Tales of Mythic Adventure Episode 14 – Guest: Mike Mason

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Mythos Maunderings with Mike Mason 0:00-2.15

Straight into the guest introduction this week with Jeff explaining that with the exciting news of Moon Design taking a management role at Chaosium, it is more than time that Tales of Mythic Adventure turned its attention to the iconic Chaosium game, Call of Cthulhu. Jeff has been playing Call of Cthulhu since the early 1980’s and MOB has a copy of the first edition of the game (or thinks he does, but see below…).

Jeff is therefore pleased to announce that the guest on this episode is the Line Developer/Editor for Call of Cthulhu, Mike Mason. Jeff feels that this is a bit of incestuous nepotism, given that Mike works for Chaosium (but I presume by “incestuous nepotism” he means “in-house advertorializing”, since as far as I am aware he is neither related to Mike nor in a relationship with him).

Mike manages to respond to this introduction, and explains that the TOMA virtual green room is this time in Nottingham, England. MOB is in sunny Melbourne, Australia, and Jeff is in his bunker in Berlin.

So What Does a Chaosium Line Editor Do? 2:15-4:15

Mike’s role is to look after the Call of Cthulhu game line. He works with authors to develop manuscripts into scenario books or source books. Mike also does some writing himself and is the co-writer for the just-about-to-be-released seventh edition. He does not go into any details about the incestuous nepotistic side of his duties, which is perhaps just as well. All things Cthulhu is what Mike’s role involves; all Cthulhu, all the time. He was the lead writer on the seventh edition rules, and worked with Paul Fricker on the new Investigator’s Handbook; this has occupied him for much of the past several years. MOB breaks in to explain that for some reason at Gencon he was wearing (the absent) Paul Fricker’s badge, and many people came up to him to say nice things about CoC7 under the impression that he (MOB) was Paul. This explanation will possibly clear up any future confusion for listeners given the mistaken impression that Paul Fricker is a face-shifting hive mind inhabiting the bodies of two middle-aged men simultaneously.

So What’s New in the Seventh Edition? 4:15-13:15

Previous editions of Call of Cthulhu have not seen any major rule development. The core rulebook had grown and expanded on an ad-hoc basis, with new material being to an extent bolted on. However, Mike explains that the new edition has been substantially reorganized, so that all information relating to particular situations are now in the same place. There are also tweaks to the rules, including an opposed rule in combat, to fix a glitch where repeated misses could mean that combat dragged on without any hits being made. A chase mode has also been introduced, as chases are almost as integral to the Cthulhu Mythos as combat itself. Indeed, as Investigators will know, running away from the horrors of the Mythos is possibly more important than combat itself. This chase mode will allow, for instance, replication of the chase scene in The Shadow Over Innsmouth, one of Lovecraft’s most exciting and best stories. There is also a push mode to allow characters to retry failed rolls, but they have to be able to justify their first failure. Push mode is important in a game with investigative and noir elements such as Call of Cthulhu, where clues need to be reached in order to allow the game to continue.

With all of these changes however, the design ethic for the new edition has been to be backwardly compatible to the previous editions, and provide improvement with continuity. There was a worldwide play-test and the feedback was highly positive.

Jeff asks the leading question as to why gamers should come out and buy the seventh edition, and the response if that the new edition provides a fully integrated set of rules, and also provides large numbers of optional rules to reflect the way that Keepers have modified the original rules over the years.

The Appeal of the Mythos 13:15-29:15

MOB breaks in with the shocking news that, having checked his bookcase, he actually only has the second edition of Call of Cthulhu, which hardly counts. He segues that into a question about why Call of Cthulhu has lasted for long. Mike brings up the point also made in other episodes that Call of Cthulhu is about ordinary people leading ordinary lives. This is different to almost all other games which are about the heroic. CoC is therefore the inverse of the standard game. A long-term Call of Cthulhu character is likely to have learned too much and is half mad.

Mike feels that that mirrors real life, where people do generally decline as they get older, and the more realistic development in Call of Cthulhu actually makes the characters all the more heroic. It is also probably the only game where “Librarian” is a key character type.

With the ten years since the sixth edition, it is well and truly time for a new edition. The PDF has been made freely available to the Kickstarter backers. On the release of the print editions there will be the Keeper’s Handbook and also the Investigator’s Handbook. Alongside that is the obligatory Keeper’s Screen that comes with two scenarios, some pamphlets and three posters.
MOB feels that the artwork has been a great feature of the COC game, and that allows Mike to point point out that the seventh edition is the first FULL COLOUR edition of the rules.

Mike first started playing COC in 1982-83. He had no idea about the mythos, but Imagine magazine in the UK had a review of the game along with a short story. He immediately fell in love with the game, and started reading Lovecraft, Aston-Smith, Robert Bloch and Robert E. Howard.

Jeff asks if Mike has anything to say about the increase in popularity of the Cthulhu mythos, to the extent that Jeff has even seen Cthulhu bumper stickers in Berlin. Mike feels that the first gateway to popularity was movies such as Re-animator back in the 1980’s. Another reason for the increasing popularity was the game Call of Cthulhu itself. Cthulhu himself is such a tentacled insanity-inducing monster that there is also a perverse inclination to make him into plush toys or similar felted horrors. Jeff jumps in with a follow up observation that another reason for the popularity of the mythos is its ability to infect other genres, as any other type of narrative type can be changed by simply adding a cup of tentacles.

MOB raises the question of what H.P. Lovecraft would have made of all of this popularity, given that he was not commercially successful in his lifetime and died in his mid-forties. H.P. Lovecraft even had to be supported by his grandfather in his younger years, the splendidly named Whipple Van Buren Phillips. Mike feels that the level of popularity of his creations would have impressed H.P. Lovecraft, although what he would have made of plush felt Cthulhus is impossible to speculate…

MGF Questions Mike Mason 29:15 – End

What does everybody know about Mike as a gamer?
Mike often employs accents and voices when portraying non-player characters

What does nobody know about Mike as a gamer?
When Mike was developing the Dark Heresies game he tried to insert as much Call of Cthulhu mythos into the game without actually calling it the Cthulhu Mythos.

What does Mike do better than the average gamer?
He tries to make sure that every player is having fun and gets their moment to shine

What does Mike do worse than the average gamer?
He says he is sometimes unable to resist dragging his players in the direction he wants to go, rather than where the players want to go.

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