The default time to set games of Call of Cthulhu is the 1920s. This makes sense, as it was the decade Lovecraft produced much of his work and it’s a great time for stories of Cosmic Horror. The Great War is still a fresh wound on the global consciousness, the boom times of the Roaring 20s are happening, but the cracks are very visible. Science is exploding people’s understanding of the world, and many are fleeing back to religion and superstition in existential dread. Perfect. However, it’s hardly the only time the sanity shattering horrors of Lovecraft’s vision fit. Cthulhu by Gaslight takes us to Victorian England, a time of budding science, spiritualism, cresting colonialism, and social upheaval.
This updated edition from 2012 strives to give a potential Keeper enough information to immerse players in the stuffy and seedy world of 1890s London and the surrounding countryside. Social clubs and cults, class struggles, crime and punishment. There’s a ton of info here to help. There are some rules, modified versions of things from the basic game and such, but for the most part the book is concerned with the setting and how you might use it. There’s serious (and real) history, and then there’s weird stuff, from legends and rumors to outright nuttiness. And then there are two adventures. The adventures seem fine, and like they’d probably be fun to play/run, but they don’t seem all that ‘Lovecraftian.’ One seems like something out of a Hammer Horror film and the other is a kind of neo-Pagan thing. With some work, either could probably be made to fit the Cosmic Horror thing more, but as they stand…not so much.
Is this entirely necessary? No. I would assume any Keeper who is interested in running a game in the Victorian era could just pick up a couple history books and a couple hours of internet research and get as much as he or she would need. But it’s nice to read it in one well written, formatted, and researched place. As I read through, I came up with plenty of story ideas and pieces of inspiration, and that’s what I like the most about reading sourcebooks anyway.