As we approach the 80th anniversary of the death of Howard Philips Lovecraft (1890-1937), the reputation and influence of the horror story writer from Providence continues to rise in the ascendant. Even here in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia, a place Lovecraft never visited and probably never thought about, Lovecraft’s presence is felt. Indeed, Melbourne may well be the most Lovecraftian of Australian cities, with its crumbling Victorian mansions, hilltop lunatic asylums and warrens of cobblestone laneways (admittedly most of which now play host to single-origin cafes – but what unspeakable horrors lurk in the dark corners of the roasting room, I ask you?).
In June of this year I caught up with Leigh Carr, aka “Leigh Carrthulu”, the creator and moderator of the Call of Cthulhu RPG Melbourne Facebook community. We had a good chat about why he started the Facebook community, the innovations in Chaosium’s recently released 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu RPG, and the age old question that dogs cultists and Investigators alike: how exactly do you pronounce old Squidface’s name?
GvP: So I’m here with Leigh Carr, the creator and moderator of the Call of Cthulhu Melbourne Facebook community, which I joined recently and is great fun to be on. My first question is, when did you start the Facebook community?
LC: I’d have to look at the page in order to tell you the exact date – a couple of years back now, maybe? I was playing this game but I didn’t have that many people to play with, so I started this Facebook page and now it’s gotten a bit big! Which is a good thing, because it’s not just a community for individuals to play my games, now it’s more of a centralized hub for people who want to network and approach each other about ideas within the realm of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, or even outside this.
GvP: So, did you start as a Keeper?
LC: Oh yes! I was running my own games at the Melbourne Anime Festival or “Manifest” that was around a while ago. I started doing that around 2011, 2012. I didn’t know that you had to tell them that you were going to run games. So I just rocked up and ran a game and they were like, “You’re running a game?!? And you didn’t volunteer?” And I said, “Yeah,” so they were like, “Do you want to volunteer next year?” “Yeah, sure!” [laughs] And it kind of went from there. There were a lot large groups coming in to play the games. I’d play the games with them and then they’d sort of disappear, and I’d never know how to contact them. So that was definitely part of [the Facebook community], that we could have a centralized page where everybody could go to.
GvP: So there’s quite a strong Call of Cthulhu community in Melbourne?
LC: You know what, at first I didn’t think it was that big. But as time goes by there’s a lot of people out there – it’s kind of like a Cthulhu cult itself, you know, they’re always in the shadows, ready to come out to play a game. So yeah, there’s a surprisingly large number of individuals, and not just the [Facebook] community, but also people that are actively involved with Chaosium as well. So that’s really interesting.
GvP: What sort of things do you talk about on the Facebook community page?
LC: Dominantly cons that are going to be run, games that are going to be run. There’s a lot of people who have recommendations for music inspired by Cthulhu, or ideas for writing their own scenarios, or games outside of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu that they really enjoyed, be it Eldritch Horror, Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, even – what’s the “house” one called again? Betrayal at House on the Hill. That’s got some Lovecraftian flavour to it. So it is dominantly a Call of Cthulhu RPG page, but it’s not just that. It’s all things Lovecraftian.
GvP: How did you start getting into Call of Cthulhu and all things Lovecraftian?
LC: Well, I was a horror fan, and I used to watch a lot of new horror. But I never really experimented much with the roots of it. So it was kind of my journey through horror, and along the way exploring a lot of different writers Lovecraft kept on cropping up, of course. Eventually when I read his work I fell in love with it. Being a big gamer as well, dominantly horror games, I decided it was my natural progression to get into Call of Cthulhu, because pen and paper role playing games interested me but I didn’t really like a lot of the themes around the fantasy genre. People recommended that [Call of Cthulhu] was the best horror game, so I thought I’d give it a shot. And this is where we are today.
GvP: So that brings us to the 7th Edition rules. What do you think?
LC: Incredible. I had a lot of people who have been playing pen and paper role playing games for a very long time ask me questions about the 6th Ed. rule sets that didn’t quite make sense. They were questioning things like, let’s say for example, fighting combat maneuvers should function the way that they do, or “It was a really good roll, shouldn’t that count towards how well I did at a certain task?” So, thus in 7th Ed. your skill sets are now being broken into “Extreme”, “Regular” and “Hard” skill rolls. Also, I’m really liking the chase sequence stuff. It used to be just running but now they’ve added a bit more structure to it. It was always in the background in 6th Ed. but was never really explored much. The Luck pooling stuff I also found quite good as well, the “pushed” rolls I found fantastic – that’s the ability to re-roll your skill roll if you fail, or spend Luck points in order to combat it, because in 6th Ed. and the earlier editions you just got people trying the same rolls over and over again because you’re in no rush to pick that lock, for example. So all that kind of stuff I feel as though it’s been addressed for not only existing players, but also new players looking at getting into it who want something a bit more structured and solid.
GvP: I think also the Luck pooling and the push give the investigators a bit more of a chance, because Call of Cthulhu is a famously tough game to survive. Given that so many characters will die or go insane in an adventure, what do you think has made it such an enduringly popular game?
LC: I think the notoriety of dying or going insane. Lovecraft is very bleak. Anyone who gets into a situation, you’re not really expected to come out the better for it. That’s what been driving the game – not just the themes and the concepts, but its notoriety of being so hard to succeed at. People love that challenge, they love getting in there and trying to overcome all of the odds, which is what horror is all about for some people. Which is kinda cool.
GvP: Given that you’ve played quite a few adventures and “Keeped” – er, Keeper-ed? Not quite sure how to say that [both laugh]. What’s been one of your favourite adventures? Without going into spoilers.
LC: I’ve got a lot of compliments for a World of Cthulhu scenario that was published years ago that’s no longer in print called The Horrible Lonely House in the Woods. And also – and I keep getting mixed up with the breakfast cereal Sanitarium – Sanatorium, that’s also one of my favourite scenarios. There’s just something very formidable about being surrounded by a body of water … But that’s all I’ll say about that particular scenario. And that’s not giving anything away, so we should be ok. [laughs]
GvP: Cool. So what’s been your favourite character that you’ve played?
LC: Hmmm … you know what? This wasn’t technically Call of Cthulhu, this was Achtung! Cthulhu, but I had a lot of fun playing a Germanic soldier only because my wife is Austrian, so it’s very easy to put on the accent and become the character. We weren’t necessarily the good guys either, so it was a little bit risky as well. So that was probably my favourite role.
GvP: Do you prefer then to be a Keeper, or a player?
LC: This sounds disturbing, but there’s nothing more satisfying than a total party kill. [both laugh] But at the same time I do like to participate in the games when I’m able, and when I do really enjoy them. Mark [Mark James Platt, a prominent Keeper in the Melbourne CofC scene] is one guy who runs them regularly, and I really enjoy every single one that he does – er, when they’re not going too far off the rails! [Mark, who’s sitting with us, laughs] I think I prefer Keepering, creating complex stories, or rather presenting complex stories with complex narratives, building suspense, creating mood. I think being a Keeper or a gamesmaster for Call of Cthulhu requires a lot more preparation work. I just love that idea of having a dominant creative input towards trying to create those kind of emotions and feelings in a game.
GvP: Sounds great! Ok, I’ve got two last questions. The first one is, if you were a dark cultist – and I’m not saying you’re not – which Great Old One would you worship?
LC: Probably the Yith. They’re not really gods, though they could be seen as gods by lesser beings such as ourselves. But I would probably worship the Yithian race because I think as horrible as they are – stealing people’s bodies and jumping into them to assure their own species survives – they’re also about preservation. I think they’re also quite peaceful if not being pushed into a corner. And they’re also about sharing knowledge and experiences and ideas. I love that thought that there’s a whole race that, even though if it comes down to it they will take over your body so their selves can stay behind while their old bodies get wiped out by some kind of cosmic atrocity, I love the idea that even when they do a mind-swap they’re like, “Well. You’re in a Yithian body now. Go for a walk around, have a look at our libraries, there’s the swimming pool. Cocktail bar’s over there!” So I find they’re really accommodating for lesser beings like us.
GvP: Yeah, they’re probably as close as you can get to Vulcans in the Cthulhu Mythos [both laugh]. And they’re also here in Australia, so we have access to them.
LC: Exactly right. So yeah, we could start a cult around them …?
GvP: Now, Mark has been sitting here listening – I might ask him too, who would be your Great Old One?
MJP: Ah, jeez, now … I gotta go with Dagon.
MJP: Yeah. Because as malevolent as he is in wanting to resurrect Cthulhu, he helps you out. Like, he gives you goals, and you might turn into a fish-person but then you’ve got a lovely life under the sea with Dagon, forever. It’s a nice transcendent experience. I think I would enjoy it. [All laugh] LC: [Talking to me] Ok, we’ve got to ask you now. Let’s do it.
GvP: Oh my goodness. Who would I …? Well, I don’t know … See, Nyarlathotep, he’s got an identity crisis, but I like it that he can slot into things anywhere and do what he wants. Azathoth, no, because he’s just an idiot – an idiot god at the centre of the universe, which sounds boring. Doesn’t sound malevolent at all.
LC: Er, are you watching the Trump president candidacy? Sometimes idiots with a lot of power scares the hell out of me.
GvP: Oh yeah, that’s very true.
LC: Um. [Pauses] That probably got a bit too political for this interview, so I apologise. [All laugh]
GvP: Maybe Shub-Niggurath, then. I do have an affinity for Shub-Niggurath. ‘Cos I have children, and Shub-Niggurath has lots of children.
LC: What’s a thousand more?
GvP: That’s right. We could probably share babysitting duties. Yeah, I think Shub-Niggurath. Finally, then, for both you guys, I want to ask – is it pronounced “Kuh-THOOL-hoo” or “Kuh-TOOL-hoo”? Or something else?
LC: Well, traditionally I think it’s “Kuh-TOO-loo”, but I say “Kuh-TOOL-hoo”.
MJP: I say “Kuh-THOO-loo” personally. I mean with Lovecraft you’re supposed to pronounce it like an otherworldly alien. You’re supposed to say, “K’TOOLOO!!!” [shouts the word]. Or something like that. [All laugh]. But I just say “Kuh-THOO-loo” to people.
LC: Yeah, our tongues can’t say it. We try.
GvP: We’re not worthy! Alright, thanks a lot Leigh, and Mark too, that was great. I really appreciate it. So we’ll wrap it up there.
LC: Thank you very much.
If you feel like talking to other people about the Call of Cthulhu RPG and all things Lovecraftian, I recommend joining the Call of Cthulhu Melbourne RPG Facebook community. Just be warned – induction will result in the permanent loss of 1D10 Sanity points.