Thursday, April 22, 2010

REVIEW: Lovecraftian Tales from the Table

Last Fall, Paul Maclean, one of the major contributors to the excellent website 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.


  1. I found Lovecraftian Tales from the Table very entertaining as well. Well worth a listen!

  2. Excellent, thanks for the review and bringing this product to my attention. Its something I definetly will try to pick up and maybe, just maybe it will make me shout, "To hell with your wargaming!" and starting game RPG's heavily.

  3. I don't know how many solid hours I can devote to listening to gameplay (really, now long are those sessions?), but the extras sound worth every penny.

  4. Tsk, another reminder that I just don't have a copy of Masks. I just don't see the worth in a $30 PDF - I'd rather pay more for print in that case. Oh well, at least there are people out there still getting to enjoy it.

  5. Brunomac: The sessions are about 2.5 to 3 hours each.

    I listened through both campaigns last year while I working a job that allowed me such a luxury. Well worth a listen. As James points out, it's actually pretty gratifying to hear a group of hardcore CoC players still having fun with wisecracks, OOC comments, running injokes, and so forth. When I was younger, I'd always fret my group wasn't "doing it right" when we played Cthulhu or other would-be serious games.

    Another benefit I got out of listening to the games was, frankly, a dry run of two campaigns I still hope to run some day. When I do, I'll have an idea of how the campaigns actually play out, as well as some ideas to steal and other ideas of what not to do. ;)

    Of the extras, my favorite was the interview with Greg Stafford. His summation of the first game of Call of Cthulhu ever played at Chaosium is hilarious!

  6. Also, Jason: Chaosium is reprinting Masks this year! I know I'll be picking up a copy...

  7. If you pick up a copy of Masks of Nyarlathotep this summer, be sure to take a look at the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion too. This is a fan written volume devoted to expanding, developing, and supporting the campaign. It is very well done, even if I say so myself, and I am both co-editor and contributor.

  8. Unbelievable! I will be on top of both of these, thanks for the info and recommendation!

  9. Didn't know Masks was being released again. Might have to pick up a copy at Origins if it out at the time.

  10. I started listening to these games because I'd never played Call of Cthulhu and wanted to see what it was like. I was so entertained that I ordered it after listening to a couple of sessions.

    Even though I listened to the campaigns as they were released, I still bought my own copy of this DVD so I could listen again (which I've done a few time).

    I still can't stop laughing during the Masks campaign whenever Maddie is introduced to an NPC as "the inventor of the photographization process".

    I didn't know that Masks was being reprinted either, but you can bet your sweet bippy I'll be getting a copy. Every time I listen to one of the Bradford Players' campaigns it makes me want to buy my own, but unfortunately I don't do PDFs.

    Since the DVD, the Bradford Players have also completed Walker in the Wastes, and are part way through Tatters of the King.

  11. For the record, Mandy is a huge Violet Davenport fan.