Strange things are afoot in the world of Antarctic expeditions, and our stalwart explorers set about figuring out what exactly is going on that is causing them so much trouble.
Here's a look at my 15" MacBook Pro and 27" Thunderbolt Display during a game. I use my 27" as my primary display, on which I have the 2nd edition manuscript open (which I've highlighted and annotated as needed), a 'todo' list for the chapter(s) we're playing, Skype (which I wish I could turn into a much smaller horizontal strip), Chrome with Roll20 open and Call Recorder for Skype running.
On the MacBook to my left, I have the soundboard and Nicecast, which is broadcasting the Soundboard audio stream (I don't really need that open) and finally Numbers, with my investigator matrix, where I can quickly look up the stats for all the investigators.
The crew (not counting the six player characters) of the 1933 Starkweather-Moore Expedition.
When we were going through the manifests, the question about what exactly the caustic soda was being brought along for? So I wrote Chaz Engan, who wrote me back that: "Caustic soda is intended to absorb CO2 in the air renewal systems when flying at altitude".
So there you have it. It's also what Tyler Durden uses to mark the hand of the narrator in Fight Club, should that sort of thing somehow come in handy.
Double whammy, as the keeper talks through his prep and execution of the second and third sessions.
The expedition members begin the arduous task of auditing the manifests, and discover that all is not as it should be. A strange note arrives, a noted sea captain is found dead and a package disappears under mysterious circumstances.
A few snapshots from the session:
The keeper talks through his experience of preparing to run Beyond the Mountains of Madness, and how the character generation and first session came together.
And so here it is, the first episode of the session recordings, in which the investigators are hired by the Starkweather-Moore Expedition, do some initial research, and finally meet up in New York as the expedition readies for the long journey southward.
The sound quality is at times questionable, due in part to Skype, and in part to my recording myself from the wrong microphone. Apologies, it gets better by session 2.
I found this schematic of professor Frank H. Pabodie's drilling rig used by the Miskatonic University Expedition, and in particular by Lake's party near the mountains, in their finding of the fossil caves. I aged it a bit, but beyond that I cannot take any credit for it.
The Amherst Hotel in New York was where Starkweather and Moore set up their temporary headquarters as the expedition readied for departure, renting out the 4th and 5th floors. Seeing as I live in New York, I made it my business to go there and walk around the neighborhood (as well as walk the distance down to Pier 74, to get a good feeling for how far away it is from the hotel; about 23 minutes as it were).
One of the big inspiration for At the Mountains of Madness was Admiral Byrd's first Antarctic expedition from 1928 to 1930, from which Lovecraft drew many details that he would transplant onto the Miskatonic University Expedition. Byrd wrote a 100-page piece for National Geographic Magazine, which was published in August 1930 as The Conquest of Antarctica By Air. It's listed in Beyond the Mountains of Madness on page 14 under 'More Reading'.
Issues are available on eBay all the time, starting at around a mere $6 (my copy is from there). But you can also download it as a 172-page PDF, which although lacking in resolution, will give you a way to read Byrd's extensive details on the expedition without adding yet another book to your library.
Here's a period correct map from cirka early 1930s of Manhattan and surrounding areas. Click through for print-ready size.
Above is a photo of Pier 74, as it appeared in 1951; in all likelihood not so different from how it appeared in 1933 when the Starkweather-Moore Expedition's ship The Gabrielle lay there before it's southward journey. And lo and behold, the ship moored there is even at a glance reminiscent of The Gabrielle (although the Gabrielle was of course moored on the the north-side, Pier 74-B).
After intaking copious amounts of Christmas food, I figured it was time to get out and about a bit, so I set about visiting the former home of Pier 74. The pier, as can be seen in the map below, is just off of 34th street on the Hudson River, although today it along with most of the other piers along Manhattan are gone, and in its place is a parking lot and of course water. Pier 76 still stands and is today home to the New York City Police Tow Impound, but beyond that there isn't much of interest to see here. Should you happen to be visiting New York ComicCon, it's a short stroll from the convention center down to the water.
Peculiarly, according to Beyond the Mountains of Madness, Pier 74 had rail tracks for unloading from train cars, although this map, which must therefor be incorrect, does not show them.
While our game takes place entirely over Roll20 thanks to our geographic diversity, I nevertheless feel compelled to collect artefacts relating to the story both for my own amusement, but even at a distance to instill a sense of 'it could have been'. This commemorative coin from the Miskatonic University Antarctic Expedition is at the same time amazing simply because of its distinct air of authenticity (although being 81 years old, it could do with some dinging up, but now we're just nitpicking), yet it is also completely pointless.
At $25 it's a little expensive for something which at least with regards to this campaign, can't really be used as a prop anyway, at least beyond 'here's a box of leftover stuff from the previous expedition'. There's no faulting the quality of the coin itself though, which is quite frankly perfect. The 3D effect created by the embossing is above and beyond what you could reasonably expect from something as fringe as this. The front shows the Dornier aircraft used by the expedition surrounded by the words 'Miskatonic University Antarctic Expedition 1930 - 1931', and the back shows the Miskatonic and the Arkham approaching the Ross Ice Shelf, and on both sides the names of the expedition leaders, Pabodie, Lake, Atwood and Dyer, are listed around it.
So. Why? Why buy this? Why does it even exist?
Well, if you've been possessed by the ice, and you're driven by haunting nightmares of immense black peaks against a white infinite horizon, you'll know why.
As part of the invitation package, I wrote a letter from Professor Moore to prospective explorers and crew, detailing himself, as well his and Starkweather's relationship and the expedition's ambitions and equipment. For Moore's handwriting, I used a font based off of Lovecraft's own cursive handwriting from The HP Lovecraft Historical Society. I then printed the letter on normal white paper, three pages, and folded it in thirds.
From the offices of Dr. Moore
April 22, 1933
My Dear Sir,-
I must firstly apologize for writing you without us having been formally introduced, although I hope you will nevertheless find the time to read what I have to say, as I think it could be of great interest to you indeed.
I am the latter part of the half-eponymous Starkweather-Moore Antarctic Expedition, of which I imagine you may have heard as we have seen a good deal of press in the last few months. And as you may then know, we're set to sail from New York later in the year and are currently staffing for expedition members for said voyage. As it happens, we are very much in need of a person of your particular skill set, and as I'm sure you understand, it would be the chance of a lifetime for anyone in your position to join our efforts towards that far, desolate frontier at the bottom of the world.
I imagine that you are familiar with my business partner Mr. James Starkweather, renowned war veteran, guide, explorer, author, lecturer and, dare one say, man of the world that he is. We have known each other since he first led a Miskatonic expedition to the Himalayas in 1925, of which I was a part, it was later the subject of his popular book "Survival at the World's Roof” (1926), and he again joined another Miskatonic expedition I led to Costa Rica in 1930. We've since grown quite attached to exploring the world, one might say.
As for myself, I hold the Smythe Chair of Paleontology and specialize in geology and paleontology, having graduated from Miskatonic University Summa Cum Laude (my graduate thesis was "A Reassessment of the Age of the Earth") and received my doctorate from Yale (doctoral thesis was on "The Theoretical Compositional Dynamics of Asteroids, Drawn from an Analysis of the Composition and Organization of Elements in Meteorites"). As I noted above, I've taken part in several expeditions before, and I led a small expedition myself in fact, to the Arctic in 1923 where we drilled for ice cores; extremely fascinating stuff.
At Miskatonic I studied under, and later worked directly with Professor Dyer, whose name you'll undoubtedly recognize from the tragid 1930-31 Miskatonic Expedition to the Antarctic. The disaster that struck poor Professor Lake's party on the ice was most tragic indeed. He is missed dearly by us all.
The Precambrian findings, which you'll have heard of I'm sure, were nevertheless remarkable in the extreme! The implications of the fossil specifmens from Lake's site, even if they were, as some would suggest, exaggerated or misunderstood, could change our view of biology, geology, nay all of science even! And that's why we're going back.
We are outfitting the 7.5 ton steamer "Gabrielle", which will carry our nearly 50-person crew as well as our three Boing 247s, a Fairchild FC-2 monoplane as well as two improved Padodie ice melting drill sets and of course a whole gaggle of sled dogs! I hope you will excuse my excitement, but what I mean to imply, is that we'll be quite well-equipped for the otherwise forbidding and remote desolation of the South Pole. This is truly a state-of-the-art expedition, with equipment Dyer and Lake could only have dreamt of a few years ago, and we mean to make history!
Our trip begins in New York in early September, heading south along the American coast and crossing through the Panama Canal before the final length of our journey to Ross Island, home to Mts. Erebus and Terror, off the coast of Victoria Land in McMurdo Sound, where we will set up our base-camp. From there, as you have also undoubtedly heard, our intent is to make use of the aeroplanes to cross in-land to Lake's camp, if indeed we will be able to find it, and pay our respects. And then finally we'll cross over those famous, amazing peaks of the Miskatonic Mountains to the plateau beyond it, where we will plant our flag and “write ourselves into history”, as Starkweather is so fond of saying.
I hope sincerely that you will consider joining us in doing just that, and travel with us on this opportunity of a lifetime!
It falls on me to spread the message about our needs for experts to join us, so tell your friends! Geologists, biologists, physicists, zoologists, cartographers, radio operators, metereologists, glaciologists, oceanografists, polar guides, pilots, mechanics, doctors, mountaineers and so on and so forth! Our needs are many indeed.
Yesterday I sent out six telegrams to my prospective players, each containing a short invitation to join the upcoming 1933 Starkweather-Moore Expedition to the Antarctic, it ends by stating that I'll be sending along more information. Tomorrow I'm sending en envelope containing two articles about the expedition, a period-correct map, a passport and two letters, one from Professor Moore (3 pages, in the hand writing of H.P. Lovecraft himself), and a short bravura note from Starkweather.
The penguin is a USB key containing a custom 40-page National Geographic from 1931, covering the Miskatonic expedition, interspersed with photos from the mountains and Lake's camp (this is an edited version of the Antarctic guide from the BtMoM book, from which I removed all rules and anything that can spoil the story).
There's also a 12-minute recording of the Wireless transmissions from Lake's camp (I cut up a 'radio play' and aged the recording significantly, and overlaid it with appropriate sound effects, such as actual barking sled dogs), as well as a 20-minute recording of Worldwide Wireless News's interviews (same with this, although I also interspersed it with musical interludes) with the expedition members and other coverage.
here's also a 10-minute Newsreel covering the expedition (Thank you HPLHS).
Furthermore I put together a 90-minute soundtrack consisting of tracks from a variety of composters, including Erdenstern, Goldenthal, Desplat, Goldsmith, Ligeti, Beltrami (and the sound of actual Antarctic wind).
Finally I included some radio plays of Lovecraft's stories and a version of the Trail of Cthulhu Player's Guide in which I removed all references to At the Mountains of Madness.
The package was received very well indeed, and caused one player's wife to exclaim that he had no other choice but to join the game.
Man endeavors not a voyage to the ends of this Earth without anticipating, or even yearning for, adventure. Yet for all their preparations and in spite of the strange and mystifying reports from the Miskatonic University Expedition only a scant two and a half years prior, none of the men whose story are here relayed to you could have expected what they ultimately endured on that remote, desolate continent of ice.
Amazing and terrifying though it will seem, as it passed through journals, telegrams, newspapers, wireless broadcasts, rare recordings, hastily written notes and reluctant tales from survivors, as it unfolds you will nevertheless come to sense that there is more at work here than fiction would ever hope to portray.
As with so many stories, this one too has its roots in the greatest city on Earth.
New York – September 1st, 1933
It had been a warm summer that year, with temperatures peaking at 102˚F, hardly the kind of weather in which one's mind turned easily towards the South Pole and its frozen wasteland. Preparations were underway for the Starkweather-Moore Antarctic Expedition. Docked at pier 74-B on the Hudson River was 20-year-old Gabrielle, a 7,500 ton steamer, which would serve as home to the expedition members and the ship's crew, all eighty of them, for the next several months as they made their way south to their ultimate goal, Ross Island.
The purpose of this journal then, is to present, without judgement, the surviving material and the narrative it presents, whatever the consequences.