Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Wrath, It Knows No Bounds

It looks like I won't be releasing the Miskatonic project this week after all.

The production of the patches and pins has been plagued by delays from the start for reasons that escape me. The only explanation I can think of for the factory's continual footdragging is an unexpected back to school rush from sports teams. No matter what the cause, I'd feel a lot better about it if they had been a little more forthcoming.

That said, everything else is on schedule. I have the Orne Library postcards in hand (and I'm particularly happy with how they came out), the notebooks should be delivered by UPS within the hour, and all of the packaging is ready to go. Now I just wait, and wait, and wait for the centerpieces to show up.

On the bright side, that does give me a little more time to finish up some interesting Miskatonic ephemera.

Update: Perhaps the Old Ones do smile upon me. It looks like the patches and pins will be here on Friday after all. I knew sacrificing that goat would help.

His Nibs

Rev. Marx at MRX Designs tells how his desire for a few vintage pen nibs lead to madness.

"As I mentioned in several older posts (remember the tiny locks?), when I get a hankering and make an impulse buy of some small trinket that I desperately want, I tend to buy a lot of them. I mean, a lot of them. So I went back on eBay to look for more, and I found a great little offering from Australia selling antique, new in box, post office pen nibs from England in gross boxes. It was all I could do to resist buying more than two boxes. Why I would ever need more than 288 pen nibs of the same size, is beyond comprehension. But I bought them."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Orne Library Postcard

From 1926, the main entrance of the Orne Library at Miskatonic University. Click through for the full-sized version.

The Orne Library is the third of the "Life In Arkham" postcards. After the release of the first two I received a lot of requests for more "recognizable" locations, and this is the result. I wanted a location that would fit in with the upcoming Miskatonic University package and looked to Brown University, one of Lovecraft's primary inspirations for his fictional college, to find it. When I discovered an almost pristine 1921 postcard of the school's library I thought it would make a perfect stand-in for the Orne Library.

The image here is freely available under a Creative Commons license. An actual postcard will be included with the Miskatonic package that should be (he said, crossing his fingers) available at the end of this week.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Flying The Colors

"Miskatonic U School Colors? Anyone happen to know what they might be?"

That's what launched this thread at Yog-Sothoth. The very helpful Gil Trevizo points out that Chaosium's "Miskatonic University" supplement specifies the schools colors as purple and black.

Me? As I wrote there, I vote for Cardinal Red and White based on the "WDBUD?" test. By default I assume that any attribute of Miskatonic University not specified by Lovecraft (or another author*) can be discovered by asking "What Does Brown University Do?" or some variation thereof. Brown claims Seal Brown, Cardinal Red, and White as their school colors. It seems fair to shamelessly steal two of those and leave the school it's namesake color out of respect.

Outside of that justification I have no basis for the red and white color choice other than the fact that I think it looks good.

* I probably should have written "another established author". If Campbell, Derleth, or Smith had said purple and black I'd give that color scheme some more weight.

Horror Under Glass

An incredibly creepy bottled specimen of unknown origin from artist Derek Walborn.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Instant Soundtrack

Following up on yesterday's post recommending Audacity, I wanted to give a pointer to a collection of 1920's big band music from Abe Lyman and his band at the Internet Archive . In terms of authenticity it can't be beat and it makes a killer soundtrack for a session. I know there are folks that will disagree, but I think the endlessly cheery and upbeat nature of the music helps amplify the horror when things really start to fall apart during a game. Another effective technique is to produce a version of the loop that's slightly off-speed with a little reverb and phasing mixed in. Carefully crossfading between the two can really ratchet up the tension.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Audacity Of Fear

The distant rumbling of thunder.

The steady drip, drip, drip of water inside a darkened cave.

The cheerful sounds of a big band radio broadcast serving as an ironic soundtrack while an investigator is ripped limb from limb by...something.

One of the most effective ways to increase the immersiveness of a game, either pen and paper or live action, is to judiciously incorporate sound effects and music. Thanks to the incredible growth of desktop computing power even the most modest systems are capable of playing back high-quality sound on demand. More importantly, they have enough horsepower to make creating multi-track audio easier than ever before.

For basic editing one of the best tools available is Audacity, an open source program that's available without charge for a number of popular operating systems. The learning curve isn't too challenging and you'll find it has some powerful standard features as well as a library of downloadable effects.

Spend some time experimenting with the tutorials available at the website and you'll soon be capable of editing together feature length programs, creating new sound effects using existing source files, or recreating the sound of a period wax cylinder.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Little Housekeeping

I'll be fiddling around with the links over the weekend a bit. There are a few I've been meaning to add and some that, sadly, no longer belong. An example of the latter would be "Indy Mogul". It used to be filled with helpful prop and makeup tutorials, but over the last few months it turned into a feeble comedy and movie review site.

Cthulhu's Army

He's risen from R'lyeh...and he's not alone.

"Dogfender" has posted an album of pictures documenting the creation of a Cthulhu-themed wargaming army. There have been a few different projects like this, but his kitbashed/customized Cthulhu figure is one of the best efforts I've ever seen:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Miskatonic Memories

Artist "lishmo123" has posted pictures of a wonderful Miskatonic University scrapbook on Flickr. It mixes existing Miskatonic paper props from the HPLHS with found objects and a huge dose of creativity to create an amazing collectable.

Browse through the entire photostream and you'll find their talent isn't limited to Lovecraftiana.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Miskatonic Project Rolls On

First off, here's a scan of the pre-production proof of the Miskatonic University embroidered patch.

Both the patch and pin are just entering production, so it might be a bit of tight thing for them to make the original project deadline. The one thing working in my favor is that the factory making them is within driving distance of my house, so there won't be much of a delay getting them once they're done.

In other news, the print run for the Miskatonic notebooks finished yesterday and they're currently en route from the west coast. Delivery is scheduled for the 29th, but before then I expect to have a chance to show off the finished product. There was a last minute change in plans that I think you'll find interesting.

First, There Was The Word

Slowly, but surely, the creation and collecting of props based on literary sources is gaining a wider audience. That's why I was particularly glad to see that a new blog focusing on the hobby was recently launched: Novel Props. I'm looking forward to seeing the kind of things people are creating outside of my own Lovecraftian interests.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fiat Lux

"Taking a pocket flash light from my valise, I placed it in my trousers, so that I could read my watch if I woke up later in the dark." - The Shadow Over Innsmouth, 1936

That line leapt out at me as I was re-reading Lovecraft's tale of a horribly corrupted seaside town over the weekend. My mental picture of his stories is usually illuminated by flickering candles or lanterns, but battery powered flashlights were available at the turn of the century and in widespread use by the end of WW I. By the time of the "classic" Mythos era of the 1920's and 30's there were a plethora of models available, as demonstrated by the incredible archive at The Flashlight Museum .

Inside you'll find hundreds of battery powered lights of every possible shape and function. If you're looking for an absolutely authentic prop for a live action game it's an invaluable resource for identifying appropriate candidates found on Ebay, like this vest pocket light manufactured in 1920 by British Ever Ready:

Or this surprisingly modern looking Eveready model from 1923:

A 1929 model from Bond made from rubberized fibreboard and steel:

And a Utica brand penlight from 1930:

What strikes me the most from browsing their collection is that almost any flashlight without obvious plastic bits seems to qualify as a "good enough" prop for game use. In a perfect world everyone would carry around an $85 antique from 1925, but there's something to be said for using an almost identical $4 Eveready from the 1960's.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This Week's Crass Commercialism

I have a number of bottled specimens up on Ebay this week, including one of the parasitic worms created for last week's tutorial. I shudder to think what my penchant for worm-like critters says about my mental health.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Miskatonic Lecture Card

What, you think they let just anyone into the operating gallery at the medical school? Click through for the full sized version.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Classic Photo Archive

Reader Alban was kind enough to send me a link to the Gimp Savvy photo archive. It's a collection of copyright-free images from various government agencies including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The NOAA section includes vintage shots from meteorological expeditions around the globe that would be ideal for re-purposing into a Mythos context.

Clearly, a well funded expedition.

Ancient ruins?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stone Cthulhu Statue

This Cthulhu idol carved from real stone is currently up for auction on Ebay .

I'm not a fan of overly anthropomorphic depictions of Cthulhu, but the fact that this was carved from actual rock trumps any concerns on that front. You have to respect Mythos art that can be used to inflict lethal blunt force trauma.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Miskatonic Moves On

The Miskatonic project is moving along, but I'm increasingly glad that I give these things a month to actually get done. The notebooks are already approved and being printed, but it wasn't until today that the pre-production samples for the patches and pins started getting made. Between production and shipping time the finished goods should arrive in time (cross my fingers) for the scheduled October date.

In the meantime I've been thinking about changing the way I do business a little bit. Since the first run of Antarctic patches last year I've always made things available on a Sunday and then spent the next week sending out packages every morning. For the Miskatonic project I'm going to try something different and make the full sets available on Saturday, October 3rd. That way I can spend both Saturday and Sunday taking the initial rush of orders and get everything in the mail Monday morning.

I'm also going to be fiddling around with my packaging. I've been using three different kinds of mailers to handle different items, but once I use up my current supply I'm going to switch to bubble envelopes for everything. The cardboard mailers were great when everything I sold could be packed flat, but since the lapel pins have become such a popular item I need something that can handle them without requiring excessive folding.

Truly, I lead a life of adventure and excitement. Who needs fiction when decisions about what kind of envelope to use can consume days of your life? Heh.

Miskatonic Faculty Night Out

This year's Dragon*Con provided a rare opportunity for the faculty and staff of Miskatonic University to enjoy a rare night out on the town.

The ID cards and the collection of photographs from the con were created by Leesa Willis. You can read more about her adventures at Dragon*Con over at her blog.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tom Banwell, Collected

The amazingly talented Tom Banwell has put together a new portfolio of his work.

One of the reasons I like Mr. Banwell so much is that he goes out of his way to show the process behind the crafting of his works. He not only creates beautiful things, but goes into the steps required to produce the finished piece. A cool prop or piece of Mythos artwork is even more interesting when the person behind it provides a glimpse at the technical details of making it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Quick Thanks

My thanks to Trevor Brennan to adding Propnomicon to his blog roll. I'm not sure if I should be proud or ashamed that I also had my first link from 4chan today. Heh.

Healthwise, I think I'm over the worst of the flu. I still have some chest congestion, but my treatment plan of sleeping for 24 hours, with occasional breaks of wakefulness to swallow fluids and aspirin, seems to have done the trick.

MRG Studios

Mike Gordon of MRG Studios has posted pictures of a wonderful collection of occult artifacts and antiquities at his website.

There's some wonderful prop work on display there, but one of his "MRG Studios Old Time Medicine Bottles"...

...looks a bit familiar.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

And A Boom Boom: C4 Explosives Prop

The Stargate SG-1 costuming forum has a handy tutorial on how to make your own prop block of C-4 plastic explosive. It's exactly the kind of thing that would come in handy for a Delta Green-style game. Insert the usual disclaimer about not being an idiot while carrying or displaying prop explosives here.

"On the show they have two version of the prop C-4 plastique explosives, one made from a block of wood, and the other from a block of plasticized clay. The clay based one is used when they need to stick a detonator in it. The wood one are for carrying or just holding since they are much lighter then the clay version.

The overall dimentions of the block of C-4 is the same as 4" long piece of 2"x4" lumber. 4" long by 3" Tall by 1.5" thick.

The wrapping is made from the same type of paper that those brown paper bags are made out of."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Worm Turns

Surprisingly enough, I do a lot of decorating for Halloween.

I used to be involved with a number of haunted house attractions and loved the kind of big, flashy props that those environments require. Electric chairs with flashing strobe lights and maniacs wielding roaring chainsaws are certainly effective, but as I've grown older I've developed an appreciation for a smaller, more intimate approach that places atmosphere and theatricality above cheap shocks. These days I'd much rather create props that are creepy and disquieting.

This particular project involves creating realistic parasitic worms for a "thing in a bottle" display. When finished, you'll have a reasonably realistic depiction of some of the (image warning) most gruesome real-life creatures in the world. Having a few preserved specimens on display should go a long way towards making your Halloween decorating memorable. Best of all, this is an amazingly cheap and easy project that can be finished in an hour or two.

To make our worms we'll be using liquid latex (Capitol brand latex carpet adhesive in this example, $3 at Home Depot), a glass cutting board, some off-white acrylic craft paint, and a cheap craft brush:

After cutting off the tip of the liquid latex squeeze out a line of the material on the glass sheet. Make sure you have good ventilation, since the ammonia in the latex reeks to high heaven.

A line about 6 inches long should be more than enough.

Now stipple the latex with the craft brush, spreading it out into a thin layer on the glass.

Once the latex is spread thin squeeze out a drop or two of the craft paint and stipple it on top of the latex. The stippling process not only mixes the paint in with the latex, but helps everything dry faster by increasing the surface area.

Now wait.

And wait.

And wait.

After about ten minutes the latex should be just slightly tacky to the touch. If it sticks to your finger when you tap it give it more time to dry. When it's fully dry use your fingertip to start rolling it up from one side by dragging your finger across the latex. It should come right off the glass and start forming a tube shape as it sticks to itself.

Once you have a good edge established you can use the length of your hand to continue rolling the edge over.

When you roll up the last of the latex from the glass sheet you'll have your parasitic worm.

The only thing worse than a thread-like worm devouring you from the inside out is a whole colony of worms turning your innards into a buffet, so make extras.

Ick! Now all you have to do is bottle 'em up. Congratulations, you're now on your way to having a display of specimens any mad scientist would be proud of.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Home Stretch

I want to thank everyone that has offered suggestions over the last few days for the Miskatonic notebook. Each little tweak and adjustment has made it better, and you've been able to see things that I didn't because of my proximity to the project. Frankly, because of your help I think this is going to be the coolest thing I've ever made. Here's the final design:

And the modified design for one of the Expedition notebooks that, hopefully, I'll be doing as part of the "Black Friday" project:

I put in the order for the Miskatonic patches and pins yesterday, and I'll be ordering the notebooks today.

Elder Thing

It's still a work in progress, but this Elder Thing is coming along quite nicely. At a guess, assuming the base has a grid of holes spaced 1" apart, this sculpt is over a foot high.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Miskatonic Notebook Layout

Here's the preliminary design for the Miskatonic Field Journal. The minor title and font change should avoid any problems with the nice folks at Field Notes while still capturing the look of a period fieldbook. The front cover elements are slightly off center (about 1/16th of an inch to the right) to account for the distortion from the cover fold.

As always, your feedback is appreciated. If the cover meets with your approval I'll get everything ordered later today.

Update: A few minor revisions based on your excellent suggestions. I shrank both the seal and the title to open up some more space on the cover and added the "No __________ of __________" line to the back cover. If the Miskatonic books go over well I'll use the same layout for the expedition books, but with "Expedition Fieldbook" as the title.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


So I'm Googling around, putting together the back cover notations for the Miskatonic notebook, when I realize there might be a problem .


The last thing I want to do is step on the toes of what, by all accounts, is a great company producing an excellent product. But, lets be real- it's going to be hard to explain "See, I used the Futura font for the "At the Mountains of Madness" Antarctic expedition patch, which was the original inspiration for what turned into the Miskatonic notebook, so that's why my big, honking "Field Notes" title looks identical to yours." Much less the whole concept of a "Field Notes" notebook in and of itself.

Clearly, I'll be needing at least a new cover title. "Scientific Notebook" or "Observation Notebook", anyone?

Aging Paper: Getting Rough

Artist Lisa Vollrath of "Go Make Something" has a great mini-tutorial on aging paper using abrasives like sandpaper and steel wool.

"One thing to note about sanding blocks is that they pick up the ink color of whatever is being sanded, as sort of a fine dust. This is a good thing while you’re sanding that piece, because the dust tones the piece and mellows the colors, but not so great when you move on to the next piece, whose colors may be completely different. Wipe the blocks down with a soft cloth after use to remove any loose dust. I’ve actually exploited this quality by sanding a gessoed board, then sanding a paper I wanted to lighten—the white dust gives a sort of ghostly haze to the paper."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Miskatonic Run

There seems to be enough interest in the Miskatonic patches and lapel pins to justify a small run of 100 apiece. This is the color version of the Miskatonic University logo I'm planning on using for the patch. Like the previous efforts, it will be 4" (10 cm) in diameter with a heat sensitive backing so it can be ironed on to clothing or hats. The price would be $5-$6 individually.

This is the proposed artwork for the lapel pin. It will be 1" (2.5 cm) in diameter and have the same antiqued brass finish as the previous pins. Everything rendered in white will be raised and polished brass, while the black areas will have a darkened, textured finish. The price would be $7-$8 individually.

As with the previous runs buying both the patch and the lapel pin would be cheaper, with a combined set costing $12-$13.

Finally, we come to the wildcard item- the Miskatonic pocket notebooks. After doing some experiments using the Moleskine Cahier notebooks it became obvious that producing them that way was going to be waaaaaaay too expensive. That's when I discovered Pinball Publishing and their "Scout Books". They're the only printer outside of China producing notebooks without the ugly and anachronistic vinyl and "leatherette" covers that infest the under $5 price point. Here are the specs for the books from their website:

Finished Size - 3.5"x5" with 1/4" Rounded Corners
Pages - 32 (blank, lines or grid)
Cover Paper - Chipboard 20pt 100% Recycled Craft
Interior Paper - 100% Recycled White 70lb

I ordered a sample copy and really like the finished product. The covers are sturdy and attractive while the interior pages don't bleed through like cheaper weights of paper do. Pinball offers a number of ink colors for the cover printing, but I like the utilitarian look of basic black. Here's a quick mock-up of the cover design:

These notebooks not only make great, well, notebooks, but their prop potential is almost limitless. Priced individually they're going to be $3-$4, but I can probably swing including them with the patch and lapel pin for a final price of $14.99.

I still have to settle on a final design for the notebook, including how to use the entire blank canvas of the back cover, so I have a few days to get your input. What do you think? Is $15 for all three Miskatonic items affordable enough? Is there anything else you would like to see included?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Really, Really Vintage Massachusetts Seal

The official government seal back when Massachusetts still had a king. Just click through for the high resolution version.