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Horror Roleplaying in 1890s England: Cthulhu By Gaslight

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

cthulhu-by-gaslightContrary to what you may read, it’s not all about Barbarian Prince and First Edition AD&D after hours here at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters.

No, sometimes during our friendly evening gatherings we just sit around and reminisce about great gaming sessions of old. I played a bit of Call of Cthulhu in my day; so much so that it’s probably my second favorite RPG (right behind AD&D).

Together with a few close friends I trekked down my fair share of fog-shrouded New England back alleys, trying to sound like Sam Spade while deftly making perception checks and shining feeble torchlight on things better left unseen.

Good times, good times. Except for the failed sanity rolls, of course, and the frequent times I was forced to crumble up my character sheet while Brian Muir, our game master, described how my character was dragged off to the asylum, screaming in wordless horror. Sometimes I wonder how I stumbled into this hobby.

But mostly what I remember about Call of Cthulhu was that Chaosium had hands down the best packaged adventures on the market. Seriously, they were epic. Larry Ditillio’s globe-spanning Masks of Nyarlathotep is still considered the high water mark for RPG adventures in the 1980s, and Keith Herber’s Spawn of Azathoth won the Gamer’s Choice Award for Best Role Playing Adventure in 1987.

Beyond the Mountains of Madness, an enormous 438-page masterwork from Charles and Janyce Engan, commands outrageous collector’s prices today (copies are currently selling at Amazon.com for $555 — and up), and that’s not even the most sought-after. That distinction belongs to Horror on the Orient Express, a fabulous boxed set released in 1991 which sold out quickly and has never been reprinted.

But it was William A. Barton’s Cthulhu By Gaslight that was always my favorite.

Cthulhu By Gaslight was originally released as a boxed set in 1986, one of the first projects from the tireless Lynn Willis. It moved the setting of the game from 1920s New England to Victorian England, the era of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Jack the Ripper, and the foggy streets of mysterious London, the financial and cultural capital of the world.

As much as I enjoyed Chaosium’s other published adventures, there was just something about the 1890s England that perfectly suited the creeping horror of the game.

Cthulhu by Gaslight original boxed set (1986)

Cthulhu by Gaslight original boxed set (1986)

The original edition of CBG included a thick sourcebook for the 1890s, a detailed fold-out map of London, and a complete adventure, The Yorkshire Horrors. In terms of awards it was perhaps the most acclaimed game Chaosium published that decade, winning both the Origins Award and Gamer’s Choice Award in 1987.

Cthulhu By Gaslight was reprinted once in 1988, in a revised and corrected second edition with new essays and six color plates, totaling 124 pages. But for several years players have been calling for a more substantial update to bring it in line with current versions of the game, and this month Chaosium delivered.

This new edition of Cthulhu by Gaslight has been thoroughly revamped, expanding the book by nearly half, and adding new material roughly equivalent to the original book’s length. We have more thoroughly developed the Victorian England setting. Character creation has been reworked, with some new wrinkles added, and there are new articles on the Victorian world, crime, politics, personalities, and so forth. There are also extensive new sections on the Cthulhu Mythos in Britain — creatures, cults, books, etc. — including a precis of Ramsey Campbell’s Severn River Valley. Also included are tips on running various types of Gaslight era campaigns, a gazetteer of intriguing British myths and legends, a selection of friends and foes from Victorian fiction, and a lengthy new bibliography/filmography of suggested reading and viewing. Rounding out this new edition are a pair of new Victorian era scenarios — one an urban adventure set in London, the other set in rural Dartmoor.

With this book and a copy of the Call of Cthulhu core rulebook, a prospective Keeper can run a campaign set in Victorian England. This edition provides a strong background in both the Victorian world and the activities of the Cthulhu Mythos within it. So grab your coat, hat, and walking stick, and have the doctor bring his bag and revolver. It s time to step into a world of Victorian occult adventure — the world of Cthulhu by Gaslight!

The third edition is 192 pages and includes the complete fold-out map of 1890s London. It’s available for $28.95, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it.

Shadows of Yog SothothWe’ve covered several excellent Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu adventures and supplements over the past few years, including:

Shadows of Yog-Sothoth from Chaosium (1982)
Cthulhu By Gaslight from Chaosium (2012)
Achtung! Cthulhu from Modiphius Entertainment (2012)
The House of R’lyeh from Chaosium (2013)
Out of Space from Pelgrane Press (2013)
Eternal Lies from Pelgrane Press (2013)
Cthulhu Britannica: Shadows Over Scotland from Cubicle Seven (2014)
Horror on the Orient Express (second edition) from Chaosium (2014)
Mythos Expeditions from Pelgrane Press (2014)
Punktown from Miskatonic River Press (forthcoming)

See all of our recent New Treasures here.

8 Comments »

  1. Oh, those old Call of Cthulhu campaigns! My old college gaming gaggle used to sneak into the psychology building, a Victorian Gothic beauty, and game in the senior seminar room. The dusty oriental carpets, sculpted ceilings, and pseudo-medieval central table set the mood just right. The irony of taking sanity damage in the psych building was pretty delicious, too. I have some fond memories of, um, discovering the supernaturally savaged remains of Jackson Elias, one of my favorite prefabricated NPCs of all time.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - April 18, 2012 9:29 pm

  2. Sarah,

    Wow! That sounds marvelous.

    Most of my role playing was done in basements. Which you’d think might be appropriate for dungeon crawling but really, not so much. Your setting sounds so much superior.

    Comment by John ONeill - April 20, 2012 2:47 am

  3. […] a fusion of the brilliance of Chaosium’s best adventure modules — including Cthulhu By Gaslight, the award-winning Masks of Nyarlathotep, Thieves’ World, and Shadows of Yog-Sothoth — and […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » New Treasures: Monster Island by Pete Nash & Friends - August 25, 2013 2:12 pm

  4. […] at Chaosium Lynn helped write and edit no less than 54 Call of Cthulhu books and supplements like Cthulhu by Gaslight, as well as a host of other board games and products, including Arkham Horror, RuneQuest, […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Vintage Treasures: Shadows of Yog-Sothoth - December 18, 2013 12:38 pm

  5. […] Borderlands, Pavis, Big Rubble, Questworld, Stormbringer Companion, Elric, Masks of Nyarlathotep, Cthulhu by Gaslight, Dreamlands, Horror on the Orient Express, and Beyond the Mountains of […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » R.I.P. Lynn Willis, Game Designer Extraordinaire - December 18, 2013 12:43 pm

  6. […] aware that’s longer than most of you have been alive. Shut up), and the most recent, Cthulhu By Gaslight, last April. I haven’t played CoC in years (decades, probably), but the adventures are […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » New Treasures: The House of R’lyeh: Five Scenarios Based on Tales by H.P. Lovecraft - March 24, 2014 1:06 am

  7. […] of Yog-Sothoth from Chaosium (1982) Cthulhu By Gaslight from Chaosium (2012) The House of R’lyeh from Chaosium (2013) Out of Space from Pelgrane […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » New Treasures: Out of Space - June 13, 2014 2:32 am

  8. […] of Yog-Sothoth from Chaosium (1982) Cthulhu By Gaslight from Chaosium (2012) The House of R’lyeh from Chaosium (2013) Out of Space from Pelgrane […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » New Treasures: Trail of Cthulhu: Eternal Lies - June 13, 2014 9:57 am


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