Monday, June 20, 2016

How Call of Cthulhu helped shape my life... okay, my tastes and gaming

I am a big fan of both H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos in general. I've read most of Lovecraft's original works and a lot of work inspired by him. I've played a number of board games inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos and there are a lot of role playing games inspired by the Mythos as well.

Okay, it really helps that the original works are public domain now :D

But no game based on the works of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos have had a bigger impact on me and my gaming life than Call of Cthulhu. To be fair, Call of Cthulhu has had a huge impact on Mythos games, horror games and even role playing games in general.

Everyone knows the old joke about how every character in Call of Cthulhu ends up dead, insane or both. Which, to be fair, if you play like it was D&D set in the 1920s, is pretty much how things will end. If you try to hack and slash your way through, you'll go through a lot of characters.

Call of Cthulhu came out way back in 1981, which makes it one of an old, hoary game. At the time, it broke a lot of paradigms about role-playing. It was set in the 1920s, not really a prime time for adventures. Most of the monsters were vastly more powerful than the characters, meaning any direct confrontation would end in >squish<

And, of course, Call of Cthulhu introduced sanity as a stat. You didn't just have to worry about getting squished. You have to worry about going insane, complete with phobias and difficult recuperation. It both brings home the inherent theme and gives you one more way to feel fragile.

Mind you, I don't think anyone who's going to be reading this blog isn't going to be familiar with Call of Cthulhu and its influence. If you are interested in role-playing games and have heard anything outside of Dungeons & Dragons or Vampire, you're going to know about Call of Cthulhu.

So let me ruminate about how the game has affected me on a personal level.

First of all, it got me interested in Lovecraft. I doubt I am the first person who was interested in the game first and then got into the literature. To be honest, I have spent a lot more time and certainly more years reading various Mythos stories than I have spent playing Call of Cthulhu.

Oh, I am sure that I would have ended up reading Lovecraft even if I hadn't discovered Call of Cthulhu. But it definitely got me reading his works years earlier than I would have. Not a year goes by without me rereading some of his stories and looking for more mythos work to read.

Second, Call of Cthulhu pretty huge part in teaching me to role-play a character as opposed to having a character be a mobile Orc slaying machine. Seriously, when even the lesser Mythos monsters can pretty much take out a character without a problem (and even fighting cultists can be tough work), spending time with character development (and, of course, looking for clues) just became a good idea.

Call of Cthulhu wasn't the only game that taught me to do that. Heck, Dungeons and Dragons did that too. But it became the best choice in Call of Cthulhu  After all, in any game of Call of Cthulhu, you always had to ask yourself why your character is even staying involved. You have to actually explore why someone would go through with this kind of adventure.

Third, I spent a couple years in college playing in a regular campaign. We had a lot of fun and I've hold that it is one of my great role-playing experiences. I got a lot of lasting friendships from that campaign and it is still one of my touchtone experiences in role-playing in general.

I will admit, that if I was going to be in a traditional, investigation based Mythos game, I'd go for Trail of Cthulhu. I have been in games where bad rolls have lost clues and thrown the story completely out of wack. The Gumshoe system helps keep the story moving. Mind you, Call of Cthulhu came out more than twenty-five years before Trail of Cthulhu. There's a lot of time and development to reach Trail. And I'd cheerfully use Call of Cthulhu for a Delta Green game.

Call of Cthulhu keeps on casting a long, unspeakable, shambling shadow.

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