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.




Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dreams of Endtimes.

            I’m a horror writer; I have a bit of an imagination.  I know I dream because it’s a scientific fact that we all do but I seldom remember mine.  Last night was an exception.  Before I get to that, a dramatic set up.

There’s this show I love called “Stranded”, where three regular people get stuck in a haunted location for five days and are tasked with investigating the paranormal.  One episode a guy lost his nerve and couldn’t follow some mysterious sound into the dark.  He was frozen in place by fear, and hated himself for it.  He said, “We’re supposed to be investigating this stuff and we’re running from it.  We’re the worst paranormal investigators ever.”  At the time I found it very funny.

Now, onto my dream - It was New Years Eve, I was home with my family and the world was about to end.  I knew this, as well as I knew anything.  I had no doubts; not even the comfort of suspecting I might be insane.  I knew, and I also knew there was nothing I could do about it.  My daughter had a few of her pre-teen girlfriends over; they were making noise and painting nails, having a good time.  My son was in his room, on his computer, probably on Skype with his friends.  My wife was going to watch funny videos online. 

I decided to go to time square, Ground Zero for the first of thousands of portals that were going to open all over the world.  In the front yard of my neighbor Mario Ortiz, I saw the outline of a small portal already gathering power. Mario knew too, for some reason, I guess we had talked.  He asked if I was going, I said yes, and he offered to drive me to the train to get into Manhattan.  He also offered to give me his rifle; he doesn’t own a rifle in real life. 

I thought about it a moment.  I wouldn’t get a rifle anywhere near Time Square on New Years Eve.  I didn’t know Latin.  I didn’t know any spells.  There was nothing I could do at Time Square, other than see how the Endtimes all begins. 

I looked back at my house; saw my wife at the window, looking sad that I was going into Manhattan without her on New Years Eve.  I saw my daughter, screaming and laughing with her friends.  I thanked Mario, but refused the ride and the rifle.  I went home to be with my family, to watch funny cat videos with my wife.  They didn’t know the world was about to end, I hadn’t told them.  Why?  They were happy.  I wanted to be happy with them until it all just stopped.  One of two things was going to happen, the world would end or it wouldn’t, there was nothing I could do to stop it.

When I woke up I realized I would be the worst mythos investigator ever.  An investigator faces those odds, to try to save everyone, even if it appears totally hopeless.  I’m not an investigator.  I just wanted to be with my family as long as I could, see my wife laughing at videos of people falling down, hear my daughter screaming with her friends, knowing my son was safe in his room.

I’m not going to do any writing today.  I’m taking my kids to the Metropoltian Museum, maybe somewhere nice for lunch. Tonight, I am going to take my wife out to a surprise romantic dinner (it's okay, she probably doesn't read my blog).  Today I am going to be thankful for the small, but beautiful things in my life.  Today I am going to celebrate one more day, and live, pushing my dreams of Endtimes far, far away.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The smartest Investigators in the room.

Colin Powel once said - Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.

It's very true. Good players will make you a better keeper, and if your writing your own scenarios, a better writer. They'll keep you honest, call you on your shit, and make you write outside of your comfort zone. You'll love players like this and you'll want to impress them, because they challenge you as an artist. When you find a player like that, it's an amazing moment. I've been lucky enough to find more than my fair share of such players, but today I am going to talk about one in particular.

Dr. Ryan Roth, the smartest investigator in the room.

Yes, he's a doctor, a physical engineer. I sort of know what he does for a living but it's hard to wrap your head around. He's one of those guys who's going to perfect the artificial intelligence that'll start the robotic rebellion that ends humanity. Yeah, he's one of THOSE guys. He’s a super-nerd, made in a libratory out of the parts of lesser nerds. He's also one of the best friends, who I love like a brother.

We met across the Keeper's screen, playing Call of Cthulhu at a six week gaming event called Gotham Gaming Guild. I was running Tales of the Sleepless City, a campaign set in 1920's New York. He was playing Theodore Caldwell III, a lawyer and political activist. We played, "A Family Way" (a great game which I'll probably NEVER publish due to serious content) and moved onto "The Tenement" (which is now published by Miskatonic River Press, part of their Tales from the Sleepless City book).

I won't give away any spoilers, but let’s just say there comes a time in that scenario where the war between the investigators and the bad guys is getting very heated. Then, the bad guys seem to blink; they invite the investigators for a sit down and a non-violent resolution to the issue. They are willing to give the players what they want, and a way out of the war between them.

In this game all the investigators were by then terrified. They were ready to leap at this offer, end the conflict and save their lives. All but one... Theodore Caldwell. Ryan calmly said, "No, we can't do this" and everyone stopped to listen. He made a dignified, passionate argument that this wasn't about one building, but exposing a slum lord to public scrutiny. He said it was about knocking down his house of cards, dragging all his dirty secrets and dealing into the light of a court of law.

Everyone was silent, including me. The players all took a deep breath and followed his lead. They rejected the meeting and continued the war. They won, but not without casualties. The meeting was a trap, and Theo kept them from walking into it. They finished the war, on their terms, not their enemies.

I'd never seen such a powerful moment at a Call of Cthulhu game, before or after. There wasn't even a monster or combat involved. Theo was fighting against fear, fighting to raise the moral of a group of completely demoralized investigators who just wanted to survive the scenario at that point. But he showed them that survival was less important than doing what was right and making a difference. Not for any reward or recognition, but for the greater good. Theo is a true hero, and I was proud to write him in as an NPC to the published version of the scenario.

Ryan and I have been friends every since. I've probably invited him to every single call of Cthulhu game I've even written since then. He's smart, very smart, and it's often difficult to challenge him in scenarios. But it's something I strive for, because that’s the art, the dance, the relationship between players, keepers and scenario writers.

Countless players across the world owe Dr. Ryan Roth their thanks from the streets of 1920's Arkham to the sewers of Ancient Rome. Good players make better keepers, and better writers.

Thank you Dr. Ryan Roth. Ia Ia


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Murder of Mateo Luna

For years people had told me I should be writing down my adventures and trying to get them published, but I just didn’t have the confidence to try.  If you try, and fail, your dream is dead.  If you never try, you never fail, and your dream never dies.  It’s kinda emo, and a total cop-out loser philosophy; but it’s one I had all through my 20’s.

When I got a little older two major things changed.  I stopped playing AD&D 2nd Edition, because 3rd edition came out and I WAS NOT buying all those freaking books again.  I started playing Call of Cthulhu as my main RPG.   The other major change in my life was entering the world of Medieval Reenacting.   Yes, for several years I got dressed up in medieval garb, ate weird food, became an archer, fought in a reenactment of the battle of Hastings (as a Saxon Archer, we lost, again… L  )  I stormed castles, shot arrows, became the Baron of Tyre, a royal Seneschal and the Captain of Archers. I was known as Mateo Luna. 

The thing that I am most proud of during my life as Mateo Luna was bardcraft.   I entered the bardic guild, quickly rising through the ranks to become a master bard, and then the Master of the Bardic Guild.  I didn’t sing, or play music, like other bards.  I was just a story teller.  Bardcraft came easy to me, in the classic Celtic sense.  Bards were part of the Druidic Faith; they were the voice, living history and spirit of their people.  They were guides and teachers, the living connection between the three worlds.  It was taboo to harm a bard, for fear what they could do to your reputation with satire.  A bard could turn a warrior into a king, and a king into a mythical figure.  I loved being a bard, I learned how to tell a story, how to hold an audience, how to pace things, and I started writing my own stories and satires. Dressing in a full length tunic, telling an ancient celtic story to a packed hall lit by hundreds of candles was magic, and several times I felt the power of the ancient druidic faith flowing through me.   I guess most artists feel that way when they are in the zone.

But few, if any, found bardcraft as interesting as I did.  For many the re-enactment group was a place to socialize, to put on armor, grab a stick wrapped in duck tape and beat on people weaker than themselves.  The group had a lot of bullies, both intellectually and physically.    For example, I had prepared for weeks to take my bardic trials, which had to be judged by the three sitting masters.  One of the three masters left the event early after he spent several hours fighting in armor.  He just left… sorry Mateo, I got better things to do... maybe next event.  

Then the end came.   I was at an event, telling a story.  The room was filled with people, many of whom had spent the day fighting mock battles.  One woman, a stocky fighter bigger than most of the men at arms, began talking louder and louder at her table.  She was drunk, stinking and unwashed from her battle, and angry.  Soon she was yelling across her table, and then yelling at me, telling me to tell my story more quietly because the people at her table were trying to have a conversation. 

If we were going by the rules she would have NEVER DARED do such a thing to a bard.  I should have written the worst, more horrific parody of her for the next event, shaming her and tarnishing her name for all time.  But she was a “fighter” and the group would have never allowed it.  She was “important”, I was not.   To this day it makes me angry, as a bard I curse her name, even though I no longer remember it.  I still think of that horrific, disgusting woman, screaming drunkenly at me in her dirty stinking tunic. She remains one of the most revolting people I have ever encountered in my entire life.  Bards are trained to feel, everything around them, deeply, to be raw nerves and open to the world around them even at the emotional cost to their own well being.   I left the group and medieval reenactment altogether, shortly thereafter.  Baron Mateo Luna was dead; there was no place in the Kingdom of Acre for me any longer.

But I’d learned so much.  I was a bard, spiritually connected to the cosmic forces of creation.  In my heart I’d always be a bard, I had stories to tell and lessons to teach.  I started writing, in a serious manner, and was soon publishing Call of Cthulhu scenarios.  I never lost the bards love of history, the art and magic of storytelling or the importance of teaching through my art.  I stopped being Mateo Luna, I started being Oscar Rios, I never gave up thinking of myself as a Bard.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Growing, Brewing, Cooking and the Call of Cthulhu

So I need a break today after a busy week of editing. 

I decided to set up the seedling boxes for my family’s backyard garden.  Last year we got seedling, but the choice was limited.  This year I picked up the seeds, boxes and soil to do it myself.  I got sweet Spanish onions, two types of tomatoes and two types of peppers.  My wife asked about cucumbers and zucchini, but I don’t really like those vegetable so they weren’t even on my radar. It was nice and relaxing, working with the soil, counting out the seeds, watering everything and finding a sunny spot for it all in the front window to let nature do it’s magic.  It got me thinking.

I like plants, always have, since I was a child.  I own a spider fern; I’ve probably had it for most of my life.  It’s from a cutting of my mother’s spider fern, which is a plant older than I am.  Those things never die, if you take care of them.  Water, soil, sun, it’s a peaceful thing caring for plants. It’s not quick, or flashy, but I really like it.  It’s comforting, Zen I guess. 

I’m passionate about other things too, like coffee.  I own a coffee maker, but I only use it for big gatherings.  No k-cups for me.   I have a well stocked coffee corner, with mason jars of beans, a grinder and a French press coffee maker.  Every morning I grind my beans, get the water to a rolling boil, let everything brew slowly before depressing the plunger and finally enjoy a few really good cups of coffee.  For me it’s a beautiful ritual, like a Japanese tea ceremony.  It slows you down, makes you really appreciate that cup of coffee.

Then I was thinking about the plants I'd chosen, onions, peppers, tomatoes… and realized I'd unconsciously chosen the ingredients of another of my passions, making Chili. It took me years to perfect the art, and it is an art.  Not from a can, not from a package of mixes, but honest, homemade chili.  Yeah, I use beans, I’m an easterner and that’s how we make it here. It takes a LONG time to make, cutting, browning, mixing, chopping, seasoning and slooooow cooking.  I stir every 15 minutes, for 3-4 hours, after about 90 minutes of just getting everything into the pots.  No two batches are every the same. I am very proud of my chili.

At that point, something dawned on me… 

My last edits were harder than usual, because my editor wanted me to add a big shocking gross out scene early in my scenario. I didn’t want to argue about it, but neither did I want to add it.  I’ve played scenarios that start with explosions; my friend Dan Harms wrote one like that which I was lucky enough to be a play-tester for.  Those scenes are great, effective, enjoyable… but that’s not how I do things.

My scenarios start slowly, trying to allow the players to get a feel for things.  I want them to calm down, to role play, to live as that person they are trying to portray, to let their guards down before anything dangerous or unnatural happens.  Then, when bad things do start happening, it’s often a more brutal shock.  Players go, “What that HELL?!?!” and I point to the Keeper’s screen and smile.  “Oh yeah, we’re playing Call of Cthulhu” they sometimes say.  I don’t say my way is better than scenarios that start with a bang; it’s just not how I like to do things.   Not my style… 

I grow plants.  I brew my own coffee.  I’ll spend an entire day making pots of slow cooked chili.  I write scenarios where the suspense and tension build slowly.

I love seeing my plants grow and enjoying the vegetables they sometimes produce.  I adore a cup of freshly brewed, freshly ground coffee.  A bowl of homemade slow cooked chili you made yourself is a meal beyond compare to any other.  The reaction of a player who’s slowly gotten into character, been teased by properly maintained tension when the monster finally does attack, or the ghost manifests, or the person they are talking to drops their mask to unveil a face made of tentacles… that’s priceless. 

For me, it’s all connected.  People say I write a lot but I never really rush things.  It all happens as it’s meant to.   For all things there is a season and a time for every purpose under the sun.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The First Ripple

Many years ago I fell in love with the Call of Cthulhu RPG. I ran loads of publish scenarios, reading as many as I could get my hands on through E-bay and running what I considered the best ones. My friends and I were having a great time but two problems were beginning to take shape.
#1 – I was running out of good scenarios.
#2 – I never got to be an investigator.
I went to a local gaming event, called Recess, and discovered that someone was running a Call of Cthulhu game! I was thrilled. It was in the Gaslight Period, which I’d never ran or read, but at that point I’d play anything to be on the other side of the Keeper’s screen. So I signed up for it and got in. Soon, I was portraying an immigrant coal miner in 1880’s America. There were corrupt mine owners and union organizers fighting it out, and of course the Cthulhu Mythos lurking just beyond the veil. It was a wonderful game, everyone had a great time. We broke the scenario, meaning we went off script but the Keeper didn’t even break stride. He wrote new handouts on the fly and kept going. I was very impressed and that’s when it hit me…
“This is your scenario?” I asked, “You wrote this?”
He said yes and for me the world was never the same.
His name is Phredd Groves. He was just a guy, a role player, like me and he’d created something amazing. It wasn’t cheap or dumb, but well thought out and researched. The game was a political statement and history lesson, wrapped in the cosmic horror of the Cthulhu Mythos and creatures from other dimensions. This wasn’t a throw away art form, this was something more. It was something important, a game I’d likely never forget (and to this day I haven’t).

I became friends with that Keeper and within two weeks I was writing my own scenarios. First came The Case of Sally Carmichael, next I hand wrote a little scenario on three sheets of paper called The Hopeful (A scenario I’d later re-write, expand and publish with Miskatonic River Press). When I ran The Hopeful one of my players asked, “This was really good, which book did it come from?” I answered that I’d wrote it, and he was shocked. Inside something fell into place. Like that keeper I’d played with a few weeks ago, I could do this too.

Soon I was writing scenarios for the Chaosium Missionary Program. A few months later I was writing “Ripples from Carcosa”, my first monograph. I was fortunate enough that the Keeper who so inspired me was one of my play testers. His participation helped make that monograph even better.

Eventually my friend moved overseas and for several years lived in England, studying landscape archeology (What is it with Archeologists and Call of Cthulhu?). But then, a few months ago, he moved back to New York and we're playing Call of Cthulhu together again.  He's now back on my play test team and his investigators is traveling through Eastern Europe on the Orient Express.  His investigator just lost on eye in Bulgaria. 

I honestly don’t know if he’s aware of how deeply his one scenario affected the course of my life. I’m writing this to make sure that he does and to say Thank You from the bottom of my heart. I will never be able to repay that great gift he game me so many years ago.

 Phredd Groves, my dear friend.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

When the Student is Ready the Master Appears.

            A little over a decade ago I started writing Call of Cthulhu scenarios.  I was part of the Chaosium Missionary Program, a group of authors putting together scenarios for Keepers to run as official Chaosium rounds at conventions around the world.  I wrote The Unsung Saga for this program, which went on to become the first of three scenarios in my monograph, The Ravenar Sagas.   Once ever few months they’d pick a winner, who got I think $100 Chaosium store credit, it might have been $50… It the money wasn’t the point, it still isn’t for the most part.  It was writing and having your work evaluated. I won a few, and lost a few, usually to my rival Chad Bowser.  Chad came out of the program to build a name in this industry, like me.  We remain friends and I suspect quiet rivals.

            After a while writing I wanted to write something more, something epic, spanning time and space, something beautiful and haunting and terrible.  Something like -“Tatterdemalion”, an amazing Hastur scenario written by Richard Watts.  So I came up with an idea about six souls trapped by fate, to find one another lifetime to lifetime, and to end up encountering different Avatars of Hastur, over and over again.  It was a heroic, existential nightmare, where the characters started to remember their past lives once they saw the Yellow Sign.  The three scenarios took place in Ancient Rome (when Cthulhu Invictus was still a monograph), The Dark Ages and the Far Future.  This campaign became the monograph called “Ripples from Carcosa”.

            So, I am just finishing up writing this all up, and I am reading Yog-Sothoth.com.  I see a poster with a striking screen name…  It turned out to be Richard Watts, one of my favorite scenario authors!  I went fan-boy and wrote him, telling how awesome he was, how much I loved his work and that I just finished a Hastur campaign inspired by his scenario Tatterdemalion.  He answered me back!  He even asked to see the manuscript to maybe give me a few pointers before I sent it in.  This was incredible!  I quickly sent him the files.
Richard Watts

            A couple of days later he replied.  He wrote four paragraphs telling me how great the campaign was and what he liked.  Those four paragraphs were followed by four pages telling me everything that was wrong, every opportunity I missed and suggestions on how I could fix it.  Not once did I feel criticized or belittled, his letter was written in the warmest most supportive tone.  This man, this stranger, had given me a truly amazing gift, for no real reason.  There is a Buddhist proverb – When the student is ready the master appears. I had found my mentor, my father in the art of writing and a man I would be forever grateful to.
            I read and re-read the letter.  I made the changes needed.  I learned more about writing in that four page email than most people will learn in a college creative writing program.  “Ripples from Carcosa” was well received by fans and critics, and I’ve been writing ever since.

            Jump forward to 2013, I am working on new material for the re-release of Horror on the Orient Express.  It’s a dream project for any Cthulhu nerd. I was asked to write one scenario, which became two scenarios, which then became two scenarios and the re-write for a third.  The re-write turns out to be Repossession, written by none other than Richard Watts.  Richard Watts, my mentor, the man that turned me from being a madman screaming in the wilderness into the cultists I am today.  I agree to do it but only if Richard gave his blessings, which he did.

            I spoke to Richard about it before I got started, and he said if I needed any help, advice or a sounding board to bounce ideas off of he’d be glad to help.  I replied that I already figured out what I wanted to write, adding cheekily, “It’s sort of what I do Richard, I had a good teacher.”  In a few short hours I’ll be running Repossession 2.0, by Richard Watts and Oscar Rios.  I hope by the laughs, gasps and screams of my players I will know that I have done my master proud. 

            Mr. Watts, thank you for your guidance, kindness and faith in me.  I remain your grateful student. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Revised Railroad

I’m proud to announce, now that I can talk about it, what I’ve been up to since finishing the Vinkovci chapter of Horror on the Orient Express.  In addition to new material being added to Horror on the Orient Express some of the original scenarios are getting updates.  Certain scenarios are having some of their issues fixed.   These scenarios are being expanded to give investigators more options and control over their fate.   For the most part the original authors are coming in to do these revisions.  Unfortunately, at least one of them is unable to do so at this time.  That man is Richard Watts, a man near and dear to my heart for reasons I’ll get into another time.  He is a friend and an author whom I consider my mentor.

Richard is the author of Repossession, the Sofia Bulgaria chapter of Horror on the Orient Express.  Repossession is a very famous scenario, known for being possibly the deadliest one on the entire campaign.  It’s a meat-grinder, an old school bad ass investigator killer, pure and simple.  But it has problems and has been criticized for not giving players much to do or an ability to affect the investigation’s outcome.  Mark Morrison has seen this and decided to change it.

The Universe has come full circle.  Ten years ago Richard Watts helped me become a writer; today I am revising a scenario he wrote.   I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to do so, even more so that my old friend is perfectly happy to allow me to remake one of his creations.  I keep thinking my involvement couldn’t possibly get any cooler, and I keep being proven wrong.  My name will appear beside that of my mentor’s, something I’d always hoped would happen in the fullness of time. 

I am blessed, and happy…  And oh so freaking busy! May all those things always remain so.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Evil, Bloodstained Old School Map

Writing has been going great.  Filling in the encounter stats for the latest project, which I am play testing this weekend.  Got about half way done with the stats then moved onto my day, trip to the dentist, took a break and back to work... BUT... I had to do a map.

I don't really do maps, I mean I can, and I kinda like to, but it takes time.  That's time I could be writing, so... I don't do maps.  BUT... an editor asked me to do a couple of hand drawn maps so a real artist could work from them and make something for this exciting old school fantasy project I wrote back in November.  

I don't want to give away spoilers but there one of the maps is for an evil temple, a really evil temple, filled with demon orgies, abyssal armies and surrounded by a horde of zombies.  Yeah, it's way over the top, so what!  They call stuff like this "Classic" for a reason, because it's awesome. 

So, as I am finishing up my cat, Carmine Kimmie Tsathoggua McFatass Rios comes over for some love.  I pet him, we do some play fighting and then we both go back to what we were doing. Suddenly there is a reddish brow smudge on the map... it's a bloodstain!  The cat scratched a hole in my finger and as I finished drawing I smeared the map with my blood...

So, I just finished work on an old school map of an evil temple, complete with bloodstains.

Like I said... they call shit like this "Classic" for a reason.

Ia Ia.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cultist with a Blog...

Well... I've decided to start a blog.  I have a lot going on in my life as a Minion of Cthulhu, Ia Ia, all praise and woe to my dark slumbering lord. 

My name is Oscar Rios.  I am a Puerto Rican native New Yorker, freelance writer and Minion of Cthulhu.  I write horror, mostly scenarios for the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game, but also Cosmic Horror fiction.   As a freelance writer I write lots of other things too, like science fiction and fantasy.   But horror is where I live, lurking in the shadows and peeking beyond the veil of reality to the mind shattering chaos of the uncaring universe.  ~smiles~  Cheerful chap, aren't I?

I write mostly in my den, surrounded by beautiful horror art... and a few autographed non-horror photos, a movie poster and a splicer mask.  I write in lots of historical periods, sort of a science/history nerd (thanks Mom!).  What else can I tell you about myself?

I started reading Cosmic Horror when I was a teenager.  I loved horror, but real horror, things that scared me.  I tried reading Steven King but didn't find it a good fit for me.  Nothing against Steven King, he's a master of Horror, but not everythings sticks with everyone.  I read some Anne Rice vampire stuff that I liked, it was really popular and new.  It was the summer of 1987, I was bored and needed a new book.  I went to the bookstore and picked up a paperback based solely on the cover.  My life has never been the same.

Thank book was Cthulhu - The Mythos and Kindred Horrors, a Robert E. Howard collection edited by David Drake.  I was a huge David Drake fan, read all the Hammer Slammer space mercinary books.  So I purchased it for $2.95, I know because I am looking at that very book right now.