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The Lovecraft Damage Control Thread


Pathfinder Campaign Setting General Discussion


I suppose I should say "pre-emptive damage control," but it doesn't really have the same ring to it.

Of all of the published fantasy RPG campaign settings I have read, Golarian is the richest, best developed, and most thought out world I have ever encountered. It does a brilliant job of integrated elements from various sources while maintaining remarkable internal consistency. I simply want to say "Bravo," Paizo. Well done.

It also contains more elements drawn from the writings of HP Lovecraft than any other setting not explicitly based off of them, at least of which I am aware. These inspirations absolutely contribute to the depth of Golarion, and I love that they're in there, however, I know that many people would also agree that such aspect also carry with them a toxic element.

Ralph Waldo Emmerson once pointed out that it is human habit to transfer the brilliance of an author to the product which he creates, and I feel that this happens with Lovecraft all too often. The man invented a genre - a very good genre. However, because of that contribution, many people treat anything penned by his hand as incontrovertible genius, and therein lies the problem, and the purpose of this thread.

Lovecraft, for all of his great ideas, was also very inconsistent in his skill as a writer, and had a habit of portraying anything that might offend his unusually delicate sensibilities as being the epitome of madness. He made enormous contribution to literature, to science fiction, and fantasy, but not everything he touched was gold. And that is the purpose of this thread.

Thus far, Paizo has given me no reason to believe that they will go overboard with Lovecraft, but I see enough chatter about it on these forums to cause concern, I simply wanted to offer this thread as a counterpoint to all of those who would hail Lovecraft as the greatest fantasy writer of the 20th century (he was not). I would implore everyone to take the uncommonly generous inclusion of Lovecraftian elements in Golarion with a grain of salt, to simply take a step back and look at them more objectively. This thread is a place for such things to be discussed. Exactly what elements of Lovecraft do you think improve the setting of Golarion (if you say everything, I will find you)? What do we need a little more of, and more importantly, why? Conversely, what elements ought to be kept out of the game? Is there anything that you feel has already gone a smidge too far? Please discuss.

For my own part, I feel that their is an unsettling tendency for people to insist that any encounter with a Lovecraftian beast must necessarily be the most harrowing encounter of PC's career, and I do not agree with this assessment. It cheapens all of the other mentally trying elements that permeate Golarion. I think that these encounters definitely bring something to the table, but they shouldn't be made more out to be more than they are. The PCs should still have a chance to save the day, and while the strain on sanity can certainly be played up, they don't need to leave the survivors drooling or screaming wrecks.

I also would also like to see the mystery and the extra-dimensional aspects of the inhabitants of the Dark Tapestry played up. A bit of ambiguity is a good thing. Just look at Aroden. It still isn't exactly clear what the Dark Tapestry is. Is it simply outer space? If you travel deep enough into it is it another plane of existence? These are questions I would hate to see answered, because they strip the inherent unknowability from these elements that makes them so appealing in the first place. We don't need to know for certain if Azathoth is at the center of the Universe or what kind of importance that would attribute to the being. We don't need to know that humans are a cast-off experiment of the elder things. Not only do these take the mystery and the fun out of a lot of these questions, but they rapidly start to skew the feel of Golarion in a direction I think many of us would not see it go.

Well, that's my two bits. I'd like to hear what others have to say on the matter.

Andoran

I think there are two parts to the Lovecraft influence in Golarion: the fiction and the gaming.

It’s obvious that several of the writers and designers at Paizo love them some Howard Phillip. Part of the challenge this poses, as has been demonstrated by the Lovecraftian adventures produced thus far, is that Lovecraft’s primary setting was a modern (to him, at least) world that was invaded by these things from out of time. A lot of the horror of the Cthulhu mythos has to do with conceiving that humanity is not only not the center of the universe; it might not even be a speck on the windshield. This loses some of its punch in the D&D/Pathfinder milieu. The various writers of various game worlds have to go a bit out of their way to make humanity seem important in worlds that include dragons. Planar additions only further exacerbate this: humanity's self-importance drops a little more each time we think about a war for Eternity. The horror of the unknown is better served by a world that has stopped believing in the supernatural.

The other aspect (and this is where we get to your perception about others’ perception of Lovecraft-adventures) is the pre-existing Lovecraftian gaming. Everyone expects the Lovecraft adventure to be the most harrowing because Call of Cthulhu is one of the most nihilistic games in the collective gamer culture. Even with adventures out there that investigators can, occasionally, “win,” the conception of CoC is a game in which PCs vanish as fast as they would in a Paranoia game, with madness as likely a final end as a horrible death. I think it’s this, far more than the fiction, that drives players’ perceptions of what Lovecraft-inclusive adventures should be.

Now I will take issue with your thread title: I don’t know if we need “damage control” as much as we need a realistic (from a writer and designer perspective) view on what cosmic horror brings to the table. Paizo is attempting to do a balancing act between creating a world where coherent stories can be told and creating a setting where any story can be told. One of the biggest challenges of kitchen-sink settings is keeping everything in its lane. While it might be periodically fun for me to get my Cthulhu Chocolate in your High Fantasy Peanut Butter (try and scrub that image from your head!), do it too much and you violate player expectations, potentially damaging the fun factor. One should never damage the fun factor.

And that’s what this all comes back to. Including a bit of Cthulhu in order to make your otherwise jaded players open their eyes a little wider and raise their pulses is cool. It can heighten drama and tension, which helps heighten fun for story-oriented players. I think that what you watch out for is when the gods of the Dark Tapestry approach all-pervasiveness, which is a critical mass I don’t think we’re anywhere near reaching. More importantly, since the adventures have, by and large, existed in a bubble, there’s always the “change-the-channel” option: if you don’t like what a particular adventure portends about the universe, don’t run it and don’t include it in your canon.

Grand Lodge

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Well...to be completely honest, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the entire idea of Lovecraftian Horror. On the one hand, I kind of enjoy the idea that we are all but an insect to some far greater beings we cannot comprehend or even begin to combat. Makes sense, and humankind often gets too big for their britches, so its a good philosophical lesson (we ain't the biggest fish in this here sea...) On the other hand, I also don't find things like that all to frightening. If someone tells me that "there is a creature so horrific that it defies imagination", I draw a blank when imagining it. To do otherwise would either a.) make it so that it obviously does not defy imagination, since I just imagined it, or b.) completely missed the point. Having such creatures feature prominently in a book (especially horror) as a kind of psychic bogeyman that a character can't pin down works great. I loved "The Color Out of Space," "The Rats in the Walls, "Reanimator," etc. But honestly, I don't think that'd transfer over so well into an RPG. In an RPG, the only way you can describe your world to others is by description. The PCs can't actually see what you're telling them they should be seeing, so telling them their characters go mad by looking at something that "defies imagination" will very rarely have nearly as big an impact as it should. *Sigh* I also kind of dislike it for how often this is brought out, almost like a cliche...

But then again, there's a bright side. The good folks at Paizo have contributed by making the Dark Tapestry a viable part of their campaign world. There are creatures from beyond it, philosophies, dark cults, and even a God, all of which take liberal doses from the Cthulu-mythos and add a very good feel, especially for an adventure game (duh...evil cultists! Me go smash them! For the gold pieces!). Still...hesitant to use them...because like all cliches, they CAN be used right and creativly if done by someone....well, careful and talented. History states I am neither...so I'll stay as far away from that in my campaigns as the Inner Sea allows (a.k.a. away from Nidal and Ustalav, or rather Illmarsh, anyway)

Osirion

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Three great posts so far.
This promises to be a thought-provoking thread.

With regard to the expectations arising from the existing Call of Cthulhu RPG, I tend to think that Chaosium's adventure-writers don't seem to be on the same page as the writers of the RPG.

Sandy Petersen gives GMing advice about running mysteries, 'unravelling the layers of the onion', setting mood for a character-driven RPG, where PCs gradually learn more about the Mythos, and see it affect their ability to interact with normal society.

The official adventures, in many cases, seem to involve unsuspecting 20th century people minding their own business, then having something leap out of nowhere, and kill them stone dead. Or melting their minds in one look. This makes it very difficult to sustain any coherent narrative, or build empathy for your PC.

I find it ironic, that of all the scenarios I ran during the 1980s, the ones by Chaosium were only achievable by psycopaths with tommyguns and dynamite, while Games Workshop, home of Chaos Death Spiky Fun Wargames, wrote the ones which most relied on subtlety and restraint.
Thier 'Shadow of the Sorceror' was completely stat-less, advising that if the players ever felt that gunplay was the answer, they'd already lost.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Paizo has said that Golarion exists in a multiverse that includes everything else too. Our own solar system with Earth is there somewhere. As well as Oerth, Caprica, Vulcan, Coruscant, Pern, Abydos, etc. It makes for some interesting possibilities.


Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

I have never been a huge fan of Lovecraft....I just don't find horror stories where there is no hope to be that scary. If there is no chance at victory...there is no hope...if there is no hope there is no fear. Also it feels very inconsist...if we are but mere insects(if that)...than why are we even a factor in their summonings, etc.?

I am not that big of a an of the RPG much either....as it seems most adventure are just meat grinders.

That being said Pazio approach to the Lovecraft mythos in high fantasy is nothing new. It is very similair to what D&D has always done with them. These things are out there...they are immensely powerful....but you are playing characters who fight dragons....bend reality to your will with magic....call on the power of deities and have tangible proof of faith...etc. In other words they treat them in a realistic fashion for a high fantasy setting.

If they keep this approach than I don't have any major problems with it...if start having silly rules of sanity points...and you loose them for seeing a pack of ghouls...and aping other aspects of CoC has than we will run into problems.

Osirion

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Bookkeeper wrote:
While it might be periodically fun for me to get my Cthulhu Chocolate in your High Fantasy Peanut Butter (try and scrub that image from your head!), do it too much and you violate player expectations, potentially damaging the fun factor. One should never damage the fun factor.

Speaking of Cthulhu Chocolate...

Cheliax

Pathfinder Cards Subscriber

I am also pleased with how Lovecraft has been handled. I believe an important counterpoint to the Lovecraftian elements in Golarion is the handling of Golarian divinities. Namely, I do not want the relative 'power' or 'scope' of deities defined, for fear that it would then be necessary setting-creep to define the Old Ones or Elder Gods or other things of the Tapestry.

The less we know of the nature of the gods, the better they will play with the stranger things out there. Leave it vague. Let players and GMs fill the lore gaps with their campaigns when possible. The alternative is to make the 'unknowable' and 'horrific' and 'wondrous' all mundane and vulnerable and in need of stats.


I find that Pathfinder has, as a whole, struck an excellent balance between unknowable, unfathomable horror and the ability to kill some of those horrors.

That we don't know the nature of the Old Ones and Elder Gods hidden away isn't a problem; we don't really understand the nature of actual gods either, and at that level of power it doesn't matter if they are stronger or weaker than the actual gods; both are equally beyond the reach of the characters, and equally capable of untold destruction.

@The Drunken Dragon, I think that if one of those ineffable horrors was introduced simply as being 'indescribable', that that's a pretty bad way to depict them. It is possible to explain something in such a way that everything about it seems a defilement of the mind and of reality.

They whisper secrets that predate the beginnings of creation, each sound the condensed noise of a thousand births and deaths of multiverses. The mad gibbering holds the ignition of stars, the demise of worlds, the screaming agony of uncountable numbers driven mad and driven to destruction by the very existence of these malicious horrors. One could describe how they look--could explain the mouths where mouths should not be, where eyes blink from every tooth, covered in squamous writhing tendrils, each visibly stretching out to infinity despite being only a few feet long (or longer? All of space twists around them, impossibly short compared to how you can see it stretching out past infinity in every direction). Eyes have no pupils--instead, where that black circle would be is instead angles--triangles formed of seven corners and squares with uneven sides and a line that stretches out into a thousand dimensions (and you can *SEE* them, beholding 'directions' and 'dimensions' that the mind was never capable of comprehending--but as you look on it, and it looks onto you, it forces you to understand and that understanding tears away parts of your soul. Pieces of you are replaced with angles unconnected to lines or to spaces or to anything else that would define it as an angle).

Of course, if you don't come to the table with the proper attitude, you won't appreciate it at all.

A Pathfinder game that touches upon the cosmic horror genre and the Lovecraftian mindset doesn't need to end with all the player characters dying (in fact, it shouldn't--this isn't Call of Cthulhu or Paranoia), but that doesn't mean that the inherently unknowable couldn't be made horrific. And there exist in this world beings of power just as great as these Things That Should Not Exist, and considerably less inimical to life; through healing magics and time, even insanity can be cured. And since when were adventurers of the everyday sort of person anyways? While any normal person would lose their grip on reality and be thankful for it, a player character is that one-in-a-million individual with the capacity to resist even the corrupting influence of the Things Beyond.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion Subscriber

I'm not a fan of Lovecraftian elements in PF. Mainly because I believe that a core concept of the Mythos is the fact that humans are completely insignificant next to the Great Old Ones, unable to comprehend their cosmic madness and ultimately, powerless to stop them.

This is very much not the situation in high-power fantasy RPGs, where you can implode realities and swing swords 10 times per second while surviving dragon breath and demonic hordes.


I do think Paizo needs to dive in head first and take on a true Mythos themed AP. The biggest issue I have with "cosmic horror" in my fantasy RPG is that it is so compelling to the players that it becomes almost an obsession when it does appear in an adventure. It's hard to pull the players away from it and back into whatever the "non cosmic horror" threat is. This was especially true for me in Carrion Crown. I've seen enough of the breadcrumbs, so now I'd like to get to the meat by going full Mythos or would like the breadcrumbs to disappear completely. All of the APs I have run for my group have had some kind of Mythos inspired hook in them yet none of them focus on it. At this point I'd like to be able to go ahead and let my players dive into the full horror of the Mythos stuff for a true 6 part AP. If we can't get this then I'd like to see less Mythos hooks that never get fleshed out and instead concentrate on what does get fleshed out.

Another important aspect of Mythos stuff in Golarian that I think needs to be defined is how the Old/Elder Gods interact with the Golarian deities (good and evil). I think it's important for the players and GM to know where in the Golarian cosmology the mythos guys are and how at least some of the deities feel about their presence. What’s the point of a PC dedicating his life to Desna when Shub-Nigguarth is going to eat the planet anyway with Desna just standing on the sidelines watching? The mythos gods seem to be a threat to the people but ignored by the deities. I think the connection between the Golarian outer plane rulers and the Dark Tapestry old ones needs to be discussed in published product.

Osirion

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Cibet, we'd be playing Brian Lumley Mythos not Lovecraft. Toss out the "Good Twin" idea of the Lumley stuff, him and REH work better for PF than Lovecraft does.


My only criticism about cutting 'n' pasting from H. P. Lovecraft into Golarion is that some ecological niches get overcrowded.

By which I mean:

  • Having Cthulhu in a campaign setting is kind of cool.
  • Having a unique god/demon/cosmic horror inspired by Cthulhu in a campaign setting is even better.
  • But having both Cthulhu and expy-Cthulhu in the same campaign setting is kind of dumb. It doesn't really get any new interesting story hooks other than "Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla!" or "Godzilla teams up with Mecha-Godzilla!"


  • hogarth wrote:

    My only criticism about cutting 'n' pasting from H. P. Lovecraft into Golarion is that some ecological niches get overcrowded.

    By which I mean:

  • Having Cthulhu in a campaign setting is kind of cool.
  • Having a unique god/demon/cosmic horror inspired by Cthulhu in a campaign setting is even better.
  • But having both Cthulhu and expy-Cthulhu in the same campaign setting is kind of dumb. It doesn't really get any new interesting story hooks other than "Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla!" or "Godzilla teams up with Mecha-Godzilla!"
  • Does anyone else feel like there's a bit of overlap between all of the Lovecraft stuff and the Qlippoths?

    Cheliax

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    Pathfinder Cards Subscriber

    Meh.

    Ecological overlap has always been an issue in D&D. Any edition. Any setting. Very very few settings have ever put in the necessary effort to establish proper ecology. And most of that effort goes unappreciated in the end. So the criticism does not work for me.

    And, important to me and my crew, the cutting and pasting gives a fair amount of familiar room. Crossover. Player knowledge is vital for building dramatic tension and personal investment. We still have elves and dwarves because the familiarity of these elements helps people immediately 'get it'. So, for example, when I tell my players that Brodert Quink has gone a little titchy since he found that old Thassilonian book in the mail and keeps claiming that strange 'hounds' are pursuing him and that's why he can't leave his house ... and then I tell the half-Varisian bard that the Varisians have a story about such a creature, and the Varisian word for such creatures is 'Tindalos' ... that gets everyone at the table invested. Are they going to be real hounds of the Tindalos? Are they going to be monster manual creatures reskinned?

    It does the trick in a way that other creepy monsters just don't. And it does the trick quickly and with a minimum of translation required thanks to the shared frame of reference.

    RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32, 2012 Top 4

    martinaj wrote:
    Does anyone else feel like there's a bit of overlap between all of the Lovecraft stuff and the Qlippoths?

    If I'm not mistaken, I think Quippoths are mentioned in a Pathfinder product (whose name now escapes me) as being on the list of Mythos entities. They are at the very least Mythos-friendly.


    Kegluneq wrote:

    Meh.

    Ecological overlap has always been an issue in D&D. Any edition. Any setting.

    Of course. But that doesn't mean it's a good thing.


    Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting Subscriber
    martinaj wrote:
    Does anyone else feel like there's a bit of overlap between all of the Lovecraft stuff and the Qlippoths?

    I asked this a while back, and James Jacobs' response was something to the effect of: Qlippoths are a single, unified race, while Lovecraftian beasts are just a vague grouping. For example, gugs and mi-go are both Lovecraftian, but have no commonalities other than that. That said, Qlippoths certainly have a Lovecraftian vibe to them, but aren't actually from the Cthulhu Mythos (except for Dagon).

    Here's how I see it. The Material Plane has alien horrors such as elder things, shoggoths, the Dominion of the Black (about which we know almost nothing), and of course assorted Great Old Ones and Elder Gods. The Outer Planes have equivalent abominations in the Qlippoth. Both groups are incomprehensibly alien to their respective realms.

    Paizo Employee Creative Director

    Correct. While the qlippoth (no "s" in their plural name) are Lovecraft-similar, they are NOT a part of the Lovecraftian mythos. They're actually inspired by real-world mythology in a very very very vague sense.

    The Dominion of the Black is also not necessarilly associated with the Mythos

    Dagon is, of course, from mythology as well—he wasn't actually invented by Lovecraft (although his modern pop-culture incarnation as a sea monster was).

    Taldor Contributor

    We might note that Dagon and the Qlippoths - albeit from very different eras - are derived from Jewish and Semitic mythology.
    This makes them inherently more compatible with the Judeo-Christian and other RW sources of the Abyss than the Outer Gods and Great Old Ones who sprang directly from Lovecraft and his circle's fevered brains.

    Cheliax

    I dig the Lovecraft stuff just as much as all the other Golarion stuff (Numeria!). The BBEG for a dungeon I just had players run through was an Advanced Half-fiend Froghemoth named "Grag'hrach'tho-lach'tha". Fun times.


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    I have no problem with the prevalence of Mythos monsters in the Golarion setting. They simply represent another interesting foe to be overcome. Granted, the fact that they can be faced down with blade and spell may seem at odds with the nihilistic certainty of their victory that's found in Lovecraft's writings. But consider: in much horror fiction a similar amount of danger and menace are assigned to vampires, werewolves and demons. Yet these are things that Pathfinder heroes regularly confront and overcome.

    Perhaps in Lovecraft's Earth there are no forces powerful enough to give the Elder God's pause. In that world, the humans are truly insignificant and when the Stars Are Right they will be blotted out without notice.

    On Golarion, things are different. On Golarion, mortals go up to 11!

    And if that's not to your liking, if you feel that the Mythos monsters have absolutely no place in an epic fantasy setting...don't use 'em.

    Shadow Lodge

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    Well, even on Earth people sometimes overcame the Mythos monsters. But the Great Old Ones and the Outer Gods are, like the other deities of Golarion, stat-less, and therefore mortals ARE still insignificant compared to them.


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    Kthulhu wrote:
    Well, even on Earth people sometimes overcame the Mythos monsters. But the Great Old Ones and the Outer Gods are, like the other deities of Golarion, stat-less, and therefore mortals ARE still insignificant compared to them.

    Fair point. But it's the struggle against them that makes for good heroism.

    Osirion

    Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
    Kegluneq wrote:

    And, important to me and my crew, the cutting and pasting gives a fair amount of familiar room. Crossover. Player knowledge is vital for building dramatic tension and personal investment.

    It does the trick in a way that other creepy monsters just don't. And it does the trick quickly and with a minimum of translation required thanks to the shared frame of reference.

    +1

    One of the lessons all GMs have to come to terms with, is the fact that many players have a more casual interest in gaming, and will never be as interested, informed, or as invested in the campaign settings, as those players who typicaly volunteer to be GM.*

    Having convenient shortcuts and analogues to real-world people, places, and events, helps the game go smoother.
    I could read out a ream of info about Galt, and find the players had zoned out, or, I could say (ooc), "This place is like Revolutionary France, after it went t@++-up.", and the player could respond "I get it! And we're the Scarlet Pimpernel, right?". "Gotcha."

    *Of course, it does sometimes happen that a player has more knowledge of a setting than the GM, which causes its own issues, but I find that to be a much rarer occurrence, and more easily resolved.


    Kegluneq wrote:

    And, important to me and my crew, the cutting and pasting gives a fair amount of familiar room. Crossover. Player knowledge is vital for building dramatic tension and personal investment.

    It does the trick in a way that other creepy monsters just don't. And it does the trick quickly and with a minimum of translation required thanks to the shared frame of reference.

    That's a decent argument in favour of using familiar monsters. That doesn't really explain why you would have familiar monsters AND unfamiliar monsters that basically fill the same niche.

    Cheliax

    Pathfinder Cards Subscriber

    Because variety is the spice of life? And the ecological overlap problem is not going away anytime soon. Remember, the existence of things within the cosmology of the setting does not guarantee the existence of things within the specific parameters of any single given game. And more open-ended settings such as Golarion (and the larger planar/planetary system it is part of) attempt to create plausible niches for almost every sort of play/antagonist/setting/theme/etc.

    Some people will want the variety. Others will want more supplements and more stat lines. Some players can tolerate improvisation. Others seem to become aggravated by anything that does not have published stats.


    Kegluneq wrote:
    Because variety is the spice of life?

    I certainly agree. That's why I'd rather have less duplication.

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