[19:35] <+GarethRH> I’m Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, a writer and game designer. I’ve done… lots of stuff. Mongoose Traveller/Pirates of Drinax, The Laundry Files RPG, Darkening of Mirkwood for the One Ring, Eyes of the Stone Thief for 13th Age, the whole Dracula Dossier thing, and lots more books that I’m not going to recall now because I’m in Ireland and therefore it’s really late
[19:36] <+GarethRH> My most recent project, and what I’m primarily here to talk about, is Cthulhu City, a new setting/campaign sourcebook for the Trail of Cthulhu rpg.
[19:36] <+GarethRH> (Link: http://site.pelgranepress.com/index.php/cthulhu-city/)http://site.pelgranepress.com/index.php/cthulhu-city/
[19:38] <+GarethRH> It’s set in Great Arkham, that sprawling metropolis north of Boston that you all, of course, recall from your history books. That great, old, terrible city of unnumbered crimes.
[19:38] <+GarethRH> A city drawn from all of Lovecraft’s cities – Arkham and Dunwich and Innsmouth and Kingsport, but also Rlyeh and the Nameless City and the City of the Elder Things…
[19:38] <+GarethRH> (done)
[19:39] <~Dan> Thanks, GarethRH!
[19:39] <~Dan> The floor is open to questions!
[19:40] <~Dan> So first, could you give the folks a quick recap about Trail of Cthulhu?
[19:41] <+GarethRH> Trail of Cthulhu, by Ken Hite ((Link: http://site.pelgranepress.com/index.php/trail-of-cthulhu/)http://site.pelgranepress.com/index.php/trail-of-cthulhu/), is Pelgrane’s game of Cthulhuoid horror using the GUMSHOE system.
[19:41] <+GarethRH> Lovecraftian investigators against the Mythos, set in the 1930s, and using a system designed explicitly to support investigation.
[19:42] <+MonkofLords> 0/
[19:42] <~Dan> And GUMSHOE is the system that uses resource management rather than rolls for investigation, IIRC?
[19:42] <~Dan> (Howdy, MonkofLords!)
[19:42] <+GarethRH> The core concept of GUMSHOE is that getting information is always more interesting than not getting it.
[19:43] <~Dan> So is Cthulhu City set in the 1930s as well?
[19:43] <+GarethRH> So, there’s no rolling (and no resource management either) for getting the basic clues. You’ll always Spot the footprint in the dirt, and you’ll always recall that there was a series of weird murders out at that farm a few years ago.
[19:45] <+CommittedHero> It was a wonderful surprise to see the nod to A Night in the Lonesome October. Had you adapted the Opening & Closing Ritual to a campaign previously?
[19:45] <+GarethRH> There’s are point-spending investigative mechanic in GUMSHOE, but that’s to get extra information or benefits, not for the fundamental clues.
[19:45] <~Dan> Gotcha.
[19:45] <+GarethRH> It’s what you do with the clues that’s interesting, not whether to not you get them. (And that’s the 30-second GenCon booth spiel done :))
[19:46] <~Dan> 🙂
[19:46] <+GarethRH> Cthulhu City is… superficially set in 1937, and may well be set in 1937.
[19:47] <~Dan> Is it part of the Trail of Cthulhu setting, or is it an alternate setting?
[19:47] <+GarethRH> I haven’t explicitly used the Openers and Closers gimmick from Zelazny before, but it’s not the first Cthulhu game I (or anyone else) has written that hinges on stopping a ritual 🙂
[19:48] <~Dan> (Howdy, Jezibel, Lin_Chong!)
[19:48] <+Lin_Chong> (darling)
[19:48] <+Jezibel> Hi.
[19:48] <+GarethRH> It can be used as either.
[19:49] <+GarethRH> You can either start a new campaign set in the weird city, rolling up characters who’ve always lived in Great Arkham and have deep-rooted connections to the city.
[19:49] <~Dan> I’m assuming that there’s a bit more to getting to Cthulhu City than just driving north of Boston?
[19:50] <+GarethRH> Or you have characters from some other, more conventional Trail campaign in the ‘real world’ get consumed by the city, trapping them in Great Arkham.
[19:52] <+GarethRH> The city’s relationship to the rest of the United States is variable. You drive north out of Boston, and when you stop for gas, they’re selling unfamiliar road maps at the gas station and suddenly you can’t find your way back onto the highway
[19:52] <~Dan> Sort of an In the Mouth of Madness thing?
[19:53] <+GarethRH> and when you ask for directions, everyone’s acting like there’s always been a giant metropolis off that way
[19:53] <~Dan> (Howdy, Andy-C!)
[19:53] <+Andy-C> (Hi, Dan!)
[19:54] <+GarethRH> yeah – there’s advice in the book on how to handle Great Arkham’s degree of connection to the real world. It might exist in conventional space/time, or have a sort of dreamy half-existence, or be off in some weird pocket universe.
[19:54] <~Dan> Do Mythos creatures live out in the open in the city?
[19:56] <+GarethRH> Not quite. but the mythos is a lot closer to the surface there. People know that their city is _wrong_. They know there are places you shouldn’t go. Everyone’s seen things moving behind the clouds or in the waters.
[19:57] <+GarethRH> There are weird buildings, weird churches. Weird people.
[19:57] <+GarethRH> And there are the transport police, and the Church of the Conciliator, which are probably the most visible ‘creatures’.
[19:57] <~Dan> What are they like?
[19:59] <+GarethRH> You won’t meet a shoggoth on the street in broad daylight, but you’ll hear what sounds like a subway train pass underneath, even though you know there aren’t any subways south of Miskatonic. Do you want to open that manhole?
[20:00] <+GarethRH> The Transport Police are a special unit of the city police, ostensibly supposed to contain the ongoing typhoid problem. They go around wearing gas masks and carrying chemical sprayers to ‘disinfect’ vehicles. And buildings. And troublesome people..
[20:00] <+GarethRH> They make problems disappear.
[20:01] <~Dan> Nicely creepy.
[20:01] <~Dan> Is there any Mythos tech that appears openly?
[20:02] <+GarethRH> The Church of the Conciliator is the city’s dominant Christian sect, founded by an eccentric Dunwich preacher in the early 18th century. Their theology holds that God is co-terminous with space and time, and humanity must be reconciled to his strangeness. (And Christ sleeps in his tomb, dead but dreaming, until He arises.)
[20:03] <+GarethRH> Again, not _openly_, but you don’t need to look very hard to find the weirdness.
[20:04] * ~Dan nods
[20:04] <~Dan> Is there really a statue of Cthulhu in the harbor?
[20:04] <+GarethRH> The city’s primary source of food is Gardner Industrial Farms, which are these huge buildings on the outskirts of Westheath. They use these “high-tech” vitalising lamps to make plants (and recently, animals) develop quickly. One-harvest-a-day, quickyl
[20:05] <+GarethRH> Some people say the lamps glow with a Colour that can’t be named…
[20:06] <+GarethRH> And in the university, it’s an open secret in the science faculty that physics in Great Arkham doesn’t necessarily work like physics in the textbooks.
[20:06] <~Dan> The university being Miskatonic U.?
[20:07] <+GarethRH> The cover should be taken metaphorically more than literally – but a giant statue of Cthulhu in the harbour wouldn’t be _that_ far out of bounds. Probably an eccentric project by a previous mayor.
[20:07] <+GarethRH> Yeah, Miskatonic.
[20:10] <~Dan> Now, Miskatonic U., as well as Arkham, Dunwich, and Kingsport, also exist in “normal” Trail of Cthulhu, correct?
[20:10] <+GarethRH> At the start of the game, the university’s still recovering from the Armitage scandal. It turns out that several professors and other staff members in the university were plotting to blow up city hall, and were thwarted in the nick of time by heroic police officers.
[20:11] <~Dan> Terrorists!
[20:11] <+GarethRH> Yep. While Trail hasn’t spent that much time in Arkham Country, there’s the Armitage Files campaign and a few other Arkham-related adventures.
[20:12] <+GarethRH> Seditious Communo-anarchists! Good thing Hoover sent one of his best G-Men, Agent Vorsht, down to Great Arkham to help restore order.
[20:13] <~Dan> Whew!
[20:15] <~Dan> Looking over the description of the city, I see that there’s plenty of Mythos-y architecture. Is there a “normal” explanation given for the skyscrapers with no windows, for example?
[20:15] <+GarethRH> nope.
[20:16] <~Dan> Is it considered strange?
[20:16] <+GarethRH> The city authorities erect plywood hoardings around the base of those cryptic towers, painted to look like normal streetscapes.
[20:17] <+GarethRH> Lots of things are considered strange. It’s…. impolite and unlucky, in Great Arkham society, to ask too many questions.
[20:18] <~Dan> Do “normal” people work in those towers, or are they off-limits (officially or otherwise)?
[20:18] <+GarethRH> You can accept the fact that there’s an impossibly huge, windowless, cyclopean tower over there, or you can be seen as troublesome by the authorities. Your choice.
[20:19] <+GarethRH> Depends on the tower. Some are windowless and doorless; others have oddly-shaped, oddly-sized rooms inside.
[20:19] <+GarethRH> They’re more likely to be used for storage or some similar purpose, but people do work in some of them.
[20:20] <+GarethRH> And there are squatters living in towers, too.
[20:21] <~Dan> (Howdy, RayAtHigherGrounds! Meet Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan!)
[20:21] <+GarethRH> Pretty much everyone in Great Arkham knows that the city is monstrous and wrong and creepy and that things shouldn’t be like this. But most people swallow that sense of wrongness to get on with their lives, or to avoid trouble.
[20:21] <+RayAtHigherGrounds> (Thanks, Dan. Nice to meet you!)
[20:21] <+GarethRH> Players characters are the sort of people who can’t make that compromise.
[20:21] <+GarethRH> (hey)
[20:21] <~Dan> What happens if you try to leave the city?
[20:21] <+GarethRH> That depends on your campaign
[20:22] <+GarethRH> it’s never _easy_ to leave. There’s a list of escalating perils that investigators may face, and part of character creation involves picking a reason why you can’t just up and leave.
[20:23] <+GarethRH> but let’s say you get past the transport police, and the things in the woods, and cross the city limits. What happens then depends on your campaign, and the nature of the city.
[20:24] <+RayAtHigherGrounds> I hope I didn’t miss the question but is this city the only city or are the people there just somehow kind of locked in?
[20:24] <+GarethRH> If Great Arkham really exists in the ‘real world’, then if you leave, you’re in the countryside. Of course, if Great Arkham really exists, that implies that history has been _changed_, as there isn’t supposed to be a giant Lovecraftian metropolis
[20:26] <+GarethRH> If Great Arkham is more of a surreal urban nightmare that’s only tangentially associated with our reality, then you might leave the city and return to the ‘real’ world… only for the city to consume you again later on. You make it to Boston, and things are ok for a while, but then you start hearing rats in the walls and having weird dreams
[20:26] <+GarethRH> and then one morning there’s a giant cyclopean skyscraper on the horizon…
[20:28] <+GarethRH> And there’s the possibility that you leave the city, and find that there’s an alien desert with two suns in the sky once you cross the city limits. A large part of the campaign is discovering what the city really is and how/why it exists, and there’s a bunch of possibilities given for those ultimate answers.
[20:28] <~Dan> If it does exist in “realspace”, that would contradict “normal” Lovecraft Country, right?
[20:28] <~Dan> (Howdy, Egg!)
[20:28] <+EggEmbry> Hello!
[20:29] <~Dan> In terms of the weirdness, I’m getting a bit of an Al Almarja/Over the Edge vibe with Mythos flavor.
[20:30] <+GarethRH> @Ray – they’ll tell you that Great Arkham’s just another city in the United States, but some people – including player characters – have unusual trouble in leaving the city. Other people might be able to leave, or might just rationalise away the fact they never leave.
[20:30] <+RayAtHigherGrounds> Is entry as difficult as leaving?
[20:31] <~Dan> “You can check out any time you like // But you can never leave…”
[20:31] <+GarethRH> Over The Edge with Lovecraft’s sensibilities rather than Burroughs isn’t a bad summary.
[20:31] <+CommittedHero> How would you envision a Keeper taking some of the people & places you’ve written and creating a mystery for a session?
[20:32] <+GarethRH> And yeah, getting in isn’t an issue.
[20:32] <+GarethRH> Great Arkham welcomes visitors.
[20:34] <+GarethRH> The book uses the same variable approach for NPCs and locations that Robin Laws developed for the Armitage Files campaign, and we used in Dracula Dossier. A given NPC – a generic Nurse, say – gets three linked writeups as a Victim, an Ally, and a Sinister servant of the Mythos. Locations can be Masked or Unmasked.
[20:34] <+GarethRH> And each writeup has a bunch of plot hooks.
[20:34] <+CommittedHero> It’s a little trickier to do it in Trail than NBA, however – you always had the “it’s vampires” excuse to fall back on.
[20:35] <+GarethRH> The basic Cthulhu City session isn’t that different to the average Trail session. You’re playing investigators; you get a mysterious hook of some sort, do some investigating, discover a horrible truth, and maybe stop whatever horrible stuff is going on.
[20:36] <+GarethRH> The sample adventure in the book, for example, starts off with the characters being asked to investigate a ghost sighting.
[20:37] <~Dan> I don’t recall how sanity works in Trail, but it seems like living in Great Arkham would be a continual drip-drip-drip of sanity loss. Am I missing something, there? Is it possible to hang onto your marbles by living in a constant state of denial?
[20:39] <+Crazy-Cabal> Dan>Yes it seems…like Carcosa is next door and everyone is just pretending they can’t see the lakes.
[20:39] <+GarethRH> The big differences are, 1) the early part of the mystery where the characters flail around looking for a mundane explanation gets short-circuited, 2) there’s lots of Mythos activity in a confined area, so the same investigators can plausibly encounter a variety of weird threats without it feeling like a monster of the week,
[20:40] <+GarethRH> 3) this session’s mystery can feed into the larger campaign mysteries, and 4), there’s blowback for thwarting the mythos.
[20:41] <+CommittedHero> At some point they are going to run afoul of a cult – would you see that struggle as a large segment of a typical campaign?
[20:41] <+GarethRH> Everyone in the city has definitely lost some sanity. It’s possible, if you’re ok with self-delusion, to limit your losses by studiously ignoring weirdness and keeping your head down. But yeah, everyone’s a little bit broken here…
[20:42] <+GarethRH> @CommittedHero – yeah, the assumption of the setting is that a campaign goes through three stages.
[20:42] <+GarethRH> You start off with small-scale, local mysteries of the week. Those put you on the trail of the city’s cults, which are behind lots of stuff.
[20:43] <~Dan> The cults are running the show, at least on the human level, aren’t they?
[20:43] <+GarethRH> Investigating the cults is stage two. And cult activity ties into the big mysteries of the setting: what is the nature of the city? how do we escape? What is the ritual of opening?
[20:44] <+GarethRH> And answering one or more of those questions is stage 3.
[20:44] <+GarethRH> Yeah. The city authorities are compromised by cults.
[20:45] <~Dan> So instead of the authorities not believing your claims, they’ll certainly believe you…
[20:45] <+GarethRH> There are several cults vying for control of the city to one degree or another – the Church, the Witch Coven, the Necromantic Cabal, and the Esoteric Order of Dagon being the main politically active ones.
[20:45] <+CommittedHero> @Dan that’s a great observation!
[20:46] <+GarethRH> Ish. The authorities will deny there’s anything unusual going on – and then they’ll send the transport police to, uh, “quarantine” you
[20:47] <+GarethRH> There’s a Suspicion mechanic that measures how aware the authorities are of the investigators, and what they do to people who ask questions
[20:47] <+GarethRH> as your Suspicion rises, you go from “having your phones tapped” or “awkward questions” to “people around you start disappearing”.
[20:48] <+GarethRH> You gain Suspicion by doing suspicious things, like openly asking questions, being seen where you shouldn’t be, associating with other investigators and the like
[20:49] <+GarethRH> and you can lose Suspicion by avoiding attention, adopting cover identities, covering up your activities and so on
[20:49] <+GarethRH> It’s adapted from the Heat rules in Night’s Black Agents.
[20:50] <~Dan> Man. With the authorities being actively hostile rather than just useless as in “normal” Trial, seems like this is a seriously difficult setting.
[20:50] <~Dan> Trail, rather
[20:51] <+GarethRH> You’ve got some advantages.
[20:51] <~Dan> I mean, I’d imagine that checking out the nastybad section of the library would get you red-flagged in a hurry.
[20:52] <+GarethRH> For example, there’s a new category of investigative abilities called District Knowledges, which tie into different parts of the city.
[20:52] <~Dan> Oh? How do those work?
[20:53] <+GarethRH> If you’ve got University District Knowledge, you know how to move around that district covertly, know who the various key figures are, and can spend those points to create contacts and allies
[20:53] <+GenoFoxx> ((g’night))
[20:53] <+GarethRH> They work like regular investigative abilities, but they’re more flexible (if less portable)
[20:54] <+GarethRH> If you’ve got Innsmouth Docks Knowledge, then it covers everything from Innsmouth architecture and history, to how to blend into society there, to knowing about the Marsh gang and the Order of Dagon.
[20:54] <~Dan> Hmm. If that’s a major advantage, it seems like non-native investigators would be screwed.
[20:55] <+GarethRH> And you could spend a point of Innsmouth Docks to hide, or to declare you’ve got a friend you can trust etc.
[20:55] * ~Dan nods
[20:57] <+GarethRH> Yeah, newcomers to the city get bonus XP to buy district knowledges quickly
[20:57] <~Dan> Ah, that’s good.
[20:58] <+GarethRH> (And one option is that newcomers discover that the city thinks they’ve always lived there. You wake up in an alleyway, and you find you’ve got a house key and driver’s license in your pocket. You go to the apartment, and there are photos of you on the walls, as if you’ve lived here for years…
[20:59] <+GarethRH> And then, as you’re looking around the apartment, you hear someone else unlocking the front door with their key…)
[20:59] <~Dan> Is it easier to get away with weird activity like spellcasting, what with people studiously ignoring that sort of thing?
[21:00] <+GarethRH> (oh – and the librarian at Miskatonic is _probably_ on your side. She’s taken over from Professor Armitage and is carrying on his work)
[21:01] <+GarethRH> yeah, it would be. At least, people are used to ignoring strangeness.
[21:01] <+GarethRH> And it’s a lot easier to get hold of sorcery or join a cult in Cthulhu City. And some of the cults are relatively benign.
[21:02] <~Dan> How “relatively”? :)”
[21:02] <+GarethRH> depends.
[21:04] <+GarethRH> There’s the Silver Lodge, who on a surface level are bumbling occultists, mystics and gadabouts. They’re seen as mostly harmless by the authorities because they’re so clueless
[21:04] <+GarethRH> but the masters of the Lodge are in touch with an “alien wizard” called Zkauba, who’s a lot more powerful and aware of the mythos)
[21:05] <+GarethRH> Or there’s the Pnakotic Cult, the guys who serve the Great Race of Yith.
[21:06] <+GarethRH> The Yithian minds in the city are just as stuck as the investigators – they can only travel within the last 300 years or so. They can go back to the city’s founding, or forward to the near future, but can’t get back home to
[21:06] <+GarethRH> their cone bodies.
[21:07] <+GarethRH> they’re also hunted by the city authorities, so they can be temporary allies for the investigators.
[21:07] <~Dan> Ah, yes. The Yithians are positively sweethearts by Mythos standards.
[21:07] <+GarethRH> Even some of the nastier cults may be willing to work with the investigators.
[21:08] <~Dan> Enemy of my enemy situations?
[21:08] <+GarethRH> One of the big questions of the setting is the Ritual of Opening and Closing (which is obviously inspired by A Night in the Lonesome October)
[21:08] <~Dan> Oooooh, I lovelovelove that book.
[21:08] <+GarethRH> Some of the cults want to use the ritual to Open the City, some want to Close it.
[21:09] <+GarethRH> However, no-one’s sure which side the other cults are on, or exactly what Opening or Closing entails
[21:09] <+GarethRH> (or where the ritual will next take place)
[21:10] <+GarethRH> And if you participate in the ritual on the losing side, you get blown up by magic backlash
[21:10] * ~Dan nods
[21:10] <+GarethRH> so the investigators could plausibly turn one cult against another if they’ve got the right information.
[21:11] <~Dan> If any of you haven’t read A Night in the Lonesome October, go do so immediately.
[21:11] <~Dan> Well, after this chat, of course.
[21:12] <~Dan> Does Cthulhu City have its own bestiary?
[21:12] <+GarethRH> not really. Creating new Mythos monster is kinda redundant, as there are so many out there already
[21:13] * ~Dan nods
[21:13] <+GarethRH> one of the reason I created the setting, in fact, was because I wanted to have a campaign setting that could actually use lots of monsters without it seeming cheesy
[21:14] <+GarethRH> it’s got the Mythos hoedown concept baked right in 🙂
[21:14] <~Dan> Indeed! 🙂
[21:14] <~Dan> What was your inspiration for the setting?
[21:15] <+GarethRH> There are a few individual monsters – there’s a possibly-invisible serial killer in Dunwich, for example, and all the cults are done as templates, so you can take a generic NPC and adjust their stats to make them, a secret witch or whatever.
[21:16] <+GarethRH> It started with an adventure in Arkham Detective Tales, which was an early adventure anthology for Trail. There’s an adventure in there that involves a trip to an alien city, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to that idea.
[21:18] <+GarethRH> Other influences: Night in the Lonesome October, obviously. Jeff Vandermeer’s Finch, which is a fantastic story about a detective in a city that’s been occupied by alien forces.
[21:18] <~Dan> (Howdy,, Yalborap!)
[21:18] <~Dan> (Howdy, Will!)
[21:19] <+Will> (heyhey)
[21:19] <~Dan> In the time remaining, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to bring up?
[21:19] <+GarethRH> The biggest inspiration, though, is Lovecraft. The whole thing is a celebration of Lovecraftian gaming 🙂
[21:19] <~Dan> Awesome. 🙂
[21:21] <~Dan> Oh, and usual reminder to folks: You can support my Q&As here, if you’re so inclined: (Link: https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/the-gmshoes-tip-jar/)https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/the-gmshoes-tip-jar/
[21:21] <+GarethRH> I’ll plug Par Lindstrom’s gorgeous endpaper street maps of the city. He did a fantastic job taking my scrawls and making them into a workable map.
[21:21] <~Dan> (Howdy, Le_Squide!)
[21:22] <+GarethRH> I’ll see about getting downloadable versions of them up on the Pelgrane site
[21:23] <~Dan> I’d love to review this book, if you guys are so inclined. 🙂
[21:23] <~Dan> (Howdy, Ettin!)
[21:23] <+GarethRH> We ran a ton of Cthulhu City games at GenCon, and sold out of copies at the booth, which was very gratifying.
[21:24] <~Dan> That’s great!
[21:24] <+GarethRH> I’ll pass details on to Pelgrane and see what can be done 🙂
[21:24] <~Dan> Congrats on the game’s success!
[21:24] <+GarethRH> any last questions?
[21:24] <~Dan> Thanks, GarethRH! And thanks for joining us!
[21:24] <+RayAtHigherGrounds> Thanks GarethRH!
[21:24] <~Dan> I think I’m covered. Anyone else? Or shall we let poor GarethRH get to sleep? 🙂
[21:25] <~Dan> Okay then! Give me just a minute, and I’ll get the log posted and link you. 🙂