A Conspiracy of Cthulhians

For the casual viewer of “The X-Files,” you probably know at least one thing about Fox Mulder: his sister was abducted by aliens. You might have no clue what the sister’s name is or how old she was when she was kidnapped or why she was even abducted in the first place, but you know she was abducted. Mulder pursues the trail of her abduction sporadically through the series like the reporter in Citizen Kane chases after the meaning of “Rosebud.”

And, by virtue of the fact that Chris Carter wasn’t very strict with creative control, there are at least three different explanations for what happened to Mulder’s sister, two of which suggest that there was never an alien abduction. They did the same thing with Scully. Scully gets abducted, has her ovaries milked and some sort of device stuck in the back of her neck, then later finds out that the abductors were quite human.

What does this have to do with Call of Cthulhu? Simple: just because you’re playing a game where the characters wander around and investigate paranormal stuff, doesn’t mean there has to be paranormal stuff in the game.

Let’s put ourselves in the world of the Cthulhu Mythos. Let’s assume that someone like Professor William Dyer really did exist, that he really went on an expedition to Antarctica and returned a bit shaken. The other survivor from the expedition, Danforth, is a gibbering mess.

Now, we are supposed to believe that his expedition really came across the bodies of an ancient alien race and the ruins of an ancient civilization. The members of the expedition were killed by one of the aliens that thawed out, Dyer himself was nearly eaten by a shoggoth and his partner caught a glimpse of what lay beyond the Mountains of Madness.

To paraphrase Scully, “Mulder, there has to be a logical and scientific explanation behind this.”

So how can we explain away the events at the Mountains of Madness?

  • Reefer Madness — It could be that there was some friendly experimentation with illicit substances, resulting in madness and death either at each other’s hands or by the harsh elements. Dyer could have made up the story of aliens and shoggoths to cover up their indiscreet activities. Or it may be he was unaware he was under the influence of chemicals and it was all part of his hallucination.
  • Psycho Killer, Qu’est Que C’est — It may simply be that Dyer and Danforth are closet sociopaths, they went stark raving mad on the ice in Antarctica, slaughtered the expedition, and collaborated on a story for what happened. Granted, their story is a bit unbelievable anyway, but then they weren’t exactly the sanest men alive to begin with.
  • Ve Haff Vays! — It could be they really did find something under the ice, but it wasn’t aliens. It was a military instillation. It might have even been American. But because it was a secret installation, they used crude brain-washing techniques to attempt to cover up the location without drawing the need for a rescue party.

So, we are now able to cast doubt on the existence of these ooky things out on the ice. There could have been any number of horrific situations that could have arisen from this situation that doesn’t involve a single tentacly/pseudopoddy thing. Really, we’re supposed to believe that there’s a race of aliens frozen under the ice that can thaw out, come back to life and eat your face off? And this is all part of a secret and closely interwoven reality that has somehow eluded scientists for hundreds of years. Why, that sounds more like the creation of a pulp horror writer than any possible reality, Professor Dyer.

So now that we’ve cast aspersions on the whole Cthulhu mythos, how do you apply this sort of logic to your game? Glad you asked.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

There is no Cthulhu. No Arkham. No fish-men living off the coast of New England. H.P. Lovecraft (stats provided below)is a very real person who lives in Rhode Island with his aunts. You can even go by his place and have tea. They say he’s an avid letter writer and will probably be politely interested at the wild tales investigators bring to him. It might give him an idea for a story.

In this type of campaign setting, there is nothing unusual going on aside from some bad chemical trips, overly imaginative college students and some power mad sorcerers hoping to get a taste of real mojo. It’s like the original episodes of “Scooby-Doo”, back before they had any of this “13 Ghosts” or “Zombie Island” mumbo-jumbo. No real ghosts or shark men. Just good old-fashioned kooks in rubber suits who would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids and special guest stars Sonny and Cher!

This is not to say it can’t be horror. If the investigators are checking into a cult, it can still be scary. People can be just as horrific, and human sacrifice and midnight stalking can all be par for the course in this type of game.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Age 30, Horror Writer





















Damage Bonus: +0

Weapons: Fist/Punch 50%, damage 1d3+db

Skills: Anthropology 20%, Art (Writing) 60%, Astronomy 20%, History 40%, Library Use 60%, New England Legends 40%, Occult 50%.

Note: These stats are based off of those presented in GURPS Horror, using a reverse-engineered conversion method from GURPS Cthulhupunk. I make no claims as to its accuracy or functionality within the rules.

It’s a Different Mind-Bending Horror

Just because it’s horror, doesn’t mean it’s Cthulhian. Government conspiracy, as “The X-Files” has shown, can be pretty creepy all on its own. It could very well be that there’s something that doesn’t want to be found in those remote fastnesses of humanity, but it’s quite human. This could even have elements of the supernatural and alien, but the terror comes from the very human activities behind these things. This is not some unnamable horror from beyond the outer reaches of human comprehension. This is your neighbor Bill. You golf with him every other Sunday. Who knew he was an arch-sorcerer that now wants to kill you because you know too much?

A Side of Red Herrings

Even if your characters are to the point where they’re hanging out in Innsmouth and having brunch with the Deep Ones, it doesn’t mean that everything they run into is some Mythos related nasty. You can easily blend in any of the previously described scenarios into your already existing Cthulhu campaigns.

So, long story short: Mess with players’ expectations. When you tell people to make Call of Cthulhu characters, they have this general expectation that they are going to be playing a fairly short campaign which results in their characters becoming drooling and frothing messes after facing Nameless Horrors™. They’ll be a tad thrown off when what they find in those dark suburbs of New England is not exactly the cephalopod they were looking for.

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