July 23, 2009

A Little Madness is Good for You

This week I was happy to see the arrival of my first supplement for the Call of Cthulhu game, Madness in London Town. This adventure is the second, after Death in Luxor, in Goodman Games’ Age of Cthulhu line.

The line is a difficult one to author. I always try to write a great, fun-to-play adventure first and foremost, regardless of the game system or ruleset. The AoC line adds three more layers of complication: sticking to the Lovecraft Mythos and feel, getting a good feel for the time period (1920s), and writing an adventure set in a foreign country. This makes for a challenge, to be sure. This project also coincided with the birth of my son, a time that any parent knows is more than a bit crazy (and tiring). I am however a huge horror fan and longtime reader of Lovecraft, so I attacked this project with a singular glee.

I soon found myself buried in research. I watched films about England, Googled up scans of old books, re-read certain Lovecraft short stories, and looked at endless photos and antique maps. I spent several nights just reading about British automobile companies and the models they sold. Well aware that Cthulhu players are a fussy lot—sometimes even overly fussy about rather trivial historical details—I did my best to litter the adventure with little tidbits. (An example: In one scene a description of an entrance of the British Museum casually mentions a bust of the Duke of Marlborough; at the time the adventure was set, there was a bust of the Duke standing there. In other areas—such as the amount of wooded land on the Salisbury Plain or the British Museum having “curators”*—I took liberties to benefit the adventure.)

*The curatorial staff are actually referred to as “keepers” but as the Call of Cthulhu game refers to its GMs as Keepers, I thought it best to avoid confusion.

Good CoC adventures have good handouts, in my humble opinion, so that was also a major focus of mine. I created many of the adventure's handouts and that was a blast. GG has a great group of artists and typesetters, but it was great to wear the design hat for this book.

England was my first choice of locations for this adventure. I spent some time over there studying some years ago, and I liked the country and its people so much that I actually tore up my return ticket. In the end (and luckily for England no doubt) I did return home after wandering the British Isles a bit more, but my love of the country persists.

Now that the smoke has cleared, I’m quite happy with the way it turned out. The adventure has insidious villains, duplicity and red herrings galore, and many old-style creepy touches. Some situations (such as a badly-placed mirror in one scene) were taken directly from frightening experiences I’ve had or odd things I’ve seen. I tried to touch on the multiple facets of horror: blood spatters, crawly wriggling things, mannequins that move when you’re not looking, creepy objects, etc. I also had fun in places trying to evoke a Lovecraftian style of prose (which is to say overly descriptive but creepy).

Thanks to my wonderful playtesters: Steve Crovatto, Mike Ferguson, Ken Hart, Dave Nicolette, and Willie Wahington (extra props to Mike for Keepering and getting Henry Prichard's vocal tics just right). Thanks also to Eddie Sharam for a great cover and for being receptive to my art suggestions.

Writing this book was probably the toughest assignment I’ve had in a while, but it’s the kind that has you grinning enough while you do it to make passerby wonder about you. It was that best type of project because it's an effort but it's also great fun in the process.

I hope you enjoy the adventure. Better yet, I hope your investigator survives it.
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