Fame is a strange beast. Hardly news, but the past few days have been a series of reminders of this fact.
I spent the weekend at Further Confusion, a convention where I had previously expected just about everybody to know who I was and what I’ve done. After all, Suburban Jungle was in on the “ground floor” of webcomics, was one of the most high-profile furry comics for years, and ran for a decade. Not to mention the fact that I’ve been going to FC (and AnthroCon) every year for most of that time — and yet, when asked “Do you/have you read The Suburban Jungle?” most of the people who came by the table either hadn’t heard of it, or had heard the name but never looked at it. This has radically changed my view of my status in the fandom … but I am still processing it.
Meanwhile, the navel-gazing loonies at Wikipedia continue their irrational crusade to convince the world that webcomics don’t exist; T.K. Dye was hit rather hard by his discovery yesterday that Newshounds had been declared “non-notable.” Now, Suburban Jungle fell to that particular axe long ago and after two or three put-it-backs and take-it-down-agains, I frankly got tired of dealing with the whole mess and stopped arguing about it. I’m much more interested in being talked up at TV Tropes, where the SJ article is rather sketchy compared to the Newshounds entry, on the grounds that TV Tropes is a place more likely to be frequented by people interested in my work.
Finally, in a much more micro-level, this morning had an odd happening on FurAffinity. Graveyard Greg, who is like the Aaron Spelling of the internet, pointed people to another user by the name of Kadath, whom I’d never heard of. Looking at Kadath’s page on the site, however, I discovered that he had over 10,000 followers.
This immediately led me to two burning questions: 1) how the heck did this person get 10,000 followers, and 2) how is it that somebody could have 10,000 followers but I’d never heard of them? It’s … flabbergasting.
Nothing against Kadath, he’s a fine artist; but unless I’m missing something major, he’s not somehow worlds above plenty of other artists I know. Does he just really know how to work the social media? What’s he doing that hundreds of other just-as-good artists aren’t? I’m not comparing him to myself here — my relationship with FurAffinity has been one of reluctance and so I consider myself lucky to have the ~135 followers I’ve got. But I am thinking of somebody like Chad Krueger, who is GOH of the upcoming MegaPlex and a great artist, but only has ~500 followers. I mean, wow, 10,000? That’s more people than attend AnthroCon.
The second half of the question points to a thought I’ve been wrestling with for a while now, which is, “How are people hearing about these things?” Certainly furry art, like anything, has trends — you can’t go to a con without being hit over the head by Blotch at the moment for instance — but I always feel like I’m the last one to hear about them. And with 10,000 followers, one has to assume that Kadath is well-known is some circle or other — but not well-known to me! So where? Who? I don’t remember seeing any ads or hearing any W-O-M references, and until GG’s post the name “Kadath” to me meant Lovecraftian Dream Cities, not furry art. So where are these 10,000 people hanging out that they all know him?
Obviously, as a producer of comics and art, I want to get my own stuff out there and talked about, but that’s not all there is to it. I’m also a fan — who would put up with all the baggage if they weren’t? Who knows what kind of cool stuff I might be missing, just because I’m not anywhere that it’s being talked about?
You’re a hoser, Mister Grinch
you’re a total spazoid dork
you’re just completely bogus
and your parentage is borked, Mister Grinch
You’re a salmonella salad made with…
You’re overly sensitive, Mister Grinch
constructive criticism makes you mad
You take it all so personal
it’s really rather sad, Mister Grinch
You just keep looking at me like…
I’m being some kind of cad!
You’re the anti-Christ, Mister Grinch
you’re the harbinger of End Times
and they’re digging a new hell now
just to cover all your crimes, Mister Grinch
You’re a shambling blob of tentacles and eyes…
oozing in acidic slime!
(To the tune of “The Beverly Hillbillies”)…
Lemme tellee little story ’bout a man named Nahum 
he lived west o’ Arkham and never did any harm 
Then one day a hill exploded in his face
and Nahum had to cope with a colour outa space!
(An alien that is. Amorphous. Intangible.)
Well the first thing you know, ol’ Nahum’s lookin’ spare
his kinfolk said, “Nahum, move away from there!”
But Nahum and his folks couldn’t muster up the fight
and the trees and hills were glowin’ in the night
(From radiation, that is. Sickly crops, mutated animals.)
Well now it’s time to say goodbye to Nahum and his kin
not that there’s much left of ’em except some dust and skin
They’re dammin’ up the river and floodin’ the whole place
so now yer drinkin’ water’s full o’ colour out of space!
(Y’all flee for your lives now, y’hear?)
 Pronounced “naaum”
 Pronounced in a New England accent, “haam”
EDIT: Maxgoof recorded it! Click through to hear it.
BEWARE: Spoilers ahead for the scenario “The Unsealed Room” from Secrets.
Last night was the second session of the opening adventure for Arkham Special Cases Unit, “The Unsealed Room.” I provided the players with a short player handout with a bit of background flavor information and a few retroactive rulings (still getting the hang of CoC), and then the session picked up right where last week’s left off, leaving Shady Hills Retirement Home after having revealed to former Sheriff Perry that when he and the others broke into Byron Merton’s house and drove a stake through his heart, they were actually simply killing a man, rather than slaying a vampire. (Or as Lee put it, “We personally caused a 104-year-old guy to lose SAN.”)
So the players took stock of the situation. In 1936 Byron Merton, amateur occultist and would-be wizard, decides as a lark to cast the spell “Summon the Crimson Horror From the Stars” that he found in an incredibly rare hand-copied draft of Cthulhu In the Necronomicon he acquired during his years as a soldier-of-fortune across Europe. He is surprised and horrified not only by the fact that the spell works, but by what it summoned … a star vampire, an invisible alien thing that floats about and drains the blood from living things and makes a constant noise like creepy laughter, only made visible as a nightmarish tangle of tentacles and grasping mouths by the fresh blood coursing through its veins (or by application of the Dust of Ibn-Gazi). The star vampire, apparently blocked by the spell from harming Merton, then goes on a killing rampage that convinces Sheriff Perry and others that there is a vampire in their midst — and Byron Merton, creepy guy recently returned from Europe and who only ever seems to go out at night, is the obvious choice.
Merton meanwhile, realizing remorse for the first time in his life at the innocent lives taken by the star vampire, concocts a plan to destroy it using the Baneful Dust of Hermes Trismegistus, a formula supposedly deadly to creatures not of the Earth. The first batch he tries is not successful — the baneful dust being notoriously difficult to concoct in the right proportion — so as a temporary measure he lures the star vampire into a steel-lined room hastily-assembled in Merton’s house and locks it in, using an Elder Sign to bind the door. His plan from there is to try again to brew a working batch of the Dust of Hermes until he gets it right — but he never gets the chance. While Merton is lying in an exhausted sleep after a night’s battle with horrors from beyond, Sheriff Perry and his entourage sneak into the house, find Merton collapsed in bed during daylight hours and seize upon that as proof (if weak proof) that he is indeed a vampire, and drive a stake through his heart. They then put forth the idea that Byron Merton “went back to Europe,” make arrangements for a law firm in Kingsport to take over managing the property (i.e., keep paying the taxes and otherwise leave it the hell alone), and go on with their lives. The “vampire attacks” stop, of course, because the alien creature is locked in the steel room, which just adds credence to the Merton-as-vampire theory, and life carries on for seventy years.
At which point, enter Alex Walden and his buddy Randall Hume, researching Walden’s next book on New England ghost stories and folklore, who come upon the rather garbled story of “Byron Merton, the Arkham Vampire,” and reading between the lines come to the conclusion that there’s more to it than just talk. They rent a house near the Merton place, sneak over there, and break in to explore. Being just slightly more foolish than Byron Merton himself, they find a door sealed with an occult sign and think, “A-ha! Something good must be behind that, let’s break it open.” The star vampire is released and, being hungry after seventy years locked in a steel room, immediately slaughters Hume. Walden flees headlong into the night, but the star vampire pursues him to the rental house, where it slays Walden and his dog, and where the investigators came in.
And now, they need to figure out what to do about it.
Sherman Bath headed back to his place to keep perusing Cthulhu In the Necronomicon and trying to learn the Elder Sign spell. Dr. Parker, Dr. McCullen, and Maureen Gould all headed over to Miskatonic University to round up a chemistry grad student (“Hey, man! Name’s Dobie, what’s up?”) to help them make up a batch of the Baneful Dust of Hermes. The end result was a glittery gold powder, as the recipe indicates should be the case, but they have no more idea if they’ve gotten it right than Byron Merton did. They did discuss the possibility of making more than one batch with different formulations, so that if one doesn’t work they will have others to fall back on, but alas, they didn’t actually do that. They decided instead that with another nightfall rapidly approaching, they should take steps to prevent another innocent person from getting killed; in the hope that the star vampire will be satisfied with a handily-provided bit of livestock instead of needing to hunt up another jogger, they traveled to McSweeney’s farm outside of town and bought a goat, which they then staked to the ground just outside the back door of the Merton house. From the ASCU SUV parked a safe distance away, they set up surveillance to try to observe and possibly video what happened.
And observe it they did. They were still mucking around with the video recorder when the back door of the house quietly slid open and suddenly the goat began acting in an extremely peculiar manner — and then began thrashing and kicking as it was horribly slain before their eyes. Maureen and Dr. McCullen both failed their Sanity checks as the freshly-sanguinated form of the star vampire became visible; Dr. McCullen simply fainted in his seat, but Maureen calmly got up out of the driver’s seat, went around and got into the back of the SUV, and curled up into a ball, making horrified whimpering noises. Dr. Parker, the only one who maintained his composure, quickly jumped around into the driver’s seat and sped off before the creature finished off the goat and came after them. After regaining their wits in the relatively friendly and brightly-lit parking lot of a movie theater, the three of them went to Sherman Bath’s house to fill him in on the latest developments.
The four of them put their heads together, but still can’t make head or tail of the Elder Sign spell, so Dr. Parker comes up with an alternate idea. As a member of the staff at Miskatonic, he not only has access to the Orne Library, which houses the Latin Necronomicon, but also to the ultra-rare items in the collection, including one of the only known extant copies of the Greek version from which the Latin one was derived. The team put on their gloves and face masks and went into the Clean Room to peruse the ancient text. There Dr. Parker and Dr. McCullen both managed to learn the Elder Sign spell (much to Sherman Bath’s annoyance when he still couldn’t figure it out). Then they all headed back to their respective homes to try to get something resembling rest, anticipating a hard day on the morrow.
Luckily, the sacrificial goat seemed to do the trick, as the star vampire didn’t claim any other victims overnight. The team then braced themselves as best they could, acquired another goat (this time from McMurphy’s farm instead of McSweeney’s to avoid suspicion) and some Sculpey with the idea of possibly crafting another seal, and went back out to the Merton house for a more thorough exploration. Looking into the steel room, they found the previously unaccounted-for body of Randall Hume; elsewhere in the house they found the summoning room, which had an enormous pentagram on the floor, as well as the master bedroom and its grisly contents: the staked skeleton of Byron Merton. They also heard the obscene laughter of the star vampire in another section of the upstairs. Knowing that the thing disliked sunlight, they had brought along some sledge hammers and used those to knock away the wood boarding up the windows of various rooms, hoping to corral the beast to some extent.
Theorizing that there was some kind of tie between the star vampire and the summoning room, as it seemed to return there when it had no other particular plan, Sherman decided to turn the pentagram on the floor into an Elder Sign, if nothing else to give the team somewhere to flee to if necessary. He carved the necessary adjustments into it and had Dr. McCullen perform the rite. They then staked the goat in the steel room, apparently with the half-formed plan of duplicating Byron Merton’s tactics — but Maureen Gould forced a confrontation by opening the door to the room where the star vampire lurked.
The hideous laughter rolled out of the room at them. Maureen threw a dose of the Dust of Ibn-Gazi, revealing an outline of its squirmy, quivering shape as it bore down on her; she then threw a dose of the Baneful Dust of Hermes, but her aim was off and it smashed against the wall behind the thing, to no apparent effect. It then latched onto her with its tentacle-mouths and began to drain blood, causing panic and confusion all around. Sherman Bath ran off to retrieve the goat, with the rather muddled idea that the star vampire would let go of Maureen and go after the goat instead (“He’s a writer, that makes sense in his mind!” said Jamie). Dr. Parker and Dr. McCullen both threw their vials of Baneful Dust at the creature, achieving direct hits, but to no effect — apparently Dobie’s Chemistry check was no better than Byron Merton’s. (Lee: “If I ever see Dobie again, I’m going to punch him in the face.”) Maureen, her already-low strength no match for the vampire’s in a wrestling contest, simply pulled out her .38 special and began blazing away point-blank at the horror.
Maureen, although losing strength fast, is an excellent shot and poured bullet after bullet into the beast; Dr. McCullen, upon realizing that the Baneful Dust was a dud, pulled out one of the scalpels from his medical examiner’s kit and began slashing at the beast, while Dr. Parker simply began to beat on it with one of the sledge hammers. Thanks to merciful dice, Maureen had a single point of STR left when they reduced the beast to 1 hit point (no easy task, but they managed to pull it off). I told them that it disappeared in a horrid red spray of Maureen’s blood. But then, with a Listen check, they heard its giggling again, coming from the general direction of the summoning room.
(This was a conceit I added to the creature, rather than being in the “standard” star vampire writeup. As a sort of reference to the end of the story “Call of Cthulhu,” I decided to have it temporarily stymied by massive damage to to have it start to reform itself. The players were all highly confused by this turn of events, which I thought was a very appropriate thing to have happen when confronting the horrors of the Mythos.)
Dr. McCullen was the only other person who had a gun, a 9mm automatic that fired three shots per round instead of two; as Maureen had emptied hers, but was a much better shot, he handed it over to her. They then went, goat in tow, down the hall with the intent of finishing the creature off. Dr. McCullen made an impromptu torch out of one of the sledgehammers and a bit of shirt soaked in hooch from his hip flask, hoping that fire would be effective where the Baneful Dust had not been. When they got to the end of the hall, they discovered it had fled the summoning room, apparently to get away from the giant Elder Sign on the floor (much to Sherman Bath’s satisfaction), and gone into the master bedroom. There, over the dead body of the man who’d originally summoned it, they battled the beast again. Maureen, leaning on the door frame for support, blasted away with the automatic. Sherman, to keep the star vampire from draining the last of Maureen’s blood, shoved the goat at it; the star vampire greedily accepted the goat and drained it almost completely in one round, causing Sanity checks all around. This time Dr. Parker failed it, flying into a berserk fury with the sledgehammer. Dr. McCullen, on the other hand, emptied his hip flask onto the creature and used his impromptu torch to set it alight. The star vampire, burning, blasted with bullets, and being pounded by a manic professor with a sledgehammer, died in a horrific spray of gelid goo, releasing the goat — whose poor head the still-berserk Dr. Parker smashed with the sledgehammer. The rest of the party wisely held the door of the master bedroom shut while Dr. Parker smashed everything in there with the hammer, including the skeleton of Bryon Merton (“It’s your fault! *smash* YOUR FAULT!”).
Eventually the professor’s fit of madness passed and blessed silence reigned in the Merton house. After a few moments of twitchy rest, the team called in to the Captain of ASCU and requested an ambulance for Maureen, and some troopers to come clean up the mess … haunted by their experiences, but relieved to have survived and at least somewhat comforted to know that the star vampire was destroyed and the inadvertent murder of Byron Merton had in some small way put right. They each regained 1d10 Sanity, made their experience checks for the scenario, and began to look forward with a certain amount of trepidation for what future cases may have in store for them.
In short, a classic Call of Cthulhu adventure. I was quite pleased.
Last night I started what I hope to be an ongoing (the word “regular” doesn’t quite fit) Call of Cthulhu campaign, inspired in part by Pelgrane’s Arkham Detective Tales, in part by the recently-published Arkham Now supplement, and in a large whack by The Scarifyers.
Set in current times, the campaign follows the cases of the “Arkham Special Cases Unit” (commonly known as ASCU, affectionately or sometimes less-than-affectionately referred to as ‘Askew’). The idea is that the ASCU is a small department of the Massachusetts state police that also brings in deputized consultants, works with the odd Federal agent or two, and is tasked with dealing with those weird cases that seem to pop up so frequently in the Miskatonic Valley. I provided the players with an introductory handout, and the initial cast of characters ended up as follows:
The first scenario is “The Unsealed Room” from Secrets (with a few minor modifications). Be warned that there are spoilers for that adventure ahead!
The session began with the ASCU team arriving at a crime scene: a small suburban rambler in the relatively-undeveloped areas north of Arkham, where the door has been smashed in, and inside there is a body in very peculiar condition. There are a total of five wounds that look vaguely like animal bites, except they don’t match any animal anyone can identify, but the bites themselves are fairly superficial. The cause of death is that every last drop of blood has been drained from the body! The remains of a large german shepherd are in similar condition. Sherman is also rather surprised to identify the dead man as Alex Walden, another horror/occult writer whom Sherman met at a convention not nine months previously. Various clues around the house, including the fact that a kitchen chair had been cut up and its legs turned into wooden stakes, Walden’s own book on the occult being open to the entry about vampires, and an emptied revolver on the floor, suggested the Walden was about to go on a vampire hunt when whatever it was broke into the house and got him first. There are also indications that there was another man staying at the house, but there’s no sign of him now. There is also a tape recorder near the body, which has a recorded message from the dead man indicating that he was investigating “The Merton House,” and broke open a sealed room that contained some horrific thing — Walden believed it was Merton, transformed into a vampire — that had slain his friend Hume. Walden vowed to drive a stake through Merton’s heart, wherever Merton may lie.
The team headed back to town to hit the library. (Gotta love CoC — what other game could make going to the library so tense and full of drama? That’s just awesome.) They found more information about vampires generally, as well as a partial history of one Byron Merton, a wealthy young man of Arkham in the late ’30s who was the owner of the “Merton House,” and who was implicated in a string of mysterious deaths. Unfortunately, the issues of the Arkham Advertiser that would contain the final details of that particular story were missing from the public library collection, which stymied that avenue of investigation temporarily. That afternoon, Dr. McCullen performed the autopsy on Alex Walden and determined that not just the blood, but all the major bodily sources of iron had been drained, but gathered no further information than that. Various other avenues of research turned up the address of the Merton house itself, roughly a mile and a half away from Walden’s rental house, which had not been occupied since Byron Merton “went back to Europe” in 1936.
Late in the afternoon the team headed out to the Merton house, wanting to poke around a little while it was still daylight. They found it overgrown and in a bad state of disrepair, although it had once been a beautiful house. A little bit of looking around revealed that the back door had been broken into and was hanging open, and so they pulled out their flashlights and went inside. Poking around revealed that the house had been abandoned in a hurry way back when — to the point that dinner had not even been cleaned up. In the ground floor study they found a very interesting and incredibly rare handwritten manuscript entitled Cthulhu in the Necronomicon — apparently a copy of a draft — which made Sherman’s eyes light up with the zeal of a fanatic collector and nearly led to fisticuffs between him and Dr. Parker as to who would actually get to hold on to it. They also found Bryon Merton’s journal, which chronicled his trips to strange places in search of excitement, and his declaration that casting a spell he’d found called “Summoning the Crimson Horror from the Stars” would be a “fun challenge.” (Maureen Gould: “What an asshole!”) All of which led up to the final entry, in which Merton seems to realize too late just what he’s done and is attempting to make amends by sealing “it” into a steel room and warding the door with an Elder Sign … but the journal frustratingly ended there.
As it is getting dangerously close to sundown at this point, the team makes a very brief foray upstairs, where they do indeed find a steel room, which did indeed once have a clay seal inscribed with the Elder Sign (“tree” version) on the door, but which is now hanging open. They were also highly disturbed to hear a continuous stream of unsettling, otherworldly laughter  from further into the house. Wisely deciding that now would be a good time to leave, they grabbed the journal and the manuscript, as well as a cigar box of strange silvery ash they found in the study, and skedaddled back to town.
Sherman took the manuscript to his apartment and began to study; the rest of the team decided it was time to hit up the Miskatonic library for some more hardcore research. There they found the missing issues of the Arkham Advertiser from 1936, including a reference to “Sheriff Jonathan Perry of the Arkham Special Cases Unit” (dunh-dunh-dunnh) who announced that an arrest was imminent in the mysterious murders (but that rumors of a vampire were nonsense), but then no further details on the topic. Maureen also followed a trail of descriptions similar to the phenomena they had encountered so far that led her to the Necronomicon itself in the special collections room. (Fortunately, she and Dr. McCullen were both trained in Latin and could read it.) There, they found a full description of the monster, a “shambler from the stars” or “star vampire”  — unfortunately Maureen failed her third Sanity check of the evening and fainted. (A Mythos-induced moment of temporary insanity! I need to remember to award her “mad insight” at the beginning of the next session.)
The team gathered at Sherman’s house and compared notes. On Alex Walden’s laptop they found his notes about the Merton house and just what he and Hume were doing poking around in there. Apparently Walden was researching an upcoming book and stumbled upon the story of Byron Merton. Reading between the lines of official reports, he came to the conclusion that Merton had not “gone back to Europe” after all and that there was more to learn at the Merton house, which was what had prompted him to go to the Merton house and poke around — and while there to break into the sealed vault warded by the Elder Sign. There was also a notation of “Shady Hills Retirement Home,” strangely incongruous with the macabre story at hand; the team quickly made the connection that the fate of Sheriff Perry had never been established and so he might be there. They decided to head home for the night and try to see Mr. Perry in the morning.
After a night of less-than-restful sleep, they were awakened in the morning by a call from the uniform police units summoning them to another murder scene — this time a jogger from a small apartment complex a few miles away from the Merton house, again completely drained of blood — the pattern was beginning again. After investigating the scene and making their report (“Mauled by a bear.”) they called the Shady Hills Retirement Home and found that there was in fact a Jonathan Perry living there — 104 years old and generally disinclined to talk to strangers. But when he heard that state police investigators were asking to see him, he relented and told them he’d see them in the afternoon.
The rest of the morning was spent on more research on the dust of Ibn-Gazi (mentioned in the Necronomicon as well as Walden’s journal as making the star vampire visible) as well as the “dust of Hermes” mentioned in Walden’s journal. This ended up being “Baneful Dust of Hermes Trismegistus,” a recipe for which they found in the draft of Cthulhu In the Necronomicon. Sherman, much to his annoyance, couldn’t make out the spell, but Dr. Parker learned it easily, giving them a potential weapon with which to fight the horror.
The final encounter for the evening was their visit to former Sheriff Perry at Shady Hills Retirement Home. After a bit of coaxing, they got him to reveal that he and some others, convinced that Byron Merton was a vampire, had snuck into his house during daylight hours, where they found him fast asleep and looking as pale as death. Obviously, he must have been a vampire! So they drove a stake through his heart and left him there, closed up the house and covered up the incident, putting forth the story that Merton had “gone back to Europe” and thus saving the good citizens of Arkham from the undead menace. (Um, oops.) When asked if they found a vault with a clay seal over the door, Perry couldn’t remember at first, but then affirmed that they had indeed spotted such a thing, but had left it alone. When asked if he heard any strange laughter at the house, Mr. Perry denied it vehemently and a bit suspiciously. When it was hinted that Merton may not have actually been a vampire, Perry became visibly rattled and left the room, muttering repeatedly that he was “very, very tired.”
And with the awful realization of the truth of Byron Perry’s fate and the implications of how that led to Alex Walden and Randall Hume’s demise, as well as that of the poor innocent jogger, the session drew to a close. Next session … dealing with the monster!
 Can you believe this is a ringtone? To get a rough semblance of the effect this had on the players, play it on a continual loop and gradually increase the volume from almost-inaudible to quite loud. They were glad to get out of there!
 Created by Robert Bloch and first described in Weird Tales…