Larp and Lovecraft

The discussion of One Starry Night (a Cthulhu Live scenario) has got me thinking about Lovecraftian larps. Cthulhu Live is a port of the tabletop Call of Cthulhu, and designed to tell the sorts of stories CoC does. The problem is that your typical CoC adventure isn’t very Lovecraftian. Quite apart from the problem of the protagonists and their motivation (shared by most adventure scenarios), a typical CoC scenario goes like this:

  • the investigators are confronted with a mystery (a murder, a mysterious place, whatever)
  • they investigate and do research
  • they learn the mystery is the fault of a monster (or maybe more than one, because CoC authors love mashups)
  • they confront the monster, sometimes with a magic ritual they learned in the investigation phase.
  • they are victorious, die or go mad (this bit doesn’t actually matter)

There are I think two Lovecraft stories which follow this pattern: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and The Dunwich Horror. The rest typically involve the protagonist going mad and/or fleeing for his life after seeing or merely understanding too much. Graham Walmsley’s Stealing Cthulhu has a great deconstruction of the stories and their components, and they’re not really like your typical adventure session. Which means if you want the story to be Lovecraftian, you probably need to steer the players away from common adventuring tropes, or just not present them with anything they can conceivably solve by shooting at it.

Second, there’s the problem of time. Lots of Lovecraft’s best stories e.g. The Thing on the Doorstep, The Shadow out of Time, or The Case of Charles Dexter Ward take place over years or decades, with slow revelation and understanding building towards a final horror. Obviously that doesn’t really work in a larp, unless you use scenes, and it certainly doesn’t work for a short-format event. It does suggest that slow periods of play could be important, initially to give time to establish normalcy, then to give time for slow revelation and growing unease. Which pushes towards longer events rather than shorter ones. Looking around, there’s a couple of events which have used long day / overnight formats, but that means logistics, which is its own special kind of tentacled horror. But for short-format, low(er)-logistics games, you need an immediate problem, with an immediate solution, which misses part of the fun of the style.

I have a strong preference for short-format and a hatred of logistics. I’m still chewing on it, but it seems quite difficult to get an interesting Lovecraftian (as opposed to monster / tentacles / death) game within that format. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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How about preventing the monster(s) from breaking through instead of fighting the tentacles outright?

Someone might have tried to summon something before the start of the game and nearly succeeded, but died/gone mad/disappeared in the process. The players are a bit more sensible than the original cultist and try to reverse the damage. Failure would be catastrophic as they know they’d all die - should give them plenty of motivation to not let it come to a combat situation at all.

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That’s a potential plot structure. The HPLHS also had a bunch of ones where the investigators arrive too late, someone’s brain has already been eaten, and they’re witnesses to / have to clean up the aftermath.

It’d feel more like Cthulhu to me personally because the stories essentially imply one thing: you can’t win. All you can do is gain some time.

Besides, the partial influence of whatever it is that was being summoned will very likely have an effect on everyone’s minds. With the right setting and the right players, that could get very claustrophobic very fast.

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