I am currently preparing a Call of Cthulhu adventure, and I am hoping to be able to play the game on a regular basis in the future. But I am having concerns about keeping the mystery in the game from one separate adventure to another.

The problem essentially is that even though character knowledge of the Cthulhu mythos does not carry on from one character to another, player knowledge does. I am concerned that the lore of the game will become after some time too familiar to the players, and lose its mystery and appeal. Of course, it is always possible to play adventures that do not use the mythos, and I will do so at times; but the mythos remains, in my opinion, one of the most interesting elements of the game, and I am unsure of how I can keep on using it without wearing it out.

I had faced the same problem when reading HPL's literature; even though the stories were always a pleasure to read, after some time new ones lost a bit of their mystery because I had become too familiar with the universe they were set in.

It also doesn't help that at least two of my players have read HPL, and at least one of them is very well versed in his works.

So how can I keep the Cthulhu mythos fresh for players who already know it well? How do I make old material seem new, surprising, mysterious?


4 Answers 4



It's a bit like cooking. If you want to serve a new meal and you don't have any new ingredients, try different mixtures or techniques to change the flavour. Have the characters explore new, unprecedented combinations of monsters. Maybe the Elder Ones decided to ally themselves with Nyarlathotep? You can also change the pace and genre of the game - if all they've played is investigation games, maybe something more combat-oriented would be in order? Or maybe they could ally themselves with the Elder Ones knowingly? Try to subvert common tropes. They find a Pnakotic manuscript? Not only does it not cause insanity but actually contains useful help.

Add new content

Have the player encounter new gods or beings. Have them explore unprecedented alliances and locations. Add your own actors to the universe. Sure, the players will be genre savvy, you can't help that. But this is your world and you can completely rework HPL's legacy as long as you and your players have fun.

Switch games

That would be your last resort, but if your players grow weary, they would surely tell you. Have you asked them if they don't feel bored by the setting? There is a selection of games you can play that have completely different settings.

Just accept it

It may be that your players are fine with stories being a bit predictable. I've been playing and GMing Vampire Masquerade a lot, but even though I know what the clans are capable of and know the major players its the game I come back to, not the mystery of exploration. That is in fact your primary criterion: if your players are playing because they like to explore unknown universe, then you know what to do (above), but playing a familiar game because they like it is fine too.


Player knowledge is based on the fact that once you put the book for Cthulu on the table, people will expect this adventure to be about Cthulu.

Surprise them.

Play adventures that on the outside seem to be mysterious but turn out to be normal life. Play adventures that look like normal life but have horror right where they don't expect it. Now, to do this, you need to have done the first one successfully. Your players should not know beforehand if this adventure idea is about to end in lovecraftian mysteries or just evolves into a normal detective story plot.

For example:

Your lovely neighbour vanished just after she bought that "occult" book from a garage sale? That book was a fake. Her abusive ex-husband killed her and dumped her body in the woods. Plain detective story.

Those lights people see at night from the old lighthouse? That's a PhD student that could not afford the sum it costs to carry out his experiments in the lab. Normal physics experiments.

The journalist that was known for drunken driving that got killed in a car crash while driving drunk? Now that was a cultists crime to cover up what the journalist was about to publish, leading to a dark secret.

Break their expectations.

Right now, they probably expect you to deliver a plain Cthulu adventure. Where everything that looks mysterious, is mysterious.

Leave them in the dark. Cthulu is about suspense and horror and both are hard to create when people already expect both. Change their expectations. Make suspense and horror something that does not happen every time, but only rarely. And never tell them when to expect it.

The first seasons of X-Files did this quite well. Sometimes, Mulder would be right, sometimes Scully would be right. You never knew beforehand.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Good advice, but I can't accept both so +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – derp
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 2:16

A 7th edition scenarios compendium, Nameless Horrors, tries to work around the problem you're describing by introducing new entities.



First, do look up Charles Stross' The Laundry files. They are clearly Lovercaftian in nature but utterly unrelated to the classical mythos. It takes the same themes as Lovecraft and spins its own rationalisation around it. Nothing stops you from doing the same thing. In Daughter of the Hound by Caitlín R. Kiernan, the main protagonist is raised by ghouls and many (if not all) her books are squarely into the Mythos. Yet none of them are cut-and-paste from Lovecraft.

Second, just because it's a $MythosCreature does not mean you have to either spell it out or be bound by it. You can expand on it, change it, and add things that are utterly new to it. Just because the rule books says that a Nightgaunt is black does not mean you could not encounter some that are white or red or covered in crackling blue hell fire. And in any case, never ever, ever say "This is a deep one". Always describe something that could be whatever and let the players draw their own conclusions as to what the creature is or is not.

A side note is to twist things around: A deep one might be the pen-pale of the PCs or their supporter. Cthulhu might be invading their dreams in his plots to remain hidden -- the starts are not right just yet. The FBI might have some strange experiment under way to use snake people's livers to create a mind control drug and the PCs need to stop it thus "helping" the snake people. Maybe humans could be the real monsters? A trope for sure but one that works.

Finally, who cares? Do your players? Can they do partition of knowledge? it could be great fun to react and plan as if one knew nothing. An example would be a game we played where we found that a briefed father raised his two dead kids and wife as zombies. It did not end well for him and we managed to kill on the undead but two others escaped. We found the spell book, notice a "summon undead" spell, and set out to cast it. In Arkham. We, as players, knew it was a phenomenally stupid thing to do. Our characters on the other hand only discovered their mistake when a horde of undead arrived…


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