Episode 136: Insanity in Call of Cthulhu

We’re back and we’re building on last episode‘s discussion of the theme of mental illness in Lovecraft’s work. This time, we turn our attention to the role of insanity in Call of Cthulhu. Obviously, Call of Cthulhu is based upon Lovecraft’s writings, but how much does the sanity system actually reflect the source material? Moreover, does it in any way model real-world mental illness and trauma? And should it even try to?

Main Topic

We each come to this topic with different perspectives, which leads to some lively debate. While it never becomes heated, it is one of the more intense discussions we’ve had. There has been some criticism of Call of Cthulhu for trivialising mental health problems and we tackle this head-on. We hope the result is nuanced and doesn’t come across as dismissive of such concerns.


Cults are another huge part of Call of Cthulhu. Paul suggests some inspiration in the form of Wild Wild Country. This recent Netflix documentary tells the story of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, an Indian guru who created a religious community in Oregon in the 1980s.

Paul also mentions his recent visit to the Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. If you want to try to work out what was really in Tolkien’s pipe, the exhibition will run until the 28th of October 2018.

Other Stuff

There was some confusion in our last set of show notes. We warned you of singing when there was none. This may have caused unnecessary tension and puckering of orifices. We apologise. The confusion came about after some last-minute editing and reordering to synchronise our Masks of Nyarlathotep episodes with the release of the PDF. Let us reassure you that there is no singing in this episode. We do have some new $5 Patreon backers to thank, but the disruptions of summer prevented Paul from mixing our idiosyncratic vocal stylings. Next time, however…

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One comment on “Insanity in Call of Cthulhu

  1. Gianna Aug 31, 2018


    After listening to this very interesting podcast episode I would like to pipe in about the roll of morality in Sanity in CoC (so that evil insane cultists can have 0 SAN but function in society). The way I like to interpret it when I play or run the game, is that the erosion of Sanity of a character is not necessarily the erosion of their mental integrity, but of their humanity.

    The struggle of clinging to one’s humanity in the face of cosmic horror is one of the facets of the game and Mythos that I find more interesting, and the Sanity mechanic can play well into it:
    As long as a character has more than 0 Sanity, they are still clinging to their humanity, there is still a spark of hope in them, and it’s because of it that they fight against what they experienced, have bouts of madness, go insane and then recover…
    Once they hit 0, the last tatters of their humanity are gone – and at least in the case of cultists they surrender to the horror by becoming active agents of it.
    If one looks at it in this way, even the otherwise perplexing morality-related sanity gains make sense: it’s not so much that one become more mentally stable because they saved the life of xyz, but that they claw back some of their humanity and their hope.

    Of course this is only an interpretation, and when I am the keeper I don’t try to force it on my players, but it informs how I play when I am a player myself.

Blasphemous Tomes © 2018