly we are sometimes."

July 6, 2000 The Kid by Dan Savage "Sweet, funny, and honest account of a gay couple adopting a kid."

July 7, 2000 The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman "Collection of short stories. Very well written, including famous title piece. Good insight into relations between men and women."

July 8, 2000 Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen "Exquisite! Very informative and useful look at how wrong our American history textbooks are. I learned lots!"

Ttoday I could not tell you a single thing I remember learning from the book]

July 8, 2000 Mud Pies: A Saga of Jurisprudence by James Magorian "A very funny and witty story of fables in the legal world. Very nice."

July 20, 2000 The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. "Witty & insightful, pro-Christian propaganda of letters from a senior devil to a junior tempter."

Aug. 1, 2000 The Island of the Colorblind by Oliver Sacks "From the author of Awakenings, this book tells about an island in Micronesia where true color-blindness exists at much higher proportion than elsewhere. Interesting look at how natives deal with it."

Aug. 6, 2000 Hegel in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern "Short look at Hegel's life and work. Funny how obscure and metaphysical it was."

Aug. 6, 2000 The Elusive Embrace by Daniel Mendelsohn "Largely autobiographical book by an urban gay man about queer identity; main thesis is that queers fall in between opposites on most indicia of identity."

Aug. 8, 2000 Gorgias by Plato "Plato's dialogue on rhetoric, arguing that advocates who do what their clients want instead of what will be good for the client are mere panderers."

Aug. 23, 2000 Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do by Peter McWilliams "Classic manifesto calling for the abolition of consensual 'crimes.' Funny, extensive, even if lacking in depth. Lots of great quotes."

Aug. 23, 2000 In Cold Blood by Truman Capote "True story of the slaying of a Kansas family in the 50s. Very well-done, and interesting look at how rural communities were like."

Sep. 15, 2000 It's Not Mean if It's True by Michael Thomas Ford "Collection of essays by queer humorist. Not uproariously funny, but cute."

Sep. 29, 2000 David Copperfield by Charles Dickens "Very long fictional autobiographical tale of a boy raised by his mother and step-father and events subsequent. Probably my favorite Dickens; especially loved character of Micawber."

[I have no recollection of the plot of this book whatsoever, or why I apparently liked it so much. For years I've been saying my favorite Dickens was A Tale of Two Cities, and I read that before reading David Copperfield. Book log Jeremy apparently has different tastes than real-life Jeremy.]

Oct. 4, 2000 In Defense of Women by H.L. Mencken "Funny in a few places, but not really all that good. Full of annoying generalizations and flaws in logic."

Oct. 4, 2000 Social Science in Law: Cases & Materials by John Monahan & Laurens Walker "Textbook of cases & article excerpts. A good introduction with lots of great info."

Oct. 6, 2000 Revolutionary Voices edited by Amy Sonnie "Anthology of queer youth writings. Not really very good, but selections from Margot Kelley Rodriguez were nice."

Oct. 12, 2000 Full of Secrets edited by David Cavey "Anthology of Twin Peaks essays. A couple are good, but otherwise postmodernist psychobabble."

Oct. 15, 2000 Closed Chambers by Edward Lazarus "A fascinating portrayal of life within the Supreme Court by a former clerk. Great history of struggle and intrigue over abortion and death penalty."

Oct. 17, 2000 Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal "First-person narrative of a caustic and somewhat insane transgender. Very good, though didn't like the ending so much."

Oct. 20, 2000 Nietzsche in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern "Very brief look at his life and thought."

Nov. 15, 2000 Reason Within the Limits of Reason Alone by Kant "Good look at Kant's views on religion. Definitely more readable than many of his other works."

Nov. 16, 2000 The Ballad of Reading Gaol & Other Poems by Oscar Wilde "Not real great."

Nov. 30, 2000 Maurice by E.M. Forster "One of the earliest English novels with a positive portrayal of homosexuality. Definitely readable and should try his others now."

Dec. 12, 2000 Lanark by Alasdair Gray "An epic story about a man in Glasgow. Shifting through time; great example of postmodern writing. Definitely recommend."

Dec. 13, 2000 The Question of Pornography by Donnerstein, Linz, Penrod "Good (but now dated) summary of research. Concludes that only violent pornography may be harmful."

Dec. 14, 2000 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain "Classic story of Huck and a runaway slave Jim. Really good and surprisingly funny."

Dec. 15, 2000 Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin "Argues that intercourse objectifies and demeans women. Long on rhetoric but no specific solutions."

Dec. 17, 2000 The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan "Book 8 in the Wheel of Time. Consistently excellent."

Dec. 21, 2000 Vice Versa by Marjorie Garber "Look at bisexuality through historical, literary, and cinematic scope. Very thorough, great research, but difficult to tell what the conclusion is."

Dec. 22, 2000 Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift "A great book that works on many levels: adventure, political satire, critique of humanity. Surprisingly ribald."

Dec. 25, 2000 A History of God by Karen Armstrong "Very nice overview."

Dec. 25, 2000 The Bell Jar by Sylvia Path "Brilliant and beautiful portrayal of a famous poet's descent into madness."

[What an odd book to have chosen to read on Christmas Day.]

Dec. 29, 2000 Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather "Portrayal of a missionary priest's life in Santa Fe. Beautiful imagery."

Dec. 29, 2000 The Birds by Aristophanes "Mildly amusing satiric play."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Clone Wars Campaign: Horellius Creen, Jedi Iconoclast

Horellius Creen was an important but enigmatic NPC in the Clone Wars Campaign. Tarn Tamarand began the campaign as Creen's Padawan-learner, and the young Jedi served as a pawn in the on-going chess match between Creen and the corsair Jocasta for control of the mysterious Anomaly. I always role-played Creen as an old man with raspy, whispery voice, but also as someone with a spine of iron behind the crotchety exterior. Although not exiled from the Jedi Order per se, he was very much an ostracized iconoclast due to an unfortunate tendency of his Padawans to meet an early death (caused, of course, by Jocasta's unslakable thirst for vengeance against her former master). A memorable personality trait of Creen, which originated in a short story and was carried over into the game, was his hatred of modern technology--in short, Creen was the Star Wars version of a Luddite and far preferred the ancient and mystical to the high-tech.

Creen was also a character whose goals and true character were a challenge for the PCs to pin down. For example, Creen could be cruel and manipulative toward Tarn; but he also transformed him from a mediocre Padawan into a Jedi Knight who used his potential to the fullest. Creen tampered with the memories of Arresta and her husband Stefan in a long-term bid to keep Jocasta from gaining the power of the Anomaly; but was he trying to keep a potential weapon of awesome power out of her hands, or did he just want its secrets for himself? The mystery persists, as the ending of the campaign sees Creen and Tarn disappear into the anomaly, still hot on Jocasta's heels.
Horellius Creen

Human Jedi Level 18

Speed: 6, Initiative: + 17

Str +2, Con +2, Wis +4, Dex +3, Int +3, Cha +4

Reflex +25, Fortitude +23, Will +25

Hit Points: 148 (Threshold: 33)

Skills: Acrobatics +17, Deception + 18, Initiative +17, Jump +16, Perception +18, Use the Force +18

Force Powers: Battle Strike (x2), Dark Rage, Force Disarm, Force Grip (x2), Force Slam (x2), Force Lightning (x2), Move Object, Negate (x2), Surge, Erase Memory, Levitate

Special: Block, Deflect, Redirect Shot, Strong in the Force, Multitarget, Acrobatic Strike, Combat Reflexes, Running Attack, Wicked Strike

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Torchwood Returns on July 8th

Starz has set the premiere of the new season of Torchwood for July 8th according to this article on Dark Horizons. Be wary, there are some spoilers in the article.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Minutes of the Lovecraft Studies Institute # 8 (Part 1) [Call of Cthulhu]

xxx Wellesley Street East, # xxx (BUZZ xxx)
Toronto, ON M4Y 1H5


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

2:01 P.M. Meeting Convened.

2:03 P.M. Approval of Minutes for Meeting of March 5, 2011

2:05: P.M. Chair proposes reading of "Harbingers" manuscript Chapter 8 ("Potters' Field"). UNANIMOUS

7:40 P.M. Reading concludes.

7:41 P.M. Chair proposes open discussion. UNANIMOUS


JOSHI: If I may, I would like to begin with the subtle allusion of the title. The term "Potter's Field", Biblical in origin, has come to mean a burial ground for strangers. By changing the location of the apostrophe, Lovecraft has enacted a play on words: the title to this chapter refers to the Potter Boys, a trio of so-called "hill billies" known for terrorizing the remote village of Dunwich. But the title is more than a simple pun, as the Potters' property will indeed become the burial ground for several newcomers by chapter's end.

PATRICK: Articulate as ever, Joshi. I think I can speak for all of us when I say I am stunned by the ending to this chapter. Indeed, I wonder if Lovecraft has written himself into a hole. How can he continue the story after this?

KING: Perhaps we can think of these first several chapters as one large Prologue to the manuscript--several key themes and plot points have been introduced, but different protagonists will see them through to their resolution.

CANNON: Well, the chapter started out sedately enough. Instead of continuing where we left off last chapter, with those spelunkers trapped in the caverns under Dunwich, we see what happens to Scarlet Warren, the mysterious "small businesswoman" who decided not to go along. Warren returns to the boarding house where she's staying, and sees one of the owners, a Mrs. Mary Jackson, hanging a small globe of stained glass over her door. Mrs. Jackson says something about the previous one having been destroyed in yesterday's tremor, but gives only a vague explanation when asked about it.

PATRICK: I wasn't really sure what that was about.

JOSHI: And there, Mr. Patrick, you demonstrate your profound ignorance about all things occult. The globe was obviously a "witch ball", a device known to ancient folk-lore for its purported ability to ward off evil spirits.

CANNON: Mrs. Jackson goes on to complain about Warren's fellow boarder, Hoyt Symmes. It seems that someone in the village, who can read a little German, looked over Symmes shoulder at the book the fellow has been reading obsessively, and saw in it some words and pictures that Mrs. Jackson described as "improper and un-Godly in a good Christian home." She wants Symmes to leave, and Warren promises to have a talk with him about it. At the moment, however, it seems Symmes has gone for a walk and has yet to return.

BLOCH: In light of what happens later, I'm not sure how much attention this warrants--but I was intrigued by the the fact that, later that afternoon, Warren encounters the Miskatonic University researcher, Dr. Littlestreet, and agrees to be interviewed. Littlestreet asks all manner of questions about dreams, visions, strange behavior, and even drops in the phrases "The White Acolyte" and "Harbingers." Warren seems mildly suspicious, however, and diverts all her answers away from herself and towards the absent Hoyt Symmes. Does Littlestreet know more than he's letting on?

PATRICK: Speaking of Symmes, it doesn't take long for Warren to be concerned by the length of his absence. Early that evening, she enlists Dr. Littlestreet's assistant, Malcolm, to drive her around Dunwich looking for the missing encyclopedia salesman. They don't find him, but she does obtain some clues that he was asking locals about a "place of power" and purchased a bucket of red paint from Osborn's General Store. As darkness falls, she decides to retire for the night and continue the search in the morning.

KING: The story shifts back to the spelunkers. We know they've been wandering for hours, as they've already had to refill their lanterns with oil twice and they're getting exhausted. They decide to put together a makeshift camp and rest for some hours. Barnabus Gallowsong has a disturbing dream--in it, his wife and child, thought dead, are actually alive in the caverns. The dream seems vivid and real upon waking, and Barnabus is convinced he knows the exact path he needs to take to get to them. Meanwhile, Dr. Konig suffers a dream equally vivid and disturbing: Hoyt Symmes is laying on a rough dirt floor, hands bound, being eaten alive by dark shapes. I guess Pete, the drifter, had a good night's sleep though!

JOSHI: I believe you omitted the crucial detail that, while tending to Konig's wounds, Gallowsong believes he sees a strange mark on the doctor's back--a mark that matches the tri-part symbol etched all over Gilchrist House and that we suspect may be the "Mark of the Harbingers." Gallowsong tries to convince Konig of the Mark's existence, but Konig denies it.

PATRICK: In any event, they continue on when they wake up, carrying Sister Olivetti in the makeshift stretcher. After some hours, they reach a point where the tunnel continues on but is covered, for almost thirty feet, with a thick layer of fungus. Although Konig tries to stop him, Barnabus rushes into the fungus and intentionally dives into a fissure in the floor of the tunnel! Apparently, the dwarf was trying to recreate the events of his dream, but the result is that he falls dozens of feet into a cavern below (and is lucky to survive, cushioned by another thick layer of fungus). Up above, Pete seems to be affected by something in the air, as he throws a strange tantrum. Dr. Konig is left at his wit's end--should he abandon Barnabus to his fate or try to force the diminutive man to come with him? He chooses the latter course and, after managing to calm Pete down, rappels down the fissure to where Barnabus is waiting below.

KING: I thought this section took the story in a whole new direction. Up until now, we've been dealing with "supernatural" strangeness; but what Barnabus and Dr. Konig discover seems like something out of science-fiction. The cavern contains a massive pentagonal structure with sides that slope up to a central shaft. The "roof" of each side, as it were, contains a panel shaped like an iris-hatch. How did this structure get here? Is it the mark of an ancient civilization? A secret government installation? Or, dare I say it, aliens from beyond the stars?

BLOCH: You're exactly right--this brings in an element of the "weird" to add to the "horror." Dr. Konig believes his friend is delusional about finding his wife and child, but decides to humor the man. Gallowsong contrives a clever way to force open the hatches to each segment of the structure, and inside they find more uncanny and inexplicable things: odd, asymmetrically-shaped vials of an oily liquid that seems to repel the fungus; skeletons, in what appear to be cages, that are identified by Dr. Konig as being pre-human hominids (quite a scientific find!); and what looks to be human or human-like brains encased in containers. Barnabus even fancies that he sees eyes attached to the brains and that the eyes are looking at him, so he smashes the containers and destroys the organic material inside. In the face of this structure and the overwhelming challenges it presents to conventional understandings of history and science, Dr. Konig rationalizes it the best he can--that they've stumbled upon the secret laboratory of another scientist doing medical research.

CANNON: For a moment there, I thought Barnabus was going to get himself in even more trouble. When he exits the structure, he thinks he sees flickering light further on in the cavern--a sign that his wife and child are down there? Fortunately, he manages to resist the impulse to follow, and he and Konig ascend to the tunnel above where Pete and Sister Olivetti are waiting.

KING: Agreed--who knows whom or what was trying to lure Barnabus and his companions deeper into the caverns? Not that they immediately find safety, however. Further on, they reach a chamber crawling with thousands upon thousands of white, worm-like grubs--some the size of a thumbnail and others the size of a fist. Realization quickly dawns upon them: these are the sporocysts that infected Knight and all those who handled his body. In other words, they realize they're on the right track to escape the caverns, just as Knight did, but how can they avoid encountering the same fate that doomed him?

[to be continued]

Am I a Bloodthirsty Director?

On Saturday I directed my first ever T.P.K. in a game (for non-gamers, that stands for Total Party Kill, a session in which every single player's character gets killed). It's one of those things that makes you take stock of yourself as a director and ask some hard questions: (1) did I put the PCs in a no-win situation? (2) did I role-play the NPCs realistically? (3) did I handle the combat fairly & correctly? and, in a larger sense, (4) am I just a bloodthirsty director? The T.P.K. is odd, in that I feel bad about it, but at the same time I thought it was a great session and I don't think I would do anything differently. This is, of course, rationalizing after the fact--but hopefully some searching introspection will help mitigate the guilt ;)

For question # 1, my best answer is: maybe. The PCs learn that their employer, whom they seem to like, and an NPC companion, have been kidnapped by a trio of hill-billies who have been terrorizing the small village of Dunwich. The locals are terrified of the Potter Boys and aren't willing to lift a finger to stop them, so the PCs are left in the unenviable position of letting their acquaintances die or trying to mount a rescue. Now, the PCs know where the Potter farmhouse is, so they have some options: break in, guns blazing; try to lure the Potters out one by one and assassinate them (or some variant); bargain & ransom their missing companions free; do something really dramatic, like set the house on fire or crash a vehicle through it; or just decide the cause is hopeless and prepare to get out of Dodge while the getting is good. For most games, pitting three or four PCs against three NPCs doesn't seem unreasonable, but in Call of Cthulhu any combat is deadly, as a single gunshot wound is enough to kill or incapacitate most characters. I full expected that if the PCs went in commando style (which they did), one or two of them would die. But on the other hand, the encounter served as the capstone to the second story arc of the campaign (the 8th session) and there'd been very little combat up to that point, so it seemed like the right time to escalate the danger and excitement of the game.

For questions # 2 and # 3, I feel good. The Potter Boys are cannibal serial killers, and they have no mercy. Dice-wise, I rolled in front of everyone, and luck was simply with the bad guys. The PCs were clever enough to get the drop on them a couple of times, but their shots missed, and a little bad luck can be very lethal in CoC. To be fair, characters in CoC aren't action heroes--they're "regular people" caught up in dangerous events, so it's certainly not the players fault that a brothel madam, a circus dwarf, a doctor, and a hobo found themselves outgunned. Even the best min-maxers would find it impossible to make really tough characters, especially given 3d6 straight-down-the-line ability scores and the need to allocate skill points in a fashion that fits the character concept.

As for the fourth question, I can readily admit that I want combat to be risky--I want it to be exciting and seem dangerous, and one of the reasons I wanted to run CoC is my memory of playing in a CoC campaign and feeling vulnerable, paranoid, and exhilarated because I knew the only thing between my character and a quick, grisly death were my wits and his pitiful snub nose revolver. It was nerve-wracking and thrilling, and that's the experience I'm trying to convey.

I suppose another way to approach answering the question of whether or not I'm simply a bloodthirsty director is to look at the casualty rates in past campaigns. Here are the major campaigns I've directed & PC deaths:

The Night Below Campaign: This is hard to tally, because death in D&D is different, since PCs (at least when they get to mid-level) have access to resurrection magic. Of the three players who played through from the beginning to the end, one had to create a new character due to PC death.

Buffy/Angel (24 sessions + one-shots): No PC deaths.

Clone Wars (53 sessions): Four PC deaths (I think--Krevlax, Array, Bel Sekand, & arguably 8P-MD-4, who was involuntarily trapped in the Anomaly)

Cthulhu (8 sessions): Five PC deaths (4 on Saturday)

Having a T.P.K. also, of course, creates some interesting challenges for the campaign. I plan to continue with new characters on the theory that the story continues even if particular participants enter at a later chapter. I think I have some good ideas for the rest of the campaign, but we'll have to wait and see whether they work out--and, most importantly, whether my players want to continue!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Planet Stories # 12: The Swordsman of Mars

Otis Adelbert Kline's The Swordsman of Mars shares most of the common features of the "sword and planet" genre started by Edgar Rice Burroughs: an Earth-man suddenly transported to a Mars which has a mix of technology both ancient and futuristic; the Earth-man becomes involved in local intrigue and survives all manner of swashbuckling adventure through his quick wit and sharp swordplay; a beautiful native Mars maiden falls madly in love with him; and the hero realizes that Mars, and the life of adventure it promises, is far superior to his hum-drum life on Earth. However, Kline's writing is engaging, has some nice twists, and the story moves along quickly. There's a certain freshness and energy to The Swordsman of Mars that seemed lacking from Michael Moorcock's more jaded pastiches. Kline unfortunately died in middle-aged and so his production was cut short, but I'm looking forward to reading his other entry in the Planet Stories line, The Outlaws of Mars.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lovecraft in Full Color [Comics]

Lovecraft in Full Color is the odd official name for Adventure Comics' 1992 limited series (the covers read "H.P. Lovecraft: The Master of Horror!"). Each issue featured an adaptation of one of Lovecraft's short stories: "The Lurking Fear" in issue # 1, "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" in issue # 2, "The Tomb" in issue # 3, and "The Alchemist" in issue # 4. Most of the stories have been modified to bring them into the modern era, and for the most part seemed entertaining enough. The artwork, on the other hand is . . . serviceable, to put it kindly. I don't think there's much "value-added" in the comics that you can't get from the short stories themselves, but then comic book adaptations of movies, novels, and even t.v. show episodes have proven surprisingly popular, so who am I to judge?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Bradford Players' Tatters of the King [Call of Cthulhu]

In order to get my daily Call of Cthulhu fix, I've spent a lot of time recently on the (very professional) fan website Yog-Sothoth. Apart from the forums, the site offers a wide variety of cool downloads, including audio recordings of a group running through various CoC campaigns. I was curious to see what "live play" recordings were like, so I've recently finished listening to the Bradford Players' Tatters of the King campaign.

It was interesting, but also very different than I expected. I think what struck me first and foremost is how light in tone their playing style was. Usually when I think of Call of Cthulhu, I think of dark mysteries, eldritch secrets, horrible things from beyond--in short, a campaign style that is heavy on mood, atmosphere, character development, and serious role-playing. Instead, the Bradford Players were very light-hearted about the whole affair, and at times downright silly--the game was full of wisecracks (at times I thought I was listening to an MST3K riff on the campaign), matter of fact presentation of "horrific" Mythos tomes and monsters, and confusion about character motivation. In short, it was very much the "quick and dirty" style of play I would encourage if I were running a D&D module on short notice off the cuff, a "beer and pretzels" game that's more about getting together with friends than serious role-playing. But although it's not the type of gaming I usually associate with a "purist" CoC campaign like Tatters of the King, it was clear everyone was having fun, and that's the great thing about RPGs--they work perfectly fine with a wide variety of playing styles, and there's no "right" or "wrong" way to do them as long as people are having a good time.

It was also a good opportunity to see what works and doesn't with different ways of directing the game. The Keeper did a pretty good job with preparation and handled combat encounters well, but was also rail-roady at times, often interrupted the players when they were trying to role-play, and didn't make it clear when scenes were beginning and ending or who was going where. On the other hand, the players often talked over one another, gave advice when their PCs weren't present, and interrupted the Keeper when he was trying to read boxed text, so there was definitely some give and take! It's also hard (at least for me) to listen to an audio game without thinking "the Keeper should have done this" or "the Keeper shouldn't have said that", but different directors will always handle problems differently, and after I've directed a session I often think about scenes I should have described better, or rolls I should have asked for, or whether I was too cruel or too generous, etc.

Although I own the Tatters of the King campaign book, this was a much more enjoyable way to get a good understanding of what the campaign is about, who the major NPCs are, and how different encounters fit together. I find reading campaign books a bit boring unless I'm imminently about to run them, so this was a much better way of seeing how much or little I'd like to swipe from the book. The audio recordings seemed to confirm a lot of the criticisms that have been leveled at TotK in the past: it has a very slow beginning, is very poor on giving PCs a reason to continue, relies too heavily on PCs waiting to receive a particular letter before they can continue, and has a strange one-year interim that can stall campaigns in their tracks. On the plus side, it's clearly a campaign that could encourage some great role-playing and atmosphere, and is far less deadly than more pulp-flavored campaigns like Shadows of Yog-Sothoth or Masks of Nyarlethotep.

All in all, a great way to get a lot of hours of entertainment for my very favorite price: free.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What I Read (1999)

My exercise in amateur archaeology known as "packing" has borne more fruit: my book log for 1999 (when I started keeping track) to 2003. 1999 was the year I graduated from undergrad in the Spring and started law school in the Fall. My book log for the year starts in May, but I kept to my usual schedule of reading about a book a day during vacation. Here goes:

May 10, 1999 Criminal Evidence by John C. Klotter "A standard text with solid information. Good collection of judicial decisions."

May 11, 1999 Basic Teachings of the Great Philosophers by S.E. Frost, Jr. "A summary of philosophical views on various topics. Easy to read, but lacks views of recent philosophers like Foucault, Rawls, or McIntyre."

May 11, 1999 Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris "A truly wonderful book on our understanding of the universe. Well-written, understandable, and fun to read. Full of good quotes. Definitely recommend it to anyone."

May 12, 1999 Heaven by V.C. Andrews "A novel about a 'hill-billy' family and their struggle to keep in touch after their father sells them. An okay book, if somewhat slow-paced."

May 14, 1999 Dark Angel by V.C. Andrews "The sequel to Heaven. Contains none of the tension and drama of its precursor, and the concentration on relationships makes it read like a romance novel. Ending seemed hurried and contrived."

May 16, 1999 Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence "Classic tale of an English woman's affair. Makes some points about love in an industrialized society--didn't really move me though. Probably more famous for it being banned than for being great literature."

May 16, 1999 Writings on Religion by David Hume "A collection of all of Hume's works on religion. Certainly worth reading."

May 17, 1999 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller "Truly one of, if not the, funniest books I've ever read. Full of disjunctions and contradictions. Almost gets sad near the end."

May 20, 1999 Hard Times by Charles Dickens "A classic indictment of free-market capitalism and especially of reason devoid of emotion. Tells story of a town where only facts are taught and all fancies are suppressed. A very slow-paced book."

May 22, 1999 Billions & Billions by Carl Sagan "Sagan's final book--includes a sad account of his death. A clear summary of issues like global warming, abortion, and the arms race."

May 24, 1999 Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen "One of the best 'classic' novels I've ever read. The story of two sisters and their romances is told with satire and wit. Smooth reading and the characters are so much like modern people's personalities."

May 26, 1999 The Art of Being Human: The Humanities as a Technique for Living by Richard Paul Janaro & Thelma C. Altshuler "A solid textbook on the humanities, covering music, theatre, movies, philosophy, etc. No discussion of racial or sexual minorities contributions."

May 27, 1999 The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien "Tells the story of how middle-earth was created and the history of elves, dwarves, & humans. Mostly dry but a few good stories."

May 27, 1999 Eroica by Mara Rostov "A novel about a girl and her neo-Nazi father's plans to destroy Israel. Nothing special."

May 28, 1999 Classical Statements on Faith & Reason edited by Ed L. Miller "A collection of 15 authors' views. Deals more on if faith and reason should bring one to God, rather than if faith is reasonable. Good essays by Locke, Pascal, James, and falsification by Flew."

May 29, 1999 Close Calls edited by Fox Rogers "A collection of lesbian short stories. Very good, especially liked 'Diego & Bob'."

May 31, 1999 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce "A fictional autobiography of an Irishman in the early 1900s. Episodic. Beautiful use of language."

May 31, 1999 Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell "Excellent book! Great essays on religion, ethics, and sexuality. Written with style and wit."

June 2, 1999 Peyton Place by Grace Matalious "Story of scandal in a 'respectable' small town. Shows small towns aren't all they're cracked up to be. Fun to read."

June 7, 1999 Eureka! 81 Key Ideas Explained by Michael Macrone "A useful little book giving short explanations of ideas from Pascal's Wager to the Big Bang."

June 7, 1999 Coming Out: An Act of Love by Rob Eichberg "A book about coming out written by a psychologist. Too much self-help psychobabble, but interesting letters."

June 9, 1999 Conan the Adventurer by Robert E. Howard "A fun collection of Conan stories. Especially liked 'Drurys of Tombalku'."

June 10, 1999 She by H. Rider Haggard "Indiana Jones-like story of a foray into Africa to find an immortal queen. Exciting events, but slow prose. Worth reading though."

June 13, 1999 Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall "Story of mutiny and aftermath told in first-person perspective. Odd pacing and focus on events that seem less important. Still somewhat interesting."

June 13, 1999 Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane "Story of a boy's first battles in the Civil War. Written from an ironic perspective. Nothing spectacular."

June 14, 1999 Is the Homosexual My Neighbour? by Letna Scanzoni & Virginia Mollenkott "Although 20 years old, a great case for acceptance of gays in Christianity. Clear discussion of everything from Kinsey to Leviticus."

June 15, 1999 Obsession: Life & Times of Calvin Klein by Stephen Gaines & Sharon Churcher "Biography of Klein. Interesting for its details on his gay/bisexual life. Fast-paced."

June 16, 1999 The Rules by Ellen Fein & Sherrie Schneider "A book on how women can get men to marry them. I found it manipulative and sad--the goal of one's life shouldn't be to get married at all costs. Based on dubious assertions."

June 17, 1999 Six Gothic Tales by Various. "A condensation of six stories by Reader's Digest. Gothic in the sense of 19th Century mansions & mystery. Nothing extraordinary."

June 17, 1999 Minorities, Migrants, and Crime edited by Ineke Haen Marshall "A collection of essays on how various countries are affected by crime and relation to minorities. Interesting to note the similarities between countries."

June 21, 1999 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens "Classic mystery of a boy who becomes wealthy. A great plot but didn't really strike me. Worth reading though."

June 22, 1999 Does God Exist? The Debate Between Theists & Atheists by J.P. Moreland & Kai Nielsen "Transcript of debate between famous theist and famous atheist, includes responses by other philosophers. Nielsen's approach is interesting, arguing that concept of God is incoherent & contradictory."

June 23, 1999 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett "Play about two guys waiting for a third. I admit not grasping the deep & symbolic meaning this play must have, other than demonstrating the utter futility of life."

June 26, 1999 A Theory of Justice by John Rawls "A brilliant and thorough argument as to how a society should be structured. Especially important is conception of the original position."

June 27, 1999 Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov "A very original book about an insane homosexual's commentary on a poem. Hard to tell just how crazy the guy is. Very funny."

June 28, 1999 Recovery (Star Trek # 73) by J.M. Dillard "I was pleasantly surprised by this book--it was exciting and fast-paced. Kirk & McCoy (during the Lost Years) have to stop an automated ship from crossing into Tholian space.

June 29, 1999 Elfshadow (Harpers # 2) by Elaine Cunningham "An AD&D novel. Very well-written, especially liked the Danilo Thann character."

July 3, 1999 Cormyr by Ed Greenwood & Jeff Grubb "A very fun and informative novel about Cormyr. Alternates a modern-day plot to kill Azoun with chapters of Cormyrean history."

July 4, 1999 The Crystal Star by Vonda N. McIntyre "A Star Wars novel--Jedi twins get kidnapped. Nothing spectacular."

July 10, 1999 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky "Story of a Russian law student who kills an elderly pawnbroker for somewhat utilitarian reasons. Didn't really move me, but worth reading."

July 11, 1999 Arrogant Capital by Kevin Phillips "About what the author thinks is wrong about current American politics (special interests) and what can be done to fix them. Some interesting solutions but doesn't make enough case for the problems."

July 12, 1999 Secret Books of Paradise III & IV by Tanith Lee "Collection of short stories of Book of Dead & Book of the Mad. First was 'Tales From the Crypt' style, but second was really good."

July 14, 1999 After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre "Attempt to ground morality on reformulated Aristotelian concept. Good criticisms of modern philosophy but unconvincing on own side."

July 16, 1999 Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo translated by Stillman Drake "A collection of four of Galileo's briefer works. Chosen for interest to general reader & not scientifically complex. Interesting."

July 17, 1999 k.d. lang by David Bennahum "A biography of vegetarian lesbian k.d. lang. Mostly pictures, not very in-depth. Also, written in 1993 so very out of date."

July 19, 1999 The Federalist Papers by Hamilton, Madison, & Jay "A collection of essays in support of ratification of the Constitution. Definitely worth reading."

July 20, 1999 On Death & Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross "Classic book advocating a humane treatment of terminal patients. Discusses stages of dying, very interesting interviews w/ terminally ill."

July 21, 1999 The Green Mile by Stephen King "Collected edition of King's serial novel about strange happenings on death row. Not ever really scary, but fun to read."

July 22, 1999 1984 by George Orwell "Classic tale of a future where freedom does not exist. Really good book, but also really depressing."

July 24, 1999 Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation edited by Karla Jay & Allen Young "Collection of writings on gay movement of early 70s. Written from radical Marxist perspective . . . seems somewhat silly now."

July 25, 1999 Awakenings and Selected Stories by Kate Chopin "Story of a woman's realization that she doesn't want to be a wife or mother. Very, very good! Sad, but excellent."

July 28, 1999 Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Dafoe "Classic story of shipwrecked man. Some interesting parts but relentless religious rigamarole turned me off."

July 30, 1999 Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad "Short story about a journey in Africa. Couldn't really grasp the deep significance the story was supposed to have."

August 1, 1999 Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy "Story about spunky woman and her choice of suitors in 19th century England. Overly descriptive, but suspenseful and sometimes funny."

August 2, 1999 Concerning Dissent & Civil Disobedience by Abe Fortas "Written for the layman. Conclusions and reasoning not original. Simplistic."

August 3, 1999 Autobiography by John Stuart Mill "Interesting to see his education and his development. Nervous breakdown and wife were influential. Worth reading."

August 5, 1999 Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser "Story about a young woman's life as she moves to the city. Smooth, very good portrayal of street life of poor."

August 7, 1999 The Stranger by Albert Camus "Story of an ordinary man who commits a murder. Interesting look at a man with no real feeling."

August 9, 1999 The Jungle by Upton Sinclair "Not just an expose of the meatpacking industry, but a convincing argument for socialism. Well done."

August 10, 1999 The Trial by Franz Kafka "Story of a man's entanglement in the judicial system. Good story, but terrible intro."

August 15, 1999 Law & Justice: An Introduction to the American Legal System by Howard Abadinsky "Decent introduction--nothing extraordinary, but useful."

August 19, 1999 Revolution of Little Girls by Blanche McCrary Boyd "Story of a southern girl & her definitely interesting life. Funny, fast-paced, very good."

August 19, 1999 Terminal Velocity by Blanche McCrary Boyd "Explores lesbianism of star of previous book. Tighter, funny, and somewhat sad. Also very good."

August 22, 1999 Count of Monte-Christo by Alexandre Dumas "Story of a man's imprisonment & vengeance upon his enemies after he escapes. A lot of characters, heavy Christian dogma, still a decent read and sometimes dramatic."

August 22, 1999 The Buffalo Creek Disaster by Gerald M. Stern "Story of a coal-mining company's dam break, which killed hundreds of people, and the law suit that got compensation for the victims. Really interesting look at the trial process."

August 24, 1999 Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe "Story of a woman who is a whore, thief, incester (?), etc., before finding God & repenting. Story of vice is interesting, but otherwise preachy."

August 25, 1999 Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov "Story of a miniaturized submarine's voyage inside a human body. Fairly entertaining."

August 26, 1999 Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde "Story of a man who sells his soul for youth. Very good! Especially entertaining is philosophy of Lord Henry. Definite homosexual overtones."

August 27, 1999 Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kayser "A nonfiction recounting of the author's time in a mental institution. Fast reading and entertaining."

August 28, 1999 Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. "Collection of short stories. Many about future. Very funny."

September 1, 1999 Fear & Trembling and the Sickness Unto Death by Soren Kierkegaard "The first is an analysis of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Very interesting. The second is an analysis of how despair relates to sin & faith. Esoteric & confusing."

September 1, 1999 Boys Like Us: Gay Writers Tell Their Coming Out Stories edited by Patrick Merla "26 coming out stories. Some are sad & some are funny but they're all interesting."

September 6, 1999 Stronghold by Melanie Rawn "First book in the fantasy trilogy 'Dragon Star.' Reasonably entertaining, but many of the combat tactics seem unrealistic, like thrice abandoning fortified castles when troop numbers were not overwhelming."

September 7, 1999 Daphne's Book (2nd time) by Mary Downing Hahn "A book I've read before, telling the story of two middle-school friends. Really enjoyed reading it--there's something magical about books for adolescents."

September 17, 1999 Dragon Token by Melanie Rawn "Second in the 'Dragon Star' trilogy. Okay, but nothing really exciting. No characterization of the 'bad guys.' Affair at end was neat."

September 19, 1999 Gay Politics vs. Colorado by Stephen Bransford "Story of Amendment 2 by supporter. Tries to make it an issue of 'special rights' but the hatred is clear."

September 27, 1999 The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton "Look at how pressure of social conformity kept a man from following his heart. Good story, really makes you wish the protagonist had 'seized the day'."

September 28, 1999 User's Guide to the Bluebook by Alan L. Dworsky "Not fascinating reading, but useful."

October 10, 1999 Lure of the Law (2nd time) by Richard W. Moll "Interviews of law students, lawyers, and ex-lawyers to see what they think of the law. Most present a rather dismal view of corporate law."

October 16, 1999 Love Songs of Phoenix Bay by Nisa Donnelly "Story of a lesbian running away from the past and trying to find love. Wow! Truly a great book and worth recommending."

October 23, 1999 Law School Survival by Greg & Shannon Gottesman "Good practical advice on making it through the first year."

November 3, 1999 Silas Marner by George Eliot "Classic novel about a miser who loses his hoard but gains a child and regains his love of God. Didn't really hit me."

November 15, 1999 Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette "Autobiography of the first decades of famous gay writer. Loved it, hard to stop. Really shows that someone with so much success (Yale, etc.) could be miserable because of the closet."

November 24, 1999 Law and Jurisprudence in American History by Stephen B. Presser & Jamil S. Zainaldin "A thousand-page tome of legal history selections. Certainly informative, though terribly dry in many places. Last two-hundred pages are very interesting though."

November 27, 1999 Selected Stories by Anton Chekov "Collection of Chekhov's shorter works. Deals mostly with Russian peasantry. Sad & funny, good storytelling."

November 28, 1999 Intro to Study & Practice of Law (in a Nutshell) by Kenney Hegland "Humorous intro to law. Good advice on exam taking and interesting discussion of 'espirit de corps' of prosecutor & pub. defenders."

December 4, 1999 Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth "Story of a neurotic Jewish man's sexual history. Part about childhood is really funny. Catch-22 was still funnier though."

December 9, 1999 The Magic Mirror by Kermit L. Hall "A succinct synthesis of American legal history. Nothing tremendously exciting or original, but solid. Good bibliographical essay."

December 9, 1999 Simple & Direct by Jacques Barzun "A handbook on good writing. Lots of funny examples, but writing seems to me to come from what feels natural and correct."

December 12, 1999 Bramble Bush by Karl Llewellyn "Classic book on lessons for law students. Good ideas, good focus on broad concepts and understanding of law."

December 12, 1999 Property (4th Edition) by Dukeminier & Krier "Textbook on property law. Useful & interesting notes, but introductory materials to each section could have been better."

December 17, 1999 A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens "Classic book about the French Revolution. First Dickens book I've ever read that I enjoyed. Suspenseful."

December 19, 1999 The Girls Next Door by Lindsy Van Gelder & Pamela Robin Brandt "Authors travel around the country and talk about lesbians they find. Light and fast moving. Enjoyable."

December 24, 1999 The Essential Kant edited by Arnulf Zeig "Selections of Kant's works. Critique of Pure Reason was technical, abstract, and dull. Metaphysics of Morals was interesting."

December 28, 1999 As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner "Story of a family's journey to bury their dead mother. Enjoyed original use of perspective (each chapter from different character's point of view). Ironic ending. Very good."

December 28, 1999 Karl Marx by David McClellan "Short summary of Kant [sic]. Not in-depth but good intro."

December 30, 1999 Hume in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern "Very useful little book. Biographical info places Hume's writings in context, and helps visualize the man behind the work."

December 30, 1999 Kierkegaard in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern "Same format as previous. Bio again very useful. Finally understand his idea of existence."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Temeris Reginald Cottingswald III

I'm excited to try out an online Forgotten Realms campaign (using the RPGTonight website) ran by a good friend from my Nebraska days. I've never done online "pen and paper" RPGs before, but I've heard there's been a lot of advances made and that it's become a popular way for people who live in more remote communities to find people to game with.

My character for this game is a Rogue, a class I've rarely if ever played. I rolled pretty awesome on his ability scores, and decided to go with a somewhat naive young man who fancies himself an explorer and treasure hunter. Stats and background below.

Temeris Reginald Cottingswald III

Rogue 1, Human, 5'10, 168 Lbs., Age: 18

Strength: 13 (+1)
Dexterity: 18 (+4)
Constitution: 14 (+2)
Intelligence: 16 (+3)
Wisdom: 12 (+1)
Charisma: 18 (+4)

Hit Points: 8

Armor Class: 16 (+4 Dex, +2 Leather Armor)
Fort Save: +2
Reflex Save: +6
Will Save +1

Initiative: +4
Base Attack: +0
Light Crossbow: +4 Attack, d. 1d8
Dagger: + 1 Attack (+4 thrown), d. 1d4+1

Skills: Appraise +8, Balance +5, Bluff +5, Climb +2, Concentration +2, Craft +3, Decipher Script +8, Diplomacy +5, Disable Device +7, Disguise +8, Escape Artist +8, Forgery +4, Gather Info +4, Heal +1, Hide +7, Intimidate +4, Jump +1, Listen +3, Move Silently +6, Open Lock +10, Ride +6, Search +4, Sense Motive: +1, Spot +3, Survival +3, Swim +5, Use Rope +4

Equipment: Bedroll, Crossbow Bolts (x20), Map Case, Chalk, Light Crossbow, Dagger, Flint & Steel, Grappling Hook, Leather Armor, Explorer's Outfit, Trail Rations (x 5), Silk Rope, Signet Ring, Thieves' Tools, 50 gp, 8 sp, 9 cp

Feats & Special Abilities: Sneak Attack (+1d6), Trapfinding, Diligent, Nimble Fingers

Proficiencies: Light Armor, Simple Weapons

Languages: Common, Dwarven, Halfling


Homeland: Cormyr

Family: Duke Temeris Reginald Cottingswald II (father)
Lady Cecilia Theodora Cottingswald (mother)
Alonzo Dupris Cottingswald (younger brother)

Growing Up: Son of a Duke of Cormyr, Temeris the Younger grew up on his father's wealthy but isolated estate. As heir to the title, young Temeris was relentlessly reminded of his future obligations and the necessity that he learn the courtly virtues of decorum, restraint, and civility. Temeris was always jealous that his younger brother never had to worry about any of these things, and instead whiled away the days seeking his own amusement in games, hunting, exploring beyond the estate, and more. In short, Temeris bristled against the heavy restraints of duty and longed for a chance to escape and live a life of adventure like he had heard so many minstrels sing about!

On the Path to Adventure: Temeris spent weeks pondering how he was going to make a clean escape--his father employed some of the best trackers around, and they'd catch up to him quickly unless he had a big head start. Finally, Temeris saw his chance. Along with his father, Temeris journeyed to Suzail to take part in a special ceremony along with hundreds of other noblemen and their eldest sons to mark the Feast of the Moon. The ceremony required a period of solitary contemplation and purification before special regalia was dawned and each father and son pair was paraded before King Azoun IV. But when the time came for Duke Cottingswald and his son to appear . . . young Temeris was nowhere to be found! Instead, Temeris had secretly booked passage on a ship to Sembia, and from there he travelled overland to Mistledale, following a "treasure map" he bought off another passenger.

Where He is Now: Temeris knows he has shamed his family greatly, and he knows he's bought himself only a little time. Soon his father's expert huntsmen and trackers will find his whereabouts, so young Temeris has to keep moving. If he can find enough gold, however, who knows where he can book passage too? Mysterious Mullorand, the lost jungles of Chult, even the far away Moonshae Isles--anywhere adventure can be found and his father's retainers can't find him.

What He's Like: Temeris has lived a relatively soft life, but he's young and strong. He naively believes the stories of bards and minstrels, and believes that under every old hill and through every dark cave lies a treasure horde just waiting to be found. Temeris still retains many of the trappings of his noble station, and certainly doesn't blend in with a crowd. More than once, he's offered to "sponsor" an "expedition" to some dangerous, far away place only to be duped. Still, enthusiasm sometime succeeds where wisdom fails, and Temeris is certain to have an interesting (though perhaps short) life.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Minutes of the Lovecraft Studies Institute # 7 (Part 2) [Call of Cthulhu]

BLOCH: Look at the time. Gentleman, I believe that if we desire to finish before the cleaning crew arrives, we need to hurry.

KING: Well, I think I can condense things down some. Descending the hundreds of steps into the abyss goes mostly without incident--the only exception being when Barnabus hears what sounds to him like the flapping of massive wings. After frantically waiving their lanterns and torches, however, nothing is spotted. The steps end only partway down the cliff-face, at a tunnel going into the rock. This tunnel eventually leads to a wide cavern, bisected by a slow-moving river almost 50 yards wide. Although an ancient-looking boat is laying on the black-pebbled shore, the spelunkers decide to avoid the river and exit through another tunnel.

JOSHI: I realize you're attempting to hurry, but that doesn't excuse potentially vital omissions. It should be noted that, in the cavern where Konig and Gallowsong encountered the drifter, several stalagmites had been laboriously carved into monoliths--evidence, perhaps, that these caverns were the domain of an ancient civilization?

KING: Or perhaps just kids mounting a hoax. Anyway, the tunnel continues on for almost two miles before splitting into three. The righthand tunnel leads to a fissure almost 25 feet wide. Seeing no signs of rope or other attempts to cross, the protagonists deduce (correctly it turns out) that this was not the route chosen by Olivetti and Knight. Returning to the junction, the explorers take the path that heads "straight ahead" from their perspective. This tunnel eventually splits as well; one branch leads to a dead end, but the other leads to a pile of rubble blocking the way forward. A strange scraping sound can be heard from the other side. The explorers begin to shift some of the rubble to see how thick the rockfall is, and then a more rhythmic sound can be heard from the other side. The explorers return the sound and transmit a new pattern; it comes back to the them, and the conclusion is clear: a human being is trapped on the far side!

PATRICK: Lovecraft actually spends a great deal of time detailing the difficult decisions made as to how to best remove the rubble without creating a further cave-in. But suffice it to say, our amateur miners are lucky and make it through. And there, on the far side, lies Sister Francesca Olivetti--her foot trapped under a massive slab of rock. She's still alive, still conscious even, though her supplies are almost exhausted. What transpired, apparently, is that she was scouting ahead when the tunnel's ceiling collapsed, separating her from Knight. Knight went for help, and, of course, we know he managed to find an escape route--but not one that left him alive.

JOSHI: It should be noted that, dozens of yards further down the tunnel, another cave-in blocks the way. Olivetti mentions something about hearing "whispering" from that direction, but at this point it's fair to say she must be succumbing to shock.

CANNON: I don't know--she seems like a very sensible woman. Not at all what one would imagine a nun to be. She curses, wears trousers, and carries a pistol. Not exactly a convent-dweller if you ask me.

KING: This next scene is appropriately grisly. After several failed attempts to lift the slab off of Olivetti's foot, her rescuers devise a lever system sufficient to raise the slab just a few inches. It's enough that Olivetti can be pulled free, but Dr. Konig sees instantly that the foot is crushed and gangrenous. An amputation is in order!

PATRICK: And it's described in as much detail as you could desire, Stephen. But for our purposes, what's significant is that the field surgery is successful. Olivetti's rescuers even fashion a makeshift stretcher from canvas brought just for that purpose, and then return to the four-way junction. Only one path is untried. This leads to a steep slope full of strange, white crystals all over the ground and walls. Some of the crystals crack under the explorers weight, causing yet more cuts and abrasions. And then the chapter ends--an odd place, if you ask me.

BLOCH: I agree. Well, this is just a manuscript. Perhaps Lovecraft had planned to tack something onto the end after finishing subsequent chapters?

JOSHI: Before we finish for the night, I would like to draw your attention to what we have not learned. Who was the mysterious "Mrs. Dunham" who drew the protagonists to the Gilmore Farm at the beginning of the manuscript and set this entire chain of events in motion? What of the mysterious puzzle box, and the expert in Hyperborean language called in to give a translation? What will happen when Symmes finishes reading his mysterious book? And how does any of this relate to the mystery of the Harbingers?

PATRICK: An appropriate place to call it a night, gentleman.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Minutes of the Lovecraft Studies Institute # 7 (Part 1) [Call of Cthulhu]



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

2:37 P.M. Meeting Convened.

2:39 Approval of Minutes for Meeting of February 19, 2011

2:40 P.M. Chair proposes reading of "Harbingers" manuscript Chapter 7 ("Descent Into Darkness"). UNANIMOUS

6:30 P.M. Reading concludes.

6:30 P.M. Chair proposes open discussion. UNANIMOUS


BLOCH: Well, before we begin I have something to confess. I managed to decode pieces of the next couple of chapters, and without spoiling anything . . . there's a lot of death and destruction ahead for our protagonists! In fact--

PATRICK: Stop right there, Robert. It'll be more satisfying to have everything placed in context. And we still have all of Chapter 7, "Descent Into Darkness", to talk about.

JOSHI: Quite right.

PATRICK: So this chapter begins right where the last one ended, with the protagonists assembling before Osborn's General Store to plan their search for Sister Francesca Olivetti in the caves under Dunwich. While Dr. Konig, Barnabus Gallowsong, and Zeituni Wanjiku are pouring over maps trying to decide the best route to take to the Prescott farm, Scarlet Warren complains about the heat and excuses herself to return to the boarding house to check on Hoyt Symmes. Neither she nor Symmes will be seen again for the rest of the chapter.

CANNON: Do you think she's a stereotypical weak woman suffering from "the vapors", or is she cowardly?

BLOCH: Perhaps enlightened self-interest? While it's true she agreed to help Wanjiku in exchange for money and a flight to New Orleans, spelunking through mysterious caverns might be considered outside the call of duty for a woman of her social class.

PATRICK: In any event, the three men leave without her. We're told they head north on Mill Road, leading a horse which pulls a cart full of gear. After barely a mile along the rugged road, they discover that the bridge over Wilson Creek has been washed out by Spring flooding. Fording the creek downstream seems like a possibility, but neither Konig, Gallowsong, or Wanjiku feel confident they know how to lead a horse through such an operation. Instead, the three men decide to head due west following a trail which they hope will connect to a major road further on.

KING: I think what happens next sets up something big, though exactly what I'm not sure. The three outsiders soon get lost, a fact they don't realize until they're well into a swamp that doesn't appear on their maps. The trail has turned into a narrow berm of earth, and, afraid to try to turn the horse around, the men continue on hoping to quickly pass through to the other side. Soon they see smoke rising into the distance, and then come upon three young, disreputable-looking locals burning a large pile of garbage. Why are they doing this out in the middle of a swamp? Anyway, Dr. Konig asks for directions, which leads the local boys to laugh and smile amiably, and say they have "maps" in their cart. Turns out, they're going for rifles! Fortunately, a quick-thinking Dr. Konig gets the drop on them with his own hunting rifle, and he and his companions are able to escape. But not before the oldest local says "Mister, you just made the biggest mistake of your life."

PATRICK: So you think we're going to see some sort of revenge?

KING: I think these three may have been the Potter boys that the protagonists were warned about last chapter--and if that's true, this is foreshadowing that something bad is on its way.

PATRICK: Interesting. In any event, they make it through the swamp alive and emerge near a large farm. The owner, Zeke Wilson, sets them straight on how to get to the Prescott farm. Several more hard miles later, they pass by a small revival meeting and are then at Jonah Prescott's front door.

CANNON: I liked Lovecraft's depiction of Prescott--a man willing to exploit something he has that others don't (easy access to the caverns below Dunwich) in order to make a fast buck. He charges Konig and Gallowsong $ 25 each to enter the caves, and makes them sign a hand-written contract that they'll share with him any of the "lost Whateley gold" they find. Helpfully, he does confirm that Sister Olivetti and Knight used his entrance weeks ago.

BLOCH: As you say Peter, he is a canny fellow--he's contrived a way to ensure that only people he wants have the ability to enter the caves, as he uses a tractor to haul a large slab of rock away from the entrance. He promises to leave the entrance open for a week, though he doesn't seem confident that it'll matter, as no one who goes very far in ever comes out.

PATRICK: When they arrive at the cave, they notice that the recent heavy Spring rains have washed away a portion of the hillside--enough for someone to slip in or out, even with the slab of rock covering the entrance as it's currently positioned. Closer inspection shows that someone or something has done so recently. I think this scene also shows us a little bit more about Wanjiku's personality--he's not planning on going in the caves himself, but will establish a "base camp" on the surface.

JOSHI: I believe this fits with everything we know about him. Although a "coloured person" in the parlance of the time (hailing from Kenya), Wanjiku in dress and manner is very much a gentleman--and gentlemen don't go crawling through damp caves.

PATRICK: Speaking of crawling, that's exactly what Konig and Gallowsong have to do in order to penetrate very far into the caverns. After the slab of rock is pulled away, there's a low cavern and then a tunnel barely high enough for the two to make it through on their hands and knees. The process is easy for Gallowsong given his diminutive size; but for the giant Dr. Konig, it results in the back of his suit coat and shirt being ripped to shreds (along with a fair bit of skin!).

KING: The danger these caverns present begins almost from the very start. The tunnel leads to a fissure almost twenty feet wide, spanned only by a rickety-looking wooden bridge. Konig & Gallowsong are cautious and cross one at a time, with a rope tied to one another--a life-saving precaution, as the rotten planks of the bridge can't even support the weight of one, much less two pedestrians. Fortunately, Konig is strong enough to pull Gallowsong up when he falls, and (more surprising!), vice versa.

JOSHI: I think what happens next is another nod to placing this story squarely during the Great Depression. Konig & Gallowsong survive the treacherous bridge and see flickering light up ahead. They come upon, of all things, a veritable "hobo" cooking a can of beans over an open flame! This explains the tracks they found outside the cave entrance earlier. The drifter introduces himself as "Pete" and explains that he was passing by Dunwich and also heard the story of gold in the caverns under the Prescott Farm. For an equal share of anything found, he's willing to accompany Konig & Gallowsong as they proceed further.

BLOCH: I liked how Lovecraft set the next scene. The explorers emerge from a tunnel onto a narrow ledge, overlooking an abyss so wide they can't see the far side and so deep they can't discern bottom. A set of stairs are carved into the side of the cliff face they're on, descending into the darkness. And nearby, a few discarded pieces of equipment and a letter tied to a rock. The letter is from duh duh duh Sister Olivetti!

CANNON: That was very dramatic, Robert.

BLOCH: Thank you. I'm hoping they ask me to do the audio book.

PATRICK: The letter, written to Wanjiku and signed "Frannie", explains Olivetti's fears that her previous letters never made it further than the Dunwich post office--a fact which seems to be true from what we know. Further, she relates her suspicions that the locals only seem friendly and hospitable at first, while in fact they deeply resent and despise outsiders. In her view, the locals are quick to relate all sorts of rumors--lost gold, ancient civilizations, occult artifacts--attributed to these caverns, in the hopes that the strangers will quickly remove themselves from concern. She even claims that the slab of rock over the entrance was closed on her and Knight.

KING: A fact which naturally alarms our current trio of spelunkers. Gallowsong rushes to the entrance, only to discover exactly what he feared: they've been sealed inside, and their only hope of salvation lays in finding another way out.