Full Body Horror: Sensory Additions to Call of Cthulhu Announced!

Psychological implications are often the focus of publisher the tabletop roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu, but there’s something particularly icky about Lovecraftian horrors. These produce pleasingly visceral reactions in its investigators. To encourage full immersion, Chaosium has announced a partnership with the app Syrinscape. Keepers can now add official soundtracks to their CoC  games.

From the publisher:

The new edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep is a complete reanimation of the classic multi-part campaign for the Call of Cthulhu game, with a new chapter and full-color all new maps, handouts and artwork. Set in 1925, the steadfast investigators must unravel secrets and battle the minions of darkness in an attempt to stop world-shattering events from destroying humanity. The Masks of Nyarlahotep PDF will release in May 2018, with the published edition coming out at Gen Con 2018.

To accompany the new edition, Call of Cthulhu gets its first official sounds from Syrinscape in the Masks of Nyarlahotep SoundSet, which will be available for sale individually on Syrinscape.com or as part of a subscription. Set for release in conjunction with the module, gamers will be able to play Call of Cthulhu like never before in dynamic, realistic, cosmic horror sound.

“Call of Cthulhu is one of my top three games of all time and the opportunity to bring it to life through the power of Syrinscape sound is l’ mgfm’latghnanah!,” says Benjamin Loomes, CEO of Syrinscape.

As players take on the role of investigators to uncover the secrets of the cosmos, they find themselves battling against crazy cults and horrors from beyond space. Created by gaming legend Sandy Petersen and now in its seventh edition, Call of Cthulhu is the definitive horror RPG and has won over 90 awards including being inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Art and Design Hall of Fame.

“Call of Cthulhu games often involve creating more of an immersive experience than many other types of games. Just like our games often feature elaborate handouts and props, we have also noticed that our players often crave soundtracks that help build that sense of unease, suspense and dread at the gaming table, punctuated by moments of horror and excitement! Syrinscape’s sounds provide exactly that, and we are proud to be partnering with them,” says Chaosium president, Rick Meints.

Syrinscape creates the official sounds of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Pathfinder RPG, Mutants & Masterminds RPG, Shadows of Esteren RPG, Boss Monster CCG and more, and also features a massive library of custom, realistic sounds, with new releases every month to accompany nearly any tabletop roleplaying, card or board game.

 

Planning for Fun: How to Start Your RPG Campaign

It. Finally. Happened. You did it! A group of people want to play a tabletop roleplaying game with you. Not just for a session. For an entire of campaign.

But where do you begin?

Planning for a campaign means establishing your characters and grounding them in the world you’ve created, but it also means establishing trust among the players and GM to provide a fun, respectful space to tell a story together. This may require a solid Session 0.

What is an RPG Session 0?

A 0 session is a session before the story of the main campaign starts. It can be a time to come together and craft characters, or polish ones that were created independently. It may be a chance to learn the geography of the world, or build it together as a group. Session 0 is also the time to establish the boundaries for your worlds without end.

Understanding the basics of the world is important to the ultimate success of the campaign, but many players also carry heavy burdens of negative experiences at the table. They also have certain themes that will place a burden on them mentally, emotionally, or cap the fun they feel they can have. Establish these at the beginning of your time together to reaffirm the agency of PCs and strengthen the relationship of everyone at your table.

I’ve created a 1 page guide to help you form your conversation around the PCs and themes that will be included in your adventure. Click on this link to download the Session 0 Worksheet.

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Taking the Terror Out of Error: Roleplaying Games, Queer Existence, & the Beauty of Failure

I have wondered for a long time what it is about roleplaying games that feels inherently queer to me. Something about the format of collaborative storytelling has always struck me as being a particularly sharp and insightful mode for telling queer stories. I thought, at first, that it might have something to do with the necessity of community, of the radical “camaraderie and companionship” Foucault cites as being central to queer life,1 with the way that collaboration is intimately connected to communities who need each other to survive.

I recently realized that it’s something much more simple than this: Roleplaying games de-privilege and decentralize the significance and necessity of success. They do not punish us for failing.

The word game, when talking about roleplaying games in this way, feels at first somewhat deceptive: games, we have been taught, have winners and losers. They have goals and win-conditions and we are conditioned to want to win.

But roleplaying games — or, at least, the best of them — don’t feel like this. You don’t win a roleplaying game; when the dice don’t come up in your favor, bad things happen, but they move the story along. A bad dice roll does not mean you lose, it just means the story carries on in a different direction than you anticipated. It isn’t a loss, it’s an unexpected complication. At the end of a session, or the end of a campaign, or the end of a story, the players are not divided up into winners and losers. Roleplaying games are not designed to be won.

Or, and perhaps this distinction is important, they have different win-conditions than triumphing over the people at the table with you.

Usually, in a roleplaying game, the person setting the win-conditions is you or your party. You set personal goals, both mechanically and narratively: I want to get enough money to buy this cool item, I want to level my character up enough to get this power, I want my character absolved of their crimes, I want my character to get vengeance on the person who killed her family. I want my character to find a new family. I want my character to realize that their distrust of their party members is holding them back and learn to trust. I want my character to come up against and overcome their fatal flaw. I want to have a funny story to tell after the game is over.

Good game design knows what it wants its players to accomplish, and it rewards them for accomplishing those things. Whether it’s fighting and slaying monsters, like in Dungeons & Dragons, or something a little more nuanced, like strengthening character relationships (Apocalypse World’s Hx mechanics, Dungeon World’s bonds), or playing truthfully to your character’s flaws even when it gets you in trouble (The Sprawl’s Personal Directives, etc.), a good roleplaying game rewards you for pursuing what you want to pursue. And many of them reward you for failing.

What appeals to me about roleplaying games is that we are mechanically encouraged to fail. In fact, the rules (of the game, of the universe) require it: no one will succeed every time. And so, as players, we are permitted to make mistakes without worrying that those mistakes will cost us the game.

After all, what’s the worst thing that can happen in a roleplaying game? Your character dies, and you roll a new one, joining into the story again with a fresh perspective and a chance to explore new angles, new dynamics, and often — in the case of games with differing classes or playbooks — new mechanics to explore.

There is something appealing, something almost liberating, about a game that not only allows you to go with the flow, but forces you to; about a game which doesn’t give you full control and, thus, never expects unconditional success. By setting up failure as something that not only can happen, but will and must happen, roleplaying games free us from the burden of success, and the pressure that comes with it.

There is a book that I think about a lot, with regards to failure: Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure, a whirlwind of a book which explores not only failure but everything from anti-capitalism in animated films to temporality in Dude Where’s My Car. In it, Halberstam vocalizes a celebration of failure, and what failure can offer us.

He writes:

“Failing is something queers do and have always done exceptionally well; for queers  failure can be a style, to cite Quentin Crisp, or a way of life, to cite Foucault, and it can stand in contrast to the grim scenarios of success that depend upon ‘trying and trying again.’ In fact if success requires so much effort, then maybe failure is easier in the long run and offers different rewards.”2

These “different rewards,” for Halberstam, are everything from alternative family structures to alternative concepts of labor production, new ways of relating to one another that can allow us to escape the oppressive institutions of heteropatriarchal capitalism.

These “different rewards,” for me, are the itch that roleplaying games scratch. Narrative complications, unexpected character development, tough decisions that illuminate things about our characters and stories we never would have imagined if we had just been allowed to succeed at every pass. They are the things that make our stories lifelike, and keep us coming back to the table week after week.

In Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, Ahmed works to redefine the idea of happiness: it has become, she argues, an end goal which revolves around leading a life that is shaped to certain expectations, certain win-conditions which are set for us. Happiness, however, should not be an end goal, predetermined, but something else, something situational and not bound by artificially imposed limitations and expectations.

As she beautifully writes in her conclusion, “Killjoy Manifesto”:

“I stumble; maybe by stumbling I found you, maybe by stumbling I stumbled on happiness, a hap-full happiness; a happiness that is as fragile as the bodies we love and cherish.”3

This hap, this stumbling, is what roleplaying games at their best are all about. Happenstance and mishap, what delightful accidents can happen when we let go of the reins of narrative control and cede them over to a healthy mix of fate (dice, cards, etc) and trust (in the GM, in the other players, in the game itself and its designer, in the story we want to tell).

This hap, too, is what queer lives are about. None of us asked for this but still we make the most of it every day, embracing the small bits of luck we are granted. While others might see queerness as inherently unhappy — thanks to media which perpetuates the idea that the only outcomes to queer life are tragedy via early death or tragedy via personal loss — queer life is often centered around making the best out of bad situations, around building a life which accounts for mistakes, around redefining success.

It’s about rejecting the implicit win-conditions of life — settling down with a nice, heteronormative nuclear family — and setting our own win-conditions, whatever they may be.

As Joseph Litvak writes, “a lot of queer energy, later on, goes into . . . practices aimed at taking the terror out of error, at making the making of mistakes sexy, creative, even cognitively powerful. Doesn’t reading queer mean learning, among other things, that mistakes can be good rather than bad surprises?”4

Doesn’t playing queer mean learning these same things?

Playing roleplaying games, where our success at any action or decision is ultimately left up to chance — a roll of the dice or the drawing of a card, or the whims of another player — forces us to be open to not only the possibility of failure, but to be open to the good surprises that can come from the unexpected. It embraces the queer mode of failure and builds successful stories out of the inherent messiness of real life. It allows us to take our failures, whatever they may be — and, like in life, there will always be many — and find and embrace those different rewards.

Sources:

  1. Foucault, Michel. “Friendship as a Way of Life.” Foucault Live (Interviews, 1961-1984). Ed. Sylvère Lotringer. Trans. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston. New York: Semiotext(e), 1996. 308-12.
  1. Halberstam, J. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.
  2. Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.
  3. Litvak, Joseph. Caught in the Act: Theatricality in the Nineteenth Century English Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. Qtd. in: Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

Christine Prevas is a writer, graduate student, perpetual GM, and host of the delightfully queer actual play podcast The Unexplored Places.

Visualizing RPG Players on Facebook

Gathering Results

PanopLit boosted 4 posts on Facebook, each for 7 days. As covered in previous posts about this data, users targeted were male and female for the first campaign, and only female for the last 3. Users were in the United States, United Kingdom, or Australia, and either belonged to groups or had expressed interest on Facebook in gaming and table top roleplaying games.

The Data

Generally speaking, users rarely interacted with the posts. This could be due to many factors, and I would be interested in knowing the results of boosted posts by well known publishing houses of RPG content. The posts that were boosted for PanopLit focused on calls to action like taking a survey or clicking a link to our submissions page.

View the results in an infographic below, and feel free to share!

PanopLit Facebook Results

November Survey Analysis

Launching now: infographics for our monthly surveys. Big changes are coming to PanopLit after April. Enjoy our journey from the beginning, with the results of our very first survey, illustrated.

Scroll through the results, and let us know what questions you want answered by our community in our April survey!

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Community Lore: The Miskatonic Repository

Call of Cthulhu publisher Chaosium partnered with distributor Drive ThruRPG last December to launch “The Miskatonic Repository”, a creator-led space for CoC content. This initiative opens up new doors into the abyss, with an pseudo rubber stamp from the creators of the classic canon under this new distribution platform.

The “Repository” has a flat fee structure and standard style guidelines to keep everything in line with Chaosium‘s content for 7th edition. Note that scenarios using previous rules systems or copyrighted content beyond the standard rules books are prohibited.

Get investigating now, and let us know your favorite materials! Here’s hoping it leads to more platforms like this in the future, and a universe of queer creators making creepy stuff!

Current Openings: Jobs in Gaming

Want to dive into working in games, but not sure where to start? While it may take a bit of searching, there are opportunities out there for those that want to start an RPG or video game writing career.

Leveling Up

To start your RPG journey, it may be a good idea to collaborate with friends, or write and release some things yourself. After you’ve built up experience, put together a portfolio website and a CV of your projects.

If you want to build up experience without taking on huge projects, try a freelancing website like Upwork. They currently have a diverse offering of RPG related jobs (from video games to art work). Maintaining a good score and reputation on websites like these show employers you can meet deadlines.

Check out the random openings I found this week, gleaned from the internet below!

Current Openings

Blizzard Entertainment (the producers of game properties Overwatch and World of Warcraft) are looking for a writer for their games.

Probably Monsters is seeking a Contract Writer to aid in worldbuilding and other game creation elements.

ArenaNet wants a writer to join its ranks to assist in developing character arcs and other story mechanics.

Wizards of the Coast has a Senior Game Designer opening.