20 March 2019
As well as a successful TV writer for He-Man, Murder She Wrote, Babylon 5 and more
Larry DiTillio, the creator and writer of the seminal Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign for Lovecraftian RPG Call of Cthulhu, has passed away.
DiTillio contributed to a number of books for Call of Cthulhu during the early days of publisher Chaosium as a writer and author, including Ye Book of Monsters and H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands.
His magnum opus, however, would be Masks of Nyarlathotep, a sprawling multi-part campaign first released in 1984 that told a twisting non-linear tale of conspiracy, cultists and cosmic horror set across multiple continents.
Still widely regarded as one of the finest examples of roleplaying storytelling almost four decades later, Masks was awarded with the 1996 award for Best Adventure by the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design – the precursor to the Origins Awards – while prominent fans included Psycho author (and friend of Lovecraft) Robert Bloch.
DiTillio was first inspired to write the campaign while researching the life of Kenyan politician and founding father Jomo Kenyatta for an episode of children’s television show Against the Odds. This would become the seed of Masks’ dramatic prologue involving an expedition missing in Kenya; DiTillio added additional locations based on Lovecraft’s stories to lay a natural path for players’ investigators to end up in the African nation.
After submitting Masks to Chaosium, DiTillio’s hefty 400-page manuscript was fleshed out further by co-creator Lynn Willis, who passed away in 2013. The original print run of the book sold out, with subsequent reprints proving just as popular.
Several editions of Masks have been published since DiTillio and Willis’ original vision first hit the tabletop; the latest update was released for Call of Cthulhu’s seventh edition last summer, incorporating several significant changes and additions. The story has also been adapted as an expansion for board game Eldritch Horror and a six-hour radio play.
1996’s The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep reintroduced a chapter set in Australia written by DiTillio and Willis that was removed in earlier versions due to the size of the campaign. The scenario was released as the separate supplement Terra Australis in 1987.
As well as commanding influence as a roleplaying designer and writer, DiTillio had a successful career working in television, contributing to show as as He-Man, Murder She Wrote, Beast Wars and Babylon 5 as a story creator, writer and editor. In a tribute to DiTillio, current Call of Cthulhu line editor Mike Mason revealed that the writer had recently expressed a desire to create a television series based on the Cthulhu Mythos – a project that will now remain unmade.
“Larry’s creation of the Masks of Nyarlathotep began a revolution in scenario design,” Mason wrote.
“One of the reasons why so many people play and continue to play Call of Cthulhu is down to Larry. And for that, Larry’s contribution cannot be underestimated.”