Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 26 November 2022

Cosmic Anarchy

NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution
would normally be reviewed as part of the Fanzine Focus strand, but it is not really a fanzine. Although originally intended to be part of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest for 2022, the publisher decided to do it on its own via Itchio, when Kickstarter moved ZineQuest from march to August to coincide with Gen Con, its format—A4 rather than A5, its singular content, and the production standards all move it away from the ’zine ethos and look and towards a more professional product. As a result, it stands somewhere between a fanzine and prozine. It is a trend which has been growing with each successive ZineQuest, to the point where it is quite difficult to determine the difference between a fanzine and a publication simply using the format and the promotional support of ZineQuest to present a whole scenario or even an RPG. NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution does itself no favours in making a such a determination. Although the cover can be described as Punk Art and Punks are the protagonists of its scenario, the style and layout of the first issue’s content evokes neither Punk Art nor a fanzine sensibility, and the glossiness of the first issue just does not scream Punk! However, whether or not NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution is ’zine or not ’zine, it does not meet the criteria to fit the Fanzine Focus strand, but it does include content which is interesting and which does involve Punks.

NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution – Issue #1: “The Five Techniques” is published by Pent Up Press and contains a single scenario designed to be run using Trail of Cthulhu or Cthulhu Dark. The former is the clue orientated roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror from Pelgrane Press and the latter the rules light RPG of Lovecraftian investigative horror designed for simple, minimalist play. It could easily be adapted to the roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror of the Game Master’s choice. What makes the scenario stand out is its time period—the 1970s, its setting—Northern Ireland, and its protagonists—members of punk rock band. The set-up is this. The would-be Investigators are members of The Gutters which formed in London. The band’s bassist, Ciaron McCarthy, has died and his bandmate, Mickey Grayes, has persuaded everyone to give Ciaron a proper Punk wake in his home village of Conhale in County Armagh in Northern Ireland. This sets up some fantastic tensions. The Punks themselves are very much the ‘fish out of water’ amidst the tensions of the Troubles. Not just their clothes, but their anti-establishment sentiment will make them standout in the conservative society of Armagh, already tense from the locked down presence and influence of the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary supposedly keeping them safe from the IRA.

The Investigators will feel and experience this tension almost from the start. The journey from London has been long and tiring when the Punks are stopped by an IRA checkpoint and questioned. The villagers are reluctant to talk to the interlopers, but will warm to them with a drink or two. The British Army will take a seemingly mild interest too—at least initially. All whilst the Investigators suffer odd dreams, or even daydreams of dreams, spiral patterns are marked here and there, and then one of their number runs off…

As written, “The Five Techniques” is systemless, but the scenario includes notes on running it in either Cthulhu Dark or the GUMSHOE System of Trail of Cthulhu. The latter comes with stats for some NPCs and new Investigative and General Abilities, all musical in nature. For either system, there is a set of tables for creating the background of the Punk, covering ‘Creating Your Punk’ and ‘Getting the Band Together’, as well the scenario’s set of dreams and four decently done handouts.

Whether run for Cthulhu Dark, Trail of Cthulhu, or another roleplaying of Lovecraftian investigative horror, “The Five Techniques” is more folk horror, more Green Room meets Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, rather than Lovecraftian horror per se. It also adheres to the style of play of Cthulhu Dark in which the Investigators can only confront the Mythos. They cannot fight it directly, for it is too powerful, too unknowable, and such efforts are doomed to end in failure, resulting in the Investigators’ deaths or insanity. Thus “The Five Techniques” is more Purist than the traditional Purist mode of Trail of Cthulhu to the point where the motivations of outré threat are never explained and the Game Master is not expected to explain them either. Only in the epilogue which each player gets to narrate for their Investigator is there time to wonder at what happened and the horror of it. Here though, is where “The Five Techniques” does not support the Game Master as the scenario does not say about the responses to what happened for those living in and around Clonhale, whether the villagers, the British Army, the R.U.C., or the I.R.A. There will be consequences and it would have been useful to be given pointers as to what they might be.

Physically, NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution – Issue #1: “The Five Techniques” is busily presented with plenty of decent artwork and good handouts. The writing is decent and the plot sufficiently straightforward that the Game Master can easily run this in a single session or as a convention one-shot. In addition, the scenario has a pleasing historicity, which includes the appearance of Northern Ireland’s most famous Punk band.

The seventies is a period which has been little explored in Lovecraftian investigative horror, and much of what has, has been inspired by the Grindhouse, exploitation cinema of the period. NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution – Issue #1: “The Five Techniques” shifts Lovecraftian investigative horror to the seventies in a historical sense and location, placing the unknowable against a framework of real-world tensions, making the already fraught situation all the more fraught, the result being a unique scenario for Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying.

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