Tabletop RPG Harlem Unbound 2E includes a crash course on addressing race in games

A R’lyeh different perspective.

Update:We've corrected this article to clarify that Harlem Unbound 2E solely uses the Basic Role-Playing system seen in the Call of Cthulhu RPG, unlike its first edition which was compatible with both the Basic and GUMSHOE systems.

The second edition of acclaimed tabletop RPG supplement Harlem Unbound, which confronts and combats the racism of horror author HP Lovecraft, has been released.

Harlem Unbound was created by designer Chris Spivey as a direct subversion of the typically white, straight and wealthy heroes depicted in Lovecraftian tales. In the tabletop RPG, players’ investigators represent minorities who not only have to deal with cosmic horrors from the great beyond, but also fight for their own human rights amid a landscape of dire inequality.

The supplement is compatible with classic 1980s horror RPG Call of Cthulhu - which runs on the Basic Roleplaying system. Its first edition used both Basic and the GUMSHOE system - an investigation-focused ruleset that has powered several Lovecraftian titles including the recently-released The Yellow King and Trail of Cthulhu.

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The Harlem Unbound 2E sourcebook. Credit: Darker Hue Studios

The tabletop RPG was originally crowdfunded on Kickstarter in 2016, before being picked up by Call of Cthulhu publisher Chaosium for this year’s second edition. The original first edition was nominated for the Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming, as well as receiving multiple ENnie awards, including those for Best Setting and Best Writing.

Harlem Unbound 2E includes seven scenarios - four of which appear for the first time in the new edition - unique occupations, a range of horrifying mythos monsters, pre-generated characters, a random plot generator and a “crash course” on addressing race in tabletop gaming.

The game takes place in 1920s New York City during a time of prohibition, bootleg whiskey and wild jazz. African-Americans who have fled the oppression of the South have forged a new culture in Harlem. However, the city comes with its own perils - ranging from Lovecraftian monsters and the terror of the Dreamlands to dangerous clashes between culture and class.

Spivey has announced he will explore similar themes of in upcoming tabletop RPG Haunted West, which is set in an alternate ‘weird west’ and published by Spivey’s roleplaying studio Darker Hue.

The designer is also working on the imminent Dune tabletop RPG and an untitled sci-fi tabletop roleplaying game, which began life at Chaosium before moving development over to Darker Hue.

Harlem Unbound is out now in PDF for $21.99 (£19). A physical print version is due for release in July 2020.


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Sara Elsam

Staff Writer

Sara has been writing since 2017, contributing news, features and more to outlets including Eurogamer, Rock Paper Shotgun, Variety, The Guardian, BBC and Tabletop Gaming magazine. The team’s resident expert in Dungeons & Dragons, they’re also a fan of all things horror and psychedelia both on and off the table. They are happiest rolling big dice, raising mobs and rocking out with their Bard-Lock.