Larry DiTillio, Visionary Game Designer and Writer, 1940-2019
Posted by Michael O'Brien on 17th Mar 2019
From Mike Mason, Call of Cthulhu line editor, Chaosium Inc:
I woke up this morning to discover the news that Larry DiTillio had passed.
Larry was a force to be reckoned with, whether in the gaming or entertainment industries, and a man whose contribution to the Call of Cthulhu RPG cannot be understated. Before he went on to create, write, and story edit for television, Larry’s first love was tabletop gaming. You can see his work in many early Chaosium books, like Ye Book of Monsters (Vol I & II), H. P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, Terror Australis (first ed.), Demon Magic for Stormbringer, and numerous pieces in Chaosium’s old house magazine, Different Worlds. But, most importantly, Larry created Masks of Nyarlathotep for Chaosium, setting out a vision for how a Call of Cthulhu campaign could be, and in so doing, started a revolution in scenario design whose effects are still felt today.
While Chaosium had already published the Shadows of Yog-Sothoth and Fungi From Yuggoth campaigns, Masks was bigger, more epic, more dynamic, and had at its heart a story of human frailty corrupted by the designs of the Cthulhu Mythos. Rather than an unseen force, Masks placed its central antagonist front and center, making Nyarlathotep a living and breathing character in the campaign, and a very real foil to the player-investigators. Larry stated that the idea for Masks came to him after writing a biography about Jomo Kenyatta for a television show. Chaosium had asked for something more than “just another haunted house scenario,” so Larry used his knowledge of Africa to work up a plot concerning a missing expedition – the Carlyle Expedition. From that, Masks was born and the rest is history.
Masks of Nyarlathotep was an immediate success, winning awards and creating many hours of game play for groups around the world. It’s a fact that if you’ve ever played in the campaign, then you have a “war story” to tell – usually concerning some epic character death or the crazy antics your investigators got up to in the pursuit of the Carlyle Expedition. What’s important here is that the campaign’s story was so engaging that it naturally made for great roleplaying. Apart from the threat of the Outer God itself, Larry’s cults were tangible and real, and didn’t work in isolation – they talked to one another, cooperating to fulfil their plan while also hunting down and making the lives of the investigators that much harder. In so doing, Larry made the world of the game come to life, rejecting the notion of static non-player characters who only “woke up” when encountered by a player character.
When I came to work on the new edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep I got to speak and work with Larry. While he’d been out of the gaming scene for some time, focusing his attention on numerous shows like He-Man, She-Ra, Beast Wars, Murder She Wrote, The Real Ghostbusters, and one of my personal favorites, Babylon 5, Larry’s love of gaming still came through. We talked about the new edition and updating the text, and Larry was glad that Masks would receive the love and attention it deserved. He was never less than fully supportive and eager to see the new edition, which he was very pleased with. It was an honor to chat with him about the game, his views on Cthulhu in various media, and the new Lovecraft inspired television series that are in the works – he even mentioned a desire to write his own Cthulhu Mythos TV show, something that would have been awesome, but unfortunately something that will now never happen.
As I mentioned at the start, Larry’s creation of the Masks of Nyarlathotep began a revolution in scenario design. With its success, it helped to propel the Call of Cthulhu game into wider consciousness, enticing those who had yet to feel the call of the Great Old Ones to pick up the game and give it a try. One of the reasons why so many people play and continue to play Call of Cthulhu is down to Larry. And for that, Larry’s contribution cannot be underestimated.
Thank you, Larry, for your insight, your creativity, and your wisdom. You will be missed.