Homebrewing an Investigative Horror RPG, Part 2


original photo credit: Martin Schmieder, Stuttgart

Aside from the system, for the setting of this investigative horror RPG, I use an alternate Earth history as the basis of past events, peoples, and locations that lead up to a different present. Robert W. Chambers used this technique in his collected short stories, The King In Yellow, to produce a subtly unsettling effect on the reader. Alternate history also serves as protection for the lazy gamemaster from history buffs.

The alternate pivotal moments of history in this setting include the following:

  • Scandinavian explorers successfully settled the northeastern parts of North America in the 10th century.
  • The Yellowstone Cauldera erupted in the 15th century, plunging the world into a little ice age, delaying further European exploration, expansion, and the so-called “Enlightenment” by centuries.

For the location, I focus on a small region with unusual but real world features: Manicouagan Reservoir and René-Levasseur Island, also known as the Eye of Quebec.

Manicoagan in summer

Manicouagan in summer

Manicouagan in winter

Manicouagan in winter

Created by a meteor impact millions of years ago, the location features a ring of upraised mountains surrounding a crater valley, a deep annular lake into which drain several rivers, and an uplifted island roughly 35 miles across. I have taken the liberty of making the lake natural rather than artificial by damming.

From above, the location looks like a round head with beard and multiple sets of horns, evoking Lovecraft’s Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.

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The boreal forests and myths of the aboriginal people surrounding the location are also suitable for such tales as Algernon Blackwood’s The Wendigo.

In the setting, this unusual location became an inland hub of North American trade and civilization during a period that corresponds roughly with the 1850s in terms of technology and society. The industriousness that was once a virtue among Scandinavians has turned into a vice, as technological innovation begins to outpace wisdom. The region is still ruled by a king and earls who are guided by the church, but there is pressure from academia and revolutionary forces towards secularism and populism—the latter an often overlooked aspect of Lovecraft’s works:

“Democracy is a false idol—a mere catchword and illusion of inferior classes, visionaries and dying civilizations.”

(H.P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters I: 1911–1924)

The working title of the setting is “Thule”, for its consonance with the name Cthulhu, and its evocation of the poems of both Goethe and Poe.