RPG Fridays: A PoC's Love of Lovecraft
I usually get some weird looks from people when I tell them that my favorite game is Call of Cthulhu (7th edition coming soon to physical copies).
Akin to most people, my first real roleplaying experience was with D&D (the old school Red Box set, to be exact). I was maybe all of seven and my best friend Jay and I bought the game from a local store. I had saved money for months to scrape enough together to buy it. The level of enthusiasm and exhilaration was palpable.
All of that faded some as we looked at the pictures and flipped through the book; it struck me that there was no one that looked like me, as a PoC, in that mystical land filled with elves, dragons and wizards. The same happened for me with the Sword of Shannara, which I finished reading in two days. It is those experiences that contributed to my neutral relationship with fantasy and that opened my eyes to the allure of sci-fi and hard-boiled detective stories, which at least had a larger presence of diverse characters.
Hold on, man. We don't go anywhere with "scary," "spooky," "haunted," or "forbidden" in the title.
About a seven years later, I was part of a group that had to stay in a house for an estate sell. The owner had passed away and had these massive piles of books, and I stumbled onto H.P. Lovecraft. We were given free reign of the house but chose to all stay in one area together. Come on, empty house + young kids + reading horror fiction = ghosts!
Reading that Lovecraft collection in the home of a recently dead person, tucked in my sleeping bag, and listening to the sounds of my sleeping friends made it magical. The shadows lurked around the room and every creak caused me to stop reading and stare into the darkness. Chilling!
The ideas that were presented resonated with me as an African American male growing up in the deep South. I understand the concepts of cruelty and the uncaring nature of the universe. Yes! I get it! The best man can do is struggle against the insurmountable evil and win for a day or two, and at the very best, delay the maddening doom and protect humanity.
Don't get me wrong, it was tough reading. Lovecraft is a racist, shit writer, and a billion other things. But taken for the time when it was written, the ideas behind it are what resonate with me. Let me be clear, I don't forgive, forget or try to deny Lovecraft's racism (as many of his hardcore fans do). But the nuggets of awesomeness (trademark!) in the work help shaped how the modern world views horror, science fiction and detective fiction. You can learn so much about how these genres have been impacted by listening to any one of dozens of great podcasts, like the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast and the Miskatonic University Podcast.
Lovecraft: It's Not Just for Cthulhu Anymore
My games are usually gritty, have a feeling of the real world and consequences. All of these elements line up perfectly with cosmic horror, the futile struggle, and that-which-cannot-die. The setting doesn't matter; it is the fire that drives the characters and the human condition. Superheroes, Jedi, Wizards and even Replicants are individuals with power(s), but that power doesn't remove the drama of the struggle.
I devoured the 2nd Edition Call of Cthulhu book ages ago and it was the first game I ever ran. It was rocky but fun. Since then, Cthulhu has been my game. It is the game I use to introduce new gamers or to challenge veterans. Guns and fighting are not what wins the day; Cthulhu is a thinking person's game and that is what I love. As a geek, more than anything else, an ability to think your way though a problem appeals to me. It is also why I have loved Doctor Who; his enemies were usually immune to weapons and needed to be outsmarted.
The system itself, is simple and elegant. I love it so much, I run it at cons, at home, in a boat, with a goat . . . heck, anywhere. It is my go-to system . . . But, I will confess, I do have a new love brewing . . . Trail of Cthulhu (future post).
All right. I am off to listen to Dark Adventure Radio Theater's Shadow Over Innsmouth and to finish editing my next Cthulhu scenario. I am always looking for playtesters, if you can handle the horror and sanity-breaking game. Let me know.