Once Men Monograph

I recently completed the Once Men monograph for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

This work provides science fiction rules for Call of Cthulhu as well as four adventures set in the future. Naturally enough, writing a science fiction supplement for a universe based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos proved to be a challenging endeavor.

Lovecraft does include references to the future in some of his stories. Four of these are the “Shadow Out of Time”, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”, and “In the Walls of Eryx.”

In the “Shadow out of Time”, Lovecraft provides a few tantalizing comments about the future of humanity. As the story recounts, Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee’s mind is exchanged with that of one of the Great Race of Yith. While his mind is in the distant past, he encounters other human minds from various epochs. Among these are three men from the future. The first is Nevil Kingston-Brown, an “Australian physicist…who will die in 2,518 A.D.” The second is Yiang-Li who is “a philosopher from the cruel empire of Tsan-Chan, which is to come in 5,000 A.D.” The third is Nug-Soth, “a magician of the dark conquerors of 16,000 A.D.”

The story also related that a hardy coleopterous race would be humanity’s immediate successor on earth. Unfortunately for that race of beetles, they will eventually be taken over by the minds of the Great Race. The final race on earth, at least according to the story, will be an arachnid one. While no specific dates are provided, it is suggested that these events lie in the far distant future.

In “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, Lovecraft mentions that Pickman Carter “would use strange means in repelling the Mongol hordes from Australia” in 2169. This is the only mention of future events in the story.

In “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”, Lovecraft also mentions the cruel empire of Chan-Tsan. In this story, the empire is said to arise 3,000 years after the winter of 1900-1901.

The short story “In the Walls of Eryx”, tells of a future in which humanity has landed on Venus in order to mine crystals. Of course, there is the obvious worry that this story does not seem to be part of the Mythos and hence cannot be taken as providing more insight into the future hinted at in the other two stories.

Some have taken the stories “The Crawling Chaos”, “Nyarlathotep”, and “The Fungi From Yugoth” to suggest that Nyarlathotep will bring about the end of humanity and perhaps the earth. No specific dates are provided for these events, but (given “The Shadow Out of Time”) the end of man must take place after 16,000 A.D. and the earth must endure at least through the time of the arachnid race.

This lack of detail about the future was both a boon and a bane when it came to writing this work. On the negative side, the lack of detail means that the future had to be created almost whole cloth and with few guides as to what Lovecraft might have intended or envisioned. On the positive side, the lack of details allowed a broad field in which to operate. Since I have been consistent with the few available details and the spirit of Lovecraft’s stories, it would be difficult for a critic to plausibly say “that is not what Lovecraft would have intended.”

In this work, I do not even pretend to try to guess as to what Lovecraft truly had in mind in regards to the future of man. My main goal has been to present a future consistent with Lovecraft’s stories and the spirit of his works.

In terms of the game aspects, I elected to stick with two key assumptions of the Call of Cthulhu game. First, it is assumed that while man is truly nothing before the ultimate power of the Mythos, humanity is still worth protecting. While mankind cannot be permanently saved, moments of peace and islands of sanity can be carved out of the uncaring and horrific universe.

Second, it is not the “stuff” (weapons, vehicles, and gadgets) that matters most. Rather the story and the role-playing are what matter. The future setting is just that-a setting intended to provide a new twist to the game. Naturally, it is tempting to overload a game set in the future with amazing technology. However, I think that Alien, Firefly and even Star Trek have shown that science fiction is often at its best when the technology is a backdrop for the characters and plot rather than the star of the show. As in the standard Call of Cthulhu game, it is clever thinking, good planning and some luck that will win the day. To change a classic question just a bit: ‘what happens when you nuke Cthulhu from orbit?” The answer is, of course, “he reforms, but now he is radioactive. Make a Sanity check.”

The players’ kits can be downloaded here:

“An Unexpected Return”

“Dust” & “The Ship that Waits”

“Once Men”


~ by Michael LaBossiere on July 4, 2008.

3 Responses to “Once Men Monograph”

  1. Thanks for posting the player’s kit for “An Unexpected Return”. I will be running it in a month or so and I noticed that the published adventure doesn’t include the deck plans.

  2. I included them in the files I sent to Chaosium; I’m sorry that they did not end up in their PDF. Email me if you need anything else that might be missing.

    • Ooops… I found them, they were at the end of the book. I didn’t find them with “An Unexpected Return” and didn’t know they were there until I got to the end, after the other adventures.


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