Cthulhu: Le Pacte d'Innsmouth

Aurélien Buchatz

Maybe it’s the sleek minimalist black and white cover, maybe it’s the Deep One xenomorph occupying alone the back and front of the case, with merely ‘CHTULHU’ in smushed ink font on the spine, the neat little built-in die case. I’m just a sucker for aesthetics and they got me.

In November 2021, Elder Craft published this neat little tabletop RPG book written by Maxime Le Dain and designed by Sebastien Moricard, drawing from one of H.P. Loveraft’s most famous tales: The Shadow Over InnsmouthInnsmouth is probably Lovecraft’s most used short story for RPGs, most notably in the Call of Cthulhu games starting in the 1980’s. Not my favourite of HPL’s by a long-shot, but I understand the appeal of an investigation into a small village peopled by eccentric, disturbing characters. If anything, it makes for easy roleplay. Post-edit addendum: to the point, a few days ago I opened up Facebook for the first time in a while and was greeted by a post from my 73-year-old aunt (who in no way shape or form is into the genre) advertising a 2h role-playing evening session in her 1.3k inhabitant village deep in the French Alps. ‘’Themes: Investigation, Archeology, Supernatural, Fright. Cairo, 1930. The tomb of a little-known pharaoh was just discovered. Will you dare to reveal its splendors? Who knows what could be hiding behind the reassuring façade of our world… Role Playing Game for Adults: The Call of Cthulhu!’’. Lovecraft is everywhere and the reach of CoC is baffling. Let us see what this adaptation looks like.

The game is designed to be played with one, two, three, four, or five players, the difficulty adapting accordingly. I considered getting friends to play it with, but my edition is in French and my available French-speaking friends are scant. Maybe for a second run, we will see.

For now, let’s go old-school choose-your-own adventure and do this solo. Cthulhu offers five pre-made characters to choose from, along with guidance and a blank slate for experienced adventurers to make up their own. We can choose between Robert Olmstead, strapping young lad of 21, determined, instigative, insisting, whose stats favour ELOQUENCE (+1), STEALTH (+2), and PERCEPTION (+2), (all item and stat-related text is hurled at the player in caps lock and bold, see picture 2.

I have no choice but to reproduce that flair here!), an even younger boy of 17, Tony Costello, ‘Terror of the Docks’, naturally suspicious, prone to anger and street smart, a brawler with (+2) in LOCKPICKING, (+2) in STEALTH and (+3) in STRENGTH, a 37-year-old policeman on the run, Andrew Carter, a rough, perspicacious fatalist, decently ATHLETIC (+1), able to INTIMIDATE (+2) and TRACK (+2) his suspects. Too many men, way too white? Ever read Lovecraft? Still, as is touched upon by Laurie Pons in the introduction, Maxime Le Dain chose to palliate Lovecraft’s shortcomings (namely his racism and the erasure of women, both far more common in his time, yet…) with the following two characters. First off, we have Sidney Jefferson, 45, a controversial poet. Sensible, exalted, avant-garde, and, according to Pons, a character purposedly made to resemble Lovecraft the artist, ‘’right down to his fate at the end of the adventure’’ which seems a touch too spoilery for an introduction, but ok, I guess. Sidney is black, as is indicated by his portrait and background story. He is also ELOQUENT (+2), ERUDITE (+2) and has an affinity for ETIQUETTE (+1). Sidney is called to Arkham to occupy the chair of contemporary poetry at Miskatonic University, consecration of a lifetime of hard work in spite of innumerable odds.

 And finally, to round up that lovely, if a bit ill-fitted group (stats are all over the place and uneven, with an overall +5 for Andrew and Sidney, +6 for Robert, and +8 for Eliza and Tony, no one has any seduction skills, which, to be honest, I am quite grateful they didn’t give any by default to Eliza because of her gender, but let’s get to introducing her now, shall we?).

Eliza Crowley, 24, is a rising star in the magic world. Self-made, independent, ingenious, and fierce, she is summoned to her father’s death bed, the same father who beat her in her youth and drove her out of the family home far too young with no other choice but to make it on her own with her skills in prestidigitation.

I intend to go for two runs and, as a rule, went in as Eliza first, Sidney second. For now, I shall explore the streets of Innsmouth as a PERCEPTIVE (+3, +1 extra from item ‘’LAMP TORCH’’) ACROBAT (+2) adept in PSYCHOLOGY (+2), and a young woman. What could possibly go wrong?


Cthulhu: Pact of Innsmouth (hereafter ‘Cthulhu’ while ‘Innsmouth’ will refer to the original HPL novella) functions at its core like most table-tops, maybe closest to D&D: characters have favoured characteristics with stat bonuses and roll either D8, D10, or D12 dice depending on their attributes, tackling the event whose clearance threshold is determined by a set difficulty. Success and failure, as well as your own choices on different options, send you to different pages and scenario numbers. Playing around one’s PC (player character)’s strength is wise, although options often deny clear choice (sometimes the option to cartwheel your way successfully out of a tense persuasive conversation just isn’t there, even if your character is an agile dunce and you wish you just could).

Rules are straightforward, more accessible to beginners than most other tabletop RPGs I have played in the past, no foray into (in)sanity and mental health points as in CoC, no overly dicey rolls, just some good old-fashioned basic stuff, better to focus on the narrative and let it unfold before your eyes with your every choice. On the downside this makes for pretty dry mechanisms for anyone but a complete newcomer to role playing games.

Now comes the delicate part of the article, as no matter what path I choose, it is hardly possible to unfurl my experience of playing this game without spoiling it for those to come. Then again, I assume all of you have read Innsmouth and will be familiar with its intricacies. If not, maybe consider doing so before reading what is to come. At the same time, I shall endeavor to focus on the experience over the plot, especially on how it feels to play this tabletop compared to reading the original HPL work, on whether the spirit of the original Innsmouth lives on in this adaptation.

Your character starts off on a train to Newburyport, be you Eliza or anyone else, which, albeit understandable from a writer’s perspective, does feel a touch stale. After a bit of introductory exposition, the dying dad in Arkham, the beatings, the fierce independence, the love for magic, the train arrives and with it come choices. Your next train to Arkham is in an hour, if you want to stay at the train station go to 1-18, if you want to go out, explore and maybe go shopping, 1-27 is for you [‘’1’’ being the chapter, ‘’27’’ the adventure number in that chapter]. So off exploring I go, into a small adventure introducing dice check, obstacles easily overcome, yet ones that still could be failed with poor rolls, to very little consequence presumably, then again, I roll like a god for the first five throws, when it is the least consequential, classic… At least I get a SWISS ARMY KNIFE (+1 LOCKPICKING) and a BEEF-NERVE-WHIP (+1 COMBAT) for my troubles and astonishing success.

So far so good. I don’t know about you, but there is plenty of nostalgia triggered by these choose-your-own-adventure books. Only played a few in my youth, but they quickly became core memories, well, that and the dozens of RPGs I wolfed down in the first 25 years of my life, and my D&D phase. Cthulhu very much feels like the RPG it is, with the added tabletop charm of jotting notes down on a pad and physically throwing dice. The box I have unfortunately lost its d8 die, and at first, to be completely honest, I was using a random internet dice generator. But I just had to go to my nearest game store and buy the missing die. There is no substitute for the anticipation and joy of seeing that die fly with flashes of fortunate or dreadful outcomes until it rests on your final fate. No second throw mechanism here, what it lands on is what you get.

As it turns out that little adventure made us miss the train to Arkham and buying another ticket is too expensive for our meager artist means, as we were about to embark on a long east coast tour, and our finances were rather depleted when we got the dying dad news. Only other option, you would have guessed it, is a shoddily run bus, whose sour owner and driver, the train station clerk informs us, gives off an unpleasant, almost putrid vibe, but will get us to our final destination, with only a short stop before, to this town he enjoins us to skip, called Innsmouth.

The tension builds up ever so slightly as everything gleaned about Innsmouth and its inhabitants seems to warrant distrust and unease. The bus driver is indeed as unsettling as was announced, the back of this neck greasy beyond belief, yet his skin somehow drier than you thought possible, looking rough and almost… scaly…

No, listen, as skeptical as I am, as aware of the adaptation and in full anticipation of what is to come and how it will be presented, so far Cthulhu is skillfully executed. Would it be better for me to be ignorant of the original work to shank the distance I have to this experience? Sure. Would it be better to play it with at least another friend entirely in the dark about HPL? Yep. This, however, is not the world we live in, and I will strive to be all at once my detached, HPL afficionado, meta-perspectival self, an unsuspecting player living their first HPL/RPG experience in the streets and dark pubs of Innsmouth, as well as… well… Eliza Crowley actually walking those streets and breathing in the foul air of these dark corners.

As we finally reach our first stop, Innsmouth, and we decide to follow our every instinct and stay on the bus, the driver tells us he will now be going back to Newsburyport, as he only drives all the way to Arkham on his 8p.m run and it is still only shortly before 11a.m. Our diminutive budget still prevents us from finding another ride all the way back to the big city, so we arrange for the driver to pick us up later, after which we leave our luggage at the local Inn before realizing our stomach howls with hunger.

Here the adventure truly starts. Who will Eliza be? Investigator or brute? Inquisitive or careless? Options abound, and maybe Eliza would be too introspective to explore the city, but I can’t help my own completionist player tendencies. If I know anything, it is that RPGs often reward (and occasionally punish, but this is too early game for difficult or costly encounters) the curious player. Onward we go exploring the town, learning about its lore from the wary, scared Arkham boy who only found secure employment at the grocery store on the plaza across the inn, who seems grateful for our presence, welcome reminder of normalcy. He has been there for a mere couple month yet can neither explain nor shake off his brutal gut-feeling of triggered flight response. His contract with the company only lasts 3 more months until he will be called to another store, and that won’t come one second too early, he assures us.

After grabbing some cheap snacks (ginger waffles and cheese biscuits, just your standard New England delicacies) we set off to explore the town, a map in our pocket, curtesy of our favourite clerk.

 I choose to ignore the alcoholic accosted by two rough-looking men (not my problem, Eliza doesn’t have that righteous fiber I decide), as well as his screams as I walk on, I then easily saunter away from the car sliding uncontrollably towards my side of the pavement before meeting the chauffer, relative of our previous bus driver, and the 16 year-old aristocrat he is driving around, Asenath Waite. That paragraph seems out of place from Eliza’s perspective, with an insistent objectification of the young woman reeking of a (patriarchal) man’s gaze: ‘’the door opens giving way to an adorable naked ankle… A small brunette, of stunning beauty despite her protuberant eyes, scarcely 16…’’, but then again, the narration stays the same for Eliza as it would for Tony Costello, the 17-year-old ruffian we could have picked. It is left to the players to imagine our character’s reactions to the world and its beautiful underage women. Tony would probably have lusted over her in a way that would have made even the narrator blush, 21 year old Robert might have fallen head over heels for her, but probably not if we know anything about HPL’s narrators, and hopefully neither 37-year-old Andrew not 45-year-old Sidney would have felt anything untoward. Then again, none of these four men exist in our reality, and Eliza feels little about Asenath, if but a vague notion of her own lost innocence looking at privileged youth. She gives us her GLOVES for our troubles, permanently lowering our HEALTH POINT LOSS by 1 (seems overpowered but also ominous, Eliza only has 20HP, this item intimates huge HP loss later in the game, otherwise it truly would be too powerful, as it probably is early). Almost getting ran over by aristocracy has its perks.

Of course, Asenath throws us a ‘’concupiscent, yearning gaze’’. Eliza is having none of this flirtatious nonsense. She is gay in my headcanon, and no pedophile. We cheekily ask her if she could drive us to Arkham, but alas she has some other place to be and keeps throwing some more insisting flirting energy our way, hinting at us potentially being able to get along and assist each other. Here comes the second difficult throw of the game (first one was also Eliza forte, a PERCEPTION check to see the activity in the crypt by the town church, gleans of suspicious goings by a robed figure wearing a gold tiara, nothing too relevant), PSYCHOLOGY, time to make us of my (+2) and roll up to an 8, on a 10-sided-die, possible, but far from guaranteed. Ha, a 9! Praise be Yog-Sothoth!

‘’You perceive, in the voice and gaze of the inquisitive girl, an interest far beyond simple attraction or mere curiosity. The longer you observe her, the more destabilized you feel. In her sardonic gaze lurks the power and intent of an ancient soul, that should not be in a being that young.’’ Ooooh.

Before driving away with her characteristic wanton abandon, Asenath enjoins us to give Zadok Allen a bottle for him to reveal Innsmouth’s most arcane secrets. Shoot, that’s the alcoholic I didn’t save, innit? Oh well, moving on.

As I move to the next and last exploration paragraph, I am faced with the same Zadok Allen, harassing me for some booze. Unfortunately, I didn’t stumble upon or bought any, and, even though I never would have cheated and went to the paragraph where I had a bottle to give the old man, hopefully learning more lore along the way, I can’t even cheat. The bottle I was supposed to get has a % of alcohol content in its description and it is this percentage I would have had to add to the number of the current paragraph to find the right, desired one. Better to have that temptation removed, few cheaters would have the dedication to go through the 300 paragraphs in chapter 2 to find the right one (yes, a smart cheater could loosely go to current chapter +30-60, given the kind of alcohol that would get to Zadok, but we ain’t about that life here).

We have yet to talk about the tone. The French in which I am reading this game is very verbose, literary, deliciously similar to HPL’s own. The author, Maxime Le Dain, also translated Innsmouth prior to writing this game, and it shows. French allows for a rich vocabulary of the strange, macabre, and Le Dain has no qualm pushing it to the limits with a rather encyclopedic sense of the descriptive. Again, HPL would be proud. The uncanny, or unease, are easier to attain with a murky world whose features are blurry to us and need to be looked up as arcane objects and emotions peopling a world we thought we knew.

Of course, the bus we were supposed to catch at 8pm has a malfunctioning motor and can’t be repaired for the night. Having to sleep at the hotel next door is no thrill to us, and it is during that first night that dread intensifies as some unknown entity attempts to enter our room with a master key. Luckily, we locked all doors, to the main floor and the other two doors to adjacent rooms.

Here is where I decided to stop retelling and live through the rest of the adventure before resuming writing. I just read ‘Fin de l’aventure’ as fish creatures dragged me back to their lair to… make use of my bloodline. Which isn’t great as Eliza, somehow the thought of being eaten/dismembered/forced to impregnate women with the Deep One bloodline as one of the four men doesn’t strike me as gruesome as the perspective of rape and forced breeding as a woman.

Turns out it all escalated quickly after locking the doors to my room. The dread did intensify, accelerate, and quite honestly the physical action of frantically turning pages to uncover your fate is a great anticipatory tool to heighten and feed tension. Jumping constantly 30 pages to go from one paragraph, one action to the next, excitedly glancing at the content of the paragraph, seeing dice throws, their difficulty levels and potential HP loss before reading the paragraph also does some leg work on general anxiety levels.

This just wasn’t a great run for good old Eliza. Sorry lass. She was inquisitive, rolled well early, and decently well late, simply didn’t make the right ones or the truly miraculous few. Rolled a 7 on a probably life-(run-)saving 8, after having rolled a 11, 9 and 10 in a row.

Beyond rolls, there is so much of the game I haven’t seen, explored, and I’m not completely sure why or how. I took all opportunities to snoop around, to collect items and knowledge, and got nothing that could have helped me escape the cult’s grasp or gather more information. It’d be fascinating to see how I could get anywhere else really, as right now I have this feeling that I took all the right, secure steps towards survival. Maybe this is where I failed, not taking enough risks. As much as it was felt in line with the independent Eliza not to talk the two ruffians out of harassing the town drunk and warden of knowledge, as far as the game go, it was evidently a faux-pas. Fear is the mind killer indeed.

There were plenty of opportunities to attempt escaping from the path my choices and rolls threw me on, all of them seemingly more unrealistic than the next, and, in waiting for the right time, I just rolled a 7 instead of an 8. How I wished to open the door beyond that 8, and yet I refrained, for the game, and my honor as a RPG player, trained me to be disciplined and not tinker with reality. Timelines are not to be messed with.

This adventure felt like Lovecraft. I’m not sure whether or not this is an unpopular opinion, but Lovecraft RPGs aren’t meant to be won, to be crushed, if you end up in front of the Deep Ones you’re not supposed to sommersault your way to safety, or to outswim them, which is, hilariously, what Eliza decided to do after getting out of the ropes binding her with her training in prestidigitation. I had a similar experience in my one Call of Cthulhu adventures. The party investigated a bunch but simply, not enough, then decided to walk up a long flight of stairs inside a lighthouse and got trapped by horde of deep-sea-creatures and got mauled to death with no other course of action to choose from.

‘Winning’ or surviving is possible, if you are meticulous, lucky, and deal with cultists well, however it isn’t the point. The point is to immerse yourself in that world, be intrigued by the glimpses of deep lore you catch and want to uncover more, to feel the full brunt of that anxiety as Eliza runs for her life trying to evade the cultists’ attempts to capture her, or seizing the right moment to escape their grasp, to marvel at lavish descriptions of horror, to watch that small derelict yet somewhat peaceful town and its miasmic aura turn mind-bendingly dreadful at night, once its denizens have decided you had snooped enough.

And in all these aspects, that first run delivered. I didn’t survive from having questioned a person and a half and taken mostly risk-free right turns. I didn’t have enough to entice Zadok Allen with a truth-serum of a firey spirit, didn’t talk again to Asenath (which might have been for the better, given what that difficult PERCEPTION check revealed), didn’t do much of anything else beyond running for dear life. And outrunning a whole town is not very realistic now.

The horror felt at Eliza’s fate at the end of her adventure very much echoes the end of the original novella, with Robert Olmstead, the narrator (unnamed in the story, his name unveiled by Lovecraft in later notes), accepting his fate of turning into a Deep One and decides to break out his cousin, who is much further along in the transformation than him, before going to live together in Y’ha-nthlei, the city below the sea.

Cthulhu is replete with such references, most of which I had, in all honesty, forgot since my last reading of Innsmouth, years ago. Most characters named in the novella are present in the RPG, and accompanied by quite a few more that aren’t as canonical. The line seems decently toed between pleasing die-hard fans of HPL and Innsmouth with references aplenty while still offering a unique, disturbing, and accessible adventure to neophytes or future fans.

As gracious as I was about dying there and at large, ‘’failing’’ my RPG experience, I would be remiss if I didn’t attempt once more to elucidate the mysteries of Innsmouth and attempt to reach Arkham alive, sane, and hopefully uncorrupted.

Which is why I will be giving Sidney a shot now, and although I have learned quite a few things about the town, the cult, and the game during my first Eliza run, I will try not to abuse that too much the second time around. I might try to acquire a bottle of whiskey though, let’s see.

Here we go! Sidney is sensitive and to be honest I am a touch worried about his lack of ATHLETICISM, STRENGTH, and general PSYCHOLOGY. He only starts with +5 stats, which is somehow offset by a BOX OF RAZOR BLADES, giving no extra stat bonus but a mysterious ‘’?’’ following it. Unfortunately I know what they are for, but let us see, with a bit of luck I won’t need to use them.

It is going to take quite a bit of imagination for this black man to exist in HPL’s world. In 1927. In Innsmouth. But let us suspend that disbelief, surely the Deep Ones and their lackeys are misandrists not racists, right? Right? If he ever reaches Miskatonic University in Arkham, I’m sure he’d achieve some form of well-being. Let’s try to get him safely there shall we?!

And already, four paragraphs in, I end up at the grocery store in Newsburyport that offers: a BOX OF RAZOR BLADES (?), a LAMP TORCH (+1 PERCEPTION), a SWISS ARMY KNIFE (+1 LOCKPICKING), a BATON (+1 FIGHTING), and a 45% WHISKY BOTLLE (?). Of course, as Eliza, I took the lockpicking tool, having already more than enough perception and a decent chance at fights. Sidney severely lacks in fighting skills and isn’t all that perceptive. A dreamer I suppose.

Before we get any further I have to shamefully confess to something. I ended up inadvertently cheating with Eliza. The box provides three dice. A D8, D10, and D12. In my simplistic mind, all characters would make use of all three dices, and have their groups of abilities (BODY, SPIRIT, INTELLIGENCE) ranked 1 to 3, tied to the according die. I read Eliza as having low spirit, medium intellect, and high body (hence all the talk about her athleticism, and her being overpowered with that +8 stats). However I must have been on some stuff, the die is clearly the same between INTELLIGENCE and BODY. That is not a D12 BODY die, but a D10. Mea culpa. I rolled exceptionally well on my BODY checks (ofc you would with a D12, you dunce), and can’t recall any close incidents, but they probably happened. Well. Live and learn, this second run will be done the intended way, and Sidney does have a D12 SPIRIT I will try to exploit. Apologies to the game designer, things are a lot more balanced than they seemed in my fantasy world of Eliza the acrobat.

Back to the store. As I said, +1 FIGHTING would go a long way, but having played the game, I can’t help but make use of my knowledge and force the Fates just a smidge. 45% WHISKY BOTLLE (?) it is, hope you’re thirsty Zadok (of course you are, you have a problem, mate, and I’m not above exploiting it for my own survival!)

Ok Sidney, I see you, first fight and easily cleared a 5 on a D8 roll. 7 is heaven, WHIP (+1 FIGHTING) here we go!

Well, the second time around is a lot smoother, affords you to pick the other option (usually one of two, sometimes one of three) and learn more about that world, this run is all about the family Marsh whom I hope to meet. You also catch allusions and all sorts of foreboding, ominous signs, the first meeting with Jebediah Allen at the inn and the mention of his firefighting sons takes on a different flavour after the ordeal they put dear old Eliza through.

Boy is Zadok chatty, to think I missed it altogether last time around, a treasure trove of lore spinning me right round on the hunt for new paragraphs. Delving deeper into the story of Obed Marsh and Innsmouth than Lovecraft ever could in his hundred pages. As Zadok rambles on and on, the reader’s basic reading skills are rewarded when the orator halts, confused, and asks us which one of these names was the name of Obed’s third ship. Simple checks, that become a bit trickier later in this interminable story. I can’t believe how long this encounter with Zadok is, how many paragraphs, how much exposition. This is why my Eliza run seemed so flat, so quick. Zadok’s story is so expansive and extensive, it’s almost close to reading the original. And it just keeps going, probably a hundred pages out of the 400 total are dedicated to his stories and their branches. Luckily, I keep on rolling decently and will get to experience most of them this run. Onwards we go!

Sue me. A difficult roll of 8 out of 10. Rolled a 3, a 7 and then a 10. Will keep the 10 and move on. You don’t get it, I have an article to write, I have a story to get to, this tale is meta, I go beyond the game, I am beyond mere player. I need to know what Zadok is hiding, this is the end of his stories and I have spent far too long to give up now because of chance. I will get to the bottom of this. Survival rolls I will keep without cheating, but not this, not today. May they without sin throw me the first stone.

What a ride. Zadok is finally gone, terrified by visions of a Shoggoth and/or Deep Ones on Devil’s Reef. That story was superb and wouldn’t have been the same had it been delivered in an elongated novella monologue. This is where this RPG format shines, a dizzying array of possibilities, choices, failures, successes. An agency, power I wouldn’t have felt reading the original. Now let’s see how the next events will unfold, I doubt that accrued lore knowledge will change much as to my potential fate, I but feel ready and hopeful to be proven wrong, especially with a BOX OF RAZOR BLADES (?) in my pocket.

Come on Sidney what the hell is this… Rolled a 2 on a D8 check of 3… After a failed 5 check on a D10 roll. Oh well, unlikely it’d have gone another way I suppose, the hotel goons would have gotten me eventually, but I’d have loved to see what kind of pursuit there would have been in store. Anyhow, I got enough of a glimpse with Eliza, and I vowed not to cheat on these checks anymore. After taking my shameful one point of damage, I head to the fourth chapter of the story.

We reach a similar point as Eliza just as quick, turns out her admiration for Harry Houdini and her escaping artist skills are about just as good as having a BOX OF RAZOR BLADES (?) taped to your inner thigh. For the first time I encounter a puzzle to solve. Letter-based, not too challenging yet still takes me a while to get find the combination to press in order to escape the sacrificial room and the Shoggoth trampling towards me.


Unfortunately, I then somewhat quickly reach two more puzzles in succession, the two of them number-based, that literally stop me in my tracks. One of them couldn’t be bypassed, not even given up. Well, two things here: there are myriad ways to attempt solving puzzles, even with experience in the kind of puzzles and solving methods from countless RPGs, there is too much one can do with numbers, and I am so special, my brain works in such unique ways that I couldn’t possibly find the expected conventional method… and I also suck at puzzles. I end up cheating on that second one and shamefully skimming the first line of some 40 paragraphs until I found the opening sentence going something like ‘’You finally crack the code and manage to open the door lock, congratulations, you can be proud of yourself!’’.

Listen. I’d have taken difficult skill checks, I’d have lost HP, but I couldn’t take the shame and frustration of being stuck until I figured it out and going in circles. Should I have taken a break and come back to it with a fresh mind? Sure. Am I also not entitled to instant and effortless rewards in this day and age? Isn’t it what neoliberalism promises? For me to just sit back, relax, and get my well-earned entertainment spoon-fed to me?

So I cheated, and lost a lot of respect in your eyes, dear reader. I’ll live with it.

By the time I reached the last puzzle, very similar to the 2nd one I went through just minutes earlier, I was feeling done, frustrated, ashamed. The story took a dip since the Zadok lore-fest and the Shoggoths encounters. Tension should still have been there and maybe if I hadn’t gotten stuck on that puzzle and ultimately cheated, I would have probably still felt immersed in the narrative. This is most likely a lot more on me than on game design.

Yet somehow, I can’t feel much elation as I roll well on the last crucial check that allows me to reach the ‘’good’’ Sidney epilogue, where he escapes the town, yet can never fully escape the visions, dreams, his poetry tainted, unable to jot anything down but dark visions of Y’ha-nthlei.

What to say about those experiences? I had read The Shadow over Innsmouth years and years ago. Had it been yesterday I’d have recognized all those streets, landmarks, secondary characters, names, recalled the lore of that accursed city. Would it have made for a better experience? A different one for sure, yet I am not mad I forgot even Zadok’s character, it allowed me to go through Cthulhu somewhat blind, with honed reflexes and an affinity towards gathering lore to jog my memory. To complete neophytes this is a fine game, a touch on the slow side, and frankly not that thrilling. But then again neither is the original novella, especially read today, after the countless faster-paced works of horror and anxiety-inducing novellas that have been inspired by HPL and added onto the legacy of that genre.

Beyond that, getting to evolve in this infamous city, to experience the grime, hostility, events, canonical and not, has been great in this RPG. Lovecraft’s works, and Innsmouth probably above all, lends itself incredibly well to this different format, compared to the passive read through the eyes of rational men of science whose reality melts in front of our eyes.

Not that Cthulhu was solely text-based, some illustrations accompany our journey, numbering about ten, from the young grocer to the whiskey we pass on to Zadok, to the slumbering Shoggoth in that room, dissolving maimed corpses prompted up in green goo. The addition of a visual medium can very much be detrimental to the development of the reader’s (or player’s) imagination and take away from the creeping unease of the HPL experience. Take Cthulhu for example, the eldritch deity, for the RPG in question, it is one thing to read HPL’s descriptions throughout his novellas, and another completely seeing its depiction as oversized winged anthropomorphized cephalopod.

HPL lives in the shadows of the mind, and this RPG provides just enough extra immersion and not quite enough light to distort the lived-artistic experience, on the contrary. The world painted here remains faithful to Innsmouth, and yet the author expands greatly on the diminutive original, especially with the drawn map to the town and the many flavourful details added left and right. Is it worth investing in if you already own a version of the CoC RPG and happen to speak French? Probably not, I could only recommend this in good conscience if you are either new to Lovecraft and to RPGs, or if you do not yet own a CoC game and want to experience a decent alternative to it.

Maybe I’ll gift it to my aunt so that she can run some more RP sessions in her little French town. A 73-year-old DM would make for quite the unusual cultist now!