"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Thursday, June 4, 2020



Six Seasons In Sartar is still in DriveThruRPG's top ten "Bestselling Titles" three weeks after release, something I certainly never expected from a modest community content offering.  I am indebted to the folks at Chaosium, as well as the Glorantha fan community, for this.  The reviews have been terrific, and because of all of this we are working hard to prepare the book for a print on demand offering (something we never initially expected to do).  Stay tuned for news on that.

Click to read what people are saying.

And here as well.

With this said, I'd like to let all of you know what you can expect from us next.


Expected Late Summer

New Pavis, 1623.

As Pavis struggles to recover from the Great Winter, its streets thronged with the destitute and the hungry, a Dara Happan aristocrat arrives from the ancient Pelorian city of Alkoth.

Unva Prithverna is hiring.

For two dozen desperate guards, bearers, and guides, employment means rescue from starvation.  But everything comes with a price.  Prithverna's path will lead them across the River of Cradles into the desolation of the Wastelands.  Her purpose a mystery, they stray far from caravan trails and nomad grazing lands into uncharted horror and madness.  The restless dead, hungry spirits, and Chaos monstrosities haunt them every step of the way, but all this pales before what awaits them at the end...

Help Prithverna unlock the final riddle.

Unva Prithverna (some interior art)

Inspired by Armaj of Glamour's infamous pillow book, The Final Riddle is expected to be about a hundred pages.  Like Six Seasons in Sartar, it comes annotated with excerpts from scholarly works and lectures detailing aspects of Seventh Wane history, Lunar religion, and life amongst the nomad peoples of Prax.  Also included between the covers you will find;

5 complete scenarios set in the Wastelands beyond Prax, useable together as a single campaign of suspense and horror, or separately in your own Gloranthan sagas.

An introductory essay on author Lady Armaj, Lunar pillow books, and how The Final Riddle led to her downfall and death.

A chapter on Illumination in Glorantha, discussing the differences between Nysalorean Illumination, Lunar Sevening, and Draconic Consciousness.

Streamlined NPC creation rules that focus on roleplaying and making the characters memorable.

A dozen Prax and Wasteland specific "episodes," mini-scenearios and side quests you can use to expand your campaign or drop into any ongoing Gloranthan game.     

We hope to offer the book in both PDF and POD formats.


Sartar.  1620 to 1625 ST.

Once, you had a home.  You had a family and a people.  You belonged, and something belonged to you.  Then, the  treachery of your own king and the servants of the Red Moon goddess took everything away from you.  You watched the people you loved die and the life you knew burn.

Now, all that's left is vengeance.

Playable as a direct sequel to Six Seasons in Sartar--in which your characters are now "the Company of the Dragon," also known as "Kallyr's Chosen"--or as its own separate campaign where you start off as a band of outlaws and rebels waging guerrilla war against the Lunar Occupation, The Company of the Dragon is the story of a conquered people and the lengths they will go to for freedom.  Members of the Sartarite rebellion, from their hidden encampments the characters strike at the Occupation every chance they get.  But the "deaths" of their god and goddess at the hands of the Lunars have brought endless winter and starvation.  If something doesn't change soon, there will be nothing and no one left for them to liberate.

Planned to be even longer than Six Seasons, at about 160 to 180 pages, The Company of the Dragon will include;

5 complete scenarios taking place over as many years, including a daring raid to rescue prisoners condemned to feed the Crimson Bat, the Battle of Auroch Hills, and a terrifying mission into a condemned dragonewt citadel in order to help Kallyr of Kheldon drive out the Lunar Empire once and for all.

A extensive look at Initiation in its various forms and degrees, including initiation into cults or war bands, Rune Lord status, or the Rune Priesthood.

An essay on Draconic Consciousness, the dragonewts, and the mysteries of the Empire of Wyrm's Friends.  

Two dozen "episodes," mini-scenarios and side quests centered around life as a rebel.  These include raiding caravans, espionage missions, attacking supply lines, taking and liberating hostages, and diplomatic assignments to gain support for your cause.  While tailored for this campaign, they could easily be adapted to any other Gloranthan saga, especially those focused on rebellion and banditry.

Like Six Seasons in Sartar, The Company of the Dragon is designed with flexibility and adaptability in mind, so that much of it can be reused in other RuneQuest or HeroQuest/Questworld campaigns.  

We intend to have the book ready before Christmas, in both PDF and print on demand forms.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2020



This review was written on the 17th of May, though Chaosium asked me to hold it until the release of the hardcover edition.  I mention this because the death of George Floyd fell between then and now, and as I write these words I am watching the nation I left behind wrestle with its soul.

It might appear at first blush then that this review is being published in a very different context than it was written.  But then again, is it really?  I am of the opinion that the only thing that has changed in America these days is that there are more cameras; what happened to George Floyd has been happening on a daily basis for centuries.  Nothing has changed, but we can all live in hope that this time maybe--just maybe--something finally will.

One thing I will say before you and I go ahead with the review.  Back in May, I initially had some reservations after looking at what I had written.  I questioned myself whether the review wasted too much time talking about Harlem Unbound's contribution to the ongoing conversation on race in America, rather than talking about it as the damn fine Call of Cthulhu supplement it is.  I decided to let it stand.  My sense was that author Chris Spivey--who has clearly poured his heart and soul into Harlem Unbound--wanted the dialogue on race to be part of the experience.  For me to shy away from that as a reviewer would be disingenuous at best and cowardly at worst.  Now, as I watch the news each morning, I am glad I made that call.

Chris, if you are reading this, thank you.  And if you are a drinking man, someday the first beer is on me.




EVERY NOW AND THEN a role-playing game product appears that you didn't realize you needed--no, scratch that, that the industry needed--until it finally arrived.  This is really the only place you can start a review of Harlem Unbound.  It's a setting book for Chaosium's flagship Call of Cthulhu, and rather than sum it up for you I will just quote the back of the book; 

New York City. Prohibition is in full swing and bootleggers are living high. African-Americans flee the oppressive South for greener pastures, creating a new culture in Harlem. The music of Fats Waller and Duke Ellington pours out of the city’s windows, while women in stylish skirts and silk stockings, and men in white gloves and Chesterfield coats crowd the sidewalks. There’s a feeling of possibility in the air, like never before. But, even in this land of promise, Harlem is a powder keg, ready to explode. While classes and cultures collide, the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos lurk beneath the streets, creeping through dark alleys and hidden doorways to infect the hopes and aspirations of the unwary. Can you hold it together and keep the terrors at bay for one more song?

Now, we've seen a lot of these over the years, and Chaosium used to be in the habit of prefacing their titles with "Secrets of," as in Secrets of New York, Secrets of Japan, Secrets of Kenya, Secrets of San Francisco, and so on.  These were all pretty good and they served their basic function; give the Keeper and Investigators enough information about a location to run Call of Cthulhu games there.  But there's been a new team over at Chaosium the last five years, and it's been just the shaking up that Cthulhu, now just shy of turning forty, needed badly.  Last year's Berlin: The Wicked City didn't just drop "Secrets of" from the title, it came with a whole new attitude.  Set in Weimar Germany, Berlin didn't shy away from what made the city notorious at the time.  The book tackles prostitution, drug abuse, and homosexuality head on.  It sent a clear signal that after decades of "Cthulhu for President" bumper stickers and Cthulhu plush toys, Call of Cthulhu wasn't "cute" any more.  It was a horror game and it was ready to get its hands dirty.

Harlem Unbound actually predates Berlin, with an ENnie-award-winning first edition published in 2017, but the second edition doesn't just share the same typeface and layout design as Berlin, it shares the same attitude. Cthulhu is no longer content to gloss over the uncomfortable realities of its 1920s setting, or the equally uncomfortable realities about Howard Phillips Lovecraft. And so, this long introduction finally gets to the point; Harlem is not just a setting sourcebook, it's a book that deals frankly and honestly with race.

Because really, people, how could a book set in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance not?


Harlem Unbound is a sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition or, if you like your campaign two-fisted, Pulp Cthulhu.  Weighing in at 370 pages, it demonstrates all the superb lay out, graphic design, and art we have come to expect from Mike Mason's tenure.  Spivey himself did the Art Direction, leading a team made up of Brennen Reece, Alex Mayo, and Jabari Weathers.  The combination of period photographs and stark black, white, and red illustrations is both eye-catching and suggestive.  I suspect there is subtext in those color choices.    

The book starts with a bang.  In his "Introduction" author, developer, and art director Chris Spivey (who leads a writing team that also includes Sarah Hood, Alex Mayo, Steffie de Vaan, Dr. Cameron Hays, Bob Geis, Noah Lloyd, Ariel Celeste, and Neall Raemonn Price) lays it all out for you.    Yes, Lovecraft was a racist.  He was also homophobic, anti-Semitic, and a misogynist.  This isn't news to anyone.  "But we're not here to focus on the man," Spivey tells us, "...we are here to focus on the work and how to elevate it."  The way that we are going to do that is to turn Lovecraft inside out and on its head.  Where Lovecraft wrote from the place of a white man's fear of marginalized people, we are actually going to be playing the objects of his fear.  The default assumption in Harlem Unbound, to put it plainly, is that the player characters are black.

Now there is nothing remarkable about this.  Not really.  If you were playing a campaign set in feudal Japan your character would be Japanese.  If the campaign was set in Anglo-Saxon England, you'd be Anglo-Saxon.  So really it is obvious that a game set in 1920s Harlem would feature black player characters.  

But in making this perfectly logical design choice, Spivey (himself a black man) is asking us to do something uncomfortable; to walk in his shoes.  Not just his shoes, but the shoes of people who lived just a few scant generations away from slavery.  I don't usually quote the author at length in a review, but I going to do so here because it is a point well made;

This game is unique (only for the moment, I hope) as it actively encourages players and Keepers to take on roles of minorities. This may lead to a more difficult gaming challenge: to look at the past for what it really was. Harlem Unbound does not gloss over racism in the name of gameplay. Racism is part of the world and part of the game. This is a chance to try to comprehend the crushing weight people of color have endured for generations. No, we can’t truly know what it was to live during the Harlem Renaissance. And no, white people can never really understand the impact of insidious racism. But we’re gamers. We embrace the idea of living different lives through play—and each time we do, we learn something new. If we’re lucky, we reach a better understanding of people different from ourselves, and learn to empathize with the “other.”

Now, I am not a church-going fellow, but it's hard to read a passage like that without an "amen."

What follows over the next twenty pages or so is a history of Harlem, and a detailed look at what has come to be called the "Harlem Renaissance."  Despite being set in the 1920s, when the Harlem Renaissance was in full flowering, Call of Cthulhu has never really used this as a backdrop before.  

Called "The New Negro Movement" at the time, after African American and Rhodes Scholar Alain Locke's 1925 The New Negro, the Harlem Renaissance was a cultural and artistic explosion whose epicenter was Harlem, New York, but which had ripples felt around the world.  Much of what we think of as the roaring 20s--the music, the fashion, the energy--either has its roots in the Renaissance or finds expression there.  It grew out of the Great Migration, the movement of upwards of 6 million Black Americans from the rural South into the urban centers of the Northeast and the Midwest.  After centuries of not having a voice, these people were finding theirs, and the contribution they made to American society was immense.  Spivey and his team take us through all the facets of the Renaissance, the fashion, the cuisine, the art, the literature, the science, and of course the music.  They paint a vibrant picture of the neighborhood, and why it makes such a unique and complex setting.

These transitions us perfectly into the third chapter, which covers creating Investigators.

As mentioned, the default assumption is that your Investigator is black, but as the next chapter makes clear Harlem also had strong Jewish and Italian communities.  The chapter introduces both new occupations and tailors old ones to the setting.  These include selections like the Conjure Woman (or Conjure Man), a catch-all occupation representing the priests, practitioners, and wise people of African-rooted traditions, and the Harlem Hellfighters, soldiers from the Great War who served in segregated units.  There are Harlem-specific backstory elements, and talents for Pulp Cthulhu aficionados. 

Chapter Four talks in depth about the peoples of Harlem, including as mentioned the Italian and Jewish communities, as well as the LGBTQ community (lest we forget Harlem was also a queer mecca during the period).  It gives biographies of prominent residents and sneaks in several campaign seeds into boxed texts involving them.  I found myself spending the most time with this chapter, coming back time and time again to read about these people and their lives there.  Josephine Baker is here, alongside Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, and dozens of others.  The chapter had me so lost in the period I almost forgot I had come there for some Lovecraftian horror.

Chapter Five talks about the neighborhood itself, all its distinctive areas and parts.  It familiarizes you with the clubs, the eateries, the night spots, the places to go and to avoid.  Alongside the previous chapter, it's a fascinating read and the temptation to jump into a campaign grows each page you turn.

Chapter Six is devoted to storytelling in this setting, and at first brings us back to the issue of race and racism.

Spivey pulls no punches here, but neither does he go out of his way to offend.  There is a full and frank conversation here on the realities of the period...and the realities that persist today.  There are mechanics; he introduces the "Racial Tension Modifier" which increases the difficulty of rolls (like social skills) made across racial lines. Yet there are also important reminders and tips on running Harlem Unbound comfortably and confidently, especially if your players are a diverse group.  Can a white person he a HU Keeper?  Spivey certainly believes so and walks you though what to be mindful of.  25 years ago, I was a white gamemaster living in West Philadelphia and playing with a group of black and latino players.  While I was not running Harlem Unbound, many of these tips would have been priceless then and they more than deserve a read now.

Chapter Six is also where the book starts to make the transition deep into Mythos territory.  From a discussion of the Mythos and the very human evil HU Investigators face, Harlem Unbound introduces in this chapter short scenario hooks suitable for a night or two of gaming, as well as a handy 4d6 scenario generator.  These can be used to expand on and personalize the campaign provided in the rest of the book.

And that, dear reader, is where our dance draws to a close.  Chapter Seven encompasses just under 200 pages, with seven fully-realized scenarios that form the core of Harlem Unbound.  Having said this, there is very little a review can say about scenarios without entering the country of spoilers.  I will say this is a terrific collection, greatly expanded from the previous edition for those wondering if they need to make the move to the new edition.  They continue to bring the setting to life, and the horrors within are terrifying enough to remind us this is a Cthulhu mythos game and not just a historical.

So what exactly is Harlem Unbound?

For starters it is very much more than the some of its parts.  The campaign contained in its pages will deliver all the challenges and chills we have all come to expect from Call of Cthulhu, and 200 pages of scenarios is more than enough to sell the book alone.  But somewhere along the line Cthulhu campaign settings have made the realization that it isn't all about having a backdrop for horror.  Investigators have lives, loves, and reasons to fight the forces of the Mythos.  Thus, the richer the setting, the more incentive the players have to care about it, and frankly it doesn't get richer than Harlem Unbound.  In playing Insomniac Games's Spider-Man on the PS4 last year, I am not ashamed to admit I spent countless hours just swinging around the amazingly realized city.  I strongly suspect players will find similar enjoyment just "being" in the streets of 1920s Harlem.

And yes, Harlem Unbound has now established itself as the definitive text on dealing with race in roleplaying games.  This is an element that cannot be overlooked.  While it is odd for weirdos like us who are drawn to horror games and the thrill of experiencing discomfort, race is an uncomfortable thing we tend to look away from.   Harlem Unbound asks us, gently, not to be afraid, making it arguably the first Call of Cthulhu supplement NOT trying to scare us.