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Sandy Petersen Interview

Call of Cthulhu Designer

Carl Sanford Joslyn Petersen was born on September 16, 1955 in St. Louis, Missouri. His now famous interest in H.P. Lovecraft came through reading a World War II Armed Services edition of The Dunwich Horror and other Weird Tales found in his father's library. Sandy attended UC-Berkeley undertaking graduate work majoring in Zoology. His introduction to role-playing came in 1974 with Dungeons & Dragons and his first work for Chaosium (The Gateway Bestiary) appeared in 1980. Sandy Petersen is the author of Call of Cthulhu.
YSDC: What inspired you to write Call of Cthulhu?

SP: I originally proposed a Dreamlands expansion pack for the RuneQuest game. Greg Stafford told me that they were already working on a full Lovecraft game, and I asked if I could help in any way, as a fanatical adherent of Lovecraft. His response was to throw the whole project in my lap.

YSDC: How long did it take you to write the original game?

SP: Almost exactly a year.

YSDC: Why do you think CoC has been so successful?

SP: The fundamental principle behind the Cthulhu Mythos is that when humans start messing with the Outside, it's terrifying to the point of madness. Many people like the topic of horror, and CoC lets them experience it undiluted. Most other horror-oriented games violate or soften the rules of horror; for example, by making the hero an action star. Call of Cthulhu pits you against the terrors of darkness without any backup or any hope if you should fail. It goes for the throat, instead of the heart.

YSDC: Do you have a favourite CoC supplement/scenario?

SP: Shadows of Yog-Sothoth.

YSDC: Why did you decide to leave Chaosium?

SP: The pay.

YSDC: Do you still play, if so what edition, any house rules?

SP: Yes I still play, using the 4th edition, my favourite because it still has my picture on the back cover. House rules? Probably every game I play has some rule changed.

YSDC: Do you think you would write again for CoC?

SP: I've developed several scenarios since leaving Chaosium but so far I've only used them to run at conventions for my own amusement.

YSDC: What is your favourite era (& why)?

SP: Modern times. Lovecraft wrote his tales in what was, to him, the "modern" era. M. R. James says that the best ghost stories are placed in a setting in which the reader could plausibly imagine himself to be. Finally, the modern setting lets the keeper take more for granted about the world and not get caught up in details such as "Were there trans-Atlantic flights in the early 1920s?".

YSDC: What do think of other eras not officially licensed by Chaosium (Dark Ages, Elizabethan etc)?

SP: Nothing wrong with that. Two of the scenarios I've put together and run with great success at conventions are Unit 731 which takes place in 1947 and We Will Still Be Monkeys which takes place in the future (2100 or so).