The Gardens at Taskerland v2.0

The Gardens at Taskerland is the series in which I talk about this blog, the direction it is headed in, and any tweaks and alterations I feel like making. The rest of the series can be found here.

For a lot of people, the first lockdown was an opportunity to either try something new or rediscover something old. I fell into the latter group as I soon found myself running a weekly gaming session.

We started out playing old school Dungeons & Dragons until I realised that the sessions people seemed to enjoy the most were the ones rooted in mystery and investigation rather than acquisitiveness and violence. It was not long before we ported across to Call of Cthulhu.

Our weekly game has now been running for over a year and I find myself constantly surprised not only by my group’s reactions to the material I prepare for them, but also by my own reaction to ideas and habits laid down in the early 1990s when I first started gaming. Habits that don’t seem like a good match for the person I am today.

Returning to gaming has forced me to think more critically about stuff that I used to take for granted: Stuff like how to write adventures, how to structure campaigns, how to relate to your players, and how to buy material that will help to improve your game.

This blog was born of note-taking. The more I thought about how to run games, the more I realised that I should probably be taking notes and keeping track of useful conclusions, if only in order to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. I decided to start putting my ideas online in the hope that sharing this stuff would a) motivate me to tidy up my ideas and b) help other people who might find themselves in similar positions. I am not a professional, an expert, or even a particularly good GM but I am trying to improve and I want to share some of the discoveries I have made.

Another reason for putting my writing online is a desire to return to regular blogging.

When I first started out, I made the mistake of thinking that blogs cohered around subject matter. In other words, you decided what cultural form you wanted to write about (films, games, books, clothes) and then you just started writing. I now realise that, far from producing something personal, this was a recipe for slightly shitty enthusiast press. But how do you tackle an entire cultural form? How can you hope to develop a voice or build an audience with such a broad range of potential subjects? No wonder so many bloggers either burn out or become part of the PR cycle.

I would like Taskerland to become something quite personal. I would like to write a little bit about my experiences as a gamer, a little bit about my current game, and a little bit about the things that inspire me when I sit down to write and prepare my current game. I am not sure where this process will take me, but I do know where I want to start.

I will start by placing Taskerland in a slow parabolic orbit of Chaosium’s venerable table top role-playing game Call of Cthulhu as that is the game that I am currently playing. I will then go on to write about some of the books I have bought, some of the films I have watched and some of the experiences that I have had because the only way to deal with the future is to consider the present in terms of the past.

The Gardens at Taskerlands v1.0

The Gardens at Taskerland is the series in which I talk about this blog, the direction it is headed in, and any tweaks and alterations I feel like making. The rest of the series can be found here.

This is an experiment.

TSKLNDS

While all blogs have the power to expand, contract, wander or stall, most of them define themselves by specific choices about subject matter.

For example, some people allow their blogs to be defined by attachment to artistic form as in the case of people who blog about books, films, or theatre. Other people choose to write about personal matters and so anchor themselves to their own experiences.

Many of the most successful personal blogs start out by committing themselves to particular forms or subjects only to wind up defining themselves in social terms. In other words, while people may very well write about the films they watch or the experiences they have had, these posts will inevitable wind up being written with one eye on a broader cultural conversation such as a fandom, an industry, or a political movement.

This blog is something of an experiment in that (unlike my previous blogs) I propose to bind it to a particular theme, namely that of the haunting.


The name of the blog is inspired by the setting for Nigel Kneale’s 1972 TV movie The Stone Tape.

The film revolves around a group of engineers who are set up in an abandoned mansion by a wealthy industrialist who, under pressure from Japanese imports, has decided to fund some blue-sky research. Despite high-energy leadership and seemingly endless resources, the group flounders until their computer programmer happens to see a ghost. Initially terrified, the group soon realises that the ghostly manifestation is nothing more than a figure that appears in a specific place in response to an unknown trigger and performs a specific set of actions before disappearing. Seeing as the ghost appears to have neither physical presence nor agency, the leader of the group concludes that ghosts are not so much disembodied spirits as information that has somehow been etched into the stones comprising the basement of the mansion. Thus, the group decides to experiment on the ghost in an attempt to learn how the information has been stored and how it might be replayed on demand.

What fascinates me about the Stone Tape is its attempt to come up with an entirely new way of thinking about ghosts and hauntings.  Peruse a book like Roger Clarke’s A Natural History of Ghosts and you will find that the concept of a ghost differs not only from culture to culture, but also from era to era. For example, the disembodied souls invoked by Victorian spiritualists were very different to the shy and retiring creatures entreated to perform by contemporary ghost hunters.  Similarly, the faceless and incoherent fonts of supernatural rage referred to in the late 20th Century as poltergeist are very different to the fragments of information accidentally burned into the foundations of Taskerlands manor.

Inspired by Kneale’s film, this blog is an attempt to articulate and explore new ways of thinking about ghosts. To view them not only as tropes in popular culture or theoretical constructs that shine a hauntological light on the development of culture, but also things that exert a massive influence upon our sense of self. This is a blog about the metaphorical and the actual… about entities that are both absolutely real and completely fictitious.