“There is Providence, quaint and lordly on its seven hills over the blue harbour, with terraces of green leading up to steeples and citadels of living antiquity…”
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft
In 2021, the world continued to suffer from a pitiless contagion while the stars above spun out of alignment leading to the cancellation of the fifth Necronomicon in Providence, Rhode Island. While veteran attendees lamented breaking the odd-year cycle, they happily flocked to Lovecraft’s beloved hometown for the international festival of weird fiction, art, and academia once more this year as it ran from August 18th through 21st. For us at Prospero House, this was our first sojourn to the quintessential convention for weird fiction and cosmic horror. We were but a solitary soul amidst 1,400 attendees, and we sampled but a small fraction of the rich and abundant offerings available to intrepid seekers. Words fail to sufficiently capture the singular experience, but we shall endeavor to render a rough sketch of our peculiar days and sleepless nights for you, dear reader.
Pre-Arrival (Tuesday and Wednesday):
As we sat at home making our preparations, we enviously noted the arrival of seasoned attendees, who began settling in and socializing before the packed schedule commenced. This allowed for reunions, exploring, and pick-up games, and we will certainly arrive well ahead of opening day in the future.
Consequently, we arrived most eager on the opening day of the convention just after noon. After a quick Uber voyage from Providence’s TF Green Airport, we dropped our bags at the Omni Hotel and immediately sought company amongst other devotees. Here we shall digress into the first of several proclamations about the truly incredible nature of the community present at Necronomicon. After quickly referencing the Miskatonic University Podcast Discord server, I located a group of unsuspecting folks enjoying lunch at a nearby Asian restaurant (Wok & Pot) and received a warm welcome from a complete group of strangers. Being amidst others with such niche interests offers instant comfort, and this initial encounter set a familiar tone that persisted throughout the con. At every encounter, lively and deep conversation with fellow enthusiasts flows naturally at Necronomicon. In just over a half hour, we learned of the incredible writing projects by fellow Good Friends Molly and VJ, discussed esoteric history and scenario development with additional late arrivals, and felt completely at home with friendly, like minds.
After our new companions departed to view a Body Horror exhibit and catch short films, we hastened back to convention headquarters at the Biltmore (Graduate) Hotel for Lovecraft’s College Hill Walking Tour. For a mere $12, we joined fifty rapt and respectful tourists for a profoundly informative trek with Rory Raven, an accomplished guide and Providence native. As a first-time attendee, this experience drove home a key aspect of what sets Necronomicon apart from similar events. This is THE destination for Lovecraft and his world. On our three-hour voyage, we saw “The Shunned House,” myriad sites from “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” and locales where Lovecraft resided and researched. The tour cemented Providence’s power of place, as we walked blocks upon blocks of historical homes, gazed at the city below from Prospect Park, and stood at Brown University’s gates imagining the scholars and students of Miskatonic University within. If possible, first-time attendees should embark on this journey to feel the essence of Lovecraft’s beloved city.
Our tour concluded outside the First Baptist Meetinghouse (where Joseph Curwen married Eliza Tillinghast) following an unexpected invitation into the Fleur-de-Lys Studio, which served as home to artist Henry Wilcox in the “The Call of Cthulhu.” Walking briskly back down Washington Street, we arrived with moments to spare for our first game of the weekend hosted by Game Mother Diesel, who ran his Alien RPG scenario “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” Panelist Heinrich Wilke, who traveled from Potsdam, Germany, joined us for his first TTRPG experience. The tense scenario unfolded as we watched darkness fall over Providence with a spectacular view from the gaming room on the Biltmore’s 17th floor.
Things reached a dramatic conclusion as our treacherous marine jettisoned our unsuspecting shipmates into space, and then we went to dinner. Although we missed an opportunity to play in Diesel’s recently released modern Call of Cthulhu scenario, “Cursed,” we thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to play for the first time with him in person. Sadly, we also missed Heinrich’s panels on Horror in Historical Context and Psychogeography in Weird Fiction, but we greatly appreciated the chance to pick his brain on the topics during our meal.
After consuming an obligatory order of sausage and peppers from local diner Nico Bella’s, we wandered over to the Party Under the Stars at the Red Door. Here we discovered the Big Nazo Intergalactic Creature Band laying down infectious grooves with their mutated appendages while their robotic backup dancers gyrated with audience members. This local performance group, which teaches a “creature class” at the Rhode Island School of Design, captivated con-goers and local passersby, alike. A thematically appropriate tentacle-faced giant slouched through the audience to everyone’s delight. As the band wound down, we found ourselves walking with a gregarious group to a nearby house party hosted by kindly con attendees and prolific actual play podcasters, Skype of Cthulhu. Here guests consumed raclette cheese and threw back peanut butter and jelly shots while “trying to keep the noise down.” We deliriously wandered back to our room after midnight amazed we had arrived just a little over 12 hours earlier.
Despite serious sleep debt, we energetically awoke for a short jog along the Providence River and back through Brown University Campus before meeting Keepers Bridgett and Dave for breakfast. After our first round of coffee, we were joined by Jesse of Undead Domain. Since this was the first Necronomicon for the three of us, Jesse shared some of his wisdom while a nidus for a pick-up game formed at the breakfast table. On a whim, we brought an extra set of pre-gens for “The Death of Superstition,” and submitted an offer to run it for anyone interested later that evening. Wheels began to turn.
We returned to the Omni Hotel for a visit to the Vendor Hall. For fans of the Cthulhu Mythos, horror, and weird fiction, this collection of merchants provided a wealth of fantastic wares, including books, art, jewelry, sculpture, and gaming materials. We had a chance to check out wares and chat with folks from Chaosium and the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, as well as the following Chaosium licensees: Bayt al Azif, Golden Goblin Press, Sentinel Hill Press, Sons of the Singularity, and Stygian Fox. We were especially delighted to see plenty of folks gathering at Limithron’s booth promoting their forthcoming Pirate Borg (more on this later). We particularly enjoyed talking with Jim from Fenham Publishing about his grandfather, C.M. Eddy, another weird fiction writer from Providence, who collaborated with both H.P. Lovecraft and Harry Houdini. We purchased a beautiful poster map of Lovecraft’s Providence from the impressive Jason Eckhardt after a lengthy conversation about Providence history and Detroit writer Loren D. Estleman. Finally, we took the opportunity to meet with Sentinel Hill Press’ one-man powerhouse, Bret Kramer, who has been a generous and invaluable resource for us. It was a treat getting to finally speak with Bret in person and hear more about the upcoming projects he’s got in the hopper (including a book we contributed to). We also had the honor of signing Heinrich Moore’s book and flipping through a hard-bound copy of his incredible Call of Cthulhu Guide to Character Creation. Over the weekend, we enjoyed several conversations with him about the Call of Cthulhu creative community and look forward to his continued work with the Miskatonic Repository.
After a quick lunch, we ascended to the 18th floor to run our scheduled Call of Cthulhu session—“The Death of Superstition.” The group of four players treated me to refreshing surprises, and we traversed some previously unexplored territory written into the scenario. While we ran our scenario, a cadre of expert Keepers ran crowds of people through the Extra Life event down in the Biltmore’s Poindexter Cafe. This wild experience allows participants to make cash donations benefiting the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals to modify the conditions of their (or the next table’s) thirty-minute Call of Cthulhu scenario. Survivors were treated to a final session with Call of Cthulhu Creative Director Mike Mason. By the end of my game, Keepers Dave and Bridgett managed to wrangle six players for our 7 pm pick-up game—while also running Extra Life.
After collecting our thoughts and refueling at Mokban, we headed back up to the 18th floor where we easily arranged for a table. The gaming staff, overseen by Jesse and Rob, provided excellent service all weekend keeping track of schedule changes, helping get games for walk-ins, and providing optimal playing conditions. While the area has been crowded in the past, they provided two floors of gaming this year, which allowed for adequate spacing, as well as ample spare tables for pick-up games. When available, they happily offered up private and semi-private gaming spaces.
The next four hours behind closed doors were pure delight. We got to play with a raucous, adept group of six players, who kept me on my toes from the very start. We bypassed multiple dice rolls thanks to compelling (and aggressive!) roleplaying around the table. Despite everyone’s clear exhaustion from the past several days, the group concluded the scenario with high energy, As the dust settled, it was incredibly invaluable getting feedback from such a formidable group. It was an indisputable highlight, as it crystallized the best qualities of Necronomicon— an intimate, high-quality collaborative experience.
Since it took us hours to come down from Friday night’s gaming, we awoke with a fierce need for caffeine and joined a group for coffee and sandwiches at Ellie’s, a popular breakfast spot. While gazing enviously at the French press on the opposite end of the table we caught up with old friends and made several new ones. Modestly caffeinated, we joined a small group attending a panel on Clive Barker. All the panelists demonstrated a wide breadth of knowledge on the topic and included Barker’s authorized biographer, Douglas E. Winter. The discussion here reflected the scholarship and expertise on display throughout the con’s panels. This is truly a place to come and expand your knowledge by contact with enthusiastic and learned champions. Following this panel, we intentionally selected topics we knew very little about, such as Manga artist Junji Ito, to broaden our horror horizons.
That afternoon we broadened our gaming horizons by partaking in a session of Jason Cordova’s Brindlewood Bay, a cozy, murder mystery game tinged with eldritch horror. Our power-walking, philanthropic granny named Mabel managed to successfully leap onto a museum’s suspended skeletal remains of a sperm whale to the shock of everyone present. This game run by Roll to Meddle podcaster and Brindlewood Bay writer, Jonah, really delivered the goods, and our group managed to solve the murder after some truly creative theorizing.
We downshifted from active gaming to spectator mode for the remainder of the late afternoon and evening. We excitedly dropped into the Pirate Borg Live Play led by creator Luke Stratton with a scurvy band featuring Keeper Bridgett, Paul Fricker, Mike Mason, and Cory Welch. We’ve been enjoying breaks from playtesting Call of Cthulhu scenarios lately by running a no-prep Pirate Borg campaign, and it was fantastic seeing how Luke runs his own game. If you missed this at the con or on the Twitch stream, we highly recommend checking it out here. This group ran straight into danger and handled it like pros…or something.
The crowd packed the Capitol Ballroom for the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s live performance of their latest Dark Adventure Radio Theatre production, Purgatory Chasm, an original story featuring a choose-your-own-adventure style. Six members of the audience selected the story path, and everyone else in the room provided amateur sound effects on cue. The HPLHS always provides a memorable experience, live or recorded. Really looking forward to the official release, so we can hear the other adventure paths.
Channeling both Vincent Price and Clark Kent, we returned to our room and quickly dressed for the Eldritch Ball. This year’s theme was Masque of the Red Death, so we leaned into familiar territory donning an ashen gray suit, blood red shirt, and a Prospero House button. The ballroom packed quickly with moody tunes provided by a DJ as people strutted in exquisite costumes. At the stroke of ten, Prince Prospero bid the revelers greetings and introduced a series of live performances, which proved both elegant and titillating. The final dance featured the Red Death, herself, who captivated the audience and left the doomed Prospero completely stunned. The party continued well after this, but Death arrived in another form and lured us into late-night cheesesteaks and milkshakes at the Haven Brothers mobile diner—another Providence classic.
After sleeping in, we performed penance for the greasy late-night binge by running out to Swan Point Cemetery to visit Lovecraft’s grave located on the Phillips plot. We noted the curious presence of a Tillinghast grave nearby. The author’s faded gravestone, featuring the inscription “I am Providence,” proved far less interesting than the offerings, which included an Idaho Spud candy bar wrapper, a hash pipe, and a card from the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
With the convention clock running down, we dashed back to my hotel to pack my bags for departure. Then headed back to the Biltmore for a final panel and the Miskatonic University Podcast’s live episode. Although the hosts were tired and winging, it was a fitting culmination of a truly outstanding convention. Their discussion and personal sentiments encapsulated the friendship, camaraderie, and openness characterized by Necronomicon. There was laughter, tears, and horror. They generously offered shout-outs to their many collaborators, friends, and new acquaintances in the audience. Of note, we hope to see more collaborations between the MU Podcast and the Old Ways in the near future. Personally, it was a genuine privilege and honor getting to spend time with these folks and their friends over the weekend.
After the healthiest lunch of the weekend at the vegetarian restaurant Plant City, we shouldered our bags and headed back to TF Green feeling wistful. We were leaving too soon. Although we saw and did so much, we merely scratched the dark surface of Necronomicon. Truly, we left too soon. In addition to missing Sunday’s closing ceremony, we also failed to attend the Dunwich Horror Picture Show later that evening, which featured an aging copy of the 1970 film accompanied by live music and an encore performance by Big Nazo held at the Columbus Theatre.
While we must begrudgingly accept we could not ingest the full experience during our first visit, including the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast, we plan to rectify this next time in 2024 by arriving early and staying late. Fortunately, some vigilant participants recorded some panels for posterity, and we look forward to catching up on those when available.
Necronomicon offers an experience unlike any other. This is not simply a gaming or horror convention, this is an immersive experience held in a gorgeous historical hotel and hosted by Lovecraft’s beloved Providence. Positioned downtown, attendees have access to an excellent variety of eating venues and the city’s myriad architectural gems, as well as an eclectic handful of booksellers. You can schedule games or discover delightful people to play with. No matter where you look you will find great company and conversations amidst a diverse, open-minded, and welcoming crowd, which transcends and subverts the more unpalatable aspects of Lovecraft’s legacy. When the stars align once again, we hope to see you all there “where bay and river tranquil blend, and leafy hillsides rise” so that we may stand amidst “the spires of Providence ascend[ing] against the ancient skies.”