“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” – H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
Glossary of Terms:
HPL – Howard Phillips Lovecraft
CoC – Call of Cthulhu
RPG – Role Playing Game
Mythos – short for “Read more H. P. Lovecraft, you will love it.” 🙂
That is Not Dead…
I recently had the distinct pleasure of being introduced to one of the men behind one of my greatest literary influences of all time. Unfortunately, Mr. Lovecraft departed our world some many decades ago, but many people and companies have taken it upon themselves to keep the impactful – and dare I say – greatly influential writings of Howard Phillips Lovecraft alive. The man with whom I had the pleasure of meeting is Mr. Mike Mason: author, game designer, Line Editor, and co-author for the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Role Playing Game.
I could write exhaustively on the subject of weird fiction, as well as Mr. Lovecraft’s steady influence upon horror, pulp horror, and popular horror for decades. Mr. Lovecraft’s influence has permeated literature, music, film, and art for more than fifty years; innocuous injections of his inimitable imaginings have ranged from the writings of his good friend, Robert E. Howard (Conan) all the way to one of Hollywood’s Horror Masters, John Carpenter. Black Sabbath, Metallica, and scores of other bands have drawn inspiration from the Cthulhu Mythos.
Tabletop gaming and rpg’s have not been spared the dire taint of cosmic horror. Even the granddaddy of tabletop rpg’s, Dungeons and Dragons, has injected plenty of Lovecraft’s flavorings in the various books and releases through the years.
Which Can Eternal Lie…
Perhaps the undisputed archive of all things Lovecraft, Cthulhu, and Mythos is Chaosium Games. I am a HUGE fan of Chaosium’s CoC line of rpg’s. For many years, they have been one of THE best resources for all things Cthulhu, as well as the myriad other – I mean – Other Gods associated with the Mythos. Recently, Chaosium launched a very successful Kickstarter campaign and released The Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Role Playing Game. It was so popular, in fact, that it won the 2016 RPG of the Year award at the UK Games Expo (because if it’s one thing my UK mates know, it’s the appreciation of fine literature!). I got to ask Co-Author and Line Editor for CoC 7th Edition, Mr. Mike Mason, about the newest edition, and below are his answers:
And With Strange Aeons…
Who are you? What is your position with Chaosium?
Mike Mason, Line Editor for the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game.
How did you get involved with Chaosium?
Some years ago, I published a Call of Cthulhu fanzine, called The Whisperer. I got to know the Chaosium guys via that and also by meeting them at various conventions. This led to doing some freelance editing and development on a few Call of Cthulhu books. I also set up and organized the Kult of Keepers, a group of Cthulhu GMs and writers, who put on games and tournaments at a wide range of conventions.
Some years later, Paul Fricker and I approached Chaosium about writing a new edition of the game. On completion of this, I was asked to join the company.
How long have you been with Chaosium?
Coming up for four years.
How long have you been designing rpg’s and games?
From around 12 years old I’ve been writing and designing. Professionally, it was around 2007 that I became a full time games designer and writer.
What compelled you to being involved with Chaosium’s games?
I’ve always been a massive fan of Chaosium’s games and books. I started playing RuneQuest soon after I discovered D&D, and then progressed onto Call of Cthulhu around 1983. I was hooked straight away and began designing my own scenarios and running games. It was a natural progression to want to work for my favourite games publisher!
What have you written for Chaosium? Or what else have you written [done]other than with Chaosium?
In terms of writing, I co-wrote the Call of Cthulhu Rulebook, the Investigator Handbook, and Keeper Screen Pack (all 7th edition), as well writing Pulp Cthulhu, the Curious Characters Card Deck (as well as the Phobia, Unexpected Events, and Weapons decks), contributing to Horror on the Orient Express (2nd edition), and A Time To Harvest campaign. I’ve edited all Call of Cthulhu books since I came onboard as Line Editor, so that includes, Nameless Horrors, Dead Light, Doors to Darkness, and a number more. I’ve recently finished revising and writing the Greater Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic.
For others, I co-wrote and designed the Dark Heresy Warhammer 40K RPG (plus the initial titles for that line), and contributed to Cthulhu Britannica, The Curse of Nineveh, and World War Cthulhu: Cold War for Cubicle 7.
Even Death May Die…
Obviously you are a fan of H. P. Lovecraft. What is it about the HPL mythos that you like?
I’ve always been drawn to weird and horror fiction. The HPL mythos stands apart as something quite unique and ground breaking. Its influence on horror, sci-fi, and fantasy cannot be understated. I like that it places people in unexpected and bizarre situations, where death is not the ultimate horror, instead, it is truth that is the ultimate horror. Things humanity was not meant to know. It’s such an intriguing and inspiring notion. It’s also creepy and mind blowing.
I like HPL’s contribution to the literary universe but don’t like his racism. He was a peculiar chap indeed. Like many writers that have gone before, we can appreciate their work without agreeing with their distasteful personal views.
How has the HPL Mythos influenced you in your writing?
Greatly, probably. I doubt I would have become a professional games designer if not for reading The Dunwich Horror and others of its ilk. In my work, I try to be inspired by, rather than pastiche, HPL’s work. The Mythos is inherently unknowable to humanity, which gives a creative writer plenty of latitude to develop and build upon HPL’s original stories and themes.
Any other weird fiction authors who have influenced you?
T.E.D Klein, Thomas Ligotti, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, Michael Marshal Smith, Laird Barron, the list goes on and on. If you’ve never read Dark Gods or The Ceremonies by Klein, I urge you to do so. There’s so much, especially now, with a whole wave of new people creating fantastic material. If you need signposting, go check out the Lovecraft Ezine website.
How long have you been playing rpg’s?
Since 1978/9. I started with D&D at friend’s birthday party, then played Traveller and RuneQuest. It was like nothing I’d experienced before and I was totally hooked.
What’s your favorite rpg to play?
Call of Cthulhu. But I have a soft spot for King Arthur Pendragon, SLA Industries, and Unknown Armies.
What’s your favorite CoC setting?
Modern day. The horror is more real and personal. I love the 1920/30s period and Gaslight too, such periods are awash with inspiration and style.
In His Lair…
CoC 7th edition recently released after a successful Kickstarter campaign (Congratulations!). What was the reasoning for a 7th edition?
There were a few bugs in the older editions of the game, take the Grapple rule – no one could agree on how to implement it. Over the years, most groups had developed house rules to cope with certain situations. Also, the older editions had bolted on new material, which often made the logic flow of the rulebook difficult, as rules were not always in once place. Paul and I wanted to create a new edition from the ground up, so it would be more useable, easier to navigate, and address certain rules issues that weren’t helping the game. In short, it needed a bit of love and attention.
What the community’s reaction to the release of CoC 7th (other than good, lol. Obviously it was positive since the Kickstarter was successful)? How did the community respond to your project?
The Kickstarter was very successful and the playtest feedback on the rules tweaks and changes were very favourable. We were keen to ensure backwards compatibility and also ensure the game still felt like and played like Call of Cthulhu. Where fans were split 50/50 on a rule, we made those rules optional, allowing players to use the rules like a toolkit to build the kind of games they wanted to play. I think we’ve been successful in achieving those goals.
Cthulhu Awaits, Dreaming…
Do you plan bringing all of the other supplements into the 7th edition or can the older supplements still be used?
7th edition is completely backwards compatible, players can still make use of the 30+ years worth of campaigns and scenarios out there, as well as the fantastic new books we are bringing out now. There’s never been a better time to be playing Call of Cthulhu!
Certain favourites, like Beyond the Mountains of Madness and Masks of Nyarlathotep will be refreshed in due course (they are big books needing a fair amount of work), likewise the Lovecraft Country books (Kingsport, Arkham, Dunwich, etc.) will be updated. This is all in parallel with publishing brand new campaigns and setting books. We are working on refreshing Gaslight and Dark Ages, but also have a brand new far future setting being written too. Also, we have a rather splendid Old West setting in production.
What’s your favorite part or addition to CoC 7th?
Of the new rules, I like the “pushing” mechanic, where players can have a second attempt at a skill roll if their first attempt failed – but, the consequences of failing that pushed roll become all the more dangerous or troublesome. Also, the “believer” rules, which allows an investigator to read up about the Cthulhu Mythos without actually believing in its reality – however, once the investigator actually comes face-to-face with the Mythos, all that knowledge becomes very real and their mind suffers from this stark realization with a sudden sanity shock! In addition, I find the new chase rules allow for some memorable pursuit scenes.
What is it that separates CoC from other tabletop rpg’s?
In Call of Cthulhu, you play normal people in an everyday world, not superheroes with +10 swords of stabbing or the ability to fly and so on. You have just your wits and skills to decide to make a stand against the dark forces of the Cthulhu Mythos. In my view, such everyday people become far more heroic than your party of fantasy adventurers or force-wielding monks of sci-fi, as they don’t have magic abilities, they have to instead rely on teamwork, good decision making, and planning, This also means the horror is more effective, as you can imagine what is going through your character’s mind. It’s all closer to home and, as a result, more gripping and more intense.
As you play regular folk, Call of Cthulhu is one of the more accessible gateways into roleplaying. You don’t need to have to imagine what a Jedi or starship captain would do. You play librarians, detectives, bar staff, doctors, and the like – so it’s easy to establish and build your character. The mechanics are simple and intuitive, so the rules can be quickly and easily learned. At the heart of it, most people love a good mystery – and Call of Cthulhu excels in that respect.
Chaosium’s brand, while having a great rpg in Call of Cthulhu, is also a veritable HPL fan’s delight. The rule books alone also act as a collector’s codex, giving more insights and details into the Mythos and Weird Fiction aspects of cosmic horror.
Yes, building on the stories of HPL, Call of Cthulhu expands and develops both the themes and constituency of the Cthulhu Mythos. Call of Cthulhu books are full of details, hints, secrets, and ideas, allowing players to immerse themselves in the lore of the Mythos. With a game over 30 years old, one of my tasks is to ensure things don’t get stale. I’m keen to inject new ideas, new directions, and new revelations in the new books and supplements we publish. As I mentioned earlier, the Mythos is unknowable, so there there really isn’t a limit on what can be written – what could be perceived as “true” by one set of people could be interpreted completely differently by another group.
Black Seas of Infinity
What about having expanded fiction available on the website? Was this also planned?
Chaosium has a long tradition of publishing collected works of essential and hard to find Cthulhu Mythos stories. We will be announcing big stuff later this year concerning our fiction line. I can’t say more now but keep an eye on our website.
Do the CoC supplements contain the same quality and content as the Core Rulebook (the same fluff and additional texts and resources)?
Yes. Each supplement focuses on elements of the Mythos to greater degrees. With 7th edition, we have moved to full colour formats and significantly increased our art budgets to ensure all future books are equal to, if not more attractive, the new Rulebook and Investigator Handbook. Take Petersen’s Field Guide to Lovecraftian Monsters – a book of lore packed with wondrous full colour images and details. Books like these set the standard for our Call of Cthulhu books going forward. Such visual delights are mirrored by the written content, as we strive to develop original, insightful, and fun gaming material. We pride ourselves that our many writers not only know how to build engaging plots but also can layer in insightful historic details and esoteric lore, all of which helps Call of Cthulhu come alive around the gaming table.
Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!
Chaosium has offered a free QuickStart Guide on their website, as well as free adventures. Do you have plans on expanding this community? If so, in what ways?
You download the Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start rules for free from:
And an introductory solo adventure, Alone Against The Flames, from:
Playing through Alone Against The Flames actually teaches you the rules as you play. It’s a great introduction to Call of Cthulhu.
Our growing community, the Cult of Chaos, is free to join. Our members are fantastic, going out into their local communities, games stores and conventions, and online, to run Call of Cthulhu and get people excited to want to pick up the books and try the game for themselves. Members of the Cult of Chaos get access to free scenarios and campaigns, like A Time To Harvest, our first organised play campaign for Call of Cthulhu, which is currently being run all around the world. You find out more about the Cult of Chaos here:
Does Chaosium have any plans to open the submissions for writers to contribute to the CoC 7th game universe (much like D&D 5E’s Gamemaster Guild)?
We don’t have an open submission for new writers; from time to time, we’ll take a look at unsolicited pitches to see if anything stands out but this is not done on a regular basis. We do like to hear from experienced and published writers who feel they could bring something fresh to our games. We are currently reviewing our submission guidelines, so keep an eye on our website. It also helps to keep an eye on the Chaosium twitter feed, as well as my own social media – occasionally, I might be looking for a writer for a specific project.
Naturally I’m going to ask this – Chaosium offers a music album on their website, Sense Impacts. Any plans to offer more?
We love the music! We are currently working with professional composers with a view to creating awesome music to accompany our games.
Mike Mason has seen some things… all those horrible, slimy things in the dark…
You design. You write. You create. What books inspire you (other than the obvious, lol)?
All manner of things inspire me. I’ve just got around to reading Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, which could easily spin into a Mythos tale. Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky is full of cool ideas too. Non-fiction – books like Bedlam by Catharine Arnold, London’s Shadows by Drew D. Gray, or The Pagan Book of Days by Nigel Pennick.
And of course, horror stories from the classics to modern day!
I have an eclectic taste – it varies depending on what I’m writing. When I was writing Pulp Cthulhu (a rules supplement for two-fisted, action-packed, pulp mayhem) I listened to The Cramps and also collections of Tiki lounge music. Stuff that inspires includes The Pixies, Ministry, King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard, Kate Bush, folk music, Big Black, Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, and many many others.
I could go on for days – but here’s some stuff I watched recently: Southbound, Yellow Brick Road, Coherence, The Invitation, Last Shift, Jacob’s Ladder, Black Mountain Side. Watch any of these and you’ll have a great story to riff on for a Call of Cthulhu game.
CoC 7th won 2016 RPG of the Year award at the UK Games Expo (Congrats!).
Many thanks! It’s great that so many people voted for Call of Cthulhu. We also won a silver ENnie a couple of years back for the 7th edition Quick-Start Rules. In its lifetime, Call of Cthulhu has won over 40 different awards – it’s great that my contribution is adding to the trophy shelves!
What’s next on the horizon for Chaosium and CoC 7th?
Next up, we have Pulp Cthulhu coming out, followed by Doors to Darkness, which is a collection of scenarios aimed at people new to the game and contains lots of advice for new Keepers. The Greater Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic follows, which has over 500 spells for the game – new and old (collected from 30 years worth of scenarios and refreshed and updated for 7th edition).
After that – well, here’s some of the books currently in the works: a Gaslight campaign called The Curse of Seven; a campaign set in 1920s Tibet called The Children of Fear; a Old West setting called Down Darker Trails; and a couple of scenario anthologies, including one based on scenarios created by Call of Cthulhu’s original creator Sandy Petersen! That’s not counting updated versions of some of our older settings and campaigns. As you can see, we’ve got some very cool stuff in the pipeline.
Where can people go to see this digital treasure trove of HPL and Mythos goodness?
Simple – www.chaosium.com – you can sign up for our newsletter to keep up to date with our latest announcements and offers.
Also, join our G+ community, facebook page, and twitter feed.
Where can people go to find you (Twitter, Facebook group, etc)?
Twitter – @mikemason
Facebook – Mike-D-Mason
I want to extend a heartfelt “thanks!” and “cheers!” to my friend, Mr. Mike Mason for taking the time to answer my questions. If you are a veteran to rpg’s, then CoC 7th is definitely worth checking out. As Mike mentioned, the rules are compatible with your old manuals and adventures, but more streamlined for ease of use. If you have not plumbed the depths and wonders of tabletop role playing, I invite you to try. No experience can match the grandeur of your imaginations; no video game, no movie can compete with the canvas of your mind, and tabletop rpg’s provide a palette of colors with which you can paint any mural of fantasy upon the easel of your mind’s eye.
“Cthulhu still lives, too, I suppose, again in that chasm of stone which has shielded him since the sun was young. His accursed city is sunken once more, for the Vigilant sailed over the spot after the April storm; but his ministers on earth still bellow and prance and slay around idol-capped monoliths in lonely places. He must have been trapped by the sinking whilst within his black abyss, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy. Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. A time will come—but I must not and cannot think! Let me pray that, if I do not survive this manuscript, my executors may put caution before audacity and see that it meets no other eye.” – H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu