Thursday, February 14, 2013

A New Genealogy of the Gods, Part One



I wrote and lost a draft about how the anti-mythological nature of the Cthulhu Mythos is better served by the epistolary nature of the most notable and seminal Mythos tales ("The Call of Cthulhu," "At The Mountains of Madness," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth") than any peculiarity of content of said mythology, but the rewrites lack élan so I'm just going to skip it. 

I've been running Cthulhu-related stuff for a few years now (since the stable gaming group I GM for accrued) and that leads to a lot of thinking about how the background—the deep background—fits together. The nice thing about unreliable narrators is that you can scratch off any 'canon' you want to get rid of or radically reinterpret while still pretending the fictional world is 'intact.' It's functionally irrelevant, yeah, but sometimes there's little invisible lines between whether you're really 'in' a fictional world or not, and whether you feel like you're in the 'real' Innsmouth.

I got into Lovecraft through an alignment of certain interests—gothicism, body horror, orientalism—and a lot of the accumulated Cthulhiana that's come along since then doesn't really do it for me, especially game material that just hits a few of the same notes as the original stories when presenting monsters, instead of prying them open and looking for themes, or motifs, or systems to deepen their strangeness and refine the alienation. I think a lot of other people feel the same way, which leads to experiments in Lovecraftian "purity," (usually in opposition to "Derlethian" or "pulp" elements) but instead I like to think of my approach as putting "Lovecraft" itself in the crucible and seeing what base metals result from the reverse transmutation.

So that's what I've been trying to do, taking the gods and monsters and cults apart and reassembling them into even less coherent and classifiable forms. Because I run (and enjoy poring over) Trail of Cthulhu, most of the following will be referencing interpretations of mythos figures presented there, and less so the more literal-minded write-ups in the Call of Cthulhu rules.

Next week, I'll lay out Cthulhu and its fellow-travellers. 

2 comments:

  1. This is interesting to hear - how much do you rationalize or explain the cosmology (just for yourself) versus the obfuscation laid down by the unreliable narrators?

    I'm always torn between the need to classify and fit things together versus making the mythology as much of an unknown for myself as it is for the players.

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    1. This is interesting to hear - how much do you rationalize or explain the cosmology (just for yourself) versus the obfuscation laid down by the unreliable narrators?

      I don't know. I kind of like the kitchen-sinkness of the mythos game material, you know? That said, I think the source material that Lovecraft draws from ends up informing other kitchen-sink cosmologies (Theosophy to New Age) or fiction (Kneale's SF ghost stories) that you can steal explanations from plenty of places too.

      I'm always torn between the need to classify and fit things together versus making the mythology as much of an unknown for myself as it is for the players.

      The need to fit things together, I think, reflects the fact that as a GM you need to actually decide how a thing is going to interact with other parts of your game. To use Trail as an example, it justifies (almost) statless gods and titans by comparing them to an artillery barrage—but if you're actually running a game where an artillery barrage happens, you're going to need to at least decide what the players roll to try and avoid it.

      Given the pitfalls of systemization, though, the first question I like to ask, when it comes to mythos entities, is "how is the narrator applying anthropomorphic biology or psychology (or ontology?) to this thing?" and then try to think of something that's, if not totally opposite that assumption, at least in another part of the spectrum from it.

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