Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Ads of Dragon: Call of Cthulhu

Though Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu was first released in 1981, for some reason, it's this ad, from issue #71 of Dragon (March 1983), that I particularly associate with its early days:
I've always found it funny that, despite both the protestations of its designer and the plaudits of its hardcore fans, Call of Cthulhu has always owed as much to August Derleth as it does to H.P. Lovecraft. You can see its powerful Derlethian influence in this advertisement, which paints Call of Cthulhu as a RPG about "brave men and women [who] stand between the world as we know it and the unutterable evil of the Old Ones." Coupled with the ad's title -- "Adventurama" -- there's an undeniable pulp vibe to the whole thing, more Indiana Jones than the cosmic nihilism that purists like to claim for the game. I've never had a problem with this myself; I doubt a "pure" Lovecraft game would be very palatable to most gamers, then or now.

16 comments:

  1. I liked CoC more in those days. I'd only read a couple Lovecraft stories and had read nothing in the outside world about Cthulhu so the game held an aura of mystery and daring adventurers throwing themselves agaisnt what they didn't understand during one of civilizations last eras of exploration and daring-do worked just fine.

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  2. Agreed. A "pure" Lovecraft game would generally involve just one player character. That character would spend most of his time at a library, reading things that made him make Sanity checks.

    I think this illustrates a principle gamers (and everybody else) sometimes forget: the authors we love and settings we love often translate poorly across media. The less "faithful" adaptation, or the imitation by the second-rate pasticheur, sometimes translates better.

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  3. A lesson harshly learned by many a player in a LOTR campaign.

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  4. Yes, many if not most of the early campaigns are of the Indiana Jones globetrotting sort, so they were setting a specific tone very early on.

    That said, if you play the game as a one-shot, then it's much easier to get the Lovecraftian feel. It's the campaigns that err to the pulpy side.

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  5. I recently finished Derleth's Trail of Cthulhu and it is a pretty obvious that Sandy Petersen was under the influence of Derleth's writing when he created CoC. Derleth's basic idea in the book is to revisit iconic Lovecraft locals like the Nameless City and Innsmouth, except with dynamite toting protagonists who are all out of bubble gum and ready to kick butt. Derleth even employs a nuclear weapon against Cthulhu itself! As cool as that sounds, I really can't recommend the book as a good read, it's too derivative and strangely underplayed despite its pulpy aspirations.

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  6. For single character Call of Cthulhu games, have a look at Monophobia (free). For "purist" style adventures, have a look at Graham Walmsley's scenario set for 'Trail'.

    Funnily enough we're playing 'Shadows of Yog-Sothoth' at the moment.

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  7. Can anyone recommend a Derleth story that both a)has that adventurable feel
    b)doesn't suck?

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  8. A better choice might be Brian Lumley. Derleth was an early supporter of Lumley and the two have a lot in common in their writing. Despite occasional lapses into goofiness, Lumley's Mythos fiction like The Burrowers Beneath and the subsequent Titus Crow books can be pretty entertaining.

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  9. I agree with you on "Call" being a very pulp game, but I am not so certain about pure Lovecraftian scenarios not being as popular. I ran a big weekend long adventure for a group that was ruthlessly purist...there was no combat, no tentacled monster, and the "antagonist" was a predatory dimension, an empty black void that could only be sealed from the inside...requiring a doomed character to enter and seal the gate, remaining trapped there forever. I expected them to draw lots. They all ended up going in together. I was stunned, and personally felt the game was a failure (as a GM who has run "Cthulhu" off and on since 1981 I lean towards pulp). But the players, to my shock, loved it and called it one of my best efforts ever. So maybe Lovecraft can work, or maybe they are just a weird bunch of guys!

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  10. People do forget that HPL and Derleth corresponded with each other and Derleth was part of the "Lovecraft circle" so was...

    Robert E Howard
    Frank Belknap Long
    Fritz Leiber
    Robert Bloch
    Clark Ashton Smith

    So we would have to rule out their contributions as well.

    Kinda silly isn't it?

    IMO, it's all good. No such thing as "purist" because nobody lives in a vacuum..

    Elitist drivel IMO.

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  11. No such thing as "purist" because nobody lives in a vacuum..

    I largely agree with you, though there's a sizable contingent of Lovecraftians these days who do not. Now, I don't share their view (plus I don't think even HPL is as "pure" as some of his fans would have us believe), but it's not a fringe opinion, especially among those who study Lovecraft academically.

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  12. "I recently finished Derleth's Trail of Cthulhu and it is a pretty obvious that Sandy Petersen was under the influence of Derleth's writing when he created CoC."

    That's what many people assumed until the last few years (thanks to podcasting) where interviews with Sandy Peterson, Charlie Krank, etc. started coming out. This is also reiterated in the newest Yog-Radio podcast with Ken Hite (the older interviews are mostly available in the 1st year of Yog-Radio casts).

    Sandy's original game was *very* 'purist' in that there was no recovering sanity, no mythos 'monster stats' and while there was a certain 'pulpy' atmosphere, it was even more deadly.

    Chaosium, (probably wisely) realized that roleplayers in 1981(?) wouldn't grok the game as is and asked him to tweak it. Making it easier to gain victory, recover from mind blasting horrors and D&D style 'stats' were among the changes they asked him to make.

    In the new presentation by Ken Hite, mentioned above, Ken states that, in his opinion, he's *restoring* Sandy's original vision in a world that (post WoD, post-Ravenloft, post-30 years of CoC) that would be more receptive to that vision.

    Anyone interested in non-D&D old school info should seek out any Sandy Peterson interviews - he's manic, very entertaining, incredibly knowledgable about horror in general and was way ahead of his time.

    Don't saddle him with Chaosium's marketing choices.

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  13. Sandy's original game was *very* 'purist' in that there was no recovering sanity, no mythos 'monster stats' and while there was a certain 'pulpy' atmosphere, it was even more deadly.

    This is true. I believe I made a post about this at some point in the past, after I'd seen an interview with Sandy and he made this very point.

    In the new presentation by Ken Hite, mentioned above, Ken states that, in his opinion, he's *restoring* Sandy's original vision in a world that (post WoD, post-Ravenloft, post-30 years of CoC) that would be more receptive to that vision.

    What "new presentation?" I'm curious about what you're referencing here.

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  14. My work filter won't let me get on to provide a direct link but, at yog-radio, the podcast feed for yog-sothoth.com the newest podcast is a presentation given by Ken Hite called "Fundamentals of Setting Design" from Origins 2011.

    In the talk someone asks him about what he sees the differences are between his "Trail of Cthulhu" setting and Chaosium's "Call of Cthulhu"

    If Google cache is accurate, this thread should provide a direct link to the mp3
    http://www.yog-sothoth.com/threads/21217-Kenneth-Hite-on-Fundamentals-of-Setting-Design-(Origins-2011-Seminar)

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  15. ...I doubt a "pure" Lovecraft game would be very palatable to most gamers, then or now.

    I don't know, The Dying Of St. Margaret and it's sequels did pretty well for Pelgrane.

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