Joker

I don’t have that much to say about this movie (although this will not stop me from stretching out my muddled thought process for the usual 2,000-ish words – this is gonna be one of those “probably better than missing an update completely” articles) and it’s basically all spoilers, so I’m going to put everything below the break except for a bottom-line review that Joker is good and you should watch it.

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Mythos: The Nameless City

Let’s call it Steve!

I should have known that the Arabs had good reason for shunning the nameless city, the city told of in strange tales but seen by no living man, yet I defied them and went into the untrodden waste with my camel.

This is the first real Cthulhu Mythos story we’ve had, one in which ancient temples in forsaken wastelands hold cosmic horrors. It’s not just a ghost story where the ghost is actually a scientifically plausible (according to the pop sci of the time, at least) alien, nor is it a dream journey to a fantastic otherworld. This is the same sub-niche of Lovecraft’s work in which Cthulhu lies dreaming in R’lyeh. It even introduces us to Abdul Alhazred and his famous couplet:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.

Kind of him to make sure it rhymes in English, when presumably it would have been written in Arabic originally.

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Mythos: Sweet Ermengarde

Unlike the last time Lovecraft satirized prohibition, this comedy’s jokes are pretty apparent to me even writing as I am from 2019, nearly a full century after the end.

Her name was originally Ethyl Ermengarde, but her father persuaded her to drop the praenomen after the passage of the 18th Amendment, averring that it made him thirsty by reminding him of ethyl alcohol, C2H5OH.

That’s kinda funny. There’s another couple all in the first paragraph:

She had large black eyes, a prominent Roman nose, light hair which was never dark at the roots except when the local drug store was short on supplies, and a beautiful but inexpensive complexion. She was about 5ft 5.33…in tall, weighed 115.47 lbs. on her father’s corn scales—also off them—and was adjudged most lovely by all the village swains who admired her father’s farm and liked his liquid crops.

Ermengarde has a villainous suitor who hopes to marry her and so gain the vein of untapped gold that he alone knows is under her father’s farm. Why that doesn’t belong to her father is unclear. But Ermengarde has another suitor, one Jack Manly:

Close by the village dwelt another—the handsome Jack Manly, whose curly yellow hair had won the sweet Ermengarde’s affection when both were toddling youngsters at the village school.

Bad news for Squire McVillainous, the childhood friend always wins. Jack proposes, and Ermengarde is overtaken with joy:

[“]Such is your natural nobility that I had feared—I mean thought—you would be blind to such slight charms as I possess, and that you would seek your fortune in the great city; there meeting and wedding one of those more comely damsels whose splendour we observe in fashion books.[“]

Shit, you think that would work? Maybe this proposal is a mistake.

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October Humble Monthly

Battletech

The big ticket item for this month’s Humble Monthly, and one I’d been idly meaning to pick up for months, so this worked out great for me. Most of the time, the big ticket for a Humble Monthly is something I either already owned or had absolutely no interest in, which I think is a problem for the big tickets generally. Pretty much by definition, they’re not an undiscovered gem, which means if you want it, you probably already have it. It’s usually something whose price has already come down to something like $30-$40, tops, which is more than a single monthly bundle costs even if you pay month-to-month, but is still cheap enough that if you can afford the Humble Monthly, you can probably afford to buy it.

I was in the perfect sweet spot where I wanted Battletech, but not enough to get around to actually buying it. And then it turns out my machine isn’t quite up to actually running the game. I have no idea why, but it takes something like 2-3 minutes to load each mission, which slows the pace down to the point of being unbearable. I only wound up playing through the opening mission, and the gameplay seems solid, although I’m not sold on the story. The opening of the story has you and your mentor figure escorting a space princess to her space coronation in your space robots, then her evil uncle attempts to usurp the throne, the three of you all try to flee, and you’re the only one who survives. You’re picked up by some mercenaries and with nothing else to do, you join them. You’re now a merc with a grudge against the reigning authority.

Great so far, but then there’s a three year time skip. Now, if that opening sequence hadn’t represented some 10-ish minutes of loading screens between loading chargen, loading the opening cut scene, loading the first mission, loading the second cut scene, and loading the second mission, I probably wouldn’t care so much that this early mission turned out to be pretty much completely unrelated to the start of the actual plot, and what later relevance it will inevitably have could’ve been filled in when it was important. It’s not like I spent any significant amount of time getting to know my giant robot mentor and the space princess he liked so much. It’s kind of like Dishonored, they’re getting betrayed within five minutes of my first conversation with them and I don’t know them well enough to care that much. Like, I’m trying to meet the game halfway and do some roleplaying in this roleplaying game, I was ready to get invested in the situation of the immediate aftermath of that battle, scampering with the friendly mercs to the far end of the galaxy to get my mech fixed, pay off the debts incurred for that, and then see about making enough money to somehow get revenge on the evil usurper uncle with, I dunno, a mercenary army or something. Opportunities for revenge tend to present themselves to successful mercenaries with a dark past.

But with the three year time skip, I am apparently actually supposed to be several years removed from those events, which yanks me right out of the headspace of caring about them at all. The momentum built up by the first scene is suddenly gone. And again, if it hadn’t been a 2-3 minute long loading screen to load the second cut scene, followed by a very brief dialogue with the mercs, followed quickly by another 2-3 minute long loading screen for the second mission, the strength of the turn-based mech fighting gameplay probably would’ve been enough to carry me through another mission or two, and then maybe the new situation would’ve built up some momentum the way the old one had. I don’t think the problem here is that Battletech is incredibly poorly optimized, because my computer has trouble loading things all the time. I didn’t have the money to spring for an SSD, and this is a machine that desperately wants to be running on an SSD. I should’ve gotten a slightly lower end model that’s actually designed to work with the hardware it’s got. Lessons learned, and in the meantime I can’t throw a thousand dollars at a new laptop just to keep up with all the latest releases. So that’s what ruined Battletech for me. Poor hardware choices.

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Mythos: Nyarlathotep and the Picture in the House

Nyarlathotep

There’s a fellow named Nyarlathotep who came out of Egypt and who ruins every city he comes to. Despite this, not only do people not try and keep him out, they willingly show up to attend his lectures. The protagonist is one such person, and after exiting the lecture, he finds himself with the rest of the attendees in Silent Hill.

Once we looked at the pavement and found the blocks loose and displaced by grass, with scarce a line of rusted metal to shew where the tramways had run. And again we saw a tram-car, lone, windowless, dilapidated, and almost on its side. When we gazed around the horizon, we could not find the third tower by the river, and noticed that the silhouette of the second tower was ragged at the top.

Nyarlathotep’s audience is then beckoned like lemmings off the edge of a cliff and into a terrible abyss. You’d think after the first couple of times this happened, people would stop asking Nyarlathotep to give demonstrations in their cities.

This very short story is based on a nightmare, and it shows. There are compelling ideas, but they are held together by pure dream logic. First the protagonist is in a theater seeing terrible visions, and protests that they must be scientifically explicable. An enraged Nyarlathotep throws him and the audience out into the city, which slowly decays around them, and they are pulled towards a great rift that swallows them up. It has a mood, but no plot or even really any characters. Things happen, and those things fit the atmosphere, but they have no causal connection to one another.

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Mythos: Celephais and From Beyond

Celephais

We’re back in the dream world today, and our protagonist dreams because there is nothing left for him in the waking world:

Perhaps it was natural for him to dream a new name; for he was the last of his family, and alone among the indifferent millions of London, so there were not many to speak to him and remind him who he had been. His money and lands were gone, and he did not care for the ways of people about him, but preferred to dream and write of his dreams. What he wrote was laughed at by those to whom he shewed it, so that after a time he kept his writings to himself, and finally ceased to write. The more he withdrew from the world about him, the more wonderful became his dreams; and it would have been quite futile to try to describe them on paper.

So I guess that’s the end of the story, then?

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Space Madness!

I was hoping to save this for Friday, but now there’s a limited time offer that I want to give people a chance to get on top of. Most people follow my blog for my chapter-by-chapter book reviews, not my RPG stuff, but for people who like both Lovecraft and rolling very large amounts of dice, I have good news for you: Space Madness now exists and you can get 20% off by clicking on this link right here. Provided that no more than 49 other people have already used that offer. Space Madness is an atompunk Lovecraftian RPG set in an era when humans have expanded out to the limits of the solar system. The party play as space rangers, bold heroes of the Federation who seek to explore the far reaches of the solar system braving not only the Federation’s arch-rivals in the Union-Republika, but also such horrors of the solar system as Venusian man-lizards, Moonbeasts, and Yuggothians.

Also, there’s a bunch of wands that you use to do stuff. The whole thing was written as part of a challenge to make an RPG based on three words selected at the whim of the challenge-issuer, and those words were atompunk, Mythos, and wands. You might think that the RPG is a half-assed weekend project, given that backstory, but no, designer Bobby Derie spent months (maybe over a year? I was on the forum where the challenge was issued, but I forget exactly how long ago it was) working on creating a complete and playable 268-page RPG. Bobby Derie used to write for Shadowrun and I would not be surprised to learn that he is one of the most knowledgeable Mythos scholars in the world, so he is probably the most qualified person in the world to write this very specific idea.

The link up above is for a softback version. You can also get a .pdf version for $5, which is practically nothing, although it’s also got no interlinking, which is annoying. The actual content is all there, though, and if you want an atompunk Lovecraft game set throughout the solar system, there’s not a whole lot of alternatives.

Yahtzee Made Video Games

Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw is probably going to be “the Zero Punctuation guy” right up until generational turnover turns him into “who?” He’s already getting there. Zero Punctuation hasn’t been a big deal for like eight years, there’s gamers today who’ve never even seen one.

I was in his target demographic right when he became a big deal, though, and in addition to watching the complete ZP archive, I also went to Yahtzee’s site and dug up all his games. Yeah, turns out Yahtzee is an indie game dev in addition to being a game critic. There’s a reason you haven’t heard of his games, though. They’re not agonizingly bad or anything, many of them are a perfectly enjoyable way to spend two or three hours of your life, but not above replacement level. If you picked out another (completed, non-asset flip) indie game at random, then you’d probably get something about as good. None of them are really spectacular, but a few of them do rise above replacement-level, and I need a Tuesday article and don’t want to play a bunch of new games to get it, so we’ll be looking at each of Yahtzee’s games briefly, because I already played them all back in high school.

Also, Yahtzee’s currently doing a thing where he develops a video game every month for a whole year. I won’t be covering any of those right now because I stopped following Yahtzee by the time he made them, although I am leaving open the possibility that I’ll come around and look at those once the year is up and I have a full set of twelve to poke at.

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Mythos: Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family

On Sunday, I nearly got a hit by a car. Now, “nearly” means “not actually hit” means I suffered no actual injury at all, but I was whacked out on adrenaline for like three hours and then crashed super hard afterwards, so the post that should’ve been written on Sunday for Monday has instead been written on Monday for Tuesday, and will appear alongside an article coming three hours from now, at the usual posting time. I’m also taking the opportunity to throw things up at slightly weird times and see if it affects traffic at all. These posts are mostly written 24-48 hours in advance, so I figure if the 9 AM time gets more traffic than the 12 noon, then hey, may as well schedule it for then.

Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species—if separate species we be—for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world.

The idea that being sheltered and ignorant is actually a good thing is something that Lovecraft will come back to at least a few more times, and something he’s pretty famous for. The unknown is frightening, so the idea that learning about something is inherently deadly means that it is, in theory, perpetually scary. In practice, the ambiguous contents of darkened rooms only hold the imagination for so long, and once you have described a fictional horror, no matter how much you insist afterwards that you have described only part of it, what you described will ever after be all of it, and its horror will wear away until it becomes mundane.

Anyway, while the idea that there can be types of knowledge that are inherently dangerous is a compelling fictional concept, it is sometimes overshadowed by Lovecraft’s actual neuroses poking through. For example:

Arthur Jermyn went out on the moor and burned himself after seeing the boxed object which had come from Africa.

Knowing how much Lovecraft hates everyone who isn’t a New England WASP, the idea that the whole story might just be an allegory for the inherent cosmic horror that somewhere out there black people exist (scare chord) immediately punches the momentum out of it. I don’t even know if that allegory is going to be borne out, but its mere plausibility harms the story. On the one hand, that isn’t this specific story’s fault. I only know that because I have a greater understanding of Lovecraft’s work. On the other hand, part of the point of this project is taking Lovecraft’s works as a collective, as a shared universe, picking through them to see which parts of them are the Cthulhu Mythos. And there’s a pretty good argument for including both the Street and the Terrible Old Man.

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Mythos: The Temple

For the first time in his career so far, Lovecraft delivers a story that reaches the staggering length of ten pages. We’ll probably need a single full blog post to dedicate to this one.

Our protagonist is the commander of a German U-boat during WW1, and he’s leaving this document in a bottle in hopes that it will reach the surface, for he does not expect to survive his current predicament. After torpedoing a British ship, they find a sailor’s corpse in the wreckage and guess that he is Italian or Greek and in possession of an ivory carving of a laurel-crowned young man’s head. I assume this will be relevant to the plot, otherwise our protagonist is just letting us know that the sailors under his command engage in looting corpses for no other reason except, presumably, to make sure the audience knows that the Germans are meant to be the villains of WW1. The corpse takes it pretty well.

The Boatswain Müller, an elderly man who would have known better had he not been a superstitious Alsatian swine, became so excited by this impression that he watched the body in the water; and swore that after it sank a little it drew its limbs into a swimming position and sped away to the south under the waves. Klenze and I did not like these displays of peasant ignorance, and severely reprimanded the men, particularly Müller.

The weird thing is that I’m 70% sure this is supposed to paint our German protagonist in a bad light. The “Alsatian swine” is totally correct, after all, and our hero’s unwillingness to entertain superstition is probably what’s about to lead to his sub getting wrecked. But Lovecraft just wrote the Street like three or four months before this story. Is he really so lacking in self-awareness as to try and characterize a villain using petty racism while engaging in near-identical petty racism himself? I can imagine someone who would agree, if you presented it to them, that racism against Alsatians is dumb but racism against Portugese is totally fine, but Lovecraft seems like he’s actually bringing up of his own volition a criticism of how petty some German (Prussian, probably?) officer’s racism against Alsace is.

The crew are haunted by nightmares of the drowned dead coming for revenge, and the sub commander is too thick to toss the ivory carving that is clearly responsible. Even assuming we absolutely ignore any potential supernatural cause to the nightmares, clearly chucking this thing would be good for morale, and it’s not exactly hard to throw something into the ocean. They’re surfacing regularly, partly because WW1-era submarines have to, but also we know they are because (and I’m getting slightly ahead of myself to say this, but) two of the crew eventually kill themselves by jumping overboard. We wouldn’t have a story if the commander behaved at all sensibly, though, so stubborn refusal to display any hint of believing in superstition it is.

On June 20, Seamen Bohm and Schmidt, who had been ill the day before, became violently insane. I regretted that no physician was included in our complement of officers, since German lives are precious;

Erich von Falkenhayne didn’t seem to agree with this assessment, if Verdun is anything to go by. Regrets or no, our hero executes the two. This is followed shortly by the two aforementioned suicides.

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