H.P. Lovecraft and his works

The Stars Are Right! This week at Stargazer’s World is dedicated to gaming inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s works. So, who was this H.P. Lovecraft anyway?

Lovecraft’s life
Howard Philips Lovecraft was born August 20, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island. His father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft, became psychotic when Howard was three years old and died in a mental institution a few years later. He was raised by his mother, two aunts and his grandfather, who sparked Howard’s interest in literature. In his childhood, Howard Philips Lovecraft was often sick and supposedly suffered from night terrors that influenced his works later.

Lovecraft lived a very reclused secluded life and after the death of his grandfather his mother was his only contact. This changed when he drew the attention of the president of the United Amateur Press Association. Over the years he built up a network of correspondents including authors like Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. While Lovecraft has mostly written poetry and essays before he turned to fiction in 1917. In 1919 Lovecraft’s mother was institutionalized like his father before and she died only two years later from surgery complications. Losing his mother had devastating effects on him.

Lovecraft1934Three years later, at an amateur journalist convention in Boston, he met the seven year-older Sonia Greene which he married a year later in 1924. But again things went not well for Howard since his spouse lost her hat shop and was forced to move to Cleveland for employment. He stayed in Brooklyn, but was unable to find any work in the midst of Red Hook’s immigrant population.  This had probably a direct influence on his racism and xenophobia that can be felt throughout his works. A couple of years later, Lovecraft divorced his wife amicably and returned to live with his aunts in Providence. After returning to his home town he wrote a lot of his best-known stories an novels like “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” and the “At the Mountains of Madness”.

Even though he was a very prolific writer in the last years before his death, we was unable to make a living. H.P. Lovecraft died as a poor man on March 15, 1937 in Providence.

Lovecraft’s work
Today Lovecraft is widely known for his horror novels and short stories. He created what is now known as the “Cthulhu mythos” (a term created by his friends August Derleth). Most of his stories are set into a fictional part of Massachusetts, called the Miskatonic Valley. The fictional Miskatonic rivers flows through this valley and on his banks lie the communities Arkham, Dunwich and others. Arkham is also home of the Miskatonic University which plays a major role in Lovecraft’s works. The university is known for its vast collection of occult books like the Necronomicon, the Unaussprechliche Kulte by Junzt and the Book of Eibon.

In most of his stories normal people discover that the world is not as it seems. Man is not the pinnacle of evolution but is lost when confronted by powerful alien beings like Cthulhu, Azatoth and others. These extra-dimensional godlike beings have ruled over Earth once and will do so again in the future and there’s nothing man can do to stop them. Lovecraft’s protagonists often try to fight the creatures of the Mythos but often pay with their lives or their sanity.

Lovecraft’s stories are filled with hints at bizarre creatures with disturbing names, strange cults that predate humanity, occult books containing magic rituals and truths about the nature of the universe that could shatter any sane person’s mind. While his stories have a lot of horror elements, they can also be considered part of the science fiction and fantasy genres.

If you want to learn more about H.P. Lovecraft, his life and his works, check out the excellent Wikipedia article about him.

Gaming inpired by the Cthulhu Mythos
Cthulhu and R'lyeh What makes H.P. Lovecraft’s works such a great setting for gaming is not only the detailed background created by him and other authors like August Derleth or Robert E. Howard. It’s also the fact that his stories are set into our world. Even if you know nothing about the Cthulhu Mythos you can start playing Call of Cthulhu (or most of the other Cthulhu mythos-inspired games) without much trouble. Its actually even more fun if you know almost nothing about it and slowly discover (like the protagonists in Lovecraft’s stories) that unspeakable horrors lurk behind the known reality.

In most roleplaying games the players try to attain wealth and power. In most Cthulhu mythos-inspired books knowledge is the most important commodity. Investigation and research usually plays a major role and so players have a lot of opportunities for roleplaying and puzzle-solving. In most cases combat is seldom and deadly, but there are several games that support a more action-oriented adventures.  And as you can see with Green Ronin’s Freeport setting, elements from Lovecraft’s works can even easily added to a fantasy setting.

Roleplaying games inspired by the Cthulhu mythos can be a lot of fun, so if you haven’t tried playing one, you definitely should do so!