Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The process of developing Call of Cthulhu 7th edition

Friday, June 13th, 2014

When I began the process of designing Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, I had it in mind from the start that two rules i needed to follow were to be paramount. One, that the book be easy to read; and two, that the book be easy to navigate and quickly find information. There had been a lot of talk in different circles about wanting CoC 7th ed to look like this, or look like that, and as a fan myself, it was easy to fall into the mindset of “Yes, I want to look as amazing as possible! Full color everything! Cool things everywhere!” But one thing (out of many, many things) that Lynn Willis taught me is that form should never supersede function. The primary job of a rulebook is to disseminate information in the quickest and easiest manner possible. Everything else is fluff. And if that fluff gets in the way, then I’m not doing my job right.

So I did a bunch of research. I looked at several iterations of Call of Cthulhu, from the first edition all the way up to 6th. I looked at the Spanish and French editions, as well. Each version had their strengths and weaknesses that I took note of. I then went outside Call of Cthulhu and the horror genre entirely and looked at other rulebooks that had come out in the last few years. The gaming world has advanced a lot since Call of Cthulhu 6th edition, with a ton of new artists and designers introducing new ideas and concepts into how rulebooks should look and function. What had they done right? What had they done wrong? I looked at titles such as Godlike, Pathfinder, Eclipse Phase, Kerberos Club, The One Ring, Hollow Earth Expedition, and others for inspiration and object lessons.

One thing that stood out to me was that, with a book as massive as this, easy navigation through the book was going to be really important. I hit upon the idea early on that I wanted to incorporate some sort of icon system that would give distinctive visual cues to the reader when flipping through the book. In addition, I borrowed an idea from Eclipse Phase in which the two columns of text really standing out from the page:

 

KS article example 1

 

As you can see in the above example, the icon navigation idea really didn’t work. The page is way too busy with icons, symbols in the background, splashes of blood, graphics at the top of the pages…the main text just gets lost, even with the highlighting. You can see also that the font for the headers is an early attempt of a tome-like feel that didn’t quite work.

Some things were kept, however, as we’ll see in a bit.

 

KS article example 2

The main page background has been toned down greatly, and all but one of the icons show up on the page now. I wanted to have notebook pages and scraps of paper used for boxed text and other highlighted sections; you can see one example of this above. Still, too cluttered.

KS article example 3

After some more feedback, things start to change pretty radically. Borders have been placed for most of the boxed text, as well as all the page headers. The main page backgrounds have been toned down even futher, with arcane symbols in the upper corners, and distressed looks in the lower corners. Obviously, the red sidebar text didn’t really work. Header fonts are still very much in flux (i went through so many fonts throughout the evolution of the book, it’s not even funny).

KS article example 4

 

Amazing what one font will do for a book…once i introduced Cristoforo, it all really started coing together. Example boxes have been made. And, for the separate boxed text, you can see how i borrowed from my idea back in the first example of the highlighted box for the main text. Goes to show you that you should always hold on an idea; you never know when it might work for something else! The illuminated letter at the beginning of each chapter, as well, has been kept from the earliest iteration (and, later on in the process, colored for effect).

KS article example 5

And now we see the near-final look and feel of the design. The size of the header font has been dropped significantly (in some places, it was just huuuge), the page background have been darkened just a bit, and it all just looks…cleaner. One side benefit of using the Cristoforo font by Thomas Phinney is that he included some terrific Lovecraftian glyphs, some of which i was able to use for bullet point lists. Example boxes have been refined, and space in general has at once been tighened up, and expanded as need be, to give the text space to breathe.

 

KS article example 6

One last example after further polishing. Old photo borders have been added to the pictures, the “Example” headers in the Example boxes have been taken out (to conserve space), and general tightening up.

So there you go! It’s been a very long evolution, one that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. What you see here is the result of months of tweaking, refining, getting feedback, doing further tweaking, more feedback…until we reach something that we can all be happy with and proud of. And this is but a taste of the many, many versions of the core book that we went through; these screenshots highlight only a small sample of them.

Thanks for reading!

First cover design…and some more Feed the Shoggoth news

Monday, June 9th, 2014

 

It’s kinda funny…i’ve been doing book design work for over a decade now, but up until recently, i’d never actually done a cover for any of the books i’ve worked on. But when Oscar at Golden Goblin Press assigned me to do the book design and layout for the upcoming De Horrore Cosmico, a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios set in the Cthulhu Invictus era, he asked me if i wanted to take a shot at the cover.

And, as usual, when someone offers up a challenge like that to me, it’s hard to refuse. ;) So i set about doing a bunch of font tests, to see what would look visually appealing, as well as playing around with the basic format. Much to my dismay, i quickly discovered that the ratio that the original artist had created the cover art at wasn’t at the standard US paper measurements. Urk.

Meanwhile, my font examples…fell kinda flat with Oscar. He sent me back an example of what his art director, Mark, had in mind, which helped out considerably. Sometimes it’s great to have a blank slate to work from, but in other instances, a little direction can go a long way. Now i had an idea to work with.

But those side areas…oog. I needed to do something with them. The idea of filling them with Roman columns was briefly bandied about, but i quickly jettisoned that, as it made the cover look too crowded, and took the focus off the cover art. I started thinking about many of the visuals i saw from recently watching Gladiator, and how many instances of marble were not solid white after all. So, something less busy, and set back against the rest of the art…

Well, you can see what i came up with below:

 

 

De Horrore Cosmico Cover Final Small

In Feed the Shoggoth! news, i’m actively editing the video for the Kickstarter. This is absolutely the last step before going live (pending approval from the Overloads at KS, of course). Hopefully another couple of weeks…

NecronomiCon!

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Okay, i know i haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been hella busy (as usual), but i was also gone away on a little trip to Providence…

You guys! Holy shit! NecronomiCon was amazing! Without further ado, i present to you my rather long review of the con:

=========

Wednesday, we flew in to Boston, grabbed our rental car, drove down to the hotel, grabbed a late dinner, and then basically passed out.

Thursday:

The crux of the convention took place at the historic Biltmore hotel in downtown Providence. A few of us who are on the Yog-Sothoth.com forums had previously arranged to meet in the Biltmore in the afternoon, so Adria and i met up with them in the lobby at around 3. Tom Lynch was among those who was part of the group, and through him, i got introduced to so many fabulous people, many of whom i had known previously only as abstract author names in books that i had laid out: Wilum Pugmire, Laird Barron, Lois Gresh, Cody Goodfellow, Shane Ivey, Joe Pulver, Jr., [INSERT OTHER NAMES HERE], artist Nick Gucker, author Mark Morrison…i even got to say hi to S.T. Joshi before he zoomed off. Scott Glancy arrived at one point, and i finally got to shake his hand. Naturally, he kind of took over the lobby (he can’t help it; the man’s towering, and has a booming voice). I also got to meet up with fellow Yoggies Tristian, Chad, and Brian (the latter two from the Miskatonic University Podcast).

Soon, we headed over to the First Baptist Church, and attended the Convention Keynote Address. Lovecraft had loved this building (but of course hated the church ;) ), so it was only appropriate that we kick off the convention here. There was an amazing organist who performed several pieces, S.T. Joshi gave a speech, as did Niels Borrs (who was the organizer of the convention), Barnaby Evans, and a couple others. Once that completed, we walked across the street to where one of the art exhibits were taking place; there were three in total, but this particular one featured artwork inspired by Lovecraft (the other two showings were of other art that existed during the time of HPLs living in Providence, and of his papers). I was happy to see several artists that i recognized, including Jason McKittrick, the sculpture artist who has done work for Feed the Shoggoth!

Afterwards, we made a trip over to visit the Ladd Observatory (Adria was an astrophysicist, so naturally she wanted to check it out), which was one of HPL’s old haunts. The Observatory was build in 1891, and to this day, still operates completely mechanically; no electricity is used to power the dome, or to move the telescope. Of course, that night was utterly overcast, so visibility was nil, and the dome doors where shut. Still, it was neat to check out the building.

At some point during the evening, we had dinner (i think), and then zoomed over to the Black Box Theater, where the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s The Whisperer in Darkness was shown, hosted by Andrew Leman himself. And i finally got to meet and talk with him in person! Andrew was incredibly nice, and seemed genuinely excited to meet me (he remembered that we’d worked on some of the same projects together for MRP). The movie was great, up to (if not surpassing) HPLHS’ usual standards. Like their version of Call of Cthulhu, HPLHS filmed Whisperer as if it was created in the time that the story was written, so it had a very 1930s look and feel to it. They did divert from the original story, especially in the last 3rd of the film, but, come on, why not have a dog fight with mi-go as part of the climax of the film? It’s no different from most CoC campaigns. ;)

 

Friday:

This was the first “official” day of the convention, and whilst i had ambitions to attend an early seminar about RPGs, it was at 9 in the morning…so i slept through it and attended another RPG-related seminar at 1. ;) This particular seminar concerned how to write and run effective scenarios, and included such acclaimed writers as Glancy, Tom Lynch, Oscar Rios, Sandy Petersen (for a few brief minutes), and was moderated by Mark Morrison. A really good panel, and afterwards, i finally got to meet Osk for a few seconds.

I believe (but i might be wrong on this; there was so much going on during the weekend, it’s all kinda a blur) that after, i chatted with Meghan and Nick at the Chaosium booth, talked with Mark Morrison some more, and met Bret Kramer for the first time. Then it was time for a trip to the vendor’s area, back at the Biltmore. The way the vendors were organized was a bit odd at first; the majority of them were on the 2nd floor, but others were on the 17th and 18th floors. It worked out well, though, because since all the dealers weren’t congregated in one large space, there was less of a crowd, and therefore less noise. You could actually talk to the vendors (oftentimes the artists or writers themselves who were behind the table), and take your time. It was here that i got to meet the sculpture artist, Jason McKittrick, who made the amazing pieces for Feed the Shoggoth’s Kickstarter. Even better, he had them with, and graciously gave them to me. And, of course, other shopping was had.

Then it was off to a live performance of At The Mountains of Madness by the HPL Historical Society! Man, was that awesome. Besides Andrew and Sean Branney, there were three other performers, plus a fellow running live audio. They even had some “newsreel” footage to play for us! Afterwards, there was a short Q&A session. I have to say, just watching Andrew Lehman’s face as he plays the interviewer and listens as Branney answers his questions was almost as entertaining as his voice acting.

No time to rest, though, as we had to jet back over to the Hotel Providence for my first of two demo sessions of Feed the Shoggoth! I only had one person officially sign up for it, but Chad and Brian, whom i’d told about the demos the day before, came by, along with another friend of theirs. A ton of fun was had by all, and we played through several games. For these sessions, i intended to lock down the score goal to player ratio, which had been an issue in the past (sometimes dragging games out too long in a few instances). It looks like i’ve got that particular issue licked.  After a successful four hours or so, it was time for us to crash at the hotel again…

 

Saturday:

After some breakfast, Adria and i killed a bit of time by attending another seminar, “Lovecraft’s Literary Influences”. Stuck around in that one for a bit, cruised the upper floors of the vendor areas again, and then it was off to my second Feed the Shoggoth! demo. Again, i had only one official player signed up, but Bryan stopped by again, along with Bret Kramer and one or two other people. The resolution of the games were all over the place; in one game, all the players got wiped out by the Shoggoth well before we ran out of Minions- a definite first!  Again, some great feedback from the players, and everyone enjoyed the game.

We then rushed over to Lupo’s for the Lustmord/Neurosis show. Now, i’ve known about Neurosis for a long time, and tried reeeeally hard to get into them…without much success. However, i’ve been a huge fan of Lustmord for a few years (his stuff is /perfect/ for Call of Cthulhu background music), and since he never crosses the pond to do shows in the US, i was not about to miss it. And man, was i not disappointed. He…well, basically, he performed and incantation/ritual to some of the elements, using his singular darkwave/ambient music, along with some very mesmerizing visuals. It was amazing. I was delighted to run into Mark Morrison there (who had taken Nick under his wing to the show), who is also a big fan of Lustmord (he even pimped them out during the seminar on Friday).

We needed some dinner after this, so we headed to the restaurant that was attached to the Biltmore. Which led to probably the most surreal moment of the weekend. As Adria and i sat there, contemplating our menus, none other than Sandy Petersen himself (the creator and author of the Call of Cthulhu RPG) basically materialized out of thin air, and said something to the effect of, “I hope you don’t mind food recommendations from a perfect stranger, but the halibut is really delicious!”. I think i actually jumped out of my chair a bit. We chatted for a few seconds, and then he toddled off to his own dinner party, after telling us that they were having some calamari and mushrooms in HPL’s “honor” (Lovecraft /hated/ both of those foods). After dinner, we cruised around the Waterfire event. Waterfire is this…thing that Providence has been putting on for a few years now- sort of an art and food festival, where the focus of the action is around the canal running through town. From what we saw, the entire canal has these steel braziers containing wood that’s set on fire; then at some point, a procession of people dressed in hoods, carrying torches, light something else on fire. Rather spooky, and befitting the events of the weekend.

 

Sunday:

Up bright and early for my Call of Cthulhu session! I ran “The Last Stop”, a modern Delta Green CoC scenario that i’d written…last year, i think? I’ve run it four times now, and, without giving any of the plot away, the results were pretty in line with past runs of the adventure; half of the PCs were killed, many NPCs were wiped out by the players (including a mother and her toddler child), building burnt to a crisp, and some investigators at the end actually surviving…more or less. I had a great group, though some people had to leave early. Everyone dug the scenario, and at a couple points, Scott Glancy and Mark Morrison swung by and both gave praise to my production values. Guess i’m doing something right!

After i packed up, i saw that Adria was out in the lobby, chatting with a small group which included Sandy Petersen. One thing led to another, and before i knew it, we were invited to have dinner with the man. Eeep!

But first, we went back to the Biltmore to attend the wrap up/review discussion of the con, hosted by Niels. Sounds like we’re on track for 2015. There were suggestions on how to improve things for the next con, but overall the impression left was a positive one. I was amazed to find out that this was the first convention ever run by these people….pretty bloody amazing, considering everything they managed to accomplish.

Finally, what better way to cap off the convention but with dinner with Sandy Petersen? Besides Adria and myself, the table consisted of Brian, Tristian, and two people who had gamed with Sandy earlier in the day, Ilya and AnnaBeth. Sandy is funny as all hell, animated, and clearly loves his food (there were long discussions about barbecuing) and horror movies (especially the bad ones). For the most part, the conversations didn’t involve games and RPGs; mostly, if anything, we talked about Kickstarters and how they related to Cthulhu Wars (Sandy’s upcoming game). I’m pretty sure we all ended up staying there until they closed the place down. At one point  towards the end, with talk of terrible horror flicks the topic, Sandy wrote on the paper table cloth, upside down, “Mr. Vampire”, the name of yet another so-awful-its-good horror film that he insisted we all watch. As we were leaving, he tore it off and gave it to me. Sweet!

And with that, NecronomiCon came to a close. We visited HPLs gravesite (and discovered that no one is allowed to take photos of any of the graves, according to the security guard who escorted us), as well as his home on Angell St., spent the rest of the day checking out Salem, and then Adria had a recording session that evening. All in all, an incredible trip. Providence is a beautiful, strange, and wonderful little city, and i don’t mean that in a condescending way. It’s got a very vibrant art scene, and is (naturally) drowning in history. Walking around, you can see why HPL loved Providence so much. There are some /gorgeous/ neighborhoods there, the people friendly, and a lot of off-beat shops, eateries, and the like. I would go back in a heartbeat.

I gotta say, though, that you Northeasterners can’t drive for shit.

Full steam ahead with colour!

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Well, it sounds like the masses have (kind of) spoken, and (assuming that the stretch goal is hit), we’ll be doing colour versions of Call of Cthulhu 7th!

More detail: much discussion has been going on behind the scenes as to whether to eventually go full colour with the interiors of the books, or to (at most) go two-colour (i have been fighting for full colour all along, and in fact have been developing my design with that in mind). There was much debate, and not much in the way of agreement, so the vote was put to the Kickstarter supporters. And, perhaps ironically, the vote was split pretty much down the middle, 50/50. In the end, it’s been decided that we’ll go full colour after all, which pleases me to no end.

Now, just because i have this huge ass colour palette suddenly at my fingertips, it doesn’t mean that i’m going to go balls out crazy with the design. i’m still shooting for ease and readability first. Something i set out from the beginning to establish, and i think i’ve done a good job of that so far. I’ll be sending my examples to the guys out tonight, and see what they think of it. Hopefully they won’t come back and say it’s total crap. ;)

It’s weird, though- this is the first time i’ve ever worked in colour, and it is really quite different from b+w (duh). I mean, simply from a design approach, there’s a lot more to balance out; do my notebook pages stand out enough from the rest of the background, for instance? Or are the colours too similar, and it all just blends in?

Anyway- real exciting stuff. Sadly, i haven’t had any time to touch Feed the Shoggoth! lately…

Golden Goblin Press Arises!

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Those of you who are Ye Olde Call of Cthulhu fans may remember two supplements that came out from Chaosium in the early to mid 80s, called “Cthulhu Companions”. These were supplements that contained a variety of information and articles about all things CoC, plus some adventures.

Whelp, Oscar Rios, famed writer of Call of Cthulhu adventures, has decided to take advantage of Chaosium’s licensing agreement, and has formed his own little publishing house, Golden Goblin Press. The first publication is going to be The Island of Ignorance: The Third Cthulhu Companion. The Kickstarter for it just launched last night, and yours truly will be doing the book design for it. So get our your credit cards, and pitch in for what looks to be an incredible book. I mean, just look at the list of participating authors! Aniolowski, Rios, Sammons, Harms…

Meanwhile, yes, i’m still plugging away at my card game (how many times have i said that here recently?). I’ve also been silently gathering some things together for the Kickstarter- i’ve hired a sculpture artist who will be making…stuff. And things. AWESOME things.

Lastly…well, i can’t say much yet, but if things go the way they have been, i’ll be taking on, by far, my biggest and bestest book design project to date. Holy crap.

Real heroics

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

I’m taking time out from my usual posting about various things Squamous-related to talk about something more important.

Heroism comes in many shapes, many forms. In the RPG world, heroes are sometimes defined as killing the giant dragon, or driving that extra-dimensional horror back to whence it game. In real life, however, heroism is much more. It means doing something selflessly for another human being. Heroism means you care. Heroism means /giving a fuck/.

And, more than anything, heroism means TAKING ACTION.

My friend Damion is taking action. He’s taking on the challenge of doing the AIDS Lifecycle, riding from San Francisco to LA- more than 540 miles, to raise awareness and money for the fight against AIDS.

He’s doing his part. Do yours. Please donate.

 

2012 – Year in review

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Last year, we here at Squamous Studios were kept quite busy with a number of projects- some that soared to great nights, like the flight of a byakhee, and others never saw the light of day, like a cadre of ghouls meeping and gibbering deep in their underground lairs.

By far the biggest book we shepherded through last year was Cthulhu by Gaslight 3rd Edition. Sorry, i should rephrase that: AWARD WINNING Cthulhu by Gaslight 3rd Edition. *ahem* Yes, i’m a bit proud about this one. :) I had started work on Gaslight in 2011, and was essentially made leader of the project. There were a lot of moving parts, and i ended up wearing more hats for this book than i originally estimated, but damn if it wasn’t fun and challenging. This is easily the book i’m the most proud of. Kevin Ross, along with Cthulhu by Gaslight’s original author William Barton, did an incredible job, and the artists that i got together were amazing.

The other big thing that i worked on, which *hasn’t* been released yet, is the card game i’m developing, Feed the Shoggoth! It’s been something i worked on throughout the year, as time permits (things i’ve signed contracts for obviously take priority). The germ of the idea for the game hit me in January, card and rules development took place from Jan-April, with play testing during April and May. More tinkering with rules, art wrangling, and some more play testing…and it’s still not done! There’s so much left to do…but it *is* getting done. I’ve got all the production art stuff back, so now the process of completing the final card art can commence. I’m confident that 2013 will be the year of FtS!.

Medieval Tales was one project that’s…kind of in limbo. I don’t know what’s going on with the company, so i have no idea if this book will ever see the light of day.

Back on the topic of Gaslight, i’ve been quietly been working on a couple of supplements that i’ve not talked much about. One of which is a .pdf-only addition for 3rd edition, whilst the other…well, you’ll have to just wait and see. :)

Returning to the topic of stuff i did get out the door, A Season in Carcosa, the fiction anthology containing stories based on the Hastur Mythos, was released. Oh, and Bumps in the Night finally hit the shelves (though i wish i had my contributors copies of it…*sigh).

While it doesn’t seem like we here at Squamous Studios haven’t seen many releases to print this last year, we’ve been working a lot behind the scenes, and in fact, two books are about to go to the printers- Tales of the Sleepless City, a collection of scenarios set in 1920s New York City (by Miskatonic River Press), and Undead and Unbound, a fiction anthology of zombie tales (by Chaosium). And there’s new stuff on the horizon that i can’t talk about quite just yet…

Thus sums up 2012. Thanks to everyone for their support. We can’t wait to see what happens in 2013!

 

Last update for the year

Monday, December 31st, 2012

As 2012 quickly winds down, i thought i’d file one final update on various projects. Tales of the Sleepless City is going through final final corrections right now, and my guess is that it’ll be ready to send off to MRP in the first week or two in January. Woot! The zombie fiction anthology, Undead and Unbound, is basically done. And, now that i can get back to it a bit, i’m continuing work on the pdf supplement for Cthulhu by Gaslight, which will include colour versions of the handouts, all the maps, as well as some new articles that didn’t make it into the main book. Should be a welcome addition to all of you Gaslight fans out there.

Lastly, i ran another small demo of Feed the Shoggoth over the weekend, and reaction was again very positive. I got a couple of suggestions for some alternate rules, which i’ll try to incorporate. But first, i need to get the card art done, and really tackle the design of the cards themselves. Again, it’s going to be a question of attractiveness of the cards versus readability, and having the necessary information presented to the players with as little fuss as possible.

So that’s where things stand right now. I’m hoping that 2013 will be the Year of the Shoggoth! Stay tuned…

Double n-dashes are my enemy right now.

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

 

not

– –

 

That is all.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Sorry for the lack of updates, but the holidays kinda put a crimp in time. I can report that Horror for the Holidays has been released, and should be available at your local bookstore…or you can order it on Amazon.com, or directly from Miskatonic River Press, of course!

Cthulhu by Gaslight has been coming along nicely, and it’s getting close to being done…well, until it gets reviewed and sent back for corrections, of course. :P

To whet your appetite for Gaslight, i’m presenting here, for the first time, some of the artwork done by the esteemed artists for the book; Adam Denton, David Grilla, and John T. Snyder. To wit: