On the Shelf: Second Person

In honor of the uncommonly large number of rpg.net posters stopping by today – and because it showed up at work today – I’ll stop to indulge in a recent acquisition, Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s Second Person:  Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media from MIT Press.  What’s most notable about this book, at least for our purposes, is its inclusion of two essays specifically on the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.

First up is “Narrative Structure and Creative Tension in Call of Cthulhu“, written by none other than Ken Hite, author of Dubious Shards.  Hite’s innovation is to take the critical insights gained from studies of mystery and horror fiction and apply them to the game’s adventures, laying out in what ways they mirror the texts from which they sprang and how they differ or fall short as a group.  I especially like his thoughts on the “overreacher” plot, in which a character seeks out knowledge and is punished, or encounters horror, when they step over. Although he concentrates mainly on how this reflects those occasional “play a cultist!” sessions, Hite also notes how this is reflected in the broader campaign structure of the game.  It would be interesting for future writers to see if they can make this implicit structure more explicit.

Following it is, for me, a special bonus that I didn’t know was included – Keith “Doc” Herber’s “On ‘The Haunted House.'”  This, for you youngsters, is not the introductory scenario in the rulebook under that name, but the one from Compact Trail of Tsathogghua and Curse of Cthulhu that’s tragically out of print.  I have to admit, my first reaction was, “Out of a long career as a CoC writer, Doc chose this to tell us about?”  Nonetheless, in a few brief pages, Herber displays how this small scenario aims at breaking out of the traditional CoC paradigm to provide the players with a scary but memorable experience.  What seemed on my initial reading to be a major flaw was actually a design decision toward that end.  If anything, it’d be great to see an entire book of such discussions.

I won’t even go into the articles by Erik Mona, Jonathan Tweet, Will Hindmarch, Rebecca Borgstrom, Jim Wallis, and John Tynes on RPGs, or the three (yes, three!) short yet complete RPGs packaged with the book, or those boring old articles on computer gaming.  This book is expensive, but if you are writing for Call of Cthulhu (or want to do so), you need to read the two articles I mentioned.  Buy the book, look for it at a local library, or get it through interlibrary loan.  They’re that good.

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Published in: on February 21, 2007 at 11:17 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “In honor of the uncommonly large number of rpg.net posters stopping by today…”

    Heh. I think that may be my fault. And you-know-who’s.

  2. […] I won’t even go into the articles by Erik Mona, Jonathan Tweet, Will Hindmarch, Rebecca Borgstrom, Jim Wallis, and John Tynes on RPGs, or the three (yes, three!) short yet complete RPGs packaged with the book, or those boring old articles on computer gaming. This book is expensive, but if you are writing for Call of Cthulhu (or want to do so), you need to read the two articles I mentioned. Buy the book, look for it at a local library, or get it through interlibrary loan. They’re that good. Daniel Harms […]

  3. Oh, and did not know about it. Thanks for the information …

  4. […] Person Articles Online Those of you who read my review on Second Person but were too lazy to pick it up have now been vindicated. You can now find many of the articles […]


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