Terror Australis: Call of Cthulhu in the Land Down Under is a masterful work of imagination by a team of home-grown Australian Call of Cthulhu creators, many of whom were involved in the original edition of Terror Australis, from 1987. Here we talk to contributor Marion Anderson, whose Call of Cthulhu writing has also appeared in the Cairo Guidebook, Fearful Passages, Beyond the Mountains of Madness and Horror on the Orient Express.)
For those who have never been to the outback, that immensity of land beyond Australia’s cities, it is almost impossible to explain its lure:
The moment before a perfect sunrise, where the whole land is holding its breath and even the chittering of birds at waterholes is silenced.
The vastness of the turquoise sky over a flat parched land; being able to see to the horizon in all directions and knowing that there is probably no one within that horizon to save you if you fall.
The infinity of stars that blaze overhead at night, reinforcing your own complete insignificance in an uncaring universe.
The crumbling ruins that only 50-100 years ago were the hopes and dreams of people not born of this land, who thought they could tame it, and force it to be somewhere that it was not.
The knowledge that you are visiting a land that has been lived in for more than 50,000 years, and where the songs and stories of its custodians carry an oral tradition that tells of events in the geologic past that we are only just now beginning to understand.
The deep redness of the soil and dust stains your clothing and skin; many years after you return to “civilisation” you still find tiny specks of it buried deep in pockets which whisper to you and carry the promise that the land is with you, no matter how far away you travel from it.
How do you convey things like this to a Keeper in ways that they can then pass on, in a new story, to their players as a small group of Investigators ventures forth into this land to discover hidden secrets that may lead to a deeper understanding of their world, their universe, and possibly themselves?
The Terror Australis scenario “A Long Way From Home” is an attempt to pass on some of this to the players – the land is there, waiting for them, whispering its secrets. Almost all of the places and events you will experience are real.
If you visit South Australia you can walk the empty streets of Farina, imagining the laughter of children out on the airfield/oval as they run to catch a cricket ball. You can visit the mine, see the headstones at the cemetery, and then drive 10 kilometres to see the few pieces of twisted iron cladding that are the remains of the sanatorium. They are right beside the signs exhorting visitors not to drink from the radioactive waters of the stream.
For me, the joy of writing for Call of Cthulhu is taking the ordinary and finding within it the extraordinary, peeling back the veneer of safety and normality to find that which lurks within. I am extremely happy poring through ancient tomes (or on-line newspaper repositories and discovering things about our world that lead to ideas and stories that are definitely not of our world. Every scenario and story begins with a place, or an object. I just push that place or object over the teetering edge and into the Mythos.
Listen to the silence before dawn, look to the stars, and come and explore our Australia, our Terror Australis. I will be waiting for you at the end of your journey, with a reassuring plate of scones, a cup of tea, and a straitjacket!
Terror Australis is out now in hardback from Chaosium.com.