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seiseki

Newbie: Effects of an Elder Sign?

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seiseki

The elder sign is probably the most iconic Lovecraft/Cthulhu mythos symbol and it's purpose is clear, to ward of Evil..
But what are the actual effects of an Elder sign in the game and how strong is it? Is it enough to draw one or is a spell needed?
How do creatures and cultists react to it? How easy should it be for players to find knowledge about it?

Any help would be great :)

Especially pointers to pages in the rulebook or online resources.

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GBSteve

The spell Create Elder Sign explains its effects, p189 in the French sixth edition, or p115 in Trail of Cthulhu. I'm not sure where I've put my Call of Cthulhu rule book.

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seiseki

Oh, page 233, Elder Sign.

It's an actual spell.

 

Seems like it doesn't do anything without the spell..

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NeferSutekh

As I understand it, the spell is required to properly create and power a working Elder Sign, but not to actually use one that someone else has already enchanted. The sign generally works only against creatures of the mythos (especially servitor races, such as byakhee and deep ones) and not against human cultists (unless they have a special phobia of them). Think about how a cross or garlic works against vampires. Even then, an Elder Sign is most useful as a static ward on a doorway or container, to keep mythos entities from entering the room, opening the chest, etc.

 

Simply wearing one around your neck is not necessarily protective. A shoggoth may just eat a PC's head and leave their neck untouched...

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seiseki

Yeah, that makes sense..

But what if one tatooes elder signs all over his body? :D

 

And if a piece of wood or metal is engraved with an elder sign, does the sign protect the entire piece?

 

Interesting to think about, but personally as a keeper I have a pretty clear idea of how they work or should work in such situations.

Plus, knowing too much would remove the current veil of mystery that surrounds them.

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Xipuloxx

I believe each Elder Sign costs a permanent point of POW to create. (Without that, it has no magical power, though the mythos-savvy may recognise and respect it.) So covering yourself with Elder Sign tattoos may not be wise...

 

I think the spell description says that if worn the Elder Sign only protects a small patch of skin; I'd think the same principle applies to inanimate objects. So a small object could be protected entirely, but not a large one.

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seiseki

Well, a small elder sign would only protect a small patch of skin, but what about a large one?

Elder sign crop circles! That'd teach 'em shoggoths to stay off my lawn!

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Xipuloxx

I'd say it only protects a small patch of skin regardless, unless more points of POW are invested. That'll stop them there min maxer varmints!

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seiseki

But surely the size matters?

 

I'd like to think of it like this, the smaller the more effective, larger and you're spreading it too thin and it becomes weaker and weaker until it barely has any noticeable effect.

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Roxysteve

Arkham Horror has a really good take on this (which I wish I'd thought of before I put together my own Lovecraftian Physics manual but it never occurred to me): All mythos beasts arrive via gate of some sort from somewhere else, and Elder Signs collapse gates.

 

I like to make Elder Sign the first spell in any book, and I came up with a way to make Elder Sign useful with my own more nebulous definition of how it works - it works when it works - by allowing a PC to "cast" Elder Sign without any POW expenditure to determine whether or not casting it WITH the POW expenditure would prevent the monster in question from entering the area they wish to interdict.

 

This allows me to use the Elder Sign at the speed of plot without gyping the PCs. They can get a read on whether or not it is worth casting it.

 

Example (SPOILERS): I was running Dark Carnival and the investigators wanted to corral the mythos threat. I had a think beforehand and reasoned that there must be something about the geography of the area that made just tunneling out into the world any old place impossible. I was therefore able to allow that the Elder Sign *could* be used to block access, but that the evil would still be able to get out at other places offering the special conditions pertaining in the caves nearby. This was judged to be a non-starter without a better understanding of the local geology and play progressed accordingly.

 

If you are starting fresh, I'd recommend using the Arkham Horror model of the Universe - Mythos Monsters live in some other dimension and gate into ours for mischief. Elder Signs make gates not work. Much simpler.

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Careless

The Elder Sign has a bit of a varied history - including what the Sign is supposed to look like in the first place. Lovecraft thought of one version, but Derleth's is what is normally considered to be the iconic representation of the Elder Sign.

 

In terms of its fictional usage - there really isn't much one can go on beyond its ability to "repel" Mythos entities be they a Ghoul, a Shoggoth, or even something akin to the influence of a Great Old One our Outer God.

 

However, in terms of its game usage - someone invariably made a decision to prevent the usage of the Elder Sign to be like that of a crucifix (although i could have sworn i've seen stories written by Lumley where it is indeed deployed in that manner).

 

One could technically hold off a horde of summoned entities by placing an Elder Sign on a string hanging over a doorway - but its use in personal protection is as has been stated above, minimal at best.

 

Side Note about Tattoos: There's a very interesting Cult in the Delta Green Universe that err..found a way around that particular idea - the person in question tattooed his whole body as one giant Elder Sign..... His unblemished skin sits on some mantle at Cultist HQ.

 

There are even some groups that like pushing the idea of "true" Lovecraftian (or in actuality, Pseudo-Lovecraftian) horror by saying the Elder Signs don't work, or are of only psychological importance against certain creatures.

 

Ultimately - go with what you and your group are comfortable.

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Roxysteve

I think a campaign in which a spell just "doesn't work" is going to be a very short-lived one.

 

The term "bait and switch" leaps to mind.

 

Just my two penn'uth.

 

Steve.

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wombat1
But surely the size matters?

 

No, this is not D & D. Size matters in many things, hit points for one, courting for another, TSA inspections for a third, but the Elder Sign is an object of only some utility; it is not a cure-all for Mythos dangers.

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Careless
I think a campaign in which a spell just "doesn't work" is going to be a very short-lived one.

 

The term "bait and switch" leaps to mind.

 

Well, i guess its what a person or groups expects out of an experience in CoC. I've played games where the Keeper has told us point blank that everyone is going to die. Some have been fairly amusing and interesting, others as prosaic as bad HPL fan fiction.

 

What i've found really interesting to watch throughout the years is attempts to justify the line of thought illustrated above.

 

No, this is not D & D. Size matters in many things, hit points for one, courting for another, TSA inspections for a third, but the Elder Sign is an object of only some utility; it is not a cure-all for Mythos dangers.

 

Ah yes, for that we take out our handy dandy Eye of Light and Darkness. :D

 

Actually when one takes a really hard look at all the Mythos literature and CoC scenarios that have come out over the years, a very interesting number of protective charms do come up.

 

Star Stones of M'nar, the Seal of Isis, Prinn's Crux Ansata (everyone memorize that Vach-Viraj Incantation?!), and even "mundane" occult items such as a Seal of Solomon.

 

The Elder Sign, in terms of the game, still remains the favorite for those times when your staring down unspeakable horror and your just not sure what will work.

 

Whereas something like the Eye of Light and Darkness is a tad....extravagant.

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seiseki
No, this is not D & D. Size matters in many things, hit points for one, courting for another, TSA inspections for a third, but the Elder Sign is an object of only some utility; it is not a cure-all for Mythos dangers.

 

Yeah, that's why I suggested that the larger it is, the less powerful..

 

But if the size of the Sign doesn't matter, then how does that work? If I draw a huge one, will only the center part be the active area? This opens up another can of worms..

 

Hm, pumping microscopic elder signs into your blood stream, surely they'd circulate so fast that it be hard for any mythos creature to attack? (haha, bizarre thought from a bizarre mind :rolleyes:)

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Blackmyron

I believe Sandy Petersen had a tongue-in-cheek answer on the Elder Sign vs. Cthulhu in the "Shadows of Yog-Sothoth" campaign (spoilers: doesn't really help)

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Emrys
But surely the size matters?

 

I'd like to think of it like this, the smaller the more effective, larger and you're spreading it too thin and it becomes weaker and weaker until it barely has any noticeable effect.

 

Another reason why larger Signs aren't prevalent might be because while 2 points of POW is sacrificed to create a normal/small Elder Sign, the sacrifice needed increases proportional to the size of a larger version. For example, if a normal Elder Sign is approximately 1" square then a 2" square sign would require 8 points of POW, a 3" square one would need 18 points of POW, etc.

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wombat1

The Elder Sign doesn't quite ward in the way you are arguing for, Seiseki.

 

First of all any Elder Sign, big or little, is useless without casting the spell, and the spell takes the "sacrifice" of 2 POW. When the rules say "sacrifice" that is read to mean permanent sacrifice. There are some ways in optional rules to engage in the increase of POW, but like most things in CoC, POW is much more likely to go down than up. So investigators aren't going to run around with a large number of these things, unless they wish to POW down to dangerously low levels.

 

Second point, the Elder Sign's most useful warding function is to prevent "minions of the Great Old Ones, and Outer Gods," from passing a Gate, and I would think one could extend that to a broader interpretation, as was done in the 5th Edition rules, which uses the words "opening." "entrance," and "path" instead of Gate, which is a term of art in the game for a Gate spell. So, one could prevent many sorts of Mythos critters (perhaps not all) from coming in the door by putting an Elder Sign over it. I should think one would need to ward each exit, but we shall leave that technicality to individual Keepers. One could also trap a Mythos creature, by luring it into a dead end, then casting the Elder Sign on the way back out the door. I would think that 'minion' might include 'human cultist,' but again, we shall leave that aside for the individual Keeper.

 

Third point, I have seen some scenarios which suggest that Mythos creatures cannot scry or see into a place warded by an Elder Sign. So, if you wished to conceal an object, you could place it in a chest, ward the chest with an Elder Sign, and the object is not manipulable by those minions once more.

 

BUT, Fourth point, both the 5th and 6th Editions of the rules are quite clear on this: "the Elder Sign is worthless in personal defense if the monster or minion can evade the sign--worn around the neck [it] might protect a few square inches of flesh but the wearer's body would be completely vulnerable." My inclination would be to not allow the investigators to build 4x8 boxes covered with Elder Signs on each face to walk around in. This is a ward of places and things, not of people.

 

The general mind-set tends towards the idea that the investigators are relatively powerless and helpless against great forces in a morally ambivalent or indifferent universe. If they prevail, even temporarily, it is because of superior skill and clever thought, not because of the latest magic dingus, which is usually less than meets the eye on inspection.

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xipetotec

Since there isn't really a precedent. I would incur a sanity hit for every tattoo as well as the power hit. In fact, I'm reminded of scenes in certain horror movies where patients in an asylum might have crosses tattooed all over their body for "protection" but are stark raving mad.

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Roxysteve
Well, i guess its what a person or groups expects out of an experience in CoC. I've played games where the Keeper has told us point blank that everyone is going to die.

 

Right. A one-off game. A campaign needs *some* continuity and some ground rules that make sense and give the players a chance.

 

What i've found really interesting to watch throughout the years is attempts to justify the line of thought illustrated above.

 

Justification. Hmm. A slippy concept indeed.

 

Why is it so hard for people to understand that though the mythos threat is inexorable, it is only so in cosmological timescales? That it is this realization more than anything that drives those who fight the threat into madness and beyond?

 

On the human scale of things, a "win" is entirely possible. I doubt the police in the story that started it all felt it was one in the loss column when they raided the swamp, broke the cult, rescued the hostages and recovered the foul idol. Indeed, I expect it was an occasion for drinking, backslapping, laughing and skill advancement rolls.

 

And threat is really the wrong concept if we are going the classical Lovecraft route. The central idea is one of purposelessness. The "Mythos" (actually, I don't use the concept of an organized Mythos capital M in my games: each threat is unique and self-contained) doesn't threaten. I simply doesn't care one way or the other, which is the real horror of the situation. Being torn to shreds by a Dark Young is one thing, but being driven mad by one then being trampled to death simply because you were in the place it wanted to dance at the wrong time is almost intolerable (at least, until you go mad etc). You can negotiate with Chthonians, but they might still roll over you simply because the concept of "deal" is so thoroughly alien to them they didn't realize they were supposed to treat you as equal after the "handshake".

 

Sorry. I took a left turn back there somewhere.

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Careless
Right. A one-off game. A campaign needs *some* continuity and some ground rules that make sense and give the players a chance.

 

Why is it so hard for people to understand that though the mythos threat is inexorable, it is only so in cosmological timescales? That it is this realization more than anything that drives those who fight the threat into madness and beyond?

 

On the human scale of things, a "win" is entirely possible.

 

I think its ultimately a matter of what one wants to "get" out of playing Call of Cthulhu.

 

For some folks, its the emulation of a Lovecraftian story that matters the most. And the general Lovecraftian framework runs as: Taboo violation/Secrets ---> Dark Revelation ----> Death/Insanity.

 

The fun is in the exposure to the horror/storytelling.

 

Yet, such a desire doesn't really exhaust the reasons why a person wishes to play Call of Cthulhu.

 

Lovecraft did in fact have human victories as you stated in his stories, whether it be the Raid of Innsmouth, the Raid on the Cthulhu Cult in the Bayou, the Defeat of the Dunwich Horror.

 

And so we have a kind of tug-of-war in terms of sentiments.

 

I think this was epitomized in one of the original designers/players of CoC, Ben Monroe who played the infamous "Monterey Jack" in Sandy Petersen's original Call of Cthulhu game.

 

Some folks would like to feel that victimization/alienation of the Mythos....and Others want to Slap it in the Face before they go down with the ship. :D

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Roxysteve
I think its ultimately a matter of what one wants to "get" out of playing Call of Cthulhu.

 

For some folks, its the emulation of a Lovecraftian story that matters the most. And the general Lovecraftian framework runs as: Taboo violation/Secrets ---> Dark Revelation ----> Death/Insanity.

 

The fun is in the exposure to the horror/storytelling.

 

If you say so. I'm merely daring to suggest that if one's players would rather be LeGrasse than Thurston for a while, there is nothing so canonically wrong with their stance that it requires hair tearing and wails of "my players are idiots" on YSDC.

 

Anecdotal evidence from these very boards would suggest that for every GM crying in his root beer about players not getting it there are between 3-5 players holding the very same view about their GM. Though I'm hardly suggesting Mob Rule, the numbers are perhaps indicative of *someone's* need to widen their viewpoint a teeny bit if they are wanting to convene a game.

 

If one were to graph the change in "official view" of how the game is played over time (using the rulebooks publication dates) with the numbers of people actually playing it I suspect the inflection point would be of interest to those for whom actually sitting at table with others is the point rather than a side-effect of the genre. 8O)

 

I love classic Call of Cthulhu as a GM, but I have precious few people who want to play a clinically insane character. Most are happy to see such characters into an asylum and let them lie fallow rather than roleplay them, as was the party line through fourth edition.

 

Indeed, I can make a very good case for such insane roleplay being the very epitome of selfishness and lack of team spirit, though I won't because I believe that the players wishes should be observed.

 

Of course, that includes the wishes of the *other* players. I would be very much more accommodating of the current views on play-style in a GM+1 situation. Madness is such a personal thing, and CofC is usually a team-oriented game. The two aspects of the game don't really mesh well together for most purposes. One is usually not in a position to commit everyone in a team to the mental asylum, nor would the others "bust out" an insane buddy, which leaves us with the prospect of two games running in one session, each stealing time from the other. Problematic to say the least. I can see possibilities but not a modus operandi as it were.

 

For me, as a GM, the interesting part of the game has never been the confrontation or the clinical aftermath, but the hunt for the story. What first appealed to me as a GM (I readily admit I am pig-useless at this sort of game as a player) was the newspaper reporter / P.I. aspect of the early phases of a Call of Cthulhu game. The Reveal is always an anticlimax; it has to be given the nature of what is being attempted.

 

And for all the calls for verisimilitude that haunt the last fifteen years of the game's life, we (i.e. me and my players, actual cast varying over more than 30 years) had more fun with the early versions - "unrealistic" layered phobias and "ridiculous" tome reading times included.

 

Another interesting thing is that when I ask someone who is advocating for "doom, gloom and despondency" reality in their games how they cater for the disparity in, say, reading times for a given tome in the rules and that required by events in a published scenario I generally find the advocate has turned off that bit and is playing it exactly as I would.

 

Indeed, I've had this conversation so many times that I've come to the conclusion that when it comes to the latest edition of the rules, most GMs say they like them but rarely actually undertake to burden their games with them, house-ruling like mad to work-around the problems they cause.

 

I myself recently gave up all pretense and started using the fifth edition (the "point six point blah" edition: one should know a game is in trouble when it is published by minor revision number) as a chassis on which to build out my own from CofC, BRP and the D20 CofC rules. I did this when I realized that not only did I have more players in my D20 Delta Green game than I ever had in a Call of Cthulhu Classic game (except for one memorable "Shadows" session), everyone was having more fun than I remember since I left the UK in 1984.

 

I'm going back to daffy madnesses which mirror those Lovecraft wrote about (he was no psychologist, after all) and which are easy for new players to roleplay, reading times that put tomes back in the hands of the PCs where they do the most good (ie harm) and upgrading the combat to BRP gold book standards so that if someone wants to engage in a pitched battle with cultists they can.

 

I want players to be lured by the Lorelei call of the mythos tome's forbidden knowledge so it can stab them in the back with unexpected madness, not frantically looking for an NPC sage who has taken a year out to read it. I want them to tool up and take the fight to the cultists in law-breaking bouts of violence (that offer their own sources of madness-inducing sights).

 

Besides, it seemed selfish to only let the D20 group have fun with Call of Cthulhu.

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Careless
If you say so. I'm merely daring to suggest that if one's players would rather be LeGrasse than Thurston for a while, there is nothing so canonically wrong with their stance that it requires hair tearing and wails of "my players are idiots" on YSDC.

 

Ah yes, the "why aren't my players playing the game the way its supposed to be played?" complaint? You know, for a while that used to be the call by a lot of game lines - most notably the World of Darkness. I still remember the "Friends don't let Friends Power Twink" warnings embedded into certain books.

 

I think as the whole gaming industry has contracted, the majority of designers have moved beyond an attempt to enforce the er.. "Aesthetic" of their games.

 

But that sure as hell doesn't stop a Keeper from jumping up and down on Yoggy. :D

 

 

I love classic Call of Cthulhu as a GM, but I have precious few people who want to play a clinically insane character. Most are happy to see such characters into an asylum and let them lie fallow rather than roleplay them, as was the party line through fourth edition.

 

You can pair that also with a rise in the trend toward "Pulp" style games which tends to irk some of the err.. Extreme Purists?/ Doom, Gloom, Despondency types?

 

I still find it rather ironic that the best selling CoC adventure, often hailed for its design as a campaign, remains Masks of Nyralathotep (in its 6th..7th printing?). Its generally been panned by those preoccupied with the whole "is it Lovecraftian" question, and yet remains the jumping off point for a variety of different games and supplements (Delta Green's history i think assumes that MoN actually happened).

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Roxysteve
I still find it rather ironic that the best selling CoC adventure, often hailed for its design as a campaign, remains Masks of Nyralathotep (in its 6th..7th printing?). Its generally been panned by those preoccupied with the whole "is it Lovecraftian" question, and yet remains the jumping off point for a variety of different games and supplements (Delta Green's history i think assumes that MoN actually happened).

 

The DG game setting assumes quite a bit of the canonical stuff happened, and though I run it I disagree with some of the assumptions and accommodations Tynes made in the setting. I think once one accepts the nonsensical "getting used to the awfulness" premise, one buys into a cascade failure of much of the underpinnings of the world of CofC, and Tynes handwaves away a major mythos factor using this notion, which I found offensive from my purist point of view. (I won't spoil here). One should *never* "get used to" the things that should not be. They *should not be*. That is the point. I've cheated a bit in my game, setting it before the events of 1993, but I have agreed to push the game into the canonical DG area and era with all that that implies. I'll do it, but as the alien Cro-bar says in "The Lost Skeleton Of Cadavra": "I *won't* like it. I *wont*."

 

I've not seen much panning of MoN, but I think that the "Lovecraftian" cry is a bum steer myself. Lovecraft also had adventuring types in his stories, they just did their stuff offstage while the POV character sulked in his room.

 

I don't say one should play the game any particular way. I do say that one shouldn't learn to quote-by-rote instead of thinking about what people want from an RPG set in a time and place where the Things That Should Not Be are manifest and terrible in their uncaring. It is possible for one to offer a game that provides an exciting and rewarding time for the players yet that still takes place inside the fences of CofC.

 

I had that Pulp Cthulhu book on order, but it never reached print so I ran Delta green over D20 CofC instead to see what pulp-cthulhu (or rather, action/Adventure Cthulhu) would be like (my mid-life crisis was, in retrospect, perhaps less earth-shattering than some, involving as it did a casting off of my former purist CofC BRP-or-nothing viewpoint and setting sail over the uncharted waters of Savage Worlds/Realms of Cthulhu, D20 CofC and Trail of Cthulhu). I kind of like the results. It isn't the same as trad 1920s Cthulhu, but it is very enjoyable. I'm learning how to deal with Cell Phones and Photocopiers too, though I think the more ironic physics of The Laundry would offer me more fun opportunities from them - haunted Xerox machine that Should Not Be, anyone? Caused by the overlayering of certain images on the selenium drum.

 

"Idiot! You *never* put the rune of Al-Hazred through the same machine as the Sarnath Glyph! Bloody hell! Didn't they teach you *anything* at orientation? Go and draw a pistol with the appropriate banishing ammunition from the armourer at once and deal with it before it kills someone. Then call the recycling team to collect the bloody thing. Then requisition a new photocopier from supply. And don't forget the incident report. On my desk by CoB. In triplicate!"

 

I'm itching to try out "The Laundry RPG" if I can find a bunch of Americans that'll give this quintessential British milieu a try.

 

I gotta tell you, the Deep One Crush I wrote using RoC is more fun than John Dee's Bumper Grymoire Of Jowkes and the ability to get so many Deep One minis on the table at once and actually use them has the players both banjaxed and delighted every time I corner them on the embassy roof.

 

If you want to play insane PCs, Realms of Cthulhu is the way to go as the insanities they have affect the game mechanics in a very intuitive way. Not only that, you can tune the physical and psychic damage rules to give four distinct flavours of the game. Trad CofC is your preferred game style? Set the controls on Gritty/Gritty and watch the players drop like flies, just like in CofC. Want to let the players survive a bit longer, but still go mad at the drop of an Elder Sign? Set the controls at "Pulp/Gritty". Want an Indiana Jones-like game? "Pulp/Pulp" is the way to go.

 

And although it is counter-suggested in the rules themselves, if you want to wean D&D players and get them into a classic CofC mould, start at "Pulp/Pulp" and then, over the course of a campaign, negotiate the group into trying first "Pulp/Gritty" then "Gritty/Gritty" and you are home free.

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Armitage72

The Dreamlands scenario "Land of Lost Dreams" (found in Dreamlands, but not Complete Dreamlands) indicates that physical contact with a functioning Elder Sign or a properly enchanted Elder Sign tattoo can protect from possession by Mythos entities, since they are essentially using the character's body as a "gate". That may have been a special case in that scenario, since the entity was literally using the victim as a gate to pass from the Dreamlands into the waking world.

 

The description of the Colour Out of Space in Cthulhu Now said that contact with an Elder Sign has a percentage chance equal to the POW in the Sign of destroying the Colour.

"normally 2 points for a measly 2%, though specially made Elder Signs may have more."

That weakness doesn't appear to be in any other book describing the Colours, but it indicates that larger, more powerful Signs exist.

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