Pergamum was a great library in Anatolia, and a great rival of Alexandria: both were flourishing early cities, both had world-famous libraries, and both wanted the oldest and most accurate works of Homer they could get their hands on. If you replace ‘Homer’ with ‘Alexis’, this is not entirely unlike the current rivalry between BOOK OF HOURS and The Lady Afterwards. BOOK OF HOURS is AK’s main focus, but I keep pulling him away to work on Lady Afterwards; Lady Afterwards is my main project, but I keep prodding AK on BOOK OF HOURS.
This update, I’ll focus on our work on Lady Afterwards. More on BOOK OF HOURS later down the line!
When we started, our brief was primarily to do something new with the Cultist Simulator IP, and to build a premium physical box-set which anyone – not just TRPG afficionados – could enjoy. I set up some basic estimates for price and requirements, and used my background playing/writing Call of Cthulhu scenarios and AK’s frankly alarming 30yrs’ experience writing and running TRPGs as our starting point. We knew we needed the basics – dice, character sheets, a handbook, some combat-adjacent Lovecraftian story – but the question was how to make it feel like Cultist Simulator, not just ‘Lottie and Alexis write a CoC scenario for lols’.
The general dynamic is I start with some competent base for ‘CoC scenario for lols’ and AK adds Cultist magic. We’ve streamlined the character skills trailed in previous updates – welcome Scoundrel, Deception and Mariner; hello redesigned sheets – and are moving a little away from traditional BRP rule-sets to simpler, more unique design. We’ve added a mechanic where relevant gods can get involved with events in the story – meet the ‘Regard of the Hours’ – and AK’s been drilling the importance of detail into me, so we don’t end up with wafty suggestive guidance (‘roll a dice at some point to see if you have money’) and instead end up with stuff like this:
You don’t have to use this, of course. But it’s there if you want it.
One of the most difficult things I’ve found is making TRPGs attractive and understandable to people who are not thoroughgoing nerds. Don’t get me wrong: nerds are great. But I come from nerd-lite friends, who actually really enjoy a spooky tabletop game but wouldn’t be seen dead in a queue for the latest MtG set. They would be actively put off by a lot of the trappings of traditional TRPGs, even though once they’re in them, they love it. So I originally set out to make some very streamlined Game Runner’s guidebook with which my own mother could run a game, but it quickly became apparent that TRPGs require quite a lot of detail and systems before they actually function as a game. You can’t get around that. Without putting those things in, I’m essentially selling a Fun Story. What people want to buy – I think! – is a fleshed-out system for playing that Fun Story. So we’re still aiming for as wide accessibility as we can, but we’re not going to tangle with the existential nature of a tabletop RPG. Sorry, Mum. 😓
I’ve also been prepping The Lady Afterwards‘ artefacts. I am now an expert in 1920s government typography (in short: the more, the merrier), defunct Egyptian departments for tax (not my most exciting day at the office) and contextual media reports of C. P. Cavafy’s death. To give you a non-spoiler-y taste, here’s a time-appropriate telegram from the genuine Eastern Telegraph Company, with some relevant but gibberish text:
Lore aside – and o my brothers, there is lore here – researching telegrams taught me a lot. It’s taught me the difference between telegram and telegraph (former is the message, latter is the machine), how the process actually worked (usually: handwritten note → Morse code → wire transfer → handwritten note → boy on bicycle) and a wonderful anecdote that’s too good to check. Allegedly, the shortest telegram ever written was from Oscar Wilde in the 1880s/90s to his publisher David Nutt about the response to his new book (possibly Dorian Gray, possibly The Happy Prince, possibly A House of Pomegranates). He wired simply ‘?’ and Nutt responded ‘!’. So…. probably Dorian Gray.
We’ve some playtests set up next sprint with friends and other writers, and I’m cooking some suitably Levantine meal. I’ll take all the photos I can and share them with you afterwards! Next sprint I also hope to be able to reveal the release date for Lady Afterwards. FINALLY.
I’ll leave you with news that you can now request AK’s signature on copies of Against Worldbuilding, and we should have our new site live next sprint. A week today is also #Lovecraftday, which long-time fans will know we always make a fuss of. So keep your eyes peeled for non-Euclidean things on social media then…