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Two Page Cthulhu RPG Becomes Five Figure Kickstarter

Two Page Cthulhu RPG Becomes Five Figure Kickstarter

Cthulhu Dark is a horrifying haiku of a role-playing game.3

Clocking in at barely two pages long, the game successfully presents complete rules for gaming in the bleak and existentially dreadful worlds of HP Lovecraft. Cthulhu Dark creator and role-playing wise man Graham Walmsley expanded the game to 200 pages, and then put the super-sized game on Kickstarter, where it has been more popular than a box of donuts left in the break room, making over $55,000 as of this writing.

The game is short, simple, scary, and delivers a creepy good time at the gaming table without the fuss and feathers of more complicated Lovecraft RPGs. It makes pickup gaming all the easier, as the character creation rules are so short I can literally put them in the next sentence. What follows is not a summary mind you, but rather the complete character creation rules. Choose a name and occupation, then describe your character.

Boom. You’re ready to roll. Or flee a slithering non-Euclidean horror as the case may be.

“I already own enough Cthulhu RPGs to crush a chihuahua. Why did Walmsley make another one?”

Because sometimes, rules get in the way. Yes, they provide structure and form to play at the table, but they can come between players and their fear. It can be hard to be so scared that the jelly of your eye shakes while the game-master is searching for shoggoth stats in the rule-book. And it is simplicity that was the core design goal of Cthulhu Dark. (The name by the way, comes because the game is light on rules, but the name Cthulhu Light really doesn’t work.)

Walmsley told Geek & Sundry:

I wanted a simple horror game, but one which kept surprising you. Cthulhu Dark seems really simple: when you want to investigate, you roll one, two or three [six-sided] dice, then the highest die shows how much you find out. But, if that highest die is a 6, you get a glimpse of the horror. So, whenever you investigate, you might find something you don’t want to see. That’s what Cthulhu Dark is about: it’s simple, but the horror is baked in, and the game always pushes you towards it.

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Why Kickstart a rule-set already available online for free (like here)?

The idea seems mad of course, mad as discovering that a blind idiot god dances to the piping of damnable flutes at the center of all space-time. Why expand on a two page game? And would people actually pay for it if you did?

“It started with a joke!” Walmsley confessed to Geek & Sundry. “Someone said, ‘Graham, when are you going to publish the Cthulhu Dark rule-book?’ And I said, ‘[R]ight, of course, I’ll expand my tiny two-page game into a big shiny rule-book. But then I kept thinking about how good that could be: I’d keep the rules simple, but write lots of settings, then add a guide to writing horror and a guide to playing horror at the gaming table. After that, I had to write it. And that’s why I should never joke about games.”

Walmsley added four settings and writing advice to the core-book, and these additions may be pushing the game to smashing Kickstarter success. Everybody loves playing in Lovecraftian settings because the arc of Lovecraft’s stories, and Cthulhu games since they were created by Sandy Petersen, are about the drawbacks of knowledge and our own death and fall. (Read more about that here!) But at some point, it gets tiring playing in 1920s New England, the original setting of Lovecraft’s stories. Cthulhu Dark gives players three griddle-hot new settings to play in.

Walmsley described them thusly: “There’s Mumbai 2037: cyberpunk India, where the people spend half their lives inside the Othernet, a twisted virtual space. Then there’s Arkham 1692, Lovecraft’s iconic city in a time of witches, superstition and fear. Jaiwo 2017 is different from any setting you’ve seen before: it’s a modern African city, with horrors hiding beneath the red sand. And London 1851 is the dirty, stinking capital of the British Empire, in which you play thieves, beggars and others on the edge of the law.” Each setting also comes with a scenario, meaning that the corebook will contain four adventures to drive your players round the bend of insanity.

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Another reason for the financial success of Cthulhu gaming is that Lovecraftian adventure books sell well. Why? Because it’s harder to write your own mystery scenario than it is to throw a couple kobolds in a dungeon, roll up some random treasure, and call it a night. In Cthulhu gaming, players are usually trying to solve a mystery, a mystery which the game-master knows the answer to. Knowing the answer means creating a villain, their dastardly, plot, and the clues that will lead the characters to foil it. That’s a lot of work, and doing it well is onerous.

Cthulhu Dark also promises to help with that. Walmsley pulls back the curtain on writing Cthulhu scenarios. A seasoned veteran of game design, Walmsley has written ENnie award-winning Trail of Cthulhu scenarios, and books on how to adapt Lovecraft’s ideas to game. In Cthulhu Dark, Walmsley will let backers in on his secrets with multiple chapters devoted to teaching game-masters good Cthulhu writing.

So run, dear reader, run as though dread Cthulhu itself was flopping towards you, to Kickstarter to get a good deal on an unbelievable game.

What’s your favorite Cthulhu game? Let us know in the comments!
All images courtesy: Cthulhu Dark

Ben Riggs speaks five languages and has lived in four countries on three continents, but still manages to lose his keys in the bathroom. A friend to man, animal, and werewolf alike, you can discover more of Ben’s thoughts on game, the universe, and everything on Twitter, or on the Plot Points podcast. He is also the liberal voice on Across the Aisle, a podcast where a liberal and conservative work together to solve the 21st century’s problems. 

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