The Lost Expedition (Modern Day) with Blood and Ink (1930s Africa).
I love this image, which is from Fantasy Flight Games excellent Cthulhu card game.
For my next Trail of Cthulhu campaign, I decided I wanted to actually split “The Lost Expedition” into two simultaneous parts and have my players make characters for both. The first was my current “established” modern Cthulhu horror, which I have developed over the past few years and didn’t want to let go over a “historic” setting. Setting my Cthulhu horror games in the modern era, as opposed to the more classic historic 1920s or 1930s assumptions, has proven to have several advantages. By far the most important advantage, is that by giving my players a world identical to ours it really helps people “Get into character”. There isn’t any need to know about the culture of 1930s New York to get a feel for how they should think and act.
I also find the large amount of reliance on “current” technology that characters often develop to be just as useful for building tension. You should, as much as possible, let things like cell phones be integral parts of the game and not impede their function. Let players become as reliant on their characters phones as their actual player possibly is in reality. Then at the right moment, turn their electronics against them by having a phone ring at the wrong moment, or the device simply outright doesn’t work or even worse, cultists hack their metadata and track them right down to their hideout. In essence, the more you turn players current understanding of the world and their reliance on real things, like cellphones, against them the better the tension/horror.
On the other hand, there is a considerable attraction to me in running a historical campaign because of the interesting possibilities for different stories and roleplaying. While it can be harder to get into the idea of roleplaying characters from a different time and worldview, this problem is increasingly mitigated by numerous excellent free resources on history on the internet. While Wikipedia isn’t always 100% accurate, it’s often a very good “One stop shop” for a rough idea about where to start for storylines to pursue and general events, which occurred in your chosen regions time period. Historic storylines often exploit the lack of technology, enhanced difficulty of travel and slower means of communication of the time to build tension/horror.
This is why when I wrote the original “Staring New Campaigns” post, I decided to use True Detective as a kind of inspiration behind this campaign. In the first season of True Detective, two former police detectives are interviewed by their modern counterparts about an old cold case series of murders. During these interviews, the former detectives give some embellished and often outright lie filled accounts of their previous actions. This creates an interesting contrast, between how reliable the detectives stories are about the events of the 1990s and how in the modern era they eventually resolve the case. In The Lost Expedition I wanted to create a similar kind of unknown, where the players need to rely on accounts about what happened in the 1930s from “unreliable” sources. Essentially setting up the campaign this way I get my tension filled modern horror game style I like, while getting to have my side cake of pulpy style 1930s historic horror.