Jump to content


Photo
- - - - -

Morals, gods, GOOs, and cosmic horror


  • Please log in to reply
10 replies to this topic

#1 EihortBroodling

EihortBroodling

    Master

  • Banned
  • Pip
  • 48 posts

Posted 04 December 2017 - 06:12 AM

I've been re-reading the core rulebook.

 

GOOs= ''malevolent." The description leads with that word. 

 

So they are described as beings who intend evil. Alien demons or space-spawned tyrants. I imagine their kind of evil is beyond human evil, but it's still a kind of evil, cruelty, or wickedness. 

I think Y'Golonac is the most human in his evil, which isn't to say he's actually all that humanlike. But he does have a very demonic feeling.

 

The Elder Gods are described as ranging from indifferent/neutral to somewhat friendly to humanity. They seem much more like mythological gods, I'd say. And the ones we see in the core book actually are mythological gods. 

 

I think only the Outer Gods, as a class, truly fit the trope of beings so far outside human understanding and experience that they cannot be called evil. Though Nyarlathotep seems to be an exception. 

 

This is my reading of the rulebook. I don't claim it's the only way to read it. Nor do I think any of this descriptive material should ever get in the way of how a Keeper wishes to interpret the Mythos in his game. Not at all!

 

My questions:

 

Do you use the Elder Gods? If so, are they friendly toward humanity? Neutral? Cosmic good guys who battle the Great Old Ones ? Something else?

 

Are the Great Old Ones malevolent in your games/your take on the Mythos? Just alien weird things that barely notice humanity? 

 

Are there any exceptions to the trends you see? An Old One who is relatively benign? 

 

There are no wrong answers. I'm not going for a 'canon' debate, but rather for an open discussion of different ideas. I refer to the rulebook merely to provide a common frame of reference.

 

We all know EIHORT is a nice guy. He just wants to be friends. Come on down, human bros!




Log in to remove this video.

#2 yronimoswhateley

yronimoswhateley

    Lesser Servitor

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,164 posts
  • LocationDunwich, Maryland

Posted 04 December 2017 - 07:53 AM

On paper, I'd say that the "Great Old Ones" and other mythos beings are no more and no less malevolent than humans or insects - they're just different, preferably mind-shatteringly different, but otherwise they are just as much a mechanistic product of nature as any other living thing.

 

For the purposes of horror fiction (and horror role-playing), however, I don't think it should simply be left there - to quote Lovecraft on M.R. James:

 

"The art of Dr. James is by no means haphazard, and in the preface to one of his collections he has formulated three very sound rules for macabre composition. A ghost story, he believes, should have a familiar setting in the modern period, in order to approach closely the reader’s sphere of experience. Its spectral phenomena, moreover, should be malevolent rather than beneficent; since fear is the emotion primarily to be excited. And finally, the technical patois of 'occultism' or pseudo-science ought carefully to be avoided; lest the charm of casual verisimilitude be smothered in unconvincing pedantry...."  (HPL; emphasis added)

 

 

Even if representatives of "the mythos" mean no harm, they should, I think, still be monstrous and malignant even in unintentional effect... when even "good" mythos beings are involved, flesh, spirit, and sanity should crumble in monstrous ways in their presence, or at the sight of evidence of their interaction with our world and the things, people,and places within it, otherwise this sort of fiction seems to lose an important dimension of terror and awe....


Edited by yronimoswhateley, 04 December 2017 - 07:53 AM.

"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." - Blaise Pascal


#3 ReydeAmarillo

ReydeAmarillo

    Knight of the Outer Void

  • Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 393 posts
  • LocationScotland, UK

Posted 04 December 2017 - 07:54 AM

Starting with the word "Malevolent" meaning doing or wishing to do evil to others.

 

Then my personal take is that GOO's either see humanity as a pest infestation that needs clearing up (no hard feelings?) or as immaterial to the greater universe or (in YG's case) a little social/moral experiment (or just a sick joke!). So I think the word malevolent is how we rationalise and describe their resulting actions towards us. They may not be intentionally evil but the end result is much the same.

 

To the OG's (other than Narly) we are not even worth thinking about (so they don't unless we invite them to). Narly sees us as an "ant farm" experiment that "he" can step into when he wants just to stir things up (sometimes by getting us to invite other OG's in as noted) but one day will tire of and destroy.

 

I think that the EG's are just as uncaring towards us as the OG's are but they have a playground scrap going on with Narly (since the other OG's dont care) and use us and our world for point scoring - messing with "his" ant farm.

 

All the above is solely the "take" that I use when campaign writing - so YMMV.



#4 Gaffer

Gaffer

    Lesser Independent

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,424 posts
  • LocationOrlando FL USA

Posted 04 December 2017 - 01:49 PM

I'm not sure any of the terms -- Great Old One, Outer God, Elder God -- had any fixed meaning for HPL. I don't think he ever sat down and codified his creations in the way that Derleth seemed compelled to do. Consequently, I'm not sure those terms have a fixed meaning, despite the impulse of Derleth (and, later, the Divine Sandy) to 'sort things out.' I don't try to distinguish among them much. I just use them as I need them. But then, I rarely try to construct an ongoing campaign. For me, they are all just alien entities, truly beyond the ken of humans.

 

In particular, I abhor all the expanded pantheon created by authors (mostly of fiction) with their genealogies of parents and siblings and twins (usually in opposition to one another) and all that soap opera claptrap. As far as I can see, most of that was done to avoid tripping over Derleth's copyright issues, but still ally their waork with HPL's as he became a touchstone (and posthumous horror celebrity). I prefer an economy of resources in terms of characters, rather than inflicting an ever-expanding pantheon on my players.

 

Just the way I roll..


"Two in the head, you know he's dead." <heh-heh>

#5 yronimoswhateley

yronimoswhateley

    Lesser Servitor

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,164 posts
  • LocationDunwich, Maryland

Posted 04 December 2017 - 02:23 PM

And, to riff on what Gaffer said and clarify what I mean,  I don't (normally) use the term "Great Old Ones" in any specific, technical way, and don't use it that way here - any mythos monster, from the "top" of whatever food-chain you use on down, are (to me) either simply really advanced alien beings whose technology is so alien and advanced it's indistinguishable from magic, or they are mindless cosmic forces anthropomorphized with mythology.  Either way, I don't see them, in theory, as moral forces in any way, though in practice I think they should at least be dangerous, repellent, and corrosive in unintentional effect, for the purpose of achieving the right effect for a horror or Weird story.

 

As an extension of that, I don't really read anything genuinely religious into words like "gods", "worship", and such as used in Weird stories.  They are human notions and reactions to the effect that Arthur C. Clarke described with "sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", but those notions and reactions have no real objective validity outside of human imagination and superstition.

 

Not that I think that's what the thread is actually about, but it is perhaps useful to note anyway, since the concepts are closely related.


Edited by yronimoswhateley, 04 December 2017 - 02:32 PM.

"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." - Blaise Pascal


#6 Travern

Travern

    Knight of the Outer Void

  • Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 260 posts

Posted 04 December 2017 - 04:44 PM

GOOs= ''malevolent." The description leads with that word. 
 
So they are described as beings who intend evil


Starting with the word "Malevolent" meaning doing or wishing to do evil to others.

 
Except the Latin root does not necessarily imply "evil"—at its core, male signifies simply "bad".  HPL, who often used the word "malevolent" but also knew Latin well enough, typically employs it in the sense of "ill-wishing".  Even then, he did so not in conjunction with any of the GOOs, AFAICT, just mainly individuals and creatures.  He characterizes the GOOs in the Necronomicon instead as "foul", letting a sense of revulsion imply their unnaturalness, rather than forming any value judgement of them.
 

I'm not sure any of the terms -- Great Old One, Outer God, Elder God -- had any fixed meaning for HPL. I don't think he ever sat down and codified his creations in the way that Derleth seemed compelled to do. Consequently, I'm not sure those terms have a fixed meaning, despite the impulse of Derleth (and, later, the Divine Sandy) to 'sort things out.'

 
Exactly—etrapolating a moral hierarchy out of the GOOs/Outer Gods/Elder Gods was very much Derleth's project for the Mythos, springing from his traditional Catholic notions of good and evil, and Sandy Petersen, with his CJCLDS background, has an affinity for this.

 

CoC is a superb game, but it's not an authoritative gloss on HPL, who fancied himself a bit of a Nietzschean.  In fact, he explicitly describes Cthulhu cultists anticipating the eldritch apocalypse in which mankind will "become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil" in "The Call of Cthulhu".
 
With that in mind, some time ago I've went back to HPL's original texts to re-examine them for inspiration about creating CoC scenarios rather than the Chaosium rulebooks.  I was surprised at how much of the Chaosium secondary literature I had internalized and how little HPL actually wrote about his deities—and how much more he simply implied.

 

My chief takeaway is that it's far more important to create a sense of horror out of the interactions and relationships between individuals - the players/narrators on one side, the Mythos-worshippers/magicians/mad scientists on the other - than through the introduction of indescribable monstrosities or the final revelation of cosmic horror.  For stories that lend themselves most easily for adapting into scenarios, this is especially true.  Very often it's a contest of wills—Henry Armitage vs. Wilbur Whately, Charles Dexter Ward vs. Joseph Curwen, Edward Derby vs. Asenath Waite, Walter Gilman vs. Keziah Mason—that ground the horror rather than the intricacies of the villains' machinations.  Plotting is far more important in murder mysteries, as is an explicit moral point of view, than tales of weird horror, which are psychological and atmospheric.
 
Establishing coherent mythologies or moral frames of reference is a worldbuilding exercise for other games.  It's junk D&D DNA—Deities & Demigods's bootleg Cthulhu Mythos write-up predated CoC, after all—and it doesn't scare players.  HPL famously wrote that "the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown", and the GOOs, Elder Gods, et al. are at their most frightening when their perspectives and motives are unknown.  Let the players worry about that, and I do mean worry…
 
Incidentally, Graham Walmsley's indispensable Stealing Cthulhu frequently comes up in these purist discussions, and it's worth recommending to newcomers every time.



#7 Celebrim

Celebrim

    Master

  • Member
  • Pip
  • 49 posts

Posted 04 December 2017 - 04:46 PM

There is a quote by Bertrand Russell that I think sums up the horror HPL felt at the universe as it was revealed: "The life of man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, toward a goal that few can hope to reach and where none can tarry long. One by one as they march our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent death. Brief and powerless is man’s life. On him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls, pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way. For man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gates of darkness..."

 

HPL was, along with that other titan of early 20th century Sci-Fi H.G. Wells, one of the last of the 18th century Enlightenment era philosophers.  He himself stated that he was born into the world too late, and wanted to live in an earlier age.  The world he imagined that he lived as a youth in was one that was wholly material, infinite, eternal, mechanical, comprehensible, progressive, and conquerable.   It had no room for the supernatural.   There was nothing external to the universe and so there was nothing that was supermaterial or supernatural.  It had no beginning, and so no need for a creator, nor any ending, and so no ultimate death.  Man himself might live a brief life, but he could look toward the principle of evolution and imagine that it was universe continually evolving to ever higher forms at that humanity might be inevitably swept along with this progress.   Science had shown the universe to be knowable and made predictions and had become for many the prophet and religion, and in the first decades of the 20th century you could imagine a time when everything was known, and all physical laws had been left subject to human will.  For HPL, the British Empire represented this highest level of progress yet achieved, and in his mind the Anglo-Saxon people the highest yet evolution of humankind.

 

The Great Old ones are the representatives of this entire model of the universe crashing down around him in every single detail.

 

HPL felt he was left in a universe, one that was revealed by the cruel march of science (and the progress of history, such as Britain's involvement in The Great War), where everything he'd put his faith in was meaningless.   The universe had a beginning and an end.  It was unknowable.  Human wisdom was not merely incomplete but inherently uncompleteable.  Logic and reason did not describe the real universe.   There was no ladder of evolution with higher and lower forms, with life struggling to higher states of being, just blind chance and extinction.  In this universe as he saw it, truth and morality don't exist, but are illusions crafted by the human mind to protect itself from reality.  Overcoming these illusions are inherently mind-shattering and dehumanizing.  Everything that is real, and most particularly everything that is real in the dark mirror mythos universe that reifies his fears about reality, is insane and inhuman.  Human sanity is based on a delusion that the universe is knowable, rational, and providential (whether divinely or by natural law).

 

So as to your questions:

 

1) Yes, I use the Elder Gods, but they are from human perspective insane and amoral.  Those that seem friendly, such as say Nodens, are in fact diabolical in design and intent.  In my imagination, the Elder Gods are essentially the most eldest and most potent of the Greater Independents - sorcerer supremes of elder races that now from humanities perspective seem god-like in power.  But they are essentially as fundamentally trapped by the reality of the universe as humanity, and as fundamentally insane as a consequence.  While they may be battling the Great Old Ones for the same reasons that the investigators are, they fundamentally are just as trapped in a hopeless war with reality - just on a far larger scale.

2) Yes, the Great Old Ones are always malignant and inimical to humanity..  This is because anything that is fundamental to the universe is tainted by the perverse spirit that animates Nyarlathotep.  The universe as it really is is not merely indifferent, but perverse - delighting in pain and torture and violence.  It's not merely that these things are possible, but that in the Mythos universe the universe exists for that reason and was created by its creator - to the extent that its creator had a purpose - for that purpose.  In other words, from the perspective of the creator of the Mythos universe, life exists because it endures pain and the experience of other things in pain and distress delights it.   Remember, Nyarlathotep is doing all of this because it delights the unconscious Azathoth.  The Great Old Ones are working his will in one fashion or another.   Yes, they are weird aliens things that barely notice humanity or really anything at all, but when they do take notice of humanity the only purpose they would find it in it is making it suffer and die.   An indifferent universe would be comparatively comforting.  Natural law in the mythos universe is anti-providential, and true Great Old Ones are the workers of and messengers of that will.  

As a side note, I'll suggest that some of things the rules identify as a GOO to me don't actually qualify, at least as I imagine a GOO.  Cthulhu is an actual great old one, inherently part of the real fabric of the universe.  As such, his stat block shows that he cannot be killed, only temporarily thwarted.   Anything that is listed as a GOO that is killable, isn't a GOO, but just a powerful monstrous being that is suffered to exist by the GOO or Outer Gods.

c) There are no exceptions.  Any exceptions you believe exist are comforting delusions you've crafted for yourself, perhaps encouraged by the duplicity of the thing you are putting faith into.  Any hope, any succor, any sanity is just your limited human mind grasping for the things it needs in its simple simian nature to maintain its nature. 

 

I agree also with Gaffer that HPL had never, and certainly not at the beginning of his writing, codified any of this to the extent that I've just codified it here.  Certainly I think there is evidence of the sort of things that were the source of his fears, but his writing didn't directly and always codify this into a coherent framework such as we - in a post RPG age - expect out of fiction and find comforting.  We're far from JRR Tolkien and his disciples like Brandon Sanderson that make world building key to his stories.  We're in a transition period in fantasy fiction, but HPL owes more to and is closer to the 19th century fantasy authors that he name drops from time to time in his fiction than he is to the post Tolkien fantasy where you consciously explore your view of reality through an elaborate sub-creation.   I think HPL's work does work as an elaborate subcreation, but I don't think he consciously set out to create a subcreation and that his work as a subcreation only came into being as other author's started working within the mythos framework. 

 

Like Gaffer, I also abhor the expanded mythos created by many of these 'disciples' of that universe (a sort of fan fiction really), which I think don't "get" the real horror of HPL's vision and humanize the whole system by giving the Great Old Ones and the Outer Gods human traits like spouses, siblings, parents, politics, tribes, and so forth.  I use none of that in my CoC games, except where I want to have ravings by some human madman that also doesn't "get it".   I believe what I've described above is truer to HPL's numinous horror of the revealed 20th century world that brought down all his previously comforting views with uncomfortable and often unwanted discoveries - compare with Einstein's declaration "God does not play dice with the universe." and keeping in mind that for Einstein God was not a being or a person but a metaphor about the fundamental nature of reality.  HPL is I think saying, or working at sayings, that Einstein's God is Azathoth, and as such anything you find uncomfortable is true.

That said, everything I've just said is also just "fan fiction", and tainted by my biases and preferred ways of looking at the "canon" and there is no right or wrong answer because the canon itself is contradictory confused and incoherent, because fundamentally the canon is just a body of fictional literature that was never intended to present a coherent world view even of a fictional universe, much less the real one.

 


Edited by Celebrim, 04 December 2017 - 04:51 PM.


#8 EihortBroodling

EihortBroodling

    Master

  • Banned
  • Pip
  • 48 posts

Posted 04 December 2017 - 05:19 PM

HPL's bizarre worldview certainly seems to have helped him create effective weird fiction.



#9 Celebrim

Celebrim

    Master

  • Member
  • Pip
  • 49 posts

Posted 04 December 2017 - 05:28 PM

HPL's bizarre worldview certainly seems to have helped him create effective weird fiction.

 

I agree.  It's hard to write effectively about fear and horror if you aren't afraid of and horrified by stuff.   HPL was a neurotic that was horrified by almost everything.



#10 yronimoswhateley

yronimoswhateley

    Lesser Servitor

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,164 posts
  • LocationDunwich, Maryland

Posted 04 December 2017 - 05:47 PM

I think there's something to be said as well in this discussion for noting that one of Lovecraft's favorite literary devices - one present in most, if not all, of his best stories - is that of the Unreliable Narrator.

 

I see absolutely no problem at all in leaving it to an Unreliable Narrator to make moral judgments regarding Lovecraftian beings - to call them "evil" and to equate them with witchcraft and demons and the devil and such.  And I have no problem leaving it to an Unreliable Narrator to speculate on how the Powers, Principalities, Thrones, and Dominions of their unreliable world-view are organized, and to speculate that there might be wars between good Elder Gods and evil Great Old Ones or that they could all be organized into an alchemical formula of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water elementals, or that they are all simply alien beings with completely natural explanations, or anything else your mind can imagine, and it can be fun and sometimes even useful to work some such artificial framework out and have characters act on it for various effects and reasons - the trick is to remember that just because your narrator or any other given character thinks it's true, doesn't mean it IS true, and the ambiguity of leaving the clues that explain the EXACT nature of the unknown ambiguous and open to debate and interpretation helps to preserve the unsettling power of the unknown in your horror and Weird story-telling.


"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." - Blaise Pascal


#11 Travern

Travern

    Knight of the Outer Void

  • Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 260 posts

Posted 04 December 2017 - 07:12 PM

I think there's something to be said as well in this discussion for noting that one of Lovecraft's favorite literary devices - one present in most, if not all, of his best stories - is that of the Unreliable Narrator.


Precisely - and this is where the player relationships with individuals comes into action. Should they - can they - trust Edward Derby's confessions about his marital problems, Mr. Thurber's art criticism, Zadok Allen's oral history, Charles Dexter Ward's accounts of his purely academic historical and chemical researches? None of these people are exactly models of stability, after all.

For even less trustworthiness, there is the case of Henry Akeley's mycological reports from Vermont.  What do the players do when they finally meet him if he suddenly explains he was unreliable at the time of their composition but is now in possession of the (wondrous, horrible) truth?  HPL's brilliant stroke in "The Whisperer in Darkness" was to furnish !Akeley with a lengthy, detailed speech about amazing science-fiction concepts without providing his narrator with any evidence or even frame of reference to judge the validity of it.  In a one-shot scenario setting, all or none of it has to be true, and a campaign could explore all the possibilities in between.