Category Archives: State of the Tentacle

2016: Cthulhu’s Year in Review

So, normally at about this time of year our good friends over at Sentinel Hill Press put together a blog posting which summarises all the nifty products that were released for Call of Cthulhu in the previous year. Because I know that the Sentinel folks are really, REALLY busy with a combination of real world things (a new homonculous) and finishing off their amazing Arkham Gazette Kickstarter, I’ve decided to step in to write up this year’s write up — a “those were the tentacles that were” kind of thing. I hope WinstonP doesn’t mind 🙂

Compared to the last few years, 2016 was a quiet-ish year for new Call of Cthulhu releases. Depending on how you count it, there were between 10 and 12 new book titles released for the game compared to around 16 in 2015. Of course, that number does include two pretty important titles — the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition rules (which were technically published in PDF form late in 2015, even though most people didn’t get hard copies until late 2016) and the long-awaited Pulp Cthulhu.

There is no denying that 2016 was a year dominated by Kickstarter-delivered titles … in fact every single title that was produced for Call of Cthulhu came out as the result of a Kickstarter, or as an add-on to a Kickstarter. Here’s a breakdown of the books released in 2016, grouped by publisher.


Chaosium had a big year in 2016, mostly due to the (much elongated) delivery of it’s anticipated 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu rules. Although versions of the final layouts have been kicking around for a year or so, it has been great to see most backers of their 2013 Kickstarter campaign get their books. The Kickstarter isn’t entirely finished yet, but it’s close to being done — which must be a big relief to Chaosium (who have earned the unenviable epithet “The Company That Almost Kickstarted Itself To Death”).

The other big, BIG release for Chaosium in 2016 was Pulp Cthulhu. Those of you who have followed the game for a while will already be aware that Pulp Cthulhu has been an “upcoming title” for Call of Cthulhu for a decade or more. The version that finally came out in 2016 probably has very little in common with the book that was originally announced in the mid 2000s, having been extensively “reworked” by Mike Mason and others. It is quite a significant release for Call of Cthulhu, though, since it introduces a rather different “mode” of play — much less focussed on investigation, and much more on two-fisted, Indiana Jones-style, action. While other Lovecraftian games have incorporated “pulp” sensibilities (in particular Trail of Cthulhu), few if any have embraced this mode with as much gusto.

In addition to these two big rules-related books, Chaosium released a couple of books which brought new scenarios. Doors To Darkness is a book of 7th Edition scenarios which is specifically targetted at beginning Keepers and players, with the book providing more-than-typical guidance text to help folks who are still learning the game. Interestingly, this book was briefly released in limited numbers at NecronomiCon 2015 in a black and white softcover format but Chaosium subsequently made the decision to abandon that layout in favour of a new, full-colour hardcover treatment to better fit in with the more lavish presentation that premiered with the 7th Edition books and Pulp Cthulhu. Chaosium Creative Director Jeff Richard has mentioned at convention panels that this high production value will be standard for all future books produced by the company.

The other Chaosium release for 2016 was a more slim tome — a Free RPG Day scenario by Sandy Petersen called “The Derelict”. This short, modern-day title was significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was Chaosium’s first Free RPG Day book; secondly it was the first newly published Call of Cthulhu material in 20 years written by the original creator of the game.

Another interesting first for Chaosium in 2016 was the establishment of their “Organised Play” programme via the “Cult of Chaos”, a free-to-join association of Keepers that volunteers to run Call of Cthulhu either at public events (e.g., conventions) or for their own home-grown groups. Chaosium’s first “Organised Play” event was a six-part classic-era campaign called “A Time to Harvest” set around Miskatonic Universtity and the backwaters of Vermont. This campaign was released in parts (one chapter per month throughout mid-2016) to Cult of Chaos keepers for free. There are plans to revise the campaign based on feedback from those Keepers and one day release this campaign as a proper Chaosium title.


Moving away from Chaosium-land, 2016 was also a big year for several of the Call of Cthulhu licensees. Foremost among those is Cubicle 7, who put out three books as part of two different Kickstarter campaigns. The first of these was World War Cthulhu: London, a book detailing the home front during World War II (as part of Cubicle 7’s WW2 setting first described in 2013’s World War Cthulhu: Their Darkest Hour). The WWC: London book was originally created as a stretch goal to the 2013 Cthulhu Britannica London Kickstarter, and is the last piece of that campaign to be delivered.

An entirely different Kickstarter campaign by Cubicle 7 saw the release of an exciting new campaign setting for Call of Cthulhu — the shadowy world of 1970s Cold War espionage. Two different books were released as part of this campaign in 2016. They were World War Cthulhu: Cold War and the Section 46 Operations Manual. Both books look great and the Cold War looks like a really interesting, if somewhat grim, setting for Cthulhu gaming — one I am certainly looking forward to reading (especially if it maintains the uniformly high standard Cubicle 7 has shown of late).

Speaking of World War 2 setting, 2016 also saw the final books delivered for Modiphius’ rather ambitious Kickstarter for the Achtung! Cthulhu line of products. Ever since this campaign was run in 2013 there has been a steady stream of sourcebooks and hardback campaigns published as well as some rather strange cross-over products with other game systems. Two of the latter titles were the stragglers that finally saw the light of day in 2016 — Elder Godlike (a cross-over with Greg Stolze’s superhero RPG Godlike) and Secrets of the Dust (a cross-over with Paolo Parente’s DUST universe).

Golden Goblin Press has established somewhat of a reputation for itself in recent years with timely fulfilment of Kickstarter campaigns. In 2016 they delivered on their third such game-related Kickstarter, Tales of the Caribbean. This book includes seven 1920s-era scenarios spread over the diverse islands of the Caribbean.

Goodman Games also released another volume of its popular Age of Cthulhu line: The Lost Expedition. As with the previous entry in this series, this (ninth) book in the AoC line was funded via a Kickstarter.

Last, but certainly not least, among the Call of Cthulhu licensees active in 2016 is the new-kid-on-the-block Stygian Press (run by Stephanie McAlea). This new publisher released its first (Kickstarter-funded) book, The Things We Leave Behind, which aims to present a grim and grown-up version of modern-day Call of Cthulhu. I would have to say that I was blown away by the quality of the writing in this book — these are truly great, if somewhat dark and twisted, scenarios … certainly a lot more embedded in the horrors of 21st century “modern” life than almost anything that’s been published before. If I had to pick one “best book” for the year, this one would certainly be a serious contender.


Generally, 2016 was a pretty lean year for Call of Cthulhu content in Magazines — once again the stalwart “Unspeakable Oath” remained silent, with no releases.

The big exception to this resounding silence is the back-issues of the Arkham Gazette released by Sentinel Hill. In 2014, Sentinel ran a highly successful Kickstarter to create the third issue of its Lovecraft Country magazine/sourcebook, devoted to an in-depth study of witchcraft in Arkham and elsewhere. The PDF and print versions of this magazine issue were all delivered in 2015 … but stretch goals of the original Kickstarter promised upgrades and reissues of older (free PDF-only) issues of the magazine. In 2016 two of these emerged — Issue #0 (Aylesbury Pike) and Issue #1 (Arkham), both in PDF and softcover Print-On-Demand.

Cthulhu Reborn

Convicts & Cthulhu Logo 2

Finally, I can’t write a wrap-up of 2016 without sparing a few sentences to flog Convicts & Cthulhu, our very own big release for 2016. This setting book, covering Lovecraftian horrors in the early penal settlements of Australia, has been extremely well-received and has sold far, far in excess of our wildest dreams. Geoff Gillan — my partner in convict-ness has, subsequent to the release of the main (96-page softcover and PDF) book, also written three small supplements which we have released for free. All of those goodies are available right now over on RPGNow.

State of the Tentacle: Sans-Detour


It’s been a little quiet recently with the “State of the Tentacle” interview series here on Cthulhu Reborn. This has been partly due to the fact that we’ve been busy with other things … but has mainly been because everyone in the Lovecraftian RPG scene (including all the folks we want to interview) is really, REALLY, busy. The past few months alone have seen no less than five huge Kickstarter projects for Cthulhu-related gaming books, and if you layer on the top of that the fact that several new companies have come onboard as Cthulhu licensees … this is starting to look like something of a boom period for the hobby.

With all that in mind, we’ve decided it’s probably time to wrap up the “State of the Tentacle 2013” … but not before we publish one more, very special, interview.

sott-appel-de-cthulhu-logoOne of the things that prompted the idea of interviewing the current crop of Lovecraftian RPG publishers and authors was an interest in where this hobby is going, both in terms of the types of books being produced and the production values that are being brought to those books. Right from the start one group of folks we here at CR were very keen to talk to were the good people at Sans-Détour, the current French licensee of Call of Cthulhu. In just a few short years, this company has grabbed everyone’s attention by producing some of the most beautiful and artistically-rendered Lovecraftian books that have ever been created. Many English-speakers (myself included) have looked on in awe and envy at the quality of the Sans-Détour 30th Anniversary edition of the CoC rules; and have gasped at the gorgeous S-D presentation of Masks of Nyarlathotep, complete with a super-deluxe limited edition which came in a custom-designed leather satchel! With an Elder Sign!

But it’s not just the super-high production values which distinguish Sans-Détour’s books … it’s also the company’s commitment to bringing out (or reprinting) compelling new gaming material, borrowing the best from the English-language version of the game but also mixing their own equally-detailed French setting. They also have an enviable programme of engaging with players at events and conventions. All these things make Sans-Détour just the kind of guys whose brains we would love to put into Mi-go brain cases and quiz for a while about the future of Lovecraftian gaming. Thankfully they were willing to undergo the procedure. We wish them a speedy recovery 🙂


Daryl Hutchinson

We we actually fortunate enough to speak with not one, but three of the leading figures at Sans-Détour. By way of introduction, these august gentlemen were:

  • Samuel Tarapacki, Co-founder of Editions Sans Détour, and the guy in charge of communication. Samuel (who’s 49) has been a Call of Cthulhu player for 31 years and was the writer of the two campaigns published in the French 6th edition rulebooks, which aim to provide refreshing stories for both old and new players. In his words: “Working on the French Call of Cthulhu RPG line has been a dream come true… if you work hard, never give up, anything goes!”
  • Christian Grussi, Co-founder of Editions Sans Détour, in charge of Art direction. Christian (40 years old) also has a long term involvement with Call of Cthulhu player, having played for 27 years. He is author of the French 6thedition and also wrote the French 1920s sourcebook “Au Coeur des Années 20”. He also designed / wrote the beautiful French gamemaster screen published in 2008 and later re-published by Chaosium in English in 2012.
  • sott - Sans_détour_logoPiotr Borowski, Co-founder of Editions Sans Détour, and the guy in charge of financial management. Piotr (36) has played Call of Cthulhu for 22 years. In his words, he’s “proud to be working on this game and taking charge of the management of an impressive game legacy.”

Now, introductions aside … let’s hear what these knowledgeable French gentleman had to say!

Cthulhu Reborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?


Sans-Detour: As paradoxical as it sounds, the most defining feature of Call of Cthulhu’s history is the fact that its rules have never really changed from the original system. This continuity has provided not only a high degree of compatibility between the different versions and editions of Call of Cthulhu, but also provide a “bridge” of sorts between the US and Europe. No matter whether you are a newcomer to the game or a veteran, no matter which country you live in, you are playing the same game with the same rules. The game is a common thread of inspiration that binds us all across time and space.

Right from the very beginning of the game, Call of Cthulhu gamers have welcomed books which explore different historical eras (such as Dark Ages and Gaslight), strange places (like the Dreamlands) and different geographical settings (the “Secrets of” series).

Even after 30 years of published sourcebooks, gamers still retain the same level of curiosity about the expanse of the Call of Cthulhu universe.

While the game has gone through some evolution over its history, essentially it plays the same as it did on the first day it was published. Investigators are still powerless figures battling against overwhelming and cosmic threats.  Their fight is something that can never truly be “won”, but is crucial to saving just a little bit more time for humanity … even if it’s just another 30 years.

CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?

S-D: The roleplaying game enhances and expands the Cthulhu Mythos. Over the past 30 years there have been more game scenarios written involving the Mythos than there have been Mythos novels written in the last century (since Lovecraft’s day) …

It’s obvious from reading these publications that those who write and publish for the game treat the Cthulhu Mythos with a great deal of respect. There is no room for trashy, low-quality books. The Internet has helped greatly in keeping in touch with everything that is being created for Call of Cthulhu, right around the planet. We can look on in admiration at what others have done for the game, and that helps us strive to do better in the next books we create. It’s like a very positive type of artistic “competition” … which benefits players by delivering a constant stream of better books.

The setting of the 1920s and 1930s offers lots of potential for creating books which are rich with historical detail, complete with period pictures and scenarios inspired by real-world events. All of this makes for a game that is immersive and enjoyable.

One thing that this “mini-industry” could do better, though, is to develop more cooperation between the different Call of Cthulhu efforts in different countries. That would let everyone share their best ideas and share the costs of creating beautiful illustrations, conducting extensive historical research, or writing epic campaigns. Sharing those costs would allow everyone to attempt even more ambitious projects.

CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?

S-D: Today, one of the main things which seems to seduce game masters and players alike is the fact that the game is based in a historical setting. This creates the opportunity to extend the game by describing other new historical period and also by writing sourcebooks which provide more detail about the game’s established periods. We meet more and more gamers who are “junior historians” with ideas for new projects and for eras that have never been described for Call of Cthulhu before.

Clear Divider 700x10Call of Cthulhu has a big advantage when it comes to gameplay. It is a simple game, but one with enough realism to allow a player to immerse themselves in a role and play a part in great stories. The game balances simplicity and realism in a very effective way which discourages endless sourcebooks being published just to add new rules to the game. That means that every player knows that when reading a new book he will be easily able to quickly find the relevant facts without wasting time learning new rules or flipping through multiple books searching for rules.

CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?

sott-french-cthulhu-atlas04-zS-D: We, as publishers, have an obligation to make our books more attractive to younger generations of gamers. They need to be simple and easy to understand to readers both novice and expert. A product line that is 30 years old can easily seem overwhelming to someone who is thinking of taking their first step into this universe. Hopefully, experienced gamers can provide a lot of the assistance required to help new players discover this hobby.

When we attend events we see that many younger players know what Call of Cthulhu is or have even played the game themselves. We see it as our job to give those new players the right tools for them to continue to have fun in this game.

CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?

S-D: Call of Cthulhu needs to keep the ability it has right now to talk equally to new and experienced gamers. As long as there are writers to create great adventures and campaigns, the game can continue to forge new ground in the RPG industry. Publishers should strive to make their books more “plug and play” (i.e., easily playable with only minimal preparation time) as that makes them equally appealing to both old and new players and also continues to enhance the benefits of the system’s simplicity.


Maybe there is some scope for simplifying products still further to reduce the work of the game master, making it easier and more fun to prepare for a session.

CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?

S-D: People will always love owning beautiful books made from paper coming from ecologically-managed forests

from Sans-Detour revised edition of “Beyond the Mountains of Madness”

The melting of the ice caps will allow us to finally discover the Mountains of Madness, while Deep One colonies spawn and thrive in new underwater realms …

Courtesy: Innsmouth on DeviantArt

But more seriously … we can see a future in which weighty sets of rules are a thing of the past and the focus of publication is directed to historical detail and adventures. Gamers from time-to-time try out new games, but they seem to always come back to Call of Cthulhu proving the value of its easy gameplay and rich universe.

Maybe one day automated translation tools will become good enough that players all over the world will be able to discover and play new books as soon as they are published in any country.

CR: Thanks Christian, Samuel, and Piotr for being Cthulhu’s “French ambassadors”!

State of the Tentacle: Heiko Gill


Those of us in the English-speaking world who play (or write) Call of Cthulhu books tend to think of our hobby as being made up of a community of publishers in the US and UK who produce all the wonderful books we know so well. BUT … this viewpoint does conveniently ignore the fact that in addition to all those books we see being published in English, these days there are also a whole bunch of original Call of Cthulhu titles being published in other languages by European game publishers. While the current French CoC licensee Sans Detour has nabbed a bit of attention recently with its snazzy-looking books … it may surprise some that by far the most active non-English publishers of Cthulhu material is actually German licensee Pegasus Press. Since taking over the German-language license for Call of Cthulhu in 2000, Pegasus have put the publication of original (i.e., non-translated) Cthulhu material serious on steriods … to the extent that there is now a vast array of products and even a successful German-language magazine devoted to Cthulhuoid gaming.

One of the goals of the State of the Tentacle interview series is to try to get out and talk to as many people who make creative decisions about the future of Lovecraftian gaming … no matter what flavour. To that end I am absolutely delighted to be able to speak today with Heiko Gill, the current chief editor of the Cthulhu roleplaying line at Pegasus Press. Pegasus, like several of the European Cthulhu game publishers, have earned an enviable reputataion for the quality of the books they create. Their translations of Chaosium titles like Horror on the Orient Express have set new high watermarks for art and other production values, and their original German gaming material … well to someone who only slightly speaks the language, I’d have to say it sure LOOKS enticing and exciting. So, with all this in mind, I was very keen to see what Heiko — the guy at the helm of this enviable engine of creativity — thinks is important to the future of Lovecraftian gaming!


Montage-GermanCoversVertHeiko Gill is a long-term member of the International Cthulhu Cult. Born in 1962, Heiko first encountered the writings of H.P. Lovecraft in 1979 but by the end of 1980 had already read every piece of Lovecraft fiction that had been translated into the German language. By chance, during a holiday to San Francisco in 1985 he stumbled upon the 2nd Edition of the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Ever since that fateful day he has been a Keeper in an ongoing gaming group that has played *a lot* of Cthulhu roleplaying.

Heiko got involved with the “other side” of the CoC world (i.e., producing game material) in the early 1990s by writing an adventure called “New Eden” which centred around some very nasty goings-on during the Boer War. He then submitted a scenario to an adventure-writing competition (a nasty piece about German mass-murderer Fritz Haarmann) and won. Subsequently he was recruited by Pegasus Press in 2002 as a freelance writer, later joined the editorial staff … and since the end of 2011 has served as the chief editor of the Cthulhu product line produced by Pegasus.


Cthulhu Reborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?

Heiko: The greatest “Plus” that Call of Cthulhu has maintained over the years is the continual backwards-compatibility of its published material. Using the current rules, you can easily still play stuff from decades and decades ago … What other game can you say that about? I think of this as an “ongoing-milestone”. Individual milestones were the great campaigns (Day of the Beast, Orient Express and so on) and the development of the whole Lovecraft Country setting.

In Germany the greatest milestone was, of course, the granting of a licence to Pegasus Press, which allowed a whole bunch of enthusiasts to create lots of useful stuff.

A Mis-step, if you can call it that, was the late 1990’s slowdown in the rate of new material being published for the game (not felt so much in Germany, which by that time was already producing a significant amount of its own original German-language material to fill the gap).

CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?

Heiko: As a representative of a Chaosium licensee I must confess, that I have only very limited insights in the other “new” Lovecraftian RPGs, because we are bound exclusively to Chaosium’s set of rules. (Which, in the spirit of backwards-compatibility, is no problem at all.)


It seems to me that these other versions focus individually on other aspects of the game than the “mother-ruleset”, but that is okay, as long as the players are interested in the same kinds of things as the people who designed those games (e.g., Gumshoe and its strong focus on clues and detective work).

Right now, there’s work going on to make a “7.0 ruleset”. From what I know of this material (and I was a playtester last year), there are great improvements possible, but also – maybe – some problems with respect to my Holy Grail (which, as you may know by now is backwards compatibility with earlier material).

CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?

Heiko: I wish I could say something ethical, esoterical or simply philanthropical, but I think the main factor shaping something is money. If you can make more money by leaving everything as it is – you will do that, if you can make more money by changing, you will change something. My personal position is, that there is always room for a change, if it enhances the gaming-fun of the players/Keepers (therefore in Germany we’ve had over the years a series of “optional rules” to try this out).


CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?

Heiko: Backwards compatibility. Nothing else. That must be a part of every change. It is the one and only unique characteristic of Call of Cthulhu.

CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?

Achtung! Cthulhu miniature sold by modiphius

Heiko: I’d love to see more of the German-language Call of Cthulhu stuff translated into English. Ok, that sounds selfish. But it wasn’t meant to be.

And I’d like Cthulhu Stuff set in WW2 (though in Germany you couldn’t do that because of the problems you may run into by using the obvious Nazi-background). That may be on its way already with “Achtung! Cthulhu”.

CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?

Heiko: I see an established 7.0 Rulebook and in a perfect world (as we live in) it will be backwards compatible.

CR: Thanks Heiko for being Cthulhu’s “German ambassador”!

A Second Lash at: Kenneth Hite


A month or so ago, gaming legend Kenneth Hite dropped by to share his thoughts on the past, present and possible future of Lovecraftian Roleplaying. If you missed that fantastic interview, you can read it here. So popular was this entry into the “State of the Tentacle” series that we couldn’t wait to get Kenneth back to share some more of his insightful views on the Cthulhu world. Thankfully he was willing to oblige.

sott-cthulhu-dagon-change-into-a-fish-l1CR: The (proposed) 7th Edition of Call of Cthulhu seems to have sprung from the premise that there is potential benefit to be had in reforming the venerable mechanics by either streamlining them or making them more player-facing. Notwithstanding the perils of radical redesign, are there any obvious features from more recent RPGs that you believe could potentially enhance CoC? Any lessons from the ill-supported d20 Cthulhu rules that could be usefully rolled back into the parent game?

Kenneth: With Call of Cthulhu as perfect as it is, I hesitate to suggest changes at all. Any changes you might make would work for some sorts of campaigns, but be needless cruft for others. That said, introducing “cell system” mechanics a la Conspiracy X for organized investigation groups, or the mass-combat system from Savage Worlds for high-action games, or the Madness Meters from Unknown Armies for games focusing on the Investigators’ own spiral into insanity, or Passions from Pendragon for games more about interpersonal conflict, the character generation in-process from Rafael Chandler’s Scorn, tactical rotes from Hunter: the Vigil — lots of good games have at least one good mechanic you could attach to Call of Cthulhu to further focus play, if you liked.


As far as d20 Call of Cthulhu, it was so focused on translating the game into levels-and-XP language that I don’t think it had any spare energy for adding better mechanics. However, Scott Glancy’s setting chapter in that book should be required reading for anyone writing a setting of any kind, and could be nigh-seamlessly ported into a new Call of Cthulhu edition.

CR: At present Trail of Cthulhu is arguably  the Lovecraftian game which is experimenting most with pushing the boundaries of traditional Cthulhu gaming formats. Going forward, do you imagine that the game will continue to “hop around” as it has between a diverse range of innovative but disconnected new re-imaginings of Lovecraft? Or do you imagine growing some of the more successful books (e.g., Bookhounds)  into supported “product lines” of their own?

Kenneth: Although Simon makes all final decisions at Pelgrane, I think we’re very unlikely to fork our own audience by creating sub-lines. Bookhounds of London remains its own thing; Robin’s upcoming Dreamhounds of Paris likewise for Surrealist dreamscaping; my upcoming Deathless China won’t spawn a line of wuxia supplements. 1890s Trail LogoThe “product line” mentality, I suspect, is one of those things we need to wean ourselves (and our audiences) off of in the publishing side. Plenty of novels and films stand alone; we should try to create RPG books that can do likewise, and I think the Pelgrane “setting-driven campaign frame” model is a real winner in that regard. I’d much rather put my own creativity into coming up with a new and innovative re-imagining of the source material, as you put it, than grinding out “Bookhounds of Los Angeles” and “Bookhounds of Zagreb” and so forth.

That said, the PDF supplement is the ideal means of testing the waters, or of getting one good idea or adventure out there. It’s not at all unlikely that I might provide some more Bookhounds-centric or at least very Bookhounds-useful material, for example, in an upcoming issue of Ken Writes About Stuff.

CR: How much priority do you think publishers of Lovecraftian roleplaying games should put on recruiting new gamers to the Cthulhu-end of the RPG hobby? Any thoughts on what might make such games more attractive to brand new people? What about existing gamers who have never dipped their toe into Lovecraftian horror? And, any ideas about how to entice more of the “big name” game designers to want to spend some time with Cthulhu?

Kenneth: I think every publisher should at least think about recruiting new gamers, or at the very least try to avoid driving away new gamers. But that said, realistically, there aren’t any Lovecraftian-side publishers with the resources to adequately test, develop, and market an introductory product. Also, Call of Cthulhu is a pretty successful introductory game as is: short rules section, easy-to-understand core mechanic. It could use a presentation makeover (remember how very lovely the d20 Call of Cthulhu book was?), but other than that I don’t have any good ideas about how to make such things more attractive to new gamers: I suspect the answer is “a very expensive targeted marketing campaign.”

For existing gamers, if they haven’t heard of Call of Cthulhu or Cthulhu-gaming in general, they aren’t going to leave their dungeon no matter how nicely someone asks. If they have heard of it, the almost entirely positive word of mouth Call of Cthulhu (and, gratifyingly, Trail of Cthulhu) has received will tempt them or it won’t. There’s very little I or anyone can do besides work very hard to make good games, and build the network of players — the more people play your game, the more people want to play your game. A lot of that latter component is very hard, very thankless work: recruiting people to run games at GenCon and other conventions, prize support, demos in game stores, and on and on. Every company could be doing more of that, especially and including us.

Per your last question, some of the biggest names — Monte Cook, Robin Laws, Mike Selinker, Reiner Knizia, John Scott Tynes — have already designed Cthulhoid games! For those who haven’t, I suspect the answer to that question is “pay them or challenge them,” just like it is in any field. This is why the absence of major indie-game designers in the Cthulhuvian lists is so surprising: Cthulhu is a reliable sales driver at their level of the market, and successfully transferring Lovecraft’s cosmic horror into narrative game play is incredibly challenging.

CR: Thanks, Kenneth for coming back! Now I guess we better let you go and actually write some of this wonderful-soundings stuff!

State of the Tentacle: Paul Fricker


Hot on the heels of our interview earlier this week with Mike Mason, one half of the design team for the draft 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu, we are extremely pleased to welcome the other half of that team, Paul Fricker. Paul has done a significant amount of remarkable writing for the game even prior to taking on the challenge of revising its rules. His contribution to Chaosium’s monograph line is consistently named as one of the highlights of that range and his mind-bending scenario writing has received much praise, not least for his self-published Dockside Dogs PDF which has already raised over £1000 for charity.

With all that experience writing, playing and Keeping Call of Cthulhu … not to mention continually challenging the limits of the game … we were very interested to hear about how Paul thinks sees the past, present and future of Lovecraftian gaming in general.


Dockside Dogs - Front Cover (500)Paul Fricker has spent the last few years working on the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu. Prior to that he was part of the UK group, The Kult of Keepers, writing and running scenarios at numerous games conventions in England and Germany. Some of those scenarios were published, the first of which was Gatsby and the Great Race (a Chaosium MULA). Gatsby’s unique selling point is that it blends multiple games for up to 24 players at once. ‘My Little Sister Wants You to Suffer’, a science-fiction scenario, was published in Cthulhu Britannica by Cubicle 7. Last year Paul published Dockside Dogs, a modern-day gangster scenario, in aid of Cancer Research. You can buy a copy from DrivethruRPG — all the money raised goes to Cancer Research.

Cthulhu Reborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?

Paul: First and foremost, all credit to Sandy Petersen for creating the game. Since then, if there has been evolution, its been in scenario design. Thankfully some writers have moved away from the rigid scenario structure that was so prevalent in the 80s, in which players are moved as if on a conveyor belt from one location to the next; pick up the clue–move from location A to location B, pick up the next clue – move from B to C, and so on. Of course there have always been good scenarios with a more open plan structure, just take a look at The Haunting [one of the scenarios in the Call of Cthulhu rulebook, called “The Haunted House” in early editions]. When you begin play you’re told about that house, and as soon as you set foot it in you’re screwed!

sott-delta-green-through-glass-darkly-dennis-detwiller-paperback-cover-artFor me, the key milestone in Lovecraftian Roleplaying is the work of Pagan Publishing. Those early days of The Unspeakable Oath were exciting times. I recall discovering an issue in the Virgin store in Meadowhall, Sheffield, if memory serves me right. I ran ‘Convergence’ (the scenario that spawned Delta Green) in the early 90s, it really was a breath of fresh air. There is a lot of bad mythos fiction out there, but I love the Delta Green fiction, which for my money is better than the game books they produced. I’m just finishing Detwiller’s latest novel, Through A Glass, Darkly, and the quality has not diminished.

CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?

Paul: Even back in the pre-internet-1980s there was a circulation of photocopied fanzines and the like, but nowadays people have the means of production and distribution literally at their fingertips. This is a mixed blessing; hopefully the good stuff rises to the top of the pile. The outcome is that there can be a game to satisfy every niche, and I think that is a good thing. I see many of the new small press games more akin to a Call of Cthulhu Scenario in terms of the investment in preparation and playing time. This makes them easy to pick up, play a few sessions then move on to something else, just as we would with a traditional scenario.

CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?

Paul: The main factor that is shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs is all the previously published material and our preconceptions about how to play. We’re all immersed in what has gone before and see that as the way that things should be done. There are good things in the Call of Cthulhu back catalogue, but I’m sure there are many innovations for us to look forward to. I do not mean change for the sake of change, but genuinely new and exciting ideas. The game I’m most excited about right now is Monsterhearts. I’ve sat down and played it a few times at conventions and in the space of 4-hours we’ve created characters and a story from scratch. The game mechanics and the fiction just flow seamlessly together, supporting one another effortlessly. It’s a great example of innovative game design.

CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?

Paul: Seems there’s a flip-side to every challenge. One might argue that computer gaming has drawn people away from pen-and-paper rpgs, but on the other hand, computers have also been a great boon in enabling roleplayers to get in touch with one another.

sott-popular-front-of-judeaOne of the sad things I see is the self-imposed divisions among roleplayers. For goodness sake folks, we’re a niche hobby. When I hear people complaining about ‘indie-gamers’ or ‘trad-gamers’ doing it ‘wrong’, I’m reminded of the Judean People’s Front in [Monty Python’s] Life of Brian. Splitters.

CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?

sott-Call of Cthulhu, 2nd EditionPaul: Much as I love Call of Cthulhu, I think the size of the book is enough to put off some people nowadays. When I began with second edition, it was a slim volume that I read cover to cover. Seems to me that people have more things to do with their free time now than they ever have, so you have to grab them quick or they move on. So I think there’s an opportunity for slim, grabby products. The irony does not escape me; 7th edition Call of Cthulhu will be a big book. I would also like to see a slimmed down version, something a bit more than the quickstart rules, more akin to the second edition that I started with.

CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?

Paul: One thing I see now is an increased use of Skype and Google Plus hangouts for gaming. I figure not many people are willing to drive 100 miles to a stranger’s house for a game, but would be happy to join the same people for an online game. That said, I think there will always be a place for face-to-face gaming. There is no replacement for sharing leisure time with friends.

CR: Thanks Paul!

State of the Tentacle: Mike Mason


One of the ‘hot topics’ in the Call of Cthulhu world right now is the proposed 7th Edition of the game. It has been debated ad-infinitum on online forums and referenced several times in earlier interviews in this series. Because of this level of interest, we here at Cthulhu Reborn were keen to speak with the creators of this next step in the evolution of the most venerable Lovecraftian RPG … not to quiz them about what the new rules might be (you can read information about that lots of other places), but to get a bit of an insight into their creative vision of Cthulhoid gaming and where it might be going longer-term.

We are very pleased today to be interviewing Mike Mason, one half of the core design team for Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition … but also an experienced writer and publisher with a long association with Lovecraftian roleplaying and the broader RPG industry.


Mike Mason is the co-writer of Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Rulebook and co-writer of the (also upcoming) Call of Cthulhu Investigator’s Handbook. Previously, Mike was the developer, editor and co-author of Black Industries (now FFG) 40K RPG DarK Heresy. His stint at Black Industries included working on and publishing The Inquisitor’s Handbook, Disciples of the Dark Gods, GM Screen & Pack, and Purge the Unclean. Mike also published the small press zine The Whisperer, which focused on Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraftian things, bringing out Gaslight and Dreamlands specials in the zine’s run. Previous work for Chaosium included editing on the Ramsey Campbell’s Goatswood scenario book.

Mike has also worked for Games Workshop, managing the annual Games Day & Golden Demon show, running numerous 40K and Warhammer tournaments, as well as setting up a UK gaming community programme to support gaming clubs in schools, colleges and libraries. In his spare time he also set up and ran the UK’s Kult of Keepers; a cadre of writers and keepers who organised and ran numerous Call of Cthulhu games across UK and German RPG conventions.

Cthulhu Reborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?

Mike: It’s all very subjective as something liked by one person can easily be disliked by another. For me, highlights would be sitting down to play Masks of Nyarlathotep for the first time and my character finding himself on the (very) wrong end of an Outer God. Another highlight is Sandy’s Shadows of Yog-Sothoth, which is often (wrongly in my opinion) seen as a poorer cousin to Masks. I’m looking forward to the revamped Horror on the Orient Express – having run it all the way through twice for two very different groups I’m keen to see it back in print. I think a key milestone was Chaosium’s opening-up of their licensee arrangements, which has resulted in some cool companies doing some cool products.

I’m not sure the MULAs were a misstep as they have provided an accessible entry point for new writers – which is important and should be applauded. However, it would be nice if MULAs could receive some editing and development work prior to print. I would advise all potential MULA authors to visit the forums and see if they can’t find someone willing to read and edit their work before sending it to Chaosium.

Obviously Sandy’s work on the Call of Cthulhu rules are a key milestone. Both myself and Paul (Fricker) took them very seriously when working on the 7th edition. It’s kinda surprising to see how the rules have actually grown between the 1st and 6th editions. Numerous additions have been bolted on, some as core content, others as Spot Rules, and so on. In my experience and in conversation with numerous players, much of this added content was either forgotten or ignored in the heat of playing the game. 7th edition has been about trying to restructure the rulebook so that all the rules are in one place in a logical order. sott - Call of Cthulhu, 1st ed coverAllowing players to choose the optionality they like has also been important – everyone plays Call of Cthulhu in ‘their own way’ – so ensuring the rulebook worked for as near as 100% of people as possible was a major task. Having a world-wide play test was always something I wanted to do, and I’m pleased that so many gaming groups answered the call and joined in the play test – my thanks to them. Everyone’s feedback was useful and provided good food for thought.

Early on, when we had prepared the first draft of the rulebook, the ideas were pretty radical and the reaction by some quarters of the Cthulhu community was certainly vocal! That’s a good thing as it allowed us to test the water and then redraft. Working on anything 30 years old with such a huge community of fans was always going to be like walking a tight-rope. Some want real change, whilst others would be happy by simply changing the book’s cover and keeping all the content the same. For redraft, we’ve kept the core rules as simple and straight forward as possible, whilst also providing keepers with additional, optional material that can be used if it suits their style of play and gaming group – a toolkit in other words.

CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?

Mike: I think expanding the concept of how scenarios are written and run is a good thing. All too often many scenarios follow the same pattern and I like to see new takes on how scenarios are run and put together. Whilst I love big campaigns, I think Cthulhu is often at its best with the one-shot approach, allowing a writer to do something different and put the players in unfamiliar or unconventional situations that differ from investigating the haunted house and so on. I think smaller publishers may have an advantage in being able to be quite radical in the material they could published, whereas there are certain expectations for a Chaosium publication.

Shoggoth depicted by eclectixx @ deviantart

Within 7th edition, we’ve been at pains to advise keepers that what is important in scenario design is their story and not necessarily Lovecraft’s or Chaosium’s story. Whilst the rules provide the standard template for what a shoggoth is, etc., it doesn’t mean that ‘your’ shoggoth has to be the same. If you have a cool idea that is left-field of the standard, then why not go with it? Especially if it’s going to perplex and scare your players. HPL didn’t worry about standardising the Mythos, so don’t feel like you have to sweat it either.

CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?

Probably not the 7th Ed Cover

Mike: Well I guess 7th edition when it finally arrives will give some shape to that question. At the moment, a few people seem overly worried, but really there’s nothing to worry about. It’s totally backwards compatible with previous Call of Cthulhu material (just some minor maths on stat blocks which can be done in the head whilst playing). Also, as I said earlier, we have dialled back the more radical stuff from the first draft. The rule for spending Luck points on altering dice rolls is now a totally optional rule – some groups love this, others prefer to play without it – either way is fine. The pushing rule can really ratchet up the tension in a game, whilst also proving some really memorable experiences.

I think it’s going to be interesting to see how the new Delta Green RPG shapes up, especially as it will no longer be the Call of Cthulhu ruleset.

With all the many different publishers each doing their own settings, its a great time.

CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?

Mike: Well every convention I go to there seems to be a seminar or panel of experts talking about the death of the RPG hobby. Its been the same for well over ten years now and to be honest, nothing has changed in this regard. Computer games haven’t killed the hobby, neither has iPhones, Kindles or motorbikes (etc…)

The key challenge has always been ensuring games are accessible to new players. Some people have the ‘RPG gene’, some don’t. Just like some have the ‘bird watching gene’ and some don’t. We have to ensure that those with the gaming gene have the opportunity to play a game and discover for themselves that they like it. Making sure RPGs are available and accessible is important. That’s often why gaming clubs are important as they provide a way-in for new and returning gamers. The Internet is obviously a big help too – as are podcasts like YSDC and MU Podcast.

CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?

Mike: One of the things I was pleased to write was the chapter on investigator organisation in the 7th edition Investigator’s Handbook. We have a limited number of these existing, Delta Green being the most famous. In the chapter I wanted to open up the possibilities for every group to feel that it was ok for them to create their own organisation, or at least give them a range of ideas that they could build on. Thus, in the chapter, we have all manner of organisations that the investigators could be a part of, including a travelling circus, the R&D wing of a multi-national business, an esoteric order, a collection of ex-military comrades, and many others. I think this opens out the possibilities and I’d love to see what different gaming groups do with these ideas. In time, I could envision some cool campaigns to stem from these ideas, and I’d love to see more published materials along these lines.

I’d like to see a complete revamp of the Dreamlands setting. The stuff Dennis Detwiller has been doing looks great. Like some of your other interviewees, Clark Ashton Smith is a big favourite of mine and I would love to be involved in bringing CAS to life in a Cthulhu setting or supplement. It’s such a rich potential that’s just waiting to be explored. The kick-starter for Achtung! Cthulhu signals another setting that’s been crying out for treatment and I look forward to seeing WWII material. Having said that, there’s plenty that could also be done for WWI of course. I’m also a fan of Gaslight so would love to see more exploration of that setting.

Obviously 7th edition is an opportunity and I hope everyone, whether they are a steadfast player or new to the hobby, finds something they like in there and inspires them to ‘cthulhu’.

CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?

Mike: In five years time I imagine all the initial fuss over 7th edition will be long forgotten and people will just be continuing to play Call of Cthulhu. An explosion of cool settings, new scenarios and a couple of new big campaigns will be good. An investigator generator should hopefully be available for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone and Android by then too (well, at least I hope so!).

CR: Thanks Mike!

State of the Tentacle: Christian Lehmann


For this installment of the State of the Tentacle series, we are going abroad … leaving behind the confines of the comfortable world of English-language Call of Cthulhu publishing to talk with Dr Christian Lehmann, a man with an uncommonly keen knowledge of the past, present (and perhaps future) of CoC in France.

squadlala the 13th, deviantart

When I first conceived of the idea of this interview series, one of my goals was to be as inclusive as possible … trying to bring out the views of ALL of the different creative folk who are driving the development of Lovecraftian roleplaying. Those of us in the English-speaking world tend to sort of ignore what is going on in the realms of non-English publications for the game … or at least we *used to* until we started seeing the jaw-dropping production values which European publishers are now bringing to their game books.

So I am quite pleased to be able to break down these invisible barriers a little by talking with Christian, who has had a long-running relationship with French-language CoC pretty much since its beginning in the 1980s. I am hoping to follow this up with some further interviews with current European publishers … just so those of us who never spent points to develop an Other Language skill for ourselves can get a sense of how the endlessly creative minds behind those beautiful rulebooks and supplements view the future of Lovecraftian gaming.


Christian Lehmann would already be known to many from his active presence on Lovecraftian gaming forums. In real life he is a trained medical doctor … who CLAIMS to only use his skilled detailed knowledge of the human form in service to his local community (near Paris) as a GP. Any suggestions of strange chitterings coming from his basement laboratory are always soundly refuted, although one wonders exactly how many Jacob’s Ladders one man needs for decoration 🙂

In addition to his day job, Christian is also an accomplished novelist, with over twenty books published in French. At least one of these has been made into a film.

In the 1980s Christian published a well regarded French-language RPG magazine called Chroniques d’Outre-Monde whose mission was to broach more adult themes in RPGs. During the several years the magazine was published, Christian befriended many of the “Great Old Ones” at and around Chaosium in the 80’s (Greg Stafford, Lynn Willis, Keith Herber, Mark Morrisson, etc…), also arranging for numerous English-language Call of Cthulhu scenarios to be translated and published in French. During this time he was also part of the team which incubated the classic Horror on the Orient Express campaign. In recent years Christian has scanned and published many of the letters and faxes that shot around the world during the creation of this monumental box set (this log of correspondence being a fascinating read for anyone who wants to know how such things really come together behind-the-scenes; highly recommended).

And with the rebirth of Horror on the Orient Express as a massively expanded Kickstarter 2nd Edition, Christian has been roped in once again … this time in a more substantial writing role. While us mere mortals are waiting to see the fruits of his labours (and those of many other talented folk) in print, Christian has this keen advice about what to expect from the new edition: “from what I’ve seen, it will kick shoggoth ass.” Enough said.

Cthulhu Reborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?

Christian: Role-playing trickled down into France slowly at the end of the seventies. In effect, RPGs meant D&D. Until Chaosium put out Call of Cthulhu and changed things completely.

France has a strange relationship with fantasy, and an even stranger relationship with Lovecraft. Even though Maupassant and other writers have written about the supernatural, «fantasy» in France had a bad press in the second half of the twentieth century and was considered as a sub-genre. Who could seriously give a hoot about elves and orcs and rings of power in the land of existentialism? Dunsany, Howard, Tolkien et al were frowned upon, and their works were not easily attainable.

Lovecraft was another matter: his peculiar brand of pessimism, his depiction of an uncaring universe struck a chord with the French intellectuals and he was always highly thought of, the subject of many a pamphlet or discourse. When Chaosium published CoC, the game became a long-time hit in France, and its rapid translation in French by Jeux Descartes, who was then a publisher and a series of brick and mortar shops all over France, was instrumental in its success. Not only did «Descartes» as they were called (and it’s funny to think that THE French RPG company in those days had the name of a French rational thinker from long ago) import the English-language supplements, but they translated the Chaosium scenarios, as well as scenarios from less-known publishers, like TOME. Arkham Evil and Pursuit to Kadath are thus better known in France than in their native USA ;-).

There were very few original French scenarios published outside of Casus Belli, the Jeux Descartes monthly magazine, so Keepers and players were totally dependent on the original Chaosium output and there was a long period of drought when Chaosium seemed on the brink of collapse at the end of the eighties.

sott - chroniques-d-outre-mondeBy that time, I had put out a professional rpg magazine «Chroniques d’Outre-Monde», and for the fourteen issues that it lasted, I used my friendly connections with English-speaking authors to publish Carl Ford, Mark Morrisson and Keith Herber in French.

I don’t think the Cthulhu collecting-card game had much following in France, and it certainly didn’t help the hobby as rpgs were for a time pushed back to make way for wave after wave of collectible card-games. sott - chroniques-d-outre-monde 2Cthulhu d20 was not a success either, and there were long intervals when no new scenario appeared, and Descartes, never managing to reach a sufficient audience to become profitable enough, started to close down shops, and stopped translating new Chaosium material.

So in France, only the advent of the internet and the possibility of getting in touch with brick and mortar stores outside the country, and to keep in touch with the CoC community worldwide, helped to maintain the game alive. To my mind, the arrival of such communities as «TOC, Trouver Object Caché» (french translation for Spot Hidden Object) and is a very important factor for the game. I can now keep in touch with what is happening worldwide, know very quickly when a new supplement or comic or novel or film is in the works. That’s incredibly cool. I mean… I can’t imagine a world without, it’d be a huge disappointment if we one day failed to maintain that sense of community.

Lately, of course, the big big change in France is the arrival on the scene three years ago of a new publisher, Sans Detour, who started to publish translations of Chaosium scenarios in lavish hardback productions, and then new French creations, books for Keepers as well as new scenarios ( from Tristan Lhomme, long-time writer of shorter scenarios for Casus Belli, who took the opportunity given him of writing longer stuff). Sans Detour has prospered, its long term bet of producing beautiful well laid-out supplements proving a great success. I don’t know how they do it, I don’t know what they’ve sacrificed to become such a success while churning out beautiful well-produced books at reasonable prices, but they seem to thrive. At the same time, Trail of Cthulhu and its supplements came out, and continue to come out, practically in synch with the English language line.

Among the missteps, I can’t fail to mention the monograph line, which to my mind is a failure. Publishing is not just making material available, it’s a real work of editing and rewriting and laying-out worthwile material. Chaosium’s decision to do a «quick and dirty» has produced some gems (Oscar Rios’s haunting Ripples From Carcosa springs to mind) but some duds and has, I think, not helped the trademark at all.

Quite problematic too, I find, is the fact that many authors have complained about their dealings with Chaosium, over the years. And I think that Lynn Willis’s passing must be mourned not only because he was a great human being but also because he WAS the Call of Cthulhu editor supreme, and he has not been replaced.

CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?

Christian: The industry has survived, and surviving is a success in itself. Chaosium’s decision to open up the licence to other companies has helped the game tremendously, but it has had another effect which I’m not sure they foresaw: everybody’s standards have gone up. When you open up one of the books from Miskatonic River Press or Cubicle 7, you start to expect from all the players, and specially THE major player, excellent quality of writing and layout… Why ask gifted illustrators to paint fantastic drawings if they print out like a grey smudge on a coal-bed?

CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?

Christian: I find that each line reflects in a way the world-view of its seminal authors. Herber and Di Tillio and Ross and Willis crafted the Chaosium line of scenarios: whether they are globe spanning adventures or backwards Lovecraft Country one-shots, they have a certain feel, in which the humanity of the PCs and NPCs, the care for the fate of individuals, are paramount. The Pagan Publishing boys were a different matter entirely, their scenarios were more ruthless, the uncaring universe was back in force, people would be trampled down in the course of things without much wringing of hands. ( Though John H. Crowe’s Coming Full Circle is more Chaosium than Pagan in its care for a very small family of «banal» people around whom the whole campaign will revolve). Trail of Cthulhu has put the Purist back in Lovecraft, The Laundry mingles some of the DG hi-tech cloak and dagger stuff with a very peculiar British humour about bureaucracy and civil servants… Even though they all hail from Lovecraft, they are all products of very diffe-rent writers, and I find them as diverse as books from different novelists working in the same genre.

CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?

Christian: In the eighties, we briefly thought, and fervently hoped, rpgs would become mainstream. They didn’t. Videogames happened along the way, and they kidnapped Lovecraft, Tolkien etc..; and took them in another dimension. Videogames are fun, videogames are easy to play, video-games don’t need hours of preparation, etc… and their industry thrives on rehashing concepts that have already worked. So… RPGs, and Lovecraftian RPGs, are a niche. Well, that’s good, actually. Because in a niche you don’t have to pander to the needs and diktats of producers and moneymakers. You can write what you want to write, and expect a small but reasonable financial return on your intellectual investment. What I mean is that people in the RPG field don’t get rich, but they can create without barriers. As long as publishers do their job well… The big problem is that the end of many brick and mortar shops make many of us dependent on postage prices and we have seen recently how much this can become a problem. Kickstarter makes it easier for the community to help projects get done, but what happens when a great part of the profit is swallowed up by postage? PDFs are somehow not the same as deadtree editions, I find, and I hope that print-on-demand options will in the near future become more readily available worldwide. That would help the hobby enormously, I think.

I was thrilled when Greg Stoltze and Dennis Detwiller started tu use a Pledge system to get new work in print, and now Kickstarter seems like a very promising venture for the future, but I’m a bit wary of becoming too complacent about KS and having authors and companies compete for donors only to take ages to deliver the final product. I think it is very important to give pledgers a reasonable timing for «when will that f$$$****ing book/game come out?» and I find it is not always the case. KS is a contract, of sorts, and it’s very important not to mess with pledger’s expectations.

CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?

Christian: I think what is missing at the moment is an incentive to draw more new players into the game. Obviously a Del Toro “Mountains of Madness” movie would have that kind of effect. So would novels based on the existing scenarios. I found Nick Marsh’s Horror on the Orient-Express novel [titled The Express Diaries] a great read and it’s a beautiful book, but I’m afraid it’s not well-known enough outside of the circle of players. I would love to write a novel based on my Beyond The Mountains Of Madness campaign, and have talked with Chaz Engan about it from time to time but find it tricky to embark on such a monu-mental task at present.

CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?

Christian: I hope to see more new companies, I hope to see work from fantastic authors like Oscar Rios ans David Conyers and Kevin Ross and others actually getting into print. I mean, I’m not going to live eternally, and I won’t find much use if my heirs slip a copy of Kevin Ross’s Colonial era supplements in my coffin ( maybe the ghouls will…). I hope that as we grow older, I can still play with my friends, even if we drift apart geographically, by using the Internet. My current group has four players around a table near Paris, and a friend who has moved near Brussels and plays through Skype. I tend to forget he’s not there physically. And I guess this is a great way to connect Keepers and players as new programs help us to transfer the rpg experience through the Internet.

CR: Thanks for your time, Christian!

State of the Tentacle: Sandy Petersen


For the tenth installment of the “State of the Tentacle” interview series we are very pleased to be able to go aaaaaall the way back to the very source of Lovecraftian roleplaying by talking with the man who is responsible for it all, Sandy Petersen. While Sandy left the pen-and-paper gaming industry many years ago to become an incredibly successful video game designer, he still plays Call of Cthulhu regularly. Both because of his inside knowledge of the hobby’s genesis, and also because of his current interests in bringing Cthulhu back to the gaming table (albeit in a slightly different form), we were very eager to have Sandy along to chew the tentacle for a bit. Thankfully he agreed (even before we applied the mind control sorcery :-)).


Sandy Petersen is someone whose work should really be very well known to every reader of this blog. But just in case you’ve accidentally stumbled upon this page while searching for knitting patterns or something, here’s a capsule summary of what Sandy has contributed to Lovecraftian gaming. In 1981 he was the original author of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, adapting mechanics from Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying System to deliver a frightening and erudite world in which gamers could roleplay investigators of arcane Lovecraftian horrors. sott-Montage-PetersenCoversThis was at a time when mainstream RPGs were little more than hack-and-slash dungeon crawls, so for a game to propose characters that were physically (and often mentally) frail fighting against odds that were likely to eventually overwhelm them … that was pretty radical. Some would say that it still is.

Sandy remained at Chaosium for the next seven years, acting as both a key writer for Call of Cthulhu and editor of the line. During that period many of the titles that are still regarded as unrivalled classics of the game were published — including the Masks of Nyarlathotep and Shadows of Yog-Sothoth campaigns and the alternate Modern-day, Gaslight and Dreamlands settings. In fact, pretty much every Lovecraftian product released by Chaosium between 1981 and 1989 has Sandy’s fingerprints all over it in some form or other.

Sandy left the world of pen-and-paper gaming, lured to the world of computer games (which was, in some ways, still in its infancy). His first job in this heady industry was with Microprose where he worked on Darklands, Hyperspeed, and even Civilization. He then moved on to a small company called id Software that was just about to launch a first-person shooter called “Doom” that was kind of a horror-story set in space. Sandy brought quite a significant amount of Cthulhu-oid madness to the monsters and levels of Doom, and later applied that to the worlds of Quake. The rest, as they say, is history. But these are but a handful of the highlights of Sandy’s extraordinary gaming credits. He also worked for Ensemble Studios and was a key designer on such genre-defining titles as the Age of Empires series, and Halo Wars.


On the success of this career, Sandy also spent two years teaching game design to graduate students at Southern Methodist University.

At present, Sandy is again back in the world of hands-on game design. He is a partner in a small startup firm preparing a Lovecraftian-themed boardgame for Kickstarter funding. If the Kickstarter campaign isn’t already active by the time you read this … it will be soon! The game is titled Cthulhu Wars, and it has received rave reviews from playtesters … some folks saying that it is the best thing Sandy has done since Call of Cthulhu. And it’s easy to see why, judging from the initial photos that have been released of the game board and the monstrous miniatures (montaged below … but click on the link above to see more).

As they say … Watch the Skies!


Cthulhu Reborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?

Call of Cthulhu (role-playing game)

Sandy: It might sound self-serving, but the obvious key milestone was the publication of Call of Cthulhu – there really wasn’t any horror gaming before then, and not only was this horror-based, but it was honest-to-goodness Lovecraft, at least as I misunderstood it at the time (I was only 26!).

I think the next big milestone was the development of video graphics and sound to the point that a digital game could be made that was genuinely frightening. This was a gradual process, but certainly by 1993, there were games that creeped people out.

The third important development was the creation of tabletop card & boardgames that successfully channelled Lovecraft. The most obvious success is the Arkham Horror game, but there are others.

Another important step has been the spread of the Lovecraft influence into other genres. There are lots of games nowadays which, while not explicitly Cthulhu Mythos-based, obviously are under the shadow of the Man from Providence.

sott-lucca-cult-cthulhuAnd one of the biggest upcoming improvements I believe to be the continued expansion of Lovecraft LARPs [Live-Action Role Playing games]. While I have played in, and written, several of these, my trip to the Italian Lucca game convention last year was a real eye-opener. Those Italians are hard-core – EVERYONE in the LARP was in full 1930s costume (including Italian police in what looked to me like fascist uniforms, women with fake mink stoles, you name it). They had even hired a live band to play dance music! The culmination of the evening was a guy wearing a complete Mi-Go “costume” coming out of the night to annihilate the other gamers – he had to walk on stilts for his hands & legs, and even had a voice-box changer to make weird insect-like noises. Must have cost a fortune. The guy who invited me to this told me that in an earlier LARP he ran, his job was to lay sprawled out, a bullet-wound in his head, throughout the four hours of the game. Shades of SAW. Those Italians left me in awe.

Sandy delivering a Masterclass at the Lucca Comics & Games Convention

I think the biggest mistake in Lovecraft gaming is the tendency for many designers to try to transform the players into some sort of “special agent” or super-skilled person with access to tools and techniques far beyond the grasp of we mere mortals. Horror, by its nature, needs to be seen to affect normal humans. In retrospect, looking back at my 26-year old self, I salute him for seeing the need to have the investigators be Jes’ Folks – not government spooks, or privately-funded mercenaries, but doctors, private eyes, and the like.

CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?

Sandy: I think the more variety that is offered players in game systems, miniature figures, toys, and fun stuff, the better it is for the entire hobby. I am constantly thrilled when I see something new in this field.


CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?

Sandy: You got me, pal. For roleplaying Lovecraft, I pretty much just play Call of Cthulhu. After all, it is, in effect, my own “house rules”. And learning a new roleplaying system hasn’t been attractive to me since my college days.

<in the voice of the Frankenstein Monster> “Change bad!”

CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?

Sandy: The tendency for humor to start taking over Lovecraftian themes. Look – the Mythos is obviously easy to make fun of (as is all horror). And that is not a bad thing. But I think it would be sad if Cthulhu becomes more of a comedy figure than a terrifying one.

CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?

Sandy: I want to see Halloween costumes. Get with it, guys.

CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?

Sandy: I think that the game will spread to far more use of Skype-like resources, with people playing over distances. Cthulhu fans tend to be more mature than typical RPGers, and so we are frequently married, with careers and lives, rather than college kids living in a dorm. As a result, we are scattered far and wide, and it is physically harder for us to get together for our Lovecraft gaming fix. Technology is just now able to solve this problem, and I’m happy about it. Now old friends who live hundreds, even thousands of miles away, will be able to get together to play games.

Maybe there will even be a MMORPG [Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game] based on Call of Cthulhu one day. That is a holy grail worth waiting for.

CR: Thanks for your time, Sandy! Are you willing to come back and answer a few follow-up questions?

Sandy: You bet!

[ If there’s something you would like us to quiz Sandy about when we catch up with him again for a follow-up interview, either leave them as comments to this post, PM them user “dce” on either YSDC or or email them to questions AT ]

State of the Tentacle: Scott David Aniolowski


Hot on the heels of our recent brush with Mr Kenneth Hite (and his twitter-loving cult of followers :-)), we are pleased to be able to present yet ANOTHER big name for the “State of the Tentacle” interviews. Today, Scott David Aniolowski has fallen into the clutches of one of the Lesser Servitor Races that we always keep around Cthulhu Reborn central just to keep the tentacle grass down. You would have thought that Scott — the man who wrote the very book on Call of Cthulhu monsters (Malleus Monstrorum) — might have spotted the tell-tale signs: stench of rotting flesh, dripping ichor, putrescent liquifying fleshy tendrils. Maybe he mistook the beast for a Hollywood starlet after one too many cosmetic procedures? Who knows … but we consider ourselves very fortunate that we were able to snag Scott and extract this most excellent confession .. er .. interview before he was able to break free of his chains!


Scott David Aniolowski is one of the Grand Old Gents of Call of Cthulhu (or allegedly one of “The Great Old Ones” according to some young upstarts!), having first been published by Chaosium in 1986. That makes him the longest-published CoC designer still (occasionally) writing for the game. He has written dozens of scenarios, articles and books for CoC and is probably best known as the author of Chaosium’s acclaimed book of Cthulhu Mythos monsters The Malleus Monstrorum. Over the many years of his game designing, Scott has produced work for Chaosium, Pagan Publishing, Miskatonic River Press (MRP) and Triad Entertainments (and possibly a few other brand new publishers who have queried him about working for their imprint). He has had the pleasure of working with iconic CoC designers and editors Sandy Petersen, Keith Herber, Lynn Willis, Kevin Ross and John Tynes, and has assembled and edited books of his own for various publishers.


Scott has also been active in fiction, his short stories and poems having been published by Chaosium, MRP, Barnes & Noble, PS Publishing and various magazines and other publishers. He has edited several fiction anthologies, including Made in Goatswood, Singers of Strange Songs, Horror for the Holidays and others.

Scott is an Executive Chef by vocation, an Anglophile, “Ripperologist”, fan of all things Victorian, insatiable bibliophile, horror/weird/dark fiction enthusiast and author/poet, diehard new wave and punk fan, lifelong bigfoot geek, and student of Chinese cuisine, culture and language. Scott is a collector of jack o’lanterns and bigfoot movies, and works extensively to restore his old Colonial home (“The House of Secrets”) to its former original period splendour. Scott’s blog, “Whispers from the House of Secrets,” where he blathers on about writing, rails against the mundane world, waxes nostalgic and otherwise makes noise can be found at:

CthulhuReborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?

Scott: Well, certainly milestones would be the releases of such classic and literally game-changing products as Pagan’s Delta Green and Chaosium’s fan favourites, the BIG campaigns such as Masks of Nyarlathotep and Horror on the Orient Express. Personally, I’m not a fan of any of that stuff but the buying public sure are, and at the end of the day that’s pretty much all that counts from a business point of view. Campaigns – even shorter ones – fly against the intrinsic theme of Lovecraft’s work that mankind is but a speck in an uncaring universe, powerless to affect any real changes on the true Powers that froth and caper just out of our sight. Grand adventures to save mankind – and I’ve been a part of some campaign designing, so I’m not throwing stones here – bring to mind more the pulp adventures of the 1940’s than Lovecraft’s nihilistic worldview. If you look at Lovecraft’s bigger “adventures” – “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” “At the Mountains of Madness,” “The Shadow Out of Time,” etc. – the protagonists may have saved themselves (usually at the cost of their own sanity), but they didn’t really save mankind because in the end those blasphemous secrets are still out there just waiting patiently to rise up again. But from a purely gaming point of view, big campaigns can be great fun and offer the chance to explore Indiana Jones-style in far-off and exotic locations, so I totally understand their appeal. Who doesn’t love that sort of stuff?

As for the Delta Green milieu, I can’t say much about it as I haven’t been involved in any of that as either a game designer or a player, but what I’ve seen and read of the material is quite good and offers a completely different style of play for CoC fans. Interestingly, I know that John (Tynes) and gang had the idea and the start of their Delta Green universe before X-Files came on the scene, so for those who always assumed X-Files inspired Delta Green let me set the record straight [indeed “Convergence”, the scenario which introduced the idea of Delta Green was published in The Unspeakable Oath Issue 7, a full year before X-Files premiered – CR]. Something I really like about Delta Green is that it provides a modern world for investigators to adventure in; Chaosium’s Cthulhu Now didn’t really have a distinct voice of its own and never created that world – it was pretty much just standard 1920’s Call of Cthulhu with some modern technology and themes thrown in to make it “modern” (but is now mostly very dated because it lacked its own unique voice).

Now, missteps are another whole matter. I don’t know as you can point to any particular Lovecraftian product and call it a misstep as that’s all a matter of personal taste. There are products which I loathe and think are just terrible, but to call them missteps would be unfair as that’s just my own personal opinion. The true missteps have been in the business handling of particular companies, and to get into specifics of that is to open up a rather large can of worms. Let me just say that certain companies have a longstanding reputation for having very poor business practices and have sadly driven away some very talented authors and artists.


The only specific project I will refer to when speaking of missteps is a proposed new [7th Edition] version of Call of Cthulhu. I was part of a hand-picked cabal of CoC designers chosen by Chaosium and the authors to read and review the manuscript, and we pretty much all came away very unhappy with the bulk of what was being proposed. I see it as too radical a departure from the basic, well-honed and well-loved BRP CoC rules, and foresee it creating a split in CoC fans – those who will endorse and play the new rules and those who will loyally stay with the existing ruleset. Such a division is not what a small sub-genre of an already shrinking hobby needs. The proposed changes over-complicate much of the rules, which has always been CoC’s charm, in that the game system fades quietly into the background without a lot of dice rolling, number crunching and rule referencing. In fairness to the authors, however, it was obvious to us all that they spent a great deal of time and put a lot of thought into their material. After the cabal’s comments the authors were going to take another look at their manuscript and make adjustments. I do not know where it stands presently as we have not been updated at this point.

CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?

Scott: I can’t really comment on much of anything outside of the Call of Cthulhu game, as I don’t follow the other systems, but I think Chaosium’s recent licensing deals with various and sundry new upstart publishers is a good thing as it brings in lots of new blood with fresh ideas and perspectives. I haven’t liked all of what these new guys have done, but some of them have produced some exceptional products. I think the late Keith Herber’s Miskatonic River Press rises to the top of the crowd and has produced unquestionably the best licensed CoC material in the past several years. RPG output there has slowed nearly to a stop, however, and it looks like the company is moving more into fiction production, so we’ll see what the future holds for CoC at MRP. But there are new Lovecraft/Cthulhu gaming publishing houses cropping up all the time and I anticipate, knowing many of the people involved, good things.

I think one thing that could be done better is supporting new lines and CoC setting books. Historically, new setting books come out and then are either never supported with another product, or the support comes a very long time later. I think the best way to do something like that is to release your new setting book and immediately follow it up with a book of scenarios. If that proves successful follow it with a campaign and perhaps a companion to gather and add new rules, occupations, monsters, villains, etc. to the particular setting. Chaosium, for example, has never really done much to support either the Dreamlands setting (although ironically, that book has been reprinted a number of times and had several updated editions) or their Gaslight era book (or Invictus or Dark Ages….). Fellow-dinosaur and Elder Statesman of CoC, Kevin Ross wrote, assembled and edited a series of Colonial America CoC setting books (and a Western CoC line, incidentally) for a licensee which includes the core setting sourcebook, a book of scenarios, and a campaign. That’s how it should be done… although when or if that material will ever actually be published is another question long waiting to be answered.

CoLoCo Sheet Logo 1280

One recentish development that I really dislike is Chaosium’s line of monographs. These books are produced wholly by the author and Chaosium only publishes the material as they receive it, with no editing, layout or other professional assistance provided. This has resulted in a hodge-podge of material varying from horrible and amateurish to darn-near professional and everything in between. I’m sure it’s a thrill for new authors and nascent game designers to produce (or sometimes cobble together) their own books and see them in print, unfortunately it’s rather analogous to the self-publishing craze which has been glutting the market with sub-par, near-illiterate dribble. If Chaosium or any other professional company is going to publish something and put their name on it then they should take the time to ensure the material gets a look from editorial and layout people so that the product is worthy of what their customers have come to expect from them. Producing and selling sub-par books looks bad for any company, even if it is understood that it is basically a do-it-yourself self-publishing deal.

CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?

Scott: Undoubtedly it’s the newfound popularity and recognisability of Cthulhu. The big guy has reached the celebrity status of some unscrupulous and smarmy reality tv “star.” Twenty-odd years ago when I was a fledgling CoC designer I would have never thought that I would see the day when Cthulhu and Lovecraft were pop culture icons, appearing on everything from the once-scandalous South Park to the angsty Supernatural and all manner of shows in between. Where in the 1970’s and 1980’s finding Lovecraftian/Mythos material was like a glorious and elusive treasure hunt, today one just has to browse through the local comic or book shop to find numerous mentions of HPL and his cosmic sprattlings. And the explosive bloom of Mythos anthologies, collections and novels is mind-numbing; I clearly remember a time not so very long ago when most book and magazine submission guidelines specifically said “NO LOVECRAFT/CTHULHU STORIES.” The day was when you would mention “Lovecraft” or “Cthulhu” and people would look at you oddly and you would grin knowingly, but now you can’t swing a cat without hitting some self-proclaimed Lovecraft fan (or worse, “Lovecraft scholar”) or Mythos aficionado. It’s crazy! And not in the good, drooling from mind-blasted insanity way! Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon unhappy that his special little private club has opened its doors to the public? It just seems that the wider the popularity spreads the more watered down and inane the whole thing gets.

So, with the newfound popularity of all things Lovecraft comes a melding of modern ideas and technology into the Mythos, and we’re seeing Cthulhutechy things and Cthulhu anime and other new sub-genres inspired by modern culture. Cthulhu, in his own little way, has become a pop culture icon. Some think it’s great and have made a name for themselves with it, which I certainly don’t begrudge. Others are less enthusiastic, like my old pal Kevin Ross who likes to say “don’t y’all think this Lovecraft shit has done got out of hand?” Pushed to take a side, I think I’d have to agree with Kevin.

CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?

Scott: Well, the hobby itself is in danger of extinction just because games in general have moved from the table top and into the computer. In an impatient video generation imagination and personal interaction has taken a back seat to instant gratification on screen either alone or with an unseen stranger on the other side of the globe. The monsters and gore are all displayed in glorious on-screen colour and details so that the player doesn’t have to think for himself and imagine what it all must be like. It makes me sad: nothing any computer graphics designer creates can match what I see in my mind’s eye. But then I pre-date the computer age by several centuries (see “curmudgeon,” above!), so my tastes tend to be for things of a bygone age.

CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?

Scott: As I mentioned elsewhere, I think product lines should be developed and supported. I would love to see more Gaslight era material, both scenarios or campaigns and more source material. I think the British Empire needs to be addressed in a Victorian setting. Although not a big fan of the Dreamlands, it would be fun to see more Dreamland adventuring. This I always saw as Chaosium’s chance to take a little bite out of the Sword and Sorcery/AD&D market with Cthulhu. I can see Dreamlands making a name for itself as heroic fantasy adventuring in the right hands and taken in the right direction. Of course, I’m very impatiently waiting to see the Colonial era CoC material see print, and I think that will be an exciting new stage for players who love history and Mythos investigation.

Something I would also love to see (and to be a part of) would be CoC source material for other author’s worlds. Clark Ashton Smith is the most obvious one, as he had several fantastic realms and worlds in which he wrote: Hyperborea, Mars, Averoigne, Zothique, etc. A two-fisted pulpy Robert E. Howard book could supply more action-oriented CoC gaming. Of course, I did a Ramsey Campbell book several years ago, and have always wanted to return to Ramsey’s creations. There has long been talk of me doing a more Lovecraft Countrified book set in Campbell Country in the default CoC 1920’s era. That is what I had originally pitched and what ultimately became Ramsey Campbell’s Goatswood and Less Pleasant Places, a modern campaign. I’ve never been really happy with that one and would love to go back to Ramsey’s haunted Severn Valley and do what I had originally set out to do.

Also, I’d love to see some of the original books produced by the foreign licensees translated into English. The Germans, particularly, have an awful lot of original material that non-German speaking gamers are missing out on. And although it’s a matter of debate and personal preferences, I think the foreign editions tend to look a lot nicer than the American ones. I’m not a fan of the wholesale replacement of existing artwork with photographs, but I do think adding period photos into the mix (while retaining the original art) is a really nice touch.

Beyond that, I think just producing quality material is the way to go to ensure a future for CoC and Lovecraftian games.

CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?

Scott: The hobby itself I expect to have shrunken in five years. It’s a sad truth that as technology advances table top RPGs just aren’t as popular as computer and video games. Dead tree publishing in general is not in the best of health: “print is dead” and all of that twaddle. As for CoC, unless someone does something monumentally stupid or there’s some cataclysmic shake-up, I don’t see as it will be much different than it is today. The game has survived pretty much unchanged since 1981, so barring a tragically radical new edition, I don’t foresee any great changes.

CR: Thanks, Scott! Are you willing to stick around and answer a few follow-up questions?

Scott: OK

A Second Lash at: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan


A month back we were fortunate enough to interview Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (chief Laundrarian and writer of some nifty Trail of Cthulhu material also). Since then he has become father to a pair of twins … Now you’d think that this would be enough to keep any sane person have pretty much occupied for every waking moment. But not Gareth: not only has he just signed on to write a bunch of stuff for a cool-sounding (recently-finished) Kickstarter, but he has kindly agreed to come back for a quick follow-up interview. The man is unstoppable!

CR: Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu are fairly atypical game lines in that unlike most their published support material is extremely heavily weighted towards “ready-to-run” scenarios/campaigns rather than rules expansions or source material. Do you think that bias is driven by what followers of those games will buy? Or are publishers missing out on opportunities to sell different types of books in addition to scenarion anthologies?

sott-achtung-antarcticaGareth: To a degree, that’s an artefact of the structure of the game. The player characters are ordinary people; the setting is the real world, more or less, and it’s hard to provide information about the Mythos without bludgeoning the mystery to death with concrete facts. You might get away with a book on, say, Ghouls or Deep Ones or Arkham or Antarctica, but not The Complete Guide to Elder Things or a Rlyeh setting book. Lovecraftian gaming is about singular moments of revelation, not a deep exploration of setting. Fear comes from wondering what’s behind that shadowed door, so you’ve got to leave shadows.

I think there’s scope for other material – I’ll point to Stealing Cthulhu, for example – but it has to be done very carefully in order to keep the mystery.

CR: You mention the Call of Cthulhu character creation rules as being slow, and perhaps a barrier to entry for players who just want a “quick fix”. Do you have any thoughts on ways in which they might be streamlined? Alternative optional chargen rules for “instant gratification” gamers?

Gareth: Pregenerated or partially pregenerated characters are an easy solution. Have a set of Lovecraftian investigator archetypes – the Antiquarian, the Private Detective, the Dilettante and so on – with most of their stats and skills precalculated. Let the player spend a few points on skills to customise the character, maybe have a bunch of background hooks and character quirks to pick from, and off you go.

Cthulhu characters tend to be pretty bland by design, anyway. They’re ordinary people at the start – it’s their decisions and experiences in the game (and horrible fates) that make them memorable, not their backstories.

CR: Regarding the inexorable move toward PDF-only electronic publishing, how receptive do you think the current gamer community is to the thought of entirely abandoning “dead-tree” versions of their products? Looking at current Kickstarters, it seems that the majority of the backers still want to buy printed books … but how practical do you think that is that in a world where international shipping is getting expensive? Are people just going to have to get used to the idea of electronic-only releases?

Gareth: The rise of Print-on-Demand means that there’ll always be physical books for those who want them, and while they’ll certainly be expensive, especially with the rising cost of shipping, I still think roleplaying works out as a moderately cheap hobby if you’re actually playing with the books. Say a new prestige-format rulebook costs me $100 – if I run a 10-session campaign with that book, and each session is four hour’s long, then that’s a reasonable $2.50 an hour for my entertainment.


I think it’ll fall into physical books for collecting, pdfs for reading. Books or pdfs-on-tablet for play, depending on your tastes.

CR: Thank you so much for making the time to come back! Now … go get some sleep, man! 🙂

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