So, we’ve covered Stephen King. What else should you read?
H. P. Lovecraft. Don’t plan on doing much with Things From Beyond and Dark Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know if you haven’t encountered Lovecraft. Most people know him indirectly – there are Cthulhu pastiches in every corner of fandom – but it’s really worth reading the original. Pulp horror at its finest – one of the grandfathers of the genre, the Tolkien of horror. His Cthulhu stories are his most well known, but there’s a Lovecraft story in pretty much every big hardcover horror anthology (you’ll find them remaindered in the mall, often enough). I’ve picked up lots of his books at used bookstores, too.
Naturally, if you’re interested in a Lovecraft game, your best bet is Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, which has supplements for the modern-day, Lovecraft’s own 1920s, and the Victorian era.
Anne Rice. For many people – too many people, in my frank opinion – Rice has the first and last word on vampires. The first book in her Vampire Chronicles, Interview with a Vampire, is good – you’ve probably seen the movie with Tom Cruise as Lestat. It was a nice change of pace for vampire stories – a sensual, almost effete vampire consumed by angst, the vampire as brooding sex symbol. The makers of Vampire: the Masquerade have taken this ball, run with it, and done a lay-up.
Peter Straub. Did you grow up reading Dean Koontz and Stephen King, like I did, thinking the only real alternatives were ghost stories, Anne Rice, and Lovecraft? Well, when you’re a kid in rural New Hampshire in the mid-1980s, that might be true. But in the day of Amazon.com, better bookstores even in rural areas, and global megachains like Barnes and Noble, there isn’t anyone who can’t lay their hands on some of Peter Straub’s work, and you owe it to yourself to do so. He’s best known for his collaboration with King on the Talisman, but his own work shines.
His “Blue Rose” trilogy – Koko, Mystery, and The Throat – is stunning in its richness and deep complexity, as stories unfold within and against each other. Mystery is also a Shadow pastiche, which is a wonderful touch. Of the three, it lends itself the best to gaming – not as a full adaptation, but in its portrayal of slightly-out-of-the-ordinary abilities.
Mr. X is an excellent Lovecraft pastiche, and recommended for people considering Cthulhu games set in the modern day, particularly low-key ones. Shadowland, one of his earlier novels, provides an excellent view of how magic could operate in a modern low-magic setting.