[Editor’s note: Graham’s final Purist adventure, The Rending Box is out now.]
Stealing Cthulhu is my guide to Lovecraftian storytelling for roleplaying games. The central idea is: by stealing, adapting, combining and reusing Lovecraft’s ideas, you can create scenarios that seem new and horrific. In this article, I’ll describe some techniques from the book and explain what they can do for your Trail of Cthulhu games.
To make a new scenario, take a Lovecraft story and change something about it. For example, take The Whisperer In Darkness and change the location: put the Mi-Go in the Antarctic, the Severn Valley or the desert. Alternatively, try changing the Mythos creature: for example, run the plot of The Whisperer In Darkness with Deep Ones.
When you do this, the details change: the hillside town becomes a seaside town; the Mi-Go’s black stone becomes the Deep Ones’ jewellery. Nevertheless, the basic story remains the same.
Stealing Cthulhu suggests many simple changes, which let you reuse Lovecraft’s stories as Trail of Cthulhu scenarios. You’ll steal the plots, but the scenarios will seem new.
Lovecraft’s stories are carefully structured. By stealing his story structures, your Trail of Cthulhu scenarios will feel bleak, authentic and horrific.
For example, as Lovecraft’s stories progress, the following things happen:
- The horror gets worse, beginning with mere weirdness, then building slowly to a final moment of terror.
- The protagonists get closer and closer to the creature, until they finally see it.
- First plants get harmed, then animals, then humans.
In Stealing Cthulhu, I break down these structures in great detail. Use them for your Trail of Cthulhu scenarios and you’ll create tense, terrifying stories.
When you go back to Lovecraft’s stories, you find new ways to use his creatures.
For example, the Deep Ones are associated with beauty: their undersea cities are glowing and ethereal. The Flying Polyps seem like a living wind. And the Mi-Go seem benevolent: they want to take the human race to the stars. (Admittedly, this involves putting their brains in canisters.)
Stealing Cthulhu returns to the original stories and rediscovers the Mythos. It revisits, not just Lovecraft’s creatures, but those of other authors, including the Shan, Lloigor and Cthonians.
Stealing Cthulhu also includes Cthulhu Dark, my rules-light system for Lovecraft roleplaying.
You can preorder Stealing Cthulhu now. There are various levels of contribution: the basic book is $21 (plus shipping and handling).
For the preorder period only, you can get a limited edition hardback for $65. It’s signed, numbered and stamped “Property of Brichester Library”, complete with librarian’s annotations. You also get a free scenario, Sukapak, by Pelgrane author Jason Morningstar.
If you’d like to preorder, be quick! The preorders close on 1st June.