Observations from CthulhuWiki, August 2012
by, 19th August 2012 at 10:15 PM (496 Views)
I don't know how many people use the CthulhuWiki (I hope it's a lot). Recently I've been spending a certain amount of time there, mostly categorising pages, beginning with Call of Cthulhu Scenarios. That's not entirely random; it's mostly because there are a fair number of comment threads on the forums asking for X-themed scenarios, or scenarios suitable for Y-type groups, or with a Z-based level of, um... A, I suppose we're back to. While the Wiki has a pretty good breakdown of the published scenarios that are out there, people haven't got round to categorising them particularly. No criticism intended, there's plenty of good reasons, it's just something I felt able to remedy. I thought adding searchable keywords and indices to the pages would make them more valuable as a resource for Keepers. Often, we're looking for particular types of scenarios, either to tie in with a previous session's plot (Hastur season or an Unaussprechlichen Kulten campaign), or to suit the tastes of the group (sci-fi, heavy Mythos, or family-friendly). It's also something I can see being useful to me, as I'm hoping to resume the Los Diablos campaign soon and since I've no plan for where it's going, being able to easily find scenarios to adapt should be handy.
Anyway, I've added a ton of keyword tags based on what I can find out about each scenario, which isn't always that much. I'm now going through adding monster and deity tags, and WinstonP's recent suggestion that there's a handy list in the Keeper's Companion has really helped there. In the process of doing this, I've noticed a couple of things about deities, particularly Great Old Ones and Outer Gods.
Firstly, certain letters are really overrepresented in their names. Seriously. There are at least six beginning with Z, for example, to whit: Zathog, Zhar, Zoth-Ommog, Zushakon, Zvilpoggua and Zstylzhemgni. Gh-clusters are also popular. In contrast, there are only a couple of names beginning D, E, J, L and R, and none beginning with F or K.
Secondly, someone really needs to introduce an apostrophe tax. This is a common complaint of fantasy, of course, and thankfully I think it's slightly rarer now than it was. What, exactly, do you think your apostrophe adds to the name, dear writer? It is not clever. Look, here is a thing about writing systems: they represent speech. That is the way round it goes, not the other way. When you write something like Cxaxukluth, Baoht Z'uqqa-Mogg or Hzioulquoigmnzhah you should have a pretty damn good idea of what that should sound like, because that is the whole point of writing, at least in an alphabetic system like ours. We are not using ideographs. In particular, these are not ancient bits of terminology whose pronunciation has changed over the years, like "Featherstonehaugh" or "Beauchamp" or "knight"; they are specifically transcriptions of alien names into the Roman alphabet, and there is no reason for you to adopt a deliberately esoteric form unless those letters are supposed to convey something special. Now that might well be the case: your apostrophe might be the classic glottal stop, the Q might be a uvular plosive, and perhaps the doubled consonants you love represent gemination. Or perhaps the apostrophe means an ejective consonant, as phonetics would dictate. Who can say? Indeed, these words are the closest human equivalents to alien words unpronounceable with our meagre three-dimensional vocal apparatus and single throat. At the same bloody time, that's exactly what they are - the closest human equivalents, and therefore something that a Keeper trying to read them out should be able to make a decent stab at. Lovecraft's own creations were actually pretty good in this respect, but Clark Ashton Smith seems to have taken positive delight in mashing letters together with abandon.
In short: anyone looking to create new Lovecraftian deities should a) have them start with D, E or F; and b) give them straightforwardly-spelled names with intuitive pronunciation, since if you hear a bizarre alien word and have a stab at writing it down, that's what you'll end up with. Try transcribing an unknown language sometime if you don't believe me. Next time you're inventing a Great Old One, you read out that name you have in mind and get someone else to write it down for you. Yes, yes, you're trying to convey the nuances of tone, the harmonic whistling noise, and the crucial gurgling bits. Be honest with yourself: since nobody is actually able to pronounce those, does it really matter?
A little part of me is getting tempted to perform a linguistic analysis on all those GOO names and try to reconstruct some properties of Great-Old-Oneian from them. I will resist, for now (not least because it's really not my strong point).
Thirdly, it may in fact be simpler to make a list of entities that aren't avatars of Nyarlathotep. It's getting a bit out of hand, to be honest.