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BLOT: (22 Jul 2014 - 08:17:30 AM)

Howard Sherman is "retiring" from Interactive Fiction Titles

About four weeks ago I mentioned Malinche and Howard Sherman to a friend and then found the site wouldn't open when I tried. I follow Howard Sherman on Twitter, and had seen no mention of him taking the site down, so I assumed it was some sort of temporary "out of bandwidth" type issue that he was working on it. On June 30th, he wrote a blog post explaining it:

I'm pretty much done with implementing interactive fiction books.
I'm switching to writing conventional fiction books instead [starting with converting The Barista from IF into more traditional prose]....
...
A wake up call came to me on June 23. What was so special about June 23, 2014? It was the day I first discovered the Malinche website had been dead since June 4th. The Malinche.Net domain name expired and I didn't even notice. For nineteen days. Nearly three weeks.
Holy shit.

Part of me wishes I had said something to him when I noticed the site down, because I know if my site went down for three weeks and no one said anything and I found out later that I would feel kind of weird and sad about it. But, well, I hope this works out for him.

Now, if you don't know Sherman, he is an interesting figure in the Interactive Fiction world. Some would say contentious. As a man who produces game for profit, and generally uses some old-school feeling techniques to do it, there have been some shots fired over stylings and price points and validity and the ability to keep the genre alive. I never really had a horse in the race. I'm just a hobbyist who likes retro games. I've only played a couple of his longer games to completion. Of them, I did not quite care for the old school fantasy flavor of Pentari: First Light but I enjoyed First Mile. I played it through several times and I wrote possibly the best First Mile walkthrough around (even though it is technically incomplete). It is right up there with Anchorhead and Lurking Horror as horror IFs that I sometimes fire up and just randomly do stuff in it for fun.

I wish him luck with the fiction career. When/if he gets back around to horror, I'll give it a shot. I'm a bit sad that the chance for longer interactive fiction titles coming out on a semi-regular basis is now even smaller, but c'est la vie. I'll still buy them (and/or download them for free) as they do.

Interactive Fiction

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2014


BLOT: (15 Jul 2014 - 02:43:40 PM)

Brain Dump: Doug's Alabama Mythos Towns

I'm the kind of guy who writes an ok amount of stories and essays, but then shelves them and never looks at them again. Since this means a lot of my ideas sit around in something like an "unpublished" [for various definitions of published] state, some of them risk being fairly lost over time. So...I've decided to start doing a series of "brain dumps" here where I can go back and get the data and use it later, probably in an evolved form.

The first braindump will be about towns I've "created" around Alabama in some of my musings and RPG'ing and suchwhat. This should be an interesting glimpse into my mind.

Brichester County, Sort of North-East Alabama

Brichester County is roughly where Marhsall County is in real 'Bama. There are only two (sort of three) towns associated with it and two colleges. The first town is Armitage, AL. It is has about 10,000 people, and is a suburban town with a lot of people commuting to Huntsville or Birmingham or Tallowood to work, giving it some funky property value stuff [bigger houses than would have been there had people worked local]. The town has a series of old caves and underground rivers that stretch under it [note: some of the rivers come up from very deep underground], and has been a bit of a locus of weird activity in the area. It's nearest neighbor is the somewhat larger Tallowood, AL, bordering on Tallow Lake, which was once a fair sized industrial town [never as big as Birmingham, mind]. While it is clinging some to its better days, it still has the large Brichester Community College, which is one of the biggest in the state, and the private Nahum College in the related but slightly separate Nahum, AL. Frankly, I've not done much with Tallowood [pronounced "tallo-wood"] and what I will do will likely be in conjunction with Tallow Lake [which also runs down near Armitage].

Campbell County, South Alabama

Campbell County (which, like Brichester County, is a Ramsey Campbell reference) is a mashup of Conecuh and Covington Counties, and would lie as sort of a slice of both of those with Butler on the north and Escambia to the south. Some of my earlier stories were set in unnamed spots in Lower Alabama, ostensibly the backroads and such near my old rural home, and lately I've thought it interesting to work out a few of these. The main city is Cresthill, AL, which is something of an Evergreen stand-in. It is generally nondescript, poor and crumbling, and best known for being the biggest town around Long National Park [which is the home to my version of the Gnoles and is sort of based on Conecuh National Forest]. The second biggest town in Campbell Co is Bridgeton, a town separated in three by rivers, and a source of river-boat traffic. Long, AL is a very small town that was largely evacuated when some dumped chemical drums trigged lead in the soil to bubble up into the streams and water reservoirs. Otherwise, there is Travis, named after a bridge near my home, which is like Owassa in that it's an old community that no longer has much in the way of businesses but an old gas station. I'm thinking of using the "dead town" of Hamden Ridge, as well.

Others

There is also Sasafrass, AL, which is best known as a town that disappeared in the 1940s. Vanished entirely with the road heading through it also disappearing. Some of the bodies were found fused in the trees and rocks, and some of the house foundations were found in the woods, deeply aged. The actual city of Mobile showed up in a Skarl-the-Drummer related story, though my Mobile is perhaps a bit more "hippie" than real Mobile. Likewise Huntsville is a bit more...Huntsville. A tad tech-heavier. A tad more sprawly.

Will any of these ever show up? I don't know, let's see.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2014


BLOT: (14 Jul 2014 - 04:51:01 PM)

Thoughts about Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition (Quickstart version) and the scenario Dead Light

I have been looking for (a) an opportunity to play with my nephews—Zach and Jonathan—and (b) an opportunity to try out the Seventh edition Call of Cthulhu, and decided a somewhat impromptu session of the latter involving the former might be a good idea. Jonathan, back in the day, has played a few RPGs with me, while Zach has mostly had a single session of Fiasco. My wife, Sarah, and coworker John were also invited, both of which have experience with RPGs. Sarah has played a few campaigns with me as GM, and John has had a bit of experience with Sixth edition Call of Cthulhu. Both of them were also there when I tried out tremulus, so they made a natural "playtest" addition.

I backed the ambitious Call of Cthulhu Seventh edition Kickstarter, which has, as Kickstarted projects do, gone a bit overlong in the production department. Rather than wait through the next few months for the final product to hit, I felt the quickstart rules would suffice. As part of backing the project, I got access to the quickstart rules—which is available for free through their website, mind—and a PDF copy of Dead Light—which you can get for $5.47. Dead Light is primed to be played with the Seventh edition rules, but has conversion notes if you want to play with Sixth. Make note, though, that the adventure is perfectly playable with the quickstart elements as long as the Keeper/GM is fine with fudging a few of the finer details.

I will write up a short bit first about the quickstart version of the rules, and then a short bit about the scenario itself.

The Quickstart Seventh

I won't really go into the history of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, but will compare and contrast some elements. If you have no experience with it, I hope this is not too confusing to you.

Unlike Sixth (I'll start referring to them in this manner), where stats were generated and retained as largely the-sum-of-three-dee-six, Seventh addresses stats purely as percentile chances [this also means that rather than roll against stats on a d20 and/or multiplying them by 5 and then rolling them on a d%, you roll them entirely on a d%]. In the quickstart, you are given a set of values—Fudge-style—to assign to the eight core stats (aka, "Characteristics"). You are also given a set of assigned values to spend on Skills. This means that character creation in the quickstart version of Seventh is only about a 10-15 minute affair..

Another update to Sixth is the way that difficulty is handled. Rather than adding or subtracting a certain amount of points from rolls, you have two different ways to show increased/decreased difficulty. The primary way is by taking the one-half and one-fifth value of the stat in question [the character sheet has room for this] and rolling against that instead. Say you have an Intelligence of 50. Your one-half is 25 and your one-fifth is 10. For hard rolls, you use the one-half stat. For extreme rolls, you use the one-fifth stat. Extreme rolls are not easy to make. You also have a system for bonus and penalty dice [which I did not use]. These are more-so for opposed rolls to give an advantage to one side or the other. A bonus or penalty dice is an extra tens-place die rolled in a d% check. If it is a bonus, you keep the highest of the two tens-place dice. If it is a penalty, you keep the lowest. Since d% is the most fickle of all random rolls, this adds to the fickleness, and can do a bit to add to the random nature of the game. I can see it having its place, though. Normally, in comparing stats-to-rolls, you see if a roll is a normal/hard/extreme/critical (basically, a roll of 1/100) success.

For the most part, that is the main flesh you get from the quickstart. There is a luck roll, which is a way to see if the-stars-are-right for the player characters. However, on the sheet is displayed as a sliding scale while in the quickstart it is a static statistic. Presumably you will be either to spend your luck to influence other rolls or checks against luck will "burn it up" in a way similar to Sanity rolls [which, by the way, remain mostly the same]. There are stuff like credit ratings, movement ratings, and a few other things mentioned but not exactly delved into. They were not exactly needed in Dead Light, but you will either have to fall back on Sixth or fill in some reasonable gaps if you want to add them to that scenario or try out another. The same is true of stuff like magic and insanity, touched upon by only briefly in the quickstart. You have a basic equipment list, some weapon stats in brief, and then some rules on taking damage and recovering. I somewhat avoided holding tight to the Sanity rules, but I was fairly accurate on everything else.

My thoughts on the system as it stands is that it is an amazingly simple system that is straightforward, easy-to-grasp, and a natural evolution of the concepts from the previous editions. It could potentially be a bit repetitive, but this is an issue that all such stable systems face. The loss of stuff like the Resistance Table and the inclusion of degrees-of-success helps to flavor up the game while decreasing the "consult the table" feel that it had held onto.

It is a little bit of a disjunct between nearly everything being turned into percentile rolls except the damages to Sanity and Hit Points, with combat and Sanity losses still running the polyhedral gambit. Another potential issue is a need of clarification of when a Characteristic is used versus a Skill, in cases like a character trying to talk down an armed gunman:is that Persuasion (Skill) or is that Appearance (Characteristic) or the greater/lesser of the two or would you use something like a successful Appearance roll to give a bonus dice to a Persuasion one? In Sixth, I would have stuck with Skills. In Seventh, it feels like they want you to do more with Characteristics so I am not sure.

Dead Light

Since the quickstart rules are ostensibly a partial-product, while the scenario is a complete item, let's move on to Dead Light. I was quite impressed. The strength of the scenario is its sandbox nature. You have a dark and stormy night. You have a strange, otherworldly creature made of light that drifts through the forest and feeds on people. You have a cafe and a closed gas-station. An old house. Criminal schemes. Mostly innocent victims. Washed out driveways. Unlike a lot of Call of Cthulhu scenarios, where you have to work to hide an often fairly linear storyline, Dead Light is more akin to a package of tools and elements that respond to whatever the players want to do. You can play it survival horror style, with player characters holed up in the cafe/station/house having to carefully map out what they have to survive the whole night. You can play it action horror, with player characters having to fend off criminals while avoiding death at the hand of a terrible monster. You can play it American Gothic with rural intrigue adding to a tense situation. You can play it straight Lovecaft, with old magic out in the woods. You can even play it, as it were, sensibly, and have it simply be about everyday folk just finding a way to get out of town.

I was able to let things progress an hour or two of real world time before the horror of the situation hit, and then amp it up fast with the players and their characters having a good idea of the place. If you want, though, you can drop the hammer right off the bat and force them to make judgement calls without all the facts. Or you can work in a few notions like the characters going there specifically to meet someone and having a friend in the foxhole. What's fun is that you can use the NPCs as allies, or as cannon fodder to establish the horror, or have them be a fetter holding the player characters back, or even have a couple of them act as adversaries [what if the NPCs think that sacrificing the PCs will do some good?]. Lot's of good possibilities. If I did it again, I would drop the hammer right off. The scenario starts with players swerving around a woman in the road. I think next time I'll have it start with them probably hitting (and quite possibly killing) her. Let the death of a probable innocent flavor their actions from there on out.

The background is described well. The non-player characters are interesting enough (though I only focused on a couple of them and let the others be something like cannon fodder). The settings are fairly basic—just a few rooms, a few obvious clues in the middle of largely nondescript bits—but I found them to be a good number to play with. The one thing the Keeper will have to do is stay on his or her toes because it is such a sandbox style scenario that players could opt for something unusual (like driving all the way back to town to get help, right off). They might dally so long that they force your hand. They might try and ignore all sense of rules and obligations [something I've noticed in games like this, people will sometimes go a bit wobbly on the legality aspect, which can be something for Keepers to watch over]. If the characters do something like bolt into the woods early on, you might have to find a way to make two or three hours of rain soaked trees interesting.

It even offers up a few seeds to set up a next adventure. If I play with those characters again, I think I know how to do it. Something I wanted to set up but never got around to in my Victorian horror GURPS game. Should be fun.

As a general tip, the "sandbox that turns into fast-paced survival horror" aspect has potential to end up with players taking a bit to debate things in a way the characters do not have time to do. One thing I did, at a key junction, was to force everyone to write down what they wanted their character to do, without showing the other players, and then read them out. This brought about a more "instinctive" reaction at a key time. It worked out ok, they all went for the same path—though different characters had different reasons for doing it—, but it helped to shake up the "let's talk this out" attitude that was starting to build up.

Final Thoughts

I think I've said pretty much all I need to say. Just a few quick summations. I'm looking forward to Call of Cthulhu's Seventh edition. At first, I was going to buy it as something like a completionist element. Now that I've played it and now that I've seen how easy it will be tweak my Sixth (etc) edition stuff to play with it, I'm probably going to stick with it unless something in the full rules just rubs me really the wrong way. However, I'm not sure if the quickstart rules are for everyone, since they feel fairly complete if you know the older rules but I think they would potentially confuse if you were new the system. There are also a few odd choices. "The Haunting", the starter adventure standard for CoC, has been upgraded to Seventh edition, which is good, but it takes up more of the book than the rules themselves. There are no skill descriptions in the quickstart rules. No conversion guide [which is the biggest oversight]. Also, and a fair sacrifice considering the simplicity they are trying to maintain, there are some weird glitches with skill purchasing where skills that should be higher are kept lower by the allotment system. I'm kind of hoping that upon Seventh's release that they make a revised quickstart to get some of these elements back in a bit better. Still, I would definitely recommend picking it up (it's free!) and I would also recommend picking up Dead Light, which isn't free but a lot of fun to run.

Lovecraft Gaming

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2014


BLOT: (06 Jul 2014 - 03:57:16 PM)

Entity (2012 Horror Movie)

persons. Written and directed by Steve Stone. Starring Dervla Kirwan (Ruth), Charlotte Riley (Kate), and Branko Tomovic (Yuri).

gist. The Dark Secrets film crew show up at a mass burial site in Siberia where, twelve-years earlier, thirty-four unknown people were found. Russian officials have been pretty mum about who the people were or the cause of death, so relatively-local Yuri has called in the TV show [headed up by Kate], along with psychic Ruth, to get the truth. At the site, though, Ruth is drawn deeper into the woods towards an industrial complex where something bad took place—as witnessed by such things as human-sized cages and dark padded cells and flashes of human suffering. Ruth is initially unwilling to go on, but is prodded into digging into a different sort of burial involving dark hallways and government red-tape. As things wake up and personal secrets are exposed, the crew find themselves having to survive the night as things generally grow worse.

review. By combining point-of-view footage with more traditional filmwork, embracing without exactly mocking the reality-horror documentary, and having a few knowing winks towards the edges of the horror genre: you can see that Entity is aware of its place in the field.* Intriguingly, once you factor in the going-off-course nature of the crew, the slow build-up to the horror's start, the run from a shadowy entity through steam tunnels, the betrayal by authority, the bickering within the crew, and the sense of isolation as a primary motivation to survival—Entity also feels like a much younger cousin to the plethora of Alien-pastiches from the 80s and 90s. Comparisons aside, Entity mostly works as a film. The three lead actors are good, the work-horse setting is appropriate, and the eponymous Entity is genuinely scary at times while also being something nearly relatable. The implication of a lost generation and a lurking fear of authority by those outside the standard box adds flavor to the tale and the nearly unquestioned approach to psychic powers is refreshing-if-simplistic. Sure, they are running up and down indistinct corridors and sure, some of the character interaction feels scripted-toward-convenience, but its not like the movie ever really misses its beats. The problem is that it goes nowhere outside of the lines. In Siberia, no one can hear you scream, and the notion of this particular real-monster behind-the-scenes has been done before and in more well-rounded ways. The ending is both delightful and groan-inducing, perhaps unnecessarily mean-spirited at the last, though hinting at a larger picture to come.

score. 5/8, +1 for those who want an uncynical view of psychics in a movie, -1 for those who like things to hit the ground running. +/-1 depending on how much you like "sinister science" running in the background.

commentary. As a note, with some of the recent hoo-ha involving the Slenderman, I heard of a movie called Entity that dealt with the pale-faced-tall-one. I actually thought it was this movie, even though the similarities pretty much stop right outside a couple of aesthetic moments [including a digital camera that glitches in a few shots]. Turns out there is another movie, called Entity, that is much more obvious of the Slendy-mythos. Just kind of funny to think that if you look for certain elements—glitchy cameras, strange Entities, wooded locations and old tunnels [ala Marble Hornets], a sense of old legends—you can find them. It did not ruin the movie for me, but it did make it a bit surreal trying to figure out what some of the news articles were getting at.

* See also the slightly more recent Banshee Chapter.

Horror Movies

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2014


BLOT: (05 Jul 2014 - 06:51:56 AM)

The first thing I thought about was Laird Barron's "The Imago Sequence": Creature in The Rock Crevice

The first of the 12 mysterious photographs "revealed" in a recent Tats video was "The Creature in the Rock Crevice", which interestingly looks neither convincing nor unconvincing, and it turns out my brain takes something-like-hominids being something-like-absorbed-into-rock and files them next to Laird Barron's "The Imago Sequence". And while this is not Imago Alpha, by a long shot, for those who have read the story, see:

As explained the write-up over at GhostStudy.com, it was originally passed off as a strange creature caught on camera in a cave [with sinister warnings, a flash, and a scream] in Saudi Arabia but was later confirmed as rock carving from the Crystal Quest section of Cheddar Gorge. Which has a lot of goblin-esque carvings. Still, you know...Imago imago...

The second thing I thought of? Junji Ito's "The Enigma of Amigara Fault":

Laird Barron, Weird Miscellany

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2014


BLOT: (03 Jul 2014 - 02:46:28 PM)

A 1966 Eerie story - "Soul of Horror" - borrows some key elements from "The Dunwich Horror"

From the first couple of panels of the 1966 Eerie story "Soul of Horror", I saw that influence of "The Dunwich Horror" on Archie Goodwin's script. It is the rural New England town of Larchwick instead of Dunwich, Simon Hecate instead of Old Man Whateley, and August 1914 instead of February 1913 when the child is born: but it still feels very in-line with The Horror. The story goes on to not include Miskatonic University (or Armitage), the Other Brother [well, there is another child, but it's handled differently], nor Yog-Sothoth. And it ends on a whole other note. It does have a dog attack, a preternaturally aging child, references to dark old tomes [unnamed], and some broadly Lovecraft-esque dark languages, though. Here are some panels to show some key references.

Note that the kid is Lemuel Catlett instead of Wilbur Whateley but that he still develops preternaturally fast while looking for a certain something to read.

The attack-by-dogs is not against Lemuel, but it's still in there, along with some nice "I like the woods and the darkness" moments.

The Hecate cabin is old and dilapidated and has old, vile tomes.

The spell isn't exactly Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn but it could be a reference. Note: Lem is still considered a child in this frame, though it doesn't specify his age as far as I remember.

Overall, the rest of the story has very little real similarity: Lemuel grows up really quick as men who were responsible for Simon Hecate's death die in various horrible ways. Eventually, a soul-possession story [something like "Thing on the Doorstep"] takes place and it comes mostly to a good doctor fighting an evil man with a bit of a plot twist.

Intriguingly, back in 1964, in one of the first few issues of Eerie's big-sister mag - Creepy - one letter-to-the-editor had chastised them for channeling a little too much Lovecraft; a claim which seemed ridiculous with the big focus being on classic horror movies and EC like revenge-zombies. Then there is this one, which almost has to be reference Dunwich. I wonder if I missed others?

I'm not the first person to spot this. A Google lead me to see that at least one other person has, and they include a full scan of the story if you want to read the rest of it.

"Soul of Horror" is from the May 1966 issue of Eerie (Issue #3 by the cover, though only the second full issue published). Archie Goodwin wrote the script. Angelo Torres did the art. Version scanned above comes from the Dark Horse Eerie Archives 1, from 2009. All rights to the originals and appropriate holders. By the way, if you want, you can read "The Dunwich Horror" online".

Lovecraft Miscellany

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2014


BLOT: (01 Jul 2014 - 07:04:18 PM)

Three Key Thomas Ligotti Ebooks on Sale for $2.99 for One Week Only!

According to a recent Subterranean Press blog entry, you can get three key Thomas Ligotti works for $2.99 each. This includes Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Noctuary, and Grimcribe. I recommend all three, but if you are unsure, pick up Songs of a Dead Dreamer and start there!

This sale covers the Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo versions, so it should hit a wide range of e-reader options. If you miss it, then they are normally $6.99, which is a great price for these books [just FYI, the hardcovers are often in the $250+ range of cost].

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2014


BLOT: (01 Jul 2014 - 12:18:18 PM)

A little over five years ago, I showed my sister-in-law how to vandalize her home town's Wikipedia entry. Looking back over some of her edits...

Ok, so I don't remember the night very well, but I think Alicia—my sister-in-law—and I had stayed up watching horror movies after Sarah had gone to bed. Some time very late, by which I mean some time also very early, I showed her how to edit a Wikipedia page. Specifically, the Wikipedia entry for Grant, AL. Today I was thinking back about this, and it finally occurred to me to see if I could find her edits, and I did. Ladies and Gentlemen, the May 14, 2009 8:45 edit of Grant, AL as written by Alicia. It is like a paean to a Bradbury-esque town in the Deep South, slam poetry for the rural youth. Look for such gems as [assume "sic" at all possible times]:

For those into such statistics, it took 12 minutes for someone to revert the edits.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2014


Written by Doug Bolden

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