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DuskRaven

Lovecraftian elements in an otherwise fantasy setting?

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DuskRaven

(not entirely sure which forum to put this in, move as needed)

So, Lovecraftian horror in a "real-world" setting is fine, but I like creating entire worlds (though alternate history stuff is fun too, and I have a few alt-his settings myself), not just attaching stuff to our world. Given my like of the Cthulhu Mythos, this means I've occasionally tinkered with fantasy settings that have an element of the Lovecraftian in them. Recently, however, I've taken a greater interest in the idea of cosmic hrror elements in fantasy setting. When I looked through the d20 version of Call of Cthulhu,  my favorite part by far was an appendix where it talked about using elements from the Cthulhu Mythos in a Dungeons & Dragons game, which really changes the dynamic of such a setting. It talked mostly about the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods replacing the deities of a D&D setting, which turns religion from a source of comfort and (usually) good to a source of fear and horror. Even though magic and heroism exists, it's only just enough to even the odds - and that means losses as well as gains.

Anyway, I want to know if anyone has made or has advice for a sort of "Lovecraftian Fantasy," whether as a setting or as a story. I know one pitfall is that the setting is less familiar to the player/reader - another thing Call of Cthulhu d20 introduced to me was the concept of "Now versus Then" and "Near versus Far" - essentially establishing what's familiar to the players or readers and what isn't, whether it's the time or the place. Having neither time nor location be familiar - going so far as to set something in an alternate world, where "place" is "nowhere" and "time" is "irrelevant" - takes away that familiarity. This is sort of why I lean towards a sort of more heroic take, where victory, however short-term, can actually be had - people seem to be able to appreciate the heroism of strange places better than the hopelessness of strange places. But I digress.

I'm also wondering if anyone's had any previous ideas of this nature, and what they've done with them, if anything. I have my own setting I'm working on, but I'll give the details later - right now I just want to ask questions rather than ramble.

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ElijahWhateley

People have been doing it since the first days of the Mythos. Robert E. Howard put direct references to the Mythos and some very Lovecraftian entities in his Conan stories, as did Fritz Lieber with his Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories. More recently, there are some very Lovecraftian elements in some of the more common D&D settings - I believe Pathfinder's default setting just has Cthulhu, Hastur, & Co. thrown in there, with a recent expansion giving rules for heroes with the Innsmouth Look and similar issues.

 

You're right - removing the familiarity of the rest of the setting does lessen the horror. But a lot of the people who have mixed Lovecraftian elements in their fantasy seem to have managed to create some pretty decent fantasy fiction.

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The_Tatterdemalion_King

There's a panoply of Lovecraft-in-D&D settings and products out now or soon to arrive, including Primeval Thule, Carcosa, some OSR sourcebook with mythos monster stats I can't recall right now... I think Pathfinder's doing a book with Sandy Petersen too?

 

My personal favourite, though it doesn't exist outside of this guy's campaign, is the Black City Project

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DuskRaven

There's a panoply of Lovecraft-in-D&D settings and products out now or soon to arrive, including Primeval Thule, Carcosa, some OSR sourcebook with mythos monster stats I can't recall right now... I think Pathfinder's doing a book with Sandy Petersen too?

 

My personal favourite, though it doesn't exist outside of this guy's campaign, is the Black City Project.

Oh yeah, Pathfinder has a surprising amount of Lovecraft stuff in it, from things like Shoggoths being core monsters to the Plateau of Leng being an actual location - and even some of the stuff they haven't taken from Lovecraft, such as their take on Devourers, has a distinct feel of cosmic horror. Of course, Pathfinder does a variant of "Cthulhu in fantasy," also mentioned in CoC d20, where the Great Old Ones exist alongside (so to speak) more traditional deities, but in such a case they have less importance and evoke less horror than they would if they were the sole gods, or at least gods with the most power. Doesn't stop someone from running a mythos-themed Pathfinder game, of course, but I'm kind of working on a setting where whatever gods humans worship are either comparatively weak, not entirely what their priests say they are, or just outright nonexistent. This isn't to say humans are helpless, but I like it when humanity can't rely on their gods or superheroes to save them and have to take matters into their own hands.

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The_Tatterdemalion_King

Another option would be to make the only available gods ancient aliens who grant powers to those two sacrifice to them. 

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DavePerry

You should have a look at Shadows of Esteren, a French RPG now available in English that describes itself as "...a dark fantasy... between Ravenloft, Game of Thrones and Call of Cthulhu." There is an introductory preview book, with scenarios, that can be downloaded for free from DriveThruRPG: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/109112/Shadows-of-Esteren--Book-0-Prologue

 

I haven't played it myself, but I do like the look of it. There's not enough time to play all of the games I want to play, alas.

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KRoss

One of the scenarios I've written for the new Conan RPG from Modiphius is basically the plot of an HPL story written as if by REH for his Cimmerian hero. It's slated to appear in the Jewelled Thrones of the Earth adventure anthology, to be released shortly after the Conan corebook is released some time this year. I'm also due to write a sea-going Conan campaign whose climactic chapter is, again, VERY explicitly Lovecraftian, by way of REH.

 

Kevin Ross

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yronimoswhateley

I would argue that all Lovecraftian RPG settings are "otherwise fantasy settings";  I suppose the fact that none of Lovecraft's settings are standard-issue sword-and-sorcery settings makes it a bit hard for many fantasy gamers to classify Lovecraft Country or the Dreamlands alongside Middle Earth, Narnia, Greyhawk, Hyperborea, and their clones, while the fact that Lovecraft Country is nominally set in 1920s North America that is meticulously described in normal terms early in Lovecraft's stories before Lovecraftian fantasy kicks in can make Lovecraft's most famous setting look misleadingly like a "historical" setting.  "Classic Era"/"Lovecraft Country", "Gaslight", "Dark Ages", "Invictus", "Modern", and so on look "historical", but they are actually fantasy settings - a different flavor of fantasy from those popularized by Tolkien or Gygax, but fantasy all the same.

 

Thus, I would say that Lovecraftian elements are just as much at home in a sword-and-sorcery setting as they are in Lovecraft Country, the Dreamlands, a near-future outer space, the distant future, an alien world, an alternate history, or any other setting you and your players/audience/readers can imagine together.

 

As you and others have noted in the thread, D20 Call of Cthulhu, Pathfinder, and the heavily Gothic-horror-flavored White Wolf D20 Ravenloft setting are all excellent resources for a D20/D&D based game with Lovecraftian monsters in a sword-and-sorcery setting.  (Any D&D or Pathfinder source book for the subterranean "Underdark" or "Darklands" setting is also a great resource.)

 

If you prefer Chaosium's BRP rules and want a sword-and-sorcery themed game, then Cthulhu: Dark Ages could be easily be adapted for the purpose, and many people dismiss and/or treat the Dreamlands setting as "Lovecraft-themed Dungeons and Dragons" (I've always found the Dunsany/Lovecraft Dreamlands setting to have its own distinct flavor very different from D&D, but I suppose that might be a YMMV sort of thing....)

 

I have limited familiarity with pre-Third Edition/D20 D&D, but I recall that some of the 1970s-1980s era out-of-print D&D supplemental material embraced overt Lovecraftian elements (alongside those borrowed from Tolkien, Lewis, Dunsany, Burroughs, Harryhausen, etc.), until someone holding a copyright on Lovecraft's fiction (Arkham House?  Chaosium?) told them to stop, so you might still be able to find some old first or second edition D&D books full of Lovecraft monsters on E-Bay and such.  I have even less familiarity with any of the RPGs based on Robert E. Howard's sword-and-sorcery fiction, but I'm sure there's more than one such setting, and it's hard to imagine such a setting without at least a few veiled references to "Lovecraftian" elements.

 

 

Another option would be to make the only available gods ancient aliens who grant powers to those two sacrifice to them. 

 

I think that's close to what I would prefer:  I think that Lovecraft's fictional worlds were a sort of ludicrous atheistic nightmare place where the people who understand science the least are conventional, conservative scientists, who labor under the limitations of human sanity with a laughably tiny subset of the rules and laws that govern reality, and the ones closest to scientific Truth are cultists, priests, and clerics who have gathered followings and earn livings by imaginatively misinterpreting and reporting the purer, more accurate, deeper-level alien science and technology and truth they have been exposed to as "magic" and "miracles"; a world where the human mind is incapable of comprehending science, and is only suitable for processing a small part of scientific truth in the form of religion, mysticism, and mythology.

 

The "gods" are ancient aliens who, with patience, can sometimes teach humans how to press the buttons and jump through the hoops of alien science and technology like trained chickens, or perhaps more accurately like fleas in flea circuses....

 

For Lovecraftian fantasy, I've always used "deity" and "god" very loosely as code-words for "Sufficiently Advanced Aliens" (from the Arthur C. Clarke quote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic").

 

I think that the various BRP Call of Cthulhu settings, Trail of Cthulhu, D20 Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green, and other overtly "Lovecraftian" game systems generally seem to do at least a fair job of modeling that by omitting spell-casting "character classes" and treating magic as something more or less alien to human casters, but most stock sword-and-sorcery RPGs (particularly those that might be classified as "D&D clones") will likely treat magic as a normal and commonplace part of the adventure setting.  That difference in the treatment of magic is, I think the biggest difference between most explicitly "Lovecraftian" RPGs and most traditional "Fantasy" RPGs....

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DuskRaven

I think that's close to what I would prefer:  I think that Lovecraft's fictional worlds were a sort of ludicrous atheistic nightmare place where the people who understand science the least are conventional, conservative scientists, who labor under the limitations of human sanity with a laughably tiny subset of the rules and laws that govern reality, and the ones closest to scientific Truth are cultists, priests, and clerics who have gathered followings and earn livings by imaginatively misinterpreting and reporting the purer, more accurate, deeper-level alien science and technology and truth they have been exposed to as "magic" and "miracles"; a world where the human mind is incapable of comprehending science, and is only suitable for processing a small part of scientific truth in the form of religion, mysticism, and mythology.

 

The "gods" are ancient aliens who, with patience, can sometimes teach humans how to press the buttons and jump through the hoops of alien science and technology like trained chickens, or perhaps more accurately like fleas in flea circuses....

 

For Lovecraftian fantasy, I've always used "deity" and "god" very loosely as code-words for "Sufficiently Advanced Aliens" (from the Arthur C. Clarke quote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic").

 

I think that the various BRP Call of Cthulhu settings, Trail of Cthulhu, D20 Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green, and other overtly "Lovecraftian" game systems generally seem to do at least a fair job of modeling that by omitting spell-casting "character classes" and treating magic as something more or less alien to human casters, but most stock sword-and-sorcery RPGs (particularly those that might be classified as "D&D clones") will likely treat magic as a normal and commonplace part of the adventure setting.  That difference in the treatment of magic is, I think the biggest difference between most explicitly "Lovecraftian" RPGs and most traditional "Fantasy" RPGs....

Well, that's sort of what I like about Lovecraft - he was living in a time that came after the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution and such with its glib belief in human progress, a time that included the Titanic, the Hindenburg, and World War I, showing the failures of science and how it's "successes" hadn't made life better. In addition, for every question science answered, more appeared, all the while showing the universe to be more vast that humanity had ever conceived. It was definitely a time when doubt in science could be justified. Although I'm not sure it's the priests of "civilized" religions who know the most - really, it's the "degenerate" folk in insular towns or remote locations of the world who are closest to the truth.

 

Anyway, what you said about magic is sort of in line with some of my own fantasy worlds. Something I've decided - after only a glimpse of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, no less - is that it's best when the most fantastic elements are also the most rare and mysterious. Tolkein did a good job of this by having magic being rare - and also having little wondrous or terrible things, like Tom Bombadil and The Watcher in the Water, which had no real explanation whatsoever. Nowadays, though, there are many settings where magic is all over the place, even necessary for adventurers, and also treated too much like a science. To be fair, if you see enough magic it would inevitable be treated with rationalism, which is why I want it to be much rarer.

 

One fantasy RPG system I do like, though, is Iron Heroes, which seems to exude a very Conan the Barbarian feel. Magic is rare, and almost never in the hands of players. Magic items are both scarce and dangerous, and most who use magic are villains. Players can play a magic-using class, but using magic is erratic and dangerous - hell, one of the "laws of magic" in that system is that physical creatures like humans can never have complete mastery over magic. While I personally think magic can be as useful as it is harmful, I like the idea of magic being something few people will encounter, and even then fleetingly, leaving more questions than answers in its wake - the only exceptions being events of massive significance. This is the system I'd ideally run this setting I'm brewing in.

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Travern

When I looked through the d20 version of Call of Cthulhu,  my favorite part by far was an appendix where it talked about using elements from the Cthulhu Mythos in a Dungeons & Dragons game, which really changes the dynamic of such a setting. It talked mostly about the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods replacing the deities of a D&D setting, which turns religion from a source of comfort and (usually) good to a source of fear and horror. Even though magic and heroism exists, it's only just enough to even the odds - and that means losses as well as gains.

 

Instead of standard deities and pantheons, the D&D-esque swords-and-sorcery RPG The 13th Age employs a novel system of "icons" - ranging from gods and demi-gods to mythic heroes - that influence, manipulate, and intervene in human affairs in a much more organic fashion.  This may provide a better method of including powerful Mythos entities in a heroic/high fantasy setting instead of just keeping them at arm's length in true Lovecraftian fashion.  On the publisher's website, Ken Hite has an article adapting thirteen Lovecraftian GOOs for the game.

 

I think Pathfinder's doing a book with Sandy Petersen too?

 

The Kickstarter for Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for Pathfinder is approaching final layout stage and is accepting pre-orders.

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wombat1

I toyed with something like this when I set up a fantasy campaign at my club--I have had to put it on hiatus when some personal issues broke out.

 

The trick to it, to my way of thinking, is to not let on that it is anything other than a bog standard fantasy campaign using whatever fantasy rules one uses--I was running off of the BRP gold book with some information taken out of Dark Ages "for weapons, of course, and occupations," and Chivalry and Sorcery for social charts, money and what-not.  I set it in my usual and customary fantasy realm out of the old Powers and Perils game.  Ideas for villains and initial stories were taken out of Harn. 

 

Now, as the game went on, my plan was to get the players and characters settled into the main story (Kaldoric Succession Crisis out of Harn) and introduce elements that showed that the drivers of that story were not, in fact, standard political types, but had other, darker, motives (and we are then off and running.)

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