Not in the spaces we know, but between them

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”

― H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature

American author H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) is considered one of the early masters of the horror genre, and created the "Cthulhu Mythos." Photo: Lucius B. Truesdell, 1934.

American author H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) is considered one of the early masters of the horror genre, and created the «Cthulhu Mythos.» Photo: Lucius B. Truesdell, 1934.

Lovecraftesque is a new roleplaying game inspired by Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s stories and the mythology he created. Lovecraft (1890 –1937) is widely regarded as one of the early masters of horror fiction. The works of the American author have also been criticized for dealing in racist clichés. The British game designers Becky Annison and Josh Fox want to let players recreate the suspense of the original, whilst shedding the reactionary tropes. A Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of Lovecraftesque is running at the time of writing.

Several roleplaying games have taken inspiration from Lovecraft’s works. Unlike the classic game Call of Cthulhu, first published in 1981, Lovecraftesque has no single Game Master (GM), and there is only one main character.

“We are fans of the existing canon of Lovecraftish games”, says Josh “but they feel different to a classic Lovecraft story. In them, you typically get a party of investigators, who are actively working to uncover the horror. The focus is on them and their struggle to overcome the mystery, and rules-wise you’re focused on their actions and what happens to them. And following on from that, the investigators tend to be part of a campaign, encountering one horror after another.”

“Our game tries to get closer to Lovecraft’s own formula”, says Becky. “There is one main character who stumbles across the horror, and whose personal struggle is of secondary interest to the horror itself. The character should eventually feel as if they have been at the whim of the horror all along, that we are like ants to them.”

This recipe whetted the appetites of several gaming enthusiasts online, and the Kickstarter’s main goals were funded in 48 hours. The campaign page links to a bare-bones version that can be downloaded for free

One main character

“The focus of the game is the horror itself, which you create collaboratively”, Josh explains. “There is only one main character, the Witness, whose role is to provide a human perspective on the horror, not to defeat or solve it. Everyone works together to torment and terrify the Witness and see them to their doom, and to build up an idea of what the true horror might be.”

One player takes on the role of the Witness, one is the Narrator and the rest are Watchers, with the roles rotating after every scene. For most of the game you’re playing through scenes where the Narrator will reveal a single strange clue. Both the Witness and the Watchers concentrate on adding atmosphere, in different ways: the Witness by speaking out loud the fears and rationalizations of their character, and the Watchers by elaborating on what the Narrator describes, dripping detail and tension into the game.

“Something important for me is that there is only one character active at a time”, says Becky. “This is not a party game and this reflects a vital aspect of the majority of Lovecraft’s stories.  They are lone tales of one person stepping into a shifting horrific new world.  The gameplay will replicate that.”

Lovecraft was little known during his lifetime, and published his works of horror fiction in cheap pulp magazines, dying in poverty at an early age. He is today regarded as one of the most significant 20th-century authors in his genre.

“We both love really slow-building, brooding, atmospheric horror stories”, says Becky. “Stories where you don’t see the horror or even come across clear evidence of its existence, but rather you sense its presence through countless small hints, and only really confront it’s true nature right at the end. In contrast a lot of modern horror relies on a number of shocks spaced out throughout the narrative.”

The cover image. Illustration: Robin Scott.

“What Lovecraft adds to that formula is the alien, cosmic nature of the horror”, adds Josh. “Instead of vampires or ghosts, it’s creatures from the stars or from other times or dimensions. We see Lovecraft’s work as an early example of horror with a science fiction flavour to it. And we love the bleak, hostile nature of the universe.”

“A virulent racist”

A controversial aspect of Lovecraft’s works is racism. A recent article in The Atlantic states: “He was a virulent racist. The xenophobia and white supremacy that burble beneath his fiction (…) are startlingly explicit in his letters.“ 

The game designers are keenly aware of this:

“Let’s start by saying that we’re clear Lovecraft was an unashamed racist whose views about people of colour shaped his stories both overtly through stereotypical portrayals of those people, and subtly through allegory”, says Josh. “Similarly, Lovecraft boiled mental illness down to people ‘going mad’ in a way that is nothing like real mental illness and can be insulting to those of us who live with the reality of it. We’ve written sections on both of these issues which candidly address the problematic nature of Lovecraft’s work, and include advice on how to handle these issues.”

Two stretch goals of the ongoing Kickstarter campaign are funding extended essays on both these topics. The first one, already unlocked, will see British game designer Mo Holkar write a full-length essay on Lovecraft and racism, and ‘how to run Lovecraftian games without replicating his bigotry’. The next goal is an essay by US game designer Shoshana Kessock on the portrayal of mental health issues in games.

“The single most important piece of advice is: talk about these issues with your group, and agree what you are and aren’t including”, says Josh. “If even one person objects to inclusion of a given theme, you should leave it out. So for instance, if you’re playing in a setting where overtly racist views are commonplace and acceptable, don’t just go ahead and include characters who spout such views – discuss it and keep them out unless you’re absolutely sure that everyone wants it in.”

To support this approach, part of setup invites players to ban elements or themes they aren’t comfortable with, with prompts to consider banning racist themes and characters who “go mad”. The authors also recommend using the X-Card safety mechanism designed by US game designer John Stavropoulos. (X-Card link).

“I’m not a fan of including racist themes at all in Lovecraft games”, says Becky. “We don’t tell people what to do, but we don’t see enough benefit from including these themes to outweigh the risk that someone’s play experience is ruined. In contrast, the effect of the horror on the human mind is a key component to Lovecraft’s stories. So our guidance analyses the different ways in which the horror might impact on someone’s mental state, or could influence their behaviour, without falling back on stereotype. Our bottom line is that you portray a person first, and not just a collection of symptoms. What we don’t do is provide any mechanics which would force anyone to portray any particular psychological symptoms, or to include such elements at all if they don’t want to.”

No Cthulhu

Lovecraft’s menagerie of strange and terrifying creatures have been popularized through comics, board-, video-, and roleplaying games, and even plush dolls. Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep are familiar names to most gamers. The authors of Lovecraftesque want the players to create their own, unique monsters rather than recycling these classics.

Interior art. Illustration: Robin Scott.

Interior art. Illustration: Robin Scott.

“We’re not trying to do away with dead gods and hidden cults – those are staples of the genre”, says Josh. “But instead of Cthulhu, you create your own sleeping god. Instead of Dagon’s cult, you’ll create a cult of your own.”

“Lovecraft is well known for his bestiary”, says Becky. “But there is so much more to his writing and that is what we are trying to bring out. Lovecraft had a particular style for constructing a mystery, starting out by describing something odd but explicable and then peeling back the layers until the whole monstrosity is revealed and yet all the tangible evidence is destroyed.  We want to re-popularise that slow burn story.”

To aid the players in creating their own “Lovecraftesque” stories, the authors have included advice on his writing style, together with lists of inspirational material. The game utilizes a special set of cards to guide the story towards Lovecraftian themes. Each card represents a Lovecraftian trope of some sort – a weird artifact, cultists or time travel, for instance.

“Each card enables you to introduce appropriate material for a particular Lovecraftian theme, often allowing you to break the normal rules of the game as you do so”, Becky explains.

Can they kick it?

The Kickstarter campaign started 15th September and runs for 30 days. The main goal is to produce the book and cards.

Sample layout.

Sample layout.

“We’re raising funds for layout by Nathan Paoletta and art by Robin Scott, as well as the printing and shipping costs, of course”, says Josh. “We’re really excited about Nathan’s layout: the book will look like a tattered notebook that gradually degenerates as you progress through it, with increasingly horror-laden margin notes.”

You can see a PDF version of the draft layout here.

Layout artist Nathan Paoletta is an experienced game designer himself, and recently released the acclaimed World Wide Wrestling RPG.

“Nathan, Robin and other game designers have generously given of their time to provide advice and support to this project”, says Becky. “It’s one of the things we love about the indie design community, and we are very grateful for it.”

The book will be A5/half-letter size, available in softcover and hardcover. An easy-print version of the PDF will go alongside the version described above. The plan is to make the game available from a range of RPG outlets, including Drivethrurpg.

Among the stretch goals are more artwork for the game, quick-start scenarios by several well-known game designers, and the essays about racism and mental health.

“We’ve already raised our initial funding goal and we are making great progress in unlocking stretch goals”, says Becky.

On the author’s webpage, they have published material about running such a Kickstarter-campaign. They hope this will be a useful resource for other game designers thinking of self-publishing.

The authors about themselves:

The authors. Photo: Private.

The authors. Photo: Private.

Josh Fox:

I’ve been roleplaying since I was 10, when I played D&D in my lunch-breaks. In recent years I’ve been all about the indie games: my favourite games include Apocalypse World, Dream Askew, Monsterhearts, Dog Eat Dog, Microscope and Durance. Although I’ve noodled around with game design for many years, I’m relatively new to making finished games: previous projects include Disaster Strikes!, a game based on classic disaster movies, and House of Ill Repute, a political playset for Fiasco. In real life I play a 36-year-old civil servant who dreams of being a famous game designer.

Becky Annison:

Like Josh I started roleplaying when I was 11. I remember taking all my birthday money on my 11th birthday and rushing out to buy D&D.  It was amazing and I devoured it.  Since then I’ve played in so many different types of games both tabletop and LARP.  I’ve been designing for a few years now – I started out designing and running large LARPs (as part of a team) but since the indie revolution I’m hooked on designing indie games. Games which are really pushing design work into unexpected places.  Apart from Lovecraftesque the game I’m most proud of is When the Dark is Gone which will be coming out in an anthology with Pelgrane Press later this year.

Our hobby has such an amazing choice of games on offer.  My favourite games are probably Amber: Diceless, Monsterhearts, Itras By, A Taste for Murder and 1001 Nights.

How to Give (and Get) Feedback on Games

British game designer Graham W has kindly granted Imagonem permission to publish some of his thoughts on feedback.

How to Give Feedback on Someone’s Game

1. Be positive.

(This game is someone’s pride and joy. Treat it well.)

2. Help them make the game they want.

(Don’t try to make the game you want.)

3. Say how the game went for you.

(What went well? What felt rough? What didn’t you understand?)

4. Don’t offer solutions.

(Let the designer fix the game.)

5. Play first, give feedback afterwards.

(If you analyze as you go, it won’t be fun.)

6. Accept that you’ll often be ignored.

(Not all feedback gets acted on.)

7. Bring others into the conversation.

(And don’t get stuck talking about one thing.)

8. Don’t be a man.

(Try facilitating rather than talking.)

How to Get Feedback on Your Game

1. Play the game. Watch what happens.

2. If you want particular feedback, say so.

(If you don’t, then say that too.)

3. Thank people for their feedback.

(Don’t justify yourself.)

4. Don’t take feedback at face value.

(What they say isn’t always the thing that needs fixing.)

5. Don’t feel you must act on feedback.

(You won’t act on most feedback, especially if it conflicts with your design goals.)

6. Remember: even good games fail.

(And you learn more when a game fails.)

Graham W. Photo: Private.

Graham is a Gold Ennie award-winning game designer, who has published Stealing Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark and A Taste For Murder, amongst other things. He wrote Trail of Cthulhu’s Purist series for Pelgrane Press and has also written for The Laundry RPG and Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. He is currently working on The Tavern and Disco World. You should buy him red wine. 

Cover photo (kids with masks): Li Xin, all rights reserved.

Det brygger til storm

Etter åtte år er spillskaper Øivind Stengrundet (39) klar til å bringe hjertebarnet Vandrerne til verden. 

Over øyplaneten Terrenia slynger det seg usynlige bølger av ren energi. Men med rundt 100 års mellomrom slår disse bølgene seg vrang, og danner magistormer. Da forandres alt: øyer fødes eller synker i havet, nye planter skyter opp av bakken, steiner og trær blir levende, katter får seks bein, og andre merkelige ting skjer. Planetens beboere lever hele tiden med uvissheten om hva som vil skje ved neste storm.

Vandrerne er et forbund av utvalgte med mål om å kartlegge verden slik den er i dag, så den ikke skal bli glemt neste gang magien går amok. De løser mysterier fra gamle sivilisasjoner, og hjelper innbyggerne med problemer stormene skaper.

Illustrasjon fra boka: MajdAddin Alhasi.

Illustrasjon fra boka: MajdAddin Alhasi.

Vandrerne er også et flunkende nytt norsk rollespill. Den første utgaven av spillet ble skrevet i 2007, til en spillskapingskonkurranse på webforumet Konkurransen gikk ut på å skrive et komplett rollespill på bare sju dager.

– Jeg var nysgjerrig på hvor minimalistisk et spill kunne være og likevel regnes som komplett. Med det utgangspunktet har jeg bygget videre på manus, sier forfatter Øivind Stengrundet.

I første omgang vil alt salg foregå via nettsiden,, men forfatteren vil også gå i dialog med lokale bokhandlere og nasjonale spesialforretninger. Nettsalget åpner onsdag 9. september.

Testet med elevene
Selv begynte han med rollespill på begynnelsen av 90-tallet. Stengrundet jobber som lærer ved Trysil ungdomsskole. Han opplevde fin støtte i skoleverket under arbeidet med Vandrerne.

– Da jeg jobbet som lærer på en barneskole for noen år tilbake fikk jeg rollespill inn på timeplanen, med en liten gruppe elever som trengte gode opplevelser og sosial trening mer enn noe annet. Det ga meg en flott mulighet til å teste ut spillet, og mye av det vi gjorde den gangen har kommet inn i det ferdige rollespillet, sier spillskaperen.

Etter å ha gått noen runder med et norsk forlag har Stengrundet til slutt landet på at egenpublisering er veien å gå i denne omgang.

– Forlaget virket interesserte, men pekte på et avgjørende problem: rollespill kommer ikke inn under innkjøpsordningen, som sikrer forlagene et minimumssalg. Spillene faller midt mellom fag- og skjønn-litteratur, og dermed turde ikke forlaget å gi ut spillet. Jeg holdt derfor på å putte hele prosjektet i skrivebordsskuffen, sammen med veldig mye annet, men etter at bekjente med ujevne mellomrom fortalte meg at de spilte det, bestemte jeg meg for å gi det ut selv.

Forfatter og spillskaper Øivind Stengrundet (39). Foto: Privat.

Forfatter og spillskaper Øivind Stengrundet (39). Foto: Privat.

– Kan du si litt om det å gi ut rollespill på egenhånd?

– Da jeg først bestemte meg, gikk det egentlig ganske fort. Jeg undersøkte ulike publiseringsløsninger både innenlands og utenlands, og fant ut at jeg gjerne ville ha eget ISBN-nummer på boka. De fleste utenlandske aktørene opererte med egne systemer, og dermed konsentrerte jeg meg om norske løsninger. De fleste av disse var imidlertid ganske dyre, med høy egenandel og lite utbytte for forfatteren. Dermed endte jeg opp med å registrere et eget forlag, uten å starte enkeltmannsforetak, og registrere meg i ISBN-registeret. Så undersøkte jeg priser ved diverse trykkerier. Den største utfordringen kom kanskje når layout-jobben skulle gjøres, og her skulle jeg nok ønske at jeg hadde mer kompetanse. Men litt svetting og banning senere ble jeg fornøyd, og jeg er veldig stolt over hvordan spillet har endt opp.

Boka Vandrerne er på 120 sider, og inkluderer eksempel-eventyr. Forfatteren sier boka inneholder alt man behøver for å komme i gang med spill. Systemet benytter vanlige spillterninger med seks sider. I første omgang trykkes det 150 eksemplarer.

Rollespillet forside er illustrert av Zaina Isard.

Rollespillets forside er illustrert av Zaina Isard.

– Siden jeg har alt liggende digitalt vil det være en smal sak å trykke et nytt opplag. Jeg har valgt ikke å gå bredt ut etter sponsorer eller støtte-ordninger, men jeg er veldig glad for at hjemkommunen Trysil har gitt noen kroner til utgivelsen, sier Stengrundet.

Det blir slippfest i Oslo 3. oktober (sted annonseres på Facebook-gruppen Ordinær pris blir 199,- (inkludert porto), mens boka blir noe billigere på slippfesten.

Vandrerne-roman nært forestående
– De viktigste støttespillerne mine underveis har vært deltakerne på det gamle Det var her den første utgaven ble lansert, og jeg fikk mange gode råd og tips derfra. Jeg vil spesielt trekke fram Matthijs Holter og Ole Peder Giæver [meg! – journ. anm.], som har vært ivrige pådrivere og spilltestere underveis. Jeg må også takke tidligere undervisningsinspektør Bjørn Matsson, samt elevene som deltok i spillgruppen min på barneskolen.

Illustrasjon fra boka: Ståle Tevik.

Illustrasjon fra boka: Ståle Tevik.

De innvendige illustrasjonene er alle i sort-hvitt, og det er omkring 30 illustrasjoner fra 9 illustratører i Norge, England og Tyrkia.

– Fordi jeg ville håndtere utgivelsen selv, gikk jeg i utgangspunktet ut med et «billigst mulig»-prinsipp angående illustrasjoner. Jeg hørte litt rundt om noen kunne tenke seg å bidra bare for æren, men jeg innså etter hvert at jeg måtte belage meg på litt utgifter på dette feltet. Illustrasjonene har derfor kommet fra en blanding av glade «amatører» og profesjonelle kunstnere. Hvis jeg skulle gjort det hele på nytt ville jeg nok ha benyttet færre, utvalgte illustratører for å sikre en gjennomført stil, men jeg er veldig fornøyd med måten illustrasjonene har endt opp.

Mange av tekstene i boka har skjønnlitterært preg. Det finnes også korte noveller fra spillets setting på hjemmesidene. Forfatteren er ikke snauere enn at han parallelt med å ferdigstille Vandrerne har skrevet en roman satt til spillets univers! Denne kommer ut senere i høst, også på eget forlag.

Stjernene er i posisjon. De Eldste har vendt tilbake.


De som har fulgt Chaosium de siste årene vet at selskapet har problemer. De har hatt suksess med Kickstarterne sine men har hatt problemer med å levere alt som har blitt lovet. Horror on the Orient Express hadde en god del tilleggsmateriale som aldri ble levert. Papirversjonen av 7. utgaven av Call of Cthulhu har latt vente på seg fordi pengene til Kickstarteren dekket ikke fult ut trykkerikostnadene.

Går vi litt lenger tilbake i tid så hadde Chaosium allerede problemer på begynnelsen av 2000-tallet med kollapset til deres distributør Wizard’s Attic (vel dokumentert i Shannon Appelcines rollespillhistoriske bok Designers & Dragons). Chaosium har hatt hodet i vannskorpa lenge men dette ser kanskje ut til å snu?

Tidligere i dag postet Greg Stafford på sitt forum at han tok over som daglig leder hos last nedChaosium. Samtidig annonserte han også at Sandy Petersen er tilbake på laget.

Greg Stafford er en av grunnleggerne til Chaosium og står bak Gloranthaverdenen som ble brukt som spillverden i rollespillet RuneQuest.

Sandy Petersen lagde Call of Cthulhu sammen med Lynn Willis så her kan vi snakke om at Chaosium har gått tilbake til røttene.

Pressemeldingen i sin helhet:

«Weimages have pressed the reset button…

In 1975 Chaosium started out as a quirky boutique game company. We were all about creativity, artistry and craftsmanship. With every game we provided you with new realms of imagination and entertainment. Over the last few years we forgot that, and lost our way.

The Great Old Ones have Returned…
Greg Stafford, founder of Chaosium and creative force during its heyday, is now President. Sandy Petersen, world renowned game designer who brought Cthulhu into the light three decades ago, has rejoined the team as well.

Greg says: «Chaosium is part of my legacy. My intent is to restore it to its rightful place in the world of gaming. Something we can all take pride in, and something that fans will look forward to.Where ‘what’s next?’ is answered with ‘I can’t wait’.»

The Stars are Right…
Sandy says: «I am excited to return to active participation in the Call of Cthulhu line, and I’m eagerly looking forward to working directly with Greg again. We are Chaosium’s original team from the 1980s. My first focus is going to be the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition Kickstarter campaign.»

Our main plan is simple (but will be a lot of work):

Quickly sift and sort through the current company problems
Immediately ship the remaining Horror on the Orient Express backer rewards
Focus on the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition Kickstarter backer rewards
Return to regularly making awesome new games.

We offer new hope, and ask only for your patience.»

Please visit for regular news and updates. Contact us with questions, kudos, curses, or kindness. We are listening, and we will respond.

Greg Stafford, President and CEO of Chaosium Inc.
I’m puttin’ the band back together.»

Øyet – en fortellerlek

oyetEt lite spill jeg ble bedt om å skrive til Nasjonalmuseets nye vandreutstilling «Makt og magi. Snorre og Ringenes Herre«.

Last ned «Øyet – en fortellerlek» her:


Se også faktaarket om rollespill jeg lagde for utstillingen.

Stemmen fra ådalen - en blog om rollespil og historie

En blog om rollespil af Morten Greis. Fra Tryggevælde ådal en dyb klang. Elverpigernes dans. Røre i det hvide slør. Disen hyller landskabet. De gamle stammer krogede trolde.

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This is my speaker’s corner where I can rant about popular culture, geeky and general stuff that amaze or irritate me. Many things do. Irritate me, that is.

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