It’s a good time to be a fan of the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired cosmic horror board game Arkham Horror. Not only is there a new, comprehensive version of the game called Arkham Horror: The Revised Core Set coming soon, but there’s also a new collection of short stories called Arkham Horror: The Devourer Below (paperback, Kindle) to enjoy while you wait. In the following email interview, Devourer editor Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells discusses what went into this anthology, as well as where it might take you…if you dare.
As I understand it, the stories in Arkham Horror: The Devourer Below are not just connected to the game, but are specifically connected to The Night Of The Zealot expansion.
Like all of the Arkham Horror books, the stories in The Devourer Below are based on the game as a whole, but yes, the stories are all connected in some way to The Night Of The Zealot scenario, mostly from the presence of Umôrdhoth, the titular Devourer Below. There’s no specific chronological or narrative connection, but you will see more of the background of some of the Investigators and cultists who are involved in the scenario. It’s not a novelization of the game, but rather some further adventures involving this ghoulish Elder God, those in its employ, and those standing up to fight against the darkness.
And are the stories also connected to each other? Like, do they form a meta-story of their own, or are they linked by some narrative device like what Ray Bradbury did in The Illustrated Man?
There are two stories — “Labyrinth” and “Sins In The Blood,” both by Thomas Parrott — that are connected to each other. They involve PI Joe Diamond working to protect a young woman with a very interesting past, with one set in 1920s Arkham and one revisiting Ancient Greece. You’ll also see one or two characters popping up in the background of the other stories as well. But, unfortunately there’s no cunning meta-plot involved here.
Are there also connections between any of the stories in Arkham Horror: The Devourer Below and any of the previous Arkham Horror novels?
You’ll see a lot of the same locations, and maybe a few familiar faces here and there, however like most of our Arkham Horror novels, the anthology is a stand-alone book. So if you haven’t read any of Aconyte’s Arkham fiction before you can dive straight in without having to worry that you’ve missed out on lots of detail.
You’ve been with Acontye since 2019, and have edited all of the Arkham Horror books. But where did you get the idea to do a whole book of stories connected to The Night Of The Zealot?
We’ve wanted to do an Arkham Horror anthology for a while, and we’d discussed a few different approaches that we might take. We actually planned a different anthology last year, but it wasn’t quite going to work, but then the wonderful team at Fantasy Flight provided us with some information about The Night Of The Zealot. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something tied into cults, ghouls, and gribbly monsters, which are always fun to explore. Plus, doing an anthology gave us an opportunity to play with various perspectives, such as characters just coming to the mythos, heroes in the know, cultists who join willingly, and those who find themselves caught up in cult activities against their will.
You’re obviously familiar with the game, but was this a prerequisite for the writers as well?
We ask that writers have some familiarity with the game, but I do understand if they haven’t played it for a while, especially at the moment. With everything that’s been going on for the last year, not everyone is able to get to play games with friends and family, or head to their nearest board game café to test it out, so we also provide authors with plenty of reference material. Plus I’m always on hand to chat details through.
Aside from being a player, how else did you decide who to ask to contribute?
Since we’d been planning this for a while, we already had some authors who’d expressed interest in writing for an Arkham Horror anthology.
Once you knew who would be writing these stories, how much were they told about The Night Of The Zealot before they started? Did they have a chance to play it, did they just get some notes, what?
We had some wonderful early reference material from FFG, and the authors had some guidelines to follow to create their pitches as well. Although it does tie-in to the set, it’s not a novelization of the scenario, so we’re expanding on the material and using it to tell further adventures and new stories of people caught up in this sinister situation.
My understanding is that when it came to the stories, you asked the writers to pitch you ideas. But in doing so, did you give any writers any kind of specific guidelines?
So we gave the authors quite a long list of potential characters, both investigators and cultists, or potential scenarios or settings — even just things like “the Arkham woods” — that fit with the scenario that they could use for their stories. And because authors all have their preferences, we didn’t get a lot of overlap. Sometimes authors provided us with a short list of what they’d like to write, and I could steer them based on what other people were doing. Because we ask authors to do short pitches, it gave us a good overview of how the anthology was shaping up and how it might fit together. Then any late additions we could steer by saying “I’d really love a story about X” because we don’t have anything like that yet.
And what other conditions were there for the stories themselves. Was there a length limit, did they have to be all written from the first-person perspective…?
We do have some guidelines for Arkham Horror stories, and we also asked the authors for stories within the 5,000-15,000 word range, but I didn’t insist on things like they all must be first-person, for example. I really love letting authors tell their stories in their style and blending their unique voice with Arkham Horror, which doesn’t happen if I’m super prescriptive about how they should write.
So what was the hardest part about putting Arkham Horror: The Devourer Below together? Besides putting up with me and my stupid questions, of course.
The hardest part is usually timing with anthologies — because they start out slowly and then draw together when all the stories are ready. It does require quite a bit of organization to keep track of things, but I like making lists so that helps. Oh, and not telling everyone about it. That’s probably the hardest part of my job overall, working on amazing novels that I can’t tell people about until they’re announced. Instead, the poor team at Aconyte just have to listen to me talk excitedly about things for months.
Given that the game is based on the cosmic horror writings of H.P. Lovecraft, the stories in Arkham Horror: The Devourer Below are, I assume, cosmic horror as well. But are there any other genres at work in these stories as well?
You’ll find some cosmic horror, some mystery, some pulp adventure, a touch of romance, and a bit of thriller as well.
Prior to editing Arkham Horror: The Devourer Below, you put together another short story collection for Aconyte called Tales From The Crucible, which was connected to the game KeyForge. How did putting Crucible together influence what you did with Devourer?
Putting Tales From The Crucible together helped me with things like the planning and organization, and it gave me a feel for putting stories in order. That’s one part of the anthology process that I love — sitting down with a list of finished stories and working out what order they should be in. It’s quite a complex process, because there are quite a few variables to consider like length, tone, characters, but doing Tales gave me the opportunity to refresh my skills.
Finally, if someone enjoys the stories in Arkham Horror: The Devourer Below, which of the Arkham Horror novels should they read next and why that one?
Obviously I’ll say all, because they’re all great. (I’m biased because I’ve worked on all of them). However, if you’re in the mood for something involving cultists, mystery, ancient secrets, and a haunting litany then I’d definitely recommend trying Ari Marmell’s Litany Of Dreams, which you’ll actually find a sample for in the anthology [and can learn more about in this interview with Ari]. S.A. Sidor’s The Last Ritual also has some strange goings-on, an unreliable, artistic narrator and a charming villain, if you wanted another novel in that vein.
If you fancy something a bit more action based then try Josh Reynolds’s Wrath Of N’Kai, which has an international thief hunting down a missing mummy. Or Mask Of Silver by Rosemary Jones, which has some fabulous creeping dread as a silent movie production starts to go very, very wrong [click here for my interview with Rosemary].