As Easter weekend comes to a close, I've decided to go back to some even OLDER religion, and get the Call of Cthulhu RPG through the "strange products" filter as GURPS and D&D previously did. This won't be about Cthulhu plushies or other cute/odd merch, but strictly about products designed for Chaosium's CoC game. And if I've kept it to five, it's because we already expect a certain measure of weirdness with Lovecraft's world. But with 7 editions of the role-playing game in existence, I'm sure there are sourcebooks, accessories and adventures that have passed me by. You're welcome to add to the list in the comments section.
13 Tales of Horror, and 9 Glimpses of Horror
It's not that the Blood Brothers adventure compilations are non-Mythos that does it - one-off adventures based on classic horror films and tropes is a product that makes sense - but some of adventures in these books are just plain crazy, and my kind of crazy too. The first book is less outlandish, perhaps, but it does feature stats for Abbott and Costello in the introduction, and a scenario called Ancient Midget Nazi Shamans. In the second book, things get loopier, with a silent film scenario (à la Nesferatu) where players are encouraged to write their dialog on interstitial cards, a beach movie scenario that gets crashed by B-movie aliens, a killer soccer ball story, and luchadors fighting the Aztec apocalypse. I've played many of these, more than Mythos adventures, probably. I love the commitment to such varying styles of horror.
Cthulhu Roleplaying Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Lovecraft went through a surreal phase and gave us a "Dream Cycle" Chaosium would go on to mine in the Dreamlands series of products, allowing investigators to leave the relatively safe New England environments and enter a dangerous, fantastical dream version of the world created by our collective unconscious or something (or is it primarily the dream of slumbering Elder Gods? brrrr). And like any dream, you run a fair risk of not remembering you adventures on the other side afterwards! Not only is this fantasy exploration campaign set-up rather askew from the CoC's usual focus, but it works with dream logic. You can fly to the moon on your own power and the geography tends to shift, for example. And of course, there's a new host of weird creatures and people to encounter. I've read the 3rd edition is the weirdest - I only have the 2nd - as it includes, among other weirdies, Zura the Zombie Babe.
Artifacts from the World's Scariest University
Even though Call of Cthulhu is as bleak a game as you were likely to play in the 80s (and even today), its makers still had a healthy sense of humor and put out comedy products that would have made Lovecraft blench. The Graduate Kit, for example, while it does include a "Keeper's Kit" with character sheets and a squat screen, is basically a novelty package of documents you might have collected had you gone to Miskatonic University - a course catalog, a school map, a student card, bumper stickers, a diploma, notepaper, a cafeteria placemat, and so on. Before you think these make for immersive flavor, be warned that they're played for laughs. And while the Keeper's Kit also includes an adventure, it's based on jazz, so it's leaning towards the bizarre as well. I might have given this spot to Cthulhu for President instead, but though similar in tone, that seems more realistic today, somehow.
Three Unusual Times and Places, and Nine Forays into Unusual Times and Places
I've never run a long-term Call of Cthulhu campaign, preferring to run one-offs where the characters are free to go insane and die in line with the game's bleak outlook. That's why I like Strange Aeons, as this collection of adventures sets each tale in a completely different time. In the first volume's case, there's a Spanish Inquisition scenario, one that takes place on the Moon in the near future, and another that connects to a famous Shakespeare play in Elizabethan London. I've played them all, and though not absurd, the variety found between the same covers does make it an odd book. I haven't found volume 2 yet, but it has even more, including scenarios set in the American Civil War, Ancient Greece, Roman Britannia, a Chinese wedding, Woodstock, and what it essentially Cavemen vs. Cthulhu. I want to play that!
Cthulhu Down Under
Is it this sourcebook that's strange, or just Australia itself? Probably the latter. The Aboriginal Dreamtime connects well with Lovecraft's Dreamlands, and allows a fair few bizarre critters to escape into the outback. The land has a rich spiritual history that will seem wonderfully weird to the typical Western gamer. But it makes sense that just as the continent's fauna is odd and unique in the world, so should its cryptofauna (and Mythofauna). Terror Australis comes in last alphabetically, but if I had been scoring my choices on strangeness, I would have put it last as well. I'm hoping CoC players and Keepers out there will suggest much stranger fare, perhaps from the later editions.
So how about it then? Or are you too scared to mention them?