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Digital Subscriptions > Tabletop Gaming > Issue 12 Oct/Nov '17 > THE COOL OF CTHULHU


H.P. Lovecraft’s monstrous creations and tales of cosmic horror have haunted gaming for decades. Designers, experts and fans tell us why the master of fear continues to shock and inspire

Stephen King, the modern maestro of spooky storytelling, once called H.P. Lovecraft “the 20th century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale”.

King’s recognition of the author in the early eighties neatly summed up the remarkable boom in popularity and recognition that Lovecraft’s work had experienced in the half-century following his death in 1937, when he had died largely unknown by the wider public, his fame confined to the small readership of pulp magazines in which his stories were published.

Three-plus decades on from King’s eulogy, and fast approaching the centenary of Lovecraft’s death, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t come into contact with a Lovecraftian yarn of forbidden knowledge and cosmicism – the existential fear of an uncaring, godless universe, symbolised by the fruitless struggle of humanity against celestial beings of incomparable power that appear in so many of Lovecraft’s tales. Netflix series Stranger Things, horror movie The Void and PS4 video game Bloodborne are just a few of the more-admired efforts to pay homage to Lovecraft and his distinct flavour of cosmic dread in the last couple of years.

Noted Lovecraft scholar, bibliographer and literary critic S.T. Joshi admits that even he is “constantly stupefied” by the author’s ongoing popularity.

“I cannot think of a single writer from his era who has infiltrated both ‘high’ and popular culture the way he has,” he explains.

While Lovecraft’s presence in film, TV and games has ebbed and flowed over the decades, his work has remained consistently popular on the tabletop, with dozens of board, card, roleplaying and miniatures games inspired by his oeuvre released every year. While the unrelenting barrage of Lovecraft adaptations and spin-offs has become somewhat of a running joke (and, at points, gripe) among players, several tabletop takes on Lovecraft remain some of the highest-regarded games of all time.

The first major Lovecraft game to hit the tabletop was Call of Cthulhu, an RPG designed by Sandy Petersen and published by Chaosium in 1981. As well as innovating on the roleplaying staples established by earlier titles such as Dungeons & Dragons by grounding its human investigators in reality – death and insanity are typical, and direct combat often deadly – Call of Cthulhu’s themes opened the portal for games to subject players to darker, interconnected narratives and tougher challenges in line with the doom-and-gloom tone of its muse.

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About Tabletop Gaming

Cover feature: Pandemic Legacy: Season 2: Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau tell us about the ambitious sequel to their revolutionary legacy game that changed the world Terror on the Tabletop: H.P. Lovecraft and his monstrous creations seem to be everywhere in games, from RPG Call of Cthulhu to board game Eldritch Horror. We ask experts and designers why the horror author and his stories remain as popular as ever for gamers Lights, Camera, Actions: From The Godfather and The Terminator to Evil Dead and Planet of the Apes, movie board games are back in fashion – and they’ve never been bigger or better. Join us as we explore the cinematic side of gaming D&D Beyond: Roleplaying classic Dungeons & Dragons is breaking into the 21st century with an impressive new companion app. We take D&D Beyond for a spin and speak to its developers Essen preview: The games, announcements and releases you shouldn’t miss at the world’s biggest tabletop event in October Risk turns 60: We celebrate six decades of the iconic strategy game by looking back at the creation and history of a true tabletop classic 30 reviews, including… • Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game • Wasteland Express Delivery Service • Codenames Duet • Whitehall Mystery • Star Trek Adventures RPG • Statecraft • The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire • Untold: Adventures Await RPG • Gloom of Kilforth • Bears vs Babies • Spirit Island • Modern Art • Caverna: Cave vs Cave • Unearth • Deadline • 13 Minutes • The Lost Expedition • Medici: The Card Game • First Dates: The Game • Lovecraft Letter • Fox in the Forest And much, much more!

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