Thursday, December 31, 2009


"StickyLabel" brings us this very icky mask. The oozy, viscid effect is quite nice.

The Year In Review

It's been a great year here at Propnomicon and I wanted to thank all of you for making it possible.

The blog is now into it's third year of life. It began as a place to share some of the "Call of Cthulhu" and Lovecraftian prop resources I thought people would enjoy. Posting was a bit spotty for the first year, but steadily increased from once or twice a month to more or less weekly as I became more comfortable with the format and more astute at finding interesting material.

Things really started to pick up after I decided to do the first "At the Mountains of Madness" patch back in 2008. In hindsight that project is a natural progression from posting my paper props, but at the time it was more than a little risky. I knew I wanted it, but I wasn't sure if anyone else would. More importantly, could I afford to risk the equivalent of my car payment paying for it? Luckily, despite me having what could charitably be called "limited" design and artistic skills at the time, the response was positive. Since then I've been able to work on even more obscure props, steadily improving the quality of each offering.

Thanks to the popularity of those projects, as well as a decision I made earlier this year to update on a daily basis, traffic here has grown pretty consistently. The first two months of Propnomicon's existence, back in October and November of 2007, saw it get 22 visitors. No, not 22 a day. 22 for the entire two month span. Things had improved considerably by the start of 2009, but it wasn't until the last quarter of this year that things really took off. Here are my SiteMeter stats for the year:

Those are trivial numbers compared to a mainstream site like Gizmodo that gets three million hits a day, but for a blog focused on a relatively obscure area of interest I'm overjoyed at the response. To give you an idea of just how niche Propnomicon is, the most popular post this year dealt with what kind of binoculars and tape measures the "At the Mountains of Madness" expedition would have used. Not exactly something that sets Google Trends on fire, my friends. No, that's hardcore, otaku-grade geek territory...and I wouldn't have it any other way.

So thanks for a wonderful year. I'm happy to have had the opportunity to get to know many of you on a personal basis and wish you all the best for 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Making A Vintage Diving Helmet

Back in November I had a post about "The Last Expedition", an incredibly detailed mythos LARP run by The Dark Door group in London. The whole adventure was filled with impressive props, but the one that really stood out was the full-scale vintage diving suit built from scratch. What follows is the build log of the suit's helmet written by Richard Bird, the man behind it's construction.

My sincere thanks to Mr. Bird for taking the time to write up his experience as well as his generosity in sharing it.

First of all, thanks to those people who expressed in interest in how this was made. It was built to be as realistic as possible while being LRP safe (i.e. the person inside was not going to suffocate!) As I’ve been aching to try out cold cast metal for a while I thought this would be a good opportunity to give it a go. The only problem was I’ve only ever seen small bits made out of cold cast metal so I was unsure if it could be done! However, hopefully I proved it can be.

Step 1: Size

The first problem was size. I know what a diving helmet looks like but getting the actual size proved to be a bit of a bind. In the end I settled on best guess looking at photos. Looking at the finished product I would say the helmet part is a bit too big but it was good enough for our needs.

Step 2: Template

I made a cardboard template for the breast piece just so I could get some idea of size, shape and angle of the curve over the shoulders to allow someone to get their body in to wear it. Plus it gave me a chance to work out the size of the hole for a head!

Step 3: Breast plate

The breast plate was shaped out of MDF and filler to match the cardboard template. The curve of the breast plate over the shoulder was achieved by small strips of MDF stuck to masking tape then flexed into the required curve which was then smeared with PVA glue. Filler was used in the gapes when it was dry then sanded.

The raised edges of the breast plate were created as above however I made it separate purely so it I could smooth the inside edges of the curves without touching the breast plate to give it a nice ‘right angle’ fit against the plate.

The ‘neck’ was tricky because I wanted it to be perfectly round. I couldn’t find a big enough a piece of plastic pipe for this so I built it from ring after ring of cardboard glued to one another. Once that was dry the cardboard pipe was smeared in resin, which allowed it to be sanded afterwards. Again, filler was use to smooth off and smooth the join when attached to the breast plate. An slight ornamental design was added to the bottom of the breast plate just to give it something interesting to look at, which was simply cut out of a bit plastic card. This also handily covered up the join between the two sections of the raised edges.

A final layer of filler was added over the wood to give a smooth surface and a layer of gloss paint sprayed over it to hide any small pits.

Step 4: Helmet:

Now this was tricky. I looked everywhere for a ball big enough for the helmet which I could cut up without losing its shape. In the end I ordered a 450mm polystyrene ball from ebay which came in two halves. The initial plan was to glue the two halves together then fill the gap and paint it numerous times to lose the patterning of the polystyrene. However that did not give the result I wanted so in the end I smoothed off the entire ball with (a lot of) body filler and a mouse sander which did the job like a dream. Please note if you do the same then be aware body filler melts polystyrene so you end up with a filler ball that can be very thin and fragile.

Once that was done the holes were cut out for the portholes, the neck and the proposed ‘valves’.

Step 5: Fixtures

The portholes where created in the same way as the neck with circles of cardboard finished with plastic card. I built these on the helmet so I could match the curve of the surface and ensure a smooth fit but I placed cling film down so the porthole wouldn’t stick. The bars were copper brazing rods but these would be placed in the mould when casting. Note: I only made one of the side portals as it was cast twice and flipped over for the other side portal.

The valve base and the top breather where simply caps to spray cans with some plastic dressing added to them. The Valve came from a plumber’s merchant.

Step 6: Moulding

One piece moulds were taken of the portholes, fixtures and fittings using silicone rubber – while I could have used latex as only one casting required (resin and latex don’t work that well together over time) I needed something which would cure quickly so I wouldn’t be delayed for long. For the breast plate and helmet I used latex braced with cloth and backed with a fibreglass support – this was done to keep costs down. The breast plate was done as a one piece mould. The helmet mould was planned to be made as a one piece as I was keen to do everything I could to keep its sphere shape, however the latex mould proved to be too floppy even with fibreglass support and would simply fold in on itself once when you tried to cast, so eventually this was done as a two piece mould.

Step 7: Cold Cast Metal

The key to using cold cast metal is to make sure you use enough metal. Sounds obvious but it’s easy to scimp on the metal to make the mixture pourable but it does you no favours. I found the best mixture was to use Polyester General Purpose Resin (not clear resin) with a ratio of 1 part resin to 3 part metal (325 mesh). When mixing put the resin in first and gently mix the powder in after afterwards a small bit at a time. You want to get it as a runny paste (like wallpaper paste). When putting it into the mould make sure you take your time and ensure all the air bubbles are gone as it’s going to be near impossible to fill afterwards without ruining the finish of the model. I normally run a finger (while wearing gloves) inside the mould to push the mixture into every part and push out any air bubbles.

As it’s thick you can coat all the sides of the mould with the mixture then fill the inside of the casting afterwards with a cheap filler. With portholes, breast plate and helmet i used a thin layer of the resin + brass, put a couple of layers of fibreglass in then filled the remainder of the casting with resin + iron which gave a lovely weighty feel to everything plus good strength.

Step 8: Finishing

Once everything was solid they were taken out of the moulds and cleaned with metal polish. I have read about using wet/dry paper however I found this dulls the metal too much and make it much harder to shine. Then everything was stuck together with epoxy glue. The front and rear valve had holes in to allow people to breath once inside the unit. Plexiglas was used on the portholes.

Two rings the size of the breast plate’s neck hole connected the helmet to the breast plate. One ring had the bolts in and was glued and screwed to the neck piece. The other ring was glued and screwed to the helmet and had holes to go over the screws so it would be bolted into place. The ring was cut out of a piece of MDF, moulded and cast in the same way as above, though if I did them again I would make them thicker to add more strength.

The finished item not only looked realistic but also feel realistic with a number of people thinking the diving helmet was made out metal. The brass feels cold to the touch even tarnishes over time so I can recommend this method if you need a prop to look and feel made of metal.

Richard Bird

The Dark Door

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Alien Hand

From the collection of famed video game designer Richard Garriott comes this mummified alien hand gaff. The gallery at the link also includes some other specimens from his amazing assortment of curiosities.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Monstrous Mask

From the "Mosterpalooza" mask show comes this eldritch horror in silicone with a fantastic airbrushed paint job.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Necromancer's Skull

From artist Jason Soles comes this delightfully creepy Necromancer's skull sculpture. The vicious looking instruments are a nice touch.

Staying Off The Naughty List

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. Mine was particularly enjoyable since my back problems seem to be under control for the first time in years. Unfortunately, the enforced inactivity of my recuperation, combined with a family love of good food, has combined to give me a physique that's looking all too Santa-like. I'm a jolly fat man by nature, but I hope being able to get back into a pool and the gym will mean there's a bit less of me jiggling around. Heh.

That aside, there was one other minor Christmas complication- a replica prop I ordered back in late October still hasn't arrived. Delivery dates have come and gone, promised tracking numbers have failed to materialize, and I find myself with nothing to show for the missing money in my wallet. I also have the uncomfortable task of explaining to the recipient why they won't be receiving a Christmas gift until well into January.

Experiences like this are all too common in the replica prop field, and one of the reasons why I'm obsessive about how I manage my own efforts. After participating in dozens of short-run projects I came to the conclusion that the surest sign of potential trouble was any delay between payment and shipping. It's simply amazing how many people, even those with sterling reputations and a history of reliability, suddenly become seriously ill, have a death in the family, or have their computers explode once they have a chunk of your money. Yes, unforeseen events can pop up, but if you have the time to collect my payment you damn well have the time to slap an address label on a box and get my stuff in the mail. If you can't, refund my money.

Really, is this that hard to understand?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Finished Elder Thing

The ornate sculpt of an Elder Thing by artist "jiangzu" is now finished. It was a work in progress when we checked in on it last month.

Friday, December 25, 2009

From Beyond

I was suprised to discover that "From Beyond" is available on Hulu. It has only a passing resemblance to Lovecraft's original story, but Stuart Gordon's over the top, cheese-laden take does have a certain visceral charm.

It also has this depiction of the Miskatonic University seal:

For comparison, here's the Brown University seal:

Based on the screencaps I think they kept the central shield design intact, but shifted the sun and clouds elements downward and trimmed off the top of the clouds.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

S-Class Submarine Plans

Alban sent over a link to a very nice set of plans for an S-class submarine posted on Flickr by "daviddb". I'm pretty sure this is the S-class produced by Great Britain, which was a different design from the United States S-class. It isn't an accurate historical resource for the Innsmouth submarine, but the full-sized scan at the link would make an amazing prop or handout.

Be sure to browse the rest of the gallery as well. There's some incredibly cool stuff there.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Falaschi Edition

From artist Andrea Falaschi comes this well-worn depiction of Cthulhu made from one of the large figures in the "Bag of Cthulhu".

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Innsmouth Crew

A sailor from the S-8, hull number SS-113, the submarine that torpedoed the Deep One city off the coast of Innsmouth.*

*"Wait, that's not what Chaosium's "Escape From Innsmouth" says," I can hear you saying. That's true, but based on historical events I believe it was actually the S-8 that did the deed.

In real life, there were five submarines assigned to patrol the area where Lovecraft set the fictional town of Innsmouth in early February of 1928- S-6, S-8, S-12, S-19, and S-20. S-6 was assigned to the recovery efforts for the S-4, a submarine tragically sunk by an accidental collision in December of 1927. Of the remaining four, the cruise record for the S-8 is the only one that specifically mentions a delay in it's annual trip south (to late February) coinciding with the time of the Innsmouth raid.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Innsmouth Look

One of the myriad joys of Ebay is how easy it makes collecting vintage photographs. You can pick up entire family albums from the 20's and 30's for a pittance, and you'll almost always score a few that are suitable for use as props as-is or with a little retouching.

Old black and white shots have an inherent creepiness that's hard to describe. There's an inescapable sadness in the fact that the people you're looking at are long dead, surviving only in the memories of their families and the piece of paper you hold in your hands. It's a concrete reminder of our own mortality, and as such invokes an emotional response on a very basic level. Re-purposing that unease to enhance the immersiveness of a scenario can produce some effective results.

This particular photograph was part of a lot from Postville, Iowa that I purchased earlier this year. As soon as I saw it I knew it would be perfect as a portrait of an Innsmouth hybrid starting to show the first signs of the inevitable change into a Deep One. There are three versions here. The first is the raw image exactly as I scanned it, the second a slightly cleaned up version for use as a contemporary photograph, and the third has been mildy retouched to enhance "the Innsmouth look".

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dan O'Bannon 1946-2009

There aren't many people whose death is notable for a blog like this, but Dan O'Bannon certainly qualifies. He passed away on Thursday.

Dan O'Bannon, the acclaimed science fiction/horror film screenwriter who was best known for writing the blockbuster hit "Alien" and who also directed and wrote the zombie fest "The Return of the Living Dead," has died. He was 63.

O'Bannon, whose credits include co-writing "Blue Thunder" and "Total Recall," died Thursday at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica after losing his 30-year battle with Crohn's disease, said his wife, Diane.

I've been a fan of Mr. O'Bannon's work since I first stumbled upon a showing of "Dark Star" on the Showtime cable network back in the late 70's. I and my friends would endlessly quote lines from the film, but it took a while for us to figure out that Sgt. Pinback was the same guy being interviewed in magazine's like "Starlog" and "Fantastic Films" for his work on "Star Wars" and "Alien".

At one point we ran a Traveller/Space Opera RPG campaign where we discovered the planetoid from "Alien", complete with the derelict space jockey ship from the film as well as the temple complex from the original script. Deep in the bowels of the temple complex we discovered this mural, which our referee had carefully cut out from a magazine:

In another chamber we found a second mural depicting the apex predator of the "Alien" ecology, a jellyfish like creature with dangling tentacles and an immense gasbag that allowed it to float through the air. Well, that was the adult form. The immature juvenile form looked like an inflated beach ball with feet. That's right, the one creature the ravenous, acid-blooded xenomorphs feared was the grown up version of the goofy alien from "Dark Star".

Good times, my friends. Good times.

As for his contributions to horror, Mr. O'Bannon was behind some of the most influential films of the genre, primarily "Alien" and "Return of the Living Dead". Others have said that "Alien" is probably the most successful Lovecraftian film in history, and it's probably the one he'll be remembered for years from now, but even O'Bannon's lesser efforts, like "Dead & Buried" and "The Resurrected", were worth watching. He will be missed.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Heavy Metal

I love a LARP with nice props as much as the next guy, but this is over the top. No, it's beyond that. It jumped over the top, landed on the other side, and ran towards the enemy bunker with all guns blazing.

From Lt. E. Watts comes this incredible collection of full scale Warhammer 40,000 LARP props and set pieces. I don't even like 40K, but after seeing the sheer scale of this project, in terms of both quantity and quality, I'm ready to sign up. This is the kind of full-blown, high immersion game that I'd love to play in. The costumes are impressive, but the dedication and craftsmanship that went into producing an entire ironmongery of heavy weapons from solid steel is far and above anything I've ever seen before.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Making A "Thing In A Bottle": Addendum II

This is a followup on the original post featuring the Making a "Thing In a Bottle" tutorial. Since then I've made about three dozen more bottled specimens, progressively refining the technique as issues impacting the long-term stability of the projects pop up. I've previously written about ways to insure an air-tight seal. This post will cover the long term viability of a variety of materials I've used.

First off, I have some serious doubts about the survivability of polymer clay. By itself it's a brittle material that is likely to crack as repeated impacts of the sculpted critter against the interior of the glass bottle create stress fractures. This can be alleviated somewhat by using a wire armature as reinforcement, but fine detail work is always going to be extremely delicate. The *only* way to prevent specimens breaking apart is to coat them with a soft, yielding material that can absorb and disperse the force of impacts. Both latex, in the form of rubber cement or liquid latex adhesive, and silicone are ideal for this.

Speaking of latex, I've been shocked by how tough it is. I have specimens coated with hardened liquid latex floating in distilled water, isopropyl alcohol, and glycerine and none of them have shown the slightest signs of deterioration. This probably shouldn't have been a surprise, since exposure to air and sunlight are what causes the latex in masks to deteriorate. The environment inside a specimen bottle is naturally free of ultraviolet light (it's blocked by the glass) and the limited amount of oxygen present probably isn't enough to trigger any significant oxidation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another Thing In A Jar

Sir Ninian Marsh has posted a very well done "thing in a jar" at the Brassgoggles forum.

His masterful work reminded me that I have some new notes and observations about making them that I should write up. Those should be up tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Mantle of Cthulhu

Artist Cadu Hoffmann created this wonderful Mantle of Cthulhu using real bones and resin. What I really like is the way it incorporates flowing organic shapes into something truly alien without falling into the trap of "Gigerism", an all too prevalent disease characterized by slavish imitation of H. R. Giger's biomechanical style without an appreciation for it's grace or beauty.

Browse through his gallery and you'll find more artifacts of note, including a fantastic battle helmet.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Vintage Tasmanian Postcard

Most of my paper props are pretty obscure, but this bit of ephemera is based on a single line from Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness":

As the newspapers told, we sailed from Boston Harbor on September 2nd, 1930, taking a leisurely course down the coast and through the Panama Canal, and stopping at Samoa and Hobart, Tasmania, at which latter place we took on final supplies.

Undoubtedly, the members of the Miskatonic expedition took advantage of the stop in Tasmania to post off their last letters and postcards home. This vintage postcard is exactly the kind of thing they would have found in the gift shops surrounding the port. Just click through for the full sized version, download to your computer, and print it out on cardstock.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Occult Box

Artist Fernando Bonilla has created a wonderfully creepy miniature occult box. I don't know if it was intentional, but it has a bit of a Hellraiser-ish vibe to me. I suspect that's just my brain noting random similarities to the puzzlebox and Pillar of Souls from the series.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Book of Secrets, Revealed

The merits of the "National Treasure" series of films (2004's "National Treasure" and 2007's "National Treasure: Book of Secrets") are certainly debatable, but the creativity and artistry that went into creating the "Book of Secrets" prop isn't. It's a stunning piece of work, all the more amazing because 95% of it's incredibly detailed contents are never seen on screen. It's creator, Ross MacDonald, has been kind enough to show some of that material at his website and he even offers a an exacting replica of the screen-used prop for sale.

For well over a year there has also been a fan-run project to recreate the book that I was peripherally involved with. That project has now come to a close, but here are some pictures of the numerous documents, pictures, and examples of ephemera included.

Along with the expected material involving the Kennedy assassination and the Roswell UFO crash there are several smaller sections covering secrets drawn from various literary sources. In the upper right corner of the above picture you can see part of my contribution, one of the Elder Thing sketches based on "At the Mountains of Madness" I commissioned from artist Danny Cruz. That's right, the "Book of Secrets" includes a section describing exactly what was discovered during the Miskatonic University expedition to the Antarctic. It includes photographs and sketches drawn from the materials collected by Prof. William Dyer and details the US government's official intelligence involving the matter and their response.

My section is just a small part of the book, dwarfed by the hard work of dozens of contributors that helped make the fan project possible, but it's an amusing Easter Egg for anyone familiar with Lovecraft's story.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cthulhu Mask

Leather artist Bob Basset has a new Cthulhu Mask on display. This isn't the first time he's produced this particular pattern of mask, but I haven't seen it in black before. I think it looks much better in this color than natural leather.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Beyond the Mountains of Madness" Prop Madness

Cephalopod Productions has posted an absolutely amazing collection of props based on Chaosium's "Beyond the Mountains of Madness" . This is just awesome stuff.

Be sure to browse around the main page for more great material, including an excellent tutorial on crafting one of the infamous Pemmican cakes (complete with printable label).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

This Looks So Fake

I've mentioned before that when it comes to creating prop versions of government documents it's a good idea to make them look believable without actually trying to duplicate them. That's particularly important when you're trying to reproduce the look of currently circulating documents like government ID's. Now, thanks to the rather comical release of a Transportation Safety Administration manual we have some interesting examples of what official identification actually looks like. Here's a set of authentic Central Intelligence Agency credentials taken from the PDF of the manual:

My first thought upon seeing it was "Sweet Jebus, that looks fake." It's just so...uninspired. After years of seeing cool CIA ID cards on television and in movies I expected something a lot cooler. Sadly, that plain vanilla approach applies to almost every single example of identification given in the manual. The only ones that have the appearance of a high-tech, anti-counterfeiting design are the technicolor monstrosities issued to Senators and Congressional Representatives. In those cases I can see the recipients demanding something befitting their lofty station, or at least their conception of how important they are. The grunts with the guns and actual law enforcement powers? They get ID that looks like it came from the copy center at Office Depot.

On the bright side, having examples of the real thing to work from makes it a lot easier to make prop versions. Not because it's easier to copy them, but for exactly the opposite reason. If you avoid using the design cues of actual identification you'll not only avoid any chance of forgery, but your prop ID will look a hundred times better. Seriously, wouldn't you assume CIA agents carried identification with lots of bright, scarlet red detailing? Who in their right mind would have thought burnt orange was their official color?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

From The Mountains Of Madness

From Sci-Fi Laura comes this gallery of Miskatonic University specimens. My own pictures of the exact same specimens aren't nearly as beautiful.

Why must I be cursed with a total inability to take decent pictures?

It's Twitteriffic!

If you look over there to the right you'll see that I've added a Twitter feed. I'll be using it to plug material here on the blog and for things I find interesting outside the world of Lovecraftiana and props.

Rest assured, the focus of Propnomicon will remain where it is. I absolutely hate when a blog or website suddenly tries to "broaden it's audience" beyond what attracted me to it in the first place. That, most assuredly, will not happen here. I like my little niche and plan on occupying it for a long time to come, but I occasionally come across things I think are cool and want to share. Those items will be limited to Twitter.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Even More Quick And Dirty Casting

Following up on last week's post on casting items using Durham's water putty inside a modeling clay mold, here are the results of a tinting experiment recommended by JosefK in the comments. He suggested using ordinary food coloring to color the raw material, and whaddya know, it works great. This amulet is about 2.5" in diameter and had about five drops of green added while I was mixing it up.

As you can see, the coloring permeated the putty with a nice even tint. I suspect that adding a drop each of yellow, blue, and red would have produced a deeper green, but the results aren't bad at all. Keep in mind that there's no reason you have to tint the raw material if you're going to be painting it anyway. I just like doing it to make any of the inevitable chips or cracks a little less noticeable.

The highly stylized depiction of Cthulhu on it's face was produced by cutting the glyph into the soft modeling clay with a sharp hobby knife. I sketched out the rough shape into the clay with a stylus and then sliced away material with the blade angled 45 degrees. Once that was done the flat face of the mold was textured with a rolled up ball of aluminum foil and some rough ridges were added to the glyph itself with a flat toothpick.

Once the putty had set up it popped right out of the mold, and after a quick wash to remove any clay it was ready to paint. One of the nice things about this material is that it practically sucks up acrylic craft paints. As soon as the wet paint hits the surface it starts to dry as the putty absorbs the moisture from it, producing an excellent bond. You might need to work with a little extra water on your brush to counteract the drying effect, but it takes paint like nobody's business. Here's the final result:

I was planning on doing this in a bluish-grey finish, but when I sat down to paint it I realized I was out of blue. That meant I fell back on the traditional green paint scheme, using dark green, light green, and a yellow drybrushing to produce the shadow, midtone, and highlights respectively, followed by a black detail wash. Even an admittedly unearthly color scheme like this looks more believable if you blend together at least three colors to produce the final finish. That said, I should probably give it at least a light wash of brown to tone it down a bit.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Papercraft Elder Thing and Investigators

Artist Wayne Peters created this wonderful papercraft Elder Thing and investigators set for "Call of Cthulhu".

He's also dreamed up some other amazing artwork that you can see at his website, Crow's Nest. Including one of the best depictions of the venerable Type-S scoutship from the Traveller RPG that I've ever seen. One of these days I'll have to dig out some of the sci-fi props from the good ship Anton Regiv.

Update: Bleh. Mr. Peters left a very nice comment apologizing for slagging ATMOM. Unfortunately, I clumsily deleted it instead of posting it because I'M AN IDIOT and clicked the wrong button.

Not that it matters too much, since we're not mind-numbed cultists around here. Well, not about things like that. If you start badmouthin' "The Cats of Ulthar", on the other hand, we's gonna have words.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Bryson Edition

From artist Bryson comes this stylized depiction of Cthulhu. I wasn't crazy about the gaunt, almost skeletal depiction, but the more I look at it the more I like it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

Following up on today's post on "Call of Cthulhu" fandom in Brazil, I thought I'd offer up some ideas about the international nature of Lovecraft aficionados from my own experiences.

Roughly half the Miskatonic swag I send out travels outside the United States. Of that, thirty percent goes to France, twenty percent to Great Britain, ten percent to Canada, followed in descending order by Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Spain, Slovakia, Brazil, the Russian Federation, the Czech Republic, Japan, China (Hong Kong, specifically), and Australia. That doesn't count the nations I've sent a single package to.

The biggest surprise to me was the huge amount of swag destined for France. After discussing it with a few natives I came to the conclusion that may well be because the French version of "Call of Cthulhu" is actually better than the English one. The licensee produces material with artistic and graphic design standards that, frankly, blows many of Chaosium's own supplements out of the water.

Update: Alban, one of my French correspondents, writes: It's right that this american game invented in 1980 was introduced in France in....1981! And is still played knowing only 2 editors;, the 1st one stopping to sell the game in 2005. In the other side Lovecraft was published here in 1953 and appreciated qt 1st encounter by the new underground "intelligentsia" to finally has a re-discover in the 70's.. It's not a question of better game translation; we are all Lovecraft fans here !!!! ;0)

Update: The current French publisher is Éditions Sans-Détour. You'll find their website over here, and a version translated into English is available via Google over here.

Call Of Cthulhu Paper Props

I've said before that the international "Call of Cthulhu" community produces some amazing work, and this post on game handouts at Mundo Tentacular proves it. If you can't read Portuguese, here's the Babel Fish version.

I'm guessing that the author is from Brazil based purely on the language and the covers of some of the supplements displayed elsewhere on the blog. I love stumbling across sites like this for the slightly different takes on Cthulhu gaming around the world. Even with the language barrier it's easy to see the level of talent on display.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tomecraft: Clasps

One of the most difficult parts of crafting a convincing eldritch tome is the hardware. What grimoire or book of forbidden knowledge is complete without all kinds of little buckles, corner protectors, embossments, and decorative inserts? Unfortunately, that kind of metalwork is almost impossible to find today. That's where Closure, a blog about making metal book clasps, bosses, and book decorations comes in. There's an amazing variety of work on display and many of the posts include a detailed rundown of how the hardware was constructed.

Sadly, it appears the blog hasn't been updated since April, but there's still a wealth of useful material available.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More Quick and Dirty Casting

Ancient clay tablets. Alien star stones. Mysterious bas reliefs.

What do they all have in common? You can bang out a decent prop version that will add a whole new level of immersion to your game for less than ten bucks.

One of the biggest issues preventing the use of more props in both tabletop and live action "Call of Cthulhu" games is that of cost. One of the attractions of paper props is that they're absurdly inexpensive if you already own a computer and a decent printer. Download the file, add any needed customization, print it out, trim and...tada! Cool prop.

Physical props, on the other hand, can be a little more intimidating because they require more expensive materials. If you're a die-hard prop fan it's easy to drop $100 on quality silicone and resin casting supplies, and sculpting smaller projects using polymer clays like Sculpey can cost $20-$30. But what if you're working on a budget and just want to have a nice one-off prop for a single game? The answer is clay casting. Using patching compound or water putty inside a mold made from modeling clay you can create some pretty nifty items for $5.

Inspired by the examples from Dave Lowe and Tom Banwell, I decided to try my hand at doing some basic clay casting using a one pound box of modeling clay ($2.50) and a can of Durham's Water Putty ($3). I've read a lot of good things about Durham's from wargamers that use it to inexpensively cast terrain features for their gaming tables, with a big emphasis on it's ease of use and cost effectiveness. It was originally a handyman's helper for fixing things up around the house, but it didn't take long for people to start using it for "off label" projects. That's just fine with the manufacturer, which is why the website has an entire section filled with hints and tips for folks using it for craft projects. The directions for casting couldn't be simpler:

Start by mixing DURHAM'S Putty and water together to the consistency of heavy cream. Immediately, pour the mixture into the mold, tapping the mold gently while filling to bring air bubbles to the surface. After the putty has set, carefully remove the cast from the mold and fill in any air bubbles which might remain with a new mixture of putty.

My mold was a simple lump of modeling clay with the negative shape of an Elder Thing star stone carved into it. After taking the clay out of it's package I put all five sticks inside a large, microwave safe measuring cup along with a tablespoon of water. Why the water? Because the clay isn't electrically conductive, so it won't heat up directly from the radiation inside a microwave oven. With the water present it only took two minutes for the heat from the steam to spread to both the clay and the cup, producing a nice, malleable ball of clay. After kneading it together for a few minutes I flattened it out on a small dish and then carved out the mold from the clay using an old butter knife. Then I used a ball of aluminum foil to add some surface texture, followed by painting the whole thing with some cheap petroleum jelly based hand cream to act as a mold release. Here's the result:

Then I followed the directions from the Durham's website and mixed up a batch of putty. Except I didn't follow the directions- I added a blob of acrylic paint to color the putty. And then I did it again. And then I stopped doing it, because adding paint to the putty is a really bad idea unless you want a weak, crumbly casting. Here are my two bad castings along with the good one without paint:

The castings with paint added are filled with bubbles and very "foamy". The material breaks easily and the fractures are course and grainy.

The difference in strength between the casting with paint and without is immense. The colored casts started breaking up while I was taking them out of the mold, but the un-colored material can take all kinds of abuse without chipping or cracking. See that little triangle of flash between the two bottom arms of the star? I'll probably have to remove with a Dremel tool, since it's too strong to snap off with my fingers.

The Durham's website mentions not adding "too much" paint to the putty mix, but it's a better idea to not add any. Why? Durham's is a gypsum based product akin to plaster of paris and relies on the same kind of chemical reaction to set-up. Unfortunately, the pigment coats the powder particles and prevents them from forming the interlocking crystal structure that forms while the liquid putty hardens. At least that's my theory.

In the end it doesn't matter all that much, since the hardened putty is an excellent painting surface. It will soften slightly when exposed to water, but once it's sealed with a coat of paint it should last forever. And did I mention it's cheap? Unbelievably, insanely, cheap? The surface finish isn't perfect, being prone to bubble voids unless you scrupulously tap them out before it sets up, but for the kind of faux rock or clay props I intend to use it for that's an acceptable trade-off.