Untold Stories – Nauvoo, Log Cabins, and Cthulhu

imageWhen we visit Nauvoo, our home away from home is the Van Fleet cabin, one of the authentic log cabins off Mulholland Street, a few blocks east of the Nauvoo temple.

I love to stay in this home, where dozens of people lived over the years, a cabin where Butch Cassidy was welcomed as a friend. As late as 1924 babies were being born in this small cabin that had neither electricity nor running water. Now it has both and all the comforts of a modern hotel room. Yet as I lay back and look at the worm-carved ridge beam, I am still powerfully reminded of a time in the past.

This adds extra depth to what my husband and I are learning this weekend at the Untold Stories symposium at the Community of Christ Joseph Smith Historic Site here at Nauvoo, where historians and members of the two major sects that grew up out of Joseph’s teachings happily work together to learn about the past.

Today we will attend the Nauvoo temple, almost 170 years after the Saints thronged the doors, begging to be given permission to risk their lives so they could spend another two weeks completing their temple ordinances. Then we will walk with hundreds of others from the center of Nauvoo down to Water Street, the path our thousands of spiritual forebears walked as they began the arduous journey into the unknown west, away from the mobs and terrors that threatened Nauvoo.

Last night, I laid my head down under beams that protected Saints in a time of privation I can barely fathom, a time where God was not questioned, when a good man prayed that he might not have to ever shoot an Indian, despite the fact that an Indian attack on the family in childhood had left his toddler brother dead, scalped, and mutilated.


As I was preparing to post this, I tumbled across pictures for another story I meant to tell you, a story that might have remained untold.

Sandy Petersen was one of my husband’s best friends at Provo High School. Sandy Petersen also was great friends with Bill Hamblin (the BYU professor of religion). My husband and Sandy and Bill have each found their own way in the world.

In Sandy’s case, he became active in game design, both computer games, live action role playing, and board games. He designed the levels for the old computer game Doom. And he created the role playing game Call of Cthulhu.

Enter Cthulhu Wars.

imageThis isn’t just a shiny box of awesome fun with friends, gleefully dividing the world up after the puny humans have been demolished. It’s an unexpected story of how God loves us and loves what we care about. Even if what we care about it Cthulhu.

A while back, Sandy and his lovely bride had come to the end of a run of luck. I think the description went something like “all the credit cards were maxed out – we needed to find the next opportunity.” It isn’t that Sandy and his family were poor. It’s just that the game and entertainment business doesn’t provide its devotees with steady incomes.

As had happened many times before, Sandy and his bride sought out possibilities. A promising opportunity fell into their lap, a chance to go work in a foreign land for a good paycheck.

Being good Mormons, Sandy and Wendy took this matter to The Lord. They waited for the answer, secure in the presumption that the answer would be “Yes!” It all seemed logical and perfect.

God said, “Meh…” Actually, I think maybe God just didn’t even pick up His end of the line at all.

The offer to go to the foreign land seemed so right intellectually. But God didn’t give either of these good Mormons a sufficient thumbs up for them to move forward. And so Sandy and his bride let the opportunity pass.

Then somehow, the idea of doing a Cthulhu board game emerged. I have heard Sandy talk about the experience, how he felt, well, inspired. Everything came together: the art, the game design, the concept, the marketing, the supplier. The team launched the game using Kickstarter.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with Kickstarter, it’s a crowd-funding site where you tell the world how much money you need to successfully bring the product to market. Then you put your idea out for the world to consider. Supporters pledge money, and usually they get something in return, depending on what the product is. A thank you note. Their name of the screen of a movie theatre for a year. A deluxe copy of the game. Extra exclusive add-ons if the project meets stretch goals. For example, I’ve contributed to community gardens, new seats for my local budget movie theatre, and cool products for my own DIY projects.

Sandy and his team deliberated. In order to do this game right, they figured, it would take $40,000. They designed the kickstarter campaign, and put Cthulhu Wars out for the world to consider.

Sandy said he was pretty confident that they’d make the $40,000 project goal. The Cthulhu mythos has a strong following in the gaming community. So they launched the campaign and waited.

imageI’ve already shown you a picture of the shiny box, so I suppose it doesn’t come as a surprise that Cthulhu Wars made its goal. Cthulhu geeks around the country, nay, the world, can now do as my husband is shown doing in the picture at the left: grin and exult in the chance to play a well-designed game that builds friendships and delights the senses, based on the disturbing yet compelling stories of H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937).

The product is exquisite and the game design (how the thing plays) is outstanding.

Let’s get back to Sandy, however, and the downright stupor of thought he and his bride experienced when considering the foreign job offer. I don’t think I’m lying if I say that Sandy would have felt adequately rewarded by the sheer flow and satisfaction he felt while bringing this game into existence. Perhaps it wouldn’t be God’s will to have every believing Mormon design horror-themed world domination board games. And yet, do I believe in a God who loves His children enough not only to save them, but to entertain them? A God who would speak stupor to the mind of a brilliant man who was about to waste his energies on a lesser good?

The delightful thing was to see how well the community responded:

image[I can’t help but compare the $1.4M raised for a game that will delight thousands of people to the paltry $0.09M one fellow is getting for spending his life to convince hundreds to turn against the faith of their youth.]

Back in the day, when Sandy was being interviewed regarding Doom or Quake, he was asked how members of his faith respond to his work, producing such games. Do they ostracize him at Church, call him to repentance, mobilize to show he is on the path of evil?

“No,” said Sandy. “The only thing they’ve ever done is ask if they can get a copy of the game…”

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

18 thoughts on “Untold Stories – Nauvoo, Log Cabins, and Cthulhu

  1. I loved visiting Nauvoo last summer. I still can’t see any reason to read Lovecraft. But the entrepreneurial spirit shown by your friend is admirable.

  2. I suppose Sandy’s story exemplifies the counsel in Alma 34:

    24 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.

    25 Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.

    26 But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.

    27 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.

    Or in Sandy’s case, “Cry unto Him about the really cool game ideas, that they may be delightsome to those who attend GenCon and may provide for your physical needs, that your days may be long on this earth which The Lord has granted unto you.”

  3. “still can’t see any reason to read Lovecraft.”

    Depends on what kind of genre of fiction you are into, but his stories are among the most creepy horror ever. Granted they aren’t the best written. Sometimes they ramble without coming to the point. However, that only makes the revelations that do come more astonishing. Out of nowhere the reader is hit with the realization that our ordinary lives are on a razor’s edge. It is just a reflection of obliviousness to ancient horrors humanity has long since tried to cover up or forget.

    He is really good at setting a menacing mood and tone that lets the reader use their own imagination to fill in the literary shadows. His ability to let readers ask their own questions instead of spelling it all out for them is one reason there is so much Lovecraftian fan-fic and world expansion. You read him for the experience.

  4. I’ve never really enjoyed horror fiction. To each his own however. Bruce N has done an excellent job on this blog discussing the Lovecraftian worldview, so I can understand why some people would enjoy that. Just not for me.

  5. “God said, “Meh…” Actually, I think maybe God just didn’t even pick up His end of the line at all.”

    This is a good subject to explore in another post maybe. When is it “a stupor of thought” which means “no,” and when is it simply God’s silence, or God being OK with either decision, or maybe us not being worthy enough, or having enough faith to receive an answer? We are always taught that God answers prayers, so when He doesn’t answer, it creates a stupor in our minds. In the absence of a witness from God, we often take the “safest” route out of fear. We needed the extra assurance from the Holy Ghost in order to do something that feels risky. I’m not saying this is what your friends did, but I’ve seen a lot of people go through these questions.

  6. I’ve read some Lovecraft. I’m not big on eldritch horror, but enough to appreciate eldritch cuteness (Hello Cthulhu comics, my Cthulhu plushie at work). Congrats to Sandy for filling a popular niche. Enjoy Nauvoo!

  7. Being an avid tabletop gamer and a fan of Lovecraft (actually I prefer August Derleth’s Mythos stories to Lovecraft’s), Sandy’s story made me super happy.

    I saw that game come up on Kickstarter but had already spent my yearly kickstarter budget on a different one, and if I had known that it would have helped a fellow Saint, I would have chosen this one instead.

  8. With respect to stories that might not be written down that should be documented, my favorite all-time story told by Sandy is of his sixth grade graduation. The story involves a bored boy (Sandy) waiting for his father to get home deciding to play in a mattress box.

    A mattress box on the driveway.

    Sandy (and the box) lost their balance moments before Sandy’s father, in a car, rounded the corner.

    Unable (from inside the box) to do anything to check his fall, the initial impact bloodied Sandy’s nose and stunned him.

    Sandy’s father, seeing the flat box, didn’t suspect there was anything in it. So he drove up the driveway.

    [Whump, whump]

    Surprised, Sandy’s father backed down the driveway.

    [Whump, whump]

    Getting out of the car and peering inside, Sandy’s father was horrified to see the pale, bloodied face of his son.

    However it turned out the car had “only” run over Sandy’s legs. Needless to say, Sandy didn’t make it to his sixth grade graduation ceremony.

    Now this isn’t a funny story when you read it and don’t know the outcome. It’s at least not a horrifying story when you know the child lived. But when told the story by the subject himself, gleefully pausing at artful moments, clearly conveying that this is one of his treasured childhood memories, you can’t help but laugh as each unfortunate turn occurs.

  9. Lovecraft can be an acquired taste, so the fact Geoff can’t get into it is fine. His writing style is self-consciously affected and was deliberately anachronistic. However, he was the first to really make horror in a science fiction realm; most horror was and still is supernatural, but Lovecraft, while using some of the window dressing of supernatural horror, was really crafting science fiction based horror, which was a real turning point for both science fiction and horror as genres.

    Stephen King says Lovecraft is the most important horror writer ever, and I tend to agree, even if he overuses “eldrtich” and “Cyclopean.” However, if that’s not your style, that’s fine.

  10. Like I’m NOT going to read a post called, “Untold Stories — Nauvoo, Log Cabins, and Cthulu”!
    My husband and I were regular gamers at the Petersen home in Provo way back when Sandy was developing the role playing game, “Call of Cthulu.” I count it one of my private thrills that when I messaged Sandy recently to ask if he remembered us as beta testers of C of C, he answered, “Heck, Susan, you and Marc were alpha testers!”
    What a pleasure to read your inspiring story about old friends!

  11. Here are a few “The rest of the story” comments:

    – After the temple session I ended up getting in a conversation with one of the temple workers (the husband of the one Meg was talking to, it turned out), for several minutes. I was worried Meg would be waiting for me impatiently, but she wasn’t there. She wasn’t downstairs either, so I went back up outside the dressing rooms. Finally a sister emerged; she went back at my request to check on my wife, and told me Meg was chatting, still not changed to street clothes. As I had suspected. I then asked her if she knew our friend we were trying to visit. “Yes, I’m her next-door neighbor!” Nauvoo is a small town; you can see the temple a block and a half away from our friend’s living room.

    – A while later I asked a different sister to tell Meg I was waiting. Another wait. Finally I gently called her from outside the entry. Soon this temple missionary she’d been chatting with came out, gave me a hug, and said “We love your wife!”

    – A member of the temple presidency thanked us for coming, and I asked about the content of the rest of the floors of the temple. He invited us downstairs so he could show us the baptismal font (which has a nice stained glass window of Jesus’ baptism behind it). He also told us some interesting facts:
    — The complete interior plans for the Nauvoo temple were finally donated to the church by descendants of the disaffected architect, after plans for the reconstruction were finalized and construction begun.
    — The main floor of the temple, which has the large meeting room like the one in the Kirtland temple, was not dedicated, though the other floors were. The main floor room was used for a variety of meetings including social gatherings.
    — The original wooden font was completed and a stone one was begun, but the focus shifted from baptisms to endowments and sealings, and the stone font was never completed.

    – Sandy’s job offer overseas was actually at the same time as the preparation for the Kickstarter opener. Sandy told me they got no answer about that other job, but then a few days later the Kickstarter project got funded within hours. (Good credentials and good publicity help a lot!) So they figured that the Lord saw no need to answer the prayer since they’d find out about the other opportunity very soon anyway.

    – Not only did Sandy miss the elementary school graduation ceremony, he spent the summer with both legs in casts. (It’s interesting how your family’s lore of favorite stories can include stories of friends of some family members that others in the family may not have met.)

  12. Oh, and for the sake of N. and similarly-minded folks: you can order the game Cthulhu Wars, and pre-order its expansions, at petersengames.com.

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