How Lovecraftian do you love to craft your Lovecraftiana?

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.
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willpell
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How Lovecraftian do you love to craft your Lovecraftiana?

Post by willpell » Tue Dec 29, 2015 5:09 pm

There are several schools of thought regarding how the Cthulhu Mythos, and the general horror genre surrounding it, ought to be handled in a game context. At the one extreme, there's an extremely faithful treatment of the writings of HPL himself...all the characters should be high-strung intellectuals, who grope for words to inadequately describe the vague but deeply disturbing implications of what they're slowly discovering, up until the point when they faint from the unspeakable horror of some new revelation that completely shatters their worldview. At the other end of the scale, there's Brian Lumley's Titus Crow stories, in which a completely blase' adventurer calmly explains that Nyarlathotep and Azathoth are just occultists' metaphors, leaving Yog-Sothoth as the most powerful Mythos entity, before single-handedly besting him in what amounts to a fist-fight (and that's only in book 2 out of a 6-book series!).

Generally a game context is likely to lie somewhere between these extremes, but that still leaves you a lot of wiggle room. Do you run a two-fisted pulp-style adventure, and risk reducing the Outer Gods to nothing more than vague backstory which never actually shows up, for fear of annihilating the PCs and leaving the players ticked off? Do you name-drop the Great Old Ones so often that the players grow sick of them, letting them crack jokes about a threat you don't dare actually deploy against them, for fear they might actually beat it? Or do you try to stay true to the theme of the original Mythos tales, while still leaving room for player agency and the roleplaying of characters who aren't absolutely neurotic shrinking violets?

On a related tangent, what do y'all think of the "Derleth Mythos" and similar variations?

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Re: How Lovecraftian do you love to craft your Lovecraftiana

Post by agathokles » Wed Dec 30, 2015 1:08 pm

The Mythos-related games run the whole range of options. The characters of Purist Trail of Cthulhu and many shorter Call of Cthulhu campaigns fall in the first camp, but games like Eldritch Skies or the recent Alba di Cthulhu treat the (or at least some) Mythos races as simply alien, who can be understood and dealt with. In between, there are many games from "Pulp" Trail of Cthulhu (and many of the best Call of Cthulhu adventures fall in the Pulp camp, starting from Masks of Nyarlathotep), to Silent Legions, etc.

Personally, I prefer to start slow, with mostly human enemies, and then ramp up towards the end of the campaign, when the player characters have more knowledge, but are also becoming a more direct target for the Mythos entities. Also, it is worth noting that even in HPL not all the "investigators" are shrinking violets. People like Wingate Peaslee, Henry Armitage, Inspector Legrasse, or Randolph Carter are strong characters who would be suitable as investigators.

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Re: How Lovecraftian do you love to craft your Lovecraftiana

Post by willpell » Wed Dec 30, 2015 1:59 pm

agathokles wrote:People like Wingate Peaslee, Henry Armitage, Inspector Legrasse, or Randolph Carter are strong characters who would be suitable as investigators.
Peaselee and to some extent Legrasse maintain their intestinal fortitude by virtue of having very limited contact with the mythos elements...Wingate hears his father telling fantastic tales and may well believe them, but that's hardly the same as living them, and the worst that Legrasse has to deal with is a crazy cult and their weird idol. Armitage is a very tough old man, but even he suffers a dreadful toll after his confrontation with the Son of Yog-Sothoth; I forget the exact wording but I'm pretty sure I recall the text saying he was left haunted and shaking. (He's still definitely one of the biggest badasses in HPL's work, but he definitely doesn't survive unscathed after this encounter.)

As to Randolph Carter, he's exactly who I was thinking of when I spoke of cowardly, faint-hearted heroes, but I was primarily remembering the presentation of him in the short story whose name I forget, which has Carter and another guy investigating a well. The other guy goes down with a telephone line while Carter stays topside, and it ends with something getting on the line and telling Carter that his buddy is dead. The Carter in that story definitely seems rather weak-willed and excitable, and for whatever reason, that's the version I imprinted on. The one in Dream-Quest is definitely more of a heroic figure, but then the Dreamlands cycle has always had a rather different tone from the Lovecraft Country stories, and hardly seems to fit the same set of "rules".* IIRC, the only other appearance of Carter in HPL's own writings (as opposed to his unfinished manuscripts that were expanded by other authors after his death, leaving us unclear on exactly how much of the work was his) was in "The Silver Key", which bridges the other two versions nicely. It's not a horror story at all, but it does portray Carter as being a rather misty-eyed romantic who doesn't really face reality all that much. I can pretty easily believe that this version is the same one who lost his shit after the incident at the well, and he was fortunate enough to find a way of exiting physical reality altogether (lucky bastard), enabling him to go off and adventure in the Dreamlands, a world that rewards him for his poetic mindset, rather than continuing to suffer the torments of the pitiless mundane world.

* I don't know how Chaosium's books handle the Dreamlands, but I would definitely make serious across-the-board modifications to the Sanity rules in a DL adventure, since even if the characters transported themselves physically to the world of dream, they should still benefit from the general tendency of dreamers to take what they see in stride, and not overanalyze it as much as wakeful beings do. Granted, that's based partially on my own experiences with dreams, as someone who has literally never had a nightmare as far as I can recall; perhaps people who are genetically or by-upbringing predisposed toward night terrors would react very differently.

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Re: How Lovecraftian do you love to craft your Lovecraftiana

Post by agathokles » Wed Dec 30, 2015 7:26 pm

You mean The Statement of Randolph Carter, a story which is exemplar of how a Call of Cthulhu investigation should be carried out -- leaving a PC in a safe spot so he can survive and tell the tale to the next batch of PCs.

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Re: How Lovecraftian do you love to craft your Lovecraftiana

Post by willpell » Wed Dec 30, 2015 8:17 pm

agathokles wrote:You mean The Statement of Randolph Carter, a story which is exemplar of how a Call of Cthulhu investigation should be carried out -- leaving a PC in a safe spot so he can survive and tell the tale to the next batch of PCs.

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I would say rather than a minor NPC should fulfill that role. The PC's job is to be Harley Warren, going down and confronting the horror, whatever the risk to their safety or sanity. Sitting on the sidelines is a job for somebody's maiden aunt, or a City Desk editor, or some other such non-investigator type, who serves as the Keeper's mouthpiece after the players finish rolling up replacement characters.

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Re: How Lovecraftian do you love to craft your Lovecraftiana

Post by agathokles » Wed Dec 30, 2015 10:05 pm

willpell wrote:
agathokles wrote:You mean The Statement of Randolph Carter, a story which is exemplar of how a Call of Cthulhu investigation should be carried out -- leaving a PC in a safe spot so he can survive and tell the tale to the next batch of PCs.

GP
I would say rather than a minor NPC should fulfill that role. The PC's job is to be Harley Warren, going down and confronting the horror, whatever the risk to their safety or sanity. Sitting on the sidelines is a job for somebody's maiden aunt, or a City Desk editor, or some other such non-investigator type, who serves as the Keeper's mouthpiece after the players finish rolling up replacement characters.
I suppose it depends on the Keeper... my minor NPC would be cackling madly as the too trusty PCs plunge to their doom :twisted:

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