By Monica Valentinelli
The first incarnation of FlamesRising.com was a site dedicated to the editor-in-chief’s Vampire: the Masquerade Live Action Role-Playing game, or LARP for short. Since those early days almost ten years ago, our horror and dark fantasy webzine has grown from its humble beginnings to include news, reviews, interviews and additional coverage of all things horror. As Project Manager for the site, I’ve watched how our readers have evolved over time and what they are interested in. As you can imagine, a core portion of our audience hails from the hobby games industry, but we also have comic fans and avid readers that follow our site, too. Although there are so many different shades of horror, one monster in particular brings them all together. Of course, I’m talking about Cthulhu.
Cthulhu is an interesting figure for horror games to tackle, which is why you can find several different flavours of Lovecraft’s creation in card, board and tabletop games. If you prefer your card game to be light-hearted and fun, you might want to check out Munchkin Cthulhu, or, if you’re looking for a visual and intense experience, you can play the Arkham Horror board game. Hobby (or tabletop) games tend to address the Cthulhu Mythos from a darker perspective. If you’re familiar with horror games, you’ve probably heard about Call of Cthulhu from Chaosium, Inc. Set in the 1920s, the game allows you to play in the worlds of H.P. Lovecraft. True to what Lovecraft intended, there is a risk for uncovering the secrets of beings like Hastur, Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu – you could wind up losing your sanity. In addition to its pen-and-paper incarnation, there’s also a Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth video game that embraces the idea that mortals are not meant to uncover the secrets of the world. Not only do you risk losing your sanity in this horror video game, but your character could also experience bouts of paranoia and panic attacks, too!
For hobby gamers, the idea of losing your sanity while investigating the things that go bump in the world of Lovecraft has a strong appeal because it gives the characters a very tangible cost to uncovering the truth. Trail of Cthulhu is just one of the games that amplifies that “need to know” by putting it within the context of a detective story. Don’t like the 1920s as a setting? Delta Green and Cthulhutech are two other properties that address the mythos from a modern and futuristic perspective.
Why does Cthulhu have such a broad appeal in gaming? Keep in mind that horror games can be hard to play over a longer period of time, because it’s difficult to balance tension and inane activities with those bone-chilling moments of terror. Games of pure combat might be fun to play, but the characters have to do more than “fight the monster” or the game will stop being fun when the players have had their fill of shooting, punching, kicking, or stabbing the things that crawl in the night. As I alluded earlier, players in any game need to have something to do. When it comes to hobby games, there are often two layers of goals – one that your character has and one that your group will have. The Cthulhu Mythos, by its very nature, provides a unique backdrop for mystery and mayhem because the mortals are usually unaware of the monsters that live alongside them and they need to discover the monster’s existence before they can fight, worship or join it. Even though the motivations for players in a hobby game may range from “find the truth” to “become a Cultist”, an investigative, Cthulhu-inspired game allows each player to have their own goal in addition to the goals of the group. Combine that with the beings and locations within the Cthulhu Mythos and you instantly have a setting that mixes fantasy with horror, the real with the surreal.
For me, the best part about playing a Cthulhu-inspired game is finding out what will happen when my character meets a Cultist or learns that there are very strange things going on at Miskatonic University. If you haven’t picked up a game and tried putting yourself in the shoes of a mad scientist or a tireless police officer, I recommend trying it at least once. You might say that the only thing you risk losing is your sanity.
Monica Valentinelli is a full-time author and consultant. She is also the Project Manager for the horror and dark fantasy webzine www.flamesrising.com. Monica has over a dozen game and fiction credits to her name, including: “Pie”, a short story found in the Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas anthology, and her e-book, entitled The Queen of Crows, which is the best-selling title on DriveThruHorror.com. Just recently, it was announced that she’s one of the developers for the card game based on the HACK/SLASH horror comic by Tim Seeley. To read more about Monica, visit her blog located at www.mlvwrites.com.