Vinegar Tom

Well, it’s been a while.

The world continues to burn down around our ears, but WA is (for now) COVID free, vaccines are being rolled out and the orange dingus in the White House is on the way out – assuming he doesn’t manage to get a coup up and running. There’s also a nice planetary alignment tonight, which will be great as long as I remember to go out and take a look at it.

I have been busy for the last couple of months producing a couple of expansions for the classic board game Arkham Horror. As is usual with me I decided to wait until the worst possible time to do this – Arkham Horror 3rd edition is out and has been out for quite some time, but I’ve been building my expansions for 2nd edition not only because 2nd edition is clearly far superior, but is also (more importantly) the only version I have access to.

The first expansion – Hyperborea – is based around the Hyperborean cycle of stories by the wonderful Clark Ashton Smith. I actually started work on this about five years ago, but the project popped back into my head a few months back so I jumped back in and finished it. It has not been play tested, but should be a bit of fun.

When I get myself a bit better organised I’ll host it here on the Wyrmlog. Until then it can be downloaded from the following dropbox links…

The other, much larger expansion is based on Ramsey Campbell’s Severn Valley setting. I got the card creation part of this sorted over the weekend – which involved learning how to create plugins for Strange Eons, ow my poor brain! – and just need to write up the rules, so hopefully it will be ready to go by new year.

In the course of this project I was reminded of the strange case of the familiar spirits allegedly uncovered by Witch-Finder General and all round psychopath Mathew Hopkins in 1644. The story – as with all stories of ‘witch’ finding – is tragic, with a number of harmless old women tortured and murdered, but did produce some wonderful weirdness in the supposed names of the familiars the witches are said to have provided. Here, take a look…

Here we see a number of the creatures the witches supposedly summoned along with the deliriously delightful names they attributed to them. “Sacke and Sugar”, “”Pyewackett”, “Griezzel Greddigutt”, “Peeke in the Crowne” and best of all “Vinegar Tom”. In my opinion – almost four centuries on – Vinegar Tom is a simply brilliant name for anything. I wouldn’t mind being called Vinegar Tom, would you?

Thoughts of this nature led to me coming up with the following ridiculous novelty. Yes, you can now find out what your name would be were you a familiar spirit from the 17th century! If of course that’s your idea of a morally acceptable good time…

As is the way of these things I created this silliness in a white heat of creativity with the result that my own familiar name is the somewhat dull Newes Elme Tree. I could have gone back and rejigged the options to create something more exciting, but that would be cheating, wouldn’t it?

Anyway, enjoy! And keep an eye out for the upcoming release of Severn Horror, where you can summon up all the imps mentioned by Hopkins, should you be willing to risk your strength and sanity to do so!

Return to Brichester

I have finally got around to finalising the updated version of my Campbell Country map that’s been sitting on my desktop for months.

The changes are pretty minor – basically just tweaks to fix a few discrepancies uncovered by a re-read of the source material. Brichester for instance only has one train station, located in Lower Brichester, Temphill is surrounded by woods, and there’s actually a road running out to the Devil’s Steps. There are also some carvings in the woods near Castle Morley – I think that’s it.

Anyway, here ’tis!

For info on my cartographic process see Brichester and Parts Beyond.

EDIT: And of course – the universe being perhaps not quite as bleak and hostile as Lovecraft thought but still a thorough pain the posterior – no sooner do I publish this updated map than I discover more geographic detail. “Brichester Lake”, the favoured abode of Gla’aki, should actually be named “Deepfall Waters”.

I discovered this fact courtesy of Justin Alexander over at The Alexandrian, who has come up with a fantastic solution to the limited geography of the Vale of Berkely that simply never occurred to me despite the puzzle pieces lying in plain sight.

Brichester and Parts Beyond

Update! A newer version of my Campbell Country map can be accessed here…

In early 1960’s Liverpool – a city still suffering the scars of the determined Luftwaffe bombardment of twenty years earlier – a teenage boy purchased a short story collection titled Cry Horror! from a sweet shop that also did a line in second hand books. The book was a re-titled print of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear and Other Stories, and the boy was a young Ramsey Campbell who would go on to become one of Britain’s greatest horror authors.

Totally infatuated with Lovecraft’s work, the young Campbell whipped off a series of pastiches set in H. P.’s fictional New England towns of Arkham, Kingsport and Dunwich. Then – in a remarkable act of self confidence – he sent them off to August Derleth, Lovecraft’s literary executor and publisher.

One would expect Derleth to have thrown these efforts straight into the bin, but apparently he saw something in them. He wrote back to Campbell telling him “in no uncertain terms” how to improve his writing, including advice to stop trying to imitate Lovecraft’s style, and to stop trying to set his tales in America. Campbell took this advice on board and shortly afterwards Derleth published one of his rewritten tales – with a revised title and some other editorial amendments – in a short story collection, and a few years later published an entire book of his stories – The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants.

Over the next few years Campbell continued writing Lovecraft inspired works, gradually developing his own voice and style. In the process he created his own version of Lovecraft’s New England, a fictionalised version of Gloucestershire’s Severn Valley sometimes referred to as ‘Campbell Country’.

The locales of Campbell Country and Lovecraft Country can be roughly matched. The university town of Brichester maps to Arkham. Temphill is Kingsport – despite the former’s inland location. Goatswood is an English version of Dunwich. Of course as Campbell continued his writing his versions moved further away from the originals.

So, why am I writing about all this? It comes down – as it usually does with me – to cartography.

The Inhabitant of the Lake contained a map of Campbell Country, as did the 1995 tribute anthology Made in Goatswood. But both of them were sketch maps at best. The problem of developing a more detailed map of the Severn Valley has vexed me ever since I discovered Campbell’s oeuvre in the 1990s, and a few years back I decided to finally do something about it.

Map from "The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Less Welcome Tenants" 1964
Map from “The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Less Welcome Tenants” 1964

Map From "Made in Goatswood" 1995
Map From “Made in Goatswood” 1995

The primary problem with Campbell country is that there’s actually no room for it! It lies between the lower Severn River and the Cotswold hills – an area about 15 kilometres across. Brichester – a city easily the size of Swindon – would take up most of that space, leaving nowhere for the various desolate plains and creepy, isolated villages of Campbell’s stories. The map from Made in Goatswood even tries to fit the whole region in between the river and the M5 motorway, an area 6 kilometres across at the very widest!

On top of this, the Vale of Berkeley (as the region is properly known, the term ‘Severn Valley’ usually applying to areas north of Gloucester) is full of villages and urban developments, leaving ever less room for ominous woods and alien monuments.

So, I made two decisions. Firstly I would ignore matters of scale, and secondly I would free up space by replace existing locations with Campbellian ones.

So I got to work. But then (as so often happens) I got distracted. But then a few months back I found the files and decided to get back onto it.

In my revised geography Purton becomes Severnford with Old Severnford on the opposite side of the river. Claypits become the decaying hamlet of Clotton – it’s in the right place and I couldn’t resist the alliteration. The real world town of Cam is shrunk down to provide room for Camside. Ulley is converted to the sinister Goatswood and its valley filled with forest. Nympsfield becomes Temphill. The area around Haresfield (appropriate!) is depopulated and Warrendown plumped in the middle. Brichester Lake (and its inhabitant), the Devil’s Steps and Castle Morley are placed appropriately, and finally the city of Brichester is placed on the intersection of the railway and the A38 (which looks like this in reality). A few roads are moved, a few rivers redirected, and we’re done!

So here is my map of Campbell Country. I’ve no doubt made some mistakes and some incorrect assumptions, but overall I’m pretty happy with it.

Iä Gla’aki! Iä Iä Y’golonac!

Brichester and the Severn Valley
Brichester and the Severn Valley

Campbell Country

Of late, thanks to an absolutely insane game of Arkham Horror we played up at Fabes’ place using every expansion, I’ve been renewing my familiarity with the Cthulhu Mythos works of English horror writer Ramsey Campbell.

Campbell is interesting because he started out as a teenager writing awful imitations of Lovecraft, which he had the guts (or naivete) to send to August Derleth for publication. Derleth sent them back telling him to knock it off with the ridiculous language and to set his stories in England rather than try to set them in Lovecraft’s  Massachusetts. Campbell did this and Derleth subsequently accepted some of them for his anthologies. This led to the publication of the short story collection The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Less Welcome Tenants in 1964 when Campbell was just 18.

Campbell continued to write Lovecraftian tales while gradually developing his own voice, one heavily influenced by the devastated post-war urban landscape he’d grown up with in Liverpool. For a period he turned against Lovecraft, penning a essay condemning his work, although he was later to note that he was really condemning his own reliance on it. But he returned to the Cthulhian fold after a few years, writing new stories in his now fully developed and distinctive personal style.

Reading through his Mythos works it’s fascinating to watch this style develop. The early stories – such as The Room in the Castle – are straight up pastiches, but as you progress along the timeline you start to detect a change in the tone. By the time you get to The Franklyn Paragraphs and Before the Storm you’re reading something very different and when you finally arrive at The Faces at Pine Dunes or The Voice of the Beach it’s had to believe it’s the same author.

But anyway, I didn’t come to talk about the progression of Campbell’s style – fascinating though it is. I came to talk about Campbell Country.

August Derleth advised Campbell not to use the New England setting of Lovecraft’s stories (nowdays often referred to as ‘Lovecraft Country’) but to set his stories in England. Campbell took this advice and created his own little patch of cosmic horror and ancient secrets along the east side of Severn river in Gloucestershire, the area now known to Mythos fans as ‘Campbell Country’.

This area – centered around the fictional university city of Brichester – has everything a Mythos aficionado could want. Ancient ruins, tombs and temples, crumbling towns with dark secrets, blasphemous alien sites, strange inbred locals, the whole Lovecraftian shebang.

But, there’s a problem. In the space between the Severn river and the Cotswold escarpment there simply isn’t room for all the desolate landscapes and isolated places Campbell placed there.

I figured this out back in the 90’s when I compared the map provided in the Chaosium Made in Goatswood anthology with Ordnance Survey maps of the area. There’s really no way to make it all fit without a horde of Tomb Herds to warp the dimensions. Nonetheless I decided – with all the resources of the 21st century (ie: Google Earth) – to take a shot at mapping Campbell Country anyway.

I’m ignoring the spacing problem. To make it work I think you need to double all the distances, so make of that what you will. Instead I’ve simply figured out where to place the various settlements based on the original map from The Inhabitant of the Lake, the revised one from Made in Goatswood and various ones from the Call of Cthulhu role playing game. My conclusions are as follows,

Brichester: The great (and – in parts – greatly decayed) city of Brichester is at the heart of Campbell Country, and at the heart of its geographic problems. Campbell’s stories make it clear that Brichester is a major population centre – comparable to Gloucester – but there simply isn’t room for it! If you transplanted Gloucester to the location of Brichester there’d be nothing but houses from the Severn to the Cotswolds, with no room left for the isolated lakes, dark forests and strange villages that make up Campbells’s oeuvre.

But no matter. The maps allow us to place the centre of Brichester in the vicinity of Breadstone, close to where the A38 crosses the Sharpness/Gloucester rail line. The Lake of Glaaki, the Devil’s Steps and the Plain of Sound would all be located to the north within the triangle formed between the A38, the canal and Riddle Street.

Camside: The location of Camside is slightly problematic. The maps place it more or less on top of Stinchcombe, but this a good two kilometres away from the river Cam. Some of them deal with this by running a tributary of the Cam (named the Cambrook) through the town, but to my mind the easiest solution is to remove the real world conglomeration of Cam, Dursley and Woodfield and drop the much smaller Camside in their place.

Clotton: Clotton is actually quite easy to place. The maps put it slap bang on top of  the real world village of Claypits, just off the A38. We just need to add the river Ton (flowing from the vicinity of Temphill), down to the Severn,  and we’re done.

Goatswood and Temphill: Goatswood and Temphill are usually depicted as fairly close to each other, so they might as well be considered together. The maps tend to place them in the vicinity of Far Green, but this poses problems. Goatswood (as the name suggests) is supposed to be surrounded by dense woods, and both towns are usually described as being in the Cotswolds. There are no suitable woods anywhere near Far Green, and while it sits close to the Cotswold escarpment it’s not within the Cotswolds proper.

My suggested solution would be to move the towns slightly further east, placing Goatswood between Uley and Owlpen, and Temphill at Nympsfield. The town of Uley would need to be extirpated and its valley filled with woods, but this would at least place Goatswood’s Roman constructions in context with the real world Roman temple complex at West Hill.

The cone of the insects from Shaggai could be put literally anywhere in the valley. I’d suggest in one of the vales below Temphill.

Severnford: Severnford (and Old Severnford on the far side of the river) could happily be placed in one of three locations. It might be the Campbell Country version of Sharpness – which would make sense given the mention of docks and warehouses – in which case we can simply change the name and be done with it. Some maps however place it slightly north of Sharpness – which could make it an extension of the town and its maritime facilities.

Alternatively (my preferred option) it could replace Purton, which has the advantage that west bank Purton could stand for Old Severnford and the east bank Severnford proper.

(The Made in Goatswood map places Severnford north of Purton, but that’s clearly madness!)

Warrendown: Warrendown is one of the most recent additions to Campbell Country, appearing for the first time in Campbell’s slightly tongue in cheek The Horror Under Warrendown – his contribution to the 1995 Made in Goatswood anthology. The maps that feature it appear to place it in the vicinity of Oxlynch – although – given the nature of its inhabitants – it’s tempting to instead place it at nearby Haresfield 🙂

So there you go. My best guess at making sense of Campbell Country. If you get lost now you’ve only got yourself (or that Tomb Herd under Temphill) to blame!