Some selected stories by H.P. Lovecraft (Public Domain works incoming!)

There is an absolute treasure trove of media available in the public domain. Among these somewhat forgotten about creations, is a heap of classic genre fiction. What’s incredible about these old speculative works is that these books and magazines are where a lot of renowned authors got their start.

Once upon a pulpy time, Weird Tales was at the top of the genre heap. This was a notable rag for having published, among others, Howard Philips “H.P.” Lovecraft. After preparing my article on setting in Lovecraft’s work, I thought it would be a good idea to make some of his works available to anyone who might be interested. It’s easier to consider setting if you have examples to look at, right?

The Call of CthulhuWeird Tales, vol 11 no. 2 1928-02, retrieved from Internet Archive

The Lurking FearWeird Tales, vol 11 no. 6 1928-06, retrieved from Internet Archive

DagonWeird Tales, vol 2 no. 3 1923-10, retrieved from Internet Archive

Alternatively, as opposed to the individual magazines listed above that offer individual samples of Lovecraft’s work, (and those of other writers) how about a whole public domain collection? Well, look no further! The lovely website, Standard eBooks has a fantastic anthology of Lovecraft’s short fiction in one tidy digital volume.

Short Fiction by H.P. Lovecraft from Standard eBooks

This text is available in different formats beyond epub, so it should suit most machines people might want to use for reading the book. Happy reading, and please explore and support the non-profit organizations working diligently to get these items to you. Also, libraries will have Lovecraft’s work. I’d be willing to bet my dessert on this. Thank you for stopping by this museum!

When is a setting not a setting?

Every so often, I swap doom-scrolling online for perusing the content available via streaming services. I’m always amazed at the kind of stuff that I turn up, especially what might be best categorized as “schlock”. There is an extraordinary amount of “B-rated” television and film out there, and loads of that can be linked to the work of H.P. Lovecraft.

Considering Lovecraft’s longevity, it’s hard not to wonder where the originator of the Cthulhu mythos ends, and where those he inspired begin. Lovecraft’s presence has endured for decades. However, his stories carry certain traits that are consistent, no matter if the story was written by Lovecraft, or if it falls under the “Lovecraftian” umbrella. One of the most significant is the setting.

The setting in most stories will be an active component of the text, helping to create the full effect of the tale being told. With Lovecraft’s influence, the setting must endure in the way he imagined it, one that would suit the stories he wanted to tell. Nothing has changed in the years since his death. Others have been weird-fiction flagbearers, but in order to make a story Lovecraftian, one has to respect the conventions, and that means setting.

Would anything Lovecraftian feel like it did the original author’s stories justice if there wasn’t a New England background? Sure, but are there limits? Just take a moment and mull that question. Yes, some of Lovecraft’s stories didn’t take place in New England. However, without Lovecraft’s augmented version of the corner of North America he occupied during his lifetime, would these stories even be possible? Also, if people who followed Lovecraft, building on his original concepts. but chose to stray from the foundational Lovecraftian ideas, would these new tales fit within the larger mythos comfortably?

This is kind of a peculiar case, but Lovecraft’s interpretation of his surroundings became the default setting for his fiction throughout his lifetime. All of the writers that followed him picked up on his ideas and carried them forward, but always while relying on his efforts. In any work of fiction, the setting is central to the text, and all things Lovecraftian are no different. The key element here is that the setting has to be adapted to fit the story, not necessarily the other way around.

What to make of the backdrop for Lovecraft’s weird tales? Does this count as a setting, unique and separate from the real world places Lovecraft relied upon? There are actual locations in there, but the stories required that holes be dug within them to make room for Lovecraft’s freakish ideas. The setting(s) had to be modified to allow space for weird fiction. As if this wasn’t enough, everyone that has come after Lovecraft has had to approach New England in more or less the same way to keep the setting properly, “Lovecraftian”. Despite being a real and tangible place, or conglomeration of places, does this ongoing depiction of a geographic area count as a unique and distinct “Setting”?

I would argue yes, Lovecraft’s work is a setting unto itself. Its enduring and evolving nature over all this time has led to a sort of amalgam that has taken on a life of its own. The prevalence of references to “Arkham”, for example, has given a fictitious site an ongoing utility from one author to another. If the approach to representing New England in weird fiction started and ended with Lovecraft, remaining unique to him, then it would be hard to call it a setting. However, because other people have come along after Lovecraft passed away, and carried his ideas forward, I’d have to say that Lovecraftian fiction has morphed into its own setting. It would probably be fair to say that it requires that setting in order to fit properly under the weird fiction scaffolding Lovecraft erected decades ago.

By contrast, New England is a real place. It seems to be reaching to try and say that it can be set apart as a distinct setting for a category of written works. It isn’t difficult to peel back the fiction and see the real places described within the stories as separate and apart from the tales placed upon them.

It’s a debatable topic, and it isn’t always clear when a setting really stands out as its own distinct location or a modified iteration of something real. If it weren’t for those that were inspired by Lovecraft’s work and sought to emulate him, this conversation likely wouldn’t be possible. For my part, I think Lovecraft’s interpretation of his New England surroundings has become its own entity. Regardless, what makes a setting a setting could easily be discussed far beyond what this post has space for. One thing is clear, however, that weird fiction has a home in the shadowy cracks of New England, if not also a place on bookshelves everywhere.

Gaming soundtracks

*I am not paid to endorse, nor have any affiliation with any of the companies, products, or organizations described in this post. However, I do own, legally, the album pictured on this post.

Something that has become a phenomenon in and of itself over the last few decades is soundtracks. It seems, at least to me, that the soundtrack has not just become an important aspect of a game, but a crucial component. Not only that, soundtracks have, in some cases, transcended the games that were composed for and taken on lives of their own.

A couple of items I considered when writing this podcast by Gnome Stew. During the discussion, they talk about music, musically-oriented characters, and related ideas. This got me wondering what might count as a soundtrack for a game.

Often, I use music while working through solo games to set a mood. Playing fantasy? There’s a whole mountain of dungeon synth out there, perfect for creating that throwback mood.

I’ve played in games where whoever is running the game uses songs off of their phone to create the soundtrack. Entering combat? There’s probably an audio file for that! Roll for initiative… bum buh bum buh buummm!

In fact, music has really become its own presence in gaming. A soundtrack can make or break a video game. What’s more, some video game soundtracks have become iconic in their own right. Just look at the symphonic arrangements by organizations like Distant Worlds for games like Final Fantasy.

There are even companies, such as Syrinscape, that exist purely for the sake of creating soundtracks and audio effects for gaming. The mere existence of a business like this demonstrates the growing importance of gaming soundtracks, not to mention the overall growth of gaming overall. Even better, there are other businesses around that produce the same kinds of products as Syrinscape.

Clearly, this is a huge subject and one that deserves more attention. This post is more of an introduction to the scope of gaming soundtracks because incredibly, this is actually a thing. I won’t lie, I’ve collected a fair amount of this kind of music, and find that it really does scratch a very particular itch. Over time I’d like to explore this subject more because it’s a fantastic evolution of gaming as a hobby.

Book Report: After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall

Way back in the halcyon days of about a decade ago, author Nancy Kress received a lot of attention for a work of fiction titled, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. Kress’ story won the Nebula Award for Best Novella (2012) and Locus Award for Best Novella (2013). Additionally, the post-apocalyptic tale was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novella (2013), Theodore Sturgeon Award Nominee (2013), and was an Endeavor Award Nominee (2013). Should you not want to read further, the book didn’t stink.

*I did my best to avoid too many spoilers and so I chose to leave specifics of the story to a minimum.

It’s clear from reading this story that Kress is no hack author. There is an economy of words, and the story was tightly planned. It took me awhile to get my head around a central unifying theme, but once it was clear the story made a lot of sense. While on the surface it focuses on ecology, and the evolving actions of three different timelines (past, present, future), in reality the story felt aimed at being personally accountable.

This interpretation of the tale, which came out of a discussion from a book club I’m a part of, tied a lot of things together very nicely. “We can bemoan tragedy all we want, no matter what the scale, but at the end of the day we have to be willing hold ourselves accountable if we’re serious about fixing things.” I don’t take credit for this reading, but it makes the story much clearer. Humanity is as much a part of what happens on Earth, if we don’t control of our actions, then we can only reap the results-even if that means our eventual destruction.

If all of this sounds a bit heavy-handed, it’s because the story reads that way. I felt at times the writing was a bit forced to ensure the narrative followed a particular flow that set up the conclusion, but it wasn’t always smooth. By the end it felt like arriving at the climax was the absolute goal, but making the architecture of the story work the way it needed to wasn’t always as smoothly engineered as it could have been.

What’s more, there were odd incongruities. One that really stood out were the obvious themes of motherhood and childbirth, but they were contrasted against the almost complete annihilation of all life on Earth. To my unrefined mind, this juxtaposition never really appeared to add much to the story, but I feel like because the story was well written there’s maybe something I’m not seeing. That being said, among my book club, I wasn’t the only one a bit confused by this.

As an aside, for anyone wondering if the author of a story can impact a story, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall answers that with an emphatic “yes”. Arguably the two most important characters, Julie and McAllister are both leaders, and female. They make strong decisive choices, they’re well-educated, they take responsibility for themselves, and help others achieve their objectives for the greater good. The male characters in the story all sort of orbit around these two, and I can’t imagine a male author would have constructed a book like this the same way.

This was a great, but not perfect book. The idea that we blame everyone but ourselves matters, and its a powerful notion in a story about environmental tragedy. More importantly, it’s an actionable idea (being accountable for one’s actions) as the planet hurtles towards ever greater catastrophes that result from our (mis-)management of the natural world. Kress’ story is as much a moral as anything else, and while it won’t be to everyone’s taste it is a poignant entry into contemporary genre fiction, as well as one that merits it’s accolades.

To learn more about Nancy Kress and here works, such as After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, please consider stopping by her website, and always support the authors and their work! Additionally, try the publisher, Tachyon Publications. Enjoy!

Is it really possible to take a break from what you love?

Every so often I come across an article, podcast, or something to that effect discussing the importance of “taking a break” from gaming. In reading circles, there is often the advice that people should switch up their reading habits in order to circumvent the need to shelve (at least temporarily) their favourites. Whether it’s authors, genres, themes, whatever. Diversity is the spice of literary life, and the same holds for gaming. The reality is that this is easier said than done.

When it comes to a hobby, if they become stagnant, then take up other ones. This is generally the prescribed cure for the problem. It’s hard to imagine what this actually entails. However, because this very subject has been on my mind a lot, I’ll explain why further below, I’ve been doing research into how other people manage taking breaks.

One example has been referring to the Gnome Stew podcast, which has an episode called, Take a Break. It’s worth a listen, and the group chat used by Gnome Stew is almost like group therapy. I found myself relating to a lot of what was discussed, but when it came time to implement the suggestions I felt myself pause. A simple search on Google using the phrase ‘taking a break from ttrpg’ offered an impressive array of results with like-minded people asking similar questions about stepping away from what they loved.

Gaming is a huge part of my life, and if I remove that from my natural rhythm, then it leaves an absence I won’t have immediately accounted for. Filling this empty space would mean planning around the idea that I’ve stepped away from something beloved, to replace it with…? This is the part where I’ve always become a bit confused. I have a hard time putting my gaming down entirely.

When things get a bit rough, and for some reason gaming entails periods that make most people question their involvement in the hobby at some point or another, it’s worth asking if setting aside one’s polyhedral dice isn’t a good idea. I know I’ve been there before, and it’s those times I try and foreground other activities. Some examples:

  • Movies
  • Video games
  • Books that aren’t gaming related
  • Other hobbies

This is, obviously, not an exhaustive list. However, all of these things still leave room for tabletop gaming. Try reading a book and not reflecting on mining it for material that could be good for a one-shot or campaign. Same for movies and video games. That lingering sense of having room for the hobby, even when it’s maybe best to not engage it too strongly is why it can be difficult to step away, at least entirely.

One of the ideas from the Gnomecast was to try and identify which aspect of the hobby is actually causing problems. For my part, I know the source of my frustration often comes from running games on a play-by-post site. The site itself isn’t the issue, but the games that quickly lose momentum are themselves the problem. I have yet to find a recipe for keeping play-by-post adventures going, and it’s been a source of angst for a while. Enough that I’ve stopped running games for other people. Taking this action has been freeing though.

As soon as I stopped trying to lead games from behind the GM’s screen, I felt better, sort of. Now that I’ve started only running solo games, or participating as a player things have improved for me mentally. What lingers on though is the sense that I could do better as a GM, and I still really want to run a game. Questions persist as well about how to make it work, but I, unfortunately, have no answers.

Even though I’ve stepped away, and altered my gaming, I haven’t really stopped. Additionally, the problems kind of followed me as I reflected on what I might be able to do that could enhance the game’s longevity. Every time I log into the site and the games, I start wondering how I get one going again. It’s a trap! With that in mind, I return back to my original question, is it really possible to step away entirely?

Obviously, the answer is yes, but it would mean giving up the hobby altogether. This is definitely something that is possible, but more difficult than it may appear on the surface. How individuals approach this is going to yield any number of results. For me, the most important thing was modifying my gaming regimen, rather than giving it up altogether. Giving up what you love is possible, even for a short time, but it might be more difficult than it seems. Don’t forget, it’s not a permanent hiatus!

Completionist, Collector or consumer?

Ever heard of a “shelfie”? It’s a picture gamers take to show off their collection of games. Well, to be fair, it could anything on any shelf, but as far as this site is concerned, it’s games. Any type of game works. Boardgame, tabletop role-playing game, video game, and you get the idea. For my part, I just like games. Board games, video games, tabletop role-playing games…it doesn’t matter. I like them all, and that affection has led to me accumulating a decent stable of games, although I’ve never taken a shelfie. I’m not the only one though, and proof can be found all over the Internet, as people post pictures of their own gaming collections. Considering people can only play one game at a time, what motivates a people to accumulate a gaming collection, enough to be able to take a shelfie?

These images are everywhere, but when I was considering how to approach this post I referred to content created by the Tabletop Bellhop, specifically a podcast episode called Hashtag Shelfie. I’ve seen Moe T. post images of games he’s played that I’m frankly a bit envious of. The guy has a wealth of gaming options, and over time has offered advice on how to manage a collection. There are, in fact, many people who have weighed in on this topic. Yet, when I think about caring for a collection of games, I have to ask, “Is this collecting a sort of phenomenon?” To answer that, I came up with several ideas to address this conundrum.

It seems like an odd question, but when I see images people share of their ttrpg As far as I can tell, gamers potentially fall into categories, completionists, collectors, consumers, and the I’m-fine-with-what-I-have group. I’m probably skewing the fandoms a bit, but these completely invented demographics comprise a lot of the gaming community. (I have no official statistics, but I have all the conjecture anyone could ever need.)

Completionists do not make up the entirety of the gaming community, not at all. All of these categories could overlap, but just about everyone I’ve ever known has at least one system that they really like, above and beyond anything else they’ve ever played. It could be something really well known like Dungeons & Dragons (any and/or all editions), or it could be something more obscure, such as Adventures in the East Mark. It doesn’t really matter, but that one game stands above the rest. The people that like them sometimes make it a point to obtain the entire product line for those beloved games. These people are the completionists because of the drive to simply acquire every product they can find that was published for their beloved game.

If you’re a fan, you’re a fan, and some people just want to own the whole run of their favourite game(s). This is completely understandable. Great art, a unique creative vision for a game that just resonates with the gamer, quality sessions that have come out of running that particular game (how long can we keep it going?!), are all examples of reasons why people might want to go out and buy up every single product release for a game. Shelf space is dedicated to a particular game, and once the publisher moves on to a new system, the completionist will be set to keep the gaming sessions going for as long as their interest holds up, or they just have stuff they think is really cool.

After the completionists, there are the collectors. Yes, there is almost certainly overlap between these two groups. What separates collectors from completionists is that collectors are looking for specific things to add to a collection, whereas completionists are trying to pick up everything for a particular game. Collectors could be motivated by value, an affinity for a particular iteration of a game, or whatever. There are lots of reasons. For example, I’ve really enjoyed the Final Fantasy video games over the years, but I have a special affection for the 6th entry into the series. So, I wouldn’t make it a point to buy every game in the series to have them, but that one game means a lot to me. Obviously, this is a personal example, and to be completely honest, my interest in that game is driven largely by nostalgia, as opposed to perceived monetary value. See, there are multiple reasons someone might seek out something to collect.

Regardless, there is a reason why a collector would be after something, and the collection will reflect that. It could be a complete set of something. Obtaining completed sets without holes has a certain appeal, and that’s something that can increase resale value. (Again, there are parallels to completionists.) Monetary value is also important for collectors, but not necessarily completionists. An obscure game that had a limited print run, but has maintained its popularity can be extremely valuable. To go back to the video game analogue, consider resale values for hard-to-find retro games. The prices will probably make your eyes water. Collecting has its place, and it’s always nice to be able to appraise something as having some kind of exchange value. It’s just another strand of games and an example of why a person might have built up a collection of games.

While the first two groups are completely rational, the third group, the consumers are, in my opinion, sort of the result of the gaming industry’s growth. Since it’s inception 40 years ago for ttrpgs, and ever earlier for board games, gaming has slowly but slowly grown as an industry. Even to call it an “industry” feels odd, but it’s hard to see it in any other light. Over the last several decades, the expansion of gaming has been nothing short of incredible. Along with that growth has been an increasing number of people backing projects and games, but never playing them. Gaming has become another avenue for conspicuous consumption. While understandable, it’s also a bit sad.

It almost feels as if people in this category are driven by good intentions, but don’t adapt their spending habits to real-world circumstances. Once upon a time, we all had the opportunity to organize sessions with friends fairly easily. As everyone ages, it becomes more and more difficult. However, spending on the hobby doesn’t necessarily diminish in a way that correlates to an increasingly small amount of free time. This essentially leads to full shelf space with untouched and unplayed games. It’s a completely understandable situation, but a lamentable one.

Then again, there are other people that are good with what they’ve got. Not everyone looks to acquire more stuff, nor do they purchase items expecting them to appreciate in value. “Collection? What’s a collection?,” they might be heard saying. Some people just buy what they need, and run with it. How else do you explain a D&D campaign that has been running for something like four decades? Maybe they bought books, but what would really make something like this work is participation. Sometimes, less is more, and there’s a strong chance that if a group like this were to take a shelfie, it would be of boxes filled with handwritten gaming notes.

It would be interesting to look at something like this in-depth. To that end, there is serious research done on the psychological motivations of collecting, as well as more casual articles discussing the topic. As an avid gamer, the idea that people collect their preferred form of entertainment is legitimately interesting, at least to me.

As a topic of discussion, this feels like it would be just a passing rumination, a reason to justify why I have so many games. “See, other people do it also! It’s completely normal behaviour to have 100 different games!” I could very easily have this conversation with family members that might wonder what the point of purchasing new gaming resources is, but I love them and have no plans to stop. Fortunately, I’m not alone and a great many people collect things. On some level, it is fully rational behaviour, even if the motivations behind it aren’t always clear.

We can talk all we like about different aspects of building a gaming collection, or how someone might even be able to arrive at the point where a shelfie is possible. As a side-effect of collecting, the existence of shelfies is an odd phenomenon, and it’s one that many gamers could participate in. What’s more, the ability to accumulate games and gaming supplements doesn’t automatically mean that people will even build up a collection. I’ve certainly left out other perspectives that could have been represented here, but ultimately, a collection will have a variety of reasons motivating its existence.

What about you, dear reader? Do you have a collection? Should we create a Game Collectors Anonymous for people that are intent on burdening their bookshelves with gaming goodness? It’s a complicated topic, but one that is very interesting and worth re-visiting .