Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Adventuress

The Adventuress
Arthur B Reeve (1880-1936)
First published in 1917, 220 pages.

I found this little hardback book, and was initially attracted to the cover. The reason being that they book is published with the original 1930s cover. The original 1917 cover is on the back.

I had never heard of Arthur B Reeve before, but the inside cover of the book describes him as:
a New York author and criminologist, whose creation, the scientific detective Craig Kennedy, became famous as "the American Sherlock Holmes". Reeve's cutting edge stories, newspaper serials and movies about Craig Kennedy made him the most popular detective writer of the era, and The Adventuress was his first full-length novel.
I was interested by that description on many counts, and the foreword expanded upon this by suggesting that his use of cutting edge technology was what made him so well loved at the time, but may also have counted against his longevity, as it has not aged well.  

One criticism I would make on this, is that it is clearly the work of someone who may be versed in short stories, trying their hand at longer form novels. This may be a full length novel, but the story contained within could easily be edited down to a much shorter tale. Indeed, it may actually benefit from that. 

The first 100 pages or so, are actually a bit of a slog. With Kennedy, the Scientific Detective, a dead man's lawyer and some secret service types are following round the members of the deceased's family. This may indeed reflect real detective work, both from the perspective of a PI, and the secret service, but it does not make for a compelling read. This is clearly a pre-Chandlerian novel, in that we don't actually see another corpse after the initial death that starts it all, until page 117! 

That's not to say the initial 100 pages are not without merit. There's a nice scene where Kennedy uses the of the day to trace a bug in the lawyers office. Even the fact that there is a listening device seems to be a novelty to the other characters in the book. The stolen McGuffin is also original and forward looking in it's scientific description, and does coem back into the story in a useful fashion, making it les of a McGuffin. Indeed, the book borders on Sci-Fi in some aspects of its function, even though the novel never goes down this path.

The book is written through the eyes and words of Kennedy's journalist companion, Walter Jameson. This means we do not get the direct thoughts of Kennedy, and in many ways I think this means we don't actually get to know much of Kennedy, and he seems quite 2 dimensional because of this. He may have been known as the American Sherlock Holmes, but Holmes is a much more interesting character. Holmes is always described as much more over the top, and in some ways, this is required, as we never get to hear his internal thoughts, except for through Watson's words. Kennedy on the other had, is a much more calm and steady character, and the relationship between him and Jameson is much more equal, which all adds together to make them less interesting. 

In summary, I did enjoy this book, it is well written, and the personal relationships between the family and suspects is interesting, in that the story investigates these interactions deeply. So the human motivations are the key to the mystery that the science is used to solve, a nice balance. I do think it would be worth while to search down some of Reeve's short stories, to see if they hold the attention better than this long form novel (Arthur B Reeve on Gutenberg. Also may of the books are free on amazon as kindle ebooks).

Gaming the Book.

What sets this novel aside from others of the genre is the use of various sciences of the day, from radio broadcasting, to graphology, and no doubt what made it popular, is also what ages it. It would be very difficult to take this science, and make it playable in a straight RPG these days, mostly because it is almost impossible for the players to know what is cutting edge for the day, without having a list of skills, or machines which they have access to, which becomes rather unwieldy quickly.

In a pulp setting, we can get away with much more, and even though this is not set as a pulp action thriller, but is supposed to be more grounded, the science comes across as much more pulpy these days.

The second way to look at it is to bring it up to the modern day, to where the players are aware of where the edges of science lie, and how this can be used in game. I usually steer clear of technology in horror games, but in detective and investigation games, it is a different story. Having a scientist of any kind, who is able to bring bleeding edge science to the table, without making the rest of the game too pulpy, would be very interesting.

I found another review of the story here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pic of the day: Princess Theatre

Photo taken during the Houdini tour at the Princess Theatre, St Catherine's Street, east of Phillips Square (1926). This was the tour on which he took the backstage sucker punch that killed him nine days later.



On October 22, 1926, Houdini was performing in Montreal at the Princess Theater. Before the show, Harry was in his dressing room laying on the couch. While relaxing backstage, a young athlete from McGill University asked Houdini if he really could withstand punches to the stomach, as he had heard. Houdini said yes and would prove it to the boy. But before he could tighten his stomach, the student started punching Houdini. Harry didn't realize it, but his appendix had ruptured. After Houdini performed in Montreal, he headed to Detroit. He did only one performance there and then collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. Harry Houdini did not die in a stunt, nor did he drown, as most people believe. The greatest magician of all time died on October 31, 1926, of peritonitis.  (source).

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion

Call of Cthulhu is known for it's big campaigns, whether it's the Mountains of Madness, or the Horror on the Orient Express. These types of campaigns are one of the things through with Call of Cthulhu has made it's reputation. However, there is one of these that stands above the others, and that is Masks.

I don't even have to give it's full title, most people already know what I'm talking about just with that one word. I can't think off the top of my head of any other RPG property this works with.

I have tried to run Masks twice in my life, and both times it ran out of steam. This is not an issue with the game as such, just the length of the campaign requires a little commitment, and for the stars to align in a certain sense with players real lives and availabilities.

This Companion was first released as a 550 page pdf back in 2013. The Kickstarter was finally funded (as a fundraiser for Yog-sothoth.com) back in 2015, and the book finally came into my hands a couple of weeks ago.

There are many other posts, threads and unboxing videos around that talk about this book's arrival, so I won't go into that too much, but I would just like to comment o the size of this tome. In a way that makes sense to me, at least. That is in comparison with the actual campaign book itself.

The version of the campaign book I have is the 1996 3rd edition version of Masks, The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep, This is a 224 page book. Please see here, some photographic comparisons of this original campaign to the newly arrived Companion.



The Companion clocks in at 729 pages. That is over twice the page count of the original book (and we're not talking about a padded out book here. The text is pretty comparable to the first. Clean, yet full. Add to that the hardback cover, and we have something that approached 3-4 times the thickness of the Original campaign book. 

Needless to say, I have not yet read all of this book (even if I have had the pdf for at least 5 years, but as I have previously mentioned, I'm not very good at reading pdfs). But what I have seen and read is of the highest quality for any gaming book, not just Call of Cthulhu, which, when we think that this was essentially an amateur work (in terms of writers) by fans, is really no faint praise. My only slight complaint is that the rules present in the book have not been updated to 7th edition. However, the simplicity of this conversion combined with the fact that there are really not many rules/stats i this book, really makes this a non-issue.

For now, I am running Horror on the Orient Express, but the arrival of this book has sparked interest in Masks. If I can keep the players, this is back on the list.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Horror on the Orient Express getting ready to depart the Station

The wait has been long and the road winding, but we are finally there.. The Kicksterter funded in 2012, and was fulfilled in 2015. Furthermore, the Sedefkar Simulacrum kickstarter was also funded and fulfilled, leaving it only a matter to time, and building a gaming group, before I ran this monstrosity.

About 9 months ago, I started running the Time to Harvest organised play campaign at my FLGS, (which has sadly since closed its doors). This time I used to get together interested players to form an RPG group that is interested and committed to regular gaming. I have now assembled a group of like minded individuals, and through them, even managed to play! Yes after almost 12 years drought, I actually got to play in an RPG! It was a lot of fun.

Now, we have finally taken the plunge, we have assembled a group of investigators, met at a local Auction of occult artefacts, and finally , we are getting together to head off on a momentous journey together, through Europe and the ages, on the Orient Express. I for one am really looking forward to it.

With this goal in mind, I have spent the last few weeks organising all the various props I have for the campaign, from multiple sources, and with the help of a recently found colour printer at work, have been making some rather nifty and fun handouts for people to get into the game through.

The Investigators are, after 2 sessions of the actual campaign, already in Paris. The first chapter was a bit of a data dump, in many ways, and now they are working their way through the Biblioteque National.

I have chosen to skip a lot of the optional scenarios, as I do want to get to the end of this campaign. If we have time, and people are still interested afterwards, we can run through some of the side adventures in other eras. I also finally decided to run the Auction as a lead in adventure, rather than the Doom Train scenario, which is one of the optional London adventures, as a lead in. I had at one point even considered doing both, but that might be overkill, and goes against limiting the side options to get the main event finished. In the end, I just have too much stuff, and want to use it all!

For the time being, making this a regular weekly game means I am not for now running Cult of Chaos adventures, but I am not counting out doing the odd one here and there, for special events and the like, as long as I can decide on a new venue, now that Gamers' Vault has closed its doors for good.

So far, the players are mightly impressed with the level of support the game has in the box set, in terms of handouts and props. I can't wait till they actually get their hands on the actual Simlacrum!

Monday, April 10, 2017

1920s Gun Ads

DO NOT SHOW THIS TO YOUR PLAYERS.

I mean, $150? They'll be asking for 2.

1926 Philadelphia
Not that it'll matter against the Great Old Ones, but against a horde of cultists, ghouls or Deep Ones?

Actually, now I'm picturing a repetition of the Normandy landings, with the Players in beach bunkers, and the Deep Ones coming out of the sea en masse.

Or, for something more down to earth/affordable:

1920s

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Orient Express Posters and History App

There's a new exhibition in Paris, containing posters and brochures from the Orient Express. There are other posters from the Simplon line in SwitzerlandAs I am gearing up to finally run this campaign, I'll be sure to make use of some of these, though many of them are already available through a Google search. At the end of the sliodeshow, you can download the images in pdf format for ease of use.
 
A major exhibition on the Orient Express is currently on show in Paris. retours presents a brief history of the famous luxury train by taking a closer look at 10 posters along with matching brochures and photos, partly from the exhibition and partly from own collection.
The creators of this exhibition are also the authors of this amazing app and ebook on the history of the Orient Express. For a grand $6.99, I'll be sure to be investing in that for my tablet, for use at the table.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Complicated Friendship of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Barlow

Robert Barlow, 1931
H.P.L. was in the news in this recent New Yorker article, written by the author Paul La Farge, which has clearly come from the research for this book, looks at the relationship between Lovecraft and Robert Barlow. The article contains another attempt to guess at Lovecraft's sexuality through his associations with others, but I think the article pins it with this phrase, even if it continues afterwards to try to suggest otherwise.
"the salient feature of his sexuality really seems to be how indifferent he was to it"
Even the choice of image to accompany the article is provocative There are many more existing images that could have been used, even of Lovecraft and Barlow together
.
However, it is an interesting article in how it goes on to talk about Barlow himself. I have heard of him, but he isn't someone I looked into a great deal, and that seems a shame, as he looks to be an interesting character. It does strike me though, that Barlow's life as an academic would make a great Call of Cthulhu Investigator background.

It is slightly heartening to see that his influence as a writer may not have quite ended with the sad story of his exclusion from the weird tales community. After this article, I should track down what Barlow fiction I can. Not entirely sure that this has made me want to read La Farge's book however.

Barlow's collaborations with Lovecraft are all available on hplovecraft.com here, including The Night Ocean by Barlow and Lovecraft. Most of his work also seems to have been collected in Eyes of the God (2002).