Thursday, December 18, 2014

165th Birthday of Henrietta Edwards

Today's Google Doodle is to celebrate the 16th Birthday of Henrietta Edwards, a Montreal native who went on to have a huge impact on Canadian Politics, and Woman's Suffrage in general.

Not to steal the thunder of the Watch House, who usually takes the Google Doodle as a starting point for gaming inspiration, but I felt I could not allow this one to pass, due to direct link of this personage to Montreal, and the 1920s.

Henrietta came to be known around Canada as one of the Famous Five. For those outside Canada, that is not from the books by Enid Blyton, but a group of 5 women who fought for, and won, the right of Canadian women to be considered as persons in 1929.

Amongst her other life works, she was also an author, and the founder member of the Victorian Order of Nurses.

She was born in Montreal in 1849, and lived there until she moved with her family to Saskatchewan in 1883. From there she lived in various parts of Canada (the Famous Five all met and worked in Alberta), so from a gaming point of view, she was in Montreal during the gaslight era, but was not known in general till after she left Quebec.

The whole aspect of feminism in gaming of course is a hot topic currently, and could of course go in many directions, so I'm going to stick to what direct effect and themes we can use at the table.

From a gaming standpoint therefore, she may be someone gaslight players meet when playing in Montreal, but by the time the classic era comes round, she has moved elsewhere. That is not to say that the effects of what she and many others were doing at that time to improve the representation of women in politics and society was not being felt in the city and surrounding province. Indeed, full Women's Suffrage did not take place in Quebec till the 1940s. How to pull this into a scenario?

One way could be to look at this kind of movement as a part of a characters background for one of the players. Most female investigators, by dint of them being pro-active investigators, tend to be at the forefront of this type of movement anyway, whether it is through academic advancement, or in other realms of society, hence membership of a group or association like this would not only allow for a web of contacts around the country, but as a possible front for another organisation, either Investigator based, or if you want to turn things on their heads, a cult. Maybe a group has taken things to extremes, and turned to Lilith for help with their cause. their good intentions thereby twisted by her influence. Isis is another Goddess who is referenced openly, both in occult groups, and otherwise, usually in relationship to female strength and wisdom, so groups relating to her may move openly in society, and be either a force for good or ill.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Inspirational Artefacts: Hand of Sabazius

Inspirational Artefacts

artefact/ˈɑːtɪˌfækt/ noun: something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest.

On my daily trolling of the internet, A Tumblr site has been brought to my attention that has some wonderful artefacts, that just scream out to be used in scenarios. With this in mind, I am starting what will be a new semi-regular feature on the blog, Inspirational Artefacts.

Artefacts in your game.

There are a number of ways these artefacts can be dropped into a game. It maybe that the item has been brought to a local museum on a tour, or maybe the investigators are the actual archaeologists who discover them. It could be that the item is found in the lair of the cultists the investigators raid, or even up for sale in the local occult store/jumble sale/auction. The great thing is, that just by mentioning them, and supplying a picture, the Investigators will assume they have great occult/mythos associations, but of course, this does not have to be the case.

In the first of this series of posts, I bring to you the Hand of Sabazius.

Bronze hand used in the worship of Sabazius. 1st-2nd Century AD
Roman. Source British Museum.
Sabazius is not a god I had ever heard of, but as always wikipedia comes to the rescue. Of course, the mention of Roman times immediately brings to mind Cthulhu Invictus, but then that would mean it was no longer an artefact, but just an item of modern usage. Although even by Roman times, Sabazius had been around for a while, and was indeed foreign in origin, so can retain some mystery.

Body parts seem to play a role in a number of artefacts in Call of Cthulhu scenarios, from the Head in the Auction, to the Sefelkar Simulacrum in the Horror on the Orient Express, where players are rushing round Europe collecting various parts of this artefact, before reassembling them to form the whole body at the end.  HotOE has a whole body part theme throughout, so this could easily be used on a side adventure or red herring , however that is not a campaign you want to derail too far, as it's already on a timetable (both puns intended).

There may be for various reasons for the extensive use of body parts in CoC adventures, the first being that they suggest body horror. The second being the use of the human body in the arcane or mythos happenings brings the horror back to us, it gives us a direct link to the horror, something we can all identify with, that is then warped into something we cannot comprehend. 

A quick Google image search revealed that there are a great many similar artefacts out there. It could be that this version of the hand is the only one that has a mythos connection, or indeed they all could. In a modern day scenario, finding them all would be relatively easy, just a Google search away for most. However, in a past era, there would be no way of knowing if there were more similar items, nor where they would be, except for multiple Library Use rolls.

Interestingly, in the British Museum, they have three examples of Hands of Sabazius, including this one that has a magical inscription on it! I mean, really, what more could you ask of an historical artefact?

Powers in Game

There are many ways this artefact could be used. The first that comes to mind is that it it just part of a larger artefact, like the Simulacrum from HotOE, and requires the rest of the body, or even just the arm to become active. Many of these hands had holes in the bottom, so they could be mounted on poles for processional purposes, so maybe a pole is required. Maybe it has to be a certain pole, or even of just a certain metal before the hand can be activated. Maybe the length of the pole is important (a la Raiders of the lost Ark). Or, the hand could be raised on the pole as a banner or standard, thereby allowing it to have an effect over a larger area.

Could it also be used like a Hand of Glory? These, depending on your source, have multiple uses. In a recent episode of Constantine the TV series, a Hand of Glory was used to commune with the dead. The more traditional uses of a Hand of Glory are less gory, and maybe less Cthulhuesque:
A grisly magical charm popular with thieves in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, hand of glory was a candle made from the dried hand of a hanged convict through a complicated recipe that also included herbs, horse dung, peppers, and salt. The hand would be carefully mummified, and then joined to or turned into a candle using tallow from a hanged corpse. (whether this is from the same corpse is apparently irrelevant). Set alight, the hand was reputed to have the power to render the occupants of a household insensible, making burglary a simple task. (source).
It has a similar, and even more banal use, in Harry Potter. The Laundry series of books by Charles Stross also issues a Hand of Glory as regular equipment to it's ops. In the Laundry game for the Basic Roleplay System (another of the Cthulhu family of games) therefore has stats for this version of the item. In this universe, they take the items ability to mess with light, and have it not only be able to confer invisibility, but by messing with mirrors, it becomes a 5 shot laser gun. This may indeed be taking it outwith the realms of your basic Call of Cthulhu game, but it depends on how pulpy your games are.

Tying this back to our Hand of Sabazius, it, being bronze, and not preserved flesh, a more powerful version of the Hand of Glory? Does it have the same abilities, without being limited in usage?

Maybe the hand can be worn as a glove, and is hollow to allow this. Another, more grisly way to wear it, is that the original hand must be removed, and the Hand of Sabazius can be installed in its place, whether or not the wound must be open to allow this binding is of course up to the Keeper! Once in place, the hand may allow the Investigator/NPC to be a conduit for the god in the mortal plane, or maybe just give access to powers of the god, either in knowledge, spells or other abilities. The question a Keeper must ask in this instance, is of course, what control does the player retain, and what control does the hand assert over the player?

Scenario Seeds

  • The Investigator wakes up, not so much in a bath of ice, but with her hand in a bucket of ice, numb. When she removes it, she find the Hand of Sabazius instead of what she expected. Whether it is a glove that can be removed, or her hand has been replaced is not immediately apparent. She then has to investigate to find out what the hand is, and how it can be removed. The questions as to why someone wanted her to have the hand, and the powers or knowledge it confers also have to be answered. Is she still in control of her hand, or is the hand trying to control her? what has happened to her original hand?
  • The players come up against an enemy who uses the Hand as part of their arsenal. Once defeated, the players are left with the quandary of what to do with the items the enemy left behind. Do they use them for good, do they destroy them, is destruction even possible. Maybe they put them into cold storage. What ever the players decide to do, whilst they are working it out, other groups are looking for the items, and have tracked them down to the player's abode.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Masks of Nyarlathotep Prop Set for the Call of Cthulhu RPG

Just as I get an email from Chaosium saying that the Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter has been shipped, and other details released for the 7th ed. Kickstarter suggest an early 2015 delivery, I am sorely tempted by another Kickstarter that is just about to close.

This time, for wonderful reproduction handouts and props for the Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign.
Helpfully, they have recently posted a summary of what you get for each funding level. Click to enlarge, and read what each level currently offers. This Kickstarter has been fully licenced by Chaosium.

Ok, so I am swithering whether to enter at the $65 or $85 mark. The difference being a few photos and the soundtrack. I have not been one for using soundtracks in game, but with modern technology, it becomes easier to manage, and therefore I am considering in as an option, plus of course the $10 international shipping... and maybe an eye of Light and Darkness for another $75...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Montreal's First Chinese Policeman

Montreal Standard, 12 January 1907, page 16.

Montreal’s Chinatown accepts the installation of the new Chinese policeman as an official recognition of the dignity and importance of the district. It is as great a matter to crow over as if a Celestial had been elected alderman in the City Council.
“Oh, yeth, we have policeman now. He” – with a swell of pride – “he carry revolver and baton, too!”

Chinatown is having much to play with the new toy. Fan-tan has for the nonce lost a little of its absorbing interest. All sorts of tiny troubles are taken to the policeman for arbitration, and he is expected to be a library of miscellaneous information, while if some Chinamen are having a little wordy spar at 3 am, another Chinaman will bolt round, waken up the policeman, and gravely inform him that there is a stupendous case on hand, and that it would be wisdom to telephone for the patrol wagon and a detachment of constabulary, and to bring the revolver.

While Chinatown on the whole, accepts the policeman as a compliment, a safeguard, an oracle, and an encyclopaedia, there are a few individuals who regard him as an unwarrantable burden and a traitor to his nationality. These few are the hobos of Chinatown, the men with the gorilla faces, who carry the little hatchet in the belt, and whose deeds are dark. That a Chinaman should assume the role of police constable over fellow-countrymen in a white man’s land is unmanly, vicious, treacherous. Wait!

Lee Johnson, the constable in question, accepts all with that bland smile of his. He knows that as a constable he should be dignified on all occasions – but he can’t keep his enthusiasm from bubbling over at times. He may be reserved at first. It is “yes,” and “no,” and “perhaps,” and “don’t know.” Gradually he melts. The he chuckles and tells with voluminous detail the story of the first Chinaman arrested for drunkenness in Montreal.

Johnson is a man of considerable intelligence, and speaks English and French in addition to his own tongue. His father was the principle of a village school in the Province of Canton, and Lee came to Canada 12 years ago, when 17 years of age. He has been in business, particularly the laundry business, in various parts of the country, and now represents in addition to law and authority, a number of firms dealing with the Chinese in Montreal.

He dresses like an ordinary white, and in his little office on St Urbain street, close to Lagauchetiere street, and right in the heart of Chinatown, he has a roll top desk and a telephone, to both of which the attention of the visitor is tactfully drawn. The rest of the office is perhaps a little at odds with the rolltop desk and the telephone, but that does not matter.

Asked whether he will be expected to lay information about, and take part in raids on opium and gambling dens, Lee shrugs his shoulders, and smiles, and talks about the weather. Whisked back to the original subject by the interrogator. Lee will speak at great length of the law regarding the opium traffic, but never by any chance commit himself. Once thoroughly thawed he will say that “most Chinamen like him, but two or three wastrel – bum bom, you call it? – Chinamen don’t like.” But he says nothing of fear and apprehension.

It is said that the need of a Chinese policeman in Chinatown was badly felt. Whether the appointment of one is going to make an improvement along certain lines, remains to be seen. In the meantime, it can be said that Constable Lee Johnson is intelligent and enthusiastic.


Interestingly, I can't find the Montreal Standard in Google Newspapers to back this up, but by the tone of the article, it was more tabloid than broadsheet. This may make it a great means of exposing players to more sensational reports of the weird and the bizarre, and other adventure hooks and red herrings.

Ok, so the tone of the era shines through in what is rather blatant racism in the original journalism, but this gives a little insight into the culture of the time. Especially on the existence of gambling an opium dens in Chinatown, and that this was seen as a problem for other Montrealers.

I want to hear more about these Hatchet Hobos of Chinatown. What were they? were they local enforcers, used to their own way of keeping law, either for the population, or the gangs, of those who held power in Chinatown? Were they really hobos, and the axes were for self defence? I love these guys. The adventure title "Hatchet Hobos of Chinatown" seems very pulpy in tone but it surely must be written!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Origins of Montreal's Criminals

Want to know where the criminals live in Montréal? Where are the hoods? Well now you can find out. Stats have been taken from three correctional institutions in Québec, Bordeaux Prison, Rivière-des-Prairie Institution, and Centre de Detention Tanguay. The data shows us where those convicted originate from. In terms of Montréal, this can give an insight into the origins of the criminal element in terms of which parts of Montréal they live in. This is not a map of where crimes are commited, that's a completely different map.

The three hot-spots, or hoods, on the Island of Montreal are Montréal-Nord, Saint-Michel and Hochelaga. To those that live in town, that will come as no great surprise. The other hot-spots in the province not around the town of Montreal (which considering the percentage of the population of Quebec that live in the area, it's no surprise the majority come from in or near the city) are in the north of the Province, which, considering the economics of the area, again is of no great surprise to anyone.

The map also includes those incarcerated who come from from outside of Quebec. Apart from 1 from Ontario and 1 from New-Brunswick, there are a couple of red spots in the north of Nunavut. I don't know if this is due to lack of sizeable correctional facilities in Nunavut, or just that these people came to live in Montreal for socio-economic reasons. I suspect the latter.

The full article, and interactive map can be found here (in French)(source in English).

Rather a neat little tool for GMs looking to know where to send his Investigators when they're looking for someone of a lower Credit Rating, or skills of a more dubious legal nature.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

American History Too

I would very much like to draw your attention to American History Too, a thirty minute podcast, coming very much from an academic stand point, being of direct use to students studying history at University, particularly Edinburgh University, but of course, learning and discussion are by no means the preserve of mere students, some may even say they're even wasted on students.

As a further gaming link, as if one was needed, you may have heard of one of the podcasters before in gaming circles. Dr Malcolm Craig, is a real renaissance man, as he is also the Writer/Creator of both Cold City and Hot War, two excellent indie mythos RPGs  that I can thoroughly recommend to readers of this blog (if they don't already know about them that is).

One criticism I would make, they need to work on their logo, but hey, I'll let them off since they're just setting out.

Go check them out, they now have a whole two episodes for you to listen to.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Haunted Montreal

In the run up to Halloween, Friday's Gazette had this nice article on ghosts in Montreal.
Montreal has been called a city of words, a city of design, a city of neighbourhoods, the city of Mary.A few years ago Gilbert Rozon, founder of the Just for Laughs Festival, suggested it should rebrand itself as a city of creativity. Good slogans, all of them; nice phrases. But the more you look at the long and tangled history of our mountainous island, the more it seems clear that at heart, Montreal is a city of ghosts.
It's rather a long article, and mostly from the modern day, but it has some great spooky stories in there, perfect for investigators to look into, and many of which can be easily ported to any other era, and used either as non-mythos stories, or as intros into something deeper.

Monday, August 18, 2014

I can't even...

That little phrase in the title has become a meme unto itself, as a way of expressing that something that is idiotic, or stupid on the internet (that covers a lot of said internet). What is not so well know, is that good ol' HPL himself was the originator of said meme, as this neat little essay claims to prove.

Go read it, then read some Lovecraft, it'll give you a whole host of new ways to express your emotions at online idiocy.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The town of Quebeck in New France

We took a bit of a last minute decision to go and visit Quebec City this week, so I went and looked out the travel books I have for the city:

I'll stick them both in my bag to take with me, but even though I have just finished my last book (One Summer by Bill Bryson, but more on that later) I doubt I'll actually get through reading HPL's travelogue of Quebec City, which is apparently the longest written work he ever produced, and the trip to Quebec was the only time he ever came to Canada. However, there are some nice little observations in there, and some great drawings the man himself drew to accompany the work, so I will at least skim through it, and compare my trip to his.

Unfortunately, we're only going for the weekend, so I won't be able to visit all the places he did, but fingers crossed I'll find some of them.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Places In Canada You Won't Believe Actually Exist

Upworthy has a lot to answer for in the way it has influenced internet article headlines. The number of superlatives used is extraordinary and unbelievable. You'll never read another headline like it again!

Sorry, I got a little carried away. Still, these fabulous pictures of places in Canada are more than a little cool, and Investigators to the great Canadian outdoors in any era can come across these places whilst trekking North to explore the unknown and unexplained. Or indeed, they may be the end point, and place of interest they are out to explore/investigate.

Two of the places mentioned are in Quebec, and I intend to write more about them at some point. Indeed, both the places pictured in Quebec are of craters. One, the Manicouagan crater, is of particular interest, as I had never heard much about it, till I was on Google maps one day, and it struck me as somethign of interest, and wondered why I had never heard more about it.

I plan to do a whole post dedicated to this in the near future.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Montreal 1920s Tourist Flyers

What it says in the title really, the MTL Blog has posted a scan of an old tourist flyer from 1925.
The original pdf can be downloaded from the Archives de Montréal here.

A great little handout for gamers from out of town, as well as a source of local information for players and Keepers alike.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

1890s London Detective Ageny Advert

Got a group of Gaslight investigators looking for work? Put an advert in the paper, that's sure to bring in the clowns!

Mosher's Detective Agency: The only office where ladies are employed!

In fact, each line of these ads is so well written, there's a great number of adventure seeds tightly packed into this short clipping.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

'Canada's Titanic' 100 years ago today

Two years after the Titanic was sunk, the Empress of Ireand sunk in the St Lawrence river (29th of May 1914). 1,012 people were killed, as the ship went down in just 14 minutes, after colliding with a Norwegian freighter, the SS Sorstad Near Rimouski. 465 of the original 1477 people on board survived.

It seems the story of the Empress has been lost, as it's death-toll was overshadowed by that of the Titanic two years earlier, and the story in international news at the time was pushed aside weeks later by the outbreak of the Great War.

Not to lessen the tragedy of such a wreck, but to ignore it's gaming potential, especially for Call of Cthulhu, would be to deny the reason for this blog's existence. My first thought on this, was to use the Titanic as a starting point. As a more famous wreck, in the same time frame and with a very similar passenger list, it would be foolish not to see what was already out there.

Pelgrane Press's RMS Titanic: The Millionaire’s Special is a one-shot adventure placed on the Titanic (before it sinks obviously), a review of which can be found on here, with another review by Pookie here. I do not own this adventure, but I would guess it could be as easily placed on the Empress of Ireland, with a bit of rewriting, as you would still get the same feeling of ship-borne claustrophobia, however, with the sinking of the Empress being a lesser known event, maybe the feeling of fore-boding and imminent sinkage would be lessened.

The other issue with the Empress is that it had left from Quebec, heading for the U.K., meaning it was just over 1 day into it's voyage, not much time to build up  a narative, meaning an adventure ending here would have to have a build up in Montreal of Quebec City. The other option is to have the Empress being on a return trp when she sinks. It is here that the lack of general knowledge of the disaster works in the Keeper's favour.

For those that read German, there is also Fantastische Spiele GbR's adventure Titanic Inferno, but it seems this has never been translated into English.

CBC article here (the above image is from that story).
Centennial Commemorations of the disaster here.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Montreal from the Air

You may notice I have a new header image. I had been on the lookout for an image of the skyline of Montreal fro the 1920s or there abouts. I found what I have been looking for in a flickr stream of pictures on Montreal from the air between 1925 and 1935.
Photos aériennes prises pour la Ville de Montréal par la Fairchild Serial Surveys Co. (of Canada) Ltd de Grand-Mère, Québec., entre 1925 et 1935. Ces images nous offrent un aperçu exceptionnel d’un Montréal en pleine expansion, entre 1925 et 1935. La vague d’annexions qui s’est terminée en 1918 confère à la cité agrandie une allure parfois rurale, du fait du grand nombre d’espaces non construits. Les nouveaux quartiers vont se remplir peu à peu de nouveaux habitats, parmi lesquelles le multiplex domine. Les terrains cultivés cèdent progressivement la place à ces constructions, aux installations industrielles ou aux infrastructures routières. Ce lot de photos sur plaque de verre montre notamment les secteurs des usines Angus, du centre-ville, du parc La Fontaine, de ce qui constitue aujourd’hui le Vieux-Montréal, de la montagne, de l’île des Sœurs, de Pointe-Saint-Charles ou de Verdun, ainsi que la construction du pont Jacques-Cartier.
Or, the translated version:

The new districts will gradually fill new habitat, including the multiplex dominates. Cultivated land gradually replaced these buildings, industrial facilities or roads.
Arial photos taken for the City of Montreal by the Fairchild Serial Surveys Co. (of Canada) Ltd of Grand-Mère, Québec., between 1925 and 1935. These images offer us an exceptional view of a booming Montreal, between 1925 and 1935. The wave of annexations which ended in 1918 gives the enlarged city a somewhat rural appearance, due to the large number of un-developed spaces. The new districts will fill little by little with new housing, predominately multiplexes. Cultivated land being replaced gradually by these buildings, and by industrial facilities and by roads. This batch of photos on glass plates shows particularly the the factory sector in Angus, Downtown, La Fontaine Park, in what is now Old Montreal, the mountain, Nun's Island, Pointe-Saint-Charles and Verdun, as well as the construction of the Jacques Cartier Bridge.
Like the blurb says, a great overview of the city. In game terms, perfect for games any time from the early 20s to the start of the Second World War, as from what I have been reading after WWII, there was a real lull in the growth of Montreal. Great to give out with, or indeed instead of a map, especially if the Players manage to get a higher vantage point.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Miskatonic Institute

I came across this whilst on another google search of all things Lovecraft and Mthos in Montreal. Indeed, I am surprised I haven't chanced acros it before.

Based in Montreal is The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies.
The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies is a non-profit, community-based curriculum through which established horror writers, directors, scholars and programmers/curators celebrate horror history and culture while helping enthusiastic fans of the genre to gain a critical perspective.
One reason I may not have come across them previously is that my recent searches on the Montreal Mythos have not been concerned solely with the 1920-30s. The second reason is that the Institute itself has only existed since 2010. Mostly it seems to be a forum for discussion of the Horror genre in film, however, there is an uncoming course/event running for 5 weeks called H.P. Lovecraft – From Cosmic Horror to Heavy Metal that I am seriously considering going along to.

So what are you waiting for? If you're in the area, go check them out!