Chaosium Con III: The Extended Cut

For more cogent and/or lucid recollections from Chaosium Con 2024,  please refer to the excellent accounts written by JR, Bucho, and Evan.

In the words of veteran Detroit beat reporter Morrie Perlman: “It’s better to be fast than good.” With this axiom in mind, I’m trying to bang out this brief after-action report as I settle into my seat outside gate D31 of DTW’s North Terminal. I haven’t much time, but we’ll see what I can manage to recall from Chaosium Con III. Rest assured; it shall not be as long as my wandering recaps from prior conventions


I spent months debating what I wanted to run. I had some Grindhouse scenarios set aside. I pulled and prepped a 4-player classic from The Unspeakable Oath. I had a selection of Miskatonic Repository titles lined up. Then I decided to just run my stuff. I wanted to try a couple of different things, so I thought I also needed to lean on old reliables. One week out, I started to panic. 


Wednesday, Con Day 0

My flight departed from Phoenix as the sun spilled over the mountains into the Valley’s sprawling metropolis. Temperatures at home would be breaking 90 degrees Fahrenheit and rising over the weekend, so I looked forward to Michigan’s cooler temps and sketchy promises of sunshine. A few hours later, my flight diverted to Indianapolis as storms hovered over the Detroit airport. Our pilot promised a quick refuel followed by a short ground stay. Thirty minutes later, they announced a five-hour delay to await our replacement flight crew. I impatiently rented a car and jumped on the road—straight into Indy’s rush hour traffic. Cool. Totally fine. I had Francis Spufford’s Cahokia Jazz to finish and the drive flew by. 


I pulled through the brand-new parking gates outside the Eagle Crest Marriot feeling grateful for the assurance of free convention parking, as the venue seems to be charging Chicago rates for its expansive Ypsilanti lot. 


How it started vs. How it ended.

 Even though the convention would launch the following evening, the lobby and bar were already filled with familiar faces enjoying drinks and food. As usual, Chaosium staffers mingled with the crowd. A pick-up game of Monsterhearts wrapped up at a side table. I quickly checked in and ran my bags up to my room before returning to chat with The Old Ways crew. The wiser folks peeled off earlier in the evening, but infectious enthusiasm and a continual stream of new and old friends, including mensan98th, misteropinion, and Diesel, kept me up well past midnight. Fortunately, no early morning game awaited me. A fortunate thing, as the combined excitement and my Pacific time zone origin kept ceiling staring until the wee morning hours. 


Thursday, Con Day 1

Nothing like a massive plate of corned beef and hash paired with liters of coffee at The Bomber to help power through the fog of sleep deprivation. My breakfast companion Diesel kindly shared his Impossible Landscapes experience and then covered the bill! No sign of stormy weather today. Beautiful blue skies and warm sun greeted the new arrivals to Southeast Michigan. After running my short-term rental car to the Detroit airport, I joined DontStopMeNow, your friend nate, and Bridgett on the back patio. Bridgett graciously offered me an open slot in the Symphony Entertainment Call of Cthulhu LARP taking place after the Speakeasy Meet & Greet this evening. Having never LARPed before, I accepted with some unspoken anxiety. She must have spotted the fear in my eyes and informed me sixteen of my fellow players would be neophytes as well. 


A pick-up game coalesced into viability at 1 pm, as mensan98th, Bucho, and Matt “Doc” Tracey (there were at least four named Docs in attendance this year) joined me for a session of Death of Superstition. I’ve promised myself I’m going to stop running this one, but being back in Michigan where I wrote and set this scenario, I could not resist. Playing Roberta, the parapsychologist, Peter the pharmacist, and Leland the engineer, this band of Halloween hooligans left a remarkable trail of destruction and snapped necks in their wake. Sanity points and blood flowed freely as Leland struggled to hang on to his funnel.


The game wrapped and we split to prepare ourselves for the evening festivities. Clad in the finest Keeper Doc costume Amazon had to offer, I stepped from the elevator to find myself immersed in the 1920s. This year’s speakeasy theme continued to improve upon the Thursday social opener. The costumes set a great mood. Props and backdrop were provided for photos opportunities. The buffet-style appetizers demonstrated an appreciable improvement in quality from years past. The line for the single cash bar remained formidable and many absconded back to the bar in costume to avoid the wait.


At 9 pm, Symphony Entertainment kicked off the LARP with some introductory rules and a tension-breaking round of the improv favorite “Big Booty.” Despite the inherent qualities and intelligence of the group, the icebreaker proved to be a real challenge, though it might have had something to do with an impudent butler running the exercise. Surviving that, we entered Aubrey Livingston’s manor to uncover secrets, chat up fellow guests, find clues, and access various rooms in pursuit of our personal agendas. Each player received a half-sheet descriptive prompt and motivation along with a secret talent and some equipment cards. 

The players receiving instructions from our Butler NPC portrayed by your friend nate.

 My character turned out to be a visionary of sorts, but really, I think I mostly succeeded in creeping people out a lot because I kept asking them to tell me their dreams while staring at them too intently. They usually ended up excusing themselves and walking away. In retrospect, I might have been typecast. Having accomplished my mission, I was able to assist the storytellers in advancing the plot for other players by using my secret talent.


Being a virgin LARPer—ahem—I had no basis to judge the experience. The organizers and storytellers had never created or run a LARP before, but I thought they created a fun and engaging event that emerged through player interactions. The players were committed, perfectly costumed, and stringently adhered to safety rules. I enjoyed the novel opportunity of reaching the story’s conclusion and returning to the main playgroup to influence others. Heinrich Moore and Bridgett will be collecting feedback intending to further develop and refine the game so that it may be released for purchase at some point.    

NPCs portrayed by Nate and Rina alongside creators and storytellers, Bridgett and Heinrich.

Friday, Con Day 2

The day began with a large latte and bagel from the Bearclaw Coffee truck. For veteran attendees, the presence of this new vendor was a caffeinated godsend. I foolishly left my jacket in my room. At least the brisk morning air helped wake me up, and I felt some hope in facing the twelve hours of games ahead of me. 


Some might recall my past promises to responsibly build some recovery and relaxation time into my con schedule. Maybe enjoy a panel or live play? Welp, I blew it again. The Lurking Fears group lost a Keeper to an unexpected illness, and I jumped in to take the empty afternoon slot and fully pack my schedule. This would be fine. I won’t be wandering the hotel in a drooling stupor at 1130pm…again. 


First game: I figured the comfortably familiar Swamp Song would be a safe way to start the day, and I was excited to play for the first time with Ain’t Slayed Nobody’s cuppycup and Nic, who played a well-lubricated Tip Palmer and an unstoppable Italian named Lucia, respectively. Mensan98th returned for her second play of Swamp Song as dilettante John Sloane after a masterful portrayal of Tip over on a Miskatonic Playhouse stream. Two young ladies rounded out our group as an explorer and an artist. Everyone gracefully settled into character before launching themselves on a rollicking tumble through the French Quarter. To the table’s dismay, the dice crushed Sanity rolls and everyone escaped intact…mostly.  

Nic and Cup with Bridgett. Washing the swamp stink off. Definitely not smiling about our game.


Between games, I grabbed some shawarma with Doc Tracey as he shared highlights from his first public run of Lights in the Trees, a Jacob’s Ladder-inspired Vietnam vet scenario, following its recent Miskatonic Repository release.


Second game: The group arrived at the table expecting Alex Guillotte’s Pipeline. Sadly, this isn’t on my ready-to-run list, so I offered three selections, and the six players selected Swamp Song. No problem, I was already warmed up and we dove in again. To my delight, the investigative path, encounters, and resolution veered far afield from the earlier run. And to my even greater satisfaction, every single investigator went indefinitely insane by the conclusion. 


Running on snack mix and Diet Dr. Pepper, I powered my way toward the final game.


Third Game: Energy depleted; I approached the day’s last scenario with trepidation. This would be a revised draft playtest of my latest effort, Deliver Us From Evil

This boys trip was also joined by veteran guide Harlyn Evans and teenager Margo Pendergrass.

This survival horror adventure diverges from my typical style as it assumes a more linear course taking a group of companions down a remote river in Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. Inspired by Deliverance (1972) and Laird Barron’s Mysterium Tremendum,” it involves some unusual mechanics. After the first playtest it required substantial tweaks. 

 Fortunately, there would be some familiar faces at the table as two local friends signed up. Being at Chaosium Con, I anticipated the usual brand of players, invested and skilled. This group did not disappoint. They dug into the few clue-ridden handouts during extended fireside discussions. They amplified each other’s paranoia, struggled with their dark secrets, and worked as a team until the shocking climax. Upon finishing, the players offered up thoughtful notes and feedback for this playtest. Their creative decisions helped further develop the scenario. Despite my reticence, I’m glad I tried an unfinished work here where I can expect talented and insightful players. 


After some academic guidance on how best to read Moby Dick followed by a hilariously horrifying game and film discussion, I retired to bed. Once I remembered where they put my room.   


Saturday, Con Day 3

With no game in the morning, I gathered some extra rest to fortify myself for the afternoon’s long game. I eventually peeled myself out of bed and returned to the coffee truck—this time appropriately attired. 


In the long hotel corridor, a crowd of people milled around the piles of Miskatonic Repository and Jonstown Compendium books. Here folks picked up print copies of their favorite community content available on DriveThru RPG. For some, this was their first exposure to these works, while other fans bought up print copies from some of their favorite community authors, including fast-selling hardbound versions of Heinrich’s Character Creation and Carcosa Guides, as well as the Japan Sourcebook. Many walked away with armloads of material. 


Inside the adjacent salon, a mimosa mixer for creators took place. People shared artwork, discussed their process, and revealed some of their latest ideas. The conversations were wide-ranging and inclusive. 


At Chaosium Con, community content creators thrive. It’s a wonderful place to build connections and relationships. You can easily meet talented editors, writers, and artists, as well as podcasters, bloggers, reviewers, and streamers. Whether amateur or professional, these folks bring passion, joy, and a collaborative spirit to their work. 

The many faces of Newman in the care of DontStopMeNow.

While not there in person, a stalwart proponent of community content was a visible and in-demand presence. Dear Newman from the Miskatonic Playhouse kept popping up among con goers and kept his dutiful chaperone DontStopMeNow quite busy. While in this esteemed company, I finally got to meet Colin Richards, the author of the best-selling Repository title Signal to Noise, and he had the opportunity to share some prurient details after playing his forthcoming title, Omega Kappa DIE!!, a mash-up of Cthulhu and Animal House. It’s got some delightfully debauched mechanics to facilitate the narrative atmosphere. I can’t wait for its release…and that’s just one of the things the multi-talented Richards is cooking up.  

Full immersion. RPG Reanimators podcast crew got to party hard playing Colin’s latest effort.

This year even more Keepers were running community content at the tables, either their own or someone else’s. 


A quick trip over to Leo’s Coney Island provided sustenance for me, Rina, DontStopMeNow, Nate, and Evan. Among other things, we discussed Chaosium’s forthcoming Call of Cthulhu titles announced by Mike Mason, including an Arkham scenario book, an Innsmouth sourcebook, a Boy Scouts-themed setting book, second volumes of both Doors to Darkness and Mansions of Madness, as well as the big Gaslight releases. As per Mike’s earlier reveals, the Gaslight material will come in a two-volume set with both Keeper and player-facing books. In addition, there will be playable Gaslight content.  There will be a 1980s Japan campaign book featuring the King in Yellow, as well as a mini-campaign book for Pulp Cthulhu. Wow. 


We headed back across the street and Rina went on to get ready for their live show for Ain’t Slayed Nobody. I retreated to my room to make final preparations for a run of another unreleased Detroit scenario, Sleeping with the Fishes. This would be my first 8-hour con game and the first single-session run of the adventure. Even though I had a great table with a handful of familiar players, I wasn’t sure how the pacing would work out and how energy levels would fare. This would be proof of concept. A learning experience. A growth opportunity. Or a catastrophic freefall, as Doc, in his hubris, flies too close to the black sun. But hey, there would be Jet’s Pizza.


Lost in the deep end. The smile is just a mask for the terror behind those eyes.

Less than two hours later, you realize you’re in big trouble as a three-car chase scene takes off. It wasn’t your idea…it just happened. The players made you do it. And for some reason, none of them are driving. Crammed into two cabs, they’re tearing down Jefferson Avenue in Depression-era Detroit, throwing money, baking products, and completely unintelligible hand signals to spur their drivers onward in pursuit of…a 16-year-old girl in a 1928 Chrysler? You know you’ve lost your mind when a fourth car filled with gun-toting toughs slides in between the two cabs. How did you get here?


Somehow, you’ve survived this ordeal, unscathed. They seem happy, but maybe it’s hypoglycemia. The game rolls on. The pizza comes. It’s enjoyed in a quiet spot with comfy chairs away from the packed and noisy G room. Nobody has fled yet. They’ve reached the crux of the matter. You sit back and listen as the table debates what to do. Valid arguments bounce across the table, players stick to their roleplaying guns. The plan gradually evolves through their in-character conversations. It’s amazing. It’s right on pace. They execute a three-way party split for the finale. Chaos ensues. The final line uttered is “…sleeping with the fishes.”


Hilariously, I can’t math and thought we were playing until 11 pm. I’m pretty sure I inadvertently threatened to hold them hostage multiple times until then. They cordially nodded at my absurdity. We wrapped at 930pm. Phew. 


Players stand ready in the epic Rune Quest “Home of the Bold” LARP.

Ok, I’d do that again. Stupid Doc already started coming up with even more bad ideas. Feeling accomplished, everyone walked down to the crowded lobby. A beaming Mike Diamond arrived from the Rune Quest LARP in costume. He had a transcendent experience. The 8-hour LARP with nearly fifty players was a massive success. The night faded into madness. I saw things, unspeakable things.


Sunday, Day 4

The Sandmen got me. I found myself in my bed. I had thirty minutes to dress, pack, and get down to the lobby before brunch.

Dom reads a passage from Poe as his fellow players look on.

Turns out I had more time. Brunch at Bellflower was fantastic. We shared highlights from the con. The Ain’t Slayed Nobody live show was a standout experience with an interactive audience and a talented cast. The Apocalypse Players ran two amazing improvisational experiences demonstrating their theatrical expertise and deep knowledge. The Symphony LARP was a novel opportunity for many, a smashing inaugural event, and hopefully the start of an annual tradition. 

Rina and I receive “The Call” to come back home.

 Everyone agreed, Chaosium Con III exceeded its predecessors by building upon successes and cultivating a rich community. It offered more content, more events, and more opportunities. This year drew just shy of 500 people. Games filled at a rapid pace. The organizers have listened to attendee feedback and continue to be receptive. As a consequence, things ran very smoothly. Through the efforts of Chaosium and their supportive fans, I expect we will see the number and variety of games and event offerings continue to grow.


After brunch, I headed back to the hotel and luckily caught a few folks I hadn’t had as much time to chat with as I’d have liked. Every year, my circle of friends grows. You see familiar faces at every turn here. I headed out through the vendor area. I dropped by Kent Caldwell’s VoidRealm Minis booth and briefly reminisced about our game at the first Chaosium Con. I checked out Ed Mullavey’s awesome metal prints. People are so welcoming and happy to bond over shared interests. It’s one of the best places to be, but the time is always too short. You simply can’t do it all. I’m not making any foolish resolutions this year, just a commitment to enjoy myself as much as I can. And as much as I already have in the last three years.


Classic. I said this was going to be short. Never listen to me. I don’t know why I listen to me. It was a long and glorious weekend. I’m really looking forward to the next one and all the incredible people.

Symphony and friends!

Post-script: If we conversed, game, or shared a meal, and I’ve failed to mention you, it’s not because I didn’t cherish your company. I spat this mess out during my flight back to Phoenix. Notably, I enjoyed talking to the RPG Reanimators. I heard rave reviews about their games and their content looks fantastic. It’s always a treat to see Sumrow and his art. The special guests Josephine McAdam and Tom Sullivan were stellar. Notably I finally met Doc Cowie, and he informed me of yet another Doc. They’re multiplying. Watch out. 


1 thought on “Chaosium Con III: The Extended Cut

  1. Ozyo says:

    Sounds like an absolute blast. Plus, glad you got so many chances to run your own scenarios there!

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