by Graham Walmsley

When people ask where I got my ideas for Cthulhu Dark – that’s my rules-light Lovecraftian roleplaying game, which is currently on Kickstarter – I tell them one of three stories.

Story One: It’s our gaming night. Simon Rogers from Pelgrane and I are talking, before our 13th Age game starts. Specifically, we’re talking about a GUMSHOE hack we’ve found on the Internet, in which you roll dice rather than spending points. I joke about this: why would you want to replace points with dice? Isn’t the point-spend system one of the best things about GUMSHOE?

Now, I should never joke about games, because I end up designing them. (Don’t ask about the time I joked about an Apocalypse World hack for disco).

True to form, I start thinking how GUMSHOE might work with dice. Maybe, I think, the dice don’t tell you whether you succeed, but how well you succeed and what you find out. Then I let that idea sit in my subconscious for a few years.

Story Two: I’m selling my Trail of Cthulhu scenarios at a UK convention. They are special editions, with nail polish dripped on them to look like blood (for Dance in the Blood) or ichor (for Watchers in the Sky). And I think: I’d like to put some rules into these special editions, so people can just pick them up and play.

As I stand there, I start inventing a short Cthulhu system, which I could put in the back of my scenarios. Maybe, I think, I could call it Cthulhu Light. But, wait, you can’t call a Lovecraftian horror game “light”. It would have to be…

And so I design Cthulhu Dark. I’m inspired by the simple-but-beautiful die mechanics of Ron Edwards’ Sorcerer. When you want to do something in Cthulhu Dark, you roll one die if what you’re doing is within human capabilities, one die if your occupation is relevant and one die if you risk your mind to succeed. The highest die tells you how well you do.

Then I playtest endlessly, running all my scenarios with Cthulhu Dark. I tweak the rules obsessively. I calculate probabilities, with vast spreadsheets and long die-rolling sessions.

Everything I’d wanted from a Cthulhu system goes into Cthulhu Dark. You can roll for anything, not just something you have a skill in: if you want to control your dreams, remember a childhood memory or decipher mystical carvings, you can roll for it.

And the higher you roll, the more you find out. But, if you roll a 6, you find out more than you wanted to know and glimpse the horror.

As I write, I’m inspired by my work on Trail of Cthulhu. In Cthulhu Dark, just like in Trail of Cthulhu, you can’t fail to find information if you need it to proceed with the scenario.

And I use the bleak horror I developed in my Trail of Cthulhu scenarios, but this time I write it into the rules: in Cthulhu Dark, you can’t beat any Mythos creature in a fight. You must find another way instead: run, hide or watch helplessly and await your fate.

That’s how I wrote the original two-page Cthulhu Dark, which you can still read and play. Since then, the rules have had years of play. They are as solid as they’ll ever be.

Sometimes, people ask why we need another Cthulhu system. Aren’t there enough in the world already?

But, to me, every Cthulhu system gives a new way to look at Lovecraftian horror. Call of Cthulhu was the original, focussing on sanity, with a side order of combat. Trail of Cthulhu focussed on investigation. And Cthulhu Dark is engineered for bleak, cosmic horror.

Whatever your favourite Cthulhu system, you’ll learn something from trying another one. If you love Call of Cthulhu, you’ll discover new tricks from the GMless style of Lovecraftesque. If you love the way the dice work in Nemesis, you’ll learn something from the very different die mechanics of Unspeakable. If you love Trail of Cthulhu, you’ll learn from Cthulhu Dark’s advice on playing and writing horror.

You don’t need to abandon your current system. You don’t need to commit to Cthulhu Dark exclusively. It won’t get jealous. Steal all the best bits from the Cthulhu Dark rulebook and use them in Trail of Cthulhu. I won’t mind.

Story Three: I’ve just played my original version of Cthulhu Dark with experienced players of Lovecraftian horror. We have a great and horrifying game. Afterwards, they ask whether I’m going to publish it as a big rulebook.

Oh, sure, I joke, that’s the plan. I’ll expand my two-page system into a two-hundred page rulebook with a glossy cover. But I should never joke about games, because I end up designing them.

On the way home, I start thinking about that Cthulhu Dark rulebook. How would it work? It would start with the Cthulhu Dark rules, simple and effective. Then I’d delve into those rules, explaining all the tips and tricks I’ve learned in six years of running the game.

There’d be a full guide to writing a Cthulhu Dark mystery, starting from the things you fear and ending with a mystery you can play. I’d add a guide to playing a Cthulhu Dark game, too, with techniques for running horror at the gaming table.

Finally, there would be settings, taking Cthulhu Dark into different places in time and space. The first setting would be dirty Victorian London, in which you’d play thieves and beggars from the slums. There’d be a cyberpunk setting, too. And I’d work with up-and-coming authors to help them write their own Cthulhu Dark settings.

Over the next few years, all of this became the Cthulhu Dark rulebook. I worked with other authors, Kathryn Jenkins and Helen Gould, to create the settings, which are London 1851, Arkham 1692, Jaiwo 2017 and Mumbai 2037.

It’s taken five years, but my two-page game has become my dream Cthulhu system. You’ll get it all when you back the Kickstarter. I hope you enjoy it. I hope it creeps you out.

You can get 20% off all the standard edition and PDFs of Cthulhu Apocalypse and The Final Revelation in the store with the code BKS#GRAHAM17 while the Cthulhu Dark Kickstarter is running.

The Final Revelation cover_300 pixel

The more you discover, the more the Mythos infects your mind. Your friends cannot be trusted, your knowledge means nothing, and everything you hold dear turns to dust.

The Final Revelation collects for the first time the four sanity-destroying Purist adventures for Trail of Cthulhu written by award winning RPG writer Graham Walmsley. With a framing scenario by Scott Dorward, The Final Revelation gives your Investigators the opportunity to play through a Purist campaign set in the United Kingdom of the 1930s where there is no escape, no comfort and no salvation when faced with the Mythos. Your Investigators are powerless and insignificant; your only choices death, insanity or a quiet life with a shattered mind.

The Final Revelation features the following scenarios:

  • The Final Revelation: A group of Investigators called The Friday Group tries to piece together the details of what they believe to be a threat to humanity. As they uncover the facts behind each scenario, they are faced with a final, inescapable truth none of them could have guessed.
  • The Dying of St Margarets: On the remote Scottish island of St Margaret’s, Investigators take jobs at a private school, each searching for an acquaintance who has disappeared. What they discover drives them to the edge of insanity to a place where guns will not help them, reason will not protect them and even faith will not give them comfort.
  • The Watchers in the Sky: The Watchers introduces a new and unknowable Mythos entity. Blending Lovecraft with Hitchcock, a madman feeds the birds, paranoid they are watching him. Later, the same strange birds stare from the rooftops, warping the laws of physics and chemistry. And, when the Investigators dissect one of the creatures, they find something monstrous inside.
  • The Dance in the Blood: In a forgotten corner of Northern England nestles a village plagued by terrible secrets and subterranean horrors. Every hundred and nineteen years it is torn apart, its inhabitants massacred. It happened in 1697 and 1816. Now it’s 1935 and beneath the village are loathsome creatures, waiting to reclaim their land and kill anyone who stands in their way.
  • The Rending Box: In an antiques shop in North London, there is a box. Inside is an ancient creature, seeping through into the world. It will show the Investigators everything as it really is: the patterns behind the universe, the monsters older than time, the secrets that break your mind. And all they need to do is open a box.

With little else to do but go mad or die trying, how will your Investigators react when faced with the final revelation?

Read reviews of Dying of St Margarets, The Watchers in the Sky, The Dance in the Blood and The Rending Box.

Playtester comments about the Purist adventures:

“The adventure captured the Purist play style (with an encroaching sense of dread, a strange enemy that one cannot truly understand, and a conclusion that adds to the horror more so than it does to resolve anything). The difficulty of the adventure and the clues was just right as my players were able to piece together the information they needed to sail into the scene with just enough information for them to form new questions.”

“Our group had a blast playtesting the scenario! It’s truly creepy, and I was inspired enough by the material to improvise a truly horrific ending for the investigators. We still talk and laugh about it!”

“A good game with a thrilling intrigue and many new features and gaming methods which made it feel fresh.”

Stock #: PELGT33 Author: Graham Walmsley, Scott Dorward
Artist: Jérôme Huguenin Pages: 128pg Perfect Bound


The voting for the ENnie awards is open. Pelgrane Press have been nominated for Best Cartography for Bookhounds and Best Writing for Dance in the Blood. We ask that you consider voting for us.

Other Pelgranistas have been nominated; Graham Walmsley for A Taste for Murder, Robin D Laws for Hamlet’s Hit Points and Kenneth Hite for Dresden Files and The Bones: Us and Our Dice, all fine products worthy of your consideration.


Nominated for Best Adventure in the 2012 ENnie awards

In an antiques shop in North London, there is a box. Inside the box is an ancient creature, seeping through into the world. It will show the Investigators the universe as it really is.

The Rending Box is the final Purist adventure for Trail of Cthulhu. The previous scenarios, The Dying of St Margaret’s, The Watchers in the Sky and The Dance In The Blood have hinted about an immense, fecund creature, spawning beneath the soil of the Lake District.

In The Rending Box, the Investigators see that creature. Indeed, they may discover everything: the patterns behind the universe, the monsters older than time, the secrets that break your mind. And all they need to do is open a box.

This is the fourth and final installment of Graham Walmsley’s Purist Adventure series for Trail of Cthulhu, and is now available in print and PDF format in the collection The Final Revelation.

Read reviews of the Rending Box.

Stock #: PELGT21D Author: Graham Walmsley
Artist:Jerome Huguenin Pages: 31 pg PDF

Buy The Final Revelation now

Graham Walmsley, who has written a number of excellent adventures for Trail of Cthulhu, will be reading Lovecraft’s Dagon for charity. He is a professional actor, and it will be a joy (terror?) to listen to. He will also say anything you like (think about that) for a donation.

If you’d like to hear this and make a donation to a worthy cause, please pop over to his website here.