The Isle of The White Lady in Tales of Cthulhu Invictus: Britannia

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/golden-goblin-press/britannia-and-beyond-a-regional-guide-for-cthulhu-invictus

Golden Goblin Press is running the Kickstarter for their book Britannia & Beyond, a Roman setting campaign supplement for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game and the newest stretch goal is Tales of Cthulhu Invictus: Britannia, a fiction anthology which contains the last of my Macula and Damis stories, The Isle of The White Lady.

Readers may remember mystic talisman seller Damis of Nineveh and his bodyguard Macula’s printed adventures began in the first Cthulhu Invictus anthology with The Unrepeatables, and continued in The Apotheosis of Osirantinous .

This story sees Damis and Macula returning to frontier Britannia where they first met, to confront a terrible threat drifting south on winds of freezing snow.

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Here’s an excerpt…
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Modius Macula had never suspected he would return to the grey, rain-soaked hills of Britannia, let alone to the dismal little vicus of Vindolanda itself. Yet here he was, leaning in the doorway of a shabby tavern, watching the Tungrian auxiliaries march east along the Stanegate Road.

He closed his eyes and listened to the clink of the auxiliaries’ gladii. Preparations for Antoninus Pius’ invasion of the Caledonian Lowlands were in full swing. The new stone fortress at Corsopitum was nearly complete, and the Vindolanda garrison was lending three hundred men to the coming campaign.

It was unseasonably cold for Martius.

Macula drew his woollen cloak closer about his shoulders. He felt the keen pangs of a veteran among young soldiers too busy to think him anything other than some faceless, idle civilian. This dredged up in him the old envy of the fighter whose campaigns had ended.

He heard a prolonged, deep cough from behind, and glanced at the table where his employer, the venerable Damis of Nineveh, sat hacking into his balled fist. He should never have allowed his friend to make this journey.

Damis should have been in Rome making a killing off graven images of the newly deified Empress Faustina in his talisman shop on the Vicus Cesaris, but the old Assyrian had been plagued by disturbing, prophetic nightmares since the start of the year.

“A terrible doom is moving, Macula,” Damis had moaned one night in a sweat. “I saw a strange grey flame consuming all Britannia. Over everything it passed it left a blanket of white ash. It spread to Rome herself. Apollonius took me up to stand on the orb of the Moon. I saw the whole world smoking like a ball of pitch.”

Being a Pythagorean, Damis had never been one to dismiss a dream, particularly when his late master, Apollonius of Tyana was involved.

Twenty years ago, while touring the province with Hadrian, Damis had stopped an incursion of foul little creatures that still slashed their way through Macula’s nightmares by negotiating a peace between Rome and an isolated sub-tribe of Christian Brigantes. Part of that peace had involved the secret installation of talismans in the milecastles along the border wall, to keep the things from migrating south.

Damis had petitioned the Emperor for permission to journey north to Britannia and inspect the eighty talismans. Pius had finally issued him an imperial assessor’s writ.

They had travelled thirty nine inclement miles between Maia and Vindolanda this past week. They’d found none of the talismans disturbed so far, but the intensity of Damis’ nightmares had increased. He slept little. Macula attributed it to a fever the old Assyrian had contracted from exposure to the chilly northern weather.

Macula watched the last of the auxiliaries pass up the road, drained his dregs, and rejoined Damis.

“You look like shit, old man,” he observed.

“Forthright as ever,” Damis grinned weakly.

That the old Assyrian had survived this journey at all Macula could only attribute to his Pythagorean diet and asceticism. Yet it was clear Damis had reached his limit.

“You can’t take another week of this. Let’s go to the valetudinarium.”

“Submit myself to the proddings of some Greek-hating alcoholic army bone cutter?” Damis shook his head. “No, just some warm colostrum, I think. Then we can be on our way again.”

“We should rest until the weather warms,” Macula said.

“The weather will never warm,” said a voice with a thick Brythonic accent. A youth stood over them, in a robe of dingy white sackcloth, dirty blonde hair dangling from beneath his hood.

Macula held up his cup.

“More beer, boy,” Macula growled. “And a word of advice. It’s not polite to insinuate yourself into a private conversation.”

“Are you Damis of Nineveh?” the youth asked, ignoring Macula.

Damis looked up.

“Do you know me?”

“I’m Gildas, son of Driskell, smith of the Textoverdi.”

“Tex-to-ver-di,” Damis repeated slowly.

“You came here one dark night, when I was a boy,” said Gildas. “You took shelter in my father’s hut.”

Macula looked hard at the young man now, going over the coincidence in his mind. He had just been thinking of that dark night twenty years ago, when he and Damis had hid in a Brigante roundhouse near here. He still remembered the smell of unwashed bodies and peat fire, and vaguely, the frightened eyes of a dingy little boy peering out behind the skirt of his mother.

“I remember,” said Damis. “Please.”

Gildas sat between them.

“The Bishop of Albion, Josaphus ben Joseph, was killed that night,” Gildas went on, in a conspiratorial tone. He looked about quickly, then took from his tunic a rude bit of wood shaped into a fanciful representation of a fish; an icthys, the sign of the Christians.

Macula remembered Josaphus too; a priest of that Jewish sect, slain by an overexcited centurion. Before dying, Josaphus had taught Damis the charm that now warded every mile of the Wall.

“This was his?” Damis said, reaching out to touch the holy symbol.

“The very one,” Gildas confirmed, returning it to his tunic.

“Has the Wall failed?” Damis asked anxiously, gripping Gildas’ upper arm.

“Against that which threatens Britannia now, it could never hope to stand,” said Gildas, producing a leather pouch from his cloak.

As he undid the strings, Damis and Macula leaned closer to see.

Gildas removed a small wooden box from the pouch, and from that, using the folds of the leather, he gingerly lifted out a foggy white stone with a bright purple glow in its center. He set it on the table.

“Some kind of jewel?” Macula asked.

Damis touched it, but recoiled and hissed, jamming his fingers into his mouth. He stared in shock at Gildas, then drew the sleeve of his tunic over his hand, as though he were touching a pan hot from an oven, and held the stone up to the lamplight.

There was a purple flower perfectly preserved in the center.

“Ice,” Damis said in hushed awe. “Ice that does not melt. So cold, it burns.”

“A Caledonian was found with this, on the banks of the Verda,” said Gildas, “skin blackened, half-frozen. Before he died, he spoke of a living light moving south, like the pillar of flame that guided the Hebrews. Anything caught by it, anything that breathes in the air, animals, men, even the birds of the sky,” he snapped his fingers and stabbed at the frozen flower. “Like this.”

“What is it?” Damis mumbled.

“Bishop Alain believes Satan is marching up from the coldest depths of hell, to punish those who have strayed from Christ,” said Gildas.

Macula was vaguely aware that Satan was a vindictive underworld god in the Christian pantheon.

Have you strayed?” Damis asked.

Damis was no Christian, but the cult was something of a hobby for him.

Like most good Romans, Macula didn’t care overly for Christians. Jews were at least tolerable in that they kept their unbearable self-righteousness to themselves. Macula had mashed the nose of a zealot named Justin when the fanatic had tried to lead a frothing mob to vandalize the talisman shop over some heretical symposium Damis had hosted there with his mind-numbingly loquacious Christian philosopher friends Valentinus, Marcion, and Cerdo.

Yet by his own adventures with Damis, he knew the Christian god was as real as any other.

“Some of us have begun worshipping the old goddess Satiada again,” said Gildas, “with blood sacrifices led by a strange White Lady. Bishop Alain says that Satiada is a name by which Satan goes, and that the White Lady is the Whore of Babylon.”

That, at least, sounded interesting to Macula.

“My father told me you were a very wise man,” Gildas finished. “When I learned you had returned, I had to find you. Will you help?”

Macula grimaced over the boy’s shoulder and shook his head furiously at Damis.

“Macula,” said Damis, “it is nearly the start of the campaign season. How many of the provincial legions has Lollius Urbicus committed to the drive against the Caledonians?”

Macula lowered his eyes. All along the Wall the talk among the soldiers had been about the governor’s preparations for Pius’ expansion of the northern border.

“All three,” he said. Nearly fifteen thousand men, to say nothing of auxiliaries. He had an image of those men encased in ice like this purple flower.

“I don’t want to die in Britannia, old man,” Macula sighed.

Image result for winter roman britain

My First Call of Cthulhu Game

Last night I finally had the opportunity to play a game of Chaosium’s renowned Call of Cthulhu RPG in a really unique and appropriate space, The HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s headquarters over in Glendale.

Chaosium provided Sean Branney with a sneak peak at a forthcoming module, and we got to play test.

I’ve played Dark Conspiracy, Palladium’s Rifts, Vampire, HERO, Cyberpunk, and D&D from 1st-5th edition (skipping 4th), and though I’ve even managed to write fiction for Chaosium a few times, somehow over the years Call of Cthulhu the game has always eluded me. Just never been in the vicinity of a group that plays (and haven’t yet attempted playing online).

I armed myself with Seth Skorkowsky’s CoC video primers on Youtube , got a general grasp of skill checks and game flow, and headed out to Glendale.

First, if you’ve never been to visit HPLHS’ HQ, I gotta say outside of Providence it has to be a minor mecca of all things Lovecraftian for HP-heads on the West Coast. Besides a shopfront of their movies, radio plays, t-shirts, and astounding props, the right half of the room is dominated by a reference library that might have been salvaged from The Church of The Starry Wisdom’s attic – not just collections of old HP (though I spied some bagged Weird Tales up there), but a lot of primary period references and neat occult editions.  Sean showed us a particularly cool new two volume set of John Dee’s angelic writings collected fairly recently by Kevin Klein (not the actor) that had me envious.  I noticed a couple of books I had, and LOT I wish I had.

The shelves were also adorned with props from the society’s film adaptations, the Mi-Go puppet and contraptions, and the library sign from (I believe) Whisperer In Darkness. For me the big thrill was getting to play my inaugural game under the deep set eyes of the Cthulhu puppet from their silent masterpiece Call of Cthulhu (the virtues of which I have previously extolled here).

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Anyway, I don’t want to go too much into detail of the actual module and gameplay session as I don’t want to spoil anything, but I decided to stretch my RPG chops (well, a stretch for a guy whose characters usually consist of fast talking thieves and bashy Howardian Barbarians) and played a nervous ex-Catholic nun having a crisis of faith, and man, I had an absolute blast. I’m used to a lot of dice rolling and combat, more story-lite fair, and CoC proved to be a refreshing alternative, heavy on the roleplay and deduction. None of the investigators ever even got into a combat situation at all (though we were told we had taken ourselves to the edge of mayhem by the time we broke at 11 o’clock), yet I still found the gameplay riveting.

Sean made the whole thing a great experience. I don’t know his background but from his NPC’s, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s encountered a lot of rural Midwest types in his day – and if he hasn’t, well, he’s a helluva gamemaster. Ah, he’s a helluva gamemaster anyway.\

So, thanks to the HPHLS and Chaosium for the unique opportunity. I came away with a very positive impression. Hope to return soon and finish out Sister Mary’s investigation, and generally play more Call of Cthulhu in the future.

Published in: on February 22, 2019 at 8:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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DT Moviehouse Reviews: The Call of Cthulhu

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Better watch out! It’s Halloween night….and here’s my review of the fan made HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s adaptation of The Call Of Cthulhu.

Directed by Andrew Leman

Screenplay by Sean Brannery, based off the story by H.P. Lovecraft

Tagline: The celebrated story by HP Lovecraft brought at last to the silver screen.

call_of_cthulhu_movie

What It’s About:

A man uncovers evidence of a strange cult, following the seemingly disparate threads of an ancient artifact, a police raid on a degenerate backwoods bayou ritual, the nightmares of an artist, and the account of a Norwegian vessel’s exploration of a remote island.

Why I Bought It:


I’m a fairly recent convert to the works of weird fiction author HP Lovecraft.

MovieQuiz_963-0000I think I started reading him only about 2006 or so. I’ve always found him kind of a dry writer (I’m a Robert E. Howard guy), but the ideas of his seminal Mythos definitely left an indelible mark on my mind, and grew to inform my own work as a writer, if not entirely pervade it. Once I began delving into Jewish esoteric lore for my Merkabah Rider series, I saw parallels between certain occult concepts and the stuff Lovecraft developed and incorporated them. I have no idea if he was in anyway a student of Kabbalah and the like, but his notion of taking the good and evil equation out of existence and instead portraying the universe as a kind of barely controlled chaos against which his protagonists struggle and usually fail, is undeniably striking and unique. A mythology for atheists, I guess, where the supernatural is simply the unexplained, or even the inexplicable, where God is not an entity but a misnomer for something unfathomable.

cthlhu2Lovecraft is steadily growing in popularity with the dissemination of his work online. I first heard of Cthulhu back in my early roleplaying game days, and then later read about his extended family via Howard’s Mythos stories.  It’s inevitable that so long lasting an author have his work tapped by filmmakers, but there have been very few adaptations if his work that have successfully portrayed his output. Most lift the concepts but go for the splatter and gore, or are content to mention Miskatonic University and then run with the ball any old way.

But not the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu.

Fan made films don’t often hold up too well to scrutiny. Slavish devotion to the source material hardly ever makes for a good adaptation. Books are a different creature than movies, and Lovecraft’s stuff, if you’ve ever read it, is far from mainstream fare. It’s cerebral and academic, episodic and existential. Lovecraft’s bestiary/pantheon is older than Creation, aloof and unconcerned with humanity, but can wipe us all out with a shifty look if their attention is unwisely attracted.

And yet, The Call of Cthulhu is a perfect, nearly to-the-letter adaptation….and it works.

legrasseThere is so much love(craft) in every frame of this low budget indie film, not only for its source material, but for the cinematic conventions that co-existed with its birth, that it can’t be seen as anything less than a masterful homage to the Mythos and to the expressionist films of F.W. Murnau, Robert Wiene, and Wegener and Galeen, with nods to James Wale and Todd Browning.

The central concept of CoC is that the HPLHS decided to produce the movie as though it were a contemporary adaptation of the original story, written in 1926. Thus, the movie is black and white, and silent with title cards and an incessant orchestral score. All the FX are practical, and wherever possible, true to the time period. No CGI. Just elaborate sets, forced perspectives, and the occasional matte image.

The impossible angles of nightmarish R’yleh is achieved with angular wooden sets and old fashioned chiaroscuro. Dramatic light and oppressive shadow take the place of staid and artificial computer wizardry.

call-of-cthulhu-castroI’ve seen modern filmmakers attempt to do period movies before. Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse for example, which I think, doesn’t manage to quite pull it off all the time, partly due to the actors. I don’t know what it is with humanity, but certain faces seem to come and go in and out of style in certain time periods. The actors gathered for CoTC have the look of silent movie actors. Maybe it’s the makeup, but Matt Foyer in particular looks like he was awakened from some kind of suspended animation just to portray the narrator in this.  And the cultist interrogated by the police after the bayou raid sequence reminds me of Dwight Frye.

Call of Cthulhu isn’t just a great example of Lovecraft, it’s an amazing example of what low budget independent filmmaking can achieve when ingenuity and creativity drive the work.

It should be viewed as nothing less than an inspiration.

Best Dialogue/Line:

“Burn it all.”

Best Scene:

cthulhuMost all the set pieces are so wonderfully rendered, but the climactic sequence has to take the kewpie doll here.

The Norwegian ship The Alert comes across a mysterious island covered in a weirdly constructed…is it a city? Is it a necropolis? We don’t know.

The captain leads the sailors towards an immense monolith covered in weird runes which reacts to their prodding and opens. One of the hapless sailors pitches headlong into its dark depths.

Then a pair of huge clawed hands emerge – the hands of dread Cthulhu.

The sailors run pell mell for their launch, falling victim to the grasping claws of the pursuing creature and to the weird M.C. Escher landscape itself. Memorably, one sailor stumbles and falls into an illusory gap between the blocks that isn’t even visible from our perspective.

It’s just a great, tense sequence. Some argue that the herky jerkiness of the stop motion creature takes away from the effect, but I found the effect marvelously surreal and a nice homage to the work of Harryhausen and King Kong. Something about the slightly unnatural movement combined with the true lighting has always appealed to me about stop motion peril.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes

Next In The Queue: Captain America: The Winter Soldier