Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos Returns to 5E D&D
  • Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos Returns to 5E D&D


    After H.P. Lovecraft – of course – the person most associated with the Cthulhu Mythos is Sandy Petersen. When the rest of the still-new role-playing game industry was making variants of Dungeons & Dragons and related types of epic fantasy, Petersen created Call of Cthulhu, his first game inspired by Lovecraft's work, for Chaosium.



    Whereas other RPGs focused on combat and assumed, to varying degrees, that the players would triumph, Call of Cthulhu was investigative and skill based. More importantly, it conveyed a genuine sense of terror as the characters gradually realized they were facing horrors that they not only couldn't beat, but couldn't comprehend. It's not an overstatement to say it changed the game industry.

    If that was all Petersen did, it would justify his induction to the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design's Gaming Hall of Fame, but his work on RuneQuest and West End Game's Ghostbusters RPG cemented his reputation. Then he segued to the electronic game industry where he worked on Civilization, DOOM, Quake, Age of Empires, Halo Wars and many others.

    More recently, Petersen returned to tabletop games with a successful Kickstarter for the boardgame Cthulhu Wars, which he then followed with Castle Dicenstein, Orcs Must Die!, Theomachy, Evil High Priest, and The Gods War. In addition to running Sandy Petersen Games, Petersen rejoined Chaosium as vice-president of the board of directors and chief creative consultant. After such an illustrious career in video games, why return to tabletop?

    “I played and enjoyed tabletop games the entire time I designed video games,” said Petersen. “The best part about doing tabletop games is that I can design a game with a much smaller team. Instead of 40 people who must be satisfied, there are only four to five. And I can design my own games now, too. In the digital gaming world, games are big business. So much so that mere creative types don't usually get much of a say. In my 25 years designing digital games, I got to pick the topic of precisely one game that I was assigned to. Now I get to pick ALL my designs.

    But Petersen began with tabletop RPGs so after all of these successful boardgames, it seemed inevitable that he'd do something for RPGs – and involve Cthulhu. Earlier this year, Petersen released Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for Pathfinder and now has an active Kickstarter for Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for 5E.

    Petersen's current Kickstarter funded in just 27 minutes, and is far more than just a rule adaptation from Pathfinder to Dungeons & Dragons.

    “A lot of new material has been added for D&D, so it's not just a 'port' to a different system,” Petersen said. “There are over 100 new monsters, new character options, 70 new spells, new encounters etc., etc. But everything that was in the Pathfinder version is also included.”

    The Pathfinder version had a striking set of miniatures and the 5th Edition D&D version does as well. “Unlike the Pathfinder funding campaign,” said Petersen, “you will be able to pick and choose individual figures. The figures overlap with the previous campaign, but some new ones are available, too.”

    Bringing Lovecraftian horror to heroic fantasy like D&D and Pathfinder is about far more than just switching monsters. “In Call of Cthulhu, combat is basically a sideline,” said Petersen. “It's often something that happens because you've failed in your main goals. But, of course, heroic fantasy games revolve around combat, so the Cthulhu Mythos [books] had to reflect this. There's several entire sections in the book that explain how to pull this off. The quick answer is that the monsters need to be horrifying even while you're fighting them.”



    Cthulhu is extremely popular – so much so that it's practically a given that anything nominated for an ENnie involving Cthulhu will win. To Petersen, that's perfectly understandable.

    “Lovecraft invented an entirely new type of horror,” said Petersen. “In the old style of horror, the sequence is as follows: first the characters are in the normal, sane world. Then, Something Bad shows up, possibly supernatural. The characters face off against the Bad and thwart it or are destroyed by it. Then, in the last part of the story, you return either clearly or implicitly to the normal sane world. Everything is as it was before.”

    “Lovecraft's stories are subtly different,” he continued. “First, as in normal horror, you start in the normal, sane world. Then Something Bad shows up – but the Something Bad turns out to be the actual truth of the world. After the Bad confronts the characters, they learn that there IS no normal, sane world – that that was illusory. At the story’s end, you can’t return to 'normal' – you know too much and realize that there IS no 'normal.' Forever you are blighted by your knowledge that humanity was created by the Old Ones as a joke, or that Cthulhu waits and will emerge at any moment, or that beneath the earth lurk horrors beyond imagination, or that you, yourself, are not truly human, but are of Deep One stock, or whatever. It’s revolutionary.”

    While the concept of such unfathomable evil might deter some people, it's been a constant inspiration for Petersen and his career.

    “[It] probably goes back to when I was a scruffy 12-year-old kid reading weird books that no one else knew about or liked,” Petersen said. “I felt I had a secret knowledge that I wanted to share, but it wasn't clear how to do it. I knew other folks would love Lovecraft, if I could only get the word out. I guess I'm a Lovecraft evangelist.”

    Call of Cthulhu was the first role-playing to incorporate sanity as a game mechanic. Other RPGs have since included mental health with varying degrees of success (or insensitivity). Cthulhu Mythos for Pathfinder (and the forthcoming Cthulhu Mythos for 5E) includes a clear disclaimer distinguishing game insanity with real-life mental illness.

    Petersen felt it was important to maintain a clear separation between clinical psychoses and adventures. “Also, because I use literary and cinematic sources of madness, not real-world ones,” he said. “In the 'It's Alive!' scene of James Whale’s Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein cackles madly when he realizes his experiment is a success. He has clearly gone mad. Is his portrayal accurate according to modern psychological ideas? I have no idea, nor do I care. If my character in an RPG goes mad, I want him to go mad like Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein!”

    In Cthulhu Mythos, Petersen explains that Lovecraft's monsters have personalities. His favorite is understandable.

    “Great Cthulhu! The unstoppable force – Earth's poison pill. The whole basis of Cthulhu, the reason that he is scary, is that he is the thing that can’t be beaten. The heat death of the universe,” said Petersen. “To get an idea of what he was like, in the 1950's to 1970's, a lot of people were convinced the world was going to end in a nuclear holocaust. Cthulhu is the equivalent to that, but is far more inevitable than a nuclear war.”

    Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for 5E is live on Kickstarter now.

    This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
    Comments 28 Comments
    1. LuisCarlos17f's Avatar
      LuisCarlos17f -
      Lovecraftian monster are cool to be kicked-ass by the heroes, but the Lovecraftian horror is for readers without true faith or hope in a better tomorrow. In the Lovecraft's universe the man isn't a creature created by God but only dust lost in the cosmic void.

      Today people don't want nihilism in the terror fiction, but they are scared by Valak, the demon with the nun costume.

      Why players love Lovecraft's mythos? Because is like take revenge against all the fears from the childhood and teenage. In the RPGs the author's point of view hasn't be shared by the rest of players.

      What do you think about the zoogs as PC race? A mixture between almost cutie and creepy, aren't they?
    1. Cergorach's Avatar
      Cergorach -
      A couple a notes to keep in mind when backing this:
      1.) Sandy has 5 other KS projects that haven't been delivered (yet). One is over a year late (Glorantha - The Gods War), one is already four months late (Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 3), one a month late (Evil High Priest), the others (Planet Apocalypse, STARTROPOLIS) aren't due yet, but I don't expect them to be on time either. Even CMoN doesn't have this much of a backlog.
      2.) The Pathfinder version of this book was horrendously late and the art/layout was far below par. My CE version of the book went straight onto a pile, haven't opened it since, and I'm considering selling it. Now, the preview pdf of the 5E book does look a lot better.
      3.) At the time of the first PF KS, this was virtually the only game in town, PF rules wise and minis wise. By the time the book came out, it was a late addition to a range of Cthulhu esk books voor PF. The minis are now getting competition from CMoN (Cthulhu: Death May Die) and other have greatly extended their ranges in resin/metal.

      I was already quite careful with backing more Sandy projects due to all the delays and a serious amount of money in two (yet) undelivered KS projects, Planet Apocalypse tempted me (and I was too weak), but after the massive disappointment that is the PF Cthulhu Mythos CE book, I've stopped backing Sandy projects completely. I'll see how Glorantha - The Gods War and Planet Apocalypse play before I even consider changing my policy.

      Keep in mind: Previously achieved successes are no guarantee for the future.
    1. Dahak's Avatar
      Dahak -
      Clark Aston Smith. Frank Belnap Long. Robert E. Howard. August Derleth. Ramsay Campbell. These are people that are more associated with the Cthulhu Mythos than any game designer could hope to be. Not to cast shade on Sandy Peterson's accomplishments in the gaming industries, but the Mythos is very much a literary tradition.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dahak View Post
      Clark Aston Smith. Frank Belnap Long. Robert E. Howard. August Derleth. Ramsay Campbell. These are people that are more associated with the Cthulhu Mythos than any game designer could hope to be. Not to cast shade on Sandy Peterson's accomplishments in the gaming industries, but the Mythos is very much a literary tradition.
      That may be but I suspect it would be forgotten by all but a few obscure literature grad students if Call of Cthulhu and, especially, the retracted first printing of Deities & Demigods with Cthulhu mythos and Melnibonean mythos hadn't been published.
    1. Dahak's Avatar
      Dahak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
      That may be but I suspect it would be forgotten by all but a few obscure literature grad students if Call of Cthulhu and, especially, the retracted first printing of Deities & Demigods with Cthulhu mythos and Melnibonean mythos hadn't been published.
      Metallica songs and foreign films make me suspect otherwise. Gamers have always tended to assume their hobby was somehow more important than it is or has more reach than it does.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dahak View Post
      Metallica songs and foreign films make me suspect otherwise. Gamers have always tended to assume their hobby was somehow more important than it is or has more reach than it does.
      Maybe. Remember, we're taking about before the internet era, when finding out things was much more difficult. Video games are very clearly influenced by the RPG industry insofar as many important designers started out around the kitchen table with a copy of D&D or CoC.

      While there was a rediscovery of H. P. Lovecraft et al in the 1960s and indeed a psychedelic band named after him, I bet a lot of folks found out about stories through seeing gaming books, even if they didn't play much. My feeling is that games like CoC helped keep the material alive, although Stephen King played a huge role, too. Metallica may or may not have been gamers (presumably casual gamers), but it helped keep the material in the public consciousness. Being a horror fan would also help; they clearly were that.
    1. dave2008's Avatar
      dave2008 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dahak View Post
      Clark Aston Smith. Frank Belnap Long. Robert E. Howard. August Derleth. Ramsay Campbell. These are people that are more associated with the Cthulhu Mythos than any game designer could hope to be. Not to cast shade on Sandy Peterson's accomplishments in the gaming industries, but the Mythos is very much a literary tradition.
      I don't disagree with you, but personally, I got into HPL's work because of Sandy's Call of Cthulhu rpg.
    1. dave2008's Avatar
      dave2008 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Cergorach View Post
      A couple a notes to keep in mind when backing this:
      1.) Sandy has 5 other KS projects that haven't been delivered (yet). One is over a year late (Glorantha - The Gods War), one is already four months late (Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 3), one a month late (Evil High Priest), the others (Planet Apocalypse, STARTROPOLIS) aren't due yet, but I don't expect them to be on time either. Even CMoN doesn't have this much of a backlog.
      2.) The Pathfinder version of this book was horrendously late and the art/layout was far below par. My CE version of the book went straight onto a pile, haven't opened it since, and I'm considering selling it. Now, the preview pdf of the 5E book does look a lot better.
      3.) At the time of the first PF KS, this was virtually the only game in town, PF rules wise and minis wise. By the time the book came out, it was a late addition to a range of Cthulhu esk books voor PF. The minis are now getting competition from CMoN (Cthulhu: Death May Die) and other have greatly extended their ranges in resin/metal.

      I was already quite careful with backing more Sandy projects due to all the delays and a serious amount of money in two (yet) undelivered KS projects, Planet Apocalypse tempted me (and I was too weak), but after the massive disappointment that is the PF Cthulhu Mythos CE book, I've stopped backing Sandy projects completely. I'll see how Glorantha - The Gods War and Planet Apocalypse play before I even consider changing my policy.

      Keep in mind: Previously achieved successes are no guarantee for the future.
      we should find out soon! The PDF is supposed to be delivered in Nov. and that is all I wanted (and all I paid for), so if they meet that goal I'll be happy. They said it is already complete, so I certainly expect to get the PDF on time.
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      I also discovered Lovecraft through CoC. I was a voracious reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy in my youth but rarely ventured into horror. It wasn't until CoC that it began to interest me.
    1. Aaron L's Avatar
      Aaron L -
      YES!
    1. Henry's Avatar
      Henry -
      Quote Originally Posted by AriochQ View Post
      I also discovered Lovecraft through CoC. I was a voracious reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy in my youth but rarely ventured into horror. It wasn't until CoC that it began to interest me.
      Yeah, same here - but then, on a gaming board, I suspect you'll find this answer quite disproportionately. One of my high school English term papers in fact was about Lovecraft, using as my primary sources both S.T. Joshi's Lovecraft biography and some tidbits of information from the Call of Cthulhu RPG written by Sandy.

      My wife can say the same, because she was introduced to Lovecraft through me. I'd be curious how many gamers and non-gamers prior to 1990 were introduced to Lovecraft via the literature.
    1. Xaelvaen's Avatar
      Xaelvaen -
      I was a D&D player first (89), Metallica fan second (~95), and honestly don't know much about Lovecraft's work, or any derivatives thereof, outside of what my cousin used for his home campaigns back when we were in high school. What he concocted, or what was 'authentic' is beyond my knowledge base, but he didn't own (at least back then) any of the actual games based off of the Mythos; he just ran AD&D, with his love of the literature to guide him for horror-driven games.

      However, my wife is a horror fan and so I am in amidst a research spree on the subject matter, and I'm considering backing this Kickstarter, since the pdf is to be delivered in some 13 days as soon as it ends, and I rarely invest in hardbacks these days.
    1. Ralif Redhammer's Avatar
      Ralif Redhammer -
      I think I played D&D before reading Lovecraft, but actually read Lovecraft before playing Call of Cthulhu. I can recall being in 5th grade or so and the one kid laughing hysterically after I described Cthulhu while giving a book report in front of the class. The teacher asked why he was laughing. All he could say in-between bouts of giggling was “I thought he said testicles.”

      Which, considering Lovecraft’s misogyny, would be pretty appropriate.

      As much as I wouldn't mind having some Cosmic Horror beasties to pillage for D&D campaigns, looking at that track record, I think I'll most likely pass on this Kickstarter.
    1. TrippyHippy's Avatar
      TrippyHippy -
      I think it is worth listening to cautionary tales on all Kickstarter projects - when you are a "backer", you do not get consumer rights in the same way a "customer" does. If the project is late, then tough - you backed a creative project which can have hitches.

      That said, I've backed a lot of Kickstarter campaigns over this last decade, and most of them eventually deliver with patience (only two I've totally given up on). It *is* a good sign for rpg book campaigns if they say they will deliver the PDF immediately at the end of the campaign and at least you'll get something! From that point, the timeline of 8 months or so is ample to get a full print run delivered, so I'd say it looks pretty safe.
    1. dave2008's Avatar
      dave2008 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ralif Redhammer View Post
      As much as I wouldn't mind having some Cosmic Horror beasties to pillage for D&D campaigns, looking at that track record, I think I'll most likely pass on this Kickstarter.
      Since it is fully funded, the only benefit in backing it now is that you get the PDF in about 2 weeks. Since that is all I want, I backed.

      It is also good to note the this isn't a completely new book. It is a 5e version of a PF book, with some new material as well. So I doesn't seem to risky to me.
    1. Stef McCarter's Avatar
      Stef McCarter -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
      That may be but I suspect it would be forgotten by all but a few obscure literature grad students if Call of Cthulhu and, especially, the retracted first printing of Deities & Demigods with Cthulhu mythos and Melnibonean mythos hadn't been published.
      I wouldnt consider myself a obscure literature grad student but thanks.
    1. SkidAce's Avatar
      SkidAce -
      I was introduced to Lovecraft via reading Lovecraft. There was a dearth of available books when I grew up and started reading in the early 70s.

      I heard about D&D of course over the years, but didn't actually play until the mid or later 80s.
    1. Jhaelen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
      That may be but I suspect it would be forgotten by all but a few obscure literature grad students if Call of Cthulhu and, especially, the retracted first printing of Deities & Demigods with Cthulhu mythos and Melnibonean mythos hadn't been published.
      Deities & Demigods was my first contact with the Mythos and I was totally fascinated by it. I think it was over a year later until I actually read my first Lovecraft story: 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward'.

      But one of my most prized possessions was Sandy Petersen's Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters' with its utterly amazing illustrations by Tom Sullivan.
    1. dave2008's Avatar
      dave2008 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      But one of my most prized possessions was Sandy Petersen's Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters' with its utterly amazing illustrations by Tom Sullivan.
      Yes! I still have my copy - a really inspiration book
    1. BGQ Tony's Avatar
      BGQ Tony -
      Quote Originally Posted by Cergorach View Post
      A couple a notes to keep in mind when backing this:
      1.) Sandy has 5 other KS projects that haven't been delivered (yet). One is over a year late (Glorantha - The Gods War), one is already four months late (Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 3), one a month late (Evil High Priest), the others (Planet Apocalypse, STARTROPOLIS) aren't due yet, but I don't expect them to be on time either. Even CMoN doesn't have this much of a backlog.
      2.) The Pathfinder version of this book was horrendously late and the art/layout was far below par. My CE version of the book went straight onto a pile, haven't opened it since, and I'm considering selling it. Now, the preview pdf of the 5E book does look a lot better.
      3.) At the time of the first PF KS, this was virtually the only game in town, PF rules wise and minis wise. By the time the book came out, it was a late addition to a range of Cthulhu esk books voor PF. The minis are now getting competition from CMoN (Cthulhu: Death May Die) and other have greatly extended their ranges in resin/metal.

      I was already quite careful with backing more Sandy projects due to all the delays and a serious amount of money in two (yet) undelivered KS projects, Planet Apocalypse tempted me (and I was too weak), but after the massive disappointment that is the PF Cthulhu Mythos CE book, I've stopped backing Sandy projects completely. I'll see how Glorantha - The Gods War and Planet Apocalypse play before I even consider changing my policy.

      Keep in mind: Previously achieved successes are no guarantee for the future.
      FWIW, Evil High Priest is on the boat and will begin fulfillment soon. Half (or so) of Onslaught 3 is also on the boat. Gods War is super late but is scheduled to begin fulfillment next month (i think). Planet Apocalypse is on track to delver either on time or early and Startropolis is actually way ahead of schedule. Not that it's relevant, but CMON's backlog is about 5 games right now. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Also, the DnD book is finished and ready to go to the printer (once proofing is done). It will have nowhere near the delay that the pathfinder book did.
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