Using local history in Call of Cthulhu

Inspired by Dan Harms’ recent post about his work on Aylesbury, I though I might add my own few coins about both Aylesbury and the more general notion of making use of local history in Call of Cthulhu (and perhaps in gaming more generally).

Keith Herber, following after Lovecraft, placed Dunwich about 60 miles west of  Arkham.  Since Arkham is roughly a proxy for Salem, Dunwich lands somewhere around the actually town of Townsend, MA… this means Aylesbury falls somewhere west of Fitchburg, MA.

One of my roles in working on Aylesbury was to do research on local history for the use of our authors, with Dan focusing on Aylesbury and Oscar Rios taking on the crossroads of Dean’s Corners.  So I hied away to the local library (I live in Central MA) and did some widely-ranging reading about the Fitchburg/Leominster area, looking for local legends, crimes, mysteries, people, places, et cetera.

I made a lot of fun discoveries; the Rollstone Boulder, the Disappearance of Lucy Keyes, the Trolleybusses of Fitchburg… I gathered up the oddities as I found them and pass them on to Dan, who picked and chose from what I’d dug up and added bits and pieces into the city he was creating.  Looking at copies of old newspapers I found a myriad of interesting stories, some local, others national, that gave me a better insight into the world as it existed in Lovecraft’s time.  If I’d not done my readings, I’d never have learned about Aloha Wanderwell, or Oomaruru for example.

What I think this project did was to cement into my mind the wonderful utility of making use of research when crafting scenarios (and other projects) for Call of Cthulhu.  Sometimes writers eschew anything more than cursory research into the 20s (or 30s for you Trail writers); who cares how you start a car, or make a trans-Atlantic telephone call?  What point is there in knowing the mayor of Chicago in 1931?

I think the point is this- while simulating a past era is impossible (and sometimes when dealing with painful issues like racism, frankly undesirable), for the writer (and the Keeper I think) there is little as stimulating to the imagination as real life.  In scanning what had happened I found myself spinning off a myriad of new ideas about what “might have” happened in my potential game.  I cannot speak for Dan or Oscar, but I found I had a far better base to build my ideas on once I had a foundation in the real-world places we were reshaping for our own Lovecraftian needs.

For everyone’s amusement (and my apologies for the quality) here is a fun little story about why cows cannot be trusted.


One comment on “Using local history in Call of Cthulhu

  1. […] response to my last post, Bret posted some thoughts on historical research for the Aylesbury setting.   So before I can be accused of being remissed, let me publicly thank […]

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