Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cthulhu


Sometimes the gods of the alphabet are particularly kind.  Or perhaps particularly cruel.  Because we celebrate this Halloween-een with the ultimate Great Old One: Cthulhu.


Not Cthulhu, comma, star-spawn of.  We’re talking the real, CR 30 unknowable herald of the end times himself.

Colossal size.  36 Hit Dice.  Mythic power.  Able to cast spells like wish and implosion and summon CR 20 servitors every day.  Whole paragraphs of immunities and resistances and fast healing.  Not that it matters, because Cthulhu barely even exists in Euclidean space, so you won’t hit him.  And even if you did, he’s immortal.  Plus you’re already insane from when his nightmares went rooting around your brain.  Or just because you looked at him.  Assing you didn’t die just for coming within 300 feet of him.

Want to know more?  There’s a whole role-playing game named after him, with about a million editions and publishers, including the d20 conversion by Monte Cook himself and John Tynes.  Not to mention the horror section of your local library or comic shop.  So you don’t need me to tell you why the Dreamer in the Deep is a monster lover’s monster.  Hell, you can buy Cthulhu plushies.

So all I’ll add for GMs is that a little Lovecraft goes a long way.  The Mythos are so much more well known than they were in 1981 when the Call of Cthulhu game was launched by Chaosium.  But in some ways that familiarity also makes them more manageable and less horrific.  Not every adventure needs to name-check R’lyeh and cultists crying “Iä!”  (As good as it was, I felt Alan Moore’s Neonomicon was a little guilty of this, cramming every Lovecraft reference it could into four issues.)  You could have Cthulhu be the climax to your entire campaign and never call him by that name unless the players put the right pieces together.  (He is supposed to be ineffable, after all.)

As for players…well, if your PCs are fighting Cthulhu, you’ve done something wrong.  Really wrong.  At worst, you should be fighting his many watery cults, or his star-spawn, or battling maybe just one of his terrible arms reaching through a mystic portal that you’re hurrying to shut.  (Even a single claw has 40 feet of reach and attacks an entire 10-foot square, not to mention reeks of his unspeakable presence).  There are demon lords who aren't as deadly as Cthulhu—if you believe Lovecraft, Dagon(!) serves him, not the other way around.  So if you’re fighting Great Cthulhu himself, it's because you blew it—you stopped none of the vile sacrifices, failed to close any of the portals, got all the wrong books out of the library, and you didn't rescue a single princess from any of the castles.  The End Times are upon you.

That said…you’re playing Pathfinder, not Call of Cthulhu.  There are no Sanity Points to worry about unless your DM house-rules them in.  Wishes, miracles, empyreal lords, and the gods themselves are yours to call upon.  Your PCs may experience insanity, horrific wounds, multiple deaths, even annihilation beyond all divine intervention.  But it’s still a Pathfinder game. 

So if the dice and the stars are just right…you might just win. 

(For a little while, anyway.  The Dreamer can always awaken another millennium.)

The heavens are in disorder.  As Good and Evil exhaust themselves in war, various neutral and nonaligned factions begin to throw their weight around.  Divs erupt from the deserts and the seas to claim territory once held by the servants of the gods.  Demodand nurseries crop up on several worlds.  Outer dragons return from the void to engage in nervous discussions with couatl lords.  Amid all this chaos, a party of adventurers stops a pleroma from destroying the world…but in doing so, they unknowingly allow a dark cult the aeon meant to destroy to flourish.  Once the cult completes its rites, it is only a matter of time before Great Cthulhu awakes.

Early in their careers, novice adventurers discover a metal construct of unknown origin, which in turn leads them to a sunken complex full of alien artifacts.  With the support of their lord and patron, they lead several forays into the complex, eventually unearthing strange artifacts, ray guns, specialized armor, and new metals (see the Technology Guide).  They even lead an exodus of newly animated androids to the surface world to take their place in humanoid society.  Their discoveries eventually launch whole new fields of science and bring wealth and cybernetic technologies to their hometown and their lord.  …But this power comes with a price.  Pollution, greed, and fell magic all follow in the wake of the technology boom.  Shantaks and gugs arrive in darkness to hunt, drawn by the thrumming electrical fields.  And then the complex’s power stores begin to run out.  As the dynamos sputter and die, the technology begins to falter…and so do the containment shields that hold a very dark portal deep within the complex closed.

The Great Civil War is a disaster.  Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia are spell-blasted ruins.  Bloody Kansas is bloody no longer under the iron rule of a Jesuit blue dragon.  Lincoln’s latest resurrection cost the Union a wish and a chunk of California.  Despite errant clockwork automatons devouring most of Boston, New England’s titans of industry continue to pump out sabers, wands, guns, and dirigibles.  The Southern forces, depleted of young men, slaves, tengus, and even the zombies of all of the above, seek refuge in the worst kind of arcane rituals.  Using spells stolen from Indian shamans, they discard summoned elementals in favor of entities from beyond the stars.  And at a lecture hall at Yale University, a paleontologist with a fascination for the occult remarks that a number of old prophecies need to be reëxamined, taking the geology of the North American continent into account—particularly since so much of it was once covered in water.  “Perhaps the sunken city of R’lyeh is not so sunken after all,” he tells the crowded room.  And perhaps he is right, because 500 miles to the southwest, Confederate cultists continue their chanting.  This much is certain: Something is rising in Raleigh.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 138–139

I’m pretty sure my first exposure to Call of Cthulhu was a review of Cthulhu Now in Dragon Magazine.  Apparently Chaosium turned out some killer supplements and adventures back in the day.

Regarding yesterday’s post, AlgaeNymph wrote:

I've always thought crucidaemons looked like EDI from Mass Effect 3.

Dear AlgaeNymph, please stop exposing my utter ignorance of all things video game-related.  Hate you forever, Patch. 

(Seriously, people, I’m in bad shape.  The last game system I had was an Atari 2600.  My parents refused to let me have a Nintendo and I’ve been behind ever since.  You know when I beat Zelda?  Grad school.  On a freakin’ emulator.)

Now that I have Googled EDI…I’ll be in my bunk.


See I’ve never thought of most of the daemons obsessing about anything. They are nihilist 1st and foremost and above all the most infinitely patient of all the evil outsiders. They are united in that one goal of a dark and dead universe and missing 4 heroes to leave a world of pitiless killing devices that senselessly and dispassionately maim, kill, and make mortals doubt the very existence of good is more than enough.

Like in my mind a Crucidaemon lays a minefield it doesn’t rue that 4 PCs managed to find their way through it but revels (as much as a numb nihilistic entity of oblivion can) that all the mortals that rely on the trail it cuts through will now suffer and die. And unless someone actually takes the time to get rid of everyone of those mines it will continue to pay dividends for a long time, potentially the rest of time as the sufferings collateral ripples out through the community.

That to me has always been the defining point of the daemons’ pathology. Other outsiders use the suffering of others as a means to an end, for daemons the suffering is the means and the end until eventually you cease wanting to be as much as they do. As long as the painful nothing continues they are winning and that is what makes them so terrifying. At best you are a bit and uninteresting player in their long campaign.

I totally see your point.  I’ll counter it with this, though: A) We know that crucidaemons obsess over mortals who escape their clutches because we’re told so in at least two canon sources (Bestiary 3 and Horsemen of the Apocalypse).  Some daemons may be infinitely patient—thanadaemons in particular—but crucidaemons aren’t.  B) Also crucidaemons are CR 15 creatures.  It is a rare, truly exceptional mortal that can escape the clutches of a 17-Hit Dice, insanity-hurling outsider.  To have such feeble insects defy her has to shake the daemon out of her complacency.  The first time a crucidaemon faces a mortal, it’s nothing personal…but the second time, it is.  C) Finally, daemons are a fallen lot, as Todd Stewart has indicated in HotA and on this very blog.  The loss of the Oinodaemon has left them directionless and flawed.  Maybe they should be infinitely patient beings…but lacking direction, divided into four warring camps and/or left to their own devices, and longing for oblivion in a multiverse teeming with life…what’s left for them but to burrow deeper into their own obsessions?

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