WHO LOVES OCTAVIA PRANDDISHAW? 1
I wrote this back in 2002. The idea was that it would become the first in a whole series of short systemless PDF products, which would eventually be collected in a big far hardback with my name on it, which would become my ticket to gaming fame and gaming fortune. This did not, in fact, ever happen. Anyway, parts of it are now kind of painful for me to read now, but I haven’t edited it even to fix grammar. It’s bigger than a blog post, so I’m cutting it into six pieces.
‘No one cares for me; I am all alone in an uncaring and hostile universe. O the agony!’ Octavia wrote in her composition-book diary. She paused, trying to think of something else to say.
‘This morning I went for a walk with Tiberius and Caius and Robert Burns. We took him to the park since he’s afraid of cars now,’ she wrote after a few seconds spent chewing the end of her disposable pen.
To better illustrate her thesis statement, which was that no one loved her, she added ‘On the way back Caius and Tiberius beat an ice-cream man to death and took some ice-cream sandwiches and they didn’t share, but I found one in my pocket. Then Caius said Tiber and I did it and Tiber said it was me and Caius, but that’s all I can expect from the filthy murdering liars. O, it is so horrible that I am related to such unrepentant killers.’
Octavia wondered if it was a good idea to write about the murder in her diary, since if the police ever arrested Caius and Tiberius it could be used as evidence against them. “On the other hand,” she said out loud, “the police haven’t arrested them for the other murders, so one more probably won’t make any difference.”
The Pranddishaws are the cast of a forgotten comic novel, entered into the real world through an unknown process and forced to adapt to mundane life. They lack real-world experience, but possess a number of qualities that allow them to survive despite a lack of money, friends, marketable skills, or slightest compunction about killing.
The family can be used in any “modern fantasy-horror” game such as Unknown Armies, Over the Edge, Mage: the Ascension, In Nomine, Call of Cthulhu, etc., etc (with greater or lesser modifications). Their principal use is as color, but their capabilities and requirements may make them dangerous enemies or even more dangerous allies for a group of PCs, as circumstances merit.
“You’ve always been like that, excuses, excuses, excuses,” Uncle Crassius told me. He was smiling, probably because he hated me and enjoyed seeing me writhing in horrible agony. “Your mother, too. I remember when you were born, and I ended up having to change your diapers, and I said to Lily, why can’t the child change her own diapers –“
“I was a newborn!” I protested, forgetting the pudding completely for a few seconds at least.
“Feh,” Uncle Crassius scoffed as he handed me a towel. “That’s what she said.” Then he laughed, either because he thought he was funny or because he enjoyed watching his wretched niece scrub scalding hot, or at least warm, chocolate pudding off her bare feet.
(Who Loves Octavia Pranddishaw?, Chapter Four)
The Pranddishaw family appeared for the first time in the 1963 comic novel Who Loves Octavia Pranddishaw?, by a retired tool-and-die maker named Jerome Yves Stark. Who Loves? focuses on the Pranddishaw children: the mischievous eight-year-old son Caius, the melodramatic and self-centered fourteen-year-old daughter Octavia, their protector and babysitter, the level-headed seventeen-year-old Julia, and Robert Burns, the family dog. The three children amuse themselves with implausibly wacky adventures over the course of a summer, in episodic first-person narratives in the voice of the middle child, Octavia. They leave their own neighborhood, in a suburb of an unspecified American city, and visit a national park, a zoo, and the beach, in daytrips each one chapter long. They attend a Fourth of July barbeque, their cousin Tiberius’s birthday party, and various other events. By the end of the summer, and the book, Octavia has realized that her family isn’t that bad.
The main characters of the book are the three Pranddishaw children. Their parents, Ulysses and Lily Pranddishaw, appear in several chapters, as do their father’s half-brother Crassius, his wife Rose, and their twelve-year-old son Tiberius. Other characters – a park ranger who helps Julia and Octavia when Caius runs off into the woods, a lifeguard who reprimands the children for bringing Robert Burns to the beach, et cetera – are not given names. However, unlike the principals, the minor Pranddishaws are described only sketchily and barely characterized. Both Lily and Rose are housewives, and Ulysses is referred to once as “Dr. Pranddishaw.” Crassius briefly mentions having a basement workshop, but generally, the adults of Who Loves Octavia Pranddishaw? are enigmas. Rose, in fact, does not have a single line of dialogue.
The publishing history of the novel is as sketchy as its two-dimensional minor characters. The author, Stark, died of heart failure in 1967 at the age of seventy-two. Who Loves? was his first and last publication. The novel was a commercial and critical failure. Out of an initial print run of 20 000, only a few hundred were sold and the rest eventually destroyed. The book was never reprinted.
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