Trail of Cthulhu

Trail Cover

Mythos Investigation and Horror in the 1930s

You have to keep the doors to the Outside from swinging open – no matter what the cost in life or sanity. You have to piece together clues from books bound in human skin, from eviscerated corpses covered in ichor, and from inscriptions carved on walls built before humanity evolved. You have to go wherever the answers are, and do what needs to be done to protect humanity. But do you dare to follow… the trail of Cthulhu?

Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning roleplaying game of investigative horror, powered by the GUMSHOE system and produced under license from Chaosium. Acclaimed expert on the eldritch Kenneth Hite weds his encylopaedic knowledge of vivid historical detail to his mastery of H. P. Lovecraft’s classic horror tales to bring their cosmic malignity forward into the 1930s—a time when the creeping madness of the Great Old Ones intermingles with the sweeping cruelty of global totalitarianism.

Trail of Cthulhu is designed for investigative play: the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. The game also offers:

  • Two modes of play: Pulp (for the “desperate action” feel of Robert E. Howard or Indiana Jones) and Purist (full of philosophical horror and cosmic dread)
  • A new take on Lovecraft’s creatures and cults that makes even the most familiar Mythos elements surprising and scary at the gaming table
  • Innovative rules for sanity and stability
  • A Drives mechanic that addresses the perennial horror RPG question, “Why don’t we just forget we saw anything, and go home where it’s safe?”
  • GM advice on how to run a horror adventure
  • Detailed notes on designing an enthralling, cohesive investigative adventure using the GUMSHOE system’s clue structure.

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Trail of Cthulhu won two ENnie awards for Best Rules and Best Writing, as well as receiving an honourable mention for Product of the Year. It’s now in its third print run, and currently available in five languages.

Support for Trail of Cthulhu includes award-winning adventures, supplements, and campaigns from designers such as Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, Jason Morningstar, Will Hindmarch, Jeff Tidball, Adam Gauntlett, Graham Walmsley, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Bill White.

You are among the few who suspect the truth about the mad gods at the center of the universe, about the Great Old Ones who dream of clearing off the Earth, about the extra-terrestrials who use mankind in their experiments, about the ancient legends of undying evil that are all coming true. You have to make sure nobody else ever finds out — or the world will wake up screaming…

Review Highlights

See the complete reviews to date here.

.…I was concerned that my traditional style of low prep freeform gaming would have trouble with the GUMSHOE clue system included here… I quickly discovered that this was not an obstacle at all, … it was very easy to constantly push new clues through different Investigative Abilities. In fact, I found that the game worked spectacularly well with this style as the nature of these Abilities encouraged me to constantly engage each of the players thereby resulting in a mystery that was continuously moving forward to its PC driven conclusion. My play experiences have been far more satisfying than I would have expected, though my group has largely avoided physical conflict whenever possible.

CW Richeson on rpg.net

Overall, this is a masterful melding of the Gumshoe system with classic Cthulhu Mythos gaming, an inspired match. There’s so much goodness in this that I’ll be back again and again, not just to play but to mine for ideas whatever I am doing.

Megan Robertson on rpgnow.com

By now it should be evident that I really love Trail of Cthulhu. I think it manages to capture the feel and style of HPL’s stories, particularly when played in Purist mode, with rules built to complement the stories. GUMSHOE is a perfect fit for investigative type adventures, and well-suited for a plotted out set of scenes. It also is simple enough to be run in a more “off-the-cuff” improvisational style and doesn’t require a great deal of prep on the part of the Keeper.

Michael Harnish on RPG Geek

…the section on the Cthulhu Elder Gods/Outer Gods is superb and packed with so many incredibly insane ideas for running plots it is hard to talk about it without waving hands around incoherently. One small sentence about Elder Gods as meme loads was so compelling it was a hot topic in my house for three days. If you’re into CoC at all, this is worth getting to juice up campaigns and take them to 11.

Emily Dresner

The Gumshoe system is an investigation-oriented one, and this orientation is well suited to many Mythos scenarios. We enjoyed playing our characters and didn’t have too much trouble picking up the system. I’d recommend it.

Duncan Hunter on rpg.net

This book is gorgeous; my copy is a lovely 248 page hardcover. Jérome Huguenin does a masterful job with art and layout. That art is consistent throughout– something not to be underestimated as a key to make a game feel complete … Worth buying for any gamer interesting in horror or Lovecraft.

Lowell Francis on rpggeek.com

With enough for everyone and a system flexible to have from a purely investigative adventure to a action fuelled Indiana Jones style game, if you like Lovecraft, you simply can’t go wrong with it

Paco G Jaen of G*M*S Magazine

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Stock #:PELGT01D Author: Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws
Artist: Jerome Huguenin Format: 248-page, two-color, smythe-sewn hardback

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April 30th rolls ‘round again, season of doors and frightful manifestations. You may know it as Walpurgisnacht, the Witches’ Sabbath – at least according to poor Walter Gilman, the ill-fated protagonist of Dreams in the Witch House.

Now he was praying because the Witches’ Sabbath was drawing near. May-Eve was Walpurgis-Night, when hell’s blackest evil roamed the earth and all the slaves of Satan gathered for nameless rites and deeds. It was always a very bad time in Arkham, even though the fine folks up in Miskatonic Avenue and High and Saltonstall Streets pretended to know nothing about it. There would be bad doings—and a child or two would probably be missing. Joe knew about such things, for his grandmother in the old country had heard tales from her grandmother. It was wise to pray and count one’s beads at this season.

It’s certainly a potent date in Mythos terms, a time when the Old Ones are uncomfortably close at hand, a night for rituals and bonfires. In Germany, for example, it’s Hexennacht, and one’s supposed to dress as a witch and make noises to keep real witches and evil spirits away. Old Keziah Mason isn’t the only one abroad that night – Wilbur Whateley and his brother were conceived on the night of April 30th, and it’s also one of the two nights when the folk of Innsmouth were obliged to offer sacrifices to their Deep One allies, or so Zadok Allen tells us. Perhaps other entities can also use the doors of Walpurgnisnacht to move between the spheres – it’s in May that Professor Peaslee is taken by the Great Race of Yith, and he begins to have cogent dreams about his abduction in the same month a few years later.

A few other Lovecraftian dates:

  • February 2nd – The Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas, “which the folk of Dunwich observe by another name”. It’s the date of Wilbur Whateley’s birth; also the Roman feast of Lupercalia, with its associations of fertility and beasts.
  • February 28th – The anniversary of the rise of R’lyeh in 1925. Presumably, as the orbit of the Earth around the sun brings our world back to roughly the same star-configuration, it might be possible for Great Cthulhu’s call to be heard more clearly on this auspicious date.
  • August 1st – Lammas Night, a festival celebrating the harvest. Also the night on which old Wizard Whateley passed away. Did he linger long enough to find some door into the outer sphere, where the whippoorwills couldn’t catch him?
  • October 31st – All Hallows’ Eve: Obviously, lots of spooky connections here. Notably in the Mythos, it’s the other date that the Innsmouth sacrifices are made. Wilbur Whateley makes cryptic expeditions into the hills on this date, too.
  • December 21st – Yuletide, “Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind,” as The Festival puts it.

 

Festivals in Your Games

Tying events to a particular anniversary can be a handy trick in a Trail of Cthulhu scenario. The classic is “the cult’s summoning ritual can only be performed on Lammas Night” or whatever seasonally appropriate date you prefer, giving the investigators a hard deadline – if they don’t thwart the cult before then, the world is doomed. Another option is to use a festival as the inciting event for the scenario – if the killings start on May 2nd, then maybe something crept through into our reality when the veil was thin on Walpurgnisnacht, and now it’s up to the investigators to track it down. You can also use a seasonal ‘window’ for a survival-horror game, where the challenge is simply escaping the monster until the date changes and the stars are no longer right. Maybe a bunch of investigators in the wilderness run into Ithaqua on the Yuletide, and need to survive until dawn on December 22nd. Astronomy or Occult Studies can clue investigators in to the celestial connotations of a date.

Finally, don’t neglect obscure festivals and feast-days as inspiration. The Wikipedia page for a particular day is a great tool for bisociation – for example, a quick scroll of the April 30th page gives us both Operation MINCEMEAT and St. Adjutor, the patron saint of boaters and the drowned. What else did the Seraph dump in the sea on Walpurgisnacht? In whose name did she make offerings?

In the autumn of 1967, a highway patroller radios in a report of a multi-vehicle automobile collision just outside of Ipswich, Massachusetts, on the Great Arkham Highway.

There’s no such road.

Over the next few days – before DELTA GREEN closes down the area – there are more reports of strange incidents. A motorist is stopped by a pair of gas-masked officers who demand to check her vehicle for ‘contamination’, and spray her with an unknown chemical. A delivery truck crashes, spilling its cargo across the road – a cargo of devices that look like radios, but don’t function according to any known laws of physics. A customer at a roadside diner finds a copy of a tourist guide, left behind by some other traveller, describing good places to eat in the city of Great Arkham. A naturalist observes a flock of wild geese take flight across the grey sky, only to vanish in mid-air.

And across North America, a whole host of people – artists, poets, aesthetes, dreamers, sensitive souls – suddenly start making offhand references to the city of Great Arkham, as if it’s always been there, to be mentioned in the same breath as Boston or Chicago.

A portal to another reality has opened, only it’s not in some distant Antarctic plateau or deep in the trackless sands of the desert, it’s right in the middle of New England.

They’ve codenamed it YANKEE IREM.

 

The House on Castle Hill

In this Fall of Delta Green/Cthulhu City crossover campaign, the player characters are DELTA GREEN agents assigned to investigate and contain the situation. It’s one of the largest operations DELTA GREEN’s ever undertaken; the cover story is that it’s a military exercise designed to test civilian readiness for a Soviet atomic attack, hence the area around the breach has been evacuated (bar a few stubborn or isolated holdouts). An operational headquarters has been established at the stately home on Castle Hill outside Ipswich, under the command of Colonel Michael Kerovouri (FoDG, p. 163). As the campaign begins, teams have sealed off the major routes in and out of YANKEE IREM, and are getting ready to insert the first exploratory teams into the portals. The top priority: ensuring that whatever alien force has taken over a chunk of American soil about three miles in diameter doesn’t expand its foothold.

Inside YANKEE IREM is the city of Great Arkham, as described in Cthulhu City. There are only a handful of portals in and out of the city – some of the roads out of Great Arkham go to the version of the United States the characters came from, and others… go elsewhere. Once inserted into the city, the characters need to ensure they have lines of communication and retreat back to their entry point, or they may be trapped in this otherworld forever. The ‘ordinary’ people of Great Arkham take to the intrusion of mysterious federal agents into their city in the same way they take to the intrusion of other mysterious, sinister, oppressive forces – with dogged ignorance and resignation. However, on the other side of the portal, the characters must also deal with an influx of individuals ‘called’ by the city, reporters and upset citizens trying to get answers about the duration and extent of the ‘military exercise’ and the growing number of portals between Great Arkham and our reality. The alien city’s grasp on our universe is strengthening…

Some Horrible Revelations

  • Isaac Vorsht (Cthulhu City, 124) claims to be a DELTA GREEN Agent, who was investigating strange events in the ruins of Innsmouth before the city swallowed him. However, the program has no knowledge of him.
  • The Black Stone Towers (CC, 18) appear in advance of any expansion of the city into our reality. They appear overnight, as if they’ve always been there, and then over the course of the next few days, the YANKEE IREM zone expands around the cyclopean marker.
  • As YANKEE IREM infiltrates our reality, it begins to infect history, changing the past. References to the city start appearing in old history books and newspapers; people start recalling their own histories differently, incorporating the strange city into their recollections. Railway tracks and old roads sprout like tendrils, looking to connect the city with Boston and other towns in the area as it’s always been there.
  • The cloudy skies above Great Arkham are full of strange lights and glimpses of mysterious objects – and given the increasing scale of the threat, Colonel Kerovouri can hardly afford to turn down help from MAJESTIC.
  • Some of the citizens of Great Arkham are people from ‘our’ reality, residents of the coastal area consumed by the city who got rewritten in accordance with the ‘new’ history – but there are millions more living in the city. Do they have counterparts in our reality? Might there be alternate versions of the Agents living in Great Arkham? Or are the inhabitants of the strange city unique, another branch of humanity living in some alternate reality? Are they human, or body-snatching aliens wearing masks of flesh?
  • To stop the city’s expansion, the Agents must identify the Openers and Closers (CC p. 40) and ensuring Closing wins, cutting YANKEE IREM off from our reality once more.

 

 

The modern age began with Enlightenment, and Enlightenment exposed the darkness.

The time is the 18th century, and the place is Britain – a land just discovering new sciences and creating new technologies. But these new sciences discover mind-shattering truths; the age of the Earth, the impermanence of living species, the sheer scale of the universe. And beyond these truths, of course, is the Mythos.

“The greater is the circle of light, the greater is the boundary of the darkness by which it is confined.”

– Joseph Priestley, Lunar Society member

But when the new sciences of the age unsettle the minds of the nation and unleash dark forces, the governing classes may not handle it well. They are wedded to old ways and old lies. Investigators seeking to deal with terrible new discoveries and ancient insanities need a different sort of sponsor.

Meet the Lunar Society, a dining club of natural philosophers, industrialists, and radical intellectuals, the embodiment of the Enlightenment. They have wealth, knowledge, and principles, so when they or their friends stumble across evils needing to be contained, who better to organise a response?

Boundary of the Darkness is an 18th century campaign frame for Trail of Cthulhu by Phil Masters, and includes:

  • An introduction to 18th century Britain, and the many revolutions, dark secrets, and conflicts of the age.
  • Biographical notes on Lunar Society members and other useful GMCs, including some of Britain’s greatest doctors, natural philosophers, and engineers.
  • Character creation notes, including new and revised Occupations and Abilities.
  • Period equipment and weapons.
  • An introduction to troupe play in Trail of Cthulhu.
  • Notes on how to use a wide variety of Mythos monsters in play, and also ideas for non-Mythos adventures in service to the Lunar Society.
  • An introductory scenario – “A Spirit Out of Time”, in which the PCs receive just a hint of what the Age of Discovery might uncover.

So buckle on a brace of pistols, and make ready to carry Enlightenment to the very boundary of the darkness!

Status: In development

“He had lately become a devotee of the William Mortensen school of photography. Mortensen, of course, is the leading exponent of fantasy in photography; his monstrosities and grotesques are widely known.”

— Robert Bloch, “The Sorcerer’s Jewel” (1939)

William H. Mortensen, the “leading exponent of fantasy in photography,” was born in Park City, Utah in 1897 to Danish immigrants. In high school he caught the drawing bug from his art teacher, James Taylor Harwood, who attended the Académie Julian (1888-1890) and the Beaux-Arts (1890-1892) in Paris, his time at those schools overlapping as it happens with Robert W. Chambers.

Drafted into and released from the Army in 1918, Mortensen stayed in New York to study at the Art Students League in New York City under George Bridgman (another Chambers overlap, at the Beaux-Arts from 1883-1889). He left art school on an impulsive trip to Greece in 1920, returned broke, and after a year teaching art himself in Salt Lake City moved to Hollywood in 1921 as a chaperon for his 14-year-old fellow Utahan Fay Wray.

Incubus, by William Mortensen (1925). Model unknown, but probably not a dimensional shambler

While keeping Fay out of trouble and getting her into pictures, he worked with the directors King Vidor and Ferdinand Pinney Earle as a matte painter, and then on costume design with Cecil B. DeMille on his Ten Commandments (1923) then (as his photography business expanded) as a still photographer on King of Kings (1927). He designed masks for and learned makeup from Lon Chaney, Sr., with whom he worked on Mr. Wu (1927) and West of Zanzibar (1928).

Following a scandal exacerbated by Fay Wray’s mother, a brief dalliance with Jean Harlow, and the not-unrelated destruction of his marriage he leaves Hollywood for Laguna Beach in 1931. There he opens the Mortensen School of Photography, marries one of his longtime models Myrdith Monaghan in 1933, and breeds Persian Blue cats. Even at that remove, he retains his cachet with Hollywood: his 1941 photograph of aspiring actress Martha Vickers gets her a contract at RKO without a screen test. His Hollywood photographs regularly appear in Vanity Fair and Colliers, he writes a column for LA Weekly, he mounts exhibitions as far away as London.

In the 1930s, Mortensen reigns as the king of the “Pictorialist” school of photography, pioneering techniques of photo-manipulation with lenses and razors to create bizarre and impossible images, and defending his principles in books like Monsters & Madonnas (1934) and The Command to Look (1937). His success with the grotesque and unreal sparks the hatred of Ansel Adams and the “Purist” photographers of the f.64 movement. Adams despises Mortensen and everything he stands for: wishing him dead in print, calling him “the Devil” and “the Anti-Christ.”

Perhaps Adams fixates on those terms thanks to Mortensen’s series of photographs depicting witches, demons, and monsters. Mortensen begins what he calls his “Pictorial History of Witchcraft and Demonology” around 1926, continuing it through at least 1935. He consults with his friend the occultist Manly P. Hall on the topic, freely borrowing from Hall’s library of 20,000 mystical tomes. At some point in the late 1930s he suddenly stops creating grotesques, switching almost entirely to nudes and rural workers (sometimes clad in Renaissance garb) as his subjects. At least a third of the approximately 150 images he created for his witchcraft and demonology series have disappeared.

The Shadows From the Shutter

“That is why the beings cannot be photographed on the ordinary camera films and plates of our known universe, even though our eyes can see them. With proper knowledge, however, any good chemist could make a photographic emulsion which would record their images.”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

Adams’ enmity, and changing public tastes, eventually drove Mortensen into obscurity and penury. On August 12, 1965, William Mortensen dies of a nosocomial infection in the La Jolla hospital while undergoing treatment for leukemia. Myrdith sends a file of his negatives, prints, and scrapbooks to small time Hollywood publisher O. Howard Lucy (b. 1900?); he publishes botched editions of Monsters & Madonnas and The Command to Look in 1967.

And at some point, DELTA GREEN hears rumors about “The Last Mortensens,” a series of pictures briefly offered to collectors in the late 1950s. Supposedly the culmination of his “History of Witchcraft and Demonology,” taken in 1937 or thereabouts, they depict his most grotesque images yet: thoroughly alien shapes and beings in stark silver-gelatin prints. Perhaps a dead occultist (stumbled over or produced in the course of a previous investigation) has one print, and his eager letters point to more out there.

The Agents head for California, to interview Myrdith: she claims she only got half the material back from Lucy. Lucy says he gave it to his photographer partner Jacques de Langre (b. 1925), a lecturer on alternative healing and enthusiast for the magical powers of salt. De Langre claims he returned everything to Myrdith’s “intermediary,” who may never have existed. Manly P. Hall (b. 1901), an increasingly grumpy and neglected guru in Los Feliz, happily discusses Mortensen’s theories and learning but likely has no lead on a missing folio.

The Agents might also look up Mortensen’s old friend, model, and collaborator on his books, the former stage actor and director George Dunham, currently living in Corona del Mar. Or they might be attracted to the rumor that San Francisco magician and publicity hound Anton LaVey uses insights from The Command to Look to develop the “lesser magic” and psychological manipulation core to his new Church of Satan. (LaVey dedicates the 1969 edition of The Satanic Bible to, among others, “William Mortensen, who looked … and saw.”)

Another lead (via the dead occultist or a LaVey hanger-on) points to another interesting Mortensen collector: the psychic investigator Hereward Carrington (1880-1958). When the Agents go to his home in L.A., they discover that his widow Marie keeps Carrington’s immense collection of journals and photographs intact as an archive. Has it been robbed? Who can tell? What other secrets does it hold?

Perhaps it holds the patchy records of Carrington’s work with a band of Investigators in the late 1930s who selflessly rescued renowned photographer William Mortensen from the hideous Things he had unwittingly called up with the angles and alchemies of his lenses and emulsions. Shaken, he resolves to abandon grotesquerie and return to Myrdith. But, bitter and impoverished twenty years later, he made one last set of prints for a few rich and eminent collectors …

Fall of DELTA GREEN Handlers can riff on “From Beyond,” “The Trap,” and “The Whisperer in Darkness,” and on the images of monsters retained in glass in “The Unnamable,” for that prequel Trail of Cthulhu adventure. Did Mortensen learn these hypergeometric techniques in Greece, and Carcosan ratios from Chambers’ friends? Did he find unnatural clues in Manly Hall’s library, or in a Hollywood horrorist’s drunken rant? This works even better if you ask the players to describe the photos when their Agents find them in the 1960s (“oh, it’s a boiling sphere covered in eyes”). Then, in the 1930s, their Investigators have to face those unnamable models from their own imagination – and save Mortensen from them.


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article originally appeared in an earlier iteration of See Page XX in June 2008. You can find James’s soundtrack work for Trail of Cthulhu here, for Night’s Black Agents here, and for Esoterrorists here.

by James Semple

James Semple has written the Trail of Cthulhu Theme to go with his inter-scene stings. He’ll be producing an album of Trail music including themes background music and possibly sound effects for Trail and Esoterrorists.

Let us know what you think:


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in February 2008. 


You can also read Simon’s articles on 1930s Rail Transport and 1930s Air Transport.

an article for Trail of Cthulhu by Simon Carryer

While by the 1930s, diesel engines were revolutionising rail transport, and giving birth to a burgeoning flight industry, on the sea and on rivers, steam was still king. Unlike with trains and aircraft, large ships remained in service for decades, meaning that many of the ships that transported passengers of the 1930s were built as early as the 1850s, and some ships built in the 1930s remain in service today.

The steam turbine, first turned to use in seagoing vessels in 1897, was able to produce far more power than a traditional reciprocating steam engine. By the 1930s, all large ships were being built with such engines, allowing unprecedented speeds. For ships built in the thirties, the most popular fuel for running the boilers was no longer coal, but fuel oil. This meant that modern ships could run with a much smaller crew than earlier vessels. A typical small passenger steamer would have no more than a dozen crewmen, including a few stewards and cooks for the care of passengers. Larger vessels of course could have hundreds of crewmen (The Queen Mary, launched in 1936, had over a thousand), and were almost like floating towns, the crew forming their own community below decks.

Steam ships were used to ferry passengers between all major sea ports, and most navigable rivers were also serviced by ship. Such ships came in all shapes and sizes, from tiny paddle steamers, which could carry no more than a dozen passengers, to more modern screw driven steamers, which could carry hundreds of passengers in total luxury. The variety, diversity, and ubiquity of steam ships through the decade makes a detailed description by area almost impossible. It can be assumed that for most regions throughout the 1930s, if the region was accessible by water, and had any kind of population, then a steam ship would go there.

Passengers on ships in the 1930s could come from any walk of life. Immigrants to the USA (less common in the 1930s than in previous decades) would pack into giant transatlantic steamers, while more wealthy passengers could enjoy hotel-like conditions in first-class cabins. Outside America, river networks were frequently the backbone of trade in developing nations, and such rivers were packed with ships carrying all kinds of passenger, from native labourers to wealthy foreign investors.

Transatlantic

For the duration of the 1930s, passenger travel across the Atlantic was conducted almost exclusively by sea. Whether travelling in the greatest luxury, or sweltering in steerage class, anyone wanting to travel between America and Europe would almost certainly do so by sea.

Following WWI, several of the largest German “superliners” (large ships designed and used for transatlantic passenger shipping) were transferred to America and Britain as war reparations. Of these, the Mauretania – the holder of the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing for a twenty-year stretch ending in 1929 – is surely the most well known. Under new management, these huge ships continued to serve the transatlantic route. Travel aboard such vessels was glamorous and popular for many passengers the journey, and the style in which that journey was conducted, was as important as the destination. For first class passengers, the experience can best be compared to a modern cruise ship: meals, entertainment, sightseeing and socialising were all taken care of by the ships’ staff.

By contrast, the conditions experienced by passengers in steerage (the hold of the ship) could be miserable. Before the United States closed its borders in the 1920s, immigrants to America would sleep packed together like cattle, eating a common meal that was described as frequently almost inedible.

New ships built in the thirties achieved even greater speeds. Two German ships, the Bremen (named after its home port) and the Europa were the first to challenge the Mauretania‘s dominance, but throughout the decade the Blue Riband continued to change hands. The ships competed not only for speed, but also for glamour. With the transatlantic route no longer dominated by immigration to the United States, ships built in the thirties were designed as much for elegance as for speed. Competition was fierce, as several of the largest companies (including White Star, of Titanic fame) were operating at a loss for the first half of the decade.

The Arctic

From the 1860s onwards, steam powered icebreaker ships were developed, which allowed unprecedented exploration of the Arctic. Icebreaker ships rely on speed and strength to run their bow up onto a sheet of ice, and then break down through it. Steam power proved ideal for such a task. It was not until the start of the 20th century, however, that such ships saw regular service. The Klondike gold rush caused a surge in Arctic exploration. Union Steam Ships, with their characteristic black and red funnels, regularly serviced the Canadian and Alaskan coasts, even running tourist cruises from warmer southern ports into the frozen north.

Tramp Steamers:

With few regulations, large profits to be made, and steam ships becoming ever more ubiquitous and affordable, the thirties saw a proliferation of small-scale operations. None were more small-scale than the tramp steamer. Operating as a one-ship company, tramp steamers worked to no fixed schedule, going wherever there was money to be made. In the colonies, a great deal of shipping was conducted by tramp steamer, rather than by regular lines. While most tramp steamers were freight ships, they would not have turned down paying passengers, and indeed anyone with sufficient finances could charter a steamer to almost anywhere in the world.

Operating on a shoe-string budget, and often dodging regulations and taxation, tramp steamers often existed in a grey area on the edge of civilisation, and the law. The crews of such vessels could hail from any country, and tramp steamers often hired crew who could not find work elsewhere. Tramp steamers were romanticised even in their own time as an adventurous lifestyle, and they were the setting of many a pulp novel. While the reality was frequently much more mundane, tramp steamers were still an exciting part of the decade.

Adventure Seeds

A Cult Afloat: The crews of tramp steamers were often drawn from the most remote and exotic ports, and lived their lives isolated from normal conventions or authorities. In such circumstances, the worship of strange ancient gods could take hold among a crew, who due to their itinerant lifestyle could commit all kinds of awful crimes without discovery. There are still many unexplored or forgotten places left in the world, accessible only by sea, and such places could be a haven for such cults. Worse, in the holds of giant passenger liners, crews might spend weeks or months at sea. Miles from land, the passengers would be at the mercy of whatever unspeakable ritual the cultists wished to perform.

The Ghost Ship: Stories of ships found drifting, seemingly abandoned, and yet perfectly seaworthy, have chilled sailors since the discovery of the Mary Celeste in 1872. Such a mystery could attract significant interest from investigators, and if the ship’s route could be determined, an expedition might be launched to discover the fate of the crew. If such a voyage lead into dangerous, uncharted, or infrequently travelled waters, a party of hearty souls would be required for the job.

Strange Visitors: The US and Great Britain were paying increasing attention to border customs and immigration during the thirties, but smuggling remained rife. Criminal organizations that had cut their teeth in the prohibition era remained in operation, smuggling more illicit goods. Eldritch substances in the wrong hands could find their way onto the streets, as a new kind of drug. Worse, with the US imposing ever stricter regulations on immigration, the thirties saw the birth of people-smuggling into the United States. An old-world cult, or some degenerate tribe from the colonies, could find entrance to the States through one of the many ports along its coastline.

Related Links


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in February 2008.


Media composer James Semple has created some musical stings for use with Trail of Cthulhu. James has worked with Cthulhu before (in a manner of speaking), creating the intro to the excellent Yog Radio, and he composed a Trail of Cthulhu soundtrack and effect album. Several years after this post originally appeared, he also composed our Night’s Black Agents soundtrack. For Robin D. Laws’ article on using musical stings in GUMSHOE, check out “Sting, Sting, Sting.”

by James Semple

Strange Meetings

This is a tension/anticipation piece inspired by the music of classic horror films. I would use it when introducing a new element in a game: an important NPC, a new location, perhaps even arriving at a railway station or port and seeing your mode of transport for the first time.

Curiouser and Curiouser

Although slightly anxious, I feel that this music neither raises nor lowers the tension. It’s definitely transition music introducing a change of scene, especially with time passing (e.g. …and the next day).

The Big Reveal

This is more than a cliche, it’s practically mandatory! This is definitely the music to use when the bad thing happens: it could be the villain unmasked or it could simply be that the group hear terrible news.

…And So On

A very short sting. Definitely a default transition. It doesn’t really imply much other than a vaguely sinister mood.


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

“When you ask who built this mound, the only answer is the echo of your own question within the vault that has been hidden in darkness within this mound for no one knows how many centuries. The dead past has surely buried its dead within the mound.”

— artifact collector J.G. Braecklein, quoted in the Kansas City Star (Dec. 15, 1935)

In August of 1935, John Hobbs of the Pocola Mining Company broke into the sealed chamber beneath Craig Mound, near Spiro in eastern Oklahoma. He and his comrades discovered dozens, possibly hundreds of burials, accompanied by thousands of inscribed conch shells, effigies, arrowheads, ceremonial weapons, copper plates, and cloaks, along with bushel baskets of beads, pearls, and copper needles. Hobbs and his crew were on Craig Mound legally — they had leased it from the owner — but not in it legally, Oklahoma having just passed its first antiquities act in July to prevent exactly this kind of thing from happening. Hobbs and the Pocola Miners became simultaneously the discoverers of the greatest archaeological trove in North American history and the linchpins of the “pot-hunting” community. American archaeologists, then and now, call anyone who digs up Native artifacts without a doctorate “pot-hunters,” a term just a notch above “grave-robbers.” (Native Americans, then and now, often don’t see what difference a doctorate makes to the grave robbery.) But in the pit of the Depression, pot hunting put food in, well, your pot.

Hobbs and team at Spiro (Leviathan, not pictured)

Their iffy legal status, and the huge supply of artifacts, drove the Pocola diggers to unload priceless items for a few dollars, supercharging the market for the next decade. Dealers from Arkansas just across the border such as Joe Balloun, Goodrich Pilquist, and H.T. Daniel arrived on the site just after Hobbs did, in late 1933, buying pots and arrowheads turned up in smaller mounds nearby for fast cash with no records kept. Other dealers arrived after the news broke in August 1935, carting away literal carloads of artifacts to Chicago, Ohio, New York, and anywhere else they could sell them.

Artifacts moved from the diggers to the dealers to the collectors. In the 1930s, collecting Native American artifacts was a huge hobby; almost every boy had a few arrowheads in a cigar box. The monthly magazine Hobbies: A Magazine For Collectors ran a column called “Around the Mounds” about American archaeology, and filled its classifieds with ads for “Indian relics.” On another level, the architect J.G. Braecklein and his friendly rival Harry Trowbridge assembled museum-sized collections in their Kansas City houses; Colonel Fain White King did likewise in his Kentucky mansion. All three became major bidders for Spiro relics. Glen Groves of Chicago headed the North American Indian Relic Collectors’ Association, and became a major middleman between the local dealers and the Smithsonian. Even actual archaeologists like Robert Bell and Sam Dellinger of the University of Arkansas lowered themselves to buy from the pot-hunters. The University of Oklahoma partnered up with oilmen, who siphoned off prize specimens for their own private museums in Tulsa and Bartlesville.

“They were very curious, these open-air ghost tales; and though they sounded flat and prosaic in the mouths of the white people, they had earmarks of linkage with some of the richest and obscurest phases of native mythology. All of them were woven around the vast, lonely, artificial-looking mounds in the western part of the state, and all of them involved apparitions of exceedingly strange aspect and equipment.”

— H.P. Lovecraft with Zealia Bishop, “The Mound”

Although Spiro is all the way across the state from Lovecraft’s Ghost Mound in Binger, the mighty underground empire of K’n-yan surely flung its tendrils at least as far as the Arkansas River. The Caddos and Wichitas of “The Mound” are, per current anthropological consensus (and Oklahoma state law), the heirs to the fourteenth-century Caddoan-speaking builders of the Spiro mound complex. Said consensus also identifies the Spiro builders as priest-kings of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC), what an earlier generation of archaeologists dubbed the Southern Death Cult. That religion focused on a war between Overworld and Underworld, the latter personified by a Great Chaos Serpent that also eerily resembled a black panther. This conflation of Yig and Tsathoggua (or Tirawa, as the also-Caddoan Pawnee knew him) may explain the “black drink” ceremony of the SECC. Following the pearls, conch shells, and other aquatic artifacts of this inland empire logically points us toward the Tulu Indians, also called the Coligua, now known as the Tunica. Their language is not Caddoan but an isolate, and the Coligua-Tulu spent much of their history the irrational targets of their neighbors’ rage as they moved from the Spiro area down the Arkansas River valley and south to Louisiana.

When whoever the Spiro builders were finished Craig Mound around 1420, it had been almost exclusively used as a necropolis for a century or more. Abandoned shortly thereafter, it remained completely deserted. The Caddoans left it very much alone, and the transplanted Choctaws refused to go near it, settling their slaves in the mound country after Emancipation forced them to provide them land. As in Lovecraft’s tale, ghost sightings proliferated near the mounds. There was even a “curse of Spiro Mound” of a sort, as the Poteau lawyer who provided the Pocola Mining Company its paperwork, the young co-owner of the mound James Craig, and the Reverend R.W. Wall (one of the Pocola investors, and a respected Black minister) all died within three years of the chamber opening. Craig died of tuberculosis, and Wall drowned in a suspiciously shallow stream.

Was someone — or Something — closing off loose ends? Was there a dealer in Arkansas — or a dealer-collector team — who recognized the significance of the “black residue” in the conch shell cups, the eye-in-hand motifs on certain gorgets, the Signs of the Spider and Swastika incised into stone pipes? Are your Trail of Cthulhu Investigators scrabbling to uncover the missing “copper box holding surgical tools” that vanished from the dig tent, or to destroy utterly the “eight-foot giant in armor” that local rumor claimed to have seen in the hills? Are they perpetrating, or penetrating, the forgeries that abounded around the site? And was it they who, just as the Pocola Mining Company lease expired on November 27, 1935, set off an immense black powder charge within the burial chamber, collapsing a third of the mound and destroying everything remaining inside it? Or maybe destroying just one, very old Thing …


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in December 2007. 


You can find Simon’s previous article on Air Transport in the 1930s here, and Sea Transport in the 1930s here.

an article for Trail of Cthulhu by Simon Carryer

The 1930’s was a period of great innovation in rail technology. The steam locomotive, having dominated overland transport for almost a century, was for the first time challenged by alternative modes, most significantly in the form of the automobile, and the diesel locomotive. Technology developed for the war was rapidly turned to civilian purposes, and rail transport was no exception. The replacement of old manual semaphore signals with automatic electric signals significantly reduced the manpower required for the operation of a railway, while increasing speeds and efficiency. A new understanding of streamlining, adapted from aircraft technology, lead to groundbreaking increases in top speeds, while the ubiquity of rail travel saw it become less a luxury, and more an everyday occurrence. Of course, these developments were not implemented at once all over the world. Even in Britain and North America, where most of the innovation was happening, the long service life of steam trains meant that new technology was slow to be implemented, Indeed, it was in developing countries where the new technologies were often most successfully employed. Advances in engineering made possible rail routes that were previously unthinkable, and a rush to exploit the resources of these nations made such routes extremely lucrative.

The rail traveller of the nineteen thirties was as likely to be a wealthy first-class passenger on a sight-seeing trip as a worker on a daily commute. Standards of luxury varied immensely, from dining cars as plush as any hotel suite, to trucks little more furnished than a cattle car. For most routes, the option of first-class travel was available. Long distance first-class travellers could expect a full meal service, and a sleeper cabin, to be shared with at most one other passenger.

The character of rail transport, both in the comfort for the traveller, and the speed and availability of passage, varied enormously between countries. Below is a broad outline of some national trends.

North America

Hit hard by the Depression, challenged by burgeoning numbers of automobiles, and left in poor shape after government management during the war, North American rail networks were for the first time struggling to make ends meet. The answer was modernization. One of the first diesel-powered passenger trains, the Zephyr, cut the record time for the 1,015 mile journey between Denver and Chicago almost in half on its maiden trip in 1934. With its aerodynamic, stainless-steel look, the Zephyr was an influence on the design of architecture, consumer goods, and other vehicles. The modernization of North America’s rail networks led to a reinvigoration of the industry, and soon the States’ railways were an economic success once again.

Africa

The exploitation of the vast natural resources of the African continent was enormously expedited by the development of rail networks throughout the 1930’s. Though extracting Africa’s natural wealth was a task begun decades earlier, by the 1930’s railways were still being built, working towards the dream of an Africa-wide rail network. During the decade, the journey from Cairo to the Cape was never possible to achieve exclusively by rail. Though there were extensive rail lines in both the north and south of the continent, these tracks were not connected during the 30s.

In the southern part of the continent, the major western trading port of Lobito was connected across the spine of Africa, through Portugese West Africa, through the copper fields of the Belgian Congo, on to Bulawayo. From there the track diverged, travelling east to the seaport of Beira, or south to Cape Town.

While for the most part African rail was dedicated to the transport of freight, and spared little for the comfort of passengers, the express service between Cape Town and Johannesburg was considered one of the most luxurious in the British Empire. It featured a magnificent dining car, with seating for 46, and an observation coach at the rear of the train. The passenger was able to take a shower, and have shoes and clothes cleaned, all aboard the train.

Trains were often used for the transport of diamonds, and extreme precautions were taken to safeguard the cargo. Safes were built raised from the floor of the van, with a clear view all around the carriage.

In North Africa, the rail network was less sophisticated, and frequent changes between various gauges, or to overcome natural obstacles, were common. In several instances, the distance between each length of track was significant, and had to be completed by boat, by truck, or even by foot. Journeys by rail in North Africa, while sometimes perilous, and certainly falling short of the standard of luxury expected by American or British travellers, would afford the traveller unique views of wildlife, Roman ruins and ancient temples.

Europe

Of all the European railways, and indeed of all the railways in the world, it was Europe’s Orient Express that was the most famous of the decade. Running from Calais to Bucharest, and passing through France, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania, the Orient Express was popular both with tourists and with everyday travellers. Prior to 1935, the Express carried only first-class passengers, as was normal for many of Europe’s most prestigious lines. Subsequently, however, several standard-fare coaches were included on many stretches of the route, catering to the more mundane local traffic. By the end of the decade, as with most rail routes, first class was considered a Òfancy extra” to normal, second-class travel.

For first-class passengers, the Orient Express was a magnificent journey through foreign lands, conducted in the height of luxury. Conductors would attend to the needs of the passengers diligently, not only making up beds and serving food, but also preparing the documents of travellers so they might cross the borders of the many countries the Express visited in their sleep, without being disturbed.

Also of note in Europe was the Trans-Siberian Express, even in the Thirties famed among travellers as a unique way to see Russia and the near East. Russian trains were in many ways different from those of Europe and Britain. Most obviously, their gauge was much wider, allowing the coaches to be built very wide, and very tall. To protect from the Russian cold, most trains, and event the gaps between cars were completely enclosed.

While popular with tourists, the Trans-Siberian was also a vital part of domestic Russian travel, and the foreign tourist was likely to be accompanied by many diverse travellers from all across Russia and Europe. In recently Communist Russia, “class” was a forbidden word, and hence “first class” and “second-class” tickets were unavailable. Instead, cars were designated as “hard” or “soft”, with accompanying differences in price and comfort. “Hard” cars were lined with bunk-beds, and lit exclusively by candles, while passengers in “soft” cars could enjoy more modern comforts.

China

The development of rail networks was met by fierce opposition from the Chinese public, as well as from Chinese government. Construction encountered numerous difficulties, from flooding and mudslides, to the many ancient gravesites that had to be avoided. Chinese railways often took circuitous routes to avoid such locations, and in mountainous areas, which comprised a large portion of the total network, tunnelling was preferred to blasting areas of hillside, for the reason that it was less likely to disturb such ancient burials. In many cases, especially following deaths of workers, irate locals would tear up tracks, in an attempt to forestall construction. European interests in China were relentless, however, and even within China there were many rail supporters. A great many of China’s railways were developed by foreign powers, for the purposes of furthering their industrial endeavours in China. As such, passenger services within China were of a completely different standard than elsewhere in the world. Chinese workers often travelled in unfurnished cars with open tops, exposed to the elements. Tourists were not unheard of, however, and several passenger cars of a type more familiar to foreign travellers operated between major centres.

South America

South America, with its many mountains, rivers, and swamps, was for a long time considered an impossible location for rail engineering. Technological advances in the 30’s however made possible feats of engineering that made large parts of the continent suddenly accessible by rail. It was not possible to travel the length of the country by rail, and indeed there was no rail route between North and South America in the thirties. The longest stretch of unbroken track ran the length of the coast of Chile.

The transit of the Andes, vital to South American trade, was completed by rail in 1908, but the route was not commercially viable until the development of more efficient steam locomotives enabled significant loads to be carried up the steep grades. The route, between Buenos Ares, and Valparaiso, Chile, climbs to over 10,000 feet above sea level.

Adventure Seeds

Long Buried: The incursion of railways into mountainous territory necessitated tunnel building on a previously unheard of scale. In South America, India, China, and many parts of Europe, the construction of alpine railways required tunnelling deep into the rock. Who knows what dark temples, long hidden from the sight of Man lie with these mountains, or what ancient horrors, working in secret, might be exposed by such diggings? What of the modern-day scions of such ancient cults? What would they do to preserve these long-forgotten secrets? Engineering crews would work isolated from settlements by many miles, often the very railway they were constructing was their only link to civilisation. A construction company might not look too carefully into the disappearance of a crew of native workers, if it could mean the delay of construction.

Strange Bedfellows: On long rail journeys passengers would often find themselves spending large amounts of time with relative strangers. In more exotic locales, this could mean rubbing shoulders with the strangest of people. In Russia, it was common for complete strangers, even of the opposite sex, to share a room. With journeys taking days, and often weeks, all manner of activity could arise. Passing between many different countries meant that trains, and the people on them, were very difficult to police. If some awful crime were committed aboard a train, especially if the crime had aspects of the supernatural, it might be left to the passengers of the train to discover the culprit, if local police forces proved too fearful or corrupt. Suspicion would quickly fall upon those passengers whose native customs or oddities of dress distinguished them from their fellows. However, even the most normal appearance might hide dark secrets.

Stranded: Railways would often pass through miles of the most inhospitable territory, often going for days without seeing another road or track. If some mechanical fault were to cause a train to stop, it might be days before the train was missed, and longer still before help could be mustered. In this intervening time, the passengers would be left to their own devices. For a small group of passengers on a train dedicated mainly to freight, such as was common in Africa and South America, such a time could become a nightmare of hunger and apprehension. What if there was some hint that the malfunction was caused by human hand? For what dark purpose could someone want to strand a group of people deep in the wilderness?

Bibliography


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in October 2007. 

An Interview with writer Kenneth Hite

Kenneth Hite is designing Trail of Cthulhu – a licensed version of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. Here, Ken answers questions posed by our redoubtable forum members.

1. How will sanity and madness be handled- especially as they relate to the fairly strong link in Lovecraft’s fiction between Finding Things Out and Going Crackers. Might sanity be treated as a resource that can be used up to help in an investigation? Or rather, less cynically, will there be some (perhaps dubious) advantage or beneficial side-effect in losing sanity?

In Trail of Cthulhu, Sanity is separate from the GUMSHOE trait Stability. Sanity measures your ability to believe in limited human reality; Stability is a mental health rating. (Dr. Armitage, from”Dunwich Horror,” has a very low Sanity, but a fairly high Stability,for example.) Using your Cthulhu Mythos skill helps with an investigation, but such “piecing together of dissociated knowledge”costs Sanity, and potentially Stability as well.

2. Will there be an introduction adventure included in the book as with the “Esoterrorists” and “GuH” book?

There will be an all-new introductory adventure in the Trail of Cthulhu core book.

3. Do you plan to include an default setting and background organization (a la Delta Green or Ordo Veritatis from Esoterrorists) or will it be a setting without background organization (like in CoC or GuH)?

My current plan is to include three separate narrative structures in the Trail of Cthulhu core book, and give some guidelines for constructing your own. Of course, Keepers and players will be welcome to follow the venerable Call of Cthulhu model of “you all meet at the reading of a will/museum opening/seance” if they like.

4. Will the book be written entirely from the viewpoint of those combating the unspeakable horrors or will there be focus on those who embrace the truth about Cthulhu & the mythos?

This book will be entirely about Investigators who discover, suffer from, and combat the horrors of the Mythos. Players who want to take the role of soulless inhuman monsters have a plenitude of other roleplaying choices in other roleplaying games.

5. Will the works of other Mythos writers such as Ramsey Campbell & August Derleth feature in or influence Trail of Cthulhu?

As with Call of Cthulhu , the entire Mythos will provide potential material for Trail of Cthulhu games. That said, the core ruleset will be primarily influenced by Lovecraft and Howard, with nods to otherwriters (I just wrote a fairly nice treatment of Campbell’s /Revelations of Glaaki/ if I do say so myself), including Derleth. The game is named after a Derleth story-cycle, after all, so it would be churlish to leave him out.

6. Do you think the Mythos has losts its power to inspire fear? Was the horror of the Mythos ever fully expressed in Call of Cthulhu?

The Mythos, like any other literary or artistic material, depends on the skill of its author and the acceptance of its audience for its power. This is true in roleplaying games as well as novels or short stories.The game Call of Cthulhu — SAN rewards, Elder Signs and all –expresses the maltheist, implacable core of the Mythos to a remarkable degree, and many of the published scenarios are quite terrifying to run or play. Assuming the Keeper is any good, and that the players aren’t being jerks, of course.

7. How much power do you think PCs should have over the Mythos? Will you present elder signs, for instance, as standard issue equipment or as arcane mysteries?

This is a Keeper call; the rules will support whichever flavor she wants for her game. We’re including special hard-core rules for Purists, and easier-going, more adventurous rules for Pulpier games. There will be Elder Signs in the game — they appear in Lovecraft, after all — but their narrative role and general availability is up to the Keeper.

8. You’ve said in the past that Call of Cthulhu is your favourite game. How will Trail of Cthulhu improve on CoC?

It won’t “improve on” Call of Cthulhu across the board; it will do some things more easily, and with a different feel or emphasis. The 1966 Shelby Mustang is my favorite car, but it’s not a particularly good SUV. Sashimi is my favorite food, but it’s not what I necessarily want for breakfast.

9. If I disagree with the central premise that Cthulhu (or investigation-centric) games have traditionally been stopped by a failed die roll, what else does GUMSHOE and Trail of Cthulhu offer me?

Trail of Cthulhu, specifically, offers you a number of interesting character filips, from core Drives (why are you in this ruined crypt,anyhow?) to personal Pillars of Sanity, as well as having my own delightful prose throughout. GUMSHOE, of course, offers an elegant, quick-to-learn ruleset focused for investigation and mystery narratives.

10. Are there any obscure corners of the Mythos you plan to give greating-than-usual attention (I hope)? If so, mind telling us which ones, or at least giving us a few hints to salivate over?

I think there’s plenty of interesting stuff we can do with some of the old standards yet, and hopefully my takes on Hastur, Nyarlathotep, andso forth will pique your saliva. That said, nobody ever seems to give Quachil Uttaus enough love.

11. Will this game have a grittier take on combat than Esoterrorists?

There will be a few new rules for combat in Trail of Cthulhu, covering Tommy guns, explosives, and other necessities of shoggoth-hunting, but in the main Esoterrorists combat system strikes me as admirably clean, staying out of my way while I’m trying to scare people half to death, so I’m sticking pretty closely to it.

12. Will Trail of Cthulhu give an overview of the Mythos, or will it be designed to focus on just a small slice?

The corebook will give an overview of the Mythos, although by now even focusing on Lovecraft’s creations is “just a small slice.”

13. Is Trail of Cthulhu designed to be a one-shot game or the first in a series of Cthulhu products?

All the plans I’m privy to indicate that Pelgrane intends to put out a series of products in the line, but Simon would be the person to ask about that.

[Ed: Ken, Robin Laws and others will be working on supplements for Trail of Cthulhu]

14. I’m partial to Robert E. Howard’s Cthulhu writings, so I was wondering if the game would be exclusive to Lovecraftian Cthulhu or if it would encompass parts of other writers as well?

A Cthulhu game without Robert E. Howard is like a day without sunshine.As I mentioned above, Trail of Cthulhu will have not just some of Howard’s monsters and tomes, but mechanical rules switches: flick them on to make the game feel more Pulpy and Howardian; leave them off for full-on tweedy collapse in Purist late-Lovecraft style.

14. Which period will this be set in? If you are thinking of Between the Wars, do you see a principal difference between 20’s and 30’s games? Will Gaslight or Modern be supported at all?

Trail of Cthulhu assumes a default setting of the 1930s, which was a darker, more desperate decade than the one before, what with the Depression, Hitler, Stalin, and so forth. Lovecraft’s stories begin to show the difference, and I’ll try to capture that difference in the setting material. I don’t know if Pelgrane intends to expand the line into other eras just yet, although adapting the ruleset to other decades should be fairly simple.

14. How does Gumshoe support period play? In other words, does Gumshoe allow modifications that can support different periods, or can Gumshoe be altered so that it actually enhances the period feel needed for a particular era?

Given the intentional compression of the GUMSHOE weapons table, the primary ways to alter setting feel mechanically are in the ability rules. In Trail of Cthulhu, the various abilities provide only period knowledge, of course. The Credit Rating ability can be used (if the Keeper so wishes) to enforce different social realities across decades. I think the biggest change is that Explosives has become a chancy General ability, not an automatic Investigative one. But really, the best way to support period feel is to write and run adventures dripping with it. That said, though, say good-bye to bulletproof vests!


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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