Authors of Beyond the Mountains of Madness
In the world of Call of Cthulhu Chaz & Jan Engan are perhaps best known as the primary authors of what has become a roleplaying classic: Beyond the Mountains of Madness. This huge (400+ pages) campaign designed to follow on from Lovecraft's story At the Mountains of Madness has become firmly established as one of the best CoC supplements ever to see print. Here Chaz & Jan talk about the game, their love of roleplaying and of course, Beyond the Mountains of Madness...
YSDC: How were you introduced to Call of Cthulhu?
Chaz: Living and gaming in Berkeley in the early 1980s, you couldn't really avoid Chaosium. A couple of friends of mine were playtesters for the company, so some of it came into our gaming group that way. Mike Blum, who did the deckplans and many of the maps & charts for BtMoM, had a pre-release (v0.9) copy of the CoC rules which he brought out one night in '80 or '81. We all rolled up investigators and launched into the Corbitt Diary scenario [The Haunting - Ed.]. I was very happy - the system was BRP, which I knew already from Runequest, but with some fun twists - and I'd already read and enjoyed a lot of Lovecraft, so for me it was a chance to live through a number of beloved tales. The game was quite a hit, and began an ongoing campaign which lasted for many years.
Janyce: I'd heard murmurings about it's release through the gaming grapevine - saw some ads in a couple of (now gone) gaming magazines. I'd also been reading Lovecraft (and Poe .. . and others of that genre) since junior high - so I had a good grounding in what Lovecraft was all about.
At that time, I'd only played in the dungeon-style games - and was beginning to get the feeling that there had to be "more" - it gave me the urge to want to try to run my own game. These things all collided at about the same time - so when I saw that CoC was available - I mail ordered it - and the rest is "history" as they say.
YSDC: Why do you think the game has been so successful?
Chaz: Setting my own particular interests aside, I'd say it's a combination of things. The system is simple to grasp and quick to play; the concept, like HPL's pulp horror, is appealing on a visceral level; it's different enough from the many variants of kill-the-monster-take-the-treasure that have glutted the game market that it catches the eye and fires the imagination.
Moving deeper, CoC's insistence that man is weak and flawed, constantly at risk, and adrift in a universe that is unknowable and filled with horrors just beneath the surface is a heady brew for imaginative roleplayers. The game encourages good roleplaying, precisely because the PCs cannot render themselves invulnerable or invincible; every escape is by the skin of one's teeth, victory is never complete. That's good stuff.
Add to that the period flavour, which I think is a big attraction, and you've got a very good thing. (We'll talk about that more in the next question.)
Janyce: Hmmm - Chaz has pretty much said it all - at least from a players point of view. For me - from the Ref's point of view - CoC is a stage, a canvas on which I can really practice the ART of running a game. The way its rules are constructed encourages both out of the box thinking on the players part - and out of the box thinking on the Ref's part.
I don't really think of what we do with CoC as "gaming" really - but more akin to interactive theatre, or collabrative story telling... it's hard to encapsulate in a few words.
But CoC creates EXPERIENCES for players and Ref's... not just experience points - if you see what I mean.
YSDC: What is your favourite era (& why)?
Chaz: Definitely the "Classic" era, 1920s/30s. My reasons are all tangled together. It's an exotic time to most of us now, filled with familiar tropes and tales but still foreign. HPL's own work was written and set then, and a lot of my own inspiration comes from those old pulps and their purple prose. The era is one where the world has suddenly become uncertain; laws of nature and society are in flux and nothing is stable any more. A very heady time, filled with joy and danger and a lot of psychological freedom. Physics, tradition, religion, morality, psychology, the structure of the mind and the soul, all of it breaking down and the new forms not yet certain. People are becoming aware, from the governments and big businesses all the way down to the country priests and individual investigators, that the tools do not yet exist to find the answers. Despite this, the people of the day are still more driven by faith and ideals than most folk now; there was a sort of innocence even in the Lost Generation that is lacking in 2005.
I like placing myself in that place, to be a man of his day who is not ashamed to be shocked by horrible things instead of jaded, whose faith in God is not embarassing or mocked by others. It drives the conflict deeper, helps me to feel it more strongly. I like that; I'm a very immersive player.
The other two popular eras, "Victorian" and "Modern", lack that careful balance. The Victorian age lacks the edginess and uncertainty -- things are too well-known, in a way, even if that certainty is an illusion. Contrariwise, the modern era is too jaded for me; you can play a great Delta Green-style conspiracy game, but monsters and alien invasions are so much a part of the common culture now that the sense of scrabbling for a toehold against the unknowable isn't really there.
Your mileage may vary, of course.