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I am in the process of planning a CoC game (or Trail of... I've not picked up a copy but it looks interesting) set a long time after the events of the Whisperer in the Darkness. To do so, I wanted to set the game in the 60s, but I'm not sure how the game will run with cars, social movement, widespread telephones, better weaponry and the like.

I want to keep the dark, mysterious feel from the Cthulhu mythos. What can I keep that will enhance the game, in this setting?

I want to make the era relevant. What can I use from the era to emphasis the Cthulhu mythos?

And finally, is setting the game this much later than the original era (~1920-1930) a good idea at all?

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I think it's a fine idea. Only decorum prevents me from contrasting the rise of the Civil Rights Movement with Lovecraft's fairly reprehensible views on race. –  Jadasc Jan 10 '12 at 22:03
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Wait till Atomic Age Cthulhu ( boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/thing:104680 ) gets published and slap an extra decade on it. :) (Or take ten off your planned game.) As for modern CoC, if you're not familiar with Delta Green, you should definitely take a look at it: It's an excellent example of how amazing CoC can be in a (relatively) contemporary setting. –  OpaCitiZen Jan 10 '12 at 23:48
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Make sure to read Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminati fiction. Its not tied very closely to the Mythos; but, Lovecraft's creations do get honorable mention on a zany cast of characters. –  Eric Wilde Jan 11 '12 at 1:11
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All I need now is an answer that allays my fears of the more advanced technology. –  Pureferret Jan 29 '12 at 0:07
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@Pureferret: stop worrying and love the Bomb. –  TimLymington Jan 18 '13 at 11:14

11 Answers 11

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The big question here isn't so much how to transport Cthulhu into the 60s but what aspects of the Cthulhu mythos you want to capture and bring ahead. I think people have already explained the turmoil of the time that would seem to make it apt for this period, so instead I'm going to focus on Lovecraft's themes and how you could transport them ahead 30-40 years. (note: theme taken from the Lovecraftian Horror Wikipedia page)

  • Anti-anthrocentrism: Lovecraft liked to portray humans as insignificant beings in the universe, and the Space Age is a really great place to make this idea come home to roost, so to speak. It's also a time when humanity is really beginning to wrap up the mapping of the globe in a geographic sense, so there may be some final outcrop or two where your party could experience a new Colour Out of Space.

    Additionally, this was a period of time when a lot of African and South American nations began to shrug off the yoke of colonialism and give self-rule a try. I don't want to debate the merits of colonialism or whether or not there's a "right" way to get one's nose out of another country's business, but historically speaking, many of the nation-states that emerged from these colonies treated their people brutally. This would be a neat place to run an adventure or campaign wherein, let's say, an obscure Congolese culture, driven to the breaking point of oppression by its new leaders, returns to the Old Ways of worship and calls upon [insert Cthulhu being of historical might here].

  • Preoccupation with viscerate texture: Lovecraft liked slimy and gross things. I don't have a lot to say about this for the 60s, other than that there was just as much of it then as there was in the 30s. Well, I guess one thing: among so many other things, the 60s saw the birth of environmentalism in its modern form, in amongst some of the worst industrial abuses out there. Take Minimata disease, for instance. Or the Love Canal, which was sold to Niagra Falls in the 60s but wasn't discovered to be a cesspool of industrial waste until the late 70s. Surely there is plenty of monster-fodder here.

  • Antiquarian writing style: This is more of a stylistic thing than something I think that you'd absolutely need to include in your alternate universe, except for flavor.

  • Detachment: This may seem off to the modern reader, as we have lived so long with the idea that you are your own person, but the 50s and 60s were both a time of close-knittedness and the beginnings of rebellion against being like everyone else. If you the reader were transplanted into the 50s and 60s today, the first thing you'd probably notice was the extremely high level of conformity, particularly in dress but in a lot of other things as well. Wearing blue jeans meant you were a rebel, not that you liked comfortable pants. All of these silly cliches in movies like Footloose (in which dancing was an act of rebellion in a small town) or Dead Poet's Society arise from this period.

    At the same time, Stephen King has noted that there was a lot more general "weirdness" then than there is now, because the world has gotten bigger and some of the things that kept people from fitting in have now been solved by technology or our general rise in living quality. I think one of his examples was that you just don't see kids at school wearing the same shirt for 3 months straight, or kids with cleft palates, that sort of thing.

    I think there are several ways you can use this. A town out in the middle of nowhere in the 60s might still be nearly as insular as during Lovecraft's time, in a way you just don't experience now. Heck, David Koresh still existed less than 20 years ago.

  • Helplessness and Hopelessness: This is a tough theme to mix into any RPG campaign, to be perfectly honest. That being said, the challenges of using this in the 60s isn't any greater, I don't think, than using it in the 30s. Maybe you could implant some false sense of hope on the part of some NPCs, like a general who wants to harness the poweer of Nyarlathahotep to defeat the commies or something similar. As the song goes, the only way to get to nothing is by having something in the first place.

  • Unanswered questions: Again, no more incompatible with the 60s than the 30s. There are, in fact, some "unanswered" questions from this period of time which you could have some fun "unravelling". For instance, the JFK assassination; in an alternate universe, maybe there really was a conspiracy and it wasn't, in fact, just some loony communist with dreams of grandeur. Maybe there's something to the Bermuda Triangle. Or Bigfoot (if memory served, the Patterson/Gimlin film surfaced in the late 60s). Leonard Nimoy came out with a (very silly) series about this kind of thing that was called In Search Of. This was the early 70s, not the 60s, but the culture hadn't moved forward that much.

  • Sanity's fragility and vulnerability: Among many other things, this period of time was when we saw an explosion of attention given both to psychology as a whole and to the mentally ill. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was released as a novel in 1962, for instance. MK-ULTRA, which is probably worth an entire Cthulhu-esque campaign in and of itself, was in full force during this period of time. There is, in my opinion, probably more fertile ground here for adventure ideas than in the 30s, where the insane were often locked up in asylums and largely forgotten about (again, still happened in the 60s but this practice was really beginning to worry people) or locked up in the attics of wealthier families.

  • Questionable parentage: Um... no comment.

So yeah, I think there's a great deal of fertile ground here. Getting the feel of the time is probably more important than making sure the characters are there to witness the Mississippi Burning incident, the debut of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and/or the Summer of Love. I wish I had books to recommend but off-hand all I can think of is David Halberstam's The Fifties, which, as the name implies, is a little too early.

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The 1960s were a time of spiritual exploration and social awakening. In the world of the Cthulhu mythos, these things could represent the sort of knowledge that leads to understanding things that should never be learned. Inside every commune lurks a dangerous cult (artists and sensitives were particularly susceptible to Cthulhu's dreams); "free love" is a mask for Shub-Niggurath and Y'Golonac; and Transcendental Meditation opens the mind to the Dreamlands and the mad piping of Azathoth.

(I have to, at this point, allude to Lovecraft's racially problematic points of view, and suggest that it might be fruitful to contrast them with the advances gained by the Civil Rights movement. That's a can of worms, though, and I'll leave the implementation of such things as an exercise for the reader.)

As for the advances in technology, they seem to come in two flavors: incremental (better guns, faster and more reliable cars) and innovative (space travel, advances in computing and materials technology). The first is unlikely to have a significant impact: Chaosium's Cthulhu Now! demonstrates that you can run a fairly traditional CoC game in a modern (or at least later-20th-century milieu) without too much change. The great innovations of the age are largely kept in the upper echelons of political and military power; for more on that, take a look at Pagan's Delta Green setting.

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Good answer! Can you expand it to touch on the mechanical elements (weapons, tech, etc)? –  C. Ross Jan 11 '12 at 13:22
    
@C.Ross I can give it a shot. –  Jadasc Jan 11 '12 at 13:31

Ah, the Cold War is in full swing: the communists are fighting revolutions killing thousands in South America, Africa and Asia while America gets dirty by helping dictators. Nuclear holocaust looms on the horizon in Cuba and Germany. Freedom is squashed in Eastern Europe by tanks while hippies trip on LSD. The space race leads to two men walking on the Moon...

Just from the above, I can come up with a dozen games. LSD is a tool of Nyarlathotep to stop Americans caring for their government while Nyarlathotep uses Che Guevara in Cuba to win the revolution, convince the Soviet to give him control of the Nuclear missiles and fire them at America thus summoning Azathoth to Earth. Can the PCs stop him?

The trick is to pick elements that made you run a game in that time period and overlay a "What horrible things could I do to make this more boogly?".

Have you read Declare by Tim Powers? If not, you should. It's all about the Cold War and ... Well, that would be spoiling it, but it fits. Ditto with The Laundry series by Charles Stross.

All I need now is an answer that allays my fears of the more advanced technology

Look at this as an opportunity, not a fear. The 60s saw some fantastic scientific breakthroughs which you can mix into your plot (for good, ill, or a mix of the two) or leave alone. Stross's Laundry series explores the ease with which computers can do summoning of Things That Should Not Be And Will Eat Your Face and Soul. There are quiet a few short stories available online for free and A Colder War is set right in your time frame.

The core concept behind the Mythos is how ignorant and insignificant mankind actually is. Nothing technological is going to change that.

Here is a last though: Why was Kennedy killed if not to stop the space exploration because of what they found on the Moon. Mi Go are now advising Nixon and we all know how well that turned out.

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I think it's a great idea; I kind of want to do it now.

The advent of drug use in popular culture/birth of a drug culture is a really obvious avenue to connect the period to the Cthulu mythos. The sudden importation and popularization of a somewhat mangled ‘eastern’ philosophy and mysticism into American pop culture also complements very well the idea that Cthonian influences are spreading out into wider society. The theme that runs through so much of Lovecraft’s work, of great civilizations falling into decadence and decay could quite nicely be tailored to fit the 1960s—say the US (where I’m assuming you’re setting this) is just another empire entering the downward part of that arc.

The Cold War paranoia and nuclear threat work well there too—it’s apocalyptic enough on its own, Oppenheimer’s ‘I am become death, destroyer of worlds’ comes to mind. Certainly the scientific advances of the time can be mysticised to provide the dark atmosphere you’re looking for. Nyarlathotep’s intro story has him gathering a cult of followers by demonstrating weird scientific advances related to electricity; that kind of eerie flavor could easily be transferred to atomic power and the space race (the existence of the space race is itself good fodder, given the things that lurk in the stars or live on the moon in Lovecraft-verse). If anything the better weaponry and technological advances you’re talking about can be cast as part of the horror, things that are inexplicable or unnatural, that spread corrupting influences or could only have occurred through eldritch influence. Lovecraft was pretty into magic!science himself. On a practical gameplay level, you could borrow ideas about how to hobble technology so that it doesn’t help the PCs much from modern horror movies pretty easily, and the technology can present a new set of threats.

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I'm writing this from an American perspective, but I'm sure the experience of the 1960s varied wildly depending on where and how you lived.

As my father used to say, "If you remember the 60s, you weren't there." His point was that there was so much going on, so much exploration, so much tumult, that even keeping track of it all was difficult as it was happening, much less in the rear view mirror. It's important to note that he was in his early 20s as the decade hit full swing.

To him the decade was about exploration, about trying new things and pushing boundaries. To his parents (and to more conservative younger people), it was a time of unravelling, a time when the American status quo that held sway from the end of WWII was under direct assault. Those competing themes of discovery and unravelling could be tied to the mythos in a variety of ways.

Space Exploration: The Mercury program, the goal of which was to get a man into orbit, ran from '59 to '63. The Gemini program, which put men into space in '65 and '66, explored techniques that were later used in the Apollo program. Apollo manned flights were carried out from '68 through '72. Imagine what sort of weirdness American (or Soviet) astronauts could encounter in the cold dark of space, and how mysterious, horrible events broadcast live on TV would affect viewers down on earth.

Drug Use & Communal Living Exploration: The two didn't necessarily go hand in hand, but frequently you'd find the former if you found the latter. Hallucinogenic drugs as a vehicle for exposure to the mythos could be interesting, for example mythos-driven insanity manifesting as acid trip flashbacks. Communal living gave rise to all sorts of reinterpretations of social structure and family environments. The more isolated the commune, the more possibility that mythos elements could gain hold. Add a strong charismatic leader with a spiritual/religious bent and all kinds of nasty things could ensue.

The Vietnam War & the Unravelling of American Politics: I get the impression that from Gen X on, it has become increasingly difficult for Americans to understand what it was like to live through the Vietnam War era. The threat of being drafted was quite real to American men in their 20s, and it cut deeply into the social fabric. We're still saddled with the effects this war had on the Baby Boomers, as they re-fight the domestic battles of the 60s over and over again. What if the John Birch Society were really a front for cultists bent on promulgating war and carnage? What if Jane Fonda's trip to Hanoi was really the most visible effect of a cultist-driven effort to get popular entertainers to sow dissent? What if cultists in the highest levels of government, business, and cultural circles were playing both sides, with the goal of bringing the most powerful nation-state on earth to its knees?

The Unravelling of Race Barriers: To Jadasc's point, the fight in the 60s to make America truly a land for all people was seen by many who were involved as the high point of their lives. To others it was the beginning of the end, the end of an old order that kept some people in control and others in check. It doesn't take a stretch of imagination to conjure up images of the KKK being controlled by mythos forces, again with the goal of keeping humanity from moving forward, from gaining strength.

My interpretation has always been that mythos cultists feed on discord and strife, and this decade was chock full of both. I'll bet you could put together a great campaign set in the 1960s.


All I need now is an answer that allays my fears of the more advanced technology.

At the individual/small unit level, lethality didn't change much between the 1920s and 1960s. In fact, the antique .45 Thompson submachinegun was used in Vietnam, as was the M1911 pistol. Helicopters and warjets evolved considerably between the '20s and '60s, but they were still dependent on radios, radar and human eyeballs for targeting and navigation, all of which could easily be manipulated by the powers of Mythos creatures. Imagine what happens when a group of pilots starts chasing phantom bogies, for example.

When you move up the ladder to strategic assets like aircraft carriers, long-range bombers, and ICBMs, the control mechanisms are all still human. The Air Force crewman who is going insane won't turn the control key to arm the warhead. The engineer maintaining the engine of a nuclear-powered submarine might shut it down "accidentally". As @Sardathrion points out, man is still insignificant, particularly his mental powers. And in the 1960s, human minds still were required to control human-created technology.

It might only take one or two incidents of large-scale armed confrontation gone amok to convince the political leadership to take a more subtle approach. After all, we wouldn't want to frighten the populace, would we?

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Do your own mixing of history and Cthulhu Mythos

Take a look to the historical facts of that decade and try to figure out which ones can have some Cthulhu Mythos cult behind.

There was some unknown Cthulhu Mythos knowledge behind the Cold war?, which of the important characters of the epoch were Mythos cultists or were influenced by some Mythos characters?, wich natural disasters were in fact Mythos events?.

During the Vietnam war, had the soldiers found any Mythos cult in the jungle?

Space Race

In the 60s the space race was one of the main topics, now a days there are still people that doesn't believe the man was on the moon (and this was in 1969), so in your campaign, was this true?, what happened behind the scenes?, what can we found in the hidden side of the Moon?

During the space race, some Mythos encounters or discoveries can happen, you can check the list of Extraterrestrial places in the Cthulhu Mythos for some ideas, maybe some telescope got some glimpse of a Mi-go on it's way to Yuggoth...

Dealing with better weaponry.

Well with better weaponry monsters are easier to kill... but they are still very scary. Also there are some monsters quite resistant to bullets... And well, in many places in the world having heavy weaponry with you is not legal, unless you have some special permissions.

If your players use this weaponry they may have to deal not only with the cultists but also with the police...

On the other hand, cultists are often law breakers, so they don't care that much that having an assault rifle is illegal, after all human sacrifices are illegal also...

And a cultist with an assault rifle it's very scary also, so if your players are about to go fully loaded of weapons, they can expect to fight with armoured cultists also.

Also there are some Mythos races, very intelligent and they have even more advanced technology, so they could have some very advanced devices to also (like the famous lightning gun) that can balance the technological advance the earth had experienced between the 20s and the 60s

Dealing with improved communications and transport.

In the 60s cars were almost everywhere, and telephones also... but still there were some isolated places, perfect for cultist to gather without being noticed. Also by that time probably the cultists were more careful, even in the big cities the cults would be well hidden in secret societies.

Depending on your story, you can take your characters to some remote place where communications are not that good, like some little village not so close to the main roads, also the cultists can take advantage of the communications to be better organized... and then still challenging for your players.

Also all this communication makes people a bit more aware of the world and a bit more skeptical, so when they players go as for help to the authorities, most probably they are not going to believe them, ant treat them as crazy people.

In the case you need to cut the communications for the players, a natural disaster can happen or a strange, unhealthy mist may appear and suddenly none of the electronic equipment works...

References

In Yog-Sothoth.com there is an interesting Cthulhu Mythos Timeline where you can find also interesting Mythos related events from the 60s.

Also, there is a comic by Alan Moore called Neonomicon that can give some inspiration on how Cthulhu Mythos could be on modern times.

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This is a good answer. –  Pureferret May 23 '13 at 12:48
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@Pureferret where are you planning to have the players? Check the local history also for that period. –  pconcepcion May 23 '13 at 13:30

My answer is nothing, really. Yes, you need to update prices and equipment lists to the 60s.

If you're concerned about advanced technology consider this: Lovecraft thought he was writing sci-fi as much as fantasy or horror. The Mi-Go and the Great Race are from another planet. The various races have space travel, time travel, and mind shifting technologies. In fact, this idea has been exploited in a game called Eldrich Skies which is set in a human interstellar culture based on tech from the various Lovecraft races. Danger and insanity are still present dangers.

So, while the advanced tech might make killing individual creatures easier it won't help with the mind bended insanities of glimpsing into the greater universe. It won't stop crazy people. In fact, cultists have access to the same tech and less compulsions about misusing it in ways from wire taping to violence. For the former, read up on The Church of Scientology's penetration of the US government in the 70s and the 80s and imagine Cthulhu cultists with the same tech and organization.

Finally, one of the most popular CoC supplements is Delta Green which isn't the 60s but gov't special ops in the 90s. If their tech didn't break the game how is civillian 60s tech going to do so?

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I don't think you need to change anything. There are some more powerful weapons in the 60s than in the 20s, but that doesn't matter too much. The players won't be dragging nuclear bombs around, an argument could be made for automatic weapons being more readily available in the 20s than in the 60s (although this does vary by locale). Telecommunications are more readily available in the 60s, but not really in any mobile way (phone boxes on streets, land-lines in most homes; hand-held unencrypted analog radios would be available, but as everyone can listen in, there's a good to excellent argument to discourage their use).

You might want to provide a few more skills. Maybe award Mythos skill as a side-effect of getting really high skill rating in Physics.

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Cthulhu is more about atmosphere and less about rules. So, aquire some props which help bestow on your players that sixties feeling.

  • A pipe.
  • A map of your home town fifty years ago.
  • A bleached photograph of someone at the beach.
  • Play authentic music on an old record player.
  • Serve meatloaf instead of ordering pizza.

Long live props! Hope these suggestions get you going :-)

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Hi there Thomax! You seem to have answered "What awesome props can I use in a game of CoC (set in the 60s)", possibily even a CoC LARP. But note, this isn't the question I'm asking (in fact I'm not asking about rules either). Feel free to ask a question like that and answer it yourself; your answer looks useful, just not to me. –  Pureferret May 29 '13 at 8:48

Rules-wise you might want to change a few skills needed. Certainly electronics is a much more mature field than in the 1920s. Plus there are new technologies like computers and nuclear reactors, but depending on what players want to play, these are not imperative needs.

As far as weapons are concerned, you should address the emerging field of assault rifles (cover the AK-47, FN FAL and M-14/M-16 and you have most of what you need; I'm sure there are stats for these somewhere). Add surplus WW2 firearms (M-1 and M-3 throw in the Simonov SKS for the 1950s) and you are good to go.

You should also consider the emerging mindset of a generation faced with things like JFK's murder and the investigation that followed, CIA activities in the Congo and elsewhere, as well as many other secrets and conspiracies. While there was still a clear difference between east and west, Walter Cronkite's public doubts about the military's reports about Viet Nam made average citizens truly worry whether their government had their best interests at heart.

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I don't want to duplicate what other's have suggested, except to add a few caveats and considerations.

HPL was only informed about the world by what he read, and we know what he liked to read - so his depictions of historical facts and references are limited by that. As a GM, you have to decide how much authenticity you want from the era.

Much gets over emphasized in modern movies that depict the era. When the Summer of Love was in full force in Haight-Ashbury, for others their vicarious fun was watching Beach Party Bingo and wanted nothing to do with those smelly hippies. The 1960s emerged from the 1950s - some places faster than others. Keeping the transformational localized lets you emphasize themes of isolation, decay and madness.

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