Join 3,380 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Dark Young
September 22, 2011 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Sandy Peterson, creator of Call of Cthulhu, reviews Call of Cthulhu
posted by Artw (107 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh dear god, it's JHarris' optimal MeFi post!
posted by JHarris at 1:46 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


However, the good folks at Chaosium did not respect Lovecraft. Greg’s exact words were "HPL is a terrible writer."

HPL *was* a terrible writer, Sandy. Don't get angry, every Lovecraft fan I know loves HPL *despite* his writing style, not *because* of it.
posted by absalom at 1:47 PM on September 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Fun game, I lured a couple different groups of people into playing it by promising beer. They won't play again no matter what I offer. Maybe I'll buy the expansions and claim it is a new game.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:50 PM on September 22, 2011


Oh, neat! I find dude's goofiness kind of endearing, too.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:51 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I met him once at a con many years ago. He was kind enough to answer my many questions. I loved playing CoC and it was always my goal to make my character as insane as possible. That was just plain fun.
posted by GavinR at 1:55 PM on September 22, 2011


We actually did the first bits of the Raid on Innsmouth Tuesday. Oh the things coming up before long. It almost makes me titter to myself as I write this. I'd better stop thinking about it before I start getting weird looks from the bookstore staff.
posted by JHarris at 2:01 PM on September 22, 2011


HPL *was* a terrible writer, Sandy. Don't get angry, every Lovecraft fan I know loves HPL *despite* his writing style, not *because* of it.

You know, having been re-reading his entire body of work over the last year or so I've got to go with Ken Hite on that one:

As a final thought, I'd say this. Lovecraft combined an epochal imagination with a nearly nihilist philosophy -- the two ingredients that together make "cosmic horror." But more importantly, Lovecraft was a great writer. Of his solo adult works, 17 of 50 are great by almost any standard. (That's a career .340 average -- home run average, that is. And six of those were knocked clean out of the park.) By the time his style fully matured in the mid-1920s, he was almost incapable of turning out a bad story. He was a complex writer, who believed (correctly) that both verisimilitude and gothicism depended on intricate structures of both plot and language. A true Anglophone craftsman, HPL is not for the lazy, any more than Faulkner or Borges is -- or Hawthorne, his great unsung model. In his mature phase, he almost never wastes a word: if you can't figure out why it's there, that's your problem, not his. Not all of the mature stories work for all readers -- "The Thing on the Doorstep" is probably the weakest of them, and as I've intimated before, "The Silver Key" is perhaps best seen as mental attic-cleaning rather than as fiction in the technical sense. But even those two (clearly his weakest post-1925 tales) are structurally sound as drums, and make interesting reading to boot, two desiderata that far too many short stories fail at.

For all those who say that Lovecraft is all style (and bad style at that) and no substance, why is it that there are no successful pastiches of Lovecraft in his own style? Why aren't we drowning in stories at least as good as "The Shadow Out of Time" or "The Haunter of the Dark"? Why, if it's just a matter of piling up "eldritch unnameables," can't any journeyman hack with Robert M. Price's email address manage it? Why can't even very good craftsmen indeed do it? (August Derleth is no slouch on his own turf, and Robert Bloch and Ramsey Campbell, well, the defense rests.) Why, for that matter, are some of Lovecraft's stories better than others if all it takes to write like Lovecraft is a thesaurus and a lobster-shack menu? No, in the great works there's definitely something there, some "adventurous expectancy," some outside shape scratching "at the known universe's utmost rim."

posted by Artw at 2:05 PM on September 22, 2011 [48 favorites]


In the very first game I ever ran of Call of Cthulhu (long before the rules were finished), my players found a book which enabled them to summon up a Foul Thing From Otherwhere (a dimensional shambler) and decided to do so. At the moment they completed the spell, the players suddenly chimed in with comments like "I’m covering my eyes." "Turning my back." "Shielding my view so I don’t see the monster." I had never seen this kind of activity in an RPG before - trying NOT to see the monster? What a concept. You may not credit it, but I had actually not realized that the Sanity stat, as I had written it, would lead to such behavior. To me it was serendipitous; emergent play. But I loved it. The players were actually acting like Lovecraft heroes instead of the mighty-thewed barbarian lunks of D&D.

Yeah, as a teenage RPG player when it arrived, I find it hard to convey how far apart this set CoC from every other game out there. D&D and its spin-offs were, "A vampire lives in that castle, so let us head in there and kill it," or "A dragon lives on that mountain, so let us head up there and kill it," or "Some orcs live in those woods, so let us head in there and kill them." Call of Cthulhu was, "A terrible creature lives down that mineshaft, so for the love of Christ, let's not go down there. Can we dynamite the entrance to the shaft? Can we pour concrete down the shaft? Is there any chance it will burrow out?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:08 PM on September 22, 2011 [38 favorites]



For those of you around my age or older, you may remember when you would turn off an older model television and the picture would collapse onto itself into a small point of light that would get smaller and smaller until it faded out.

Well, reading Sandy Peterson, creator of Call of Cthulhu, reviews Call of Cthulhu posted on Metafilter just now, I reached out to try to grab my monitor's screen -- afraid that like that old TV bright dot, Metafilter also was going to fade away -- having collapsed in on itself.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:14 PM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


HPL *was* a terrible writer, Sandy. Don't get angry, every Lovecraft fan I know loves HPL *despite* his writing style, not *because* of it.

Not anymore.
posted by dfan at 2:14 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I juuuuuuuuuust bought Trail of Cthulhu, thinking that I might run a session for Halloween.

Anyone played? Wanna compare 'n' contrast w/CoC?
posted by Shadowkeeper at 2:16 PM on September 22, 2011


Call of Cthulu was a fun game, and I do think that the 1920's hook was at least part of the appeal. While, yes, undeniably HPL himself was writing characters using cutting edge stuff in his own modern era, I think the era did help define things.

You can't believe in horrible mountains in Antarctica when we've got satellite imagery and full exploration of that frozen continent.

You can't believe in uncharted jungle islands when there's meter resolution photos available of every bit of land on the planet.

You can't believe in mysterious sunken undersea temples/islands when we have sidescan radar imagery that gives us amazingly detailed pictures of the ocean floor.

Setting things back in the 1920's, when the technology existed to get most places, but there was still a huge chunk of unexplored, unmapped, territory out there helped make it more believable.

Modern settings of a similar variety (Stross' Laundry series for example) tend to rely either on gates to other universes/planets or smaller secret spaces (sub-basements and whatnot) in which to place their unnamed horrors. Plus, in Stross' case a huge dose of men in black conspiracy so the charts of ocean floors are not merely inaccurate but deliberately so something not really present in HPL's original stuff (nothing wrong with the MiB conspiracy angle, of course, I happen to like it).

Right now my RPG group is playing in a Laundry/HPL inspired modern setting. I've stolen shamelessly from both Stross and HPL, as well as bought the Laundry RPG book to mine for ideas. Not using Basic though, my group is more familiar with GURPS so I decided to go with that.

I've got some of my fonder memories from my younger days playing straight CoC though. I had a character working through some insanity after seeing some horror or other manage a critical success on her sculpture roll and produce a sculpture that Drove Men Mad, lost a few extra sanity points for doing so, and in the process became immune to losing further sanity from seeing that particular horror . We used it as a burglar alarm for a while after that. "Hmmm, screams of madness from downstairs, must be someone trying to break in again...."

Back in the day my group also employed the method of using fully automatic weapons (tommy guns mostly), and shooting at any sign of suspicious activity with their eyes closed. It never really worked well, but we kept hoping, and occasionally plugging innocent bystanders.

It's a fun game all around.
posted by sotonohito at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I need to make friends with some gamers, because I really want to play this game. Also I just need some friends...

The (somewhat condensed) HPL Film Festival is happening in Portland next week. Be there and be square!
posted by bstreep at 2:18 PM on September 22, 2011


sotonohito - have you checked out Delta Green?
posted by Artw at 2:21 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


For all those who say that Lovecraft is all style (and bad style at that) and no substance, why is it that there are no successful pastiches of Lovecraft in his own style?

Besides Stross' A Colder War? The Laundry stuff is different, being a pastiche of various spy novelists rather than Lovecraft even if the setting is HPL.
posted by Justinian at 2:21 PM on September 22, 2011


Call of Cthulu was a fun game, and I do think that the 1920's hook was at least part of the appeal.

I found that part of the article/post really amusing. But not just for that reason. Maybe a 1980s haunted house was just like a 1920s haunted house but not anymore. Cell phones ruin everything!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:22 PM on September 22, 2011


A Colder War - Lovecraftian, sure, but not in his style - not a hint of antiquated pseudo Edwardian guff.
posted by Artw at 2:30 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Call of Cthulu was a fun game, and I do think that the 1920's hook was at least part of the appeal. While, yes, undeniably HPL himself was writing characters using cutting edge stuff in his own modern era, I think the era did help define things.

Ghostbusters was quite a good game from the same era, set in the modern day (1980s/90s) that had an essential, cthonic nature as well. It's got humour, true, but it's all about facing down raving madness from beyond the void as well. The Laundry, for example, draws from as much from Peter Venkman as it does from Lovecraft.
posted by bonehead at 2:30 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I was all disgusted by the d20 CoC game when I heard it had come out, thinking that the whole d20 system was too D&D-character-advancement-carroty, what with its character levels and feats and such... It gets too far away from the notion of regular people getting eaten by Things Man Was Not Meatn to Know, because heroism is built into the very system itself. Then I was flipping through the d20 CoC rulebook one day and noticed that the average Challenge Rating of a monster was somewhere around 25. So even as a heroic figure, you're still dogmeat in the face of the Cosmic Horrors. This rectified things a bit. There's still no chance I would play it, but at least it executes the joke well.

(And I would love to get into a good non-d20 CoC game some time...)
posted by kaibutsu at 2:31 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


(that's no accident: Sandy Petersen was lead author on both Ghostbusters and CoC, and Stafford was co-author on both as well).
posted by bonehead at 2:33 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


A Colder War - Lovecraftian, sure, but not in his style - not a hint of antiquated pseudo Edwardian guff.

I suppose. I'm not really on board with Hite's statement, though. There are (at least) two reasons why there are no successful pastiches of Lovecraft's style. One, it is very difficult to imitate successfully (the reason Hite would propose apparently). Or, two, it is a crappy style.

Hell, if there are a bunch of successful Lovecraftian stories (A Colder War, A Study in Emerald etc) but none use Lovecraft's style that tells me that indicates to me that the setting is where much of the power is, not the style. I'm not saying Lovecraft's style is terrible necessarily, only that the power of the setting is clearly not lost when the style changes so Hite's objection doesn't hold water.
posted by Justinian at 2:40 PM on September 22, 2011


The best part of that opinion quoted above is that it insinuates that anyone who think's Lovecraft isn't very good at the writing part of writing just isn't smart enough. I mean, I've read the entire guys catalog, too. I'm a fan. Shit, I bought my first website back in the day with money I'd won writing a paper about the guy, so I'm obviously not thrilled with that insinuation, nor the idea that somehow saying the guy wasn't a technically skilled writer somehow is an attack against his relevance.

Honestly, though, I just don't think Lovecraft was that great at the craft of writing and there's plenty of compelling arguments to be made in that direction, desipte dfan's apparent assumption that there's been some sea change in literary appreciation of him or whatever. I mean, come on, where there is dialogue it is almost universally horrible. For someone who supposedly possessed such a great economy and fluency and command of the language, he sure drops an awful lot of the same leaden descriptors to the point that if you pick the wrong set of stories to read together in an afternoon it almost becomes like self-parody.

The fact is, HPLs most enjoyable stories to read - as opposed to those that possess the best storyline, the ones that are the most innovative, the ones that are the most mindbending or whatever - are the ones where he doesn't really take himself too seriously, which is kind of his big problem, IMHO See Also: The Herbert West, Reanimator stories, for example.

De gustibus non est disputandum, and all that.
posted by absalom at 2:41 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


What's the alternative history novel where HPL becomes the first Fascist president of the United States?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:43 PM on September 22, 2011


@artw Nope, but I am now. Looks good, thanks.
posted by sotonohito at 2:45 PM on September 22, 2011


The d20 CoC conversion is actually remarkably well-done in my opinion - I'm glad they didn't just cram the godawful d20 Modern ruleset into a horror frame. The concept of 'class advancement' is almost entirely removed, really. There's only an 'offense class' and 'defense class', and they're mostly identical - one is a better shot, and one has more skill points to put into rounded out investigatory stuff. Other than that, there's no 'class features'.. everything is available to every one. Being a better shot is helpful if you run across a pack of ghouls, having more points in knowledge skills is better (if not safer) for figuring out eldritch lore. A fifth level character has marginally more options than a first level character, but a shoggoth will still turn you into nightmare gravy no matter what. You can really tell that the class system is only in there in order to make the system d20 compliant, and help it make sense to modern d&d 3-3.5 players. The sanity mechanic is pretty much identical, the spell system is nothing like d20s wizard spells or whichever.

All in all I think it serves as a pretty decent 'port' of the CoC system. When you take the 'class features' out of the class system, levels are pretty much just another term for 'you have x many points to spend on new character features.'
posted by FatherDagon at 2:50 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


As for HPL's writing, I'm ambiguous. He's a devotee of purple prose to the point of absurdity, which for me often makes the atmosphere of horror he tries to create fail due to giggling at his over the top purple prose.

His characters are pretty much interchangeable.

Often his sequence of events demands that his characters perform either outright impossible or quite unlikely mental and physical feats (ie: in At the Mountains of Madness we are expected to believe that his characters were able in only two or three hours at the most, to completely understand the story of the Elder Things as told by illustrated murals done in an alien style with captions unreadable by the characters, I think not.)

He's not a great writer. He's memorable, he's influential, but I don't think he can be called great in the stylistic or analytical sense.

Neither is he a terrible writer, compare his stuff to the excretions of Jerry Jenkins (author of the awful Left Behind books) and there is no doubt that HPL is a vastly better writer by several orders of magnitude.

Ultimately I'd argue he was a middling writer with some annoying habits (the affectations of fake Olde Tyme writing styles, the purple prose, the thesaurus abuse, etc).

That, of course, is ignoring his ugly racism, but with a lot of older writers you have to ignore that.
posted by sotonohito at 2:56 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Art, I strongly suspect you may be playing host to a tentacular alien visitor bent on depredation. I see sucker prints all over this post.
posted by mwhybark at 3:00 PM on September 22, 2011


I should track down the d20 Call of Cthulhu sometime - John Tynes of Delta Green fame co-authored it, and it apparently has a very good breakdown of how Lovecraftian horror can be made to work that doesn't hang on too tightly to Derlethian rules and classifications.
posted by Artw at 3:02 PM on September 22, 2011


When I read The Willows (parts I II III IV) by Algernon Blackwood, who was a big influence on Lovecraft, I was surprised to find how many 'Lovecraftian' elements were already present in this story, which predates Lovecraft's work. Its style is also in my view obviously superior to Lovecraft's, and I say this as a long-time fan of his.

The impression I get from Blackwood's work as well as what little I've read of Robert Chambers's The King in Yellow and some other pre-Lovecraft fiction is that Lovecraft did not create the 'Lovecraftian spirit' but rather went further in building a sort of specific world around it than did his predecessors.
posted by Anything at 3:04 PM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Art, I strongly suspect you may be playing host to a tentacular alien visitor bent on depredation. I see sucker prints all over this post.

Nothing happened near the dog sheds back in post 107628. Nothing.
posted by Artw at 3:05 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


For all those who say that Lovecraft is all style (and bad style at that) and no substance, why is it that there are no successful pastiches of Lovecraft in his own style?

Somebody needs to read some Thomas Ligotti.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:07 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


My favorite CoC game I ever ran (three times!) was the space telescope one from the modern The Stars Are Right! sourcebook. I had a CD of Kronos Quartet's Black Angels, so would play the third track from it on repeat, slowly bringing up the volume as things got more and more dire.

When the next day, one of my players said they couldn't sleep the night before, I felt like I had finally got the Big Ole GM High-Five.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:10 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


As to Lovecraft being a good writer, I'll quote the world's foremost expert on my opinions, me.
I've been reading and rereading my way through the Lovecraft corpus, and, again and again, I find myself impressed with how good and effective a writer he is. His prose style is out of fashion, of course. Hell, it was never in fashion, being the affectation of a 20th century man who longed to be an 18th century man, and whose greatest influences were 19th century writers.

This isn't to suggest it's all great; some stories are bad; several others have clunky bits. But I find that if I'm willing to surrender to the rhythms of the baroque prose, it carries me away, and even some of the lines that seem turgid when quoted out of context serve their stories well.
Insufferable nerdgloat: I'm currently playing in a CoC campaign GM-ed by one of the co-authors of Beyond the Mountains of Madness.
posted by Zed at 3:10 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


all I can say is I shall approach you facing away, using a shaving mirror to navigate close enough to conduct certain tests.
posted by mwhybark at 3:10 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


What's the alternative history novel where HPL becomes the first Fascist president of the United States?

Are you thinking of the Philip Roth book where Lindbergh becomes president?
posted by adamdschneider at 3:20 PM on September 22, 2011


What's the alternative history novel where HPL becomes the first Fascist president of the United States?

Or are you maybe mis-remembering Lovecraft's Book?
posted by Zed at 3:24 PM on September 22, 2011


In addition to recommending The Willows which I mentioned above to anyone who likes Lovecraft, I would especially recommend it to people who like the CoC RPG, because whereas Lovecraft's stories are generally strictly focused on the protagonist, in The Willows a central aspect of the story is the quite fascinatingly written interaction and tension between the two characters. Might provide inspiration for your group.
posted by Anything at 3:26 PM on September 22, 2011


The Willows (amongst other Blackwood work) is on Project Gutenberg if anyone wants to grab an ebook version:
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:28 PM on September 22, 2011


The Willows is a great story, and does indeed out-Lovecraft Lovecraft in sparser, clearer language. Thoroughly recommended - as is Machen, though I find his stuff a bit of a chore to get through sometimes.
posted by Artw at 3:29 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yay! It's the monthly discussion about HP Lovecraft's style and merits as a writer. I've got a cyclopean bag of popcorn I've been saving for this. Continue!
posted by howfar at 3:29 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's the alternative history novel where HPL becomes the first Fascist president of the United States?

I think I answered my own question just by Googling it! It's not a novel, it's an essay:

The Life and Times of President H.P. Lovecraft
posted by KokuRyu at 3:33 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was so totally into Lovecraft as a teen that I would always search out his books at whatever bookstore I happened to be at. I remember one time we took a family trip down I-5 to Disneyland, we stayed in a trailer park someplace in the middle of Oregon that happened to sell used paperbacks - "Do you have any HP Lovecraft?" They looked at me like I was nuts.

Fast-forward 25 years, and the local used bookstore (largest used bookstore in Canada) has literally a mountain of remaindered Lovecraft books, with the awesome Del Ray covers. And I'm just not interested.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:35 PM on September 22, 2011


I can't really see him going full P.G. Wodehouse, TBH.
posted by Artw at 3:37 PM on September 22, 2011


Zed's got it, in that HPL's prose is often *antique*; Nathaniel Hawthorne and Poe are his models, and presume a certain understanding of the language that isn't around, today. Plus, the racism. But when he's on, he's on, and there's an underlying almost-structure to the Mythos which is really tantalizing, though hard to get to the roots of due to decades of enthusiastic third party creations, including the game Call of Cthulhu.

Now I have to tell you that in my experience as a occasionally-paid game designer, SAN is probably one of the things everybody tries to beat, emulate or modify to make "better." It's one of the most influential game systems ever. Usually it starts with a young Turk proclaiming that it's too damn simpleminded or doesn't emulate the genre enough. So sure enough, you design an alternate system. Lots of these systems are even good. I would cite Vampire's Humanity (which isn't the same as SAN in design intent, but is a conceptual descendant) and Unknown Armies' Madness Meters as some SAN-influenced classics in their own right, with the latter often touted as a replacement. But it isn't. Nothing does SAN like SAN, and it remains an elegant system that has never really been surpassed for exactly what it does. The rest of Call of Cthulhu's system is . . . unexceptional, but you could run that game with just SAN and have a great time.
posted by mobunited at 3:47 PM on September 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


My favorite of the Lovecraft-style games is Trail of Cthulhu. It is a nice, spare game system that puts the mysteries front and center (the game system is pretty much built around them). It works equally well for a pulp or a more true-to-Lovecraft approach, and it has led to some very innovative scenarios.

As for Lovecraft as as a writer, his career covered the better part of 20 years, and his skills as a writer generally developed for the better. And writing is more than just style.

His early style is very purple indeed, but it has its charms ("The Tomb" is still kind of fun, if only for the 18th C drinking song, and the lurid hysteria of "The Outsider" is a masterpiece), and his prose grew somewhat sparer as he grew older, although it never got to a really modern tone. However, his descriptions get better and better. The description of downtown Providence that fill the early parts of "The Haunter of the Dark," are really great (if mildly xenophobic) and evocative of the city today. He wrote a great sense of place. The opening of "The Picture in the House" is a great study in growing dread, and the visceral horror of decaying Innmouth and Dunwich are very well conveyed. I think Lovecraft found places more interesting to describe than people, for what its worth. I think of the stories in the last 5 years of his career, only "The Thing on the Doorstep" is weak, and that list leaves out some of his best stories.

Story construction-wise, he is very innovative. Again and again, he is willing to move the resolving action off screen. "The Music of Erich Zann" is a fine example -- it's the story of a horrible thing that happens to a guy's next door neighbor -- which is genius, in its way -- the narrator is badly effected enough, imagine what it must have been like for Zann who knew what was going on! "The Dunwich Horror" moves the climax off-screen twice, once when the world is saved by a dog, and the second time when the plucky band of heroes victory against the monster is narrated by a bunch of rubes watching through a telescope. Lovecraft's uncaring atheism leads him to undercut his heroes at every turn, which, for the era of pulp, was, astonishing.

Lastly, he made the modern horror story. Pretty much all of the decent horror writers of the last century spent a long time soaking in Lovecraft's bathwater. His updating of ghosts, vampires, demons, and so on allowed the development of a horror-paradigm that was strong enough to survive the upheavals of the 20th C. For a self-taught snob with an architecture fetish, Lovecraft is pretty excellent indeed.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:48 PM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hawthorne, his great unsung model

That's just mean!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:49 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's probably not going to do my argument much good to mention that he was also a fan of Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ghostbusters [...] had an essential, cthonic nature as well.

Yeah you could say there were some similarities.

CoC was all right, but I'd probably be in the camp that was more into the 1920s aspect of it. Whenever I played it or saw it being played, it seemed more like X-Files or perhaps Aliens than HPL's horror or even modern creepypasta. Perhaps we were all Doing It Wrong, but even today I think I'd rather play a game that was inspired more by the SCP Foundation than by HPL. Unless of course it was actually set in the dreamworld, and not instead a game about shotguns and dynamite and strategically averting one's eyes as if unthinkable reality-tearing horror amounted to a gaze attack.
posted by fleacircus at 4:23 PM on September 22, 2011


more mores s'mores more more s'mores s'mores
posted by fleacircus at 4:25 PM on September 22, 2011


I mean, come on, where there is dialogue it is almost universally horrible. For someone who supposedly possessed such a great economy and fluency and command of the language, he sure drops an awful lot of the same leaden descriptors to the point that if you pick the wrong set of stories to read together in an afternoon it almost becomes like self-parody.

A moment of sheer awesome can make up for however many clunky bits. The man invented Cthulhu for Yog's sake.

I've run a weekly Call of Cthulhu session for over a year now. I'm halfway tempted to set up a MeFi forum game somewhere. Who here hasn't done "The Haunting" yet?
posted by JHarris at 4:31 PM on September 22, 2011


I'm not sure why Lovecraft captures people imagination so much. My little brother is translating his stuff into LEGO. My best mate is working on a Lovecraft-inspired film. Everyone seems to dig him so much... I tried when I was a teenager and living in New England and saw signs of Elder Gods in strange stands of trees. I liked some of the ideas, but I don't seem to catch the bug that others have.

Maybe crippling existential fear and creepy New England are just too commonplace a part of my life.

BTW, how do you pronounce R'leyh if you're singing it?

So sure enough, you design an alternate system. Lots of these systems are even good. I would cite Vampire's Humanity (which isn't the same as SAN in design intent, but is a conceptual descendant) and Unknown Armies' Madness Meters as some SAN-influenced classics in their own right, with the latter often touted as a replacement.

I love Unknown Armies Sanity meter. I love how you can be fine with the supernatural, but go crazy at a bit of violence. I love how you can become desensitized to things.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:40 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]



Call of Cthulu was a fun game, and I do think that the 1920's hook was at least part of the appeal. While, yes, undeniably HPL himself was writing characters using cutting edge stuff in his own modern era, I think the era did help define things.

You can't believe in horrible mountains in Antarctica when we've got satellite imagery and full exploration of that frozen continent.

You can't believe in uncharted jungle islands when there's meter resolution photos available of every bit of land on the planet.

You can't believe in mysterious sunken undersea temples/islands when we have sidescan radar imagery that gives us amazingly detailed pictures of the ocean floor.


I saw the ocean for the first time at 18. I've stared into the sky on cloudless nights. There's still infinity to be terrified of.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:48 PM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Who here hasn't done "The Haunting" yet?

I have not played any CoC but would be interested.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:13 PM on September 22, 2011


Who here hasn't done "The Haunting" yet?

Oo sir! Me sir!
posted by howfar at 5:22 PM on September 22, 2011


BTW, how do you pronounce R'leyh if you're singing it?

Like this!
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 5:35 PM on September 22, 2011


BTW, how do you pronounce R'leyh if you're singing it?

Not falling for that one again. Fool me once, shame on you. Turn me into a shambling horror from the dimensions beyond, shame on me.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:13 PM on September 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


It sounds a bit like Petersen hasn't really played Traveller: "Traveller, Champions, D&D, all place you above the common ruck of humanity." Really? Not in any Traveller game I've ever seen -- the average party seems to be composed of barely capable, low-rent characters whose only claim to fame is somehow obtaining a starship. There's a reason so many people suspect Joss Whedon modeled Firefly on his Traveller gaming. Also, Petersen's slams against FGU games are unconscionable. :)

CoC has never really appealed to me as a game, much as horror doesn't generally appeal to me as a genre; it often seems to come down to anti-intellectualism and fear of the unknown.

However, if people are having fun with it, that's good. And I guess that just means more CoC for the rest of you!
posted by jiawen at 8:19 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


@fleacircus I think the SCP foundation as presented on the site covers too much ground and is too fuzzy to be a setting without trimming out a lot. Not that this would really be a bad thing, but really it's so broadly defined and often self contradictory that I doubt any two people see the SCP Foundation in anything much the same way.

It's also astonishingly deadly, not just the keter class stuff, but even "safe" stuff will kill a character before they have a chance to realize what they're dealing with. Even if they're being utterly callous and tossing D class personnel at everything before touching it I think a player death every session would be likely.

I mine it for ideas, but I've got to be careful as one of my players is really into the site, so I've got to change anything I steal from there significantly. Plus, I've got to figure a way to shoehorn it into the established cosmology and metaphysics for my game.

Heh, tomorrow they'll be trying to capture a bigfoot, something I stole from the SCP, and if my SCP reading player thinks it will be very much as described there he'll be in for an unpleasant surprise or three... R&D wants to investigate bigfoot's death field to see if it can be weaponized before case NIGHTMARE GREEN happens.
posted by sotonohito at 8:56 PM on September 22, 2011


mobunited: I agree that SAN is a special thing. I think most people agree with you on that. In d20 Call of Cthulhu most of the workings of the game were replaced with d20 analogues, but Sanity remained a d100-based stat, and worked mostly the same. The great thing about it is that it's a relatively large number by current-day RPG standards, but single points of it still feel meaningful, because of the Sanity Roll mechanic.

If you experience something disturbing, you roll D% and try to roll under or equal to your sanity. If you succeed you lose few points, often 0 or 1. If you fail, you lose several points, sometimes D6, D8 or more. If you lose 5 in one roll you go temporarily insane, if you lose 20% of your total in one game hour you go indefinitely insane, and if you run out completely, your character is permanently out of the game just as surely as if you ran out of hit points.

The result is this: the more sanity you lose, the more you're going to lose. It's a slippery-slope kind of thing. Every point you lose accelerates the process of losing more. If you roll a character with a lot of POW you'll start with high sanity, and you'll make most of your sanity rolls, but many monsters and events will still ding you for 1 here and there. Even so, successfully completing a scenario is worth a good sanity bonus. So, at first at least, it's possible to come out of adventures with more than you had going in.

But this state is temporary, because of the other genius aspect of Call of Cthulhu, the Cthulhu Mythos skill. All skills in BRP Call of Cthulhu are rated from 0 to 100. The player can put points into skills at character creation in any skill except Cthulhu Mythos, which is special. Cthulhu Mythos is also exempt from the standard mechanism of skill advancement, experience checks; instead, he gains it from reading vile tomes like the Necronomicon. This is actually a good thing because, while players generally need Cthulhu Mythos skill to know things about the monsters they face or the spells they see, each point of Cthulhu Mythos lowers the player's maximum sanity by 1. This is a hard cap; overriding all other concerns, sanity will never be greater than 99-Cthulhu Mythos. And there is no way to lose Cthulhu Mythos points; if a player had his brain eaten, the rapidly cooling husk left would still have Cthulhu Mythos points.

The fundamental supernatural skill of the game, necessary for survival in some cases, by its very nature makes players less sane. What is more, the first time a character goes insane from a Mythos-related source, he gains 5 points of Cthulhu Mythos immediately, and each time after that he gains another point.

In our Call of Cthulhu game I've been maybe a bit more lenient than most keepers, and we also have some very cautious players honed from many years of role-playing, so we have some long-lived characters, including two who date back to the very first scenario we ran. But they aren't brought out time and time again. In D&D these characters would be gods, in Call of Cthulhu, they are mostly retired because they both have Cthulhu Mythos scores of over 50. Even relatively little shocks have a greater than 1-in-2 chance of provoking large sanity loss, and if temporary insanity results from that, they gain yet another Cthulhu Mythos point. Most of the game advantages they've earned, such as magical artifacts and spells, themselves provoke sanity rolls from their use!

I have noticed, in popular representations of the supernatural, that there is a tendency to make magic mundane, relatively speaking. Harry Potter goes to wizard school. Many JRPGs and other RPGs try to make wizarding into just another profession, for balance reasons. Call of Cthulhu, however, knows this stuff is the tool of madmen, and that more often the creature you summon uses you than you use it.

jiawen: I haven't played Traveller either, but from what I know of the game the great majority of people in that setting don't galavant out about the stars. Instead players have to step their character through their life before adventuring, in order to explain why it is they have a spaceship and have this life open to them. That's acceptably within Petersen's perception of the game.
posted by JHarris at 9:19 PM on September 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


There isn't just one style ideal that all writers can be judged by. In some things Lovecraft was a stylistic master. I can't remember which story it is, but somewhere he describes New York as if it is an alien or prehistoric city, and it's amazing. Of course, the next paragraph is some racist drivel, but that's what you risk with Lovecraft. He had a particular way of viewing the world, and when it came to describing what he saw, he was a master. Someone mentioned above that his dialogue is often atrocious. Most often it's serviceable, but sometimes it's as if he's never paid attention to how two humans communicate with each other.

I don't put much stock in Malcolm Gladwell's reductio ad ten thousand hours, but it is true that people tend to get good at what they spent time figuring out how to do through a combination of reflection and application. Lovecraft spent a lot of time and effort conceptualizing his cosmic horror and even more time and effort figuring out how to communicate that. When it comes to that he is a supreme stylist. I do wish he'd been blessed with a good editor at some point, late in his career, because a lot of little things could've been rather easily fixed. On the other hand, being edited early on might've discouraged him from his single-minded focus which resulted in his unique contribution to world literature.

I'm of the opinion that Lovecraft is a great writer. He is to modernism what Poe is to romanticism, nightmares that makes their dreamers realize something fundamental about themselves upon awaking.
posted by Kattullus at 9:26 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of the most enjoyable campains i've ever played in was a mix of Sherlock Holmes, Cthulhu by Gaslight and back in the late 80s early 90s. It was glorious. Started out with us believing we would be heroes, adventure aplenty, flying though space and more (before steampunk, but i think this is where my love of it came from). That dream was shattered when we got to Mars and leaned the 'canals' there were a giant elder sign, holding in unseen horrors undreamt of. Of course we didn't know this when we messed them up. Oops. ;) It got dark from there on, but in an amazing way that probably wouldn't have been possible without the start of us feeling invincible. Good times.
posted by usagizero at 10:46 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


On another note, while reading the hellmouths of bewdley by Tony Burgess, (who also wrote Pontypool Changes Everything and the movie), i kept feeling like i was actually reading a book Lovecraft talked about, it was seriously messing with my head. Not really linear writing, perspective shifts, just plain odd shit happening, etc. Not perfect, but the closest i've come to feeling like he described just reading a book.
posted by usagizero at 10:57 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


For the curious and inexperienced, here's a typical example of play, one that might spool out through a dozen sessions, over months of real time.

It all starts with a group of tragically dorky university academics (plus a requisite rougneck pilot/mechanic) embarking upon an expedition to study a recently discovered archaeological site. The vague rumors filtering back from the initial discovery point to evidence of a hitherto unknown civilization or culture. This could be the scientific find of a lifetime! It could make your career!

Our heroes start their journey via ocean liner. After weeks of seasickness they arrive at a port, where they take a train for another few days to the end of the line. There, they procure pack animals and local porters for the additional multi-day journey into the inhospitable territory where the site was discovered. Natural barriers are forded, exotic diseases are fended off, delicate tribal politics are negotiated. At some point, the local porters unload their gear and refuse to continue. They say the land ahead is taboo, and to trespass there means death. The expedition continues without them. Finally, our band of bookish nerds arrives at the absolute middle of nowhere, ready to greet the small team that made the original find. At this point, if the Keeper has done a good job, it will be painfully obvious to all that the characters are isolated in a way that no modern person can be. Contact with civilization would take days at a minimum. They can disappear out here and no one will ever find them.

As a matter of fact, that seems to be what's happened to the original research team: there's nobody here. What's more, they obviously left in a hurry. There are clothes and equipment scattered everywhere. Someone's unfinished breakfast sits on a tin plate. The stillness and silence are overpowering. Perhaps they got into a conflict with some local tribesman . . . only there aren't supposed to be any out here. Well, in any case, there's work to be done, and the group is in no condition to travel further. Supplies are unpacked, a survey of the perimeter is begun, and soon the thrill of discovery banishes fear to the back of the mind, because this site is really something. Inscriptions in unknown languages! Ruins, made of a completely unfamiliar kind of stone! If only the original group had made better notes. The only work journal left behind starts out sensible enough, but soon degenerates into incoherence. The writer must have contracted some kind of heatstroke or brain fever - make sure you boil that water before drinking!

The group lights a fire, in the hope of attracting some of the lost stragglers from the previous expedition back to camp. Night falls, everyone retires to their tents, exhausted, wary, but still dreaming of Nobel Prizes and department chairships.

In the middle of the night comes the sound of flapping wings. Then screams. Then gunshots.

The next thing you know, our few surviving heroes are halfway around the world, holed up in some filthy flophouse with disguises and fake passports, hoping like hell they've lost the fanatics pursuing them. The biologist is digging shotgun pellets out of his thigh with a bowie knife, between swigs of rotgut whiskey. The professor of anthropology lost two fingers throwing a quarter stick of dynamite, and the geologist is shaving his body again, having developed a severe phobia of hair. They're all hoping the linguist can hurry up and translate the medieval text containg the secret to stopping that . . . thing . . that keeps speaking to them in dreams. Only problem is, the linguist is acting a little weird. As a matter of fact, the closer he gets to the end of that book, the weirder he gets. Come to think of it, we haven't heard anything from his room in a day or so, I wonder if he's OK? Maybe somebody should go in there? And has anybody noticed a horrible odor coming from somewhere? Was that a knock on the door? Room service? We didn't order any room service . . .
posted by chaff at 11:24 PM on September 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


If Firefly is based on Traveller it definitely argues Petersen's point, given that Firefly's protagonists enjoy ridiculous competence with a coat of grime slapped on for the common touch. The archetypal Traveller character is a military vet in a shitty ship who may not have much money, but is still more badass than most people.
posted by mobunited at 11:57 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've had a few memorable sessions of CoC as a player. What dragged me in originally was the investigative part and the sheer amount of handouts. I hoarded newspaper clippings, journal pages, blurry photographs and the like in a small notebook, together with my own scribbled notes. It was very compelling.
posted by Harald74 at 12:00 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Brilliant summation, chaff.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:02 AM on September 23, 2011


"Who here hasn't done "The Haunting" yet?"

I haven't, and that sounds awesome. I haven't played CoC in 20 years, at least. That and Paranoia used to be my favorites, but as a group we mostly just played Shadowrun.
posted by klangklangston at 1:06 AM on September 23, 2011


I'd be interested - I've never played CoC.
posted by Francis at 2:19 AM on September 23, 2011


I have wanted to play Cockblock for ages. Count me in.
posted by KingEdRa at 2:50 AM on September 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Damn Android autocomplete. CoC is what I meant, not cockblock.
posted by KingEdRa at 3:02 AM on September 23, 2011 [11 favorites]


Metafilter: CoC is what I meant, not cockblock.
posted by howfar at 5:07 AM on September 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


CoC is what I meant, not cockblock.

Yeah, you don't want to cockblock Nyarlathotep, the Thing with a Thousand... um... forms....

yeah, let's just leave it at that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:15 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I agree that SAN is a special thing.

I like the Stability/Sanity mechanism in Trail of Cthulhu -- it separates out the people who are insane (as in "fundamentally alien") while being stable or not on the surface from people who are shaky in their mental health (say, from PTSD brought on by the Great War) but still fundamentally aligned with the fiction we call reality. The alternate magic rules from Rough Magicks allow you to model potent cultists with weak nerves (just like Joseph Curwin, the deadly mage who managed to faint at some bad news (to be fair, it was very personally bad news)).

It's a little like the Madness Meters from Unknown Armies mentioned above, but a little less fiddly, and the GM is welcome to mess around with difficulties -- "you are a soldier, the shock of seeing some dead bodies is less disturbing for you than it is for the archeology professor," but then difficulties in ToC are supposed to be driven by narrative needs rather than "real world mechanics" -- the difficulty in scaling a wall is based on how interesting it is if the characters fail rather than how "it would be in real life," since people rarely sneak into mansions of occult madmen seeking prehuman lore in real life anyway.

Those of you who like CoC, I highly recommend giving ToC a look.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:24 AM on September 23, 2011


Honestly, though, I just don't think Lovecraft was that great at the craft of writing and there's plenty of compelling arguments to be made in that direction, desipte dfan's apparent assumption that there's been some sea change in literary appreciation of him or whatever.

No sea change that I'm aware of; I just meant that you said that "every Lovecraft fan I know loves HPL *despite* his writing style", and I'm a counterexample to your statement (depending on how strictly you define "know", I guess).
posted by dfan at 5:26 AM on September 23, 2011


Yeah, you don't want to cockblock Nyarlathotep, the Thing with a Thousand... um... forms....

No-one cockblocks Shub-Niggurath. How do you think it got its thousand young, adoption?
posted by howfar at 5:39 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shub-N. is like the celebrity adoptor of shunned horrors. Most of her kids come from homes so broken that the laws of physics no longer work, and yet they all go on to make a mark on the world. Often a faintly luminescent mark.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:51 AM on September 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


NEONOMICON FLASHBACK.
posted by Artw at 7:19 AM on September 23, 2011


Concerning Call of Cthulhu forum game: I am thinking about it. Maybe we could hold it over at mefightclub? Maybe this is better discussed in MetaTalk?
posted by JHarris at 7:30 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If we're being honest though, the courtyard/neonomicon is how most Delta Green scenarios should play out.
posted by bonehead at 7:48 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've posted to MetaTalk about the forum Call of Cthulhu game. May I suggest discussion related to it be redirected there?
posted by JHarris at 8:05 AM on September 23, 2011


Arrrrgh! I didn't mean to flag Artw's comment. Mods, please take note. Damn sausage fingers! KingEdRa is taking an Android timeout now. Guess that's what I get for cockblocking Nyarlohotep.
posted by KingEdRa at 8:07 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


JHarris, by the same reasoning, CoC PCs are also "above the common ruck of humanity," as they tend to be highly educated, go adventuring, learn magic spells, etc. If CoC characters are schlubs, then so are Traveller characters.

All of which is not to say that CoC is a bad game, or that Traveller is better. (They're all great, so long as you're having fun!) It just strikes me as strange reasoning.

Mobunited, Firefly's characters are considerably higher-power than the average Traveller character, in my experience. Especially since Traveller, in the incarnations I've seen, doesn't include any kind of fate point or luck point mechanic. Combat is very deadly.
posted by jiawen at 9:01 AM on September 23, 2011


Zed's got it, in that HPL's prose is often *antique*; Nathaniel Hawthorne and Poe are his models, and presume a certain understanding of the language that isn't around, today.

This reminds me of the time when I was in middle school and submitted a short story to the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest (I was trying to find out different ways to save up for a college fund, and trying to do so through American venues from Korea, so *shrug*). Anyhow, I'd written what I thought was a masterpiece. I didn't think I'd win...but I wasn't expecting FEEDBACK.

My rejected submission came back with feedback! I don't know if I still have it anymore and can't remember the exact wording, but it basically boiled down to, "...while it was a nice effort and interesting story, the framing and narration style is very old-fashioned. People aren't nowadays aren't going to read this. If you rewrite it with a more contemporary feel to it it'd be a good story."

THE FOOLS! IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE OLD-FASHIONED. It was 14-year-old me's love note to fucking Edgar Allan Poe, who I loved dearly at the time and I'd written basically an homage to The Masque of Red Death! This just pushed me further down my teenage spiral of "no one fucking gets me."
posted by kkokkodalk at 9:08 AM on September 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


In my limited experience with Classic Traveller, in a major fight odds were that at least one PC would die or be maimed if the players were not very careful. Mal, Zoey and Jare would have been full of holes in a Classic campaign. They had a shoot-out about once an episode.

The same was true in CoC/RuneQuest; a single shotgun blast could end even the most experienced charaters. This was part of the appeal of the Chaosium systems, in our opinion. Even highly-developed characters had to be careful.
posted by bonehead at 9:11 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


kkokkodalk - feedback's like that. Getting over the feeling of being punched in the face and learn to sort good advice from bad dispassionatly then that's a big step towards becoming a better writer.

(Yeah, I didn't feel that way about it when I was 14 either)
posted by Artw at 9:58 AM on September 23, 2011


...in a major fight odds were that at least one PC would die or be maimed if the players were not very careful.

This is also true of Shadowrun, to a slightly lesser extent. Frankly, I'm a big fan of games that force the players to avoid fights when possible and actually role-play instead of just swing swords or shooting guns. I've never played CoC, but it sounds like a game of the sort that I would enjoy.
posted by asnider at 10:08 AM on September 23, 2011


> implying anyone associated with l. ron hubbard has a right to give writing feedback
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:10 AM on September 23, 2011


IIRC Writers of the Future is pretty much on the level and largely free of taint from the Spaceology Foundation. I dunno, I'd probably still steer clear of them myself but I;m not going to go assuming they're teh evillls out of hand.

Then do seem to have a lot of money for events compared with other similar organisations though.
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on September 23, 2011


My not-very-joke was less about them being evil than about mocking L. Ron Hubbard's writing style, but the moment's long past. The champagne's gone flat and the flowers have wilted.

Either way, most writing by 14-year-olds is terrible, especially when they're trying to emulate another era's style, but good on people for trying.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:16 AM on September 23, 2011


Some CoC would be awesomeness. I used to play the original rules with a group about 15 years ago and it was a ton of frustrating, agonizing, mindwarping fun. Of course, it may have had something to do with (not to be cruel here) the keeper and his family convincingly proving that some of the Marsh family made it to the Midwest.
posted by Samizdata at 10:31 AM on September 23, 2011


Well, I'll not argue that Hubbard was a good writer, though Fear is pretty well respected.

Either way, most writing by 14-year-olds is terrible, especially when they're trying to emulate another era's style, but good on people for trying.

People need to do terrible writing in order to do good writing later.

In a wauy it;s a shame that we have every last scrap of HPLs writing Derleth could recover, all bundled together indiscriminatly.
posted by Artw at 10:36 AM on September 23, 2011


Oh, don't get me wrong. I wasn't saying my story was phenomenal, and as a fan of HPL, I regret invoking the name of Hubbard and causing a minor derail. It was just supposed to be a funny anecdote about how heavily influences can, er....influence because I just found the parallels with the comment I was quoting amusing. =(

The whole point was in poking fun at my 14-year-old self's love for purple prose and thinking flowery, antiquated language like Poe was OMG AMAAAAAAAAZING disregarding my own talent or abilities. If it makes you feel any better, you can think of it as 28-year-old me's failed attempt at channeling Thurber and you can make fun of me about that.
posted by kkokkodalk at 10:46 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's alright, kkokkodalk. You should see my 14-year-old attempts to marry Chris Morris with SubGenius rants. Terrrrrrible.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:50 AM on September 23, 2011


Oh, I wasn't having a go kkokkodalk - your story is after all just about everybody's story.
posted by Artw at 11:00 AM on September 23, 2011


The same was true in CoC/RuneQuest; a single shotgun blast could end even the most experienced charaters. This was part of the appeal of the Chaosium systems, in our opinion. Even highly-developed characters had to be careful.

Yeah. A Gloranthan fire-breathing dragon (not that you'd encounter one) could wipe out a bunch of heroes in one blast. No, "whatever, that's less than half my fighter's hit points." Fifty trolls aren't fodder for the guy who pulls out his flaming sword; one of them will get lucky and hack off your shield arm sooner or later.
posted by rodgerd at 2:20 PM on September 23, 2011


Fifty trolls? Not just trollkin? Fuck me. You'd be pate on toast, and not figuratively either, not with the fucking dark men.

I'd rather fight ducks than trolls.
posted by bonehead at 2:33 PM on September 23, 2011


King of Dragon Pass is one of the best games I've ever played. I think I'll post an AskMe about which books I'd want to run a KoDP game. I mean, I know nothing about any of the various *Quest/Wars systems and their sourcebooks.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:15 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fifty trolls? Not just trollkin? Fuck me. You'd be pate on toast

Indeed. Yet in AD&D put a high level fighter against the equivalent - 50 odd hobgoblins - and you'd have 50 odd dead hobgoblins.
posted by rodgerd at 12:32 AM on September 24, 2011


Most advice on writing a good story includes a bit about capturing the interest of the reader right away and holding it throughout. Lovecraft seemed to give token observance to this advice in his first sentences and ignored it thereafter. In light of the conventional storytelling wisdom, this seems bad, but I think Lovecraft's style and technique is effective and holds it's own when compared with other writers' stories either in the same genre (Poe, Blackwood) or with the same themes (Hawthorne, Conrad*).

For example: I don't quite remember the sleep-like lull that Call of Cthulhu first bored me into, but I vividly remember finding myself a Louisiana swamp, at night, with a bunch of nervous cops, sneaking up on an obscene ritual. In other readings I've found myself in other dreams and likewise with most of his other stories: an trance precedes the nightmare.

Was Lovecraft a bad writer? The question is wrong. Did Lovecraft do what he set out to do? Better, but irrelevant. I find these questions more useful: What did I feel while I was reading the story? What do I think about differently, having read it, and how? What about it has stuck with me in the years since?

Lots things from Lovecraft's stories have stuck with lots of people for a long time. I think this could have come from the soporific affect of these stories lasting long enough for the reader's own imagination to engage in the subject matter and make something of it. Really make something of it. And Lovecraft fans have gone on to make lots of things inspired by their dreams. If conventional writing advice were something like, "give your readers something to dream about" then Lovecraft has succeeded far beyond most others.

* I haven't gone looking for it, and I would be skeptical if someone told me it didn't exist, but, for as much reading about Lovecraft I've done, I feel I should have at least stumbled upon some discussion of Lovecraft and Heart of Darkness by now.
posted by wobh at 12:03 PM on September 24, 2011


I'm currently reading Lovecraft Unbound. William Browning Spencer, in the afterword to his story, writes:
I think what drew me to him was the authority in his voice. He was the master of a kind of cumulative dread that arose in spite of the narrator's rational tone. The teller of these tales tries, by all the tricks of civilized speaking, to hold a steady course, but the monstrous indifference of space and time and history always wrests control from him.
posted by Zed at 5:54 PM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I just started Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters and Lovecraft, in his letters, has a light and funny tone that has little to do with that of his stories (besides the large vocabulary.)
posted by Zed at 10:59 AM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


besides the large vocabulary

...and casual racism. yikes. yeah, I know, no surprises.
posted by Zed at 1:12 PM on September 25, 2011


And icecream!
posted by Artw at 1:16 PM on September 25, 2011


William Browning Spencer

This guy is an amazing, underrated author, by the way. Zod Wallop is a great novel.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:17 PM on September 25, 2011


Lovecraft Unbound is a top book, as are all the Datlow anthologies.
posted by Artw at 1:18 PM on September 25, 2011


If anyone needs a spark for a Lovecraft adventure, my most recent post is basically the plot of the first half of a Lovecraft story, New England connection and everything. Heck, there's even the lost language of "fisherfolk" that lived on the coast of the Pacific.
posted by Kattullus at 9:19 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lovecraft, in his letters, has a light and funny tone that has little to do with that of his stories

He had been known to sign letters "Granpa Cthulhu!"
posted by JHarris at 2:31 AM on September 30, 2011


« Older Australian Aboriginals were the first explorers, D...  |  This week has seen a lot of di... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments