Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Lovecraft Varient

The other day James M. blogged about The Prehistory of Call of Cthulhu and how CoC originally began as a generic Gothic horror RPG. And Ed commented,

More fun facts:

Issue 7 of Sorcerer's Apprentice magazine (Summer 1980) contained an article called "The Lovecraft Variant," which was a Tunnels & Trolls rules hack for playing 1920s Cthulhu Mythos adventures. It was pretty damn cool.

It later evolved into Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes.

So I decided to revisit this little gem and dug out my stack of back issues of Sorcerer's Apprentice magazine that I bought from Flying Buffalo a few years ago.

Written by G. Arthur Rahman and Philip J. Rahman it appeared under the full title "The Lovecraft Variant, or the Lurking Shadow Over Pickman's Unnameable Hound on the Doorstep of the Shunned Witch House of the Terrible Erich Zann." (If you can recognize all the Lovecraft stories alluded to in that humorously verbose title, award yourself five geek points.) The article begins with fulsome praise for Lovecraft, crediting him with the creation of "a new sub-genre in fantasy." And while they acknowledge that Lovecrafty elements can be added to the standard dungeon crawl, they set out to provide rules to play in the Jazz Age milieu in which the stories were originally set.

This article shall endeavor to adapt T&T to the special requirements of Lovecraftian adventure.

An active interest in the Cthulhu Mythos will greatly aid the playing of the Lovecraft Variant. Players who opt to be characters in a horror story must recognize that the Gm is only doing his duty if he gives them a rough time. In this genre, death and madness fall with horrifying frequency.

Unlike most role-playing games, the characters in the Lovecraft Variant  are little-motivated by hope of money, fame or self-improvement. They are explorers of the nature of Evil, questers after the frightful secrets behind the world's mysteries. Their reward is knowledge for its own sake; even the most persistent and successful delver may end his career old before his time, with a burden of secrets too dreadful to bear.

They them proceed to the specific game mechanics needed to run the LV. These included a new attribute, Emotional Stability, which "quantifies the character's ability to withstand terror without mental trauma." This prefigures CoC's Sanity attribute, and is one of the things which set these games apart from the sword-and-sorcery genre. In your average FRPG the adventures can confront all manner of demons and beasties and only have to worry about becoming monster chow. In a Lovecrafty game they also have to worry about wigging out.

Other paragraphs cover Equipment (e.g., Cheap revolver 5D6+15), Magic ("A scan of Lovecraftian literature will derive very little magic that is equivalent to the spells of T&T."), and rules for Character Types (Investigators, Scholars, and Dilettantes). Then comes some random charts for Personal Secrets, Fear Reaction, and Forbidden Books (yes, the Necronomicon is there). Then comes a short list of Ancient Gods and Monster Ratings and descriptions for a variety of Minions (Shoggoth, MR 500). The article wraps up with eight Scenario Suggestions.

I never played the LV because by the time I saw it I already had CoC for that kind of game. But thinking about it now, this short article gives you everything you need to do Lovecraft. You don't really need whole new books of rules and supplements (fine as those were). You just need to spend a few hours tweaking your favorite rules (you could do the same thing with D&D, RQ, Traveller, or whatever) to play a horror game. In a way I wish I'd used the LV to run my Mythos games, and maybe at some point I will.

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