The Call of Cthulhu

Back in the days when I was new to roleplaying, I played a fair share of Chaosium’s RPG Call of Cthulhu. Investigators exploring occult mysteries typically ending in horrible death from untimely confrontations with hideous monsters. While I was never particularly into the horror genre, I did appreciate the historical setting, exploring how is was to “live” in the 1920’s East Coast USA. The game also showed an alternative way to play than the monster bashing party of wizards and elves that came out of the D&D red box that was the gateway drug in Denmark.

A detail from a nearby house in my local neighbourhood in Botkyrka, Sweden. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2020.

My taste buds later got used to drama style games with juicy dramatic choices being more important than detailed simulations of fictional events. However, I still have a weak spot for historical facts that drive conflict and drama.

Then in the Year of the Covid, a group of gifted Swedes published a Swedish edition of Call of Cthulhu. However, it isn’t just a translation into Swedish of the game mechanics and the monster tables — it comes with an intriguing 1920’s Sweden setting and a number of campaigns and scenarios. I checked them out and I realised that 1920’s Scandinavia is an excellent place for the central conflict between science and existential horror. 

As I was fortunate enough to now have a semi-stable group of players for online play, I strategically sent a link to Santa — and behold, Santa was kind this year: 

The Swedish edition of Call of Cthulhu with the campaign book “The Bull Figurine from Kingsmoor” shown on top.

It’s a triple win: I get to practice my Swedish, I will learn more about Swedish history and culture, and I get to hang out with friends.

So how does the game check out? (No spoilers here). So far very well. The hard cover, full colour books are beautifully illustrated and the typesetting and editing are great from a first glance. There are juicy historical details, including maps of Stockholm 1926 and Gothenburg 1921, and the sections on how to play are well reflected.

The campaign (which roughly translate to The Bull Figurine from Kingsmoor) will draw the investigators into a conflict between eldritch forces and take them on a trip of urban and country side Scandinavia anno 1926.

From a game design point of view, one thing that the original Call of Cthulhu game failed to generate consistently was the story arc of the rational minded investigator slowly creeping into insanity as existential truths materialize (I recall most games ending in sudden death or sudden insanity). As the slow realisation is a central theme in Lovecraft’s stories (e.g. in At the Mountains of Madness), it seems as a fundamental flaw. From a brief skim, this looks unchanged. However, the setting is great, so let’s see if a good Session Zero can set us off on a good course. Maybe an investigator will be inspired to write a journal to warn the rest of mankind from following the trail into the unknown?