Last Fall, Paul Maclean, one of the major contributors to the excellent website Yog-Sothoth.com sent me a copy of a DVD-ROM entitled Lovecraftian Tales from the Table, which he thought I might enjoy, given my regularly avowed love of Call of Cthulhu. Owing to my busy schedule, I wasn't able to review the DVD immediately after receiving it. I know that sounds like a dodge and on some level, it is. In my defense, though, properly reviewing Lovecraftian Tales from the Table is a time-consuming process, as it consists of over a hundred hours of MP3s and video clips, in addition to many megabytes of PDFs and other remarkable extras, about which I'll talk later in this post. Finding the time to sample even a small portion of the material packed onto this inexpensive (£4.99 - less than $8 US at current exchange rates) was difficult and I felt an obligation to do more than simply sample the DVD's contents. Having now had the chance to take in the bulk of it, I can review it at last.
Though I refer to this product as Lovecraftian Tales from the Table, it is in fact called The Bradford Players present Lovecraftian Tales form the Table, containing as it does the recorded game sessions of a group of UK roleplayers from Bradford in West Yorkshire as they play two lengthy Call of Cthulhu campaigns, Masks of Nyarlathotep and Horror on the Orient Express. Listening to others as they play a RPG is always an odd experience for me. I'm simultaneously enthralled by hearing how others run their sessions and slightly embarrassed, as if I'm eavesdropping on the private conversations of others. It's an odd sensation and perhaps I'm peculiar in feeling it.
Regardless, the Bradford Players are a vibrant and engaging group of roleplayers. What comes through while listening to them is both their enthusiasm for Call of Cthulhu and their, for lack of a better word, ordinariness. I mean that as a genuine compliment. Too often I think gamers don't really believe that "normal" people play roleplaying games, but the Bradford Players put the lie to that notion. Likewise, the recordings reveal the Players having fun while playing. The sessions are not somber, serious events devoid of joy -- or out-of-character asides -- and, from my perspective, that's very appealing. I know that my own weekly gaming sessions are often unfocused and filled with bizarre digressions, so hearing the Bradford Players as they played through two classic campaigns reinforced my sense that this entertainment we call roleplaying involves more than pretending to be someone else in an imaginary world and that the socializing that inevitably goes along with it is just as important.
Along with the recordings of the Bradford Players, there are many excellent extras, such as video interviews with Greg Stafford, Sandy Petersen, and Ramsey Campbell, and many others associated with either Call of Cthulhu, Lovecraft, or both. There's a quickstart version of CoC, character sheets, handouts from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, the complete "Freeport Trilogy" from Green Ronin (and Cults of Freeport too), plus music, artwork, "best of" episodes from Yog Radio broadcasts, and much more. If DVD-ROMs possessed gills -- evidence of their Deep One ancestry perhaps? -- this one could fairly be said to be packed to them. Lovecraftian Tales contains lots of interest to fans of Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraft, but, honestly, I think the audio recordings of actual sessions will be of interest to gamers of all sorts, if only to see how others engage in this hobby we all share.
Considering that I've been regularly listening to Lovecraftian Tales from the Table on my computer while I write, I highly recommend this unique product. More than anything, it bubbles with enthusiasm and is a powerful example of what makes roleplaying a pastime to which many of us have devoted innumerable hours.
Presentation: 9 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 8 out of 10
Buy This If: You enjoy listening to others while they play a RPG campaign. (Mind you, it's worth it for the extras alone)
Don't Buy This If: You don't enjoy "actual play" recordings or have no interest in Call of Cthulhu or Lovecraft.