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Q&A: Cthulhu goes West, horror in the saddle

Pulp Pulpit

Geeks A Gogo recently had a chat with Mike Mason, who is a line designer for Chaosium, about the Western supplement 'Down Darker Trails' for the classic pen-and-paper roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu. The game, now in its seventh edition, is based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft and traditionally uses the 1920s' as a setting.

Q: What does a Western setting have to offer Cthulhu players?

Down Darker Trails present the chance to play in the Old West of the late 19th century, to take on the role of a cowboy or girl, or an American Indian, and dig out the secrets and mysteries shrouded in legend and rumour. The book combines the ‘real’ West with supernatural elements and the terrors of the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s an relatively uncharted land full of adventure. Call of Cthulhu is well known for bringing historical settings to life around the gaming table, and Down Darker Trails might be thought of as the brother to Cthulhu by Gaslight - the 1980s setting predominantly based in England. Thus, in part, an extension of that setting, but one that also works as a stand-alone supplement.

Within the book are two complete and fully detailed locales - Pawheaton, a mining town, and San Rafael, a southern ranching territory. Both are used to great effect in two accompanying scenarios, providing gaming groups with places where they can center their campaigns.

Simply put, Down Darker Trails enables you to ride out into the unknown and face all manner of dangers and mysteries. It’s the perfect setting for dark adventure and creeping horror!

Q: What monsters, spells and other items will figure into the setting? Will it offer new creatures and story elements?

A chapter called the Supernatural West looks in detail at certain legends, monsters, and Cthulhu Mythos gods appropriate to the setting. Monsters like Horses of the Invisible, La Llorona (the Crying Woman), and Sasquatch all make an appearance next to Mi-Go, Serpent People, and entities like Nyarlathotep.

A range of non-traditional Mythos books are also discussed, like rock paintings, settler journals, and others, and also shamanic (folk) magic. A range of Old West cults and secret societies are presented for Keeper’s to use within their games. Another chapter looks at ‘lost worlds,’ such as the Lost Valley and its strange inhabitants, or El Canon De Los Viejos, where creatures from Earth’s past still roam. All these things are brought together in a chapter of guidance on designing Old West adventures.

Q: Will historical figures or events play a role in the supplement?

There’s a chapter on Old West history in Down Darker Trails, which details the land and its peoples (whether American Indians or settlers from the east). Key historical events are discussed, which hopefully provide inspiration for those wishing to design their own scenarios, and also myths and legends. Populating the chapter are a stack of historical personages, many with game profiles, that Keepers can drop into games, allowing their players to come face-to-face with some real legends! People like Wild Bill Hickok, Geromino, Stagecoach Mary, and Nat Love - of course, it wouldn’t be complete with out the likes of Annie Oakley, Pat Garrett, the Earps, and Jessie James too!

Q: Are there exclusive gun Fighting rules?

Down Darker Trails uses the Call of Cthulhu (7th edition) rules but a number of optional mechanics are provided for the Old West. These include Quick Draw (naturally!), fanning revolvers, and dual-wielding handguns, as well as shooting from horseback and some supporting rules for horse and stagecoach chases. There’s even guidance on excessive alcohol consumption and skills. Each of the optional rules dovetails with the core Call of Cthulhu rules, allowing players to refine the style of game they wish to play, whether gritty or pulpy. The book works well with the Pulp Cthulhu supplement, for those preferring pulp style game, but this is not obligatory as the book works just a well with regular Call of Cthulhu.

Q: Who worked on the game?

The book was written by Kevin Ross, with additional material by Keith Herber, Scott David Aniolowski, David Cole, Todd A. Woods, Paul Fricker, and myself.

I developed and edited the book, and Nicholas Nacario undertook the layout. Art came from Sam Lamont (cover) and Rachel Kahn, M. Wayne Miller, Loïc Muzy, and Jonathan Wyke (internal art). With cartography by Vandel J. Arden and

Andrew Law.

Q: When will it be released?

The PDF version is available now from and the print version is at print - we expect to have it on sale in a couple of months’ time. Those purchasing the PDF now from Chaosium will get the cost of the PDF discounted from the print cost when the books go on sale.


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