Monday, March 26, 2012

Inspirations for Cthulhu Gaming

We'll be starting a periodic Cthulhu game in April, and most or all of the guys in the regular D&D game will be in that one, too.  Not the kiddos, they'll have the night off, but maybe I'll get a kid's campaign running in parallel - I've previously threatened to run Barrowmaze in Karameikos for them.  For the Cthulhu game, here's an interesting opportunity - the guys are intrigued by the game, but most of them haven't read any HP Lovecraft!

Aesthetically, I like the bleakness of Lovecraft's vision and would normally choose a "purist" track, but since these are D&D guys and not hardcore horror fans, I've already decided this campaign will swing on the pulp side of things and involve more action.  I'm going with a badges and guns theme:  Welcome to the SCD.

Here's my short list of suggestions for quickly getting the players acclimated with the tropes and conventions of the pulp approach to the Cthulhu Mythos:

Lovecraft's Fiction
I'm recommending these four stories:  "The Dunwich Horror", "The Call of Cthulhu", "The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward", and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth".

The Dunwich Horror
This story is closest in theme to actual game play in the roleplaying game - Henry Armitage is the archetypical professorial protagonist, there's a dramatic mystic confrontation on Sentinel Hill, and there's plenty of bloodshed and mayhem.  Wilbur Whately and the Son of Yog Sothoth are nice and freaky.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
This is another fine pulp investigation that leads to the kind of boss fight you might see in pulp Cthulhu gaming.  On the other hand, it's a bit long and there's a decent movie adaptation that could be watched instead (see The Resurrected, below).

The Call of Cthulhu
This is an important story for a couple of reasons - thematically, it emphasizes the ancient and disparate nature of the interactions between humans and the horrors of the Mythos.  It's a grand investigation that perfectly embodies gaming constructs like the info-dump via handouts, and target rich investigations; the entire story is nestled within the discovery of a deceased investigator's papers, the protagonist's uncle.  Um, the game is named after it, too.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth
This story has many great themes for use in gaming - the isolated and depraved sub-community, unholy bargains and their terrible prices, more development around Lovecraft's weird ideas on sexuality and humanity, and it introduces governmental cover-ups in conjunction with the Mythos, which will play nicely in the campaign.

The Call of Cthulhu, The Resurrected
These are my two favorite movie adaptations of a Mythos tale, and they're both available on Netflix streaming.  The Resurrected is a retelling of "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward".  I don't have a copy of The Whisperer in Darkness yet on DVD, but maybe I'll get that one too, and we can circulate it around our group.

Alien, John Carpenter's The Thing, The Thing From Another World (1951)
Any one of these movies does a good job of portraying Lovecraft's themes:  ordinary folks and the insignificance of man; science as a mechanism for revealing horror; the uncaring nature of the cosmos.  Plus, they're all excellent horror movies in their own right!

The Ninth Gate
I much preferred the original The Club Dumas, but The Ninth Gate isn't bad for introducing the world of occult book collecting and decrypting hidden clues in old grimoires.  I'm hoping to use some elements from Bookhounds of London in the New York City campaign and this is good inspiration for a bookhound.

Any other ideas on how you'd get your group of neophytes pumped up for some Cthulhu gaming?  They could be Lovecraft themes, investigative horror, or even a good movie for 1930's New York City.


  1. For Lovecraftian Cops, shouldn't Horror on Red Hook be near the top of the reading list?

    (although it has a reputation for being Lovecraft's most blatantly racist work, but ignore Lovecraft the Author and treat it like LA Confidential + mythos!)

  2. I'm surprised you have Carpenter's The Thing, but not In the Mouth of Madness!

    1. Beat me to it...ok...the new film is very good (I wished they had 'dirtied' up the print a bit...being black and white and a period piece it would have added to the authenticity of the viewing...but the sets and surroundings are spot on).

  3. I'm in total agreement with your assessment of The Club Dumas/Ninth Gate. The book adds a whole other layer to the story. Along the same lines, Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum" is an excellent tale of exploration of the occult.

  4. Oh...these guys:

    make the best shorts. What they lack in budget they make up for in spirit (the modern story set in the Falklands war is a perfect take on Delta Green-could be used as a back story concept based during WWI). And even though many people hated the 2007 Cthulhu it has become one of my favorites because it captures the feel. Please Note: not really based on Cthulhu, more Innsmouth...

    This is the trailer:

    for AM1200, a short film that brings the dread...

    And don't count out the readings and podcasts...lots of goodness there...hearing others read the words or act out the stories...

    Somebody said once that Arkham Horror (the boardgame) wasn't 'scary' that game with the lights out, using only headlamps for light, put on recordings of music and creepy sounds and watch peoples skin begin to crawl...yeah...tell me it ain't scary :)

  5. I've never thought Red Hook was a very strong story, but I can see the reasons for including it on the recommended list since we're doing a NYC game with police. There's at least two sequel adventures that have been published that I'll check out at some point (one is in Arkham Detective Tales) - so I can see the players having to read it for background. In the Mouth of Madness is a must-add, too.

  6. My own take on Lovecraftian horror is strongly influenced by the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and At the Mountains of Madness.

  7. Dark City may not be a Lovecraftian tale per se, but it is definitely inspirational for CoC gaming. Dark City has cosmic horror, madness from successful knowledge checks, Lovecraftian monstrosities, and an antagonist whose goals are in line with the Great Race of Yith.

    If you remove Paradise Lost, Divine Comedy, and the Bible from SE7EN and replace them with Mythos tomes, then you have an excellent source of inspiration for a CoC game where the investigators are cops hunting an insane cultist.

  8. I suggest John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns from the Masters of Horror series

    It has a very lovecraftian feel. It is a story about a cursed film.

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