April 2, 2012 by beerogre
The Themes of a Cthulhu Game
You will find there are a number of common themes that run through all the ages of Cthulhu.
The City is a Place of Secrets
Cities in the world of Cthulhu are a place where dark deals are done behind closed doors. They are technologically advanced, or at least more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than elsewhere, but it is this throughput of the strange and new that is its danger. In the city one can quickly be caught up in some plot or misadventure that leads into the dark from which you can never return. Characters will find that those they meet will have a sinister agenda, that double crosses and dark desires are plentiful… the thronging crowds are like sheep blindly waiting in the pen to be slaughtered… while amongst them roam wolves clad in the latest fashions and flashing the most dazzling of smiles.
The Countryside is a Place of Isolation
Outside of the city, is like a step back in time. Locals are typically insular and most often do not care too much for “blow-ins”. Technology is usually limited and the main sense for characters visiting these places is that they are on their own and they can only rely on each other.
The countryside is mysterious… local superstitions abound and there are often areas that character will be told are “haunted” or simply “not right”.
The Sea is as Unknown as the Stars
What resides in the deepest reaches of the oceans?
What is there out there amongst the stars?
The honest answer to both of these questions is “we don’t know”, which ties into the game of Cthulhu perfectly. The Cthulhu genre imagines that these Elder Gods, these unknown masters of reality, exist in the gaps of human knowledge. They are the cause of all that is unexplained and mysterious and they live just beyond our reach in the depths of the ocean or the cold expanse between the stars. That is why exploring these places in a Cthulhu game is dangerous as you never know what you will find. Indeed, this premise is extended to “unexplored regions” of Earth. So, the Arctic and Antarctic, the deep jungles of South America, Africa and Australia, even beneath the Earth are all regions where “something you don’t want to find” might be lurking.
Great Evil cannot be Destroyed… but it might be Contained for a Time
The power of the Elder Gods in immense (if not infinite), destroying one takes the might of another God, which while possible, is a really dangerous thing to go looking for. However, many of the Elder Gods have been somehow contained. Their influence is limited and they can only truly affect those who make the effort to look for them.
That is not to say Great Cthulhu cannot rise from his slumber and wreak havoc for a while… but if the stars are not right… he will usually return to rise another day.
Similarly, the plans of these beings span aeons, so they are not perturbed by small setbacks. Those who oppose them are but tiny sparks that will glow and splutter out in, what to them, is mere moments. Time is always on the side of those unaffected by it.
It takes but one Spark to dispel the Darkness
There should always be a glimmer of hope in any Cthulhu game. Remember, it is a game, albeit one with a warped sense of victory.
The characters in the Cthulhu stories are often tragic, but few start out that way. The game of Cthulhu is about competent characters who strive against insurmountable odds… they may be killed… they will be injured, both physically and psychologically, but they will certainly make a difference, if only for a short time.
So, when you get together to play a game of Cthulhu, what time period do you set it in?
There are a number of period settings that Keepers and players like to game in… settings I like to call the Ages of Cthulhu… in future articles, we will explore some of the most popular and some new ones you might like to try.