A Defence of Cyclical Discourse

It’s hard for snakes who eat their own tails to get a fair break nowadays…

The Ouroboros is a symbol that is said to date back to ancient Egypt but it also appears — spontaneously it would appear — in a number of other cultures scattered across the globe. Nowadays, we tend to view it as a representation of cannibalistic futility. Of something that tries to consume in order to stay alive only for that thing to wind up consuming itself. However, this is not the only way of interpreting the symbol.

While we tend to view the snake as a thing that consumes, it is important to remember that the snake is eternal and so its consumption must be (at some point) counter-balanced by creation. Carl Jung recognised this when he adopted Ouroboros as one of his archetypes:

The Ouroboros has been said to have a meaning of infinity or wholeness. In the age-old image of the Ouroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself. The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites.

People tend to reach for Ouroboros whenever they want to stress the absolute futility of discourse and the endless cycles of re-litigation and re-iteration that comprise cultural debate. This is particularly true whenever you think about discourse relating to things like horror or RPGs: What is the point of endlessly rehashing old arguments? You’re never going to convince anyone or anything!

This may be true, but what if cyclical discourse arrising from irreconcilable differences was productive? What if it was itself apart of the creative process? What if the act of creation is born of destruction?

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Some Additional Thoughts about Nephilim

A little while ago, I wrote a piece about how Nephilim – the game whose commercial failure is responsible for Chaosium no longer developing new games – is my all-time favourite RPG.

I wasn’t planning on writing anything else about Nephilim as I’m not currently playing it but then I happened to listen to a podcast that changed the way I thought about investigation-based RPGs.

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REVIEW: Empire of Imagination by Michael Witwer

At some point, someone is going to publish a history of Dungeons & Dragons that does not simply stop at the point when E. Gary Gygax was forced out of TSR. At some point, someone is going to write a history of Dungeons & Dragons that engages with the creative process and tries to understand why the game assumed the shape it did.

We have not yet reached that point.

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Against the Standard Model of Call of Cthulhu

It is not always obvious what a particular game is supposed to look and feel like in play. Even if we can work out how a game functions on a session-by-session basis there is no guarantee that we’ll be able to work out how to run a campaign. When it comes to Call of Cthulhu, the question of what campaign play is supposed to look like boils down to one single question:

What do you do after running “The Haunting”?

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REVIEW: The Wombwell Stones

Set in early 1920s Britain, A Very British Horror is an on-going series of adventures (half of which have been published at time of writing) designed to either stand alone or function as an extended campaign. The first volume, The Folly of Ponsonby-Wild is set in a decaying B&B in the Cotswolds and it involves a traumatised friend, a deranged husband, family secrets, and a sinister cult with ties to the British establishment. I thought it very good when I played it, I thought it even better when I sat down to write about it, and I remember it now as one of the few published Call of Cthulhu adventures to really grasp the unique horrors of Britishness.

However, while The Folly of Ponsonby-Wild may be a fantastic stand-alone adventure and a great place to start a Call of Cthulhu campaign set in 1920s Britain, the second volume in the series is something of a disappointment.

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REVIEW: Hand of Glory

Hand of Glory is part of Type40’s ongoing series of ‘adventure seeds’.

What you get for your $9 is a short, single-session adventure designed to be run with minimal preparation. You also get a set of pre-gens, and a selection of beautifully-designed handouts. What you do not get is very much of anything else.

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