A year and a half ago, I wrote to Chaosium, offering my services in writing up a RuneQuest variant based on a fantasy world derivative of H.P. Lovecraft's dreamlands cycle, as best exemplified by the short novel, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Greg Stafford replied that they were working on a variant game called Dark Worlds which was to cover H.P. Lovecraft's novels in a modern sense.In the same issue, Lynn Willis adds some additional details:
Originally, Call of Cthulhu was not about Cthulhu at all ... Nor was Sandy Petersen the designer. The springboard for Cthulhu was a proposal from a free-lance designer about a gothic fantasy role-playing game, and he wanted some incidental use of Lovecraft's descriptions. His proposal was interesting. I negotiated the rights for the Cthulhu mythos from Arkham House, but after many months delay the manuscript of the game was unsatisfactory, and had to be (with bad feelings and confusion) turned down.Thanks to Victor Raymond, who kindly sent me a large collection of old Judges Guild materials, I uncovered another piece of Call of Cthulhu's prehistory. In the May/June 1980 issue of The Dungeoneer, there's an extensive interview with Greg Stafford, where he talks about "a new introductory role-playing system based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft." Since the Different Worlds quotes above are from 1982 and Sandy Petersen notes that he'd contacted Chaosium "a year and a half ago," one can assume that what Stafford says in The Dungeoneer refers to the earlier version of the game-that-became-Call of Cthulhu.
Anyway, here's what Stafford says:
It's called Dark Shadows. It's being authored by Kurt Lortz and we'll have the usual amount of Chaosium support material to add local flavor so that the game will be easier for the Judge and the players to get into. By local flavor I mean that it will include items such as timetables for getting around the world in the late 19th century (which is where much of the Lovecraft material takes place). Like most Chaosium books, we want to make it entertaining to read or browse.So, the game originally had a different title than the Dark Worlds Petersen specifies and its original designer was Kurt Lortz, brother of Steve Lortz, whom I believe is the same Steve Lortz who was a player in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, though it's possible he's a different person entirely. In any event, it's fascinating to consider that Call of Cthulhu began its existence as a Gothic fantasy RPG set in the 19th century rather than as a straightforward evocation of Lovecraft's cosmic horror.