Fate of Cthulhu devs tackle the difficult legacy of HP Lovecraft

Posted on January 22, 2020

Content Warning: This article references a work by HP Lovecraft that contains explicit hate speech.

Since launching Fate Core in the early 2000s, Evil Hat Productions have published a series of tabletop RPGs that transport their system to a multitude of settings across fantasy and science fiction. The latest supplement, Fate of Cthulhu, brings Fate Core into the HP Lovecraft mythos. This is familiar territory for tabletop gaming, with titles such as Arkham Horror and Elder Sign already making good use of the cosmic horror stories created by Lovecraft and the writers he inspired. What is seemingly unprecedented in a Cthulhu mythos tabletop setting however is Evil Hat Productions’ explicit disavowment of Lovecraft himself.

In a post on their official Twitter profile, Evil Hat Productions shared an excerpt from the Fate of Cthulhu manual titled Content and Consent. The section begins by explaining that the setting deals with topics including “mental health, systemic abuse of power, and the deaths of huge proportions of the human species”, acknowledging that players should be informed of this and consent before beginning a session. Evil Hat then goes for the jugular, making no bones about the deeply troubling truth of the author himself: “Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a racist and an anti-Semite. There. We said it.”

Unfortunately, much as Lovecraft began a rich and intriguing mythos that remains engaging to this day, the man himself held abhorrent views that crept into his work. Lovecraft’s writing deals with fear of the unknown and the corrupting influence of trying to understand it, which raises concerns when you break down the metaphor through the lens of what Lovecraft himself feared and the beliefs he held on race. Some may argue that the racial subtext is inserted by the reader and not inherent to the work, although that rings false considering the points where Lovecraft abandoned pretence and expressed his racism explicitly. Evil Hat Productions suggested searching for the name of Lovecraft’s cat by way of example, while even more damning evidence can be found by searching for Lovecraft’s poem On the Creation of […]. The title of this poem must be abbreviated to avoid reprinting hate speech.

While many of the replies to Evil Hat’s post express support for directly confronting these issues, there was also a backlash of derisive comments about safe spaces and accusations of “virtue signalling”. A number of commenters made the assertion that Lovecraft cannot be judged by a modern standard and should instead be judged by the standards of his time. To this second point, the section posted by Evil Hat already states that Lovecraft’s views were “over-the-top, even for his time”. This argument is supported by the fact that attitudes of white supremacy in the United States were already seeing some push-back by then, with the 15th Amendment beginning to grant men of colour the legal right to vote twenty years before Lovecraft was born.

Evil Hat responded to their detractors a few days later, reaffirming the company’s position: “Since the predictable edgelords and apologists have now shown up, a quick reminder: If you don’t like the politics included in our games, don’t buy them. We literally do not want your money. We are committed to diverse and inclusive gaming. We’re not perfect, but we’re trying.”


Alongside the negative comments is an outpouring of support, with many applauding Evil Hat for standing by their values of inclusivity and diversity in gaming. By addressing the disturbing context of the Cthulhu mythos’ original creator, Evil Hat Productions has acknowledged that Lovecraft’s stories and those built on his legacy deserve to be scrutinised by a modern audience. This attitude is best expressed in Evil Hat Productions’ own words: “We can acknowledge the fear behind his imagination while also re-examining what came of it.”