Abraham Lincoln

Episode 65: Cherubs Who Have Aged Out

November 15th, 2013 | Robin

We put down our catalogues of iron rations and guaranteed unpossessed cats to venture into the Gaming Hut and discuss the allure of shopping and gear in roleplaying games.

Inside the perimeter of the Tradecraft Hut we round up such national security concerns as Angela Merkel’s cellphone and the secret Twitter life of dismissed White House staffer Jofi Joseph.

Corwyn Pendragon Asks Ken and Robin to name their touchstone works on story and structure.

Finally Ken uses his high-level Consulting Occultist borrowing privileges to scrutinize the legendary Voynich Manuscript.

A new honor roll of sponsors joins us to help keep the podcast going.

Serving as anchor sponsor this week is author Stephen Jankiewicz. Among his many works, KARTAS listeners may be most drawn to his weird tales in the Lovecraft tradition, as found in his collections Medusa, the Drowned and Other Tales and The Muse of the Monstrous. Check out his stuff on Amazon.


Slabtown Games joins us to tout Storyscape, a tablet-based tabletop roleplaying game Robin is currently designing for them.



Kotadama Heavy Industries invites you to explore Ryuutama: The Natural Fantasy RPG, translated by Matt Sanchez & Andy Kitkowski. Satisfy your yearning for travel and exploration by jumping aboard their successful Kickstarter campaign.


24 Responses to “Episode 65: Cherubs Who Have Aged Out”

  1. Carrie says:

    Oh wow, the Voynich Manuscript! Always A Favorite.

    So is this how I get a question in for Ask Ken and Robin? If it is, I’d love to hear Ken’s thoughts (because he lives there) on the Dresden Files, which are set in Chicago. If you want to get specific, John Marcone’s control of organized crime vs how it actually works, but the Dresden Files in general.

  2. Michael Cule says:

    Thank you for the review of the Voynich Manuscript: full of useful and exploitable details as always.

    And thanks for the exposition of the perils of shopping too! I have players who actually want me to role-play the shopping. I think I shall run those as flashbacks in future to show how the player got the vital thing he has just pulled from his backpack. And I’m surprised that you didn’t tout a little the idea from NBA of a Preparedness skill (I think it’s called that) to cover how well the characters react to the sudden surprises. (“Of course I have a rocket launcher…”)

    Is it wrong of me that the Gygaxian list I remember best is the random streetwalker list? “Haven’t got any harlots in stock? How are you set for trollops?”

    • Terry says:

      IIRC that was a random city encounter list, not an equipment list. And they didn’t ever tell you how many XP a brazen trollop was worth!

      • RogerBW says:

        Brazen strumpet, or cheap trollop. I don’t know, players these days….

        RPGs have been described as “fantasy shopping for guys”, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate. For people who like optimisation problems, choosing equipment is an interesting one, much like choosing powers or skills or anything else that’s constrained by an overall budget (of character points, weight, etc.). If the players enjoy this, it’s not my place as GM to tell them to stop having the wrong sort of fun.

        One could reasonably argue that the thing which most distinguishes RPGs from other narrative forms is that in a conventional RPG all the resolutions are set up first: in the short-term, tactical situation at least, it’s all about being clever with what you have, rather than developing your character’s moral or heroic attributes. In a game that’s played in strict narrative order, which I think most RPGs still are, you have to set up everything in the knowledge that most of it isn’t going to pay off (because unlike the scriptwriter the players don’t know at this moment what will be relevant); to get round that problem means detaching from linear time, with some sort of abstract preparation level mechanic (“I pay two plot points to be wearing my magnetic watch”) or even explicit flashbacks as in something like 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars.

        I’ve seen template-based systems that pair equipment with the abilities that use it: get the ninja package, and your equipment list gets the concealable sword and climbing gloves as your skill list gets Holdout and Climbing.

        The crew at are notorious for digressing into in-character food and shopping whenever a Call of Cthulhu adventure gets slow.

  3. KenR says:

    Building on Carrie’s question, what tools do you think are effective in establishing a sense of “place” when writing or running a game?

    I know that I don’t feel like Dresden’s version Chicago is much like the one I’ve been to, but that the depictions of WWII-era Paris and Berlin in Tim Powers’ Declare seemed “right”. Do you have some advice on making places feel different from one another and/or truthful to the actual location?

  4. BenjaminJB says:

    I’ve really been enjoying the podcast, from the recurring updates on Rob Ford (always nice to get a boots-on-the-ground perspective from you, Robin) to the reports from film festivals that I am nowhere near. Since I moved from Chicago to a small city in Texas, my access to theatrical releases of these movies has shrunk.

    Which leads to my question: Would you ever consider adding a home viewing occasional segment? I have a list of “to be watched” on Netflix that only grows, never shrinks, but I’d still be interested in your suggestions about hidden gems, either as films or as sources for gaming ideas.

  5. Morgan Ellis says:

    Or if you want to get really meta about using the Voynich Manuscript in your RPG there is always this possibility.

  6. John Willson says:

    You guys get the best sponsors. I want to get/read/play every single one so far.

  7. Graeme says:

    Thought Robin might appreciate this Rob Ford image:

  8. Many thanks for Ken & Robin for accompanying me on my recent trip to Europe. I downloaded the last dozen-odd episodes to my phone and listened to them as I wandered the streets of Helsinki and Berlin, and let them gently sing me to sleep on those long, dreary flights between Australia and the rest of the civilised world. It would have been a much duller trip without their help.

    Now, a question for the pair:
    We’ve gone from one Lovecraftian RPG (CoC) to over a dozen – Trail of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu, De Profundis, The Laundry, Macabre Tales, Nemesis, d20 CoC, Shadows of Cthulhu, tremulus and I’m sure there are others that I’ve missed.

    Without delving into discussion about which is ‘best’ (because that’s meaningless and kind of boring), I’m curious as to what you think stands out in each of these games (or at least in the ones you know) – what interesting point of difference is there and how does it shine a different light on Lovecraftian horror?

  9. Gene Ha says:

    For others interested in some of the drama theory books listed, most of which have hard to decipher author name spellings (Gerhold? Gerald? Chertliff? Shertlev? Andacci?):

    [Pernicious! Bad!] Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting Paperback by Syd Field

    [Stupid heroic monomyth] The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

    Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays by Northrop Frye

    Star Trek: The Trouble with Tribbles: The Birth Sale and Final Production of One Episode by David Gerrold

    Audition by Michael Shurtleff

    The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

    Danse Macabre by Stephen King

  10. Richard Fryer says:

    As an Ask Ken and/or Robin – I enjoyed the discussion on music and I was wondering what advice and idea’s you had for incorporating lighting in gaming – candles, colours, special effects etc.

  11. Mike Schiffer says:

    I think Tolkien did spend some attention on gear: Sam, in particular, goes through an entire mini-drama over rope that crosses over at least two of the books. Likewise his cooking gear (which results in plot-important interactions with Gollum and Faramir; its later abandonment in Mordor is pretty much his acknowledgment that barring a miracle they’re not coming back). Other characters grumble at their lack of tobacco or being forced to leave without packing, and most if not all the gifts from Galadriel are either Chekhov’s Guns or character notes.

    Shopping, on the other hand, is totally alien. The only instance I can think of is Butterbur spending too much to replace their stolen ponies, and that takes place offstage. Proper items are inheritances, gifts, or taken from the enemy. (I suppose one wouldn’t want to be the sort of person who bought one’s magic star-glass.)

  12. Scott Haring says:

    A couple questions for “Ask Ken and Robin” — 1) As horror mavens of the first degree, what is your opinion of the cable series “American Horror Story”? 2) While the fully-unchained Rob Ford is getting plenty of coverage (and ridicule) here in the US, the coverage is not answering a basic question: How did this guy get elected in the first place? What is his constituency, and how did he win them over? I don’t get it.

  13. John Willson says:

    The Voynich manuscript is fascinating. So mysterious and evocative! I’d love to hear about other REAL tomes and grimoires. And what’s the story behind the Vatican’s supposed secret archive of forbidden texts?

  14. Cowboy Wally says:

    Another strong episode. Thanks for the Trouble With Tribbles by David Gerrold tip! My brother had a copy (he won it at a trivia contest at live show, which is a tremendous good time) and I am reading it now!

  15. Corwyn Pendragon says:

    Thank you for answering my question! That was a very helpful response and I am already making my way through Poetics.

  16. James says:

    In case you missed it, a couple of botanists believe that they can match plants in the Voynich Manuscript with plants in Mexico and other parts of Central America–by looking at very old botanical texts:

    I’m certainly no expert, but I do recall having been briefed by a leading ethnobotanist on the value of very old botanical texts–both for his particular field, and for botany in general.

    Fascinating, particularly when read in tandem with this article:

    Where the authors use mathematical analyses of the patterns of “letters” in the manuscript, to support the idea that the writings are language, not gibberish.

    Perhaps real-world links in the illustrations will eventually lead to a translation of the text–but I have to say, I’m ambivalent because it is a lovely mystery, and whatever the text actually says, it’s obvious it will be less interesting than any of Ken and Robin’s glosses.

  17. Chris Nolen says:

    And now Professor Steven Bax says he’s translated two words in the Voynich Manuscript:

    Which, if true, sounds like a toehold to me.

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