I came to Lovecraft from a love of Dungeons and Dragons. The first edition of the Dungeon Master’s Guide famously included a brief apppendix titled Inspirational Reading, the books and authors that Gary Gygax gave his highest recommendation. Nestled in the middle of the list was “Lovecraft, H.P.,” no book or story titles given. After the list Gygax listed “HPL” as one of the most key influences.
I started playing D&D at 10 years old, instantly became a fanatic, and spent my formative years playing that game and others like it. When my best friend Mike and I heard about Call of Cthulhu, three years later, we were intrigued. I got my mom to buy the game — the boxed first edition — and Mike and I gave it a shot.
We played an adventure called “The Brockford House,” a five-page little slip of a scenario that was mostly about — spoiler alert! — creeping into caves and having a fight with Deep Ones. Speaking as a Cthulhu editor with decades of experience I can say it was a lousy example of Call of Cthulhu adventure design. I would never publish it in the Oath. It was a dungeon crawl. But for me and Mike, 12-year-old RPG fanatics who already were hungry for something more interesting than dungeon crawls, it was a revelation.
The adventure ended with my character, an author, escaping the Deep Ones and writing up his harrowing adventure for his publisher. But then the publisher pulled a revolver from his desk and murdered my character — for the publisher himself was in league with the Deep Ones!
That last twist was all Mike’s. Did I mention we were 12? I thought it was the most appalling and amazing thing ever. Dungeons and Dragons had been supplanted in my RPG-loving heart for all time.
In high school, Mike and I played in a long-running Call of Cthulhu campaign with our best friends. It took us through the adventures in Terror From the Stars, the entirety of Shadows of Yog-Sothoth, a few homemade adventures, and a couple of chapters into Masks of Nyarlathotep, which was then only a couple of years old. An apocalyptic encounter in England in Masks killed every player character but one, including two — my shotgun-packing dilettante and my friend Ken’s two-fisted fighter pilot — who had started the campaign and survived everything from South American deserts to an alien temple on the Moon to walking the mad streets of R’lyeh itself.
A few years after that, I discovered The Unspeakable Oath.
Issue 3 was the first I saw. It floored me. I tracked down the rest. I started following everything Pagan Publishing did. I corresponded with them on America Online, then via email. I playtested and proofread for them. In 1998 I launched a Delta Green fan site, then John Tynes (now John Scott Tynes) asked me to run the official Delta Green site for him. I wrote a little for Pagan; meanwhile I had become a website designer and magazine editor on my own. Then Dennis Detwiller and I took the plunge and launched Arc Dream Publishing.
Years later, after working with Pagan to put out two new Delta Green books, the stars aligned themselves at last for us to bring back the Oath.
And here we are.
I still love Call of Cthulhu more deeply than any other game that’s come along.
It’s been a frightful, wonderful thirty years.
Thank you, Sandy Petersen and Chaosium.
POSTSCRIPT: If you’re reading this, you probably love Call of Cthulhu as much as I do. I’d love to hear in the comments about how you came to the game and what made you love it. —Shane