Our Adventures in Fiction series is meant to take a look at the writers and creators behind the genre(s) that helped to forge not only our favorite hobby but our lives. We invite you to explore the entirety of the series on our Adventures In Fiction home page.
Today we celebrate the birthday of HP Lovecraft, one of the most influential authors of the 20th Century. In honor of this day, we re-present the Adventures in Fiction about his influence on D&D and, of course, Dungeon Crawl Classics.
Adventures in Fiction: H.P. Lovecraft
by Jon Hook
H. P. Lovecraft was born in his family home in Providence, Rhode Island. Lovecraft was an only child with few childhood friends. He lived a solitary life with his mother. His connection to the world was through books, pulp magazines, and the numerous correspondences he wrote to the authors and editors of those magazines. Lovecraft is recognized as one of the greatest letter writers of the twentieth century, and some of his regular correspondents were Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith.
Gary Gygax named H. P. Lovecraft as one of the immediate influences in the Dungeon Masters Guide’s Appendix N. Lovecraft is best known for the creation of the alien god, Cthulhu, from the short story “The Call of Cthulhu” published in Weird Tales in 1928 (and be sure to check out our collection of reprints featuring Lovecraft’s works). Cthulhu is but one of many alien creatures that are perceived as gods by men; some writers that followed in Lovecraft’s footsteps have even tried to organize the gods into a pantheon. The debate on whether it was Lovecraft’s intention for there to be a pantheon rages on to this day.
After publishing the Players Handbook for Advanced D&D in 1978, Gary chose to relax by writing some adventure modules. The first was D-1: Descent into the Depths of the Earth. Along with drow, rust monsters, and molds, this module also featured two mind flyers, also known as illithids. These psionic creatures are cunning and manipulative. Gary said that his inspiration for the illithids came from the cover of Brian Lumley’s The Burrowers Beneath, a novel grounded in the Cthulhu Mythos. Illithids have the same tentacled octopoid head as Great Cthulhu himself. The following module, D-2: Shrine of the Kuo-Toa featured the first appearance of the humanoid amphibians known as the Kuo-Toa. These “fish-men” are very similar to the deep ones described in Lovecraft’s story, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Neither monster was an exact extrapolation of literary creatures into the Dungeons & Dragons game; instead, they were original creations by Gary Gygax that were inspired by Lovecraft’s body of work. In each module, Gary mined several sources as inspiration for the monsters and narrative driving through the adventures. They were a hodge-podge of everything Gary thought was awesome. And it worked.
In 1980, James M. Ward and Robert J. Kuntz codified Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos in a chapter of the initial publication of Deities & Demigods, a reference manual for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. The chapter included descriptions and game statistics for Cthulhu, Deep Ones, Nyarlathotep, Old Ones, and Shoggoths. But a dispute over copyrights resulted in the removal of the Cthulhu Mythos chapter in subsequent printings of the book. Today, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos is part of the public domain, and Goodman Games and the world of Dungeon Crawl Classics has embraced it. Fantasy gamers can also lose their minds in DCC adventures inspired by Lovecraft’s creations, like the upcoming Shadows Under Devil’s Reef. So tread carefully and beware of dark corners on this 127th anniversary of the birth of H. P. Lovecraft.
To experience sanity-straining adventures, be sure to check out DCC #77: The Croaking Fane, DCC 2013 Holiday Module: The Old God’s Return, DCC 2017 Halloween Module: Shadow Under Devil’s Reef, DCC 2016 Halloween Module: The Sinister Sutures of the Sempstress, and The Cthulhu Alphabet.