Feeling the 'Call' to bad art

Call of Cthulhu Chaosium

In my day, I’ve played probably two dozen Call of Cthulhu adventures.  Each and every one of them is memorable for some reason, and I think that in itself tells the story of just how good Call of Cthulhu is as an RPG.

When Chaosium took on this license, I really have no idea if the truly understood what they were getting themselves into, but I have to say that they did it right, even if their choice of artwork is lacking. 

Today I’m looking at Call of Cthulhu 5th Edition, written by Sandy Petersen & Lynn Willis from way back in 1992.  The bulk of the book’s text was composed for the 1983 1st edition by Sandy Petersen with evolution changes added in for this ‘latest’ version that give is a smoother around the edges feel and I think the company learned a great deal over the decade between the various writings.

However, as Chaosium often did, they spared no expense when commissioning a cover for their line leaders.  The 5th Edition is no exception as the cover is stunning.  Artist Lee Gibbons paints perhaps a ‘Top 10’ cover for the 1990s with the leering orange eye of the great Cthulhu as it looks through an enormous dimensional portal at the stupefied investigators on the other side.  The tones are sublime, the palate intrinsically creepy, and Gibbons ability to show skin composition in that framing is stupendous.  I have to give it absolutely high marks all around.

However, the inside is a mess of black and white drivel.  Certainly artist Earl Geier gets a moderate thumbs up for his monster section of the book, but other than that I’d love to burn every image.  Nothing about the content, placement, or talent of the images makes me want to play this game in the slightest.  It is completely uninspired, and the weight of this falls to the art director, or lack thereof as one is not listed for this book.  This absence creates a haphazard feel to the flow, and an utter lack of continuity. 

In all, I love the game, but this book is a poor example of how to inspire a player or ‘Keeper’ other than a lovely cover which induces you to buy… which is exactly what Chaosium seemed to want with most of their products as it leaned heavily on the license content and hope that experienced and well-read players would overlook their art ineptitude.

Artistic Rating: 2 [out of 5]

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  • Mathieuvart.com on

    Earl Geier is mostly the only artist worth mentioning in the older Chaosium books. I think adventure books are the worst. Often NPC portraits are terribly poorly drawn and they are everywhere. Maybe their art budget was almost entirely dedicated to the covers. In the 90s most of the games’ artworks inside were terrible. I prefer my RPG books with quality over quantity. As you said, a lot of COC artwork doesn’t inspire the Guardian’s imagination to play.

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