A Thing with Feathers: Part 3

7 May 2019

DM’s log: 29 October 2018

Day Seven of campaign—The Open Cage, late at night

After two radically different but equally long and depressing days at work, Kazimir and Andi made their way to The Open Cage to drown their sorrows in copious amounts of alcohol. Drimlock was already there, performing a set on stage, to the general disinterest and displeasure of most of the bar—with the exception of Emily Dickinson and her girlfriend Veronique.


Once, I was leafing through old Something Awesome forum posts and articles from the early 2000s. The only thing I know about Something Awful is that the Twitter user Dril used to post there. It’s weird to behold this sediment of the internet, pre-anything. It reminds me of the Natural History museum or the actors playing Elizabethan criminals at the tower of London, totally committed to their historical roles, or maybe the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. Maybe the internet is a history machine. Much under the surface. I remember clicking a page of one-on-one RPG blogs: two friends/writers for Something Awful documenting their campaigns for lulz.

They’re playing The Call of Cthulhu, an RPG based on the work of HP Lovecraft, in which the systems and rolls conspire to make you weak, fearful and constantly on the verge of  ecstasy. Each time you’re exposed to something weird you must roll lower than the number designating your total mental health; the outcome determines whether and for how long you are allowed to control your characters, who are normal people with normal backstories.

In this campaign, Lisa Lopes, Kurt Cobain and Eazy-E from NWA are paranormal investigators, warlocks and spirit mediums, who eventually end up fighting racist Pat Buchannan-esque demagogues, andpre- Gulf War Saddam Hussein who is controlled by Nyarlathotep, the dark herald who shall come from the east, the herald of Azathoth, the blind force at the heart of matter.

X:  I wanted the 1890s version, but you insisted on the 1990s for some reason.

Y: I had my reasons.

X:  As Lovecraft is a harsh mistress, you created more than one character and I will help run them while you play your main character.

Y: Yeah. my main character is Kurt Cobain.

X: Based on him?

Y: No. It is literally Kurt Cobain.

X: I don’t know how I feel about this.

Y: At the height of his power, Kurt Cobain turns from grunge music to cosmic mysteries. He has some additional skills which will help him research the occult and use magic.

X: What about your other party members?

Y: They are Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Eric Lynn Wright AKA Eazy-E.

X: Are they mercenaries?

Y: No, they are amazing performers, but also a demolitions expert and a linguist specializing in ancient languages respectively.

X: Uh huh. How did they meet and form a group?

Y: The 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. When Krist Novoselic threw his bass into the air and died on stage performing ‘Lithium’ and they all joined forces to turn him into salt and resurrect him.

X: Did it work?

Y Not really. He’s alive, but he came back changed. He’s pretty much phoning in his performances and he eats mice.

X: Alright, I’m still not 100% on board with you playing real people, but still.


Day 7 (cont.)

Eventually, the party drunkenly stumbled across something resembling the plot. Said plot took the form of a missing child, Lissa, the niece of Drimlock’s boyfriend Davros. A stray dog immediately side-tracked them.

This dog was rabid, so Andi sent for her mother Persephone, who’d be able to cure it. Persephone did so; however, in the meantime, the dog’s friends had arrived. They circled the party and attacked, and in the process exhibited some very strange behaviour, such as grotesquely stretching into a form more suited for climbing, and exhaling clouds of noxious smoke. Despite such monstrous mutations, the party dispatched the dogs without much trouble. Emily Dickinson cut open the stretchy dog, and discovered that its internal organs were writhing and contorting inside it, apparently trying to avoid her blade. Andi interviewed the surviving, no-longer-rabid dog, learning its name—Last—and the source of the dogs’ mutations—a bright light under a pile of meat in The Slags.

The party returned to the task of finding Lissa. In wolf form, Andi tracked her scent, leading the party to a thick patch of razorvine: barbed wire plants. Kaz flew into the centre of the mass, collapsing himself as he made it out. The others got Kaz and Lissa clear and healed their wounds, then returned Lissa to her father’s house. The party had a few drinks to settle their frazzled nerves, then called it a night.

Writing this column, observing us sitting around our invisible dinner-table, pizza boxes spread in the centre, I wasn’t sure how to write in the first person. The boy poet Arthur Rimbaud—calling for a “derangement of the senses”, a systematic breakdown of the ego/permanence of the self, vegetating in fin-de-siecle imperial France—wrote in a letter to his lover Paul Verlaine that “I” is an other/person/body. There are more connotations in French.

Lovecraft’s universe (Call of Cthulhu RPG included) is one in which disassociation from the self—static and strategically unknowing—is the ultimate terror. “Someday,” wrote Lovecraft, “the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

Around the table, a player is talking about a graphic novel based around HP Lovecraft called Providence. A fictional queer writer, Robert Black quits their job after the first world war and begins a paper-trail following an occult alchemical text. They begin to conceive of this text as a metaphor of America: they visit analogues to places in Lovecraft’s work, working-class and immigrant communities, which in Lovecraft’s stories are written into sites of disintegration. It’s fine, it’s fine though, the player is saying: you see how much they miss, the writer, who isn’t HP Lovecraft but meets him later: they walk past a Kurdish man selling tomatoes and speaking phonetic Kurmanji, which is spelt—to the writer—like: Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn. You see how much they miss of themselves, trying to record it. They turn back to the game. This player doesn’t exist. I invented them.

I Hmmm to myself. Sometime describing my actions in character I say “Emily Dickinson does this” sometimes I use the “I”. We continue playing.



Game play synopsis written by Emily Morgan Harmann, with thanks.

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