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jansilence

Space Travel in the 1920s?

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jansilence

A couple of weeks ago, I bought the new BRP-based game Odd Soot. I plan to use it for a CoC mini-campaign set in space in the 1920s and on two of the planets described in the book. The effects of the pandemic central to the game - The Soot - will be dialled down. Instead, I will introduce a mythos cult infiltrating a human colony on one of the planets. 

 

But as I started taking notes, I realised space travel poses some interesting problems when combined with Lovecraft’s aliens. As some of the creatures/gods travel in space, should starships be able to encounter Mi-Gos, Nightgaunts and Hastur? Would they attack starships on sight? 

 

If you’ve run CoC games in space, how did you handle it?

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Graham

I've not done that, but the 43rd Issue of GDWs house magazine Challenge ran an article on how to mix Call of Cthulhu with Space 1889, some of the ideas in that might be useful. Here are the magazine details at the YSDC  Wiki, the article links to rpg.net if you want to purchase the issue.

 

YSDC Wiki: Challenge, Issue 43

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jansilence

Oh, it's by Marcus L Rowland - one of my favourite writers from 1980s White Dwarf. Thanks for the heads-up.

 

This line caught my eye:

 

'Any ship which is forced to cut engine power may have some unwelcome visitors.’

 

The radiation from a spaceship (or ether flyers, as they are called in the article) seems to repel most lesser mythos creatures. Passengers are safe as long as the engines run. More powerful entities, like Azathoth, are not affected by this but as they are quite rare I think it will not cause any problems.

 

Space: 1889 only seems to deal with the solar system. Humanity in Odd Soot has access to faster-than-light drives (based on alien, rather clumsy inter-dimensional travel) but I can use most of the ideas from the article as is.

 

Any other CoC titles dealing with spaceships vs. mythos creatures?

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NeferSutekh
1 hour ago, jansilence said:

Any other CoC titles dealing with spaceships vs. mythos creatures?

 

There is this:

 

https://www.chaosium.com/cthulhu-through-the-ages-pdf/

 

But Cthulhu Icarus is set in the future, not the 1920s, and it is more of an extended scenario seed than an actual adventure.  YMMV

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jansilence

Thank you. What about Cthulhu Rising and Jovian Nightmares - anything along those lines?

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NeferSutekh
20 minutes ago, jansilence said:

Thank you. What about Cthulhu Rising and Jovian Nightmares - anything along those lines?

 

The Cthulhu Icarus setting is specifically set on a spaceship and written for 7th Edition.  The final scenario "Heir to Carcosa" in Ripples From Carcosa also deals with a spaceship.

 

There may be spaceship-themed scenarios in the Jovian Nightmares/Once Men monographs for earlier editions.

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Graham
10 hours ago, jansilence said:

Oh, it's by Marcus L Rowland - one of my favourite writers from 1980s White Dwarf. Thanks for the heads-up.

 

This line caught my eye:

 

'Any ship which is forced to cut engine power may have some unwelcome visitors.’

 

The radiation from a spaceship (or ether flyers, as they are called in the article) seems to repel most lesser mythos creatures. Passengers are safe as long as the engines run. More powerful entities, like Azathoth, are not affected by this but as they are quite rare I think it will not cause any problems.

 

 

Glad it's going to prove useful, and I will add that Rowland was smart enough in that article to point out that some entities are attracted to the energies from a spaceship (Aether Flyer), the trick in game would be to balance the risk vs the 'reward'.

 

He also published a series of game settings called 'Forgotten Futures'. The 11th setting (Which is the last one published to date.) covered the solar system as envisaged by author Stanley G. Weinbaum (1902-1935). There may also be some ideas in that worth exploring.

 

Forgotten Futures - Worldbook 11: Planets in Peril (Stanley G. Weinbaum)

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Dante7

Not CoC proper but related, Eldritch Skies, Cthonian Stars and, to a lesser extent, Yellow Dawn all involve space travel.

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andreroy

CthulhuTech or even The Void from Wildfire might work too as a springboard.

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jansilence

Thanks, excellent suggestions. Eldritch Skies looks like a perfect match. I've seen Forgotten Futures before but completely forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder. The Void and Cthonian Stars has the same blurb - is it the same setting with different rules?

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andreroy
5 hours ago, jansilence said:

The Void and Cthonian Stars has the same blurb - is it the same setting with different rules?

 

To be honest, It's been a while since I read it, and I just can't recall the exact differences (aside from system).

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Gaffer

To me, it seems highly unlikely, in the vast, near-infinite emptiness of the universe, that your spaceship and some traveling Mi-Go would randomly encounter one another.

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HJ

My Space 1889 games do feature the Cthulhu mythos but no encounters (so far) in the deep aether. Though we have featured space battles & derelicts.

I suppose the effect of the engines in protecting the ship could be similar to Carnacki's electronic pentagram.

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jansilence
On 21/02/2019 at 05:46, Gaffer said:

To me, it seems highly unlikely, in the vast, near-infinite emptiness of the universe, that your spaceship and some traveling Mi-Go would randomly encounter one another.

 

That's how I approached it first too. Then I considered how my players always end up going places I didn't plan for. So, I agree in principle - but I prepare for the worst.

 

On 21/02/2019 at 13:17, HJ said:

My Space 1889 games do feature the Cthulhu mythos but no encounters (so far) in the deep aether. Though we have featured space battles & derelicts.

I suppose the effect of the engines in protecting the ship could be similar to Carnacki's electronic pentagram.

 

Cool. I'm familiar with Carnacki but not with the electronic pentagram. Is it like a modern yellow sign?

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RogerBW

It's a defensive device, generally not enough on its own but a useful final barrier.

 

"After that I came across Professor Garder's 'Experiments with a Medium.' When they surrounded the Medium with a current, in vacuum, he lost his power - almost as if it cut him off from the Immaterial. That made me think a lot; and that is how I came to make the Electric Pentacle, which is a most marvellous 'Defense' against certain manifestations. I used the shape of the defensive star for this protection, because I have, personally, no doubt at all but that there is some extraordinary virtue in the old magic figure. Curious thing for a Twentieth Century man to admit, is it not? But then, as you all know, I never did, and never will, allow myself to be blinded by a little cheap laughter. I ask questions, and keep my eyes open!"  — from The Gateway of the Monster

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jansilence

Excellent. Electronic Pentagrams might actually fit my Odd Soot + CoC campaign quite well. I will try to track down ’The Gateway of the Monster.’

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RogerBW

Easiest way to find this is in Marcus Rowland's RPG Forgotten Futures - Carnacki is number 4.

 

http://forgottenfutures.com/

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jansilence

Thank you! Downloaded. 

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yronimoswhateley
On 18/02/2019 at 19:32, jansilence said:

...As some of the creatures/gods travel in space, should starships be able to encounter Mi-Gos, Nightgaunts and Hastur? Would they attack starships on sight? 

 

If you’ve run CoC games in space, how did you handle it?

 

Not sure if you've got your answer yet, but if it helps, consider Lovecraft's Dreamlands cats.

 

In the Dreamlands stories, cats are intelligent beings:  they speak, they have their own culture, they build societies, they recognize and repay both kindnesses and cruelties and thus have their own sense of morality and ethics, they make alliances and treaties, and they (very effectively) plan and fight wars, they have oral traditions and histories, they have religions after a fashion and dream and use magic, and do all the other things that humans do, in their own sort of way.

 

So, imagine that, on a long walk in the woods, you come upon a coven of Dreamlands cats, working together to build a circle of standing stones, mark them with magical signs, dance and howl around the stones, and use them to try to create a wondrous work of cat sorcery-science... what would you do? 

 

What would your family and friends do?  Your coworkers?  People you don't like?

 

Chances are that, for any dozen people you can think of, you might be able to think of a half-dozen reactions or more to the strange and unsettling spectacle of coming upon an advanced work of cat culture that few sane humans might imagine them capable of.  Some people, indeed, will attack the cats on sight, and tear down their standing stones as the work of the devil.  Others would, perhaps, have far different reactions - perhaps you and I would watch in fascination and perhaps nameless horror from a safe distance, and when the cats have gone, we would sneak in to get a closer look at their accomplishments, our curiosity driving us forward in spite of anything else we might be feeling.  And, probably, the cats might return later and know we've been there doing things they could not see and perhaps could not understand, and wonder what we were doing, why, and what kind of threat we pose.  (And, what of those people who might deliberately mess around with the cats' work, just out of melevolence or for some less spiteful need of playing a cruel prank, perhaps as their way of gaining control over a situation that is threatening to the human observer because it is beyond human control?)  Other people might try to communicate with the cats - and how would they do that?  Are humans and cats really so similar that we could have conversations with each other in the waking world?  The results of those attempts to communicate might well be strange, and disturbing to everyone involved.  Some people might flee in horror, and even go mad from the experience, their paranoia and xenophobia breaking their minds and sanity... what might that look like to the cats who suddenly notice the mad humans staring at them from a distance, pulling out their hair, digging out their eyes, laughing madly, and running blindly into the forest, raving incomprehensibly?

 

Thus it must surely be for the Mi-Go and Byahkees and Elder-Things and other horrors seeping through the void, upon suddenly encountering the bizarre and unexpected works of 1920s-era human sorceror-scientists.  If you had a dozen Mi-Go encounter a human spacecraft unexpectedly in the wilderness of space, you might get a half-dozen or more different reactions... a couple of those Mi-Go might choose to attack on sight and destroy the abomination they have found, but maybe most of the others would not, and would instead do any of the sorts of things that curious or terrified or mad humans or cats might do, and more.  What sorts of things?  Anything you can imagine, and more.  And every one of those things, even the most well-meaning and noble reactions possible, would still seem strange, ominous, and terrifying to anyone who is not in on the Mi-Go's side of the story. 

 

Simply having a surprised, frightened, and curious Mi-Go peeking into the windows at the humans inside their weird earthly rocket-ship, and then flying off into deeper space when someone looks up and notices, would provide a lot of mileage to any story of wonder and horror that you are working on!  And that's just one of any number of possible non-violent, but still unsettling things that an alien being might do upon encountering a human spacecraft for the first time, or even the 20th time (would the experience ever lose its novelty for them?  How quickly would the novelty of seeing a secret, intelligent cat civilization doing strange and unexpected things lose its novelty for you?  Many scientists spend their lifetimes studying gorillas or dolphins or other animals, and never lose their sense of wonder and surprise at the things they can learn from them, and ask any cat lover and he/she will be glad to demonstrate that cats never lose their fascination for them.  Surely Mi-Go and Cthulhu and such would never lose their curiosity and amusement or even fear, horror, and hatred of the strange, inexplicable antics and amazing works of science and magic of even so humble a thing as the human animal....)

 

In any event, finding an alien accomplishment where you least expected to would be an interesting thing for you and quite a tale of wonder and horror for you, and your reaction to it - whether one of instant and irrational violence, or cool and calculated curiosity, or any other reaction you can imagine - would in turn be an interesting thing for those aliens, and quite a tale of wonder and horror for them.

 

Thanks to this role-playing opportunity, you've got countless wonderful and rare opportunities in front of you for stepping a bit outside of your normal human perspective, and seeing things from the outside, the way that aliens would see them - these are opportunities that few people take, even when they have the opportunity, motive, and ability.  How cool is that?  Take it and run with it!  You definitely want your Lovecraftian aliens to notice the human spacecraft, take an interest in it, and react to it in as many ways as you can imagine!

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jansilence

Good points. I like the idea of making villains more multi-faceted. Just hadn’t applied it to Mythos creatures. 

 

Although, I think the truly alien nature of HPL’s creatures makes it harder to do in a good way. They are meant to be incomprehensible to humans and that’s partly what makes them so scary. But I will try it and see where it leads me. 

 

Thanks for the long, inspiring post! Now, I’m going to the woods to look for those strange cats. 

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yronimoswhateley

You're quite welcome, and good luck spooking the cats:  anything you can do to make the universe an interesting and mysterious place for them to live in, to inspire their cat curiosity and keep them wondering about what they don't know, is a good thing :)


The alien and incomprehensible nature of Lovecraftian monsters can make it harder to do things in a good way, but it's not necessarily incompatible with giving them relatively mundane and relatable motivations and activities to perform.  The trick is that because they are so alien and difficult to understand, they won't necessarily do familiar things in a familiar way.

 

I once had a lucid nightmare in which I "woke up" (in the dream) one day suddenly able to see a race of horrible little people like furry gnomes that somehow lived among humans, but could not ordinarily be seen because our minds would edit out evidence that they existed.  They couldn't tell that I could see them, even when I looked right at them, and I could only watch in horror as they wandered around people who couldn't see them, playing little pranks, and then stopping from time to time to cough up these things like large parasitic flat worms, which they would hand to each other, and then swallow.  Sometimes they would drop the worms on their victim's hands, or dangle them over people's mouths as they slept, or they would wipe them on food, and then trade worms and stare at each other and move on to the next prank.  In dream logic, I recognized that the whole thing with the worms was the way these little people talked to each other - they couldn't hear or speak the way we could, they instead communicated information by encoding it in proteins on the skins of these parasite/symbiotic worms, which they'd then eject and trade around, tasting each other's laughter and thoughts about the pranks they were playing on their victims.

 

In other words, a Lovecraftian alien might try to talk to the human adventurers, but even something as seemingly mundanely and basically human as the need and ability to communicate can look disconcerting, monstrous, and horrible, when the audience isn't given any recognizable clue for what the alien is doing, or any obvious context to render the behavior recognizable.

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