This episode we have a rambling discussion on the theme of “The Cthulhu Mythos as corruption”. While the Mythos and associated games are packed full of cool monsters, it is also an ineffable alien presence that taints the minds and bodies it touches.
We talk about body horror, moral corruption and the effect on the fragile human mind of exposure to the truly alien. Our angle on this is much more gaming than Lovecraft scholarship, so you may come away with a few interesting ideas to try out in your next Call of Cthulhu game. Just remember to wash your hands afterwards.
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Great podcast as always, gentlemen. Cannot wait for the next one.
Excellent! Glad you enjoyed it.
We have the next two recorded already (with slightly better sound quality), so it shouldn’t be a long wait
I think that Lovecraft is at his strongest as a writer when he gets away from the standard horror-stuff (this monster will kill you) and uses the ideas that are rather more original to him: the idea that there are certain classes of knowledge which a human mind is simply unable to cope with. I don’t think that’s quite the same thing as corruption: Arthur Jermyn is corrupt already, but it’s his knowledge of his corruption that ends him.
Deep Ones, Ghouls and cultists have all, I think, been overused in CoC, particularly in short adventures — and I think that that is because they are relatively simple to engage with. All the hillbilly horror tropes can be mapped back into Deep Ones; anything to do with dead bodies can become an adventure about ghouls; any antisocial behaviour can be a clue to a cultist group. But in each case they tend to be used as the orcs you mention, as a basic physical challenge for the PCs to fight against. Here I think CoC shows its age, and the sorts of game that were around when Sandy was first writing it: consider how universal fighting becomes in most CoC games, compared with its rarity in Lovecraft’s actual writing. (That same age shows up in the constant threats of death in most scenarios.)
But I think that to use them this way is to miss the point. A story about Deep Ones should be a story about realising one’s own corrupt nature: that’s what they’re for. What about, in the modern era, a breakaway group that doesn’t want to make the change, and is funding genetic research (and of course conducting Vile Experiments) to try to get rid of the tainted DNA? A story about ghouls is asking what you will pay for knowledge.
“As a foulness shall ye know Them,,,”
An interesting discussion as ever.
A few items that fit into your discussion-
The Lloigor provide a nice mid-level monster associated with corruption. Mental contact drives you mad, they turn your limbs to tentacles, that sort of thing.
The Tillinghast Reasonator- the more your exposed, the more you see the other planes, the more you want exposure, the more likely you will end up monster chow.
Dennis Detwiller’s scenario “The Last Equation” has an interesting approach to mental corruption, wherein if you understand a certain formula, you realize that there is no free will, go mad, etc.
RogerBW: I couldn’t agree more. Fighting things is rarely horrific, and CoC scenarios which are about monster hunting bore me. The Mythos is far more interesting than that and deserves better treatment.
Bret: Good calls there! I don’t know The Last Equation, but I’ll have to look into it. The Tillinghast Resonator fascinates me, and I’ve been writing a scenario about a variant that should see print next year.
Interesting episode (I’m just starting to listen to the podcast so I’m well behind…), and apologies for textwall.
I think another part of the Deep One overexposure issue is the major structural differences between a prewritten story with a single protagonist driven by the plot, and a semi-improvised story about three to six protagonists making collaborative decisions with lots of random elements. Lovecraft’s stories tend to be about bad things happening to people; Call of Cthulhu games need active protagonists. The stories are also often pretty short – From Beyond is just an introduction and a brief monologue from the villain.
The advantage of DO, ghouls and cultists is that they provide something for groups to investigate, they’re subtle enough to need investigation, and they’re scary to a whole group of investigators. They all live amongst humans, and meddle with humans.
Oh, and they allow an ongoing campaign… it’s going to be hard to plausibly pull off a group of investigators who are all descendants of multiple Mythos horrors.
With things like Jermyn, either you expect the rest of the group to invest heavily in an issue affecting one character, or you need to make them all descendants. Things like “being in a scary place” are a lot less scary to a group of people together, and mental corruption depends on the decisions made by PCs.
Speaking of malevolent tomes, I wrote a whole blog series about these, which I won’t link in case that’s bad, but you can click through my name if interested.