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The Masque of the red death
In Elder Sign
thomasiota
Apr 19, 2022
I also came to this story with a lot of the same assumptions as you both discussed. Prospero was young (and I pictured his "sagacity" more as political cleverness (Poe could even have called him "sanguine" except that would be too on-the-nose)). The revelers were all having a good time and somehow had no family ties or material dependencies that would intervene with that. The disease was airborne and probably slid in on a puff of air before the door was completely welded, etc. I also thought the whole thing was allegorical and essentially just an indictment of the rich as so poisonously self-concerned that they doom themselves by their own decadence. After listening to the show, I have to question almost all of that. For instance, it seems unlikely that anything with a long incubation period or was less than rampantly infectious would end up killing all thousand party goes within one winding of the clock. (Although I assumed originally everyone died within a half-hour of Prospero, the story says the last one died when the clock stopped, so, maybe a day, give or take.) All of that made me reconsider the "disease" itself. What if it, as ktvician hinted above, it is caused by, or at least tightly correlated with, the lifestyle of the rich and shameless? Maybe it is a toxin that happened to occur naturally on the grape skins of the finer vineyards, a poisonous metal alloyed with pewter tankards, a prion present among prize cattle, or even an STD recently imported by a traveling aristocrat. All of those could kill a large portion of a population without necessarily killing all of them, and natural distribution patterns would limit their range (Unless those most at risk happened to weld themselves into a months-long, Roman-style, Eyes-Wide-Shut debauch...) It really is a fascinating story. The "...and then all the party-people died horribly..." ending makes the whole thing feel like a morality play, but the moral of the story isn't particularly clear (or, at least, any number of morals can be conjectured and reasonably defended within the text). It's as if the overflowing detail of the setting invites countless interpretations. For instance, for the first time just now I noticed the role the word "rage" plays in the story: The pestilence "raged most furiously abroad" The prince's "brow reddened with rage" and "maddening with rage and the shame" forces him to chase down his own death, after which the revelers' "wild courage of despair" (co-rage?) causes them to throw themselves into the same, deadly fate (All of that "rage" business is probably even less meaningful than the sequence of colors of the rooms, but the fact that the story is just dripping with such symbolism and turns of phrase just underscores how deep the interpretation rabbit-hole can go.) You guys mentioned something in this episode that I had never heard before, that "The Raven" was Poe (to at least some extent) mocking poets or poetry in general by simply choosing some words, rhythm, and rhyme to show that's all required to whip up a quick masterpiece of undeniably evocative poetry. Is it possible that Poe is doing something similar within The Masque... -- cramming together all these voluptuous rooms, orchestra, colors, writhing dream-masqueraders, costumes, etc. to create an undeniably evocative setting? Did he lock all those lustrous images into the story just like the prince locked up the masqueraders? Did Poe then catalyze the mixture by inserting the bare minimum of unique elements into the setting of pluralities to turn it into a story -- add one dauntless, sagacious protagonist (no backstory, no arc, just rage and a dagger); one shrouded, blood-spattered antagonist (forget backstory or arc, no dialog, no weapon, not even any tangible form); and a countdown timeline driven by a singular, giant, literal clock?
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re: Weird Fiction in Role-Playing Games
In Elder Sign
thomasiota
Dec 15, 2021
Honestly, I hope this thread never dies!! What a good episode! What a great conversation! Thanks to y'all for all the good recommendations. I'm going to need to re-read the OSR article a few times to fully appreciate it, but, personally, I think Dave Arneson is to blame. Before he touched DnD, it was only really Chainmail, only really a Risk-for-ne'er-grown-ups strategy game. Sadly the internet is full of misinformation here, but try to check out the original, paper supplements. This one (which needs the other original DnD publications to make sense mathematically, but can at least be read narratively stadalone) https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/17172/ODD-Supplement-II-Blackmoor-0e (fair-warning, that is just plain Old School (OS), not Old School Revival (OSR). IMO it was from there that the Appendix N (https://goodman-games.com/blog/2018/03/26/what-is-appendix-n/ ) was really born, and it's from there that Lovecraft, Leiber, Moorcock, Vance, and all the others came pouring in like a flood. (Check out Lindsay's almost unbearably weird https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Voyage_to_Arcturus , he invents (among a metric ton of other things) a couple of colors, Jale and Ulfire, that Arneson references). Although, in recent years, I've been much less active in reading RPGs (trying, instead, to write a very-few), one very notable exception from these ranks of the weird is the high-Atlantean priest Klarkash-Ton (or, as we know him IRL, Clark Ashton Smith). This is probably because his stories, as a whole, were a bit to risque... wouldn't want to set off a satanic panic now, would we, Mr. Gygax... (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanic_panic#Conspiracy_theories "n 1985, Patricia Pulling joined forces with psychiatrist Thomas Radecki, director of the National Coalition on Television Violence, to create B.A.D.D. (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons). Pulling and B.A.D.D. saw role-playing games generally and Dungeons & Dragons specifically as Satanic cult recruitment tools, inducing youth to suicide, murder, and Satanic ritual abuse"... Whoops! Anyway, Klarkash-Ton was apparently a heavy metal boss and this game based on his stories definitely deserves some consideration: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/303704/BLACK-VOID-FREE-Quickstart (I've read the whole core book a time or two... it's undeniably cool, but also very complex, at least on the first few read-throughs, so, I'm linking just the free quickstart). Really, I think the more well-made RPG's folks can invent, the better. For me, the attraction of Dunsany, Nesbit, James, Lindsay, Edwards, Oliphant, Edwards, Wharton, Lovecraft, Vance, Verne, Wells, Leiber, Moorcock,Ellison, Link, Keirnan, and Russel ... was always the chance that, at least via imagination, we might enter their worlds. My best to you all! See you there! :)
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The Alchemist by HPL
In Elder Sign
thomasiota
May 24, 2021
I send thanks for all the good info, wishes for good hunting in your market search, and huge congratulations on your publication and translations! Sadly I'm not literate in Dutch, but please shout when the English translations get published. I would love to check them out! The discussion you linked was great. I didn't know about The Submission Grinder nor about Shunn's template and format guides, (which were recommended by @G.L. McDorman and @ktvician, respectively) those are both really helpful and encouraging! The turnaround times and pay stats on the 'Grinder really aid in focusing on particular publications and planning where to try next for acceptance. It's terrific to see y'all sharing such good recommendations (and a reminder that I need to read these forums more thoroughly ;) ! Wattpad definitely has it's limits, and, unfortunately, I think most publication markets will consider anything that's ever been published on Wattpad to be a "reprint," (which significantly reduces submission options afterward). It's been a great way for me to answer challenges, work through workbooks, and to easily share text with kind folks like you all in this forum, but it's probably not especially useful for actually trying to build a personal publication history. Have you checked out Reedsy at all? As far as I can tell, they've got a lot of great resources (including a very handy looking online book editor). I always worry about the subtleties of copyright (especially when using third-party tools based on online databases), but it still might be worth delving into. I heard a few interesting things about self-publishing on Scribl, so might consider trying that out. In truth, it seems to have almost all the limitations of Wattpad too, but it has at least the potential for sales. Also, their audiobook angle is intriguing. However, the Reedsy folks recommend going for width instead of depth if self-publishing, and often recommend Draft2Digital. Maybe I will roll up my sleeves and try to throw some stories into the 'Grinder, turn the crank, and see if anything fortuitous emerges. Judging by the stats, it could take many weeks just to get a rejection, then many more in hopes of getting a $20 acceptance. Still, it's pretty clear that the idea is to shop dozens of stories gradually across dozens of markets, and the fact that there is a free tool like this to help manage it (rather than my usual, if less sophisticated write-it-on-scrap-paper-then-pile-all-that-on-a-shelf method) gives me some hope that keeping organized long enough to build real momentum might actually be possible. Thanks again for the pointers, and congrats again on your publications!
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The Alchemist by HPL
In Elder Sign
thomasiota
Nov 30, 2020
Thanks very much for reading it, I'm glad there was some fun to be had! As far as publishing goes, I'm sadly a newbie. I've checked out the Writer's Market guides, but haven't yet broken any ground there. I'm intrigued by the fanzine idea, but unsure about process (submission, reply times, multiple submission, etc.). I've looked into self-publishing a bit (because it seems to have fewer variables) and was tempted by Draft2Digital as well as the Kindle marketplace, but haven't bitten that bullet yet either. ...Hmm, maybe I ought to just get off my duff? I won't lie... I really enjoyed reworking this story and it did make me think I'd like to try more, but I hadn't considered attempting an entire book. I'd definitely think twice about tackling the masterpieces, but there are some stories that I always wished were better ("Medusa's Coil" comes to mind... started off strong, ended up blatantly, stupidly racist with a copious side-dish of misogyny). That one isn't quite in the public domain yet (as far as I know), but there are some low-hanging fruits that are. (There is an IMO-excellent ranking of most of HPLs solos and collabs here: https://freelanceflaneur.blogspot.com/2017/01/ranking-h-p-lovecraft-stories.html) You guys and your writing challenges!! ;) Thanks again! Y'all stay safe and be well! P. S. as far as reworks go, have you checked out "The Lovecraft Investigations" from BBC Radio 4? They're making no attempt to mimic Lovecraft's style (instead, capturing only major characters and settings, and filling in alternative action, similar to the treatment of Doyle's work in the recent Sherlock BBC TV miniseries), but the result is still some pretty-darn-good Lovecraftian podcasting: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06spb8w
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The Alchemist by HPL
In Elder Sign
thomasiota
Nov 28, 2020
Hi, Fellows, I know it has been a while since this episode on "The Alchemist" debuted, but I have to say that I really enjoyed it. You asked questions that, for some reason, never even occurred to me. Where is Antoine's agency? Where is his arc? Why is Pierre, our one supporting character, so unsupportive? Also, you caught a number of more minor annoyances: Why is the framing narrator so old? Why are these nobles ignoring their tenants? Why did Antoine's father (having, himself, known of the curse for more than a decade) wait so long before starting a family? Why was Charles cursing in English? How does a peasant kid learn to read Latin and distill chemicals? All of this added up to a challenge that stuck with me, perhaps because I have always just read this story as-is. It seemed like the above issues would not be too hard to fix, so, encouraged by your detailed discussion, I decided to give it a try. In retrospect, they were hard to fix, especially if the fixes should remain consistent both among themselves and also with the rest of the story (oh, and turns out my Latin is more debased even than Charles's and my French is... worse). Still, if you happen to find yourselves with both the time and patience for a read, here is my attempt, published on Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/story/249448511-i-commenced-my-descent Just clicking "Read" on that page should display the story. This version retains as much of the original text as I could manage, but is also clearly longer than the original. Also, I have to apologize for the minor formatting issues. I centered the section headers, byline, attribution, and Charles' curse, but Wattpad insists on left-justifying everything. Still, if you get a chance to check it out, I hope it proves enjoyable.
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re: Weird Fiction in Role-Playing Games
In Elder Sign
thomasiota
Jun 09, 2020
I'm 100% with you here. Also, I laughed out loud at "Inquisitor Obiwan Sherlock Clousseau." I really hope I don't run into him in a dark... Nar Shaddaa... crime scene... ski lodge?? Maybe I can give Dan Abnett a try soon. I appreciate the recommendation and will keep my eyes out. I bought "Bubblegumshoe" for my daughters, then read it, then gave it away to Goodwill. I agree that Gumshoe seems like a conceit. A decent GM can easily keep the plot moving as long as any characters survive, and the cynical mechanic of "social combat" really discouraged me. I've written a few RPG's myself (after years of side-work, I just broke $200 net income! Next stop, Monte Carlo!!), and, honestly, the best thing mechanics can do is to get out of the way of the story (and the second best is to reduce the need for suspension of disbelief). Lasers and Feelings (and all of its remixes) are a perfect example of this. They provide just enough mechanics (one stat, one die) to let the story slide along non-deterministically without any major snags, then gracefully bow out of the spotlight and let the players run the play. Jousting with words can be done with minimal imposition of game mechanics, and all the players can easily have a great time fencing with either phrases or steel. I feel like the Gumshoe/Trail of Cthulhu mechanics are unnecessary for even decent Keepers. The stories are still good, of course, but mechanically force-feeding them should never be required if the players and GM are genuinely interested in the plot. Call of Cthulhu succeeded despite its mechanics, not because of them, and doubling-down on the meta-gaming does not add anything to the sense of peril and reluctant discovery that the players should all be experiencing. (Meanwhile, the mechanics should not "be the way" they should "be out of the way.") I'd argue a couple of good actual play podcasts that show this are "The Lovecraft Tapes" and "The Old Ways Podcast" -- both are great CoC narrations with light mechanics. Regarding Eclipse Phase, in my opinion it is gorgeous, but, I agree, the mechanics are, at best, daunting. It reminds me (is it bad that I say "fondly"?) of the wonderful but mathematically challenging Universe RPG (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universe_%28role-playing_game%29 ) . But, frankly, it is fairly easy to use the built-in (especially the more recent) EP character building rules to create characters, then port them, right away, to your favorite (and, hopefully, simpler) rule system! Doing that might take a few hours, but the result will be some conversion mechanics that you can use for almost everything else in the game. Once that's done (don't convert everything, just establish some simplistic rules for doing so), the setting opens up like a treasure chest! The Eclipse Phase authors have worked out every condition to single-percent resolution, but, while they deserve props for all that work, the players need never know this in order to have a good time. Cutting up the odds into chunks of 16.7% each converts everything to a d6 roll. Doing that (or, really, anything even vaguely similar) kicks the mechanics into the background where they belong, then the wonder, dread, menace, and bounteousness of the setting can come rolling in unimpeded.
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re: Weird Fiction in Role-Playing Games
In Elder Sign
thomasiota
Jun 07, 2020
I know what you mean about the artwork. His book has been on my "wish list" for a long time then, when I was about to pull the trigger, the RPG showed up, so, I had to buy that one first. In retrospect, I'm glad I did. It does a great job presenting Stålenhag's artwork as well as expanding upon the universe it implies without diminishing its wonder or possibilities. I believe there is now a sequel to the RPG callled (no surprise) Things from the Flood, with the idea being that the characters in Tales from the Loop (who are kids and, per the game rules, cannot die) will eventually mature and move into the more sinister and more lethal world implicit in Stålenhag's Things from the Flood art. I think you made the right decision in delaying watching the TV series. While I would still recommend it (even just the visuals are stunning), I feel like it does somewhat limit Stålenhag's original vision, because, in the paintings, we see children... maybe a bit too alone, and maybe a bit outside their safety zones, but clearly full of wonder and exploration. We can be happy for them or afraid for them, but they usually seem neither themselves. Instead, they are concentrating on discovering the wonders around them. That's universal, and very touching. I feel the TV series captures the loneliness and angst very well, and the other-worldliness is probably even more present, but the child-like sense of wonder and exploration, at best, takes a back seat, and often seems to have been left behind entirely. The show is very well done, and almost achingly sad, like some of the best Twilight Zone episodes, so, worth watching for that alone. It also does a very good job of visually reproducing the elements of Stålenhag's paintings (so, again, worth watching for that). But I wish it had done more to represent the explorations of the wondering, wandering children, and the subtle but unshakable optimism that implies.
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re: Weird Fiction in Role-Playing Games
In Elder Sign
thomasiota
Jun 07, 2020
Thanks for the recommendation of Coriolis. I have read a bit of that game and enjoyed it, but I definitely need to revisit it and get a better appreciation of that Dark Between the Stars. I'll also try to check out that actual play podcast. That game might be right up my alley. The Warhammer universe has always seemed intriguing to me. I read some of the novel series. At some point it started to feel a bit to0... maybe the term is "grindhouse" for me. The novels I read had a lot of grisly murder that seemed based mostly on which house the characters belonged to, rather than the "heroes vs. evil" trope (i.e. more Game of Thrones and less Lord of the Rings). I guess I personally tend toward the weird, cosmic horror settings with only the occasional side-dish of violence or gore, although I admit some of my recs above, like DCC, are pretty heavy on the wanton destruction of PCs. Maybe I should give Dark Heresy a try though, if, instead of people who just happen to be wearing the wrong sigils, the real enemies are demons, terrors, et al. inhuman monsters. Based on your comments, I'm kicking myself for not (until now) also recommending Eclipse Phase (https://www.eclipsephase.com/) . It has heavy cyberpunk influences, but not so much in the Neuromancer vein. Instead it is more of a version of Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon (the Netflix series of the same name may be even a closer match), with side servings of the Event Horizon film, the Aliens series, and the weirder star-hopping excursions in the Stargate series and the Mass Effect video games. Humans have evolved beyond death (at least, the rich have), and AIs have evolved beyond humans, tearing a hole in their societies and absconding into deep space. Humans populate much of the solar system, with their own local cultures and bodies often drastically modified by cybernetics and/or genetic engineering in order to tolerate the extraterrestrial environments. They back up their memories and personalities as digital files, sometimes even copying themselves into new bodies after (or even before) death. Ancient hyperspace gateways have been discovered, and missions through them often end in death, madness, or complete mystery. I have most of the first edition books and really loved them (the authors gave away many for free, under CC licenses). I haven't read the second edition core book yet, but reviews make me think it will be even better. Given what you've said about Coriolis, I could see some potential for crossover play between these two settings.
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The Ebony Frame
In Elder Sign
thomasiota
Mar 07, 2020
I really appreciate everyone's analysis of this story. Nesbit's stories typically enchant me, but I've always had trouble appreciating this one. The indolent protagonist may be partially to blame, but I also had trouble with the metaphysics/magic seeming not to hold together logically, so I'm glad you pointed this out on the podcast. One obvious gap to me was the "how long is it since I lost you" conundrum. Whether or not there is time in hell, an educated woman could have simply stated the year of her death and that mystery would have been solved with some simple math. She, instead, seems only to provide the most basic details (no name of the town, no name of the previous incarnation of her lover, etc.) Still, after struggling with this further, especially in wondering why Nesbit would set up an obvious plot climax (the soul-barter) only to undercut it by burning down the house. I'm wondering if anyone else considered this interpretation... We hear Devigne say emphatically "I was not sleepy; I was not drunk. I was as wide awake and as sober as ever was a man in the world," then, a few lines later he seems more plaintive: "It was not a dream. Ah! no? there are no such dreams. I wish to God there could be." And a few after that, he seems to be deflecting an unspoken question "If it was a dream, why have I never dreamed it again?" After that night, he never sees his true love in the flesh again, and, in fact, he begins describing every event in his subsequent life as a dream, an observation we the readers know is mostly false. I think "dissociation" was one of the terms used in the podcast to describe this, and then we see Devigne's hopes go up in smoke. What if we consider the above as a purely psychological event and that the permanent dissociation that claims the entire remainder of Devigne's life simply began one day earlier than he thinks it did? He had just inherited luxurious wealth and a high-class address. Then he discovers a painting of his ideal self as a wealthy aristocrat, and, facing that, a painting of his ideal mate. (The "woman of his dreams" perhaps?) He basks in that circumstance for a week or two, just long enough to happen upon a chair identical to the one in the woman's painting and to get a new frame built for his own. Then, "lying back in a pleasant languor" his gaze is "held fixed as by strong magic" to the painting. It makes a lot of sense that Devigne might have fallen asleep and had a sensuous dream in which he is the aristocratic lover of this enchanting woman. It also makes sense that he would want terribly to believe this, his final attainment of all the privileges he has so long felt denied, was real. I argue that it is also more likely that a man might have a dream and mistakenly believe it was real, than that a woman could successfully make a magical pact with the devil in order to be reincarnated intermittently via wistful thoughts directed at a painting. The next day his house burns down, losing the painting of the woman and even the chair on which she sat. Critically it also destroys the image of himself as an aristocrat, hanging on the opposite wall. The trauma of inheriting a patrician lifestyle only to have it burned away a couple of weeks later could certainly cause a depression and possibly even alter memories. He has used these particular paintings and this particular furnished house to build a new self-image, one no insurance check can restore. Maybe Nesbit was saying something really dark about human psychology here and the witch trials, devil, and suspiciously uninformative gorgeous lady genius are just the set props of a terrible self-deception. Devigne was secretly haughty and greedy. In one swoop almost every aspect of his life (income, status, housing, etc.) was upgraded by fate. The only aspect which remained at its previous quality was Mildred. All his stifled dissatisfactions had been resolved except for her, so he ardently dreamed up a scenario in which that last remnant of his common life was also replaced. Then, not 24 hours later, Mildred's presence becomes so unbearable that he leaves his new house... only to come back that night to see everything he had gained (dreamed or real) burn to ashes, with only Mildred being retained. Nesbit doesn't show us a scene of making a choice with the devil, because Devigne never had such a choice to make. The choice Devigne makes is more subtle, but potentially even more damning. Rather than be a happy non-duke with a big insurance check and guaranteed yearly income, he chooses... insists, even, upon believing that he "had it all" for one night, and that, if he had only been quicker in delivering his soul to the devil, it would never have been torn from him. He would have been the ideal man in the painting, every day a fancy ball with the woman of his dreams. He could, of course, simply accept that he had a nice house once and had a nice dream in it the day before it burned down. He could have dumped Mildred and used his wealth to enjoy the high-class dating scene until finally meeting a woman he truly loved. But that would have required acceptance that he was not quite the same man as the painted aristocrat, and that the beautiful woman had been dead for many decades before Devigne himself was born. Instead of acceptance, he chose denial. "I deny, with all my soul in the denial, that it was a dream." Nesbit did show us that choice.
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thomasiota

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