Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Twenty Years Searching for the Necronomicon

In the early 90’s I got into the Cthulhu Mythos, from the works of R.E. Howard and the H.P. Lovecraft.  I’d been a role player for years playing Dungeons and Dragons, Star Frontiers and soon learned about the game Call of Cthulhu.

It took a few years before I could persuade my friends to try playing it and a couple more before we had a cohesive game going.  About that time I heard about a H.P. Lovecraft convention called Necronimicon, held in his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island.  Of course I wanted to go to this but alas they stopped holding them nearly as soon as I became a serious fan.

The years went on…

I started running Call of Cthulhu games at conventions… I started writing my own games… I started writing for Chaosium, the publisher of the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game… 

Slowly the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game became a bigger and bigger part of my life.  I wrote more, became published more often, and even branched off into cosmic horror fiction.  Running scenarios at conventions soon became holding panels and seminars.  Writing my own scenarios became editing the scenarios of others.  Being published became publishing the works of others while working with Miskatonic River Press.  Then that changed to being in charge of a small publishing house producing supplements for the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game.  
Then I stopped and looked back… to realize that twenty years has gone by.

The Necronomicon convention has returned and the day after tomorrow I will travel to Providence Rhode Island for the first time. I’ll be going with my wife beside me, who’s been my supportive partner in this journey the whole time. With us will be two dear friends, who are working hand in hand with me at my new company.  I’m going not as a fan, but a guest.  I’m going to be running games there and participating in a panel beside some of the greats, the people who created this game and made it great.  I’ll be sitting beside them taking about running and writing Call of Cthulhu games. 

I’m thrilled and humbled; excited and nervous; proud and embarrassed; reflective on the past and hopeful about future. 

I’ve done many, many conventions over the years but nothing as meaningful to me as this.  The stars have somehow become right and I am going to my first Necronomicon at long last. 

I hope to see some of you there.

Ia Ia

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Elaine Cunningham - The Phantom Bard

I am a huge Elaine Cunningham fan.

Don't try to talk to me about anything she's written in the last 10 years, because I haven't read it.  BUT her books in The Harper Series, her short stories in the forgotten realms, I LOVED all of those immensely.  When Wizards of the Coast decided to start screwing around with new editions of Dungeons & Dragons, with 3rd, 3.5, and 4th edition I stopped being an active D&D fan and switched over full time to horror gaming.

Anyhow, I loved Elaine Cunningham's work.  Her stories about bards and bard craft spoke to me on a deep and personal level.  Her work was the inspiration for some of my scenarios, such as Herald of the Yellow King (from Ripples from Carcosa) and A Mortal Harvest. I became a bard in a medieval reenactment group, rising to head of the bardic order as a story teller. It wasn't hard to do, because almost nobody gave a damn about bardcraft. Elaine wrote about that phenomenon too.

I learned that like me Elaine Cunningham was a medieval reenactor, and in her group also a bard. I dreamed of hearing her perform and of telling her my stories around a bardic circle, in full costume.

Then, in 2002, it nearly happened!

Elaine Cunningham was appearing at a convention, Shorecon, 1 state over, about a 2 hour drive from me!  I emailed her and she replied!  She then set up a bardic circle at the convention, where she'd perform and invite others to do the same.  It was a dream come true!

I packed by costumes.  I practiced my best stories.  I got my copies of her books to autograph!  I drove out to the con with my wife and a couple of friends.  This was going to be the best con of my life.  We got to the con, checked in and I asked someone where the Elaine Cunningham's Bardic Circle was going to be held....

...and that's when they told me she canceled her appearance. 

Heartbroken doesn't cover how I felt.  I wanted to check out of the hotel, turn around and go home. However, the two friends with my wife and I had just started dating a few weeks ago, and this would be their first weekend "away", so I couldn't do that to them.  We stayed.  I played some games.  Toured the dealers room.  Went in the pool... but my heart just wasn't in it.   I couldn't get past the bitter disappointment, and since you're reading about it now I suppose I STILL haven't.

Fast Forward Ten Years...

I am a published author, a well known Call of Cthulhu nerd, I am running my own small RPG company. I am appearing at ConnectiCon, running games and panels as guest of the convention. I enjoy ConnectiCon a lot. So I get there, look at the schedule and notice something in the program...

Elaine Cunningham is also a guest!  OMFG... RUFKM?

So, of course, I want to meet her. Sure, I am not going to perform stories with her but I wanted to tell her what her work meant to me.  To shake her hand and say thank you, as one artist to another. Her work STILL spoke to me.  Part of the reason I was a bard and an author was because of her.

The next morning I got to one of the panels she was appearing on, Writing for Beginners, and I waited.  The room was PACKED, ConnectiCon has great panels. People took the stage, they started introducing themselves, my heart was full of nervous anticipation and hope. The moderator made an announcement...

Elaine Cunningham had, once again, canceled her appearance.  

..... R U F K M?

It was almost comical.  I was angry, but more amused than anything.

I started to wonder if she EVER appeared anywhere, or did she just say she was going to and canceled at the last minute.

I wondered was she even real?

So I called my friend Walter, who back in 2002 was the new boyfriend of my good friend Gibel, the couple we went to Shorecon with. Ten years later the pair are married, with a child and had a baby on the way (she's been born now, congratulations). I explained the story and we laughed.  I said, "I didn't even know she was going to be at ConnectiCon."  He replied, "Well, apparently she knew YOU were going to be there, which is why she canceled."

So, to this day, I have yet to meet Elaine Cunningham.  I doubt I ever will.  I am unsure if it's even physically possible TO meet her. One day, maybe, if the stars are right. One day, when the veils between the worlds thin and the Sidhe cross over into the World of Iron, just maybe, we'll run into one another.

Until then, she remains, a phantom.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Yes, That Oscar Rios... :P

Recess is a local one day gaming convention, held in Manhattan about twice a year.  I’ve been going for many years now, as a player and to run games.  It’s where I met Phredd Groves and Ryan Roth and loads of other great gamers.  Recess is something I look forward to and has made me a better writer and Keeper. 

Anyway, last weekend I ran two rounds of Call of Cthulhu.  My modern game Life After Death, and a new 1920’s called Riding the Northbound – A Hobo Odyssey.  Both games went well and the players we all well entertained.  It was a long day but a good one, and as my 2nd game of the day ended I was looking forward to rushing home.  I'd run 4 CoC games in 8 days... I felt burned out.

For my first game I had two brand new players, gamers who’d never tried Call of Cthulhu.  One of them came back for my second game too.  He was a good guy, a good player.  He was new to the area, in Manhattan for work and looking to meet new people.  I always like meeting new players and making them part of my play tester family.

I had my brand new Golden Goblin Press business cards, which have my phone number and company email on it, so I gave him one.  I told him if he wanted to get in touch to do so, that I run games all the time.   He looked at the card, then at me, then at the card, and made a weird face… 

“Your Oscar Rios from Golden Goblin Press?!?”, he asked, or something to that affect.

It turns out he’d head of not only me but the company, on the Miskatonic University Podcast.  Most everyone at Recess knows me, or of me through friends, so no one EVER called me Oscar.  People call me Osk. It was kind of a weird moment actually… I guess I am sorta, kinda famous a little, with a certain segment of the gaming population anyhow.  It was neat.

Now I just need to make sure our first book lives up to the hype.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dawn of the Golden Goblin

I haven’t updated this blog for a while.  I apologize for that, I really have been meaning to do so.  But a LOT has happened recently which I’d like to touch on.  I launched a company, Golden Goblin Press, and a Kickstarter for our first project, Island of Ignorance – The Third Cthulhu Companion.  For forty days I never really relaxed, for forty nights I didn’t really sleep, but in the end the project was fully funded.  I’ll
probably talk more about the Kickstarter at some point, what I learned, what surprised me, what worked and what didn’t, but honestly right now I just too busy!  After the Kickstarter ended work on the actual book jumped into high gear!  I went from the stress of getting the project’s funding to the stress of editing, assigning art and maps, chasing after authors for submissions and re-writes.

By my nature I am a control freak, which often isn’t a good thing.  It probably destroys more joy in my life than it creates.  However, it can be a good trait if you’re willing to couple it with hard work and dedication.  I think I am.  I love this project, I love this company, and even though we haven’t actually put anything out aside from a free monster on our website, 325 backers had enough faith in Golden Goblin Press to support our Kickstarter.  I put my faith in them to give my company the money it needed to produce a book and they put their faith in us to put together something worthy of the money they pledged to the project.  I have every intention of making sure they are not disappointed.

I am not the best person to be heading this company.  I am not the best author, nor the best manager, and I am certainly not the best editor.  I can think of many people better suited to do this than me.  However, I am willing to do this, more than that I am eager for the challenge and thankful for the opportunity.  I’m not really sure where this is going, or if I’ll ever know when I’ve gotten there, but I am charging ahead and that’s something.   It’s stressful, it’s risky, it’s frustrating and confusing but somehow, beyond all reason, it makes me profoundly happy and seems to complete something inside of me.   Maybe this was always where I meant to be.  Maybe not, but here I am and it’s here I’ll make my stand.

If the universe wants to knock me off this hill, let it try.  I am the Goblin King, and I have gathered a loyal band of valiant goblins behind me.  They are a mix of new friends and old. They are willing to fight under this Golden Banner beside me.  We are Golden Goblin Press and we will not go down easily or quietly. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What the Hell is wrong with me?

I’m running a Call of Cthulhu game at the College of Staten Island next week, for their Gaming Club’s party.  I’ve done it a few times; they are a great bunch of kids.  Most of them become my play testers for the material I publish.  Anyhow, I play with these guys often, which presented a problem.

Most of them had played all of my most recent short scenario, suitable for a four hour game.  I had to dig up something that NONE of them had ever played.  So I went digging in my old archives and found something I hadn’t run since probably 2007, a nasty little reactive game called Life After Death.

It’s a modern game, which I seldom write.  It’s set in a cemetery and the players take the roles of the traditional bad guys in the adventure.  Three of them are members of a small ghoul pack, one is a serial killer and the last is Kevin Meep. Kevin is a character I created, a madman, and probably one of the strangest individuals I’ve ever created.  I hadn’t thought about him in years, so when I re-read his description… well… I was a little surprised.
Yeah, I wrote this, I remember writing this… that wasn’t the confusing part. 

But as I read it I could only think…  Dude, what the hell is wrong with you?!?!?    So, I’ll share Kevin’s description, on his character sheet.

Kevin Meep - You didn’t have what you’d call a happy childhood. Your mother was a drug addict and your father ran out on you both. You grew up in foster care, never spending more than a year with one family.  Anyone you felt a connection to would always eventually leave. Love was a myth and a lie. That all changed the day you found the cheerleader, Mary Joe Wattle, dead in that wooded area.  She’d been missing for three days and it was clear she’d been strangled and raped. She looked so beautiful, lying there naked, like she was asleep and waiting for you. She was waiting for you! At last you found love, a woman who would never leave you, or hit you, or say bad things that made you feel small. After visiting Mary Joe for a week you buried her telling no one of what you had done. Now you knew there was love, real love and that it could only be shared with the dead. The dead don’t leave; the dead love you for who you are. 
            Getting the job at Oaklawn Cemetery was the best thing that ever happened to you.  While you didn’t make many friends you worked hard and eventually made it to acting caretaker.  Your job gives you many opportunities to find love and also led you to the only real friends you ever had, the ghouls. The ghouls accept you; they don’t judge you and they appreciate your help.  They are much nicer than people.  About a year ago you and the ghouls made a new friend, the serial killer Ramani.  She’s nice, she helps out by bringing her victims to the ghouls but she’s not like the lovers you find at work. 
            If you get fired, the ghouls will starve, Ramani will probably go to jail and it will be much harder for you to find love.  You can’t allow that to happen and you won’t!  You belong here, among the dead, and anyone who tries to change that will be sorry they did.

Yeaaaaah.  So, what the hell is there inside my head that possesses me to create a sympathetic necrophiliac PC?
It’s weird being a horror writer…

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reviews from R'lyeh: Empire City Fears

Reviews from R'lyeh: Empire City Fears: New York stands tall in Call of Cthulhu canon. Not only are numerous scenarios set there, such as “Dead Man Stomp” from the Call of Cth...

Learning to Swim, The Hard Way

I haven’t updated the blog in a while, I’m sorry about that.  I’ve been totally focused on finishing something I had no idea how to do.  It’s not the first time; I suspect it won’t be the last.  So, let’s talk about this.

There is a school of thought that the best way to teach a child how to swim is to hurl them into water over their head, thereby giving them no real alternative rather than learning to swim.  They can drown, or they can swim.  The water rushing up their nose, down their throats and the utter terror they feel as their physical well being is threatened used as a teaching tool.  It’s Darwinism at work ladies and gentlemen.  I am sure people learn to swim this way, a few of them probably die, but hey, that’s progress.

Learning is important.  Gaining new skills is probably the only thing really worth acquiring. I’m all for learning new things, with a good teacher, taking notes, asking questions, a little hands on instructions, maybe with a couple of cups of coffee and some breaks to clear your mind.  I’ve had good teachers, I’ve learned a lot… I’ve also been hurled off the boat into water way over my head.

No, you don’t have to be angry at my parents for the way I learned to swim, I am talking figuratively.  
 I learned how to manage projects, put together manuscripts and publish books, along with my dear friend Tom Lynch.  We were learning how to do all this from an older, knowledgeable mentor named Keith Herber, as he formed his new company Miskatonic River Press.   We all put out a book together, which was well received, and started work on several others.  It was all going great and then, quite suddenly without any warning, Keith died.  It was a tragic loss.

So there Tom and I were, on our own with Miskatonic River Press adrift.  We could continue on or walk away to watch the company fade into the mists. Tom stepped up and took the wheel of the company, I had his back the whole way helping out as much possible, and we learned how to run a company.  It wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t easy, mistakes were made and we got burned more than once by our inexperience but ultimately, in time, Tom and I learned how to do this.  Miskatonic River Press is still putting out great material which the critics like, the fans appreciate and that the company is proud to stand behind.

Now, several years later, I’ve started my own company called Golden Goblin Press.  It’s been going okay so far, I got a team together, approved pitches, assigned art, managed the project, did some promotion… chugging along just fine. I started feeling my way through starting a Kickstarter funding campaign, unfamiliar territory but I have great people with experience teaching me how to do that…  Nice, calm, organized… until.

So… You need a video for a Kickstater campaign.  You don’t need one, the way you don’t need a life boat or seat belt, but you CERTAINLY want one.  The people willing to help me do this were unable to.  Some who were able to help me were unwilling to. I wasted a couple of weeks calling for help, as the water rushed into my nose and my anxiety rose.

So I started trying to swim.

I downloaded some free video editing software, got a new SD card, played with my camera, and borrowed a tripod and digital recorder, read some online guides…  I learned because I had no choice BUT to learn or fail.  I did some test videos, downloaded some copy rite free music, some art owned by my parent company, uploaded some photos, recorded some voice over’s and learned how to edit film together.  I played with video effect, learned how to do things, forgot how to do them and rediscovered it again.  I lost a quite a few hours of work because I didn’t save my project.  I filmed myself, alone, and was told the footage looked like a kidnapping ransom video.  I got advice from helpful people, who were really too far away to physically help me.  Finally my wife stepped in to help me re-shoot the last half of the video, and we flailed and fumbled through the final process together. 

Overall it was a brutal, demoralizing journey outside of my comfort zone. But the video is done.  Is it going to be the best video on Kickstarter? Nope. But the team agrees it’s not bad at all, all things considered. So, I now have a few new skills with filming and video editing.  Did I want these skills? Nope.  Did I need these skills? Yes, unkind ungrateful universe, apparently I did.

Sometimes having no choice is the moment when you have your greatest victories. However, those can also be the moments when you utterly fail, unprepared for the challenges placed in your path.  Dreams are worth fighting for, they are worth suffering for and we are all as resilient as we choose to be. Victory and failure may be variables ultimately out of our control, although we can do much to skew the odds in our favor. Surrender and quitting are choices.

I’ve never run a kickstarter before, or for that matter a publishing company on my own, but I have people helping me with that.  There may be moments to come where I will have to face things on my own which I am totally unprepaired to deal with. When those moments come, I'll deal with it.
Hey universe, I’m still standing and I’m not going anywhere.
Sweet are the uses of adversity,

Which like the toad, ugly and venemous,

Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.