Never Going Home, a cosmic horror game set in World War I, uses supernatural aberrations to reflect the human corruption of the time.
Never Going Home writer Irvin Jackson, artist Charles Ferguson Avery, and system designer Brandon Aten why the genre Lovecraft created matched the sign of the times, and what to do when the monster is an M1-Abrams tank.
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Irvin Jackson: [00:00:00] Your senses will tell you something’s wrong. Something’s out of place. The hairs on your arm will stand up, the back of your neck – you will get chills even before you hear that horrible screeching
Charles Ferguson Avery: [00:00:13] as loud and shells in the distance slowly and steadily as you creep forward.
Irvin Jackson: [00:00:22] And when you do see it, it will be brain breaking for you to see something that you know shouldn’t exist should not fit together.
Charles Ferguson Avery: [00:00:32] As you approach it. You see hordes of people, their chanting drowned out by the screams, and in front of their pyre that they’ve built sits a totem of a beast rising up like some sort of profane alien obelisk.
Irvin Jackson: [00:00:48] You’ve got this massive tower of segmented plates with this enormous mouth and these incredibly horrendous teeth, these vestigial massive tentacles and flats and blobs and this tail. And in the middle of it is this baleful eye which can literally drive you insane just by looking at it.
Charles Ferguson Avery: [00:01:10] Its eye dances about the ground hungrily looking for those who are not part of its entourage, all the, while it screams and screams and screams.
Irvin Jackson: [00:01:22] When you see this thing coming at you, your only consideration is surviving the next few minutes.
Never Going Home
Lucas: [00:01:30] Hello, and welcome to Making a Monster, the weekly podcast where game designers show us their favorite monster and we discover how it works, why it works and what it means. I’m Lucas. Zellers. The Abomination comes from a game that’s very different from Dungeons & Dragons. and I’m excited to introduce you to not one, not two, but three of the people who work.
Irvin Jackson: [00:01:52] My name is Irvin Jackson. I am a writer and an artist.
Charles Ferguson Avery: [00:01:57] My name is Charles Ferguson, Avery. I am a freelance artist and creator.
Brandon Aten: [00:02:01] My name is Brandon Aten. I’m the business director of Wet Ink Games. And we’re based out of Louisville, Kentucky.
Lucas: [00:02:06] Wet Ink Games is a small gaming company dedicated to bringing you new, fresh ideas to your tabletop before the ink dries. That dedication paid off with Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall, which you may remember from our first episode, and it paid off again with Never Going Home, a cosmic horror role-playing game set in World War One.
Brandon Aten: [00:02:28] A lot of our games are kind of off the beaten path. Never Going Home, we were inspired by Charlie’s work with an Inktober project that he was working on, which was all World War One stuff. And you would be hard pressed to find another world war one RPG. And so it was right up our alley.
We reached out to Charlie and said, We love your stuff we’ve been following you. Can we do something with it
Lucas: [00:02:51] Inktober is an annual art challenge started by artist Jake Parker in 2009. Thousands of artists use the month of October to make 31 inked drawings in 31 days. Charles Ferguson Avery used the challenge to create an art book called World War Occult, and the team at wedding games worked with him to develop his concept into Never Going Home.
Charles Ferguson Avery: [00:03:13] What were one was to begin with? Closest thing humanity can achieve to a living hell or various other points in history, various other places, but that’s a big one. So I just kind of played around with the idea of what if it got so bad that it literally just tore a hole into the other side.
The core tenants of it were that it was not glorious. It was horrifying, dark, scary, and melancholy. The sides stopped fighting, the war broke down, and instead it became about people fighting against something much worse than themselves.
Irvin Jackson: [00:03:48] The setting for this is what you drew me in both the World War One aspect, and the horror aspect. I’m a big Lovecraft fan and this had some definite Lovecraftian overtones and, I’m pretty sure that’s why Brandon contacted me in the first place, because I knew that this was absolutely like my wheelhouse, the kind of thing I love.
Learn more about Inktober from the time I, a rank amateur, managed to pull it off: https://scintilla.studio/musician-does-inktober/
The +One System
Brandon Aten: [00:04:07] Yeah, I don’t think I got that out of my mouth before Irvin was like, yes, I was one of the primary system designers for Never Going Home. It is all narrative-based, it has a narrator. And we wanted to make sure that moving forward, it could operate with whatever you could find in your game closet – so, a standard deck of cards and standard d6. It’s a pretty simple mechanic of, uh, successes being a five or six on a standard d6. And so you’re trying to achieve target numbers of sales and the +One system, which Never Going Home uses, uses your characters attributes to modify die rolls up and down, trying to achieve a five or six on dice
Cards come into play in the +One system in different ways. And in Never Going Home specifically, the card decks are used to show the eldritch elements that Irvin was mentioning, that kind of Cthulhu element. You’re trying to get power from The Others on the other side of the veil that is thinned between our world and The Others.
And you’re giving up your humanity. Which are represented by the cards in order to get more power.
Lucas: [00:05:15] It is a blast talking to these guys, not just because they so enjoy each other’s work, but also because they genuinely get it. They genuinely understand why I wanted to do this podcast. We talked about what makes the monsters in Never Going Home and the abomination specifically, so frightening and so relevant.
World War I Setting for an RPG
Irvin Jackson: [00:05:33] One of the things that I like about the setting is that it is both high-tech and low-tech at the same time. World War I was where humanity was on the cusp. And it’s a combination of kind of old classic 1800’s warfare with all this new technology that people really didn’t know how to use or understand how devastating it would be on the battlefield.
And it also is a much more isolated war. Uh, today a soldier could get data from headquarters can find out what’s going on in the whole world. They can even call home and say, “Hey honey, I’m fine.” In this setting, particularly with the players, there’s also going to be times where you have no contact with anybody except the people in your immediate vicinity. You don’t know what’s going on. You don’t have a way of accessing the big picture. And I think that that heightens the horror aspect of it.
The antagonists in this are essentially beings from another dimension. Our warfare and the death and carnage has gotten their attention has weakened the veil between our world and theirs, and they see an opportunity. They begin to move into our world and influence people and events on it.
Brandon Aten: [00:06:57] Now mechanically how that actually plays out: there’s a mechanic called corruption where you’ll be drawing cards from the deck and you will see it and then you’ll slide it to the narrator. And the narrator will see it, and they will know if your character is becoming more and more corrupt throughout the game.
And you keep those cards secrets. You always keep your corruption level secret. So you can start not optimally cooperating, not giving cards when you’re supposed to, not maximizing your role to beat an adversary, things like that to ultimately mess with the unit. The kicker is if your character ever reaches five corruption at the end of that mission, they don’t go home.
Irvin Jackson: [00:07:40] The creatures that players have to face and that the world is threatened by, uh, they are, like he said, they’re not The Others, but in my mind, they’re kind of what could happen to us. These are things from other worlds where the veil tore and they were not able to resist the corruption. And now they’re minions for lack of a better term for The Others, but also looking at them, as we as humans face corruption, we also see in these monsters our eventual potential fate.
Charles Ferguson Avery: [00:08:15] I like that a lot, which is weird because like, I, you know, I didn’t come up with any of that! I just drew the spooky drawings, and now it’s like this, like, God, God I wish I had come up with that.
Lucas: [00:08:32] Of all of the monsters that you’ve designed for this game. What has been your favorite?
Irvin Jackson: [00:08:38] I don’t know if we have a consensus. I know everybody’s got their favorite, I think.
My favorite is easily the Abomination. It is this massive segmented worm. I described it as an amalgam of biological calamities. I think that the best creatures, the most frightening creatures are the ones that you have trouble describing.
You can’t really comprehend it. And the Abomination’s this large worm, tentacled insectile, creature that is just a devouring agent of chaos. And it in itself is scary, but the even scarier part is that the only way it gets here is if someone was depraved enough to bring it over. While it’s horrifying, you have to keep in mind that one, someone had the power to do this, and two someone didn’t care that it was here, as long as it was doing their bidding.
And a good portion of the time, the summoner that brings it over ends up being eaten by it because they can’t control it because it’s just, it’s too much for them. It’s, you know, it’s an act of hubris at the base of it. You have very human motivations that caused it to be the terror that it was.
If there wasn’t a human involved, there wouldn’t be an abomination here. And I like that dichotomy.
Charles Ferguson Avery: [00:10:06] Did I do the illustration for that?
Brandon Aten: [00:10:08] Yes, you did. I mean, you did all the illustrations, but Charlie, my favorite part about it is that you have this giant, massive flesh sitting on like a Mark seven tank chassis –
Irvin Jackson: [00:10:21] yes.
Brandon Aten: [00:10:21] In front of a bonfire.
Charles Ferguson Avery: [00:10:24] Aw, that thing! Yeah.
Brandon Aten: [00:10:26] It’s, it’s amazing.
Charles Ferguson Avery: [00:10:29] Okay. Yes. When I did that illustration for the art book, I named it something, something screamer, like it was just constantly making noise, sort of a callback to the fact like when the bombardments and shelling would happen, like the soldiers would be in capable of sleep – in sleeping. And that was kind of, sort of very like dark cranked-up-to-11 version of that, of just this constant screaming, horrible noise making monster.
Irvin Jackson: [00:10:57] This extreme alien being the thing that it actually raises questions about his humanity, because like I said, it’s only here because a human brought it.
And this is something that’s powerful enough that it would be a late campaign creature, you know, you’re not going to run on this on day one, unless you’re game master’s just horrible.
But it makes you wonder, is it too late? Have we as a species fall into far already that some of us, multiple of us are willing to do. This are willing to go this far are willing to bring something like that and unleash it on other humans.
I just liked the fact that this horrible calamity makes you go, “Are we already screwed and not because of the monster, but because of why it’s here.?”
Charles Ferguson Avery: [00:11:49] Yeah. That was one of, of the original illustrations. That was one of the last ones I did. Up until then all the monsters are sort of rooted in some sort of realism.
Like they have limbs, they have mouths, they have eyes, there is something predatory about them. They are monsters. This thing goes beyond that. This thing becomes something that cannot necessarily be stopped. And the fact that people are worshiping it and bringing it into this world. And instead of it, like acting like a predator, it acts instead like some sort of horrible nightmarish tyrant shows that it’s –
Yeah, it’s the culmination of everything up until then. And the final realization that. It might be too late.
Brandon Aten: [00:12:39] It’s funny you say that because in part of the layout, under the picture of the Abomination and just like scrawled in on the page, it says, “What did you do?”
Irvin Jackson: [00:12:54] Yeah.
Hubris in Science Fiction Horror Stories
Lucas: [00:12:56] We’ve talked in terms of questions. Do you think there are answers here? Does this say anything concrete about the world we live in?
Charles Ferguson Avery: [00:13:02] I think it has, at least in my eyes – and the beauty of role-playing games is that it is different in everybody else’s eyes, and like you’ve product is something else once it is used by someone else – for me, it is hope that even if everything is falling apart, you can still fight. You might not win. But you have to fight and you have to survive.
Irvin Jackson: [00:13:28] I also think there’s a cautionary tale that comes up a lot in science fiction and horror dating all the way back and maybe beyond to say creatures like Godzilla. Godzilla was an allegory for nuclear warfare and this new threat of a weapon.
That first reared its head truly in World War One, where mass destruction could occur. And it was all human-engineered and human-generated. And this creature to me spoke about the same way is as the development of the first tanks and of the first combat aircraft and bombing and mustard gas, and all of those new horrific things.
Things that you, when you look on the battlefield and you see your friends getting gassed or bombed or pieces of them, and you think another person thought this up and inflicted upon the rest of us.
And who do we have to stop? Is it enough to stop the thing? Or is it enough to even stop the designer or the summoner in this case, knowing that once that knowledge that it exists is out.
Now, everyone knows that something like this can happen and it changes the dynamics of how you approach everything from that point on you have two times of your life before you saw the abomination and after.
Where to get Never Going Home
Never Going Home (affiliate link):
Wet Ink Games:
Charles Ferguson Avery: