What’s Going On

I’ve got a few posts in the works, but I also wanted to talk about what’s going on at this end.

Right now, I’m doing some intensive work on Frederick Hockley’s associate George Graham (1784-1867), in preparation for a book that’s a few years down the road at least.  Graham is probably the best-known of the people in Hockley’s circle, but that’s because he and his wife were amateur balloonists who made a career out of flying up into the air and having disastrous adventures.

I’d love to see more evidence for Graham as an alchemist or astrologer or ritual magician – there’s a bit out there, such as his ownership for a short time of the Book of Oberon.  Still, there’s scads more on him as an aeronaut, especially newspaper stories from the Times of London and other sources.   It’s quite compelling, although it is quite distracting from blogging, answering comments and emails, etc.

I also did a small local workshop on witch bottles, based upon my upcoming article on the topic in my publication of Liverpool cunning man William Dawson Bellhouse’s manual.  While prepping, I found a good number of other articles that I’d have loved to have found about two years ago.  I’m documenting them and writing them up for my compendia of notes that I keep for a large number of published projects, in case I ever decide to return and expand them.

I haven’t written much for Call of Cthulhu lately, although I’ve got a good amount of material still waiting to come out.  I can give a few reasons for this:

1)  My reluctance to continue to engage what has become a Kickstarter-obsessed culture among gamers and companies.  KS can give those who work with established companies or names great opportunities to finance projects.  Nonetheless, it also trades excitement and drama for predictable results, and it makes it more difficult to publish small-scale material that isn’t a huge spectacular campaign.

2)  My ambivalence about 7th edition.  This is a shame, because there are many aspects of the new game that I like.  Most of it comes down to my seething hatred of the new stat block.  From what I’ve read, this was adopted simply to allow easier comparisons between stats and skills – in short, situations that very rarely rear their heads in any game that I’ve run or scenario that I’ve read.  And I’ve read most of the non-monograph output from the game’s creation until very recently.

Some will say, “All you have to do is multiply the old numbers by five!”  There’s a lot of people who can’t do math in their head, and that creates a barrier to people using the older books.  That’s especially true as it creates situations where some numbers have to be multiplied by five and then divided by five.   I can do that, but I still find it annoying.

Also, it makes life more difficult for me and other authors.  Huge amounts of material, written by me and other people who have genuine love for the game, is now going to need to go through a great deal of work before it can ever be published so that someone can occasionally compare – what?  Strength and Martial Arts?  Spot Hidden and Dexterity?

It’s also problematic for editors.  I spent five minutes a few months ago trying to figure out the implications of an item that added 10 POW to a character’s stats.  Once I recognized that this would be 2 POW in the old system, things clicked into place, but I was bothered that I actually had to figure it out.

On top of all of this, there’s a reluctance to put in the time and effort to master a 400+ page system in all of its intricacies.  For players and Keepers, that’s not so bad, because you can just keep the parts you want and ignore the rest.  When you’re writing for the game, you don’t have that option.  I’ll probably do it eventually, but I won’t be happy about it.

3)  A general malaise regarding the Mythos and its use.  Example:  I picked up a recent product (which shall remain nameless), and I immediately encountered one of those cults that’s apparently been playing cards in a back room somewhere while languages changed, empires fell, and major faiths arose, doing nothing but awaiting the day when someone could steal an artifact and they could come forth to slay infidels in a white-hot rage.

After so many excellent scenarios with plausible, well-written villains, some authors still see cultists as simply being fanatical murderers.  It’s even sadder when you realize that these writers are only getting away with this because those cultists are people of color from Third World countries.  No one would believe that crowds of people from Islington or Sheboygan would run headlong at gun-toting investigators while waving knives, but plenty of readers accept it if those people are from Africa or India.   Those are the parts of Lovecraft’s legacy that we’re supposed to be ashamed of, remember?

I’m also feeling less of a desire to be a consultant on Mythos projects.  Keeping up with the gaming material alone is hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours each year, let alone fiction.  When you’re got enthusiasm, it’s fine, but it starts to become a chore otherwise.   After comparing that with the amount I usually get offered for consulting ($0), I’ve concluded that it’s much more fun reading newspaper articles about 19th century balloonists and writing something I hope to be paid for.

(Edit:  to be fair, I don’t ask for a fee for doing such work, but I also think a fair fee would be hardly enough to purchase any CoC materials.  I’d rather do something I really want to do at this stage.)

4)  The overall feeling that I want to be doing something different.   Don’t ask me what that means.  I just know I want to write creatively on topics other than the Mythos, but that relies on that blend of folklore and history and otherworldliness that Lovecraft carried off so well.  I’ve been exploring the genre of folk horror, and I’m finding much that appeals to me there, although at its worst it tends to recreate patterns similar to those I just discussed regarding marginalized peoples.

Wow.  I feel better now.

I hope you’re all having a great day.  If you have any opinions on the above, please leave them in the comments.



Published in: on August 2, 2015 at 3:21 pm  Comments (9)  

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  1. I’m not sure I understand the draw of CoC (the game system) any longer. I mean, it was great in the 1980s but games and game play have moved on dramatically and I get the sense that the rules updates are just band-aids on top of an aging structure. When my gaming group does Lovecraftian games, we wind up using one of the systems written in the 21st century that focus more on narrative play or pulp or what-have-you. I can’t be bothered to read 400+ page rule books full of lots of tables and crunchy numbers these days. Too many games and too many other things to do and it feels like those sorts of systems get in the way of actual play.

  2. I will still be playing Trail of, Call of and Delta Green of, but I do expect it to be Lovecraftian and historical, mysterious and tense. I’ve certainly experienced this with 7ed, more than with 6ed in recent years. But that’s more to do with the quality of the people writing the scenarios than the rules. I’d rather play Trail or the New Delta Green over 7ed, and probably 7ed over 6ed but more for the GMing advice than what dice are rolled.

  3. Personally, I’m good with older editions of CoC. I have up through the 5th edition sitting on my shelf, never felt the need for 6th, and 7th edition doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I don’t think that I am alone in this. As for the idea that gaming has “moved on” from older systems, I don’t buy it. I still play 1st edition AD&D, for instance. That doesn’t keep me from playing newer games as well. Later editions of games are not primarily for the players, they are for the game companies. Sure, there are generally newly developed ideas for play, but when you come down to it the real reason to produce a new edition is to sell the game again. I don’t think that is a bad thing either, necessarily.

    Anyway, there comes a time when a person no longer finds any interest in the new iterations of a game. It happens. I felt that when the 3rd edition of D&D came along, when the 6th edition of CoC came along (as I noted), and the same with a few other games. Some people will never “go back” to earlier editions – I know people who love Pathfinder and actively disdain either edition of AD&D, as well as the later editions of D&D, 4E and the newest 5E – and that is fine, too. People like what they like, and it’s dumb to tell them that what they like is bad.

    Personally, I say to keep writing for the edition you like best, and don’t worry about where the “official” game stands currently. People will follow you for your ideas, not for the numbers.

  4. If you side step any sense of obligation to game writing and look at that as following your muse, sounds like a pretty good crossroads to be at DH.

  5. Mr. Harms — If you are interested in Folk Horror, I highly recommend Bernice M. Murphy’s book, “Rural Gothic in American Popular Culture: Backwoods Terror and Horror in the Wilderness” (2013). It is a fascinating read.
    Keep up the good work with your blog.

  6. I would love to know where your research on George Graham led you and what you found. George Graham and his wife Margaret were my Great, great, great, ?great grandparents. Both buried in Abney Park cemetery, they stored their balloons in the Pantheon on Oxford Street, now a Marks ans Spencer.

    • The book’s coming out eventually. I’m trying to find some specific information on Graham’s larger family, and I’d be happy to answer questions via email.

      • Hi. My family have files and files on the Graham’s including their extended family. Many prints too.

      • In that case, I should probably get in touch. I’ve got your email already.

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