It’s the 122 birthday of H.P. Lovecraft, and 76 years since his death. Lovecraft has influenced a number of tabletop games, and his cosmic horror has left a mark on a number of game designers, writers, artists and gamers. In honor of his birthday, take a foray into the life and works of the man who put the names of the Elder Gods on countless lips.
His Horrific Cosmos
In the world of Lovecraft’s works, humanity is largely ignorant of the horrible truths of the Universe. We are surrounded by the machinations of ancient beings from other dimensions, whose agents walk among us, largely concealed. Books of incredible power, possessed of sanity-rending truths are one wrong rare book read away. He created a few fictional New England locales, none of which exist in history as we know it, which are centers of activity in this vast and horrifying cosmos. Cthulhu, one of the dread beings known as the Elder Gods, slumbers, and those who know his name but have no faith in him desperately hope that he will never awake. The heart of Lovecraft’s horror, to me, is that humanity is so small, so insignificant, that the odds of saving themselves from these powerful beings are very, very low. Some of his other themes would include the discovery of hidden or forbidden information, inheriting guilt and terrible fates from often distant relatives, and the consequences of breeding with extra-dimensional beings.
Like any setting, Lovecraft’s has its own linguistic hallmarks. The first being Lovecraft’s voice as an author, and the second the terms and names for creatures, events and locations throughout the Lovecraft Mythos.
Man Behind the Mythos
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born August 20th, 1890. He died at age 46 on March 15th, 1937. His father was hospitalized when he was young, and died there. He was raised by his mother, aunts, and maternal grandfather. He was in poor health as a child, and suffered from nightmares as a teen. It’s not unusual for those confined to bedrest to become voracious readers, which Lovecraft was. His self-described nervous breakdown in his late teens kept him from graduating high school. Perhaps in some other timeline, Lovecraft became an astronomer (he maintained a lifelong passion for it), but in ours, he started writing as a child, and would write for many years to come. Lovecraft started in poetry but transitioned into writing his brand of cosmic horror over time, and left behind a massive amount of personal correspondence in the form of letters with his large network of peers he wrote to.
He was briefly married to Sonia Greene, a milliner and single mother who was involved in amateur press activities, writing, and several early zines that she bankrolled. Once they were married, her difficulties finding employment after losing her job in millinery would cause her to relocate out of the area. Their two year marriage would end amicably, though their divorce was never legally finalized. Lovecraft never remarried. He kept writing, both fiction and correspondence, for years. He eventually died of intestinal cancer, and left the world with a substantial amount of written work to linger long after his death.
Three paragraphs is a poor summation of a lifetime of work, so S.T. Joshi’s biography of Lovecraft, I Am Providence, is a good starting point to learning more about him in context to his life. For a primer on his short story work, Tour De Lovecraft by Kenneth Hite is a handy and slender guide. There’s far more out there than those two volumes, but there’s a rabbit hole worth of bibliography citations you’ll get to fall down once you read those. You can also dig up a trove of information online at the H.P. Lovecraft Archive and Cthulhu Chick’s website.
Lest I end with giving the impression of Lovecraft as a sickly, amicable fellow who went to his grave in pain but right with the world: Lovecraft was a racist. It shows up in his work, though it’s more to the point and obvious in his correspondence. Since he’s had strong influence on generations of writers that came after him, across a number of genres, he’s a long-lived case study of enjoying problematic content.
I know I’ve recommended her blog before, but Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of the most eloquent writers I’ve encountered when it comes to the subject of Lovecraft’s work and the modern authors who have come behind him (and largely left his white-male-protagonists and racism behind them). She’s also the publisher behind Innsmouth Free Press, which puts on some of the best Lovecraft related content there is.
The Shadow Over Innsmouth Gaming
Delta Green. Trail of Cthulhu. The Smoke. Call of Cthulhu. Arkham Horror. Cthulhu Dice. Chez Cthulhu. Building An Elder God. Cthulhu Gloom. Cthulhu Tech. That’s a thimbleful of gaming content inspired by Lovecraft’s work, spanning RPGs, card and board games. Lovecraft’s work has so many themes that continue to be interesting, and the aesthetics of his setting continue to be strong. When taking Lovecraftian Mythos out of New England and plugging it into different time periods and countries, the Mythos still works. And that’s something not every author can succeed in.
If you have a favorite website, publisher or game that touches on the Lovecraft Mythos, leave the names and links in the comments as a resource for others!