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Cthulhu: 1889

by Marcus L. Rowland

This article orginally appeared in GDW's Challenge Magazine #43. A few months ago I ran into a problem. I was working on a Space: 1889 adventure and wanted to playtest it at a convention. Unfortunately, Space: 1889 had only been on sale in Britain for a couple of weeks, and I knew I'd have trouble finding enough players to make up a good team of adventurers. I was only moderately familiar with the rules and did not feel confident that I could do justice to the scenario. When l looked through the adventure, l decided what I was really testing was the plot. Would players make the right choices, or would they run into endless dead ends? While the Space: 1889 background was vital to events in the scenario, there were very few points at this stage of development where the rules were critical.

To make a long story short, l finally decided I'd be better off using runes that I and other players already knew well. Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu was the obvious choice, since I have probably spent more time running it than any other game system. What cinched the choice for me was that I also owned the Call of Cthulhu Victorian background pack, Cthulhu By Gaslight.

There are a lot of advantages to using Call of Cthulhu rules, not the least of which is that many players are already familiar with them; in Britain it's the third or fourth most popular RPG. By using Call of Cthulhu rules you also add an element of fear‹players can never be quite sure that you haven't slipped in one or two Mythos creatures, and of course there's nothing to stop you from doing so. At a first glance the sanity rules aren't particularly useful if you are sticking to a strict Space: 1889 background. But even the bravest Victorian adventurer may occasionally run into a genuinely horrific situation; the sanity rules give you an easy way for fear to affect them.

Although I was developing a Space: 1889 adventure and wanted to stick to a strict Space: 1889 background for my playtest, l've since given some thought to a hybrid system that combines the awesome menace of Call of Cthulhu with the interesting backgrounds from Cthulhu By Gaslight and Space: 1889. I call this system Cthulhu: 1889.


Ancient ruins hint of strange races that produced many of the known species on Earth, Venus, and Mars. All three worlds have legends of a distant past ruled by hideous monsters, huge and strange beyond all imagination. In 1870 Thomas Edison invented space travel. Today great ether flyers sail the gulf between the worlds. Occasionally they fail to reach their destinations. Why did one freighter, the Marie Celeste, reach Venus with haH the crew missing, and the rest dead or incurably insane? Why do certain scholars believe the pattern of the canals of Mars is a potent magical symbol? What destroyed the Solar System's fifth planet, now the Asteroid Belt? What are the strange flying forms glimpsed between the planets?

Cthulhu: 1889 is based on the Cthulhu Mythos, but it is a Mythos H. P. Lovecraft might have imagined if he were writing some years after humanity colonized the Solar System, as described in Space: 1889. The outer worlds are haunted by the creatures of the Mythos. R'lyeh is somewhere in the Asteroid Belt or possibly on the Moon of one of the outer planets; the Plateau of Leng is on Mars; and fire vampires roam the bright side of Mercury.

The ancient Martians drove the worst creatures out of the inner system, and the canals of Mars are a gigantic warding spell, an Elder Sign on a vast scale, a symbol that is slowly losing its power as the canals fall into ruin. The effort of the canals' construction drained the resources of the canal builders. Their heirs are corrupt and know little of the symbolic significance of the channels.

Occasionally the more powerful and malevolent creatures of the Mythos venture closer to the inner worlds, summoned by evil magicians or taking advantage of rare natural events which negate the power of the Martian pattern. Earth still has its share of evil cultists and sinister sites, but they are just part of a much bigger picture. There are similar cults on Mars and Venus, and the Selenites and Moon Men may also know something of this ancient horror.

Most people know little or nothing of the Mythos; Brittania rules the ether, and the empire (on which the Sun never sets) is slowly expanding toward the stars and toward the ho horror r that waits in the outer Solar System. Of course there are occasional unexplained events, but most people ignore them. Only a few brave souls are aware of the terror that surrounds them and are prepared to fight the creatures of the Mythos.

While it would be possible to set events in this variant system in the 1920s to tie them to the main Call of Cthulhu game, a Victorian environment is more fun. There's also the advantage of being able to use anything published for Space: 1889 without the need to change social and political details.

The Cthulhu: 1889 System

These rules additions will help you set Call of Cthulhu adventures against the Space: 1889 background or run Space: 1889 adventures under Call of Cthulhu rules. To make the most of them, you'll need the Call of Cthulhu rules, the Space: 1889 rules, and Cthulbu by Gaslight. If you don't already own both systems, ltd advise trying one game at a time, rather than attempting to learn variants of two games simultaneously!

Conversion Table
Cthulhu 1889
STR Strx2+6
DEX Aglx2+6
INT Intx2+6
CON Endx2+6
APP Chrx2+6
POW Chr+Soc+6
SIZ Str+End+6
EDU Socx2+Int
Note: Multiply 1889 skills by 10 to get the equivalent skill percentages.

Character Generation

Use the normal Cthulhu and Gaslight rules and character sheets, but let players know a few extra languages and skills are available, described as follows.


(Base 0%.) Space: 1889 offers four classes of gunnery skill: breech-loading field gun, muzzle-loading cannon, mac, and exotic weaponry (such as rockets). These skills must be taken separately, since they refer to very different types of weapon. All machineguns use the Call of Cthulhu machinegun rules for multiple shots, etc.

Read/Write Alien Language
Speak Alien Language

(Base 0% for non-natives.) Both these skills work like normal Terran language skills; they only apply to one language. For example, Speak Martian isn't acceptable, but Speak Koline (Canal Martian trade-talk) is allowed. Natives automatically speak their own languages with normal fluency, and they read and write if their culture allows it. See the Space: 1889 rules for Martian languages (pages 176, 181). Venus only has one language, with no written form, so Speak Venusian is acceptable. See various adventures for the languages of the Moon, etc. (For more information on Martian languages, see Conklin's Atlas of the Worlds, pages 68-69. Also, while Venusians‹Lizardmen‹all speak one language, it does have some regional accents and dialects, the effects of which a referee can adjudicate.)

Read Skin Pattern

(Base INTx2% for Venusians,0% for others.) Venusians get this skill automatically; anyone else can buy it at normal point costs. A Venusian's skin pattern reveals a lot about his likely behavior. Since all Venusians believe these patterns shape their destiny, they tend to live their lives as predicted. This skill may be used as an alternative to psychology when dealing with Venusians. Most Venusian shamans have this skill at very high levels. (This is a new skill; within the Space: 1889 rules, it~san Intellect-based default skill for Venusians, an Intellect-based skill (but not a default skill) for all others.)

Pilot Aerial Flyer/Cloudship/Zeppelin/Ether Flyer Pilot Sailing Vessel/Steam Vessel/Submarine

All pilot skills start off separately at base 0%, regardless of any other piloting skills known. Pilot Zeppelin replaces and includes the Gaslight skill Pilot Balloon. Most editions of the Cthulhu rules contain rules for boating skills to be used for all surface vessels.


(Base variable,-10%for alien mounts.) You can ride animals native to your own world, but you probably have trouble riding the animals of other worlds. For example, Cthulhu By Gaslight gives an upper-class character 25% ride skill; this drops to 15% when riding an animal from another world.


(Base 0%.) The ability to control the altitude and attitude of cloudships and other flyers, depth of submarines, etc.

Other Skills and Social Class

All other Space: 1889 skills have near or exact Gaslight equivalents. All skills that are normally available in Gaslight should be available in Cthulhu: 1889.

Gaslight and Space: 1889 both attach considerable significance to social class; this characteristic can be selected by players or randomly generated by a D6 roll as in the Social Class Table.

Social Class Table

Die Class 1-2 Lower class
3-4 Middle class
5-6 Upper class

One last point about character generation‹when developing statistics, don't forget the Sanity rating. This is a hybrid system, end there are things out there in the void of space‹the sort of things that tend to have a rather damaging effect on this particular characteristic.


For all melee and small arms combat, use the normal Cthulhu rules. All the hand weapons in Space: 1889 can be found in Cthulhu. See below for how to convert NPC weapon skills and animal attacks.

For airborne combat use the Space: 1889/Sky Galleons of Mars rules; however, shots are fired and either hit or miss using normal Cthulhu skill rolls.

To relate Space: 1889 artillery damage to Cthulhu rules, divide the burst indictated in the Space: 1889 field gun and cannon firing tables by two to give the explosion radius; damage is 1D6 per burst, also divided by two. For example, a 5" howitzer has a burst value of 14 in 1889. For Cthulhu this is reduced to seven yards in radius, damage 7D6.

This "quick and dirty" conversion may not suit every referee. In practice, you are probably dead if you are anywhere near an exploding shell, so precision isn't too important.

Space Travel

Use the Space: 1889 rules for ether flight. Some creatures of the Mythos may present additional hazards for space travellers.

NPC Conversion

It may occasionally be useful to convert characters from published Space: 1889 material to Cthulhu: 1889 rules. Don't worry about exact conversion of NPC skills and characteristics; this is a game, not a bookkeeping exercise! As a rough guide, multiply Space: 1889 characteristics by two and then add six to get their Cthulhu equivalents, or use a combination of two characteristics as in the Conversion Table on page 46. SAN and other figured characteristics (such as hit points and damage bonuses) are generated normally. The examples are for Colonel Caruthers, the sample character in the Space: 1889 rule book, and Baron Hasso von Gruber, a notorious Space: 1889 NPC.

Alien Animals

Alien animals should be run as the nearest possible Cthulhu equivalent. If the nearest equivalent is a Mythos creature, use the statistics for it, but there will be no SAN effect; it will not be intelligent; and it will have no magic or supernatural powers. For example, a ruumet breehr uses the characteristics of a rhinoceros. A great kommota uses the characteristics of a hunting horror but has no spells, is not affected by daylight, and is not intelligent.

Mythos Creatures

Almost all creatures capable of flying through the ether are faster and much more maneuverable than any human built ether flyer.

Azathoth is surrounded by vast whirlpools of ether turbulence which are thousands of miles in diameter. Any ether flyer caught in the turbulence will be inexorably sucked toward the god; the only escape is to dismiss Azathoth before it's too late. Travellers are strongly advised to avoid Azathoth.

Byakhee and shantaks are among the creatures most likely to be encountered in space. Star vampires are encountered less frequently. Fortunately, all seem to be repelled by the radiation of ether screws. Any ship which is forced to cut engine power may have some unwelcome visitors.

The colour out of space (see Cthulhu Now) is another infrequent visitor to our system. It may possibly attack ether flyers and may be attracted by (or able to feed on) the radiation of ether screws.

Cthulhu is still confined in R'lyeh, but R'lyeh itself may be mobile; it may be an asteroid, moon, or comet. If Cthulhu is freed, he undoubtedly has the ability to fly between the planets, using his wings to harness the ether. Cthulhu is massive and comparatively slow moving, cruising at about one to two million miles per day.

Deep Ones are very common on Venus and unknown on Mars. Many Venusians are probably tainted with their blood.

Fire vampires infest the bright side of Mercury and may be attracted to the bright ether drives and solar boilers of spacecraft. They try to steal magic points from passengers and crew; unfortunately, the fire vampires usually burn their way through the hull to reach their targets! Such incidents are usually reported as meteorite damage.

Flying polyps are known to have colonized several worlds in the Solar System. If you see a mysterious well covered with stone anywhere in the Solar System, don't be tempted to lift the lid!

The Great Race of Yith undoubtedly explored much of the Solar System and may even have reached the stars. A base or ether flyer built by this race would be the archaeological find of the century -- and would probably also be unbelievably dangerous.

Mi-Go, the fungi from Yuggoth, are disinclined to have anything to do with the hprimitives't of the inner worlds, although they occasionally visit to mine rare ores.They are occasionally sighted by ether flyer crew members, who usually know better than to report their observations. Yuggoth (Pluto) hasn't yet been discovered by Terran astronomers.

Nightgaunts probably inhabit the more hellish corners of most worlds.

Yog-Sothoth is another outer god that occasionally visits the inner planets. The last log entry of the freighter mentioned under Background (page 46) described a sighting of "iridescent bubbles."

Alien Religions

Most alien races have at least one religion inspired by creatures of the Mythos. On Mars, for example, the Cult of the Worm is the most likely suspect, and Nyarlathotep the most likely deity behind the scenes.

However, the cults of the Mythos tend to be extremely secretive. It is entirely possible that there is another cult concealed behind the facade of the Worm, and that the Worm Cultists themselves (although murderous) aren't actually Mythos-inspired.

Scenario: A Sovenir Of Mars

Professor Philbeam, a noted NPC archaeologist, is travelling to Earth from Mars on the same liner as the player characters. He seems remarkably unfriendly and rarely leaves his cabin.

It's soon common gossip that he spends a lot of time writing but is occasionally seen staring into a metal box, a cube approximately six inches to a side. He closes the box if anyone enters the cabin.

On the fourth or fifth night out, he is found dead with his left hand amputated. The hand is missing, and no papers are found in the cabin. A knife is clutched in the corpse's right hand.

Somehow the box falls into the hands of the PCs. It is empty, although curiously heavy. It is also a little bigger than they remember others saying it to be -‹ about seven inches to a side. The outside is a uniform, plain, metallic gray and is slightly bloodstained, but the inner surfaces are clean and seem to be mottled with moire patterns that never appear the same twice. Although they are never seen to move, they are different every time the box is opened or every time anyone even blinks while looking inside. The lid isn't hinged to the box in any normal manner; it pivots on concealed pins, but it fits so closely that there is no obvious way to inspect the pins short of smashing the box.

Sooner or later someone should put something in the box and shut the lid; if n is opened again, the object that was inside is gone. If something living (such as a mouse or a canary, or even a leaf or a piece of fruit) is put inside, the box seems to expand slightly. It gets about two-thirds of an inch bigger in all dimensions every time this occurs. Expansion is slow, and no seams or joints can be seen. Even the bloodstains on the outside of the box seem to expand.

Even if the adventurers don't investigate the box, whoever is looking after it will start to feel very possessive and must make a SAN roll once every 1 D6 hours. If the roll is failed, the adventurer will put something living in the box and then lose 1-2 SAN. Alternatively, small living creatures (such as spiders, cockroaches, and other vermin) will start to find their own way into the box and somehow push the lid closed.

If the PCs try to throw the box off the ship, it will be found inside again a few hours later. No one can explain this.

When the box becomes a 10-inch cube, or if anyone tries to smash it, it abruptly folds. First the lid opens, then the edges of the box split, and finally n flattens out into a cross shape. The entire flat cross seems to twist and writhe without actually moving. A second later, in a multidimensional rotation that is impossible to describe, the cross becomes a peculiar structure that mathematically minded adventures will recognize as a three-dimensional representation of a hypercube. Anyone witnessing this must make a SAN roll or lose 1-3 SAN.

The whole object collapses again to form a cube which seems to fold in upon itself and then disappears. A second later bells ring, and the entire ether flyer shakes; if the team members look out any porthole, they'll find that the ship is floating inside an eye-wrenching structure of straight lines and planes that seem to meet at impossible angles -- it is inside the hypercube! The internal structure glows without any obvious light source. There is no air. Everyone must make a SAN roll or lose 1 D6 SAN (lose 1 SAN if the roll is successful).

The ship remains trapped for several days or weeks‹long enough for several passengers) and crew members to go insane, but not long enough for food to run short. Anyone venturing outside soon finds that it's impossible to get near the walls of this strange space, let alone damage them. Anyone or anything moving toward the walls suddenly reappears on the far side of the space, moving back toward the ship. The ether screws don't work, and there isn't~t enough light to run the solar boiler properly.

Two other objects are floating in this space besides the ship: a sheaf of papers and Philbeam's hand. The papers are Philbeam's manuscript, which reveals that he bought the box from a Hill Martian tribesman who swore that it had fallen from the skies. At that time it was only two inches on a side. The notes describe the effects of putting small Martian animals inside. At first Philbeam thought this was just interesting; later he found it harder and harder to disobey the compulsion to "feed" the box. The last bloodstained entry reads "I can't find anything else alive, not even a cockroach. It must be fed. It needs to be fed. The kni...."

At the referee's discretion there might be other things floating in this space -- corpses of the missing crew of the Marie Celeste, a boot made of a mysterious silvery material bearing the cryptic logo 'NASA', one or two Things That Man Was Not Meant To Know, a few lost pages from the Necronomicon, and so forth. Don't try to explain them; leave that for the players.

Eventually the hypercube disappears. The ship is floating in space again‹in orbit around one of the Moons of Saturn!

A few simple calculations reveal that the ship will run out of food many months before it can reach any of the inner planets, even if it heads back immediately. More seriously, the solar boiler is unable to be run at all now to provide heat and power for the return trip, due to Saturn's distance from the Sun. The ether flyer the PCs were on is not the only ship present; there are two or three others in similar orbits, all of wholly alien design, meteor-pitted, lifeless, and extremely old. When these ships are investigated, the PCs will learn that none of them seem to have been built with a liftwood hull; all have the remnants of gas bags, which would be useless for a landing on the airless Moon the ship is orbiting.

There's a gigantic building on the Moon, a cube about 200 feet on a side. Scattered around it are the wrecks of more ships. Think big; remember Alien, Forbidden Planet, etc.

Anyone venturing inside the building (wearing spacesuits that trail oxygen lines and telephone cables) finds the entrance to a gigantic, three-dimensional maze. After anyone proceeds a few yards inside the building, it suddenly floods with air, and a guillotine-bladed door slams down, severing the space suit lines and anyone unlucky enough to be standing in the entrance. The only way out is to press on into the maze, which is littered with deadly traps and the desiccated corpses of failed explorers, in hope of locating the exit. Ultimately the maze proves to be a gigantic alien test; its purpose is to find someone worthy to become a god! Eventually someone qualifies. Luck, self-sacrifice, or massive SAN loss might be suitable criteria for selection.

The new god quickly transforms into something beyond human comprehension, losing all remaining SAN in the process. As a last act of compassion, it returns all the remaining adventurers, passengers, crew members, and the ship itself to the space-time they disappeared from, midway between Mars and Earth. The cubic building collapses into dust, but the derelict ships remain in orbit. A mad god flies off into the endless void to seek out its fellows. If the survivors are lucky, they'll never meet it again. If they are unlucky....

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:53:52 EDT

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