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   Author  Topic: Call of Cthulu  (Read 1466 times)
Walpurgis
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Call of Cthulu
« on: 2002-06-13 04:06:47 »
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H. P. Lovecraft envisioned a universe of dangerous knowledge and pitiless monsters, almost ignorant and certainly uncaring of humanity. Our struggles, dreams, pleasures and pains are as nothing to the alien creatures from the stars, the depths of the sea and the ends of time. Lovecraft's stories were always written with a macabre atmosphere. He creates a tension that grows and grows, then suddenly and horribly breaks. An atmosphere of oppression, of doom, enshrouds his tales. These are stories of encounters with beings and objects so far removed from human experience that the mere whisper of their name, the slightest shadow of their passing, would be enough to snap a person's mind and ruin their future.

The future, no matter how promising, how bright. The mind, no matter how keen, how wilful. Some things are simply antithetical to human existence, and inflict their miseries and annihilations without meaning or malice.

What was missing from Lovecraft's writings were characters. Real people with real lives weren't Lovecraft's concern, atmosphere drove the plot, not character. The RPG devised by my GM Che is based on Lovecraft's themes and nightmares, but from the perspective of characters. These characters are a group of students and post-graduates who live and work in Lovecraft's fictional Massachusetts town of Arkham. They live in a world of "what if?". What if Lovecraft's vision were true...?

Characters move this plot. Their motives, desires, ambitions and mistakes lead them into dangers they never conceived, that they couldn't ever conceive. But their lives aren't action packed, there isn't a monster under every lust-filled bed, or behind the bar of every club, or lecturing in every theatre. The characters live lives of typical student monotony; at least at first. They do stuff. They watch TV, get high on drugs, lust, cram for exams and make friends. But they are not "everyman" either. One of the characters is a genius and is likely to make great break-throughs in his field. Another is the lover of an introverted, young billionaire who studies in some of his classes. The unique personal lives of these characters make up the main of the story.

Portraying this group of individuals means understanding what they want, it means understanding them better than they understand themselves. They make mistakes and you can see it coming. They act and react in ways that confuses them, but it clear to you. Playing the game is often a matter of psychological analysis, or intuitive leaps. The characters, like people in real life, are a constant act of creation. What they say and what they do is, explicitly at least, who they are. Some of the characters are less focal to the plot, but this is only natural. Some characters are more interesting than others, or deeply involved in the secrets of the reality Che has hidden beneath veneers of innocence and in pits of danger.

The characters are a group of friends and lovers. For most of them, the problems that result from such relationships are their main concern. But when strange things happen, and some of these friends... change... the unusual breaks into their lives and portrayal of the characters becomes more challenging, more fun and more inventive. The game is like a soap opera or TV drama series, because it is much longer than a play or novel, full of interwoven plots and emotional problems. But it is a drama which has magnificent and alien horrors at its heart.

Che's universe is one where the unimaginable threatens more than the psychological health of the confused and frightened characters. Their very existence is at stake, yet they don't realise it. Strange plots involving their rich and politically involved families, bizarre holidays which end in terrified, high-speed drives out of town, mad but insightful history professors, orgiastic, desperate parties and surreal, unbelievable parallel dimensions are the situations they must navigate. Yet sometimes I view these things not as literal happenings in the lives of these characters, but as externalisations of their adolescent confusions or fears of growing-up.

For example, one of the main characters, Demetrius (or just "D" to his friends), is deeply in love with another boy, Lon, a billionaire. Yet D has always considered himself heterosexual, having never had much interest in other males and very much concerned with his image. Good looking, athletic and charming, D has never had any problems "getting a piece of ass" and has always been respected and envied by his fellows. But when D shares a woman with Lon, his erotic feelings for the other boy are stirred... Lon's feminine features and character lure D deeper into a relationship with him. When D learns of Lon's heroin habit, then saves him from drowning with the kiss of life, he comes to feel responsible and anxious for him. Their mutual grief over a dead parent each, brings them close together, and D feels confused and defensive about his sexuality and image. Strange things begin to happen at this time. D witnesses the remains of a grisly murder, glimpses a monster that lurks in a deep lake and is threatened by Men In Black.

These external forces seem to be beyond his control. They push and intimidate him in directions he doesn't want to go, they hint at deeper secrets, and the threat of death. Depressed, anxious, but increasingly in love, D's life becomes more tumulus as his friendship with Lon becomes more intimate, complex and inter-dependant. Their personal crises are echoed and compounded by strange events. D seeks to protect and bolster Lon's fragile psyche, but too often unwittingly hurts him. But amidst the dangers and unreal events they manage to grow a little and sometimes do things right. D's acceptance of his feelings gives Lon more room to breathe and at the same time they learn more about the unnatural events happening to them. D's deepening homoeroticism is illustrated in his conflicting feelings toward another boy who desires him. But this boy is a ghost, enslaved to him through magic and serving as his guide to the underworld, and to D's hidden world of desire, life-force and potential.

The game Che invents is an active, organic creation, a stimulating entertainment, and a philosophical dialogue on the nature of desire, life and things that slither in the night-time of the mind.

(Che's CoC ebook soon available for free at www.noumenal.net)


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Kharin
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Re:Call of Cthulu
« Reply #1 on: 2002-06-17 05:07:55 »
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Quote:
What was missing from Lovecraft's writings were characters.


Actually, what was missing from Lovecraft's writings was a decent prose style or any discernible trace of talent or ability. The Lovecraftian mythology was handled much better in the superior writings of Algernon Blackwood. Oh, and by the way:

http://www.wartworld.net/cuddly.html

« Last Edit: 2002-06-18 04:49:33 by kharin » Report to moderator   Logged
Walpurgis
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Re:Call of Cthulu
« Reply #2 on: 2002-06-17 06:22:36 »
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Well, you don't have to like Lovecraft to enjoy playing an RPG based on it.

Lovecraft though Blackwood was better than he was, and had a lot of praise for him. I agree Blackwood is an excellent writer in that genre.

Might I also recommend M. R. James (not P. D. James) and Arthur Machen? Machen is my personal favourite, especially his story "The White People", which is among my short story favourites. The atmosphere and imagery he creates in that strange tale are underpinned by a fascinating and unique philosophy.

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Kharin
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Re:Call of Cthulu
« Reply #3 on: 2002-06-17 07:05:18 »
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I shall look out for Machen. I've read James and agree that he is well worth recommending.

Oddly enough, the best stories in the horror genre that I've read are by EF Benson, an otherwise decidedly erratic writer (the mere mention of Map and Lucia is enough to induce shudders).
« Last Edit: 2002-06-17 07:07:04 by kharin » Report to moderator   Logged
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Re:Call of Cthulu
« Reply #4 on: 2002-06-17 07:30:39 »
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Personally, I find a suitably complex role-playing plot, with believable and interesting characters, more able to inspire horror than most writings. I've been more frightened, excited and saddened by the lives and deaths of my characters as they interact with the story, than I have by most films and "horror" books.

On the other hand, I find books more horrifying if they deal with real-life/philosophical issues than "horror". Conrad's "Heart of darkness", de Beauvoir's "An Easy Death" and accounts of the Nazi holocaust, for example, are more horrifying than anything written by "horror" authors.

Machen et al provide a form of escapism/thrill far more than horror for me. That said, Machen (in particular) has written philosophically based stories with power equal to those short-stories of, say, Kafka or Thomas Mann (some of my favourites short-story writers).

I think my real, unstated targets, are "horror" writers like the appalling Stephen King. I find his drivel horrifying in a totally different way to what he intends....
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Kharin
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Re:Call of Cthulu
« Reply #5 on: 2002-06-17 08:54:59 »
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I think my real, unstated targets, are "horror" writers like the appalling Stephen King. I find his drivel horrifying in a totally different way to what he intends....

I quite agree. King is less of an author and more of an crime against good taste 
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Re:Call of Cthulu
« Reply #6 on: 2002-06-17 16:02:56 »
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I haven't played CoC for almost 20 years but I have very fond memories of the role-playing sessions.

Have you read any of Brian Lumley's Lovecraft-inspired novels? I've only read Lumley's Necroscope and found that quite entertaining.
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spawn of Lovecraft
« Reply #7 on: 2002-06-18 04:03:09 »
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I've not heard of Brian Lumley, though I'm aware there are anumber of writers who take cues from Lovecraft.

Any more recommendations along these lines?
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Re:Call of Cthulu (sic)
« Reply #8 on: 2002-06-18 12:37:05 »
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HP Lovecraft at his 'best' found by opening up a random page of the mountains of madness. At least he sticks to the confines of the English language in this one:


Quote:
It must have had a mystic and marvellous beauty, and as I thought of it I almost forgot the clammy sense of sinister oppression with which the city's inhuman age and massiveness and deadness and remoteness and glacial twilight had weighed on my spirit.

How many human cities do we know? Were not all those adjectives weighing on his spirit? Was there ever in the field of horror writing an author so easily scared by so little?

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Re:Call of Cthulu (sic)
« Reply #9 on: 2002-06-18 13:47:06 »
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Quote from: kharin on 2002-06-18 12:37:05   

HP Lovecraft at his 'best' found by opening up a random page of the mountains of madness.

Look for the passage that describes the attack of the giant shambling penguin. Truly horrifying! 
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Re:Call of Cthulu
« Reply #10 on: 2002-06-19 06:01:46 »
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This would be the giant blind albino would it not? Oh dear...
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Kharin
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Re:Call of Cthulu
« Reply #11 on: 2002-06-20 11:07:52 »
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Just came across this:

http://www.creative.net/~alang/lit/horror/blackwd.sht


Quote:
Algernon Blackwood. English writer of ghost stories and supernatural fiction, of whom Lovecraft wrote: "He is the one absolute and unquestioned master of weird atmosphere." His powerful story "The Willows," which effectively describes another dimension impinging upon our own, was reckoned by Lovecraft to be not only "foremost of all" Blackwood's tales but the best "weird tale" of all time. (Unfortunately, Blackwood, who was familiar with Lovecraft's work, failed to return the compliment. As he told Peter Penzoldt, he found the element of "spiritual terror" missing in his young admirer's writing, while it was all-important in his own.)
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Re:Call of Cthulu
« Reply #12 on: 2003-10-14 03:46:19 »
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[[ author reputation (0.00) beneath threshold (3)... display message ]]

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what's coming through is alive, what's holding up is a mirror... totally void of hate, and killing me just the same... coming over like a storm again now considerately.
Kharin
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Re:Call of Cthulu
« Reply #13 on: 2003-10-14 04:41:11 »
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Quote:
"it would make sense that his ability to write it down in a cohesive manner with believeable characters would be second to JUST GETTING THE VISIONS OUT OF HIS HEAD AND ONTO THE PAGE!"

I'm told that surgery has much the same effect.
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