Origins 2017 – Cthulhu

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Our intrepid horror-gamer tackled a long weekend of Cthulhu-themed RPGs.  Did he escape with his sanity? ~

Avery Abernethy, 3 July 2017

H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and other horror stories were not very popular during his lifetime and he died a pauper. His heirs did not maintain the copyright to his works which made his stories and the world they inhabited common property for anyone who wished to use them. All of Lovecraft’s works can be obtained free in ebook format.
As Lovecraft’s works grew in popularity, many authors either wrote additional stories and books in this world or adapted his work into other series. Noteworthy examples are the Monster Hunter series by Larry Correia, Princess of Wands by John Ringo and The Laundry Files series by Charles Strauss.

Because the work is in the common domain, there are a lot of Cthulhu games, game systems, supplements and books. Two different RPG systems are based on the Cthulhu mythos (Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu). Many other game systems incorporate elements of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu world including Chill, GURPS Horror, and Munchkin Cthulhu to name but a few. For people who like a little horror in their gaming, there are a lot of options out there and Lovecraft’s mythos is probably the most popular influence.


I played Cthulhu games for five full days at my first Origins. Even with five days it was impossible to play every Cthulhu event. I did not play any horror board or card games although many were available. What I did play was a lot of Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu.

A large Call of Cthulhu programming blocks is run by the Rogue Cthulhu gaming society. I played seven, four hour scenarios run by different members of Rogue Cthulhu. Those seven games were perhaps a third of Rogue Cthulhu’s schedule at Origins. Rogue ran a full schedule of games (9am to close to midnight) every day of Origins.

Rogue Cthulhu had a large floor space with tables, chairs, props and a prize table. The props were interesting and they had “horror” music playing in the background. This was not my definition of “horror music” which would include Celine Dion, Rap, and the Blues. Their horror was mostly without lyrics.

All of the Rogue games started on time. If a game failed to make because it lacked enough players, the Rogue group were able to add those players to other games during the same time slot. All of the Rogue games were independent designs. I did not pay to play something that was already available in published form. The eras that the Rogue group ran ranged from the Roman Empire to the modern day.

I had several favorites. “Heartland Hoarders” was a modern TV show about people who hoarded things in their home. Revenant was set in the 1970s at a large State Carnival where Ricky, “Reno Rocket Man” was set to jump 27 Greyhound Busses on a motorcycle (think Evil Knievel). “The Guyz Next Door” were once the fourth most popular boy band in the USA and are trying for a comeback by shooting a pilot for GND X-Treme on Kabletowne Kanada at a haunted house. “The Unwanted” was so creepy I’m not going to write about it. Really good, but a horrifying scenario written by someone whose real life work is in criminal justice.

Rogue Cthulhu focuses on role playing. Your characters have enough background to play a fun personality. Some game masters had quite detailed game aids to help bring the scenario to life. All of the game masters were enthusiastic and kept the game running. Rogue Cthulhu charged a little more than the $2 minimum, but they also had some of the best prizes at Origins. If you did something outstanding in Role Playing, you got one or more “Rogue tokens” which can be exchanged for prizes. Because they run every year, some of the prizes were really amazing but could only be purchased if someone accumulated tokens for multiple years. At every game session the players voted on the best role-player who got to choose a Cthulhu book from Chaosium from the prize table. I won a copy of Secrets of Morocco. (Insert picture of the tokens and the book).


Rogue Cthulhu has been active at Origins for around fifteen years and in 2017 they had a very large programming block. My only criticism of the Rogue Cthulhu group was they played with the main lights out and rather sparse lighting at the tables. I bought a set of high contrast dice (black with white letters) at Origins to make the outcomes of my rolls easier to see. People often used their phones or flashlights to read their character sheets. This is a design choice by the group to build a more spooky atmosphere and to encourage players to concentrate on role playing. The dark room and the spooky music helped the horror ambiance, but I’m bringing my own flashlight next year.

I also played Trial of Cthulhu but was not very impressed. The scenarios I participated in played previously published scenarios without props excepting for character sheets.

If you like Horror RPGs or board games, Origins has an awful lot to offer. Origins probably has more Call of Cthulhu programming than any other game convention today, even when compared to DragonCon or GenCon. There is certainly a huge amount of gaming available in the horror genre at Origins which was one of the reasons I decided to go for the first time.

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