At UKGamesExpo, I came across the Yog-Sothoth stand.
They run a great website and I used to listen to their Yog Radio podcast. What caught my eye, though, was a small pile of Elder Sign trolley tokens (or at least that’s what they looked like). There’s something calming about the idea of being able to shop in Tesco whilst protected from evil forces.
I then noticed a sign saying “get this signed book free if you buy anything from the table” so I started rummaging through the boxes of game supplements looking for something worth buying to entitle me to the reward. This search came to a halt when I discovered I only had a pocketful of change and they didn’t take plastic.
Just then, another customer turned up and bought one of the trolley tokens – a special request from a friend. “Here’s your free book, the last one left”, they were told. It hadn’t occurred to me that “buy anything from the table” included the box of cheap trinkets at the front and now the stock was all gone!
Paul Maclean (for I think it was he running the stand) noticed:
- One customer with a book they didn’t plan to own when they arrived
- Another customer without said book
and put the two together. After emptying my pockets of change, I ended up with the book and my fellow customer had his token effectively for free. Everybody seemed happy.
So now I’ve sat down and actually read a book, in its entirety, without leaving it unfinished for months/years. That hasn’t happened for a while – probably since Snuff, the last Discworld book I picked up – and is a cause for celebration.
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Anyone who takes part in roleplaying games will probably tell you the same thing – there is nothing less interesting than having to hear what happened in someone else’s game. The entertainment is of the moment and a creation of those in the game. Just like anecdotes of drunken nights out, gaming sessions do not travel well outside the group – basically, “you had to be there”.
Which makes this book a bit of a challenge as it is based on a gaming party’s trip through Chaosium’s 1991 epic Cthulhu campaign, “Horror on the Orient Express”. The novelisation is made up of selected texts from the diaries the characters in the game would have been keeping (in reality, the session notes of the keeper and players). Nick Marsh makes a good effort of writing diary entries for the different personalities involved and the story reads well, supported by lovely artwork by Eric Smith – as long as you don’t know it’s based on gameplay:
- Some things jarred, such as the regular trips to libraries and museums to perform research. In the game, you are playing investigators so such activities are expected. In a normal novel, I can’t imagine an author writing sections devoted to working through the stacks.
- When a leading character in the book died, I thought “ooh, I bet the player was gutted”. I had more empathy for the invisible person playing the character than for the character itself.
- And then when a new character joined the group, I thought “ah, there’s the replacement for the player’s dead character”.
I’ve read some reviews which describe the book as Agatha Christie meets The Thing which seems quite accurate. I had no idea what was going on until the big reveal and high speed chase at the end.
Educational bit –the adventure is set in the 1920s on the Simplon Orient Express, rather than the Orient Express. There was more than one? Apparently so and there’s a great map on Wikipedia to show them all. Essentially, you either went north or south of Switzerland to get to Turkey – the latter route went through the 20km-long Simplon tunnel, hence the name.