Introducing Cthulhu Boston: 1914


After mulling over a few options for gaming this autumn and winter, I'm kicking off a game set in Boston of 1914. The First World War has been in the news a lot lately, with today being the centennial of the armistice. I came across a quote by Lt. Colonel William Murray which struck me - "No more horrors. No more mud and misery. Just everlasting peace."

I don't plan on setting the bulk of the game in Europe. It is set in Boston. Here in the United States we sat out much of the war, joining it in spring of 1917 and not being in Europe in earnest until near the end of the conflict.

I've been looking through old newspapers - our game will be starting on June 29, 1914 - the day after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. It is noteworthy that while this was certainly seen as a major event, there was no clue that the spark which would ignite the world into war had just gone off. You see that in the papers over the next few days, with the story fading until the saber-rattling began to get obvious.

I've been doing a lot of research on Boston of the 1920s for my regular Call of Cthulhu game. I was surprised how much the years prior to the 1920s caught me. It's not that the 1920s in Boston were boring - far from it. But the 1910s spoke to me - screamed at me really, with ideas for adventures. Physically, Boston was "under construction", with elevated trains and subways rapidly expanding. A story about a fish weir being discovered in 1913 as part of the construction of the Boylston Street Tunnel caught my eye - .Deep Ones perhaps?

Boston was also home to a lot of political unrest, with Boston being a hotbed of the anarchist movement.

As the timeline moves forward I've a number of ideas. My initial inclination was, should the game make it to 1917, have the characters spend some time in Europe. That's still on the table, but I've also been learning about the home front and there was a lot going on, with America rapidly mobilized - and not welcoming dissent at all, with the remnants of John Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts being re-weaponized. Not everyone was caught up in the draft, with many eligible Americans being viewed as essential on the home front. Could not investigators find themselves recruited into investigating why Innsmouth is ignoring the draft?

I've a number of inspirations for this era. First, I need to point out Dennis Lehane's novel, The Given Day, set in post-World War 1 Boston. It covers the Influenza Epidemic, the Molasses Flood, anarchist terrorism, and climaxes with the Boston Police Strike of 1919. From a non-fiction perspective, I've been slowly working my way through David Kennedy's Over Here: The First World War and American Society. It's a little dry at points, but it gives a nice overview of World War 1 America. I managed to snag the six-volume Our Times by Mark Sullivan, written in the 1930s and covering America from the 1890s to the the 1920s. It's a bit too long for me to commit to reading from start to finish but I'm finding it a nice reference with a contemporary perspective, giving insight as to what the people who lived through the era considered important. I've also been raiding the Images of America series - for example, Boston's Red Line: Bridging the Charles from Alewife to Briantree is loaded with inspiration. A picture of a house literally being moved to make room for the digging of a subway tunnel gave me an idea for an adventure. Way back in 1996 I watched the PBS/BBC production The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century. It's never been made available for streaming or DVD, tough two years ago I stumbled across a DVD version of questionable legality.

As far as official materials for the RPG go, it's a fairly untapped era. Chaosium did do a single adventure, No Man's Land. Pelgrane Press has a number of Great War adventures for Trail of Cthulhu that could conceivably be adapted. And there are a lot of 1920s scenarios that could be moved a decade earlier without any ill effect. I do have a bit more free time than I did a few months ago, allowing me to flex my creative muscles a bit more than I have in quite some time.

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