Lovecraft's Mythos
Introduction to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos and Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game

    The term 'mythos' suggests more than a typical roleplaying game world; it implies a rich and lavishly-detailed setting and it is an entirely apt word to describe the unique fantastical creation of Howard Philips Lovecraft, his literary correspondents and many writers since his death in 1936.
    Different strands of Lovecraft's writing combined to create the mythos. The central idea was his concept of an ancient assembly of godlike beings who, in practising black magic, somehow lost their power over the Earth and constantly strive to regain their hold upon it. However, although this might sound superficially like the standard Christian myths of fallen angels and suchlike, Lovecraft's conception was far more complex and less clear-cut. The boundaries between godlike-being and god, between science and magic and between evil and amorality (or a morality alien to humans) are far from clear in his stories.
    Many of Lovecraft's stories concerned the efforts of human (and sometimes non-human) cultists to restore these fallen gods to their former positions as rulers of the earth. One of these 'Great Old Ones' gives his name to the mythos itself: Great Cthulhu, who sleeps beneath the Pacific Ocean, dreaming and waiting for when 'The stars are right', when he will be free again.
    Another strand of Lovecraft's fiction which was woven into the mythos at times was that of the Dreamlands: a world which certain people may enter while they dream; a strange and fantastic world where the laws of our universe do not necessarily apply and where dreamers may exist as another person altogether while their body sleeps on in our world.
    But the details of the mythos are best discovered through reading Lovecraft's work. The grand sweep of the mythos is a depressing picture; evil will prevail in the end and mere humans are powerless against the beings who exist in the spaces just beyond our world. Lovecraft once compared our safe, familiar universe of day-to-day things, adrift in an infinite and hostile universe to a bubble blown from a jester's pipe, tiny, fragile and existing only at the whim of the jester.
    His stories are grim, gothic, brooding; they are filled with yellowing manuscripts, dusty, forgotten cellars and terrible secrets best left undiscovered. If writings were coloured then Lovecraft's would be shades of grey, the green of moss on old walls and the blackness of a dank and dripping well.
Julian Field

   "The Call of Cthulhu", a role-playing game based on the supernatural horror fiction of 1920s writer H.P. Lovecraft, scooped all the major awards for "best RPG" when it first appeared in the early 1980s. It has become a firm favourite of gamers worldwide, and a staple of role-playing tournaments.

   The main reason for the success of the system - apart from the appeal of its baroque setting - is probably that encourages role-playing and initiative, with simple game mechanics and minimal dice-rolling. The players take on the role of "investigators" (typically in the 1920s, in the New England of Lovecraft's stories, although scenarios can be written for any time or place). The problems they face can generally only be dealt with by research, negotiation, surreptitious investigation and lateral thinking. Brute force is usually not an option, and when violence does occur in the game, it is shocking, dangerous, and definitely a big deal - adding an extra layer of excitement. The horrifying experiences the characters go through are likely to drive them temporarily or permanently insane, giving a new dimension to role-playing for the players to run with.

   All this can have a real appeal to the jaded fantasy gamer who is tired of endless dice-rolling, routine hack-and-slash violence, and the absence of any real challenge. In "The Call of Cthulhu" player characters are up against titanic foes, and, while they might be able to snatch a temporary victory, they can never hope to prevail in the long term. The sense of danger is real, and the stakes (and, often, the body count) are high.

   It all adds up to a unique and challenging gaming experience. And when the stars are right, you too will come to dread... The Call of Cthulhu!
Marcus Ogden

©copyright 1996 Marcus Ogden and Julian Field Tuesday, 08-Feb-2000 10:39:28 GMT