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October-ganza Day 25: Lovecraft Country Before ‘Arkham Unveiled’, part 1

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October 26, 2015 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

While Chaosium’s ‘Lovecraft Country’ book series serves as the foundation for the Arkham Gazette and our other Lovecraft Country work, Keith Herber’s vision of the region was not the first attempt to represent Arkham (and the lands beyond) in an RPG.  Today we offer a brief survey of the scenarios (there were no source books) of Lovecraft Country before Arkham Unveiled.

First I want to make an admission – even I, a self-confessed completist, do not have all of the books and magazines containing these scenarios.  I owe much of what I know about some of these to the Cthulhu Wiki on Yog-Sothoth.com and its contributors – so my thanks go out to all of the folks who have taken the time to edit it and in particular Dean and Graham who went above and beyond in tracking some of these rarities down.  Links in the scenario titles are to the Yog Wiki’s information on the scenario.

A Possible First: I believe that a redrawn version of Lovecraft’s map of Arkham has been included in every edition of the Call of Cthulhu rule book (I’ve got editions 2 and on), so technically that might count as the first time Lovecraft County… anyone out there with a 1st Edition rule book who can illuminate this mystery?

Scenarios:

The Horror on Old Hill” (Adventure Gaming, Vol. 2 #1 – 1982): The first scenario set in Lovecraft Country for Call of Cthulhu published by someone other than Chaosium, readers should not be surprised that this is a relatively straightforward affair, wherein an artifact is stolen from Miskatonic University and the investigators pursue the thieves to a small town (“Brammelville”) created for the scenario.  Ghouls and Nyarlathotep make a showing, which is the start of trend that continues onwards.

(This is one of those I scenarios I do not have… yet.)

Gate from the Past” (The Asylum and Other Tales – 1983): A very old-school scenario and I mean that in all the worst ways.  The investigators attempt to probe strange lights appearing a graveyard on the west side of Arkham.  While I think this would eventually be called the Old Wooded Graveyard in later works, it is only called “The Arkham Graveyard” or “the Aylesbury Hill Graveyard” here.  After a quick dive into the newspaper archive (from an otherwise unknown newspaper called The Arkham Recorder-Star), the investigator are off to the cemetery where they can do battle with some wayward elder things (called ‘Old Ones’ here), a dinosaur, and up to 6 shoggoths.  Good luck, professors and antiquarians!

The map from the CoC rulebook is reused, included the numbered MU buildings (for which no key is provided).  As the author mentions that the newspaper is on Arkham’s High Street, I suspect they were British; ditto calling the mention of “Hangman’s Slough” on the map.  This scenario was reprinted in The Cthulhu Casebook in 1990; I do hot have a copy on hand to see if any changes were made.

The TOME scenarios: Theater of the Mind Entertainment was the first Call of Cthulhu licensee and were also the first to have, as I understand it, their license rescinded.  I’ve read some of the scenarios they published and understand why.  All five TOME books were published in a short window in 1983 and 1984 and are definitely for collectors only, with a price to quality ratio that is rather poor.  If you want to mail me your copies however, I won’t say no. 😉

  • “And the Dogs Shall Know You (The Arkham Evil – 1983): The climax of a short three scenario campaign (collectively called The Arkham Evil), this scenario again feature Miskatonic University in a central role.  There are murders, meteor fragments, and a second showing for Nyarlathotep.  This will not be his last appearance on our list.
  • Death in Dunwich” (Death in Dunwich – 1983): The Dunwich of this scenario bears little resemblance, if any, to the decayed village of Lovecraft’s story.  I have not read this one and only know it through summary and reviews.  The plot involves a murdered art dealer and the resurrection spell, and includes possible side trips to Boston and New York… no grim reapers vs. tommy gun combats apparently.  On the plus side, there are plentiful handouts and even a letter to the Keeper that came in an envelope.
  • Pursuit to Kadath” (Pursuit to Kadath – 1983): Arkham is the launch point for a bit of globe-trotting adventure, wherein a Miskatonic University student seeks to preform a dark ritual in a remote corner of Turkey.  This scenario includes a wealth of source material relevant to Arkham, including a rail schedule for Arkham, a full Miskatonic University curriculum, a map of the MU campus, a system for determining student income during character generation, information about types of student accommodation, and a map of a dorm room.  Despite the title, there is no Dreamlands involvement, somehow.

The Thing in the Darkness” (Adventure Gamer #3 – 1983/4): Another early magazine scenario, this one is solo scenario with 166 keyed entries, set in Arkham.  The investigator is hired to determine which Mythos monster is responsible mysterious goings-on in Arkham.  Locations one might visit include the Arkham Sanitarium, the historical Society, Miskatonic University, and (again) the Aylesbury Hill graveyard.  As far as I can tell, NPC names and location details do no jibe with later works, but  I’ve not seen a full copy, just a scattered few pages.

Interestingly, this scenario was produced with Chaosium’s assistance and playtesters included Sandy Petersen, Steve Jackson, and Warren Spector.  The author Matthew Costello would go on the next year to write the much longer solo scenario, “Alone Against the Dark” (about which more later).  I wonder if there is some connection between the two.  Alas, that is yet another book of which I do not have a copy.

“No Room at Innsmouth” (Dagon #1-3 – 1983/4): The first Call of Cthulhu fanzine began its run with a tripartite set of scenarios set in and around Innsmouth.

  • Part 1 (No Room at Innsmouth) – The first part of the series makes up nearly the entirety of Dagon’s first issue.  The investigators are drawn to Innsmouth to look into some mysterious disappearance and discover that a recent earthquake has reawakened the Shadow that once darkened the port town.  (While it is not explicitly stated, the text would suggest that the scenario is set in the ‘modern’ day rather than the 1920s or 30s.)  After a brief bit of investigation, the action moves to the Gilman House, which is given a traditional dungeon-eque treatment and has the sort of encounters one might expect in Innsmouth, which leads directly to…
  • Part 2 (The Lighthouse): Wherein the titular structure is explored, again in a dungeon-esque manner, with keyed rooms and encounters.  The lighthouse itself contradicts the later description given of the town in Escape from Innsmouth (and the inclusion of some malevolent lighthouse keepers goes against the historical trend of lighthouse automation starting after the Second World War).  One amusing discovery is that a book which contains the secret formula for making dynamite.
  • Part 3 (Devil Reef): Things conclude at Devil Reef, of which the described location very much contradicts Lovecraft’s version as HPL’s Devil Reef did not have a gigantic rock that looks like a human skull…  There is a side-view map of the caverns below the reef that I suspect drew heavily from the “Sample Cross Section of Levels” dungeon map in the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide.  The finale is the dungeon-iest of the three scenario with only a series of combats and treasures (yes, there is a chest of gold) to be found.
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5 thoughts on “October-ganza Day 25: Lovecraft Country Before ‘Arkham Unveiled’, part 1

  1. Graham says:

    As the person who located a copy of “The Horror on Old Hill”, I’d like to add that the scenario was prophetic in one other way. In the authors notes he states that he used it as the start of a presumably home brewed global campaign against a cult that worships Nyarlathotep and Masks of Nyarlathotep would not be published for another two years.

    • An excellent point Graham and a good spot!

      • Graham says:

        A couple of days ago I realised that I had missed something very important by not paying attention, M. B. Wilner also wrote ‘The Mauritania’ from “The Asylum and Other Tales”.

        As the author wrote in his notes for ‘The Horror on Old Hill’, “At present, I have one group who… are now onboard the Mauritania headed for London and points east to rescue mankind from … N’yarlathotep…”

        Without a copy of ‘The Asylum and Other Tales’ I cannot say if there are any links between the two scenarios but I’d say they formed part of the same now-lost(?) campaign.

  2. Also of note, the scenario’s author M. B. Willner also wrote the scenario “The Mauretania” in Chaosium’s The Asylum & Other Tales (reprinted in Cthulhu Casebook)

    btw Brett. I have an extensive collection of CoC magazine scenarios dating back to early 80’s, including a lot from French publications (Casus Belli, Graal, Backstab…) a lot of untapped material for your blogs/articles.

  3. D’OH! sorry about the repeated info i hadn’t seen Graham’s reply to your reply.

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