The Halloween season is always a good time for a good scare. Movies and TV shows use the time of year to highlight the scariest, creepiest ideas. People remind themselves of scary stories, from Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King.
One American horror author, though, reigns supreme in a very special way. Howard Phillips [H.P.] Lovecraft created a whole style of horror fiction, and then allowed other writers to play in the world that he created. Even before his death, several other writers had created stories that fit within the world of Lovecraft’s stories. Now, over 75 fairly major writers [and many “lesser” ones] have published stories that take place in Lovecraft’s world, or draw elements from it. Lovecraft wrote only a handful of novels, but was a master of horror in short story form, with tales such as “Rats in the Walls” and “The Music of Erich Zann” sending shivers up the spines of many readers over the last 80+ years. There have been films, television and radio adaptations. In the late 1960s, there was even a rock band named after H.P. Lovecraft, originally called just that, but later altered to Lovecraft and Love Craft, possibly for trademark reasons.
One difference between Lovecraftian horror and most modern horror stories is that these are not simple slasher horror, or stories about a haunted car or a girl who sets things on fire. Most of the Lovecraft stories are about an entire world outside our control, and often beyond our understanding. A small town whose inhabitants are descended from a pre-human race, or music that keeps the end of the world at bay. A wildly different take on an idea similar to that of Frankenstein, or a story about a spectrum of colors beyond our knowledge…these are the playgrounds of Lovecraft, and the trappings of his world.
There are even a host of games based on the late writer’s works…video games, computer games, role-playing games, and even board games.
The newest of these is Fate of the Elder Gods, published by Greater Than Games. It’s a board game for 2-4 players, in which you try to promote your own unspeakable cult over the goals of other such, and thwart those pesky, meddling investigators who are trying to prevent you from summoning the elder god of your choosing. You want it to be the one you serve, of course, as you hope that your help in his/her/its arrival will cause your own death to be at least postponed…the Lovecraft mythos is like that, you know. It’s all about being the last one devoured by unspeakable things.
You try to accomplish these goals by moving cultists around the board, gathering them to engage in ceremonies or simply to snitch on the locations of other cults to those foolish investigators. You also get to cast spells or utilize arcane items in pursuit of your goals. The first one to summon an elder god and destroy the world wins, relatively speaking. Or, if none are successful, the cult closest to success when the investigators shut down one cult completely.
The board and pieces are visually quite impressive, with great artwork. There are frills which are not necessary, but provide visual appeal. The counter used to show where action is taking place that turn didn’t have to be a large, sculpted figure of Cthulhu, but it is, and is the most visually arresting thing that people notice when walking past the game being played.
The game is not really much harder to play than Monopoly, but if have read stories of the Cthulhu mythos or other properly unearthly horror, it will be a lot of fun to play. Just try not to leave any sacrificed bodies lying around for the investigators to find.
Of the stories of the Cthulhu mythos, here are suggestions for your reading pleasure. Try not to read them just before bedtime, though. Some unspeakable things are sooo interested in your dreams…
H. P. Lovecraft collections at the library include:
The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, with twenty-two of his stories and notes based on an analysis of his stories and the world he described.
Tales, by H. P. Lovecraft, another collection of short stories, including his best and creepiest.
At the Mountains of Madness, the Definitive Edition, by H. P. Lovecraft. This short novel’s length allowed him to describe his world in more detail than in his shorter works. It’s still a short novel by modern standards, but rich in detail.
Other books related to his Cthulhu mythos include:
New Cthulhu, vols. 1 and 2, edited by Paula Guran, collecting recent stories in the genre.
Cthulhu Tales Omnibus, with graphic story adaptations of stories from the mythos.
The House of Cthulhu, by Brian Lumley, one of the late 20th century writers who joined in the fun.
The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft, edited by Aaron J. French, more short stories in the Lovecraft style.
Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove, a Cthulhu/Holmes “crossover”.
The Laundry Files series by Charles Stross, about the British intelligence agency whose task it is to struggle against the elder gods.
Many other writers have written stories that fall within the Cthulhu Mythos, ranging from Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, to others such as Guillermo del Toro, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Alan Moore, Harlan Ellison, Robert Bloch, and the man most responsible for preserving Lovecraft’s work after his death, the now-late August Derleth, who founded the Arkham House publishing company.
Stories of these authors can be found in a host of collections, and are worth the search.