The poster of Billy Ray Cyrus on his wall should have been a warning sign to all of us.
But we were desperate for a game of CALL OF CTHULHU that didn't have Dimensional Shamblers driving ice cream trucks. This new game master was Biff Bam, an old friend of Cheating Bastard, apparently they had met in military school together. It was a Sunday afternoon at Biff's house and we were five pasty-skinned gamers crammed into the laundry room that was furnished with a washer, dryer, cardtable, mismatched chairs and a heat blistered photo of Mr. Achy-Breaky Heart himself. From where I sat Billy Ray stared out at me in bland judgment.
El Disgusto: "Look all I'm saying is that you owe me four bucks."
Me: "I don't owe you anything, I told you not to eat that damn salad in my car."
Weasly Crusher: "I can't believe that Deviant Boy would rather be with his girlfriend than game."
Biff Bam: "Who's he with now anyway?"
Weasly Crusher: "The girl that works at the comic shop.... Asenath."
Cheating Bastard: "She seems nice..."
El Disgusto: "Whoah! Wait! Hold the phone! Asenath? The one with the deformed baby arm thing going on?"
Weasly Crusher: "That would be her."
El Disgusto: "That's the ultimate lover he was bragging about?"
Me: "Well I for one am glad that he found someone to bond with."
El Disgusto: "She has a baby arm! How can he stand to even be near her? She's deformed! What can they possibly be doing together?"
Weasly Crusher: "He says it's like getting a handjob from a Pterodactyl."
Me: "Oh sweet Jesus you did not have to go there..."
Biff Bam: "Asenath? Is that name a Greek name? It sounds like something out of Vampire the MasqueradEIE."
That last bit was not a typo, that was how Biff pronounced 'Masquerade'. Biff had this habit of randomly mispronouncing things in ways that made little or no sense at all. To show this I will caps lock the creative pronunciations so we can all enjoy them.
Biff Bam: "I looked over your character sheets and everything is OK except for one thing. I asked everyone to make acaMAdemians and one of you made a nIMja."
El Disgusto: "He is a professor of ninja studies."
Me: "Did they have ninja studies in the 1930s?"
El Disgusto: "You better watch yourself, you're already on thin ice with me."
Me: "Ooooo I'm scared."
El Disgusto: "Better be. I will drop you like a wet taco."
Cheating Bastard: "What?"
Biff Bam: "Keep it down guys. My Mom is trying to watch Madam's Place."
Weasly Crusher: "Sorry."
Biff Bam: "Well let's just say you are a professor of occidental mytholoGINITY who studies kung-fu and stuff."
El Disgusto: "Whatever."
As he was talking he closed the laundry room door, sealing us off from the outside world. The fluorescent light made my gaming companions look like cadavers-not like the healthy wholesome kind of cadavers you find under the earth, more like the kind you would find washed up off the shores of New Jersey. Biff set the stage for us with very broad strokes, we were all respected professors of mythology, theology and archeology.
Biff Bam: "Now all your characters know each other on a POURfesional level. For some of you there may be an academic rivalry. your character may have called another character's ideas into question."
Cheating Bastard: "With near perfect scores like mine you'd have to crazy to mess with my character."
Biff Bam: "All of your characters have a mutual friend, an adventurer named Dick Marvil."
El Disgusto: "I have to be a professor and this Dick Marvil gets to be an adventurer?"
Biff Bam: "Each of you receive a telegram from Dick asking you to visit him at the house he inherited in Arkham, Massachusetts ."
Me: "I pack immediately!"
Cheating Bastard: "I have my servants pack for me."
Weasly Crusher: "I take my pet komodo dragon and go."
Biff Bam: "Komodo?"
Weasly Crusher: "You agreed to it. It's on my character sheet."
Biff Bam: "Let me see. Where?"
Weasly Crusher: "On the back."
Biff Bam: "Where?"
Weasly Crusher: "Near the bottom."
Biff Bam: "This thing here? I thought it was a watermark."
It took a few moments to resolve the whole komodo situation, mostly because Biff enforced his rulings by wrestling you to the ground and pinning you until you blacked out. All the while the laundry room grew hotter and hotter. I tried to distract myself from Weasly's muffled cries by glancing up at the poster but I had to look away.
Was it my imagination or had his expression changed?
Biff Bam: "So you all reach Dick Marvil's great uncle's mAInor on the same dark and stormy night."
El Disgusto: "Not me. I keep away from everyone else. I get a motel room in town and barricade myself in."
Cheating Bastard: "Why?"
El Disgusto: "Because they're my rivals, how do I know this isn't all some setup to get rid of me?"
Me: "Our characters are academic rivals. Stress on academic."
El Disgusto: "I'm role playing! My character is a very stressed person, no one respects the field of Applied Ninja Studies."
Weasly Crusher: "Is his character losing Sanity points already?"
Me: "He's loosing them in real life."
Biff Bam: "I'll be running the whole Sanity Points thing a little dYEfferently, just so you know."
Me: "Differently how?"
Biff Bam: "Well the whole SanANity rules thing doesn't make a lot of sense to me."
Weasly Crusher: "It seems easy enough, you see something scary you roll your sanity."
Cheating Bastard: "I rarely fail my sanity rolls."
Biff Bam: "See that's the problAM, the whole Sanity thing is based on fear more than anything else and real men have no fear."
Me: "Everyone is scared of something."
Biff Bam: "That's what they tell the wussies."
El Disgusto: "He means you ya wuss."
Biff Bam: "So in my game you Sanity stat measures your manliness. The less Sanity pINts you have the more gay you are."
Me: "You're kidding right?"
There was a muffled shouting and screeching from the other room. Biff paled a bit and excused himself from the laundry room. He made sure to close the door behind him.
We stared at each other across the peeling card table and tried to make out what was being said behind the warped plywood door.
Cheating Bastard: "Wouldn't it be cool if just for once one El Disgusto's characters actually tried to join the party?"
El Disgusto: "Wouldn't it be cool if you rolled your dice where everyone could see them?"
Me: "Am I the only person uncomfortable with this guys homebrewed Sanity rules?"
El Disgusto: "Wuss!"
Me: "You know once I start slapping you I'm not going to be able to stop."
El Disgusto: "Yeah try and slap me. I'm a six-month black belt. A white ninja. I walk between the raindrops!"
Me: "And here I was just thinking you didn't shower."
Weasly Crusher: "Am I the only person uncomfortable with the fact I was just wrestled to the ground?"
Cheating Bastard: "Hey give the guy a chance here, he runs a cool game. And Dick Marvil is an awesome NPC."
Weasly Crusher: "He was strangling me."
Me: "Sorry this whole thing is a tad weird."
El Disgusto: "Like I'm sure the opinion if some failed writer matters."
Weasly Crusher: "I still can't feel my fingertips."
Me: "What? Where the Hell do you get off talking to me like that?"
El Disgusto: "You've had three novels rejected by publishers here and in England. That sounds like failure to me."
Me: "The only failure is in not trying."
El Disgusto: "Oh please. Think about this Ab3, think about the worst novel ever published. By default that novel is better than anything you ever wrote. William Shatner's writing has more meaning than yours."
When those words left his lips I could swear I heard the poster of Billy Ray Cyrus urging me to kill. Perhaps I might have. It wouldn't have been the first gaming related fatality in our town, but before I could act Biff returned and the game got back underway.
While El Disgusto's character stayed in town and sharpened his katanas we were given a tour of the house that Dick Marvil had inherited. It was very creepy and very gothic... or goTHICKE as Biff would say.
Biff Bam: "Then Dick tells you about his adventures in the Orient and how he made a fortune smuggling jadEIE."
Me: "Another fortune? How about that."
Cheating Bastard: "Yeah my character helped with that."
Biff Bam: "That was the time that Dick Marvil killed 11 men with a bent spoon."
Cheating Bastard: "Saved my character's life I remember that."
Weasly Crusher: "Who was game mastering this?"
Biff Bam: "I was."
El Disgusto: "I drag the whetstone across my katana. Scraaaape. Scraaaape. Scraaaaape."
By now the laundry room was roughly the temperature of Cthuga's blasphemous armpit. I sat there sweat pouring off me, as the Biff continued to feed us the 'Legend of Dick Marvil'.
Dick Marvil was a man among men, a millionaire playboy and inventor. His hobbies were archeology and fighting crime. He was a master of the martial arts, boxing, fencing and a crack shot with any kind of gun. He could also drive racecars, navigate ships and fly aircraft. As he led us from room to room of the strange manor he puffed away on a pipe that had been given to him by 'Sherlock HolmSES'.
Weasly Crusher: "But why are we here?"
El Disgusto: "I'm not there. Scraaaaaape. Scraaaaaaape."
Cheating Bastard: "Yes what can we do for the great man?"
Biff Bam: "He has found in the basement a strange old library full of HOccult books. Only you four-"
El Disgusto: "I'm not there! Scraaape. Scraaaaaape."
Biff Bam: "Only you characters have the skills necessary to catalogue and investigate these books."
Me: "Is he paying us?"
Biff Bam: "Sure, but it's late he escorts you to your rooms so you can rest for the night. You can all start work in the morning."
Me: "Fine. Fine I get ready for bed."
Cheating Bastard: "My character works on his latest book."
El Disgusto: "I wait until midnight. Then I go to stately Marvil manor."
Weasly Crusher: "I get ready for bed too."
Biff Bam: "Do you change into your kimono? The one you have on the back of your character sheet?"
Weasly Crusher: "No."
Biff Bam: "Because that's what it says right?"
Weasly Crusher: "Yes."
Me: "Is there a window or something you can crack open here? It's stifling."
Biff Bam: "Sorry, the only window's paiHAInted shut. If you're hot just take your shirt off."
And with that Biff took his shirt off. I must admit I had never considered what I might do if a fellow role player started stripping in front of me. I had hoped that if it did happen I would be gaming with either Phoebe Cates or Christine McGlade.
But I never have that kind of luck. Instead I found myself starting at Biff's doughy man-teats.
When I looked away I found myself staring back at Billy Ray. The haze of gamer's funk made his mullet shift disturbingly. Our characters turned in for the night.
El Disgusto: "I park my car a mile from the house. I'm all dressed in black. I walk- NO! Leap from tree to tree with just my katana and my Thompson submachine gun."
Cheating Bastard: "Why?"
El Disgusto: "Let's just say you bitches picked the wrong academic rival!"
Biff Bam: "As you draw closer to the house you see strange gargURLE like shapes moving about on the roof."
El Disgusto: "Can I see what room Ab3's character is in?"
Biff Bam: "Please make a Sanity roll."
El Disgusto: "Why? For freaking shadows? I am a shadow! I'm a Ninja Ph.D.!"
Biff Bam: "The shadows are unearTHEDly, please roll."
El Disgusto: "Screw that my character wouldn't be scared of NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"
El Disgusto tried to run but Biff had the home field advantage and before anyone else could react the 'white ninja' was in a figure four leglock. Cheating Bastard seemed to be enjoying the show, but Weasly was flinching. I stared at the poster, why would anyone have a poster like that on their laundry room wall? Why?
Once Biff had reestablished himself as the alpha geek the game continued. El Disgusto was oddly subdued, even in the murky light I could see on his face the impression of the d4 he had landed on.
Biff Bam: "You guys sure you don't want to take your shirts off?"
Weasly Crusher: "I'm comfortable."
El Disgusto: "I doff my Boba Fett T-shirt for no man."
Me: "I'm enjoying the whole heatstroke thing thanks anyway."
Biff Bam: "What wrong with you? We're all guys here. Take off your shirt."
Cheating Bastard: "What?"
Biff Bam: "C.B. take off your shirt."
It was like that scene at the end of FAME but worse because instead of Irene Cara you had a man with the physique and skin tones of a naked mole rat. From my vantage point Billy Ray seemed to be sizing up Cheating Bastard for reasons I couldn't fathom. If a poster could have seethed with inhuman urges this poster did.
There was a fresh chorus of grumbles and roars. A shadow passed across Biff's features and he excused himself again.
Me: "We have got to get out of here."
Cheating Bastard: "What for? We just got here."
El Disguto: "ohshinobiohshibiohshinobi...."
Weasly Crusher: "Maybe if our characters kill themselves."
Me: "Let's just leave."
Cheating Bastard: "You do that and he might get upset."
El Disguto: "ohshinobiohshibiohshinobi...."
Weasly Crusher: "We're doomed! I can't take my shirt off I just can't! I have this whole third nipple thing..."
Cheating Bastard: "Just enjoy the game guys. He's a great GM."
Me: "News flash! On the planet I'm from role-playing is not a blood sport!"
El Disguto: "ohshinobiohshibiohshinobi...."
Me: "What the HELL are you doing?"
El Disgusto: "Trying to contact the ninja I was in a previous life. With his power and mine we beat this guy's ass."
Me: "You know every time I think I've met someone more screwed up than you- you just set the bar a little higher."
The terror and the heat made the minutes pass like hours. Could I make it past Biff to the door? The poster of Billy Ray Cyrus mocked my hopes. Was he some dark redneck god that we were all doomed to be sacrificed to?
Me: "Where did he go?"
Cheating Bastard: "His mother has some foot condition. Has to give her like foot rubs every couple of hours or so."
Weasly Crusher: "Oh my god."
El Disgusto: "I thought I smelled Ben Gay!"
Biff Bam: "Sorry to keep you waiting. Why does everyone still have their shirts on?"
I would like to be able to tell you that this was the moment I chose to make my stand against the madness going on around me but that's not exactly what happened. We role played shirtless for the next hour or so. Our characters were woken by the sound of Nightgaunts throwing a certain fully accredited ninja through the front window.
Dick Marvil disappeared and we found ourselves under siege, none of the weapons we had- ninja or otherwise were at all effective. Our characters barricaded themselves in the
library and began desperately reading spellbooks in the hopes of some way they might save themselves.
Biff Bam: "You failed your sanity roll again."
Weasly Crusher: "Oh no."
Biff Bam: "Ok now your character not only has a limp wrist which gEYEVEs him a dextEROSITY modifier but he now speaks with a lisp."
Weasly Crusher: "Ok."
Biff Bam: "You better be lisping when you talk. Got it?"
Weasly Crusher: "YeTH."
Cheating Bastard: "Do any of these booKTH help?"
Biff Bam: "Nothing has hALPed yet. Suddenly the door crashes in and there are NiCEgaunts ever streaming down the stairs."
El Disgusto: "I try to commit seppuku with a copy of the King In Yellow."
Me: "Isn't there anything we can do?"
Biff Bam: "No."
Cheating Bastard: "I keep reading the booKTH. JusTH in CaseTH."
Me: "I wait for the inevitable."
Biff Bam: "The nightGRUNTS close in... closer... closer... when suddenly-"
Weasly Crusher: "We all die... please?"
Biff Bam: "When suddenly Dick Marvil hurls himself down the stairs and wrestLEZ the closest nightgaunt to the ground."
El Disgusto: "I'm still killing myself!"
Biff Bam: "The nightgaunt's neck breaks with a sickening snap and then Dick Marvil throws himself at the next one and repEEPats the prUCEss!"
Cheating Bastard: "DoeTH he kill all of them?"
Biff Bam: "Yes. He breaks all their necks! You're saved!"
Weasly Crusher: "Hooray."
Me: "Wait a minute. Guns and katanas can't scratch these things but their necks snap like twigs?"
Biff Bam: "Not my fault none of you thought to do that."
That was it. I was on my feet.
Me: "This is a load of bullshit. You don't know the first thing about Call of Cthulhu and you sure as Hell have no idea how to run a role-playing game if you think our idea of a good time is being your pet character's FUCKING ENTOURAGE!"
Cheating Bastard gasped with horror. Weasly crawled under the desk. El Disgusto soiled himself for reasons that could only be his own. I was already running for the door to the laundry room when I felt meaty hands grabbing hold of me and dragging me down. My vision began to go black. The last thing I saw was the poster of Billy Ray Cyrus and in that last moment I realized that when it came to horror gaming I didn't know Dick.