Stealing Cthulhu by Graham Walmsley

Back before GenCon 2011, I went on a bit of a Crowdfunding spree, sponsoring Do: Pilgrims of the Flying TempleBulldogs!Technoir RPG, and Stealing Cthulhu.  Today, the last of the lot has arrived all the way from the British Isles — Stealing Cthulhu is here!  This is more a recounting the pilgrimage of Stealing Cthulhu than a proper review.

From Graham Walmsley‘s Thieves of Time site:

The book is 175 pages and 30,000 words long (6 by 9 inches), with original art by Jennifer Rodgers and . It is annotated throughout by Kenneth Hite, Gareth Hanrahan and Jason Morningstar. It’s designed for use with any roleplaying system: Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Nemesis, Cthulhu Dark or whatever you enjoy playing.

I’ve never played a game of the venerable Call of Cthulhu nor any of it’s relatives (i.e. Trail of Cthulhu, Delta Green, Cthulhutech, d20 Cthulhu, or Cthulhu Dark), but have always been intrigued.

In fact, I’ve only read a few of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.  But the Cthulhu Mythos permeates the modern geek culture.  Something about slipping into madness and ancient beings from beyond time and space with inhuman motivations resonates with the zeitgeist of today.

Why Did I Buy It?

Earlier in the year, I purchased Graham Walmsley’s “Play Unsafe“, a book about improvising in role-playing games.  It is exceptionally well written, with ample advice for sharing in a collaborative

I then traded to get a copy of Graham Walmsley’s “A Taste for Murder.” It is a wonderfully well written game that melds the “Importance of Being Ernest” with a murder mystery.  “A Taste For Murder” builds on Graham’s “Play Unsafe” book.  I even used the book when I demonstrated “how to protect your game books.”

So when I saw that Graham was running an IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign for running Cthulhu games, I pulled the trigger and sponsored the project.

First Came the PDF

After the project was funded and the book was edited, Graham provided the backers with the PDF version of the book.

Graham breaks down the components of a Lovecraftian story and translates them to their RPG counterpart – Stealing Scenarios, Locations, Patterns, and Descriptions.  I read the book on my tablet and found the PDF version a bit more challenging to read.

In part, the pages have hand-written annotations that are a bit harder to read in electronic form. The bigger problem, by far, is that I personally have a hard time reading on my tablet.  I get distracted and start checking Twitter or my RSS feed.

Then Came the Wait

The PDF was released to backers on June 17, 2011.  The book was available for purchase at GenCon 2011 — This was a decision made by Graham that raised some ire.

While I certainly wanted my “shiny” right away, I also knew that Graham uses his trips to the US as a means of transporting small press books across the Atlantic.  He was able to bring copies of Stealing Cthulhu to sell at GenCon at Pelgrane Press’s booth.  He was then able to return to Britain with small press books to sell in his webstore.  This service has helped bring small press books to European fans by greatly reducing international shipping costs.

Knowing this, and honestly having lots of other books to read, I simply waited.  I trusted Graham, having briefly talked with him at GenCon, would get the books to me as soon as was humanly feasible.

Then Came the Book

Today, December 1st, 2011, and I have received my physical copy.  Given that I haven’t yet finished reading the book, I can’t do a proper review.  However, since I accidentally published this article, I figured I’d better write something about Stealing Cthulhu.

The physical book is fantastic!  And flipping through the book, the hand-written annotations evoke an ominous tone — Herein lies the madness of delving too deeply into the mythos.

Stealing Cthulhu argues that many Cthulhu scenarios are very cliched and original scenarios can be found in Lovecraft’s writings. Stealing Cthulhu is intended as a guide for crafting these adventures.  The book provides tools, insights, and prompts for the disassembly of the short-stories and reassembly into scenarios.

Though it may be a bit premature…”catacomb.”

Other Books by Graham Walmsley

Role Playing Games I Want to Play at GenCon

While I’m at GenCon I want to play the following role-playing games:

Without a plan, this is going to be a problem.  So enter the plan: Offer to run games for people and in doing so see what doors open up.


I’m assuming Fiasco will be the easiest to organize a game with people.  It is “is a GM-less game for 3-5 players, designed to be played in a few hours with six-sided dice and no preparation.”  The plan for this is I’m going to need to create a button or badge saying “Interested in playing Fiasco?  Ask me.”  Maybe I’d also want something for A Taste for Murder by Graham Walmsley, as it too is a GM-less game.

Lady Blackbird

I’m thinking that instead of playing this one, I’d like to offer to run this game for people at GenCon.  For this game, the characters and situation are already pre-generated, so it is a matter of playing the scenario. The plan for this one is a bit more complicated than Fiasco.  First, I’d probably want to run this once with friends before going to GenCon and running it for strangers.  So I’m going to need to set aside some time for this. Second, much like Fiasco, I’ll likely need to advertise that I’m willing to run this game.  So I’ll probably need a button or badge that says: “Want to play a game of Lady Blackbird?  Let’s find a group, and I’ll run it.”

Apocalypse World

This one is a bit more of a stretch than the previous two.  First of all, I haven’t run it.  So like Lady Blackbird, I’ll need to run a game of it first with friends so I’m ready to run something with strangers.  Second, the game is apparently at it’s best 5 or so sessions into the campaign.  So I can do one the following:

  • Run Blind-Blue and Hatchet City, a one-shot session that begins en media res and according to the author is set in what would be about the 5th session of a standard campaign.
  • Start a game out from the beginning and play to see what happens with the group.

Frankly, running Apocalypse World kind of scares me, as I’m not well versed in apocalyptic imagery/culture.  But I might be able to fake it.  For now, I think I’m going to place this game on the “Maybe I’ll run it” pile.

Dungeon World

Dungeon World is a Dungeons and Dragons inspired Apocalypse World system hack.  It provides the very straight forward moves of Apocalypse World and tight constraints on character creation/definition.  Like Apocalypse World, I haven’t run this game; However, unlike Apocalypse World, I have run Dungeon World’s genre before.  So, if time permits, or if inspiration strikes, I’ll run a Dungeon World game.  Obviously, if I’m ready to do this, I’ll need to advertise my willingness to run a game.

Mouse Guard

I don’t have any plans for running Luke Crane‘s Mouse Guard at GenCon, instead I’d like to play in the game.  I’ve run a handful of Burning Wheel sessions, and played in one Burning Wheel session, so I’d like to see how Mouse Guard plays out.  As an added perk, I believe Mouse Guard’s shiny new box set will be available at Gen Con, so there might be some interest in running it. (Jenny, I have no plans on purchasing it).

Trail of Cthulhu

I have never played a Cthulhu mythos game, and there are plenty of them (below is a few that I’m aware of, there are more):

I’m most intrigued by Trail of Cthulhu as it uses the Gumshoe system which, according to the homepage “revolutionize[s] investigative scenarios, by ensuring that players are never deprived of the clues they need to move the story forward.


I’ve read the rules to Pendragon 5.1 (and was a bit confused).  I’ve read a good chunk of the Great Pendragon Campaign (a multi-generational epic campaign).  I’ve been following Luke Crane’s twitter feed and seen an uptick in Pendragon references.  And more importantly, I’ve heard that the Pendragon game simply gets the feel of the legend of King Arthur right. So given the high regard of the game, and my present confusion of the rules, I think a quick session would be awesome (of course the system shines when it is part of a long running campaign).