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Shakespeare and Lovecraft Combine in Delirium
Episode 1026th May 2021 • Making a Monster • Lucas Zellers
00:00:00 00:20:23

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Andrew Grondin wrote a tabletop game that combines European fairy tales and Lovecraftian existential horror. Inside that Venn diagram is a surprisingly encouraging message about power and who has it.

Read the transcript and get more from the show: https://scintilla.studio/shakespeare-lovecraft-combine-delirium

Get stat blocks, bonus content, and other monstrous perks: www.patreon.com/scintillastudio

Join the conversation: www.twitter.com/SparkOtter

Meet my guest, Andrew Grondin:

https://twitter.com/TheSiegeAndrew

https://s-15studios.squarespace.com/#/delirium/


Music by Jason Shaw at Audionautix.com

Transcripts

Andrew Grondin:

The Duke of Vigils can appear anywhere at any time,

Andrew Grondin:

watching from the shadows and acting as the man behind the throne.

Andrew Grondin:

Whipoorwill itself is avoidable.

Andrew Grondin:

It would be extremely unlikely for most people to even see the Duke in person,

Andrew Grondin:

but its presence and manipulations can be felt across the world.

Andrew Grondin:

It is impossible to determine whippoorwills true motivations or desires.

Andrew Grondin:

Its every action and movement is made to advance its own agendas, which are

Andrew Grondin:

merely cogs in more complex agendas still.

Andrew Grondin:

It has infiltrated the power structure of all the other Lords using

Andrew Grondin:

their powers alongside or against each other in subtle maneuvers.

Andrew Grondin:

Its position among the cult of its peers is commonly known; if

Andrew Grondin:

Whippoorwill or one of his many simulacra appear before the servants

Andrew Grondin:

of another Lord, it's never treated as anything less than the blessing it is.

Lucas:

Hello, and welcome back to Making a Monster, the bite-sized podcast

Lucas:

where game designers show us their favorite monster, and we discover how it

Lucas:

works, why it works and what it means.

Lucas:

I'm Lucas Zellers.

Lucas:

This podcast does much better when I talk about D and D by about 20%

Lucas:

more downloads per episode, in fact.

Lucas:

But fairytale monsters don't just belong to Wizards of the Coast and

Lucas:

Lovecraftian horror doesn't just belong to Chaosium, publishers of Call of Cthulhu.

Lucas:

These stories are the rich loam in which a new generation of storytellers is growing

Lucas:

a whole new ecosystem of creativity.

Lucas:

And it belongs to all of us.

Lucas:

In other words, while D and D is the granddaddy of all role-playing

Lucas:

games, the kids are all right.

Lucas:

In that spirit, I'd like to introduce you to an author who is doing something

Lucas:

really unique with characters from both influences a note about this interview.

Lucas:

It was recorded so long ago that my half of the conversation is lost.

Andrew Grondin:

My name is Andrew Grunden.

Andrew Grondin:

I am a tabletop designer, short story author and video content producer.

Andrew Grondin:

That focuses on not just analyzing, what makes games good, but also

Andrew Grondin:

their impact, on the individual.

Andrew Grondin:

I've been doing let's plays, for six years now.

Andrew Grondin:

Um, um, I generally do quick looks on stuff.

Andrew Grondin:

And, I kinda like to have a focus on, indie creators and especially

Andrew Grondin:

pOC and LGBTQ plus creators.

Lucas:

I met Andrew during a City of Mist charity stream with the tabletop

Lucas:

Twitch group, Friends who Roll Dice.

Andrew Grondin:

Which I sincerely thank you for playing in.

Lucas:

Andrew pitched me a monster that filled a really interesting gap in the

Lucas:

besitary this show has assembled so far, namely, a monster that explicitly

Lucas:

combines two figures from mythology, or as I like to put it, "Por que no losdos?"

Andrew Grondin:

So this comes from Delirium, an experimental

Andrew Grondin:

reach into a new mechanic system.

Andrew Grondin:

this specifically came from a desire to make a game where the impossible is real.

Andrew Grondin:

Not just because you, the player character are empowered in a certain

Andrew Grondin:

way, you are, but also because the world itself is not so much falling

Andrew Grondin:

apart, but growing thin if the laws of reality are falling away, then the

Andrew Grondin:

laws of narrative begin to step in.

Lucas:

Every role-playing game has three things, a setting that defines

Lucas:

the genre expectations and what players can expect to find in the world, a

Lucas:

chance operator that helps players and game masters tell the story together,

Lucas:

and the mechanics that players can use to influence the world around them.

Lucas:

The setting of Delirium is an empty American landscape, visually similar

Lucas:

to Netflix is love and monsters or the 2018 film Annihilation.

Lucas:

Illustrations by Cory Goodwin set the tone for the game as just on the wrong side of

Lucas:

the uncanny valley, unsettling and surreal

Andrew Grondin:

The Fallen States are what remains the United States

Andrew Grondin:

after most of the world population disappeared functionally overnight.

Andrew Grondin:

There was a critical shakeup of both infrastructure, and

Andrew Grondin:

populace even before the Outside began to encroach in our world.

Andrew Grondin:

Once it began to twist our reality to make us look like it, things got even worse.

Andrew Grondin:

All of the seven largest cities in the United States have now just

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

Nightmare City, Steel City, Gulf City.

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

They're entities unto themselves.

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

Nothing lives in them, but they are still occupied and we don't

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

get to live there anymore.

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

So people have been forced out into the wilderness and the forgotten spaces and

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

these liminal parts of the Fallen States.

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

All players are Blessed.

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

They are people who are supernaturally powered and they conceptualize this power

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

using a a thing called the Black Tarot.

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

And they experienced sort of a day to day life in a post apocalypse, living

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

and surviving in a place that has far fewer people and far more monsters.

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

And that's sort of the, design approach that I take for every one of my

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

games is to have a central idea and expanding out from that with a frankly

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

shameful amount of bullet points and tables that then become prettified as

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

the game gets more and more refined.

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

If you were to see my notes for the original version of any of

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

my game, it's basically just Be like, these are my six notes.

become the Cities, capitalized:

:

I'll get back to these later.

Lucas:

For its chance operator, Delirium uses a deck of cards to reflect the

Lucas:

use of tarot cards in the story.

Andrew Grondin:

Deliriums whole, mechanical thrust is built around

Andrew Grondin:

building poker hands, and modifying what your hand is and what your opponent's

Andrew Grondin:

hand is to make the best poker hand or poker hands available to you.

Andrew Grondin:

Because of how weirdly the rules are though, this can go up to a six of a kind.

Andrew Grondin:

A lot of the players powers are either going to be, I can do something

Andrew Grondin:

amazing or I can manipulate my draw.

Andrew Grondin:

For example, you can draw more cards.

Andrew Grondin:

You can declare cards to be wild.

Andrew Grondin:

You can declare a redraw.

Andrew Grondin:

Because this uses a modification of Texas Hold'em.

Andrew Grondin:

You can also say I get to use this card exclusively or this card is

Andrew Grondin:

unavailable to a certain subset of people, who are operating using that,

Lucas:

In Delirium, you play as a Blessed, Fallen America's

Lucas:

last hope against the Chimera.

Andrew Grondin:

The Chimera are a loose force of entities that range

Andrew Grondin:

from encroaching foliage to animalistic creatures all the way up to actual gods.

Andrew Grondin:

So today we are going to be discussing Whippoorwill, or the Duke of Vigils.

Andrew Grondin:

It takes up the "duke" position in this hierarchy.

Andrew Grondin:

So there is a King, a Queen, a Duke that serves as their sort of liaison

Andrew Grondin:

between, the vassals and the royalty and then a series of middlemen that

Andrew Grondin:

each have their own various functions in the court of the King and the queen.

Andrew Grondin:

It's a crude and unfocused reflection of a feudal society.

Andrew Grondin:

And that is by design.

Andrew Grondin:

From a design standpoint, all of the monsters in this game are a combination

Andrew Grondin:

of a piece of European folklore and a eldritch horror and Whippoorwill is is

Andrew Grondin:

Puck ,the mischievous and antagonistic fey that was featured in a Midsummer

Andrew Grondin:

Night's Dream and Nyarlhotep, the Black Pharaoh from let's say other

Andrew Grondin:

books beyond the core Lovecraft mythos.

Andrew Grondin:

He also does have a bit of a smattering of the Great God Pan by Arthur Mansion.

Andrew Grondin:

But that's just because there are a bit of thematic overlay between

Andrew Grondin:

Pan and Puck that is not able to be discounted in the context of this story.

Andrew Grondin:

There is a long and storied history of inspiration that is in the mansion

Andrew Grondin:

and the house on the borderlands that sort of pulp horror era

Andrew Grondin:

that could legitimately fill up a documentary series to horror today.

Andrew Grondin:

You as a group of adventurers may have gone out and done a great mission: broken

Andrew Grondin:

the foothold of a cult or reclaimed some great artifact or even just ventured into

Andrew Grondin:

one of the cities of the Fallen States and gotten something out or put something in.

Andrew Grondin:

Upon your return, home and triumphant, you realize that the person who helped you

Andrew Grondin:

along the way, or the person who gave you the quest or the person who has just been

Andrew Grondin:

a face in the crowd, guiding you along.

Andrew Grondin:

That was Whippoorwill, That was Whippoorwill the entire time

Andrew Grondin:

guiding you towards his end game.

Andrew Grondin:

So it's hard to say like, you'll throw a punch at this guy.

Andrew Grondin:

Because when you've got the manipulators, when you have those people that operate

Andrew Grondin:

in the background, they're so powerful from a narrative standpoint, because

Andrew Grondin:

every time they get away, the players of this have a further motivation.

Andrew Grondin:

We'll get that guy.

Andrew Grondin:

But in the moment, it's just yeah.

Andrew Grondin:

And you got played.

Andrew Grondin:

You got played super hard and that, that stings because how do you respond to that?

Andrew Grondin:

I really drew Puck from a Midsummer Night's Dream.

Andrew Grondin:

He is he's the trickster, he's the manipulator.

Andrew Grondin:

He's, he's a guy with a plan, even if you don't know what that plan is, even

Andrew Grondin:

he, if he doesn't know what that plan is.

Andrew Grondin:

He's the man not even behind the throne, he's the man in front of the throne.

Andrew Grondin:

He has the powers of the royalty implicit to his position, but he is still

Andrew Grondin:

free enough to act on his own whims.

Andrew Grondin:

Being like you got it, boss time for me to twist your words to my own end

Andrew Grondin:

And to an extent Nyarlhotep does serve in a similar function.

Andrew Grondin:

He is sort of a, a planner.

Andrew Grondin:

He's a schemer.

Andrew Grondin:

He's got plans that he wants that facilitate Nyarlhotep's own ends, but

Andrew Grondin:

most of his use most of his utility in the narrative exists as a means for him

Andrew Grondin:

to bridge a gap between us and them.

Andrew Grondin:

For him to guide someone into the clutches of another Old One or

Andrew Grondin:

for him to be a messenger to the rest of the uh, the elder things.

Andrew Grondin:

If you need to talk to Azeroth or if you need to talk to, you know, something that

Andrew Grondin:

will cause you to melt just by looking at it you could, you would use Nyarlh

Andrew Grondin:

otep to to facilitate that message.

Andrew Grondin:

And in contemporary media he does show up as more of a clever sort of

Andrew Grondin:

Satan analog where he beguiles you with something that you want, and

Andrew Grondin:

then you pay a terrible price for it.

Andrew Grondin:

He's the most human of, of all the Lords.

Andrew Grondin:

And that's what makes him the most dangerous is because he is if you

Andrew Grondin:

come at the King, you best not miss, like he'll, he'll take you out just

Andrew Grondin:

because he's so much better than you.

Andrew Grondin:

The Forest Mother legitimately can just crush anything in a quarter mile

Andrew Grondin:

radius of her gigantic kaiju-sized body.

Andrew Grondin:

The other Lords all either want something very specific, like the Lord Under

Andrew Grondin:

the Mountain and the Candlelight Earl, or they're too alien to even begin to

Andrew Grondin:

comprehend like the Many-Angled Baroness.

Andrew Grondin:

When it comes to Whipoorwill,, he's ultimately human.

Andrew Grondin:

He's obviously something, something ancient and powerful and beyond the very

Andrew Grondin:

concept of, of our world, but he's also a guy and he's a guy with a plan and

Andrew Grondin:

whatever his plan is, it's going to be bad for everybody who's not named Whipoorwill.

Andrew Grondin:

So he can manipulate people to his own ends just by using

Andrew Grondin:

what people want against them.

Andrew Grondin:

What it tells you about the world that you live in now, is that.

Andrew Grondin:

There are things more dangerous than the giant Kaiju stomping

Andrew Grondin:

around in what used to be Canada.

Andrew Grondin:

There is something more dangerous than animalistic creatures and

Andrew Grondin:

anarchy, and that is someone intelligent malicious and sadistic.

Andrew Grondin:

His whole thing is empowering people who already have power.

Andrew Grondin:

The people who worship Whippoorwill, the Black Pharaohs, they're they're leaders of

Andrew Grondin:

communities, they're people of authority.

Andrew Grondin:

There are people who can do great harm to the community.

Andrew Grondin:

And because they have this empowerment, they, they can take everything they

Andrew Grondin:

want and face no repercussions.

Andrew Grondin:

And that is something that unfortunately is the thing

Andrew Grondin:

that happens in the real world.

Andrew Grondin:

So there is a reflection on that in, in, in these characters.

Andrew Grondin:

That is completely off of skated from the common man.

Andrew Grondin:

Yeah, you have no input on something that will affect you and it will

Andrew Grondin:

likely affect you negatively.

Andrew Grondin:

I write horror stories with happy endings.

Andrew Grondin:

Not consistently, but I do prefer a, comedy when it comes to a horror

Andrew Grondin:

story than rather than a tragedy.

Andrew Grondin:

If you want to see somebody just get continually beaten

Andrew Grondin:

down, just look out the window.

Andrew Grondin:

you don't have to go into narrative as an escape to see something horrible happen.

Andrew Grondin:

So ultimately, yes.

Andrew Grondin:

And this is described in the book, but it's in the narrator section.

Andrew Grondin:

So I'll just give the players a little peek behind the curtain.

Andrew Grondin:

All of the Lords, all of the entities that are the ones who have the most

Andrew Grondin:

power here operate on narrative.

Andrew Grondin:

They operate on something that is intrinsic to themselves.

Andrew Grondin:

They are powerful because their stories say they're powerful.

Andrew Grondin:

So if you change their narrative, you can ultimately make a

Andrew Grondin:

significant and powerful change.

Andrew Grondin:

You could kill these things or you could reform them because all

Andrew Grondin:

they are are stories and ideas.

Andrew Grondin:

There is a grant.

Andrew Grondin:

And a wonderful power that comes from the common man's unification.

Andrew Grondin:

Whether it be in your community in your state or across your country,

Andrew Grondin:

there is a grand and wonderful power that exists when we come together

Andrew Grondin:

and work for the common good.

Andrew Grondin:

it it's something that if I were to have written this game, now, there would

Andrew Grondin:

be more there would be more focus on community and, and the uh, the individual

Andrew Grondin:

functioning As part of a greater whole again, I wrote this five years ago,

Andrew Grondin:

it's, it's one of those things where it's like, Oh yeah, horror, horror, horror.

Andrew Grondin:

Here's the comical, caricature of something I see in the real

Andrew Grondin:

world that I can use as a villain.

Andrew Grondin:

Oh dear God things have gone terribly awry

Andrew Grondin:

but these are all, I would say that all of these creatures

Andrew Grondin:

represent some, some adult fear.

Andrew Grondin:

Everything is basic as the fear of fire.

Andrew Grondin:

Taking everything you owned the fear of the unknown, the fear of the dark

Andrew Grondin:

and the fear of unknown places and all the way up to you losing what you love.

Andrew Grondin:

One of the terrifying things about European fairies is the fact that they

Andrew Grondin:

would come and spirit away children.

Andrew Grondin:

And there are a couple of characters that are a couple of

Andrew Grondin:

monsters that reflect that in this.

Andrew Grondin:

So each of these is a, in an indistinct way, the fear of something and.

Andrew Grondin:

Whippoorwill is, is at his core, the fear of an unknowable uncaring and

Andrew Grondin:

actively malicious authority figure.

Lucas:

Andrew's work on Delirium is a great example of what inspires

Lucas:

me about independent game design.

Lucas:

The oldest tradition of storytelling - retelling - is happening again.

Lucas:

A new generation of storytellers are taking the most compelling ideas

Lucas:

at the core of cosmic horror and telling them without Lovecraft's

Lucas:

racism, xenophobia, and eugenics.

Lucas:

For more about that, and there is a lot more about that, check

Lucas:

out my episodes from season one on Dagon with Alex Clippinger.

Andrew Grondin:

The thing Lovecraft did is crystallized what existential

horror is:

there are things greater than you , and they could wipe you out

horror is:

without even noticing or realizing it.

horror is:

There's a lot of contemporaries that took that crystallized idea that they

horror is:

now have permission to use because Lovecraft was so humongously popular

horror is:

that they can now say, okay, this is what I say in this same context.

horror is:

And I, I, I do feel like when that's effective it can make for some

horror is:

of the most disturbing stories.

Lucas:

Using just the parts of their stories, where Shakespeare's

Lucas:

Puck and Lovecraft's, Nyarlhotep intersect makes Delirium a part of

Lucas:

the conversation with both authors.

Lucas:

Like science fiction from the sixties, it's the past in conversation with

Lucas:

the future and making this a tabletop role-playing game lets players retell

Lucas:

those stories themselves, making us a part of the conversation as well.

Lucas:

And Andrew didn't need a AAA budget or years of development to do it.

Lucas:

I want to hear the stories so haunting and so compelling that their authors are

Lucas:

rolling out of bed at four o'clock in the morning and hammering away at a keyboard.

Lucas:

You can find out more about delirium by following the link in the show

Lucas:

notes or visiting the show's website at scintilla.studio/monster that's S C I O.

Lucas:

N T I L L a.studio/monster.

Lucas:

There you'll find a link to the game along with art of Whippoorwill and some

Lucas:

of the other monsters in the game like the Forest Mother, the Black Houndand the

Lucas:

Highway, Stalker drawn by Corey Goodwin.

Andrew Grondin:

He's at MC underscore good one on Twitter.

Andrew Grondin:

He does such good, like slightly off human stuff.

Andrew Grondin:

Like he's humans are really good.

Andrew Grondin:

When he goes all out with horror the men is just a Maestro.

Lucas:

My guess is Andrew Grondin, tabletop designer, short story

Lucas:

author, and a video content producer.

Andrew Grondin:

You can always find me on social media at the CJ, Andrew on Twitter

Andrew Grondin:

and Mastodon, facebook.com/as 15 studios.

Andrew Grondin:

As the shootings used@eachdyoforalltabletopgamesandsffifteenstudiosdotsquarespace.com

Andrew Grondin:

for everything else, including articles and short stories.

Lucas:

Thanks for listening to Making a Monster.

Lucas:

If you like what you've heard and you want to support the show, please share

Lucas:

it with the people you play games with.

Lucas:

Your recommendation or a link in your favorite Discord lets people know they can

Lucas:

trust me with their time and attention.

Lucas:

You can also support the show directly at patrion.com/scintilla studio.

Lucas:

When you do you'll get behind the scenes content.

Lucas:

My personal favorite is some of the eerily accurate impressions of me

Lucas:

from the April fools episode and cut tape for my guests along with

Lucas:

loads of other monstrous benefits.

Lucas:

So check it out at patrion.com/scintilla studio.

Lucas:

Next time on making a monster.

Imogen Gingell:

Here we go.

Imogen Gingell:

A lone human figure sits waiting in their meditation chamber, their

Imogen Gingell:

lips moving in silent whisper.

Imogen Gingell:

As you step beyond the threshold, they open their eyes and

Imogen Gingell:

stare at you and through you.

Imogen Gingell:

Four eyes watch through two sockets, one pair dilated, content and relaxed, the

Imogen Gingell:

other pair twitch as if about to erupt.

Imogen Gingell:

They scream and you feel at Pierce deep within your mind.