Cthulhu Chronicles: Interview with Content Lead Sam Riordan
CTHULHU CHRONICLES, the official Call of Cthulhu interactive fiction game, was launched by our friends MetaArcade last month. We talked to Content Lead Sam Riordan about the project and "getting to dive deeper into the Mythos":
Q: Can you tell us about the Cthulhu Chronicles?
Cthulhu Chronicles is an interactive fiction game set with light RPG elements, adapted from Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG. The game comprises 9 stories, which tie together into a single plotline. You have 6 characters to choose from when playing, and each has different attributes and backstories that affect how the game unfolds.
The story is set in 1920s Massachusetts within the Cthulhu Mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft. Players grapple with safety and sanity in a world of ever-encroaching horrors.
It’s super fun!
Q: Tell us about your role in the project?
I’m the Content Lead, which means I’m also the writer/narrative designer/content curator — we’re a small team, so I wear a lot of hats.
Basically: if it’s a word I probably wrote it, and if it’s an image I probably put it there. The exception to this is the first story in the game, Alone Against the Flames. It was originally written as a solo adventure rather than as a framework scenario for a GM to run, so adapting it was nearly a one-to-one conversion.
Most of the text in our version of Alone Against the Flames is lifted directly from the original adventure by Gavin Inglis, with a few additions and edits from yours truly. The rest of the content in Cthulhu Chronicles is a mix between original stories and loose adaptations of Chaosium’s original modules.
Q: What is the process for adapting a Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG adventure to the MetaArcade platform? What are the biggest challenges?
The process started with a meeting with Chaosium’s own Neil Robinson. He sat down with Alexey Rybak (Head of Content Creation at MetaArcade) and I to establish a rough storyline and list of Call of Cthulhu scenarios to work from. Once we had all that in place and were satisfied with the direction of the game, I dissected each story into a detailed plot outline. I created an internal Style Guide that broke down the narrative themes of Call of Cthulhu and the general tone and writing style. And then I started writing.
This was honestly the hardest part for me. The conceptual stage is a very comfortable place to be — lots of analysis and theorizing, no hard decisions. Putting pen to paper (or in my case, fingers to keyboard) makes everything real. You have to deal with the minutiae of sentence structure, but also the overall narrative cohesion and themes. And on top of that, you have to negotiate with the source material, deciding what’s crucial to the module you’re adapting and what needs to change to work in the new medium! It’s a lot to think about. Hopefully the end product is both recognizable as an adaptation and able to stand on its own.
Q: What is your favourite Cthulhu Chronicles adventure, and why?
The diplomatic (and true!) answer is that I like each of them for different reasons. That said: the 8th (Crimson Letters) is my favorite. I got to come up with a lot of fun characters as well as work with interesting existing ones from the original scenario. Character interactions are one of my favorite things to write, and they form the spine of that story.
Q: What got you in to writing?
Growing up, I found the written word to be the best form of escapism. I was a super nerdy introverted awkward kid (most of which is still true) and reading and writing was my way of getting outside myself. Through books, I could explore places and people that I’d never get to otherwise.
Besides that, words can evoke such incredible emotion in their readers. It’s powerful stuff. All artists have that power; through our work, we step outside ourselves and allow others to do the same, inviting them into a world of our own creation. I think a lot of people become writers because they want to affect people that way.
Q: How did you get into Lovecraft, the Mythos, and Call of Cthulhu before this project?
I've been aware of the Mythos in general for about as long as I can remember. Cthulhu is part of pop culture in a big way, and I think just about everyone has some sort of awareness of the Mythos through him. Even if, for some people, that just means an association with green tentacles and red eyes.
My first direct encounter with Lovecraft's work happened in college. I took a course called "Literary Genre Studies: Zombie Fiction" where we studied and dissected the tenets of the zombie genre, from short stories and pulp comics of the 1900s to more modern novels and films. H.P. Lovecraft had written one of the short stories we studied. It was behind the times in some ways but beyond them in others. I think that's one of the things about Call of Cthulhu that draws people in: the vintage setting juxtaposed with otherworldly horrors from outer space. It's certainly what drew me to the project, anyway!
Getting to dive deeper into the Mythos and the original game has been thrilling, and I hope that comes across in Cthulhu Chronicles.