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I know as well as the next person that crafting a fun campaign in Call of Cthulhu can be insanely difficult. Lovecraftian lore isn’t easy to work with. You can’t just throw any old scare into your campaign if you want it to be remotely true to the source material.

That’s why I’m here to help you if you’re a Keeper struggling to come up with your next story arc. They say truth is often stranger than fiction, so turning to real life events for inspiration is surprisingly worthwhile.

I’ve even done some of the digging for you. Here are ten real events that would make perfect hooks for your Call of Cthulhu campaign. I’ve divided them into two different sections: events for a 1920’s campaign and events for a modern one.

Real Events for 1920’s Call of Cthulhu Campaigns

The following events and objects are all things that occurred or were found in the early 1900’s. I think it would be easy to incorporate any one of them into a traditional CoC campaign taking place in the 1920’s.

The Hinterkaifeck Murders

If you’re a horror fan like me looking for the next thing that will keep you up at night, look no further than the Hinterkaifeck murders. This horrifying and puzzling crime happened in Germany in 1922. As you might have guessed, it involves the murder of an entire family – six people, to be exact – by a murderer who remains unidentified to this day.

Here’s the kicker, though: after the murders, evidence indicates the killer lived in the family’s home for three days. The killer continued feeding the family’s animals and eating the family’s food.

It’s easy to incorporate such a baffling and horrifying event into your Call of Cthulhu campaign. Since players are investigators, mysteries will be brought to them constantly, after all. Your group may even occasionally work with police departments, which is how they could come across such an unsolved crime.

While the motives for the Hinterkaifeck murders were never determined, who’s to say that a similar murder couldn’t occur in your campaign as a result of cult activities? Perhaps the parents were involved in a cult, got cold feet, and were ruthlessly silenced before they could contact authorities.

Worse still, I could easily see this turning into a Dunwich Horror type of situation. Perhaps the family housed the spawn of a nefarious monster, much like Wilbur Whately, who eventually outgrew and turned against them. This could explain, after all, why the murderer would continue to live in the household – it might have been all they ever knew for a time.

Flannan Isles Lighthouse Disappearances

The disappearances of the Flannan Isles Lighthouse comprise another mystery that will hook itself in your brain. This didn’t happen in the 1920’s – it actually happened in the year 1900 exactly. However, it would probably be one of the easiest mysteries to weave into your campaign.

Here are the basic details: in December of 1900, people noticed that a lighthouse in the Flannan Isles off the coast of Scotland wasn’t on in inclement weather. Curious about why the three lighthouse keepers weren’t doing their job, investigators made their way to the lighthouse to check it out.

What did they find? The lighthouse was totally empty, but it didn’t look as if the keepers had simply abandoned their posts. The beds were unmade, a clock inside had stopped running, and the lighthouse’s lamps were full, as if someone intended to light them again.

The hook? Your players are called to investigate a similar disappearance occurring nearby. All lighthouse keepers have mysteriously vanished, and leads have grown cold.

What caused the disappearance is up to you ultimately…but Lovecraft often focused on the mysteries of what terrifying entities dwell in the ocean, and I can clearly picture the helpless keepers being led to their doom by Dagon, an ancient sea god. Perhaps they’re even overcome by deep ones, a race of immortal humanoid sea creatures that demand human mates and sacrifices.

Read Next: 7 Terrifying (and Underrated) Lovecraftian Gods that Need to Be in Your Next Call of Cthulhu Campaign

The Voynich Manuscript

Okay, so this isn’t an event that “happened” per se, but it is an object that gained notoriety in the 1900’s. The Voynich manuscript is a book that was purchased by a Polish book dealer in 1912.

What makes the Voynich manuscript so special is that it’s been around for several hundred years…and no one knows what any of its contents mean. The entire book is written in an unknown language that cryptographers have never been able to crack (aside from a few small sections written in Latin).

Lovecraftian lore is filled with strange books, with the most famous (or infamous) example being the Necronomicon. The Voynich manuscript fits right in.

This is the perfect story for you weave right into your campaign – especially if your players are involved with the Miskatonic University. Perhaps the book dealer has reached out to the University for help unraveling the mysteries of the manuscript, and your players are just the right people to dig into its roots and contents.

As for what any of the Voynich manuscript means, you’ll need to get creative. Maybe the book came from an alternate dimension. Perhaps it came from the Dreamlands. You could even say it belongs to an ancient and mostly forgotten cult…that will do anything to get it back, putting your players in imminent danger.

Encephalitis Lethargica Pandemic

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Plagues generally seem to be more of a Poe thing since The Masque of Red Death, but diseases as mysterious as encephalitis lethargica could just as simply be inserted into your Call of Cthulhu campaign. This disease can cause suffers to essentially become living statues, unable to speak or move.

From the years 1916-1926, this scary disease afflicted millions of people all over the world before suddenly vanishing. To this day, scientists are not entirely sure what causes it. It could be an autoimmune issue or the result of a particular virus.

Because it’s still largely unexplained, you can fill in the blanks. Imagine a 1920’s campaign where hospitals are suddenly filled with medical cases of people who have been turned into passive zombies. This is an irresistible hook for parties containing medical professionals.

If we ignore possible physical causes, I think turning the disease into a supernatural scourge would be effortless. Perhaps the patients are all artists who were previously afflicted by horrible, mind-breaking visions before being rendered catatonic – a sure sign that the King in Yellow is extending his malicious influence.

The Tunguska Event

Like the aforementioned Flannan Isles lighthouse disappearances, the Tunguska Event didn’t occur in the 1920’s. In all actuality, it happened in Russia in the June of 1908. But I think this time discrepancy actually works to our benefit a little here, as far as crafting a CoC story goes.

So what happened? A massive explosion that scientists believe was caused by a large meteor happened – even though there was no crater left behind by said meteor. It’s a good thing the location didn’t have a lot of people, otherwise there would have been some serious damage. An analysis in 2013 found that there are fragments in the soil at the location that may be from outer space.

Are you getting any Colour out of Space vibes here? Because I definitely am.

Your story could go as follows: the Tunguska Event happens as normal. It’s a mystery, but interest fades in time…until a village of your creation in the area starts experiencing weird and disturbing occurrences. Maybe crops are growing more aggressively, but all taste terrible. Perhaps babies in the village are being born with unnatural mutations.

You could even go a less physical route and say people are hearing voices, having shared nightmares, or seeing things in the night outside their homes. Go nuts. The reason I think the length of time between the Tunguska Event and the beginning of your campaign is so useful is the events in your fictional village could have had time to build up, with news spreading all over the world in the scientific community.

Real Events for Modern-Day Call of Cthulhu Campaigns

While a campaign in the 1920’s is a bit more “traditional” – that’s when Lovecraft’s stories take place – there are still some who prefer to play in a modern setting. Here are a few events that happened after the 1920’s era that you could use.

The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Image by Robert C from Pixabay

The Dyatlov Pass Incident is probably one of the most famous and creepy unsolved mysteries. It actually happened in 1959, but as it remains unsolved, there’s no reason why your players couldn’t take a stab at the mystery.

In 1959, a group of Russian hikers entered the snowy Ural mountains. One night, however, something unknown occurred, causing the hikers to flee their tents mostly undressed and die an assortment of bizarre deaths out in the cold. While many died an expected death from hypothermia, others were found in more inexplicable states, such as a woman who suffered internal bleeding from some kind of chest trauma.

The case is extremely interesting, and you can easily go down the rabbit hole with it. You can check out the Wikipedia page to learn more about it.

I think the setting is ripe for an Ithaqua encounter, too. Even if you decide you don’t want to pit your players against a god, you could use the setting to stage a modern-day At the Mountains of Madness-type of story. Think about what could have made the hikers flee their tents – and whether or not the remains of what caused the event still remain buried beneath the snow…

Read Next: Call of Cthulhu Keeper Tips (9 Tips to Help You Run a Terrifying Campaign)

Disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

You probably remember this one on the news. In March of 2014, a Malaysian Airlines flight with 239 people on board inexplicably vanished.

Theories abounded at the time about what may have happened. Some thought the plane may have been hijacked, others thought that maybe the pilot – who was having marital problems – could have effectively gone rogue.

Since the disappearance, pieces of the plane have washed up on shore, so it’s more likely than not that a tragic crash happened. Oftentimes, the simplest answer is the true one, after all.

But this kind of mass disappearance is ideal for a Lovecraftian story. Perhaps there was something in the clouds with the plane that passengers spotted through flashes of lightning amidst a storm…or maybe there was something in the cargo, transported by a collector, that was never meant to be found or contained by humankind.

You’ll need to be creative to get your players involved with this one, assuming you’re playing in the United States. You can either have the disappearance happen nearby or find a way to get your players investigating internationally.

2020 Monoliths

At the time of writing this post (early 2021), the 2020 monoliths were a recent and utterly strange occurrence. Imagine this in your campaign: a series of huge metallic pillars appearing in random locations all over the world.

No one knows for certain who’s putting them up. No one knows what their purpose is – whether it’s an art exhibit, to promote a business, or some other unknowable reason. Some might even suppose that aliens put them there.

Well, that actually happened. Inscrutable monoliths did appear all over the world in the already eventful year of 2020. Although for the most part the origins of the monoliths are known (some were made by artists, others by businesses, etc), that doesn’t have to be the case in your campaign.

Picture this: a large inexplicable monolith has appeared near the city of Arkham overnight. It’s covered in unknown symbols. No one in the city knows who put it there, what it’s made from, and why it was put there.

Like many other things, this is a fantastic way to tie in cult activity to your game or to even bring in other entities. Think about what they’re signaling with the monolith. More likely than not, it’s the result of a dark ritual or the herald to the world’s end.

Toynbee Tiles

The Toynbee tiles are another fascinating mystery that arguably remains unsolved. They’re small plaques roughly the size of a license plate that have been appearing in asphalt all over the world since the 1980’s. Most of them say cryptic and hair-raising things such as, “resurrect dead on planet Jupiter.”

While there are theories about who has been installing the tiles, no one can say definitively who the perpetrator is and what they’re hoping to achieve. That’s where your campaign comes in.

Like with the monoliths, you could say that strange tiles have been appearing in the streets of the city you’re playing in. They each have vague, disturbing references to some entity in the Lovecraftian Mythos – just take your pick on which one you want.

Could they be warnings from a cultist with a conscience? Or could the tiles be the work of a prophetic madman? Maybe it’s something even worse than that: the work of an inhuman entity simply toying with a city. Again, the choice is yours.

The Area 51 “Raid”

Image by mdherren from Pixabay

I’d be willing to bet you heard about the fake Area 51 raid that was planned on Facebook and achieved meme status in late 2019. Of course this never actually happened – and it would have been a tragedy if it did – but you can use the would-be event as inspiration for your campaign.

Who knows what could actually be within the heavily guarded walls of Area 51? This concept has been the subject of conspiracy theories for decades.

What if someone in your story were to attempt to gain access and get out with sensitive materials related to the occult? Maybe your players would be discreetly contracted to track down this individual or group before they achieved their malicious end with the stolen materials.

You could even flip it around. Perhaps your players have caught wind of a legendary nightmarish tome bound in human skin that has been seized by government officials. Is it really safe in government hands, or will such authorities attempt to use its knowledge for their gain?

In the latter case, it may be to humanity’s overall benefit that your group does what they can to protect the tome themselves. Think of it as a Lovecraftian version of National Treasure – minus Nicolas Cage.

Wrap Up

If you’re the Keeper in a Call of Cthulhu campaign, you have my sympathy. Although it can be a blast, I know it’s also stressful trying to plan adequately scary, intriguing, and engaging stories time after time. You have some large shoes to fill.

The good news is that inspiration is everywhere – and I mean everywhere. History is filled to the brim with mysteries that would make fantastic story fodder for your campaign. Simply take your pick.

Are you a total beginner looking for information on how to get into the game? I’ll give you some pointers in my guide about where to start in Call of Cthulhu.

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