The games follow an arc that never gets boring: bookish heroes unwillingly learn that below the facade of polite society lurks conspiracy and madness. As they take up the battle against the conspiracy, they find themselves going a little mad too. The rational tools of research, deduction and inquiry descend into a climax of paranoia, overreaction and hysteria. In the face of unnameable horrors, the characters abandon themselves to suicide and sawed-off shotguns. It's like grad school all over again.
Games Workshop had an early role in popularizing Call of Cthulhu: Starting in 1983, White Dwarf began publishing a series of excellent articles and adventures, quickly becoming the first main organ for CoC. Even better, in 1986, Citadel Miniatures released the Gothic Horror range of miniatures, which added an alternative to the primitive sculpts offered by Ral Partha. Another gorgeous contribution to the game was GW's Halls of Horror (1986): a set of floor plans drawn to the same scale as the miniatures (prefiguring floor plan games like Betrayal at the House on the Hill or Mansions of Madness). Sadly, the only thing Citadel failed to do was release a range of Cthuloid monsters, like Elder Things or Shoggoths.
I love the Halls of Horror floor plans (two of which are featured here) precisely because they have an illustrated feel, bringing the game board into a story-book realm that matches the larger-than-life style of the Citadel Gothic Horror miniatures. The details in these rooms also exemplify the goofy black humour of GW's heyday: spooky portraits, heads in jars, and lots of taxidermy.
My happiest role-playing experiences have all arisen from Call of Cthulhu: grand campaigns that spanned generations of characters and villains. But for reasons which have never been clear to me, I've never used miniatures in any of my games. This is something I've decided to remedy, by finding and painting as much of Citadel's Gothic Horror range that I can find. More pictures to come!