Backer 47: Surrender to the Dark

I wasn’t going to be Backer Anything this year. I had banned myself from Kickstarter. My book shelves, hard drives and cloud stores are already creaking with tomes of game systems and supplements gathering dust.

But then Graham Walmsley announced that his super-light game of Lovecraftian horror was going to crowdfund. Cue mild gibbering acquiescence.

While I remember the Green and Pleasant Land with affection, I don’t generally get on well with cosmic Lovecraftian horror as presented in the Call of Cthulhu tradition. I’ve had more meh game experiences than memorable ones with it. Maybe it’s cosmic detachment, the crunchy system or plain old tentacular cliché. It just leaves me cold.

But Cthulhu Dark has me suckered in a different way. It promises to take Lovecraft’s mythos, strip it back to an essence, and make it personal. Tightly focused mechanics span all of a couple of pages and are brutally designed to drive the horror in adventures, in ways that are both “terrifying and terribly human.”

Four new settings from the project collaborators ship with the game, spanning time and geography – London 1851, Arkham 1692, Jaiwo 2017 and Mumbai 2037. In the Victorian preview, for instance, there’s a dark and grimy feel that you get from the suggested Investigator occupations: artists, beggars, mudlarks, and others on the margins of society. It holds for me a deliciously grim and dark potential.

More than that, Walmsley is throwing in sections on designing and running horror mystery in a modern story game style. I enjoyed his previous advice in Play Unsafe, his book on improv techniques for roleplayers, and my play has been better for it. I’ve also been fortunate to enjoy first-hand the atmosphere, pace and tension he conjures up around the table in games of Lacuna, Shab Al-Hiri Roach and A Taste for Murder. Having his techniques captured and distilled in the Cthulhu Dark package may be what I’m most excited about from this kickstarter.


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