If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing.

Since I started tabletop gaming mumblecough years ago, I've always found storytelling inspiration from the RPGs. From designing my character and developing his back story, to building a world and populating it with allies and adversaries, the games I've played have lived on in my imagination long after I've gotten up from the table and put the dice back in their bag. But it wasn't until recently that I heard Steve Jackson say "all games are role playing games, in their own way", and I realized that there's just as much inspiration to be found in tabletop boardgames as there is in tabletop RPGs.

I've been playing the hell out of the tabletop and iOS versions of the game Elder Sign. In addition to having a whole lot of fun trying (and frequently failing) to save the world from The Ancient Ones, it's inspired me to dive ever deeper into the world that HP Lovecraft created in the 1920s. I've been reading his stories, listening to their audio versions, and nudging my subconscious toward developing my own short story set in his world. Whenever my mind wanders these days, it veers dangerously close to the Mountains of Madness.

If you'd told me a few weeks ago that a boardgame that takes 45 minutes to play (and its iOS version that takes about 20 minutes to play) would capture my imagination and inspire me to try my hand at writing a Lovecraftian story, I would have thought you'd uncovered a Secret Man Was Not Meant To Know… but here we are.

This is one of the wonderful aspects of gaming, that I think gets overlooked: when we play games, we're using our imaginations to bring cardboard and plastic to life. If we're lucky, that spark can start a fire that burns long after the game has been put away.

By the way, if you're interested in Lovecraft, but don't know where to start, you may want to check out the incredible collection of Lovecraft's complete works that Cthulhuchick put together, and listen to the fantastic Stuff You Should Know episode about the Necronomicon. I can't recommend Neil Gaiman's I, Cthulhu enough. I also found this collection of Lovecraft audio works at archive.org that's pretty comprehensive and very well produced.

23 thoughts on “If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing.”

  1. this post reminds me of what my friends and i play. we play arkham horror every weds night. loveing it very much. might bring it to phoenix comic con this year and play it there also at night

  2. If you’re a Stephen King Fan, I would love to hear your thoughts on Dark Tower lore… It’s a pretty specific nerdity, but nerds for one thing tend to be nerds for other things. I saw a blog that would have cast you in the upcoming Dark Tower Movies as one of the Dean Brothers.

  3. What I love about Gloom is the way that it encourages people to create a story; one of the problems I’ve had with Cthulhu Gloom is that it’s a little TOO specific and requires some knowledge of Lovecraft for people to get the references and characters. A friend of mine and I have been developing a game called The Doom That Came To Atlantic City that is, essentially, Arkham Horror and Monopoly reversed; instead of building a city and closing gates, you play competing old ones destroying the city and opening gates. Sadly, the deal we to get Doom out last year fell through and its current fate remains unknown.
    You said you’re inspired to try your hand at a Lovecraftian tale… will you be posting that here?

  4. Don’t forget one of the best Lovecraftian writers out there right now (and daresay Mr. Gaiman would agree with me): Caitlin R. Kiernan. Or the recent collection, that includes one of her stories, edited by Ellen Datlow: Lovecraft Unbound.

  5. Eloquently put. That’s why I always tried to build Magic: The Gathering decks (in ancient times, when I still played) that had a theme and made sense rather than just combine the most powerful cards.

  6. A game you might like to check out is “Aye, Dark Overlord”. It’s essentially a game like Gloom except three people play minions while one person plays the Overlord. The goal of the game is to build a story as to why the Overlord’s best laid plans failed while shirking the blame onto other characters. The cards supply names, pictures, and locations but you’re only restricted by your imagination. I recommend it highly especially if you like the feeling of being a Blofeld villain about to send one of your minions to certain doom.
    Check it out: http://fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite.asp?eidm=69

  7. This takes me back. I first got interested in reading Lovecraft after playing the original Alone in the Dark game. It doesn’t look too scary now, but back then it was creepy. My parent’s weren’t real happy with the phone bill I racked up on the Infogrames tip line, however.
    I learned about Lovecraftian horror and getting screwed by the minute all at the same time. Who says video games don’t teach you anything?

  8. Here is my idea for an Elder Gods mythos story: a group of scientists build a time machine which sends them back in time to the Jurassic period, where they witness the Ancient Ones destroying the dinosaurs in a hellish blood-soaked nightmare beyond the realm of imagination. They then get transported back to present day to warn the rest of society but they are mad so no one takes them seriously. with disastrous results.

  9. Duuuuuuude… shit yes. I’ve been getting seriously into Lovecraft’s stories (though I’ve always been pretty interested in/fascinated with the Cthulhu Mythos). You can get damn near all of them available for free due to their public domain status, and so far, not one of them has disappointed me (short stories and all).
    If you’re headed in that direction for a piece in the near future, then I tingle with excitement, sir. (If not, then damn you to hell for being a novella-tease. ;))

  10. My husband and I have been tabletop gamers for many years and I dread every time he suggests starting up a new Call of Cthulhu campaign – he’s a terrific storyteller, to the point I’ve had nightmares after some of his campaigns. We’re actually in the middle of starting up a new one right now, which is why your blog really caught my eye. I completely agree with you!
    On a lighter note, during my game research I stumbled on something I thought you might enjoy: a special primer into the world of The Old Ones. Enjoy! :D http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOHJUrcVdJk

  11. You are a model for man, Mr. Wheaton. Have you tried Arkham Horror? Or, my personal favorite “board game” Twilight Imperium? I loves me a good P n’ P RPG, but I find it harder and harder to get a group together with any regularity anymore. Thank science I found out about Fantasy Flight Games. The narrative, especially in Arkham Horror, is just so deep and rich. It’s like having a DM with nothing but time on his hands craft all sorts of adventures for you. I used to craft campaigns all the time, in the before times…

  12. Dang it, now I’m totally hooked on Elder Sign: Omens! Looking to physical board games, if you like Arkham Horror & Elder Sign, you should definitely check out Betrayal At House On The Hill (http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/10547/betrayal-at-house-on-the-hill) if you don’t already know it. It’s similar to Arkham Horror, but the threat changes every time and one of the players (no one knows who at the start) generally ends up playing the bad guy. It’s an excellent RP-board game. I’d bring it on JCCC, but it’s a big box (and hey, if we get a chance to play a game, I want to show you The DOom That Came TO Atlantic City!). Still, check it out when you can!

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