While digging through old boxes, I came across a copy of long-vanished British gaming Roleplayer Independent magazine from the hoary ancient days of December 1992. It took me a few minutes to work out why I’d kept it – there’s a random Cthulhu scenario generator in there by Jim Johnston. (In fact, that article must have been my first encounter with the Cthulhu Mythos, as the first time I actually played a Cthulhu game was January 1994 – but I digress).
Random inspiration is great for Cthulhu scenarios. One of the charms of the Mythos is its sheer incongruity and omnipresence – look under the wrong stone, and you don’t just find a monster, you find an infinitely deep abyss. The Mythos is infinitely mutable, with the possibility of horror lurking in any aspect of reality.
For example, take the first table from that old random generator.
Any of those could lead to a single monster – the lights in the night are a lone fire vampire, accidentally summoned by an archaeologist meddling with an ancient relic, and the worst the investigators might face is a little combustion. Or maybe the lights are Yog-Sothoth manifesting to spawn his hybrid son, and the stakes are nothing less than the destruction of all life on Earth.
Another possible prompt is to pick a random investigative ability, and build a scenario around a clue discovered with that ability. So, lights in the sky + Reassurance – why is some witness so terrified by the lights that reassuring her unlocks the mystery? Maybe the lights are ghosts – psychic projections from the brain-matter of the recently deceased, agitated by some cosmic force afflicting the graveyard (a Colour, maybe?).
Picking a random monster or mythos tome also works – the trick is finding something seemingly incongruous, and then challenging your brain to find connections. As an exercise, let’s take a random event from 1937. A quick jaunt on Wikipedia gives me:
A random pick of investigative ability gives me Architecture, and picking a random monster from Hideous Creatures gives me the Dark Young. So… the escape attempt involved a carved wooden pistol. Maybe the pistol wasn’t carved, but grown, and one of the prisoners was a secret worshipper of the Black Goat who erected a secret temple to her in some hidden corner of the prison (Architecture). The escape attempt fails, but the worried warden turns to the investigators to discover the origin of the unholy weapon.
Alternatively, taking the same historical event, but a different ability and monster – Law and the Moon-Beasts. Ok, clearly, the prisoners are escaping because the state of California has a secret bargain with the Moon-Beasts, and prisoner ‘executions’ at Folsom are a cover for the unholy teind of victims to the Moon-Beasts…
A third random prompt – Flattery and the Ultraviolet Devourers out of From Beyond. Here, maybe an arrogant prisoner claims to know a better way out of the prison – he’s going to walk through the walls. Flattery gets him to reveal that his friend on the outside has a mysterious machine that can shift its targets out of conventional space-time and back again. One day soon, his cell’s going to light up all purple, and he’ll be gone. His friend’s testing it – what do you think drove those other prisoners crazy enough to attack the warden like that?
Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.