Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Now for the game you have all been waiting for

Drumroll please

We'll start this off with a little quote from the beginning to set the mood.

If you’ve read H.P. Lovecraft then you know what Cthulhu is all about. One theme we loved was that there seemed to be things that mortals just couldn’t grasp, things beyond their understanding. The idea that things are not what you’d expect them to be.

I nearly spit out my hot snow coffee reading that. I may not be into vampires much, but I am a Mythos fan. I could write pages on the themes that pervade H.P. Lovecraft's writing. The implications of his own personal struggles and how his worldview affected his stories. The others who have since added to the Mythos. Many more astute people than I throughout the decades have already done so. If this "playtest demo" is "inspired by H.P. Lovecraft", it doesn't show any of that inspiration other than a few throwaway references to "Elder Gods" and "The Deep". It misses the boat entirely (a better metaphor is it just drives off the fucking pier, there never was a boat) by going for the "darque thyngs mankind cannot understand" instead of the real nugget buried in the Mythos: the universe doesn't give a shit (much like the honey badger). Understanding isn't the problem, it's losing your mind in the process. In CthulhuTech, they comprehend perfectly well what they're facing - enough to use Mythos-derived technology to build mecha to fight back (they still may lose, but that goes back to the universe not caring). In The Laundry novels, they know what they're up against and that CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is the Sword of Damocles hanging over everything. It's just a matter of delaying it as long as possible and keeping the world from going batshit insane in the meantime.

Yet in a daring move that is sure to baffle and astound you, the author of this offering from Dark Phoenix Publishing has decided to buck that trend and make "Cthulhian" an adjective and still leave out pretty much any substantial Mythos influences. As if adding "Cthulhian" to something automatically makes it mature and mysterious and frightening.

Let's try this out right now and see if adding "Cthulhu" to things makes them scarier.

"Hey, why didn't you get that report finished today?"

"It was Cthulhian, man. Really Cthulhian."

How about this?

Actually, this is scarier than Cthulhu: Mysteries in Darkness
Apparently the impetus for trying to add these "Cthulhian elements" was a player in a LARP writing some kind of wicked awesome backstory (that apparently didn't involve the X Games).
So John wrote this incredible backstory to his character and tied in a lot of information. We playtested it and got some good reviews, pounded out the problems and eventually I looked at him and said, “why don’t you write a book for the game with all of these elements?”
I'm not sure if Mykal Lakim actually really knew anything about the Mythos before this event occurred, but there already are a grip of games with those elements. This isn't to say there can't be room for more, but given how good many of those existing games are you have to bring something more to the table than changing a few things about your vampires. Unfortunately the universe hates me too much to make sure Dark Phoenix Publishing's finished product will actually be as full of squicky WTF potential as Wraeththu was, so this is the material I have to work with. As an added bonus, I'll probably get this John guy pointing out how nobody understands Lovecraft the way he does and the Necronomicon is real, and a certain draconian-avatared sockpuppet countering every one of my points with an "indepdendent review" containing suspiciously detailed information that isn't in the "playtest demo."

Speaking of  "playtest demos", like the rest of Dark Phoenix Publishing's offerings this can be used for neither playtesting nor running demos. There are rudimentary descriptions of what the "Cthulhian" vampire template does, but they are vague and useless in any kind of play. For example, we learn "Cthulhians also seem to have a more intimate knowledge of the Predatorial Nature, although no Huntru understands why this is." But there's no actual mechanical description of what that means. The same thing with the rules overview - a lot of terms are defined, but there's not enough there to take the document and do anything with it.

Reading further confirms "Cthulhian" really is little more a couple kewl powerz with a thin veneer of how mysterious it all is plastered on top. You'd think, given the subject matter, these powers would be the ability to shatter minds with geometry and instill an aversion to calamari. Instead, we get the pedestrian ability to travel through shadows and "manipulate physical death." I have a friend who's a mortician - I'm sure she manipulates physical death all the time. She also does cabaret dancing. "Cthulhian" is not a word I would use to describe her. So nope, no existentialist, soul-crushing realizations that one of the Outer Gods could belch and wipe out the solar system without even an "Excuse me." Instead, "Cthulhian" is just a code-word for carrying around a paperback copy of the Necronomicon at LARPs (you can put it in one of those black leather book covers with a pentacle on it if you want) and trying to convince 17-year old girls to touch your "book of power".

There is a wide range of material out there that tries to capture the profound isolation and indifference of the human condition in Lovecraft's writings. Pretty much every single one of them, even if they are attempting a different take on the Mythos, actually try to incorporate elements of the hopelessness in the face of a universe that doesn't have good and evil but simply doesn't notice us. Cthulhu: Mysteries in Darkness, at least from this little preview, doesn't do any of that. It basically says, "Put a sticker on your shirt that says 'Cthulhian' on it" and called it a day. Not that I took the document seriously in any way or thought it was going to offer up something completely mind-blowing in it's novelty. I just wanted an excuse to put "Hello Cthulhu" in a blog post.