[Gaming] Five Call of Cthulhu Pop Culture Game Hooks
I don’t know about you, but I really enjoyed our Call of Cthulhu adventure that we played for the Major Spoilers Critical Hit podcast. If you are like me, you are ready to start your own game, and over the last couple of days, I’ve come up with five game hooks for Call of Cthulhu that mash pop culture and Lovecraftian horror.
The purpose of this article is to share possible hooks, monsters, and schemes for a Call of Cthulhu campaign. While I have detailed scenarios worked out, I believe giving you the skeleton of the story is enough for you to build the rest of the campaign yourself. In many cases, the how and why are left for you to call your own.
1. Call of Cthulhu: Ghost in the Darkness
The Source: The Man-Eaters of Tsavo (1907)
In 1898, two lions attack and kill (at least) 35 workers in Tsavo, Kenya during the building of the Uganda-Mombasa Railway in Each Africa.
The Game: It is believed two lions are killing villagers and workers, and you and your team have been dispatched to capture or kill the lions so railway construction can proceed on schedule. Only… it’s not lions that are killing people. The party must find the lair of, and take down, two Hunting Horrors. If successful, the party will discover someone inside the Uganda Railway doesn’t want the railway bridge complete.
This campaign might best with two or three players, who are mainly hunters, but have a background in the myths and legends of the area. Personally, I would create pre-built characters for this campaign.
2. Call of Cthulhu: The Stepford Mi-Gos
The Source: The Stepford Wives (1972)
The story centers on Joanna Eberhart who begins to suspect the submissive wives of Stepford, Conneticut may be robots created by their husbands.
The Game: As a new member of the Stepford neighborhood in the early 1960s, you begin to notice something is not quite right with your neighbors. The community works on a weird system of unspoken social cues and gatherings that you haven’t seen anywhere else. Upon further investigation, the investigators discover a fungus growing throughout the community that may be the cause of the strange behavior. The game takes a turn for the horrific when the party learns humans have had their brains removed, and now serve as hosts for a secret alien colonization of Mi-Gos. The party must return the brains to their hosts, and stop the alien invasion from another dimension.
This is definitely a campaign of four or more players, and I would love to see it run by an all female party.
3. Call of Cthulhu: Behind the Yellow Door
The Source: Behind the Green Door (1972)
Considered one of the classic adult movies that ushered in the “Golden Age of Porn”, a wealthy San Fancisco socialite is taken to an elite North Beach sex club and loved “as she’s never been loved before.”
The Game: The King in Yellow meets the ’70s, meets the adult film industry. This campaign focuses on a missing starlet, and anyone (and everyone) from ingenues to film directors to two-bit private eyes comb the dark side of Hollywood looking for the missing girl. Along the way, the party discovers a cult bent on turning a quiet seaside community into the next Carcosa. That lump in your throat is not what it seems as the King is Yellow is revealed, and forces the party to undo the magic the cult has unleashed in the quiet communities of the mid-California coast. A time based quest requiring the investigators to travel and undo spells across California is the final adventure in this campaign. Monsters and cultists will fight them at every location. Fail at one, and the King in Yellow returns!
This is probably going to be the most challenging campaign for a Game Master to pull off, as it walks the line between NSFW scenes and graphic horror. I think a really good GM could avoid a lot of the sexual themes and situations one would expect from a game of this nature, and turn it into an adventure for anyone 18 years and older.
4. Call of Cthulhu: North by Ithaqua
The Source: North by Northwest (1959)
North by Northwest is a tale of mistaken identity, with an innocent man pursued across the United States by mysterious agents who are trying to smuggle government secrets out of the country.
The Game: Mistaken for a famous investigator, a member of the party is pursued by angry cult members across America and into the great white north of Canada. Along the way the party grows to include confidants and agents of the mysterious who want the secret of the Ithaqua for themselves. What is the Ithaqua, and why does everyone want to learn how to keep the cold at bay? The party will discover the Russians want the formula so its army can begin their winter invasion of North America.
This one may be the weakest hook of them all, but I like the idea there is someone who has no knowledge of the supernatural and is thrust into a race for his life. In the process those that are helping him (aka the rest of the party) learn of the greater world around them. This is a campaign that would definitely need to take place in the late ’50s to tie in with the Cold War threat of invasion. Other players could play Significant Other, American Spy, and Co-Worker. I would avoid Strangers on a Train though…
5. Call of Cthulhu: The Maltese Cthulhu
The Source: The Maltese Falcon (1929)
Sam Spade must deal with three unscrupulous adventurers, all of who are competing to obtain a jewel-encrusted falcon statue.
The Game: A stranger shows up in your office asking if the package has arrived. Before any questions can be answered, the stranger keels over, dead from poisoning. Hours later a package arrives that contains an idol that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before. You will need the help of your entire team to figure out who the stranger was, what the idol is, and how everyone will keep Cthulhu from rising again. This is the Maltese Cthulhu, the stuff madness is made of…
Dashiell Hammett worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, so this game does not have to start with one player who then needs to build his team. The stranger could just as easily burst into an agency of four to five investigators, each with their own area of expertise. Follow the clues from the post office to the docks (look out for those dock workers and seamen who are desperately searching for the idol), to a hidden network beneath the city where creatures and forces from beyond are engaged in a constant battle between those that want Cthulhu to rise, and those that want him to remain asleep in r’leyh.
If you follow me on Twitter, I’ve dropped a few more titles and ideas for you to think about, and I have a few more to share in a future installment, including one that involves a high school kid from 1985 who travels back in time to 1955 to stop shoggoths (and get his parents to fall in love with one another).
Did you enjoy these hooks and scenarios? Which is your favorite? Can you make them work in your next Call of Cthulhu adventure? And do you want to see more of these in the future?