Monday, September 06, 2021


Chaosium was clearing its warehouses at the end of July -- some bargains seem to be available still! -- and I decided to spend some royalty money on H.P. Lovecraft's Dunwich for Call of Cthulhu. I'm not sure why I picked that one out of everything available, but I'm glad I did. Allow me to tell you why.

The Good
  • The format is a lovely surprise. I was expecting a sourcebook on Dunwich, with some related adventures, a bit like Chaosium's books on real-life locations like Cairo and London, and that is sort of what you get.


    It turns out the book is more of a sandbox, akin to an old school D&D adventure. You get a -- long! -- list of locations, the people associated with them, and any events -- eldritch or otherwise -- tied to them, but there is no plot as such. That said, there are some ongoing agendas and schemes, but nothing like the sort of strong plotting one expects from a CoC adventure. Not only is it refreshing, the gazetteer-like approach makes the content easy to read and, probably, prepare. Which is good, because there is a lot of content. Speaking of which...

  • So... much... stuff! Every house, building, or other point of interest is listed and numbered. There are almost a thousand locations, although some are empty. I haven't got this to the table -- and I am unlikely to do so since one of my regular players has read the whole lot -- but I imagine you could get weeks if not months of play out of Dunwich and the surrounding area.

  • The content is pretty good too. There is a lot of interesting stuff to investigate and poke, some of which is waiting for the players to discover, some of which is carrying on without them. It all seems very playable and it feels like a real, living location. There are plenty of non-Mythos interactions too, which is good, but I'll have more to say about that in a bit.

The Bad
  • The d20 Call of Cthulhu rules. Ha. No, I joke. I'm all in favour of 7th-level Librarians.

The Ugly
  • There is some... "old-fashioned" terminology used to describe the mental and physical condition of some of the Dunwich residents. This is a 2002 revision of a 1991 book, but even so I was surprised. On the plus side, there are only a handful of occurrences, but beware and be prepared to ignore the Old Ways.

  • There are a couple of sections that are a bit dungeony and feel out of place in Call of Cthulhu. These were perhaps less jarring in 1991 but they feel very wrong these days.

  • I think there's too much Cthulhu Mythos content. This seems like an odd complaint for a game about the Mythos, but bear with me. Without going into spoilers, there are at least three major Mythos, er, vectors, only one of which has anything to do with the Dunwich Horror. It feels a bit greedy and over the top and moreover, the intellectual, physical, and social decay running through Dunwich is given a Mythos origin, which I feel undermines the Deliverance-like horror of the setting; I prefer to think that the Dunwich Horror happened because the village was already corrupted by human failings, rather than those failings being caused by an alien influence.

    (What's worse is that the book is inconsistent on how pervasive this influence is and jumps through unconvincing hoops to explain why some villagers are unaffected.)

    I would remove at least one of these Mythos elements, maybe even two, and make the village a bit less of a Cthulhu "zoo". Cthulzoo?

  • I am not a huge fan of the cover, as seen above. It's a fine picture and better than anything I can do, but as a cover it tells us nothing about the book, except that there is a wrinkly old man in it. It's not much of a spoiler to reveal that there are quite a few wrinkly old men in the Dunwich area.

    The cover for 1991's Return to Dunwich is more overt -- perhaps obvious -- as a piece of horror art -- and to be fair, seems to illustrate one minor possible encounter out of almost a thousand, so I can see why it was changed for the reprint -- but it's also more striking as a visual. It looks like the cover of a dodgy VHS horror film, exactly the sort of thing I would rent in a heartbeat.

That looks like more bullet points for Ugly than Good, but worry not! That first Good point is such a... good point that it more than makes up for the flaws, and most of the issues with the book can be fixed with ease, or ignored without making the adventures more difficult to play.

(I would go into specifics on said fixes, but, you know, spoilers.)

I remember seeing the original Return to Dunwich book in the collection of my old Call of Cthulhu GM Keeper Dave and that cover jumped out at me even back then. For whatever reason we never went to Dunwich in Dave's campaign, but I hope I'll get a chance to run it one day, as it seems like great, degenerate, backwoods, fun.

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