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  • Monterey Jack or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cthulhu


    The following article by Ben Monroe  (@BMonroe) reflects many of our early (and continuing) passions for the great game that is Call of Cthulhu. Here Ben describes his introduction to the game and the creation of one of its more legendary characters, the inimitable Monterey Jack!


    In the history of the Call of Cthulhu game, there are certain names and characters that bring an instant flood of memories to long-time players. Who does not wax nostalgic when they hear the name "Jackson Elias" or get the shivers at the mention of "Carl Stanford"? Likewise, the mention of Sandy Petersen, Keith Herber, or Kevin Ross evoke memories of favourite scenarios, terrifying moments and chilling tales.


    The character of "Monterey Jack" is, in many ways a fitting symbol of my own peculiar involvement with the Call of Cthulhu game. It seems like he’s always been there, showing up in various adventures and sourcebooks, but never made the leap to a 'great' NPC of any sort. I myself have written merely a handful of Cthulhu scenarios, and edited a very few books for Chaosium, but will never join the ranks of Petersen, Herber or Ross.


    Monterey Jack, or "Monty" as we affectionately called him, was my first Investigator for Call of Cthulhu. I discovered the game soon after its initial release back in the early 80s. I'd been a D&D and Runequest player for a few years, and was a burgeoning Lovecraft aficionado. A clerk at my local game store heard me talking about the neat "Cthulhu gods" in Deities & Demigods and pushed me in the direction of CoC. What a treat! I saved up my allowance over the next few weeks, bought a copy of the game, and discovered (as so many others had before and even more after) a whole new style of gaming.


    Sitting down to make a character, I first wanted to make up a deep one. Having played Runequest, I assumed that you could play any of the monster races in the game as well. Somehow, it didn't seem odd to me at all. I quickly came to my senses, however, and gave up on that idea. So, what to play? My friends were all itching to try this new game, and I had to figure out the rules for making investigators. I decided to try my hand at an "Indiana Jones" pastiche. It was easier for me to make up a guy based on an existing character, and that way just learn the rules. Being 13 at the time, naming this hero after a local cheese seemed funny, so I went with the name "Monterey Jack".


    And in that moment, in the library of Willard Jr. High School in Berkeley, CA. a legend was born. Not much of a legend, but one nonetheless. I played Cthulhu all summer with my friends. Just could not get enough of that game. Not soon after, I discovered a note on the bulletin board at my local game store. Sandy Petersen had just moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and was looking for players for his regular weekend game. Well, I knew I just had to be involved in that, so I called and got into his game. So, I polished up Monty's character sheet, and took him off to the first of my Cthulhu games with Sandy.


    That first game set the tone for much of Monty's career. His background was negligible, I think I knew he was a professor of Archaeology at Ol' M.U. and that was about it. We were hired for some forgotten reason to go into the mountains of West Virginia and learn all we could about the myth of the "Moth Man." So, assembling our group, we trundled off in our trusty auto, a 1924 'Bulgemobile' ("You won't believe they're not low-priced!") in search of adventure.


    The scenario was mercifully short. We came to town, poked around a bit and went to bed. That night, all the villagers left chunks of bloody meat out on their doorsteps... odd... The next day, we found a villager impaled on a giant iron hook somewhere outside of town. We asked what had happened to him, and were told he was being "punished"... we never found out why. We got the hell out of that town as fast as possible, leaving the mystery of Moth Man behind us. (Note: I've been harassing Sandy for the past 20+ years, and he still won't tell me the secret of the adventure.)


    After that, we began playing through the Shadows of Yog-Sothoth campaign. Slyly infiltrating the Silver Twilight Lodge (I think the other investigators distracted the cultists while Monty broke in through the storm cellar... he was nothing if not subtle) Monty found a copy of the Necronomicon and learned his first spell! "Resurrection" it was, and how useful that proved to be. When we got to the basement of the lodge, and found dozens of jars of "Essential Saltes" Monterey Jack was the only one who had the ability to pour them all out into a pile and cast the spell on the whole mess.


    That was Monty's first trip to the lunatic asylum. And I believe the last time he ever cast a spell. Monty was really a prime example of "Curiosity killing the cat". He was notable for being one of the only investigators I've heard of who actually actively sought out the monsters... It actually became a form of his insanity, a sort of obsessive need to see the monsters. I played it as though he needed the verification that these things existed, by having him jump through hoops to find them. If the group was investigating an abandoned farmhouse with rumours of ghosts, or slimy monsters, Monty would be the first to volunteer to climb down the rope into the dark, dank well. In truth, being a fan of the horror genre, I just wanted to see the monster myself. We were playing horror games, after all, and what was the point if I didn't get to see the monster?


    Again, remember I was 13-15 at the time. Subtlety was not in my vocabulary.

    It was about this time that Monty began insidiously creeping in to various Cthulhu supplements. I believe he was mentioned in the Theron Marks Society Manual, was a character in Arkham Horror and showed up in a number of other places. Never got much attention, just a lone thread, weaving through a vast tapestry.


    Monty was in many respects, simply a trickster archetype. He served as the "MacGuffin" in many of Sandy's games. He was a perfect shill to get the ball rolling, as he was always on the lookout for monsters and their spoor. After the initial clue was dropped, Monty would assemble a team of companions (strangely, nobody would ever follow him on a second expedition) and go off in search of adventure. Inevitably, he would lose his marbles trying to glean a view of the monster, and be removed from play. (It got so bad, he went indefinitely insane just seeing the corpse in the first scene of Masks of Nyarlathotep!) From there, the rest of the investigators would finish off the adventure, and live to rue the day they'd listened to "that madman!".


    Soon after graduating High School, I began working at Chaosium. First in the warehouse, packing and collating boxes, then within a year I was being trained as a graphic designer/layout dude and editor. I helped out in the production, editing and writing of a number of projects, most of which are now long forgotten to me. The two that I still hold in high favour, however, are the work I did on the Stormbringer game (revising the magic system for the 4th edition) and Blood Brothers. Blood Brothers was a project that grew out of my long-time love of horror movies. I had long been a proponent of the fact that Cthulhu as a game could be used to model non-mythos horror. When the gang at Chaosium told me they were going to let me manage my own book, and to come back with ideas, Blood Brothers was the one that we decided to go with. (I had another idea about a game where all the players played Vampires, inspired by my then-current fascination with films like The Lost Boys, Near Dark, and Anne Rice's books, but it was agreed that there would be a limited market for it... shut up.)


    In building the first Blood Brothers book, I got to work with some of Chaosium's best authors, and allow some who'd never written for the game to take a stab at it. I also was able to publish my first scenario, Dead on Arrival, an homage to the zombie film, my favourite form of horror movies. Gotta love the deadguys...


    Much like Monty, my own impact on the game has been mostly peripheral, and fairly minimal. I think as a fan, proponent, and "behind the scenes guy" I've probably had more impact by simply acting as a cheerleader for the game and it's writers and designers for nearly 20 years. Of course, perhaps I'm just being an egotist.


    I still think Cthulhu is about the best RPG ever, 22 years after first discovering it. While today I play it less than I'd like, I still dust off the books once or twice a year and run some devious plot for my regular gaming gang. Through it I have bolstered a life-long love of macabre fiction and film, and found kindred spirits across the globe. Indeed, Sandy Petersen has acted as friend, mentor and surrogate big brother to me over the years... who says there's nothing good comes of playing Cthulhu?





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