From The Surrey Shore . . .
The Newsletter of the Hated Rivals on the Surrey Shore Vol. 3, No. 1, February 2004
****A Scion Society for All Who Enjoy Sherlock Holmes in All His Manifestations!****
Sherlock Holmes often likened the pursuit of criminals to a game, as in the statement forming the title of this section and in his other famous assertion that he played the game for the game’s own sake. And so the Hated Rivals on the Surrey Shore have decided to take the Master Sleuth of Baker Street at his word and make our next meeting a game as well—to be specific, a mystery game. (We’ll be co-hosting this event with our fellow scion, the Victorian Gamers Afoot!, a scion dedicated to the enjoyment of Sherlockian and Victorian-era games.) We’ll meet on Sunday, March 14, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., at the Warren Library on E. 21st Street (between Post and Mitthoeffer Roads—see the “Coming Meetings” section for the address and directions). The meeting centers around a live Sherlockian mystery game in which all in attendance can participate (or observe, if you’re of the wallflower variety and would prefer to watch rather than play). And serving as Gamemaster Extraordinaire is our own Chris Engle, who designed and will run the event. (Chris, as some of you may already know, is a talented game designer, creator of his own Engle Matrix Game System, and publisher of Hamster Press.) The game, which is kind of a cross between a role-playing and a story-telling game, is easy to learn (it takes only minutes to master the rules) and requires only an ample portion of imagination on the part of its players (something we know that the Hated Rivals have in droves). Prior to the actual game, our own Barker (Bill Barton), who is himself a published game designer, with three industry awards to his credit, will offer a brief survey of Sherlockian and Victorian games, past and present. An even briefer business meeting and refreshments (for, after all, what goes better with gaming than munchies?) round out the event. Even if you’ve never played anything more complicated than Old Maid or Monopoly, we urge you to take up the challenge of matching wits with your fellow Rivals for a rousing game of whodunit (for, just maybe, the culprit will turn out to be . . . you!). We hope to see you there!
All right, so we’re actually almost two months into the new year, but as this is my first missive of 2004, I think that we can fudge just a bit, don’t you? (If Sherlock Holmes was willing to bend the laws of England in his pursuit of justice, I think that stretching out a date just a bit falls well within the realm of propriety.) That said, I welcome you all to the start of the third year of the illustrious existence of Indy’s own Hated Rivals on the Surrey Shore, a scion designed for all those who enjoy Sherlock Holmes in all his various manifestations—from the original Doyle stories to movies, graphic novels, plays, pastiches, cross-genre excursions, and, of course, games (as is the theme of our coming meeting).
Since our March meeting involves playing a Sherlockian mystery game (for the game’s own sake, as well as for fun), I thought I’d reminisce this issue over some Sherlockian games of the past that those who are new to the hobby may have missed. The first Sherlockian games probably came out around the turn of the last century (1900, not 2000). I recall seeing in a book of Sherlockian miscellanea a picture of a Sherlock Holmes card game, although the title now escapes my aging memory. I’m sure there were others. The first Sherlockian game that I’m aware of, however, was the venerable board game 221B Baker Street. The game featured a stylized map of London on its game board, and players followed the squares around the board to various locations, where they could gather clues in the form of cards drawn from a specialized deck. The game came with a set containing multiple cases to solve, and several expansion sets provided additional cases for the aspiring sleuths. Once a player thought he could solve the case, he needed to be the first one back to Baker Street with the answer. It was relatively simple, but a lot of fun. I don’t know if the game is still in print, but it’s the one mostly likely to be of any of those from the past couple decades.
Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective was similar in general idea to 221B, but it wasn’t quite a board game, nor was it a role-playing game, although it incorporated elements of both. Instead of the board, it featured a more realistic (though simplified) map of Victorian London, with locations marked and further described in an accompanying gazetteer booklet. This game, too, featured a number of cases, with clues described in pages in the three-ring binder that held the game together. Players again trekked to various locations on the map (although merely by stating they were doing so rather than moving pieces on a board) to gather the clues that were there for each adventure. Several boxed supplements provided additional cases to solve. Once a player thought he knew the answer, he could check his solution against that of the Master Sleuth himself, Holmes. The cases in this game were a lot tougher to solve than those of 221B. But, then, the satisfaction in doing so was much higher as well. The game was originally published by a company known appropriately enough as Sleuth Publications. They’re long out of business, and I believe the game is now out of print as well, but you can sometimes find copies online from used-game stores. It’s well worth the effort to locate.
I also recall another boxed Sherlock Holmes mystery game that may have been called simply Sherlock Holmes (or it may have had a more elaborate title—the memory is dim). It wasn’t really much for even the meager $10 price tag it carried back in the early ’80s. I had a board and some vague rules on how to create and run a mystery game—but no actual cases and little you could hang your hat on unless you were really creative yourself. I recall someone saying that it was more of an idea on how to run a Holmes mystery game than an actual game itself. Fantasy Games Unlimited, a one-time prolific publisher of role-playing games, had purchased the rights to this game by the late ’80s and planned to rerelease it in a new, beefed-up version as an actual game that could be played. Unfortunately, the company hit hard times before it could do so and ceased publishing new games at all (almost disappearing for nearly a decade as well). One begins to wonder whether some of these Holmes games carried curses on those involved with them.
As I’ve mentioned before, Holmes also entered the realm of role-playing proper in a couple of my own contributions to the gaming world—first in my article “A Gamer’s Guide to Victorian London,” which ran in Steve Jackson Games’ Fantasy Gamer #2, in the mid-’80s, and again in 1986 in my Cthulhu By Gaslight supplement for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG. The first included generic gaming stats for both Holmes and Watson, as well as Moriarty. The second included all three characters, in CoC gaming stats, as well as Col. Moran, in the scenario “The Yorkshire Horrors.” The background book for the supplement also provided a brief Sherlockian timeline, based on that of Sherlockian William Baring-Gould. The Fantasy Gamer article was later adapted into Steve Jackson Games’ Generic Universal Role-Playing System for GURPS Horror (first and second editions), although only Holmes and Moriarty made the cut for that game. But game masters could then incorporate Holmes into two of the most popular RPG systems of the day. It was not to last, however, as Gaslight is now long out of print (a new version is in the works, although it won’t include the scenario, so the presence of Holmes and the others isn’t known at this point), and the London info wasn’t included in the newest edition of GURPS Horror. (Again, however, a new GURPS book covering the Victorian era is in the works from SJG, probably to appear sometime next year.)
The trivia game craze initiated by Trivial Pursuit also delved into things Sherlockian with a little game called (what else?) Sherlockian Trivia, released by the oddly named Sherlockian publisher Magico Magazine in the late ’80s. The game was designed by Sherlockian Dana Richards, who served under me as vice president of my former scion the year I presided over it. It consisted of a set of cards with Sherlockian questions on one side and answers on the other, which could be substituted for the cards in Trivial Pursuit or any other trivia game. To help achieve its publication, I wrote up a set of rules for the game, based on how Dana had described it when we played it at a scion meeting. Magico released it in a colorful plastic box with a Sherlockian caricature on the cover. Sadly, Magico dropped off the radar sometime after that, and this game, too, went out of print. (What was that about a curse again?)
Holmes has popped up from time to time in other games—I have in storage another board game in which players rode the rails of London to solve cases, although the name of this one, too, eludes me, and Holmes was mentioned, although not described in game terms, in last year’s London By Gaslight book for the Vampire: The Masquerade story-telling RPG. I imagine these won’t be the last appearances by the Great Detective in the world of gaming, however. After all, it was Holmes who compared his trade on more than one occasion to a game, so it only seems fitting that he should revisit that medium as long as he retains his popularity. And I expect that to be for a very long time. (But when, I must wonder as a loyal Hated Rival, does Barker get his own board game?)
Concerning our favorite Hated Rival, I should probably add a bit more info about my version of the detective than I did last issue, lest anyone get the wrong impression. Although I created Cyrus Barker as a character for the occult-oriented Call of Cthulhu game and Barker thus originally fought evil in that form, he was not in any way a follower of the occult. In fact, as a counter to what he was learning of the darkness that he was destined to fight, Barker also extensively studied the Christian Bible as a source of light to rend that darkness. Because his early studies took place in the remote wilds of Canada, he was not influenced by either Anglican or orthodox nonconformist theology, but rather by an understanding of what the scriptures taught (as opposed to what men said they taught). He did later correspond with many of the major (and some of the minor) religious figures of his day, including Charles Spurgeon (whose church was located near where Barker would finally settle in London), Dean Burgon of Chichester, and E.W. Bullinger. But it was the influence of Gen. Gordon—himself a committed, if unorthodox, Christian—that most drew Barker to the light of Christianity, which helped him immensely in his fight against the demonic forces of the Cthulhu Mythos, the Nephilim, the Illuminati, and other incursions of evil into our own reality. But of those . . . as well as of Barker’s skill at the sitar, learned during his stint in the Indian Army; his two cats, Sheba and Watson (named after the Biblical queen and a famous person he admired . . . although not necessarily who you may think); his near-fatal experimentation with absinthe; and other aspects of the character . . . we’ll wait until another time to elaborate further. After all, what is a detective if at least some of his life is not a . . . well, mystery?
And on that evasive note, till next issue, I remain, as always, ever yours . . .
—C. Barker, Esq.
Neither torrential downpours (a veritable deluge) nor a ravaging flu epidemic that felled several members prevented the Hated Rivals on the Surrey Shore from another successful—and fun—meeting, as we celebrated the birthday of Sherlock Holmes with our second annual Victorian tea, on Sunday, January 4, at the Hamilton County Historical Society Jail Museum. A sumptuous feast awaited those in attendance: tea, coffee (for nontea-drinkers), three kinds of scones, apple tarts, tea sandwiches, fresh fruit, and more! After all ate their fill in the Victorian kitchen of the museum, and following our traditional Canonical toasts, we moved to the parlor for the “formal” part of the meeting (although, as usual, we kept it relatively informal, in accordance with our goal never to become stuffy or boring). The meeting opened with a new Sherlockian holiday sing-along, written and led by our own Barker (Bill Barton): “The Six Nights of the Canon” (which described six “presents” Conan Doyle gave to us through the Holmes stories—for details, see our Web site for the lyrics, as well as the explanation of why only the six gifts are described, as opposed to the 12 of the song from which it was derived). Following the song, in which all in attendance joyfully participated, Bill read his paper on “Crime in Victorian London,” a most fitting topic for the location. Our vice president, Russell (Mimi DeMore), also brought several items from her own Sherlockian collection for display, and the meeting ended with self-descriptions by each member, as we’d welcomed several new faces to the club for this meeting. (One normally very busy lady had just stopped by for a few minutes to drop off some materials to our hostess, but after we invited her to share in our tea, she was so fascinated that she stayed for the entire meeting—and hopes to be able to adjust her schedule to return again soon.) The meeting also attracted a reporter from the Noblesville Times, who took several photos for the newspaper, one of which —of one of our toasts—appeared in the following Tuesday’s edition. Following the program, we continued in Sherlockian fellowship—and indulged in just a bit more tea and scones—until the time came at last to vacate the historical premises. All in all, it was yet another great meeting for your favorite Hated Rivals on the Surrey Shore!
Our next meeting revolves around games, which is quite appropriate, as playing games of one sort or another was one of the Victorians’ chief pastimes. Of course, most Victorian men and women engaged in such athletic games as cricket, rugby, tennis, croquet, and others, either as spectators or participants. But middle-class Victorian families also shared their leisure time, especially during winter, by playing a variety of indoor games — parlour games, such as charades and the like, and board games. (Card games such as whist were also popular, but the children in a family rarely joined in to such activities.) In fact, until the depression of the 1930s in the U.S., when people’s leisure-time options were limited by their finances, the Victorian Age was in many ways the heyday of the board game. Victorian board games often took the form of miniature morality plays, religion being important to the Victorian middle class, but they also could be as whimsical as many of today’s board games. (I own a set of Victorian Boardgames, sold in book form but also very playable. They’re not quite Monopoly or Clue, but they’re interesting, nonetheless.) One striking difference between Victorian board games and those of today is that movement was determined by a small wooden spinner—kind of like a top but with flat sides and numbers inscribed on them—instead of dice. (To the Victorian middle class, dice were gambling tools and thus morally unacceptable for use in a family-oriented board game.) One would twirl the spinner, and whatever number lay up when it stopped was the number of spaces on the board that one moved. And the game, as someone we all know would say, was afoot!
I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere!
The Sunday, February 8, edition of the comic strip Family Circus featured cameo appearances by both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The strip was a single panel showing son Billy’s dotted-line trek through a housing development named (what else?) “Sherlock Homes.” At the lower-left corner, however, the familiar figure of Sherlock Holmes, in deerstalker and pipe, with magnifying glass in hand, was on his hands and knees examining Billy’s trail. To a bent-over Watson, identifiable in bowler and moustache, Holmes commented, “I deduce that Billy, from the Sunday comics, has visited us! I detect that he has left a very peculiar trail. Quite an active lad! And I can even identify his school: It’s elementary, my dear Watson.” (We’d love to reproduce it here, but to do so without permission would be unethical; we’ll try to bring it to the next meeting for anyone who missed it.)
We’ve mentioned the USA series Monk previously in our newsletter, primarily because of the Sherlockian investigative methods of the main character, the neurotic Adrian Monk. In the January 23rd episode of the series, we learned that, also like Holmes, Monk has a brother—one who, similar to Holmes’ brother Mycroft, almost never leaves his home. (Although Ambrose Monk’s confinement is due to acute agoraphobia rather than habit and excessive weight.) Monk’s brother, too, seems to share his own abilities of observation and deduction. (And Monk’s assistant, Sharona, was as unaware that Monk had a brother as Watson was of Mycroft’s existence.) Although its Sherlockian connections are generally as oblique as this one, we still recommend Monk as one of the best series on TV today — and consider it the best detective show in that medium (at least until someone else produces another good Holmes TV series).
We told you last issue that League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was out on DVD but not on VHS. We should have clarified that statement—it’s not available yet on VHS at consumer prices. It is available on VHS through the rental stores, and if you want to pay the $100+ price that they pay, you can purchase it from Amazon.com and similar outlets. (Although Amazon did list a few used copies at lower prices. And by now, the video stores may be selling some of their previously viewed copies in the $10-13 price range.) So if you can’t wait for the “official” video release, you do have other options. (And if you haven’t seen it and have only a VCR, do rent it. Despite the pans of the “critics,” who obviously didn’t understand the movie at all, it’s certainly worth the rental price—at the very least.)
We also lamented last issue the demise of Ruse, the well-written and excellently drawn CrossGen comic featuring the Holmes-like detective Simon Archard. We’ve learned, however, that at least one more issue of Archard’s Agents, the Ruse spin-off featuring other characters from the series, is due out from CrossGen in March. This issue features Theophilis Dare, the adventurer who’d appeared in a story arc several issues ago, as well as in the next-to-last issue of Ruse, in a penny dreadful sequence. No word on whether Archard or his partner (finally acknowledged as such in the series’ last issue), Emma Bishop, would appear in the spin-off, although if it’s like the first two issues of Archard’s Agents, they’re likely to be absent except in name only. At least Ruse fans do have one last related adventure to look forward to.
Received from the Sinister Ballarat Gang (672 Prospect Ave., Long Beach, CA 90814-1814): a witty little four-page parody entitled Cockroach Bones and the Five Orange Peeps, by Kevin Reed (in an orange-colored cover, appropriately enough). Chock-full of puns and wordplay, the mini-adventure features Bones, the “Master Insective,” and his companion, Waspon, contemplating a case that begins (sort of) with a mysterious letter containing five orange marshmallow peeps (somewhat similar to a package received by your humble correspondent a while back . . . hmmm). It careens madly off the walls (and several other odd surfaces) from there. Quite humorous — and well-timed for the rapid approach of Easter (although one must wonder at the freshness of said peeps, since the sale of this year’s Easter candy had yet to begin . . .). A wealth of kudos for the adventure adorns the back cover . . . everyone from Oliver Wendell Holmes to Hamlet (with Inspector Lestrade along the way) seems to love it. No price or info on obtaining additional copies was included, so if anyone is interested in one, you may want to contact Kevin Reed, c/o the Sinister Ballarat Gang, yourself. (Or ask to read my copy.) This sort of clever, imaginative writing is what I’d like to see more of from the Sherlockian community, which too often takes itself far too seriously.
The Discovery Channel’s Unsolved History series ran a show about Jack the Ripper on Thursday, February 12, and again on Sunday, February 15. Not a lot of new information for those well-versed in the field of Ripperology, but a good summary of the salient facts of the case nevertheless. The consensus of many of the experts interviewed (and among interviewees were Ripper researchers Donald Rumbelow and Stewart Evans) seems to be that the Ripper was most likely a Polish Jew named Aaron Kosminski, one of the three chief suspects cited by Scotland Yard’s Sir Melville Macnaghten in an 1894 memo (although Macnaghten himself favored Montague John Druitt as the culprit). Another suspect named by the show—one who rarely gets any serious mention in Ripper studies—was one Francis Tumblety, an American doctor of highly questionable credentials who was also a suspect of sort, or so it seems, in the Lincoln assassination. Those who missed the show—or just would like a short, general program about the case—can purchase a video of this episode from the Discovery Channel for $19.95 (at www.discovery.com). (As an added bonus, those with sharp eyes can detect a curious pair of onlookers standing to the far right in the background of one artist’s contemporary drawing of what the Ripper may look like. Yes, it’s a mustached figure wearing a bowler next to another in deerstalker and Inverness cape! Hmmmmm . . .)
Our own Bill Barton (Barker) writes a monthly column, “Horror from the Heartland,” for the online gaming magazine Space Gamer (www.spacegamer.com). The March issue’s column focuses on none other than . . . Cyrus Barker, Bill’s fictionalized version of the Canonical Barker, as described in the last newsletter (and briefly again in this one). The column includes the original Call of Cthulhu/Cthulhu By Gaslight stats Bill composed for the latter that were never published—at least until now. The online mag is a subscriber-only site, but trial subscriptions for a limited period are frequently available as well.
Following are the details of our upcoming meeting, plus the dates and tentative information about all our meetings for 2004. (Check our Web site or our Indianapolis Star Web page for updates.) So set these dates aside to join the Hated Rivals at the following soirées:
The Game’s Afoot (Literally)!
Sunday, March 14, 2004, 1:30-4:30 p.m.
9701 East 21st Street
Directions and Details: To get to the Warren Library, take I-465 to the I-70E. exit on the Far East side of Indianapolis. Take I-70E. to the Post Road exit, which is the first exit after getting onto the highway. Turn right (south) onto Post Road, but get into the left lane, as 21st Street is just south of I-70. Turn left (east) on 21st Street and continue east past the Marina Lake apartments on your left. You’ll come to a traffic light, and immediately on your right, east of the light, you’ll see the Warren Library. (The next major intersection east of the library is Mitthoeffer Road. If you reach it, you’ve gone too far.) Look for a great time, with our special live Sherlockian mystery game (easily learned even by total novices to gameplaying), a brief survey of Sherlockian and Victorian games, and free refreshments (plus we may throw in an extra surprise or two). For a map showing the location of the library or additional information about its location, check out the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Web site’s Locations page at www.imcpl.org/location.htm; scroll down till you find the Warren Library entry and click the Map link.
And don’t forget to mark your calendar for next year’s other great meetings . . .
Saturday, May 15, 2004: Sitting in an English Garden
Sunday, July 11, 2004: Barker Birthday Bash—An Afternoon on the Canal
September (exact date to be determined): The Death of Sherlock Holmes!
Saturday, November 13, 2004: A.C. Doyle Mini-Film Fest
(Note: Dates and programs are tentative and subject to change as circumstances
change—but we’ll try to stick to these as much as possible!)
For more information, contact us at P.O. Box 26290, Indianapolis, IN 46226-0290; or send us e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at rivalrussell221B@hotmail.com. (And don’t forget to venture online to check out the rest of our Hated Rivals Web site, right here at http://surrey-shore.freeservers.com or our Indy Star Web page at http://community.indystar.com/928/ for recent updates.) See you again in two months, back on the ol’ Surrey Shore, where the game’s always afoot! (But you already knew that—right?)