Call of Cthulhu – What am I Getting Myself Into?

Portals to amazing & thrilling adventures. © Chaosium 2014 & 2018.

You may be asking yourself, how did I find myself on this strange website reading about some crawling, Egyptian-sounding thingy that seems hellbent on wrecking the earth? Maybe somebody in your gaming group has attempted to recruit you for this crazy Call of Cthulhu (CoC) campaign. Perhaps you’ve heard good things about the system, setting or campaign, and wanted to learn more about it. Or maybe you just clicked on a very wrong link somewhere along the way. No matter, we happily welcome you here to our dark little corner of the world. We would like to offer you some brief introductory comments and references to elucidate just what it is you may be getting yourself into. 

Call of Cthulhu:

The Sleeper of R’lyeh himself, Cthulhu

As you may already know, CoC is a horror role-playing game based upon H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and the incumbent horrors of a dark world threatened and secretly influenced by malign cosmic entities and other-worldly monsters. Humans, including the characters you may play, have incredibly limited knowledge of the eldritch forces that threaten our species, and the mere recognition of their existence can completely unravel the human mind. In the game, player characters, called Investigators, use their limited powers and intuition to combat these horrible monsters and their minions. The scale of threat in an individual game can range from a disturbing little rat-creature with a human face to a giant black hole monster accidentally swallowing the whole earth.

For many players and gamemasters (called Keepers of Arcane Lore or, simply, Keepers), the appeal of CoC, as opposed to other settings, comes from sharing a story in a setting with heightened, terrifying stakes, often with a keen interest in the historical background. The prototypical CoC game takes place in the 1920s with excellent sourcebooks depicting various locales during this era; however, a wide variety of published alternatives exist, including Ancient Rome the Dark AgesVictorian England , and the Atomic Era. Here are just a few examples of popular films and TV shows that capture the essence of CoC over various periods and settings:

  • The Thing (& the rest of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy) – 1982
  • Event Horizon – 1997
  • True Detective (Season 1) – 2014
  • The Outsider (HBO) – 2020
  • Stranger Things – 2016-present
  • Alien & Aliens

…and countless others

Survival horror at its finest. Imagine your team of Investigators as the crew of the Nostromo. (20th Century Fox)

The CoC play setting differs substantially from the standard fantasy-based fare, which focuses on leveling up, looting valuable artifacts, and obtaining powerful weaponry. The focus in CoC frequently falls on investigation, rather than combat where squishy Investigators may easily be splattered by a single errant dice roll. As such, the game has a reputation for being unforgiving with all Investigators dying or losing their minds before the game’s conclusion. Many groups may choose to play this way, but the system itself remains open to many different styles, and the Pulp Cthulhu system specifically offers a more heroic middle ground (or higher!). Of course, this may simply not be your cup of tea, but if you like horrifying tentacular baddies lurking in the shadows, read on!

Masks of Nyarlathotep: 

While not the first major CoC campaign where players spend an extended number of game sessions attempting to overcome a formidable global menace, Masks of Nyarlathotep (MoN) has achieved legendary status and has been lauded as potentially the greatest roleplaying game campaign of all time by many. Opinions may differ, but all can concede that the original MoN release in 1984 forever influenced the world of gaming and campaign development. This adventure takes your team of Investigators across the globe in 1925 in an attempt to uncover the dark mystery surrounding an ill-fated expedition and the resultant danger threatening the entire world. You will travel to six of the seven continents unraveling the truth, putting together the clues, and disrupting adversaries. Again, we would like to offer some popular(-ish) examples, which can encapsulate this experience:

From the director of The Fifth Element and Léon (The Professional) a little-seen slice of gaslamp fun based on comic series. (EuropaCorp/Shout Factory)

The entire campaign experience, depending on how your group plays, can take up to a year or two. Along the way, you will have the opportunity to meet a wide variety of characters, explore interesting cities and locales, and maybe even learn a little history. If you have been presented with an opportunity to play in this campaign by a friend or playgroup, we wholeheartedly recommend seizing the opportunity. It will be a commitment, but you will be able to say you played one of the greatest, most influential roleplaying campaigns ever written (and revised!). You may very well have additional questions and concerns, and we will do our best to provide you with some answers and resources to further encourage you to seize the chance to save the world from truly harrowing peril.