We all love Lovecraftian horror. Call of Cthulhu has always been a pretty popular roleplaying game. For most people it’s THE horror roleplaying game. But this popularity comes at a price. Over the years, you have seen it all. You quickly know so much about the Cthulhu Mythos, that there are fewer and fewer surprises. Sure, the story presented by the GM may have unexpected twists, but the mystery at the core of it all becomes a bit stale after a while.
Luckily there are games that try to press the same buttons as CoC without actually being based on Lovecraft’s stories. Unfortunately these games don’t get the attention they deserve, so that’s why I want to talk about two games dear to my heart.
The first game is Esoterrorists by Pelgrane Press and written by Robin D. Laws. If I remember correctly it was actually the first game to use the GUMSHOE rules, which were designed to solve a problem Simon Rogers (the guy in charge of Pelgrane Press) often encountered in CoC: a failed roll could stall an investigation for hours. I don’t think I need to go into more detail here, since there are already countless posts on the merits of the GUMSHOE system all over the net.
What also makes Esoterrorists special is that it takes the basic CoC formula and combines it with a new cosmology. In CoC the universe is definitely not a nice place. Uncaring old gods and alien creatures pose a constant threat to humanity which is basically already doomed. There’s no way to win against these odds, the best thing you can do is fight back a little. That’s what the player characters do.
In Esoterrorists the odds are a bit better. The esoteric terrorists mentioned in the game’s title are people who want to tear down the veil between our reality and an alien dimension filled with all kinds of monstrosities. In our world magic doesn’t really work, but with the right rituals and the help of those creatures the veil can be weakened. This allows the esoterrorists to perform stronger magic and more creatures to slip through. The creatures in Esoterrorists are taken from the awesome Book of Unremitting Horrors, which is the most creepy book I ever reviewed. Seriously.
So Esoterrorists combines the investigative gameplay of Call of Cthulhu with a totally fresh setting featuring weird and creepy monsters which will be nightmare fuel for your players for days. Pelgrane Press actually released a 2nd Edition a while back which is highly recommended. You can get it from your local dealer, at the official Pelgrane Press store or digitally at RPGNow.
The other game I want to write about is Silent Legions by Sine Nomine Publishing. Kevin Crawford’s game is basically a build-your-own-mythos toolkit. The game uses OD&D as a basis and adds a Traveller-like skill system much like in his most popular game Stars Without Number.
Instead of providing the GM with a ready-made cast of antagonists, it allows you to create your own version of the mythos. You could basically use it to run a game using the Cthulhu mythos, or something of your own design. Like Kevin’s other games it’s designed with sandbox campaigns in mind. If you look for something to pick up and play Silent Legions might not be the perfect choice, but if you want to have Call of Cthulhu-inspired gameplay but with a cosmology created by yourself, Silent Legions is for you. It’s definitely among my favorite Sine Nomine games, but it didn’t get the attention it deserved. Perhaps a lot of GMs prefer to tread in well-known paths instead of exploring the unknow after all.
These are just two games which could be an alternative to the many games inspired by Lovecraft’s works. They are both heavily investigation-focused and feature elements of cosmic horror. I wholeheartedly recommend checking them out.