There’s something about Halloween that always draws me back to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. I’m not alone in this, of course. My good friend Quentin Lewis has taken to releasing recordings of himself reading stories from Lovecraft each Halloween as a podcast, which I highly recommend you check out. Both of us, as well as many of our friends, find ourselves pulling out well-loved collections of Lovecraft’s stories to read as soon as the leaves begin to fall.
This is hardly surprising. After all, Halloween is a time for stories of monsters, and Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors from beyond space and time have been a staple for fans of horror, fantasy and science fiction since before there was a clear distinction between the genres. His stories have become a primary thread running through the tapestry of genre fiction, and have been a major influence to many writers, not to mention becoming a central component of modern geek culture.
So it came to pass that this Halloween, I found myself diving deep into books and games influenced by Lovecraft’s works.
Now, the first thing I’ll say about this game is that it is originally from the Call of Cthulhu franchise by Chaosium, which means that gameplay can get relatively complex, because that appears to be the unwritten rule for any game based upon the tales of Lovecraft. Here’s a great photo from a Wikipedia user on what the game looks like when it is in full swing.
As you can certainly see above, there is a lot going on during the game, but it’s not overwhelming by any means. My wife and I took it for a spin last night and enjoyed playing the game immensely. Essentially, each player draws a random investigator, as well as skills, spells and objects. Then a random Ancient One is drawn from the deck of dark gods, indicating which of these is about to rise again. Gates to other worlds begin to open in the town of Arkham, and the players must work together to try to seal them before the opposing god in question manages to break through and destroy the world. Now, this is very difficult to pull off with only two players, and I can’t imagine how tough it would be single-player –which the game does support–, so it was pretty clear to us that the game is probably best if you have 4-5 total players to work with. We still enjoyed it though, and while it is a long game, it’s still shorter than a session of Diplomacy, so it’s all relative. :-)
If you are a fan of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos you will love this game, if not, you might get frustrated before you get a chance to get to the fun parts. Needless to say, I loved it.
The Laundry Files
I first encountered the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross when I read The Jennifer Morgue last February. The series follows the exploits of a British secret agent named Bob Howard. Bob is a hacker and a necromancer, working for the Laundry, a covert British agency dedicated to dealing with magical threats. Specifically, they represent the UK’s interests in all dealings with mystical powers, including the Deep Ones living beneath the deepest oceans, and work to prepare a method of survival for when Old Ones do manage to rise again to bring about the destruction of the Earth. The books are well-written, quickly paced, and quite funny.
The Jennifer Morgue spends quite a bit of time having fun with mythos of a particular fictional British secret agent, placing Howard in his shoes, with only a magical PDA, and a bootable USB drive with a tiny Linux distribution running on it. It was a lot of fun, and one I’ve enjoyed through multiple reads.
This Halloween, I found myself reading the next book in the series, The Fuller Memorandum, which I quite enjoyed. It takes place a couple years after the events of The Jennifer Morgue, and once again Howard is drawn into a dangerous and complex web of intrigue by his superiors. Armed with only his smartphone, Bob Howard is forced to face off against the undead, ancient horrors, and worst of all, the bureaucrats within the Laundry itself.
Both books are a lot of fun and well worth your time to read.
Give Me More
Unfortunately, like the eldritch horrors of Lovecraft’s stories, my hunger is not satiated easily. I crave more tales of the twisted geometries of the Old Ones, and it’s probably safe to say that I’ll be continuing to consume a lot of Lovecraft-inspired material.
Ia Ia Cthulhu Fhtagn!