The Origin of the Cthulhu Mythos
H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was a New England writer who was one of the
greatest horror writers of all time, a seminal figure in modern horror
writing. Sickly of health, he never finished high school, let along college,
though he was widely read and liked to fancy himself a eighteenth century
His horror writings, many unpublished in his lifetime and circulated
only among family and friends, with whom he maintained a lively correspondence,
were mostly published after his death by August Derleth, who founded Arkham
House, a publishing company for weird fiction which holds the copyright
on Lovecraft's work and many other Mythos stories. The Cthulhu Mythos was
not planned, but grew organically out of Lovecraft's writing over time,
passing through various phases of development, gradually moving from the
Dreamlands stories to the more 'fantasy' stories of the Mythos to the more
science-fictional explorations of alien cultures of the later Mythos stories.
Lovecraft's friends and correspondents, with and without his blessing,
worked elements of the Mythos into their works, and he reciprocated. Writers
like Robert E. Howard (Creator of Conan, Kull the Conqueror, and Solomon
Kane the Witch Hunter), Frank Belknap Long, and Clark Ashton Smith contributed
during its formative years. Later, August Derleth, who aroused much controversy
for a variety of reasons not relevant here, but to whom the preservation
and publication of much of Lovecraft's work is owed, Robert Bloch, Ramsey
Campbel, David Drake, Brian Lumley, and even Steven King have composed
There is a RPG, Call of Cthulhu, named after the seminal Mythos
story, from Chaosium, first issued in 1981, currently in its sixth edition
with several dozen supplements, created by Sandy Petersen. The game has
dozens of supplements which have certain continuing elements, some of which
appear in this work, and I have striven to identify what derives from the
RPG and what derives from the original works. Many throwaway references
and only lightly developed aspects of the Mythos have recieved fuller treatment
in the RPG's supplements, respectful treatments that I believe preserved
the spirit of the original materials. For that reason, I have included
such materials here.
While Chaosium holds the RPG rights to the Mythos, three other companies
have produced Cthulhu RPG materials that I am aware of. The first edition
of the AD&D supplement Deities and Demigods contained a writeup
of the Cthulhu mythos. This writeup was withdrawn because it was in violation
of Chaosium's rights. Steve Jackson Games was wise enough to get a proper
license before it produced GURPS Cthulhupunk, which is a supplement
for circa 2030 Cthulhu adventures, melding the Cthulhu Mythos with Cyberpunk.
I recommend it. Pagan Press has also produced many licensed Cthulhu adventures,
and I highly recommend them, especially Delta Green, which does
for the Mi-Go what "At the Mountains of Madness"
did for the Elder Things and "The Shadow out of Time"
did for the Great Race of Yith.
The Themes of the Cthulhu Mythos
"Nor is it to be thought that man is either the oldest or the last of earth's masters, or that the common bulk of life and substance walks alone. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, they walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod Earth's fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as they tread...As a foulness, shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall they reign again."
--Translated directly from Olaus Wormius' Latin translation of the Necronomicon.
--Quoted from "The Dunwich Horror" by H.
Many of the themes of the Cthulhu Mythos are summed up in this passage.
The central concept of the Cthulhu Mythos is the insignificance of humanity
and the dependence of human rationality and confidence in a lack of understanding
of that fact.
"The more that is known about the Great Old Ones, the worse things look for the human race. Humanity likes to fancy itself the lord of creation, able, given enough time and effort, to conquer any problem through the application of logic and creativity. Within the context of the Cthulhu Mythos, however, this is revealed as a lie, --a comforting delusion of a fundamentally inadequate race."
--GURPS Cthulhupunk, p. 9.
Ultimately, humanity is doomed in its struggles with the Great Old Ones.
Humanity rose into existence in an interlude of the weakness of the Great
Old Ones, and when they come into their strength, humanity will no more
be able to stave off extinction or slavery or worse, degeneration, than
the dinosaurs. The best that can be done is to stave off that day as long
as one can, and to cling to one's sanity in the face of an uncaring universe.
The worst part of it is that humanity can't even merit the hatred of
the forces that will destroy it in the end. The Great Old Ones are not
concerned with destroying humanity; that will merely be a byproduct of
the resumption of their ancient wars and revels. Only Nylarhotep seems
to bear any ill will against humanity as a race, but he seems just as contemptuous
of the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods, and even he usually corrupts rather
than destroying. Humanity will not suffer the fate of the Jews in the Holocaust,
but rather the fate of roaches when the Orkin man comes by for a visit.
Much of the Horror of the Mythos comes from the fact that the universe,
truly understood, is a heartless, uncaring place. Races come into existence,
thrive, and fall without a single being of cosmic power who cares for them.
It is a logical extrapolation of Lovecraft's atheism. In a universe with
no God, no heaven, no afterlife, there is ultimately, no hope. Humanity
is a cosmic accident, and everything that grants hope is ultimately a lie
or a delusion, seen in the grand place of things. The history of Lovecraft's
universe is a repetition of the rise and fall of species, not by any mistake
they made, but by the inevitable forces of geology, climate, the power
of the stars, and other energies and causes which cannot be manipulated,
controlled, or denied.
This is not to say that humanity is completely helpless. Lovecraft believed
in science, and was quite willing to admit that one could manipulate the
universe to some degree to your benefit. But the Powers gainable by tapping
the forces of the Mythos ultimately corrupt their wielders, for they force
one to learn and understand the true nature of the universe to wield them,
and that nature, if truly confronted, must lead either to denial which
renders those Powers unusable, or madness.
Madness by any human standard that is. Human rationality, human sanity,
is a construct made possible in the world of the Cthulhu Mythos, only by
denial. Lovecraft wanted to be a humanist, but at the same time, his study
of the universe and of science convinced him that it was false, though
he wanted it to be true. He both longed for the certainty and hope of the
eighteenth century, the gentility of the old aristocratic lifestyle, and
feared it was a hopeless endeavour, inevitably dragged down by the processes
of degeneration that haunt his work. Thus, the two most developed of the
Elder Races in his work, the Great Race of Yith, and the Elder Things were
'humanist' races, producing art, science, and philosophy, and a clear affection
for his creations, inhuman as they are, shines through his account of these
two races. At the same time, both races are extinct by the time of humanity,
undone by the inability of all their strivings to ward off inevitable doom.
The Great Race of Yith escapes only by fleeing through time, symbolic perhaps
of Lovecraft's own addiction to the Eighteenth century. The Elder Things
are destroyed by their own creations, the Shoggoths. Similarly, Lovecraft
feared the advance of Human science would destroy it. Not necessarily a
physical death through scientific disaster of the use of science for war,
but through the damage that its connected philosophy of materialism would
do to the soul by rendering all the achievements of humanity meaningless.
It was these achievements that enobled humanity for Lovecraft, who like
many of his time, fell into the trap of connecting bloodlines to achievements.
He was thoroughly mired in racialist ideas, believing certain qualities
were inherent in bloodlines, namely races. His heroes are all White Anglo-Saxons,
his villians often from other races and cultures. The idea of ancestral
knowlege, of wisdom or decay inherent in the blood is a major theme for
Lovecraft, and many stories concern a doomed hero who is dragged down by
the taints inherent in his blood ("The Shadow over
Innsmouth", "The Rats in the Walls", "The Festival", and others).
The potential of man to become a monster through mental, physical, and
spiritual degeneration, intertwined with each other is important to his
work. Similarly, several of the inhuman races are part of this process
as well. The Mi-Go are corrupted by their mythos knowlege. The Elder Things
lost the use of their wings in the process of their decline. The Serpent
Men declined into a degenerate race.
Part of this degeneration is connected to Lovecraft's racialist beliefs.
However, it is also connected to the theme of 'Knowledge Man was not Meant
to Know'. The reason Man was not meant to know certain things was that
certain kinds of knowledge were inherently corrupt because they were corrosive
to the soul and to the achievements and activities that gave life meaning.
The core of that knowledge is always the realization that humanity has
no meaningful place in the universe and that the universe is fundamentally
uncaring of its fate. The knowlege of the Mythos grants power, but that
power eats away at the soul, forcing one to either foreswear its power,
and thus live out a lie, or else to accept it at the cost of one's humanity,
becoming mad or worse. For madness is simply an understanding of the real
truth humanity hides from itself.
Ultimately, Lovecraft's universe was a tragic one in which humanity
is doomed, and all its noble accomplishments will crumble to dust. There
will be no one to sing a dirge for our species. Death is the final farewell.
Lovecraft's horror retains its power because it squarely faces the problem
of modern materialism. The successes of science, which is squarely based
on a materialist philosophy, has eaten away at our old certainties, at
everything which makes life meaningful. Only by denying that materialism
can humanity assert any meaning to its life, any purpose in being. Yet,
how can that materialism be denied in the face of the successes of science?
Should we abandon science? That doesn't seem a viable response. Can science
be reconciled with a philosophy that can give us hope? Lovecraft wanted
to say yes, but felt forced to say no. Others may disagree, but the questions
he poses have to be answered, and we have yet to find an answer that would
satisfy him. The average person simply copes by denying the truth as Lovecraft
saw it; they accept the accomplishments of science without really thinking
about the consequences of the philosophy it is grounded in.
I myself believe there is another answer, that the despair of Lovecraft
in the face of modernity is not the last word, but this is not the time
or the place for me to discuss it, since this is devoted to his work and
those who worked in his universe, and not my own ideas. Lovecraft, ultimately,
was the first fully modern horror writer, more modern than many who came
after him, who have based their terror on traditional boogeymen and fears
in a modern setting, for he truly grappled with the deep issues of modernity
and the modern view of the universe.
A Brief and Skimpy History of the Cthulhu Mythos Universe
The following touches on just some of the major historical events of
the distant past of the universe of the Cthulhu mythos, with a few real
events thrown in to provide a perspective. GURPS CthulhuPunk provides
a more thorough timeline, as do later editions of the Call of Cthulhu
15 Billion BC: The Big Bang, more or less
4.6 Billion BC: Origin of Life on Earth.
2 Billion BC: The Elder Things arrive and build their cities, create Ubbo-Sathala and Shoggoths.
1.4 Billion BC: Cthulhu and his Star-Spawn arrive from Xoth and war with the Elder Things.
850 Million BC: The Moon is torn away from the Earth. The resulting catastrophe plunges R'lyeh under the sea and destroys or begins a process of the collapse of many Elder Thing cities.
800 Million BC: First multicelluar organisms
700 Million BC: Flying Polyps arrive and build cities
570 Million BC: The Cambrian explosion--development of first invertebrates and trilobites.
500 Million BC: The Great Race of Yith arrives by mental transference, defeats the Flying Polyps.
435 Million BC: Silurian age: Fishes with jaws and first land planets. The two first continents are converging.
360 Million BC: Mississippian era: Reptiles and Giant insects appear. Pangaea, the primal continent, has formed from the collision of the first two continents.
275 Million BC: The Serpent Men rise and build their first civilization in Valusia (The area now split by the Mediterranean)
250 Million BC: The Shoggoths revolt and crush the Elder Things
205 Million BC: The Jurassic. Height of the age of the Dinosaurs.
200 Million BC: Pangaea begins to split
160 Million BC: The Mi-Go arrive on Earth and war with the remaining Elder Things.
100 Million BC: Placental Mammals evolve
70 Million BC: The Serpent Men begin to go into decline, along with the Dinosaurs
63 Million BC: Dinosaurs are extinct. The Paleocene era, dominated by Mammals, begins.
50 Million BC: The Great Race of Yith flees to the distant future. The Flying Polyps exterminate the Cone Race.
6 Million BC: Ancestors of humans split from Apes and Monkeys.
5 Million BC: The last Elder Things withdraw beneath the ocean.
2.5 Million BC: Australopithecines devlop first stone tools.
800,000 BC: Fire is domesticated
750,000 BC: Hyperborean and Mhu-Thulan civilizations destroyed by glaciation.
300,000 BC: Neanderthals appear.
163,000 BC: Mu sinks.
50,000 BC: Modern humans appear.
20,000 to 10,000 BC: Rope in use. Beginning of agriculture. Last Ice Age begins to retreat. Legendary reign of the human barbarian conqueror, King Kull on the Thurian continent, followed by the sinking of Atlantis, Lemuria, and the Thurian continent.
17,000 BC: Mythos-worshipping empires of Acheron and Stygia arise in what is now Western Europe and Africa.
14,000 to 12,000 BC: Humans cross the Bering Strait into the Americas.
12,000 BC: Legendary Hyperborean civilization flourishes. Reign of King
Conan of Aquilonia.
A Field Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos:
The forces in the universe of the Cthulhu Mythos can be ranked loosely as follows:
The Elder and Outer Gods
The Outer Gods are more forces of nature than beings, almost, each personifying some primal concept. Their behavior is utterly alien to human understanding, and quite possibly simply mindless. Only Nylarhotep is somewhat comprehensible in human terms, and he is both the weakest and the most intelligent of the lot, the only one who seems to plan or act rationally.
Abhoth, Source of Uncleaness, dwells within dark caverns beneath the Earth, a huge bubbling pool of gray organic matter, constantly sprouting and reabsorbing various organs. Creatures periodically bud off its form and wander away, preying on each other and more natural creatures within the deep underground. It may possibly be connected to Tsathoggua. It is capable of telepathic speech, but rarely does so. No known cult, and it can't control its own spawn.
Azathoth is the great Daemon Sultan, the 'ruler' of the universe, who sits at its heart, a great amorphous mass of ever changing matter, dancing to the fluting of idiot piping gods. He is, in some sense, the incarnation of matter. Or destruction. Possibly both. When summoned, he simply begins to expand into the area, destroying everything. Eventually, he gets bored and leaves, going back to the center of the universe.
Shub-Niggurath is fertility incarnate, the essence of the cycle of the life, the great mother who devours her own children, then gives birth to them anew. She is a constantly changing mass of organic matter, constantly growing and consuming arms, legs, breasts, mouths, eyes, teeth, etc. Her normal residence is unknown, but she comes when summoned at night, to both give life and take it. She sometimes gives birth to the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath.
Yog-Sothoth is the Key and the Gate, the master of Space and
Time. He appears as a congerie of spheres and impossible geometric shapes
and is capable of moving anywhere at any time, and of granting the same
aid to sorcerors who please him. However exactly that works. Especially
confusing because sometimes he is mindless as any other Outer God, while
other times, he can have a pleasant conversation with someone. (See "Beyond
the Gate of the Silver Key").
The Elder Gods are the Gods of the Dreamlands. Most are unknown, but they are far more anthropmorphic than the Outer Gods. They also seem to have a war with the Outer Gods, and Nylarhotep seems to somehow work for both sides. Only one is described in any detail. August Derleth was responsible for adding the idea of the Elder God/Outer God war to the Mythos. In the original works, the Elder gods were simply the Gods of the Dreamlands.
Bast is the Elder God of Cats, for obvious reasons. She's suspiciously similar to the egyptian diety of the same name for obvious reasons. Especially worshipped in Ulthar, where no man may kill a cat. (See "The Cats of Ulthar")
Hypnos is the Elder god of Sleep and Dreamers. This may make him the ultimate master of the Dreamlands where he resides. He can appear both as the most beautiful male you have ever seen, or as the most hideous nightmare you have ever suffered. Dreamers who anger him can be trapped in the Dreamlands, unable to wake, expelled forever, or transmuted into some horrible beast. He can only be harmed by a being capable of acting simultaneously in the 'real' world and the Dreamlands at once.
Nodens has no clearly defined set of powers or archetypical connection
to some force. He sometimes appears to those who call his name, riding
in a great shell chariot pulled by some great beast. He resembles an elderly,
but still vital and strong human male with white hair. He has the power
of banishment, able to dismiss even the most powerful of beings, though
it doesn't always work. The Nightgaunts serve him, and may sometimes bring
a captive before him. He might also send them to aid someone who calls
on him. Or maybe not. His true agenda is unknown.
Nylarathotep is one of the crucial figures of the Cthulhu Mythos, though not tremendously powerful in his own right. He is the Crawling Chaos, the stormcrow, the walking man, the figure of ill omen, the Black Man of the Witch Cult, a buyer and seller of souls, a man, a monster, and a god in one. He has 1,001 forms, and all but one bring madness to those who gaze upon him. In his human form, he appears as a non-descript male of pure African origin, with very, very dark skin, and dark eyes. In this form, he walks among men, sowing chaos and destruction, sharing dark secrets to corrupt mankind, and generally preparing the way for the self-destruction of humanity. In this form, he wields powerful magic, but he can be slain like any other man. Such an act is itself self-destructive, for the corpse splits open within seconds and out erupts one of his 1000 monstrous, mind-destroying forms. He gives a great howl. If the sanity of his slayer remains intact, he will mark that person for revenge, and then depart to gain a new human form. While he himself has many cults, he has little regard for his worshippers, using them simply as tools for the corruption of more humans, and to the ends of inducing human civilization to destroy itself. He does not kill, but corrupts, and induces people to fight his plots with means that will corrupt them.
A few of the 1,001 forms of Nylarhotep:
The Great Old Ones
The origins of the Great Old Ones is unknown, and quite possibly unique for each. They seem to be ancient, perhaps the final survivors of various now deceased races spawned in the first eons of the universe's existence. While still alien, they are at least somewhat more comprehensible than the Elder and Outer Gods. They war among themselves, and while still mostly indestructible, they can sometimes be thwarted by something other than them getting bored. Many seem linked to the power of the stars, and can be compelled into actions by them, such as Cthulhu, who must wait in Ry'leh until the stars are right. As a result, in this universe, Astrology has real power, at least in their case.
Most are served by a foolish cult, who expects to be rewarded on the day of their return. These cults are better organized than all the cults of the Outer Gods usually, except for the Nylarhotep worshipping cults. At the same time, most are very thoroughly degenerate, as the oldest cults have lurked in the corners and wildernesses of the world, inbreeding, breeding with summoned monsters, and breeding with the Servitor Races.
Most are also served by some Servitor Race, some of whom may resemble miniature versions of their boss, while others do not. Thus, the 'Star Spawn of Cthulhu' look like little junior Cthulhus, while Byakhee look nothing like Hastur. Whatever Hastur looks like.
The Great Old Ones are waiting for the Stars to change, in order for
them to reassert their ancient rule over the Earth. They are not so much
malevolent to humanity, as much as simply regarding humans the way we regard
ants. You don't hate the ants as you pour gasoline on their mounds and
ignite it or poison them. They're just in the way of the garden you want
to make. Humans who don't get in the way will be fine. Sure, Civilization
will collapse, but they could care less about that.
Atlach-Nacha superficially resembles a huge and hideous black hairy spider with a strange, remotely-human face and little red eyes rimmed with hair. It lives underground, where it eternally spins its huge web, trying to bridge an unguessably deep chasm and always failing. It will not succeed until the Stars are Right, but it keeps trying. It is worshipped by a cult, to whom it grants power over spiders...when it doesn't get mad at being interrupted and eats them.
Cthugha is a huge ball of flame the size of a stadium. He is attended by hordes of Fire Vampires wherever he goes, and is summoned using flame. Unlike many Cthulhoid critters, he can be summoned at just about any time or place, as long as you have a flame. He then burns everything in sight, then goes home (Fomalhaut) when there's nothing left to burn. He is worshipped by a deranged cult that sees him as a purifier of evil places. He originates from Derleth's writings, and his cult is detailed in The Stars are Right.
Cthulhu is perhaps the archetypical Great Old One. He is huge and sickly green, a giant humanoid with tentacles around his mouth, huge bat like wings (Which may or may not actually work), and a roughly bipedal form with two arms and two legs. He can rearrange his bulk, shrinking one part to enlarge another, but can't create mass for himself from nowhere, nor is he quite fully elastic. He is trapped underwater in his house/tomb in R'yleh, communicating only through dreams with his servants. In 1926, he nearly escaped, and the most sensitive dreamers were flooded with madness and nightmare visions as his rise began. Only a heroic steamer that rammed him, forcing him to discorporate and reform himself, prevented him from escaping before the island sank again. He seems to be mostly indestructible, though an Outer God could likely eat him, and he would likely perish if tossed into the Sun for example. While the Cthulhu Now supplement notes that Cthulhu would survive a nuke, enough nukes MIGHT do the trick. Or just piss him off. He is served by a world-wide cult and by TWO servitor races: The Deep Ones, and the Star Spawn of Cthulhu. Cthulhu was invented by H. P. Lovecraft in the story "The Call of Cthulhu", of course.
Daoloth, the Parter of Veils, dwells in dimensions beyond the three we know, and holds the keys to percieving those dimensions. When he is summoned, it is like parting a series of barriers, for he is always before you, you merely cannot see him. He is one of the best of the Great Old Ones at reducing sanity to rubble, for the visions he brings are more than anyone can bear. He has no cultists, but sorcerors often try to call upon his power. More fools them. The drug Liao parts some, and sometimes all of the veils that hide him from our sight. He originates in Frank Long's writings, but is also detailed in The Stars are Right adventure supplement.
Ghatanothoa is a hideous mass of tentacles, maws, and sensory organs, who is trapped under the ruins of the capital city of the now sunken continent of Mu. Like Cthulhu, he waits for the stars to be right. His most vicious power is his curse. Any who gazes upon him or an accurate image of him (thankfully rare) is in danger of beginning to slowly calcify, until finally he becomes an immobile shell, still sensing his environment, but unable to move. He has no cult for obvious reasons, although the ancient Mu civilization left him sacrifices to keep him down underground where they couldn't see him.
Ghroth, the Herald of the Great Old Ones, is basically a D&D beholder the size of a planet. He looks like a volcano and magma riddled unstable planet, which sometimes opens a single huge yellow eye. He cruises around the depths of space, singing a 'song' which brings madness in its wake. His arrival will herald the stars coming into alignment to release the Great Old Ones to revel upon the face of the world as they did in Elder Days. Ghroth is (I think) from the writings of Frank B. Long. He has no servitor races and no cult. He is the largest of the Great Old Ones.
Hastur the Unspeakable, also known as The King in Yellow, is one of the sources of the legends about how speaking a god or demon's name draws his attention, as those who speak his name attract his attention, though not so badly as Y'golonac. Hastur dwells on Aldeberaan, and can only be summoned into a V shaped formation of great stone menhirs when Aldeberaan is in the sky, at night. So he doesn't drop in too often. Unlike most of them, he also possessed a human avatar, the King in Yellow, created by someone foolish enough to take the 'Unspeakable Oath', which grants them great power, but at the cost of one day becoming his avatar. The King in Yellow spreads nightmares in his wake. It is also the name of a play which can cause madness when read (It is theoretically unstageable, as it would require time travel and the bending of space to follow the directions, plus Hastur shows up at the end.) While Lovecraft made up Hastur's name, he was more thoroughly developed by other authors and by Chaosium's supplements, especially Cthulhu Now and The Stars are Right.
Ithiqua the Windwalker is the source of the legends of the Wendigo and other great cannibal beasts of the frozen north. He resembles a twenty to forty foot tall bigfoot type creature, shrouded in a perpetual blizzard. Able to walk on air, he usually is confined to the polar regions and unlike most of the Great Old Ones, is currently rather active, wandering around eating and freezing people at random. During the Ice Ages, his power waxes as the ice claims more of the planet, while currently, he is fairly weak as Great Old Ones go. He has a small cult, but they're rather ineffective, and is sometimes served by the Lloligor. He has been known to attack people, grab them, haul them thousands of miles, then drop them frozen from a height. Mentioned by Lovecraft, but developed extensively by Derleth.
Rhan-Tegoth is perhaps the most hapless of the Great Old Ones, having become the only Great Old One to be used as a museum exhibit. He is a sort of giant crab/mammal crossbreed, currently sleeping until the Stars are Right or someone feeds him enough food to wake him from his hibernation. While all Great Old Ones are insanity inducing, he causes only mild discomfort when believed to just be a statue, and even awake, he is only frightening rather than sanity-blasting. He was dug up by an archaeologist and sold to a London Museum back in the thirties, and while he eventually roused briefly and ate the proprietor, he is slumbering again and likely to remain so. He first appeared in a story called 'The Museum' ghost-written by Lovecraft, and plays an important role in the gaming adventure 'At Your Door' when a Toronto museum acquires him. He has no cult or servitor race, and probably would eat them if he did.
Shudde M'ell, the Burrower Beneath, is the great progenitor of the Cthonians, and possibly the only Great Old One actually native to Earth. He resmembles an immense, hundreds of feet long squid, with a very thin body and an armored hide. He is capable of inducing a 3.5 Richter scale earthquake on his own, and in combination with his children/worshippers, he could easily level a city. Still, he usually dwells deep beneath the surface, digging tunnels, eating, spawning, and exploring, usually only taking an interest in surface dwellers who either profane the sacred city of his cult, G'harne', in Africa, or those who steal Cthonian Eggs.
Tsathoggua is an obese, bipedal entity with the head of a toad, the ears and fur of a bat, and red, glowing eyes that are always half-closed. He is said to have come originally from Saturn, but now he lives in secret caverns here on Earth. In ancient times, he was worshiped by a race of furry pre-humans, and in later times, he has sometimes dealt with human sorcerors, teaching them Mythos-related spells and rituals in exchange for their service. He is served and guarded by the Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua. The caverns of N'kai are his home, deep beneath Oklahoma. He is not particularly malevolent, except when hungry, and usually ignores humans who come near him unless they are out to make a deal, or he needs a snack. He originates in the "The Mound" by Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop.
Ubbo-Sathala claims to be the source of all life on Earth, but Abhoth and Shub-Niggurath would likely contest this. Like Abhoth, it dwells deep beneath the Earth in a great cave, though it is found in Antarctica. It is similarly a great bubbling pool of flesh, constantly spawning and reabsorbing various life forms, from the mundane to the grotesque. Unlike most Great Old Ones, he has a known origin: He was created by the Elder Things as part of the process of creating Shoggoths around 2 billion years ago.
Y'Golonac is perhaps the source of ancient legends of a race of headless men who had their faces in his chest. He resembles a flabby pale human with no head, and a mouth in the middle of each palm. He is also connected with sexual perversity, and his cult is, well, very very deviant. He is trapped in a labyrinth somewhere, but can try to possess anyone who has ever spoken or read his name. He is connected with the twelfth volume of the Revelations of Glaaki, which if read entirely, essentially invites him to 'come into your life' so to speak.
Yig the Serpent-Man is the patron of the Serpent Men, and basically is a super-powered version of one, with some limited shape shifting (full serpent, human, serpent man, half-man/half-snake monstrosity). Possibly connected to some legends of Medusa. He is relatively harmless as Great Old Ones go, for his cult has never been very strong among humans, and the Serpent Men are mostly dead or degenerate. He may occasionally aid those who protect serpents. Yig's worshippers are immune to snake venom, and can talk to snakes. Those who anger Yig will find themselves attacked by one of his sacred snakes, whose poison kills in about two to three minutes.
Rampaging Major Monsters
Dholes are basically identical to Dune Sandworms, except that most of them dwell in the Dreamlands instead of physical reality, tunneling about in the great abyss of the Dreamlands. They can be summoned into physical reality by an obscure rite that requires hundreds of participants and an incense based on a mineral known as 'Blue John' only found in Peru, and largely controlled by the Mi-Go. In the mid-twenties, the Brotherhood of the Beast founded a cult that was to be tricked into summoning them under twelve major cities and was only narrowly thwarted by a band of investigators (in one of Chaosium's adventures). Dholes themselves originate from Lovecraft's Dreamland stories.
The Hounds of Tindalos are the guardians of time. They walk through strange angles of time and space, stalking those who travel through time, and then erupting into physical reality through physical angles (Such as the corners of rooms). They cannot enter a room with no angles, and those who flee them must take refuge in spherical or strangely curved rooms. When they manifest, first smoke appears, then the head emerges from the smoke, which coalesces into the body. They resemble demonic hounds covered with blue poisonous pus. Their tongues can bore strangely painless, but quite damaging holes in their victims. They are from Frank Long's writings.
Hunting Horrors could also be classed a servitor race, since they are usually summoned by magic or serve some Outer God or Great Old One or a cult of the same. One of Nylarhotep's forms is a great Hunting Horror. They resemble enormous ropy black serpents or worms possessing batlike or umbrella-like wings. Their forms constantly shift and change, twitching and writing, so it is hard to look at them. About 40 feet long, they speak in great harsh voices. They are banished by daylight, and a sufficiently bright burst of light can damage or kill them.
Shantaks are great scaled birds larger than elephants, with the head of a horse. They most commonly dwell in the Dreamlands, where they can be found wild, or serving as mounts for Gods and great sorcerors, but sometimes enter the Physical world. They first appear in "The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath" by Lovecraft. They have an extreme fear of Nightgaunts, and are capable of flying through space. Regardless of whether those riding them can survive such a trip.
Star Vampires originate from the writings of Robert Bloch. "Slowly
but surely, the dim outlines of a Presence came into view; the blood-filled
outlines of that unseen shambler from the stars. It was red and dripping,;
an immensity of pulsing, moving jelly; a scarlet blob with myriad tentacular
trunks that waved and waved. There were suckers on the tips of the appendages,
and these were opening and closing with ghoulish lust. ...The thing was
bloated and obscene; a headless, faceless, eyeless bulk with the ravenous
maw and titanic talons of a starborn monster. The human blood on which
it had fed revealed the hitherto invisible outlines of the feaster." ("The
Shambler from the Stars", by Robert Bloch) Star Vampires are space
travelling, blood consuming invisible monsters that become visible after
they feed. To be more precise, they are perfectly transparent, but the
blood that suffuses them remains visible until digested, and it takes on
their form as it fills them. Their presence is often detectible only by
their tendency to laugh ghoulishly. Some sorcerors tame them with magic
and use them as assassins or steeds through space. Again, they'd better
find a way not to explode in deep vaccuum themselves.
The Elder Races
These are the races that have existed for untold millenia, far longer than humanity. They are sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile, and usually still quite alien. They know how to tap the powers of the Mythos, but have not yet been consumed by them totally, unlike the Servitor Races.
The Elder Things or Old Ones are about eight feet tall with a barrel like torso "with thin horizontal arms radiating spoke-like from a central ring and with vertical knobs or bulbs projecting from the head and base of the barrel. Each of these knobs is the hub off a system of five long, flat, triangularly tapering arms arranged around it like the arms of a starfish. They possess membranous retractible wings, capable of carrying them through space, though these wings degenerated in later years and they lost this ability. They are an amphibious, starfaring race that dwelt upon the earth hundreds of millions of years ago, fighting wars with the minions of Cthulhu, the Flying Polyps, the Great Race, and others. Eventually, they were driven into Antarctica, then defeated by a revolt of their own servitor race, the Shoggoths. The few remaining ones are mostly extinct, but may possess colonies at the bottom of the ocean. Their cities lie abandoned, haunted by their victorious servants. They are featured in "The Dreams in the Witch-House" and star in "At the Mountains of Madness", both by Lovecraft.
Flying Polyps resemble aetherous, half-material clouds, though possessing strange tentacular feet and sucker tubes. While capable of turning invisible, a nausea inducing piping accompanies them everywhere. They have vast power over wind, and came to Earth about six hundred million years ago. They built great basalt cities and colonized Mars and Venus as well. On Earth, they were defeated by the Great Race of Yith, who trapped them underground until 70 million years ago, when they escaped and exterminated the Great Race. They have withdrawn to the underground, and dwell their still beneath the ruins of their cities, which were usurped by the Great Race. They originate from the story "The Shadow out of Time" by H. P. Lovecraft.
The Great Race of Yith have mastered the art of mental projection through time and space, using great machines to take control of individuals or entire species by body-swapping. They came to the Earth by displacing the souls of an iridescent cone-shaped race, about ten feet high and ten feet wide at the base, made up of ridgy, scaly, semi-elastic flesh, around four hundred million years ago. Their arrival turned the tide in the war between this race and its masters, the Flying Polyps, who were crushed by the superior science and technology of the Great Race, as well as its ability to use their machines to suborn key Polyp leaders through body-swapping. Their cone bodies possessed four long 'arms', one of which had a three-eyed head, two of which ended in pincers, and one of which ended with eight greenish antennae/tentacles. They moved like a worm, by expansion and contraction of the base of their cone. They are long lived, living 4 to 5,000 years, and reproduce by spores.
The Great Race has agents throughout the history of the Earth, studying each period. The displaced victims are kept under close watch in the home of the Great Race in the past, where they are taught many things, although they usually are made to forget everything at the end. Professor Nathan Peaslee, who organized one of Miskatonic University's most famous Archaeological expeditions, to Australia, was one of their victims.
The Great Race no longer exists in the present day. About 70 million years ago, they abandoned the cone race and fled to the distant future of the Earth, when humanity has either died out or left, where they took/will take up residence in the body of a race of insect swarms. The Cone Race was then wiped out by the Flying Polyps. They possess a present day cult, which aids their agents in return for access to some of their technology. They originate from the story "The Shadow out of Time" by H. P. Lovecraft.
The Great Race is probably one of the friendliest races to humanity in the entire mythos, along with the Elder Things.
Mi-Go, The Fungi from Yuggoth are a race of space travelling crustaceans, somewhat resembling a cross between a bat, a lobster, and a spider. They communicate by forming flashes of colored light on their heads, although they have invented voice synthesizers controlled by telepathic or nervous system commands, capable of simulating any human language or voice. They are based on Pluto, but not native to it, and conduct mining operations on any solid body in the Solar System. They maintain a small cult that helps to conceal their mining operations on Earth, especially in Tibet, New England, and Peru. They prefer to scare away or trick nosy humans, instead of killing them. They have perfected a method by which they can remove human brains, but preserve the life and mind of the brain, later connecting it to speaking machines or transplanting it into new bodies. They originated in the story 'The Whisperer in Darkness" by Lovecraft.
The Mi-Go are central to the Delta Green Cthulhu RPG supplement, which details them in great detail. Their minds function like highly sophisticated computers, and they lack imagination, which has caused them to study humanity, in order to try to learn how human intuition works, in order to duplicate it. Many reports of 'alien abduction', 'cattle mutilation', and the like can be traced to them in the present day. As the destruction of humanity grows more imminent, they grow more frantic, trying to grasp the elusive secret that eludes them still. They do not understand that they will never grasp intuition by non-intuitive methods, and perhaps are not capable of understanding that.
The 'Greys' of UFOlogy are actually a servitor race created by the Mi-Go, in order to establish a smokescreen for themselves. The Greys are used as go-betweens in dealings with Majestic-12 and to conduct the abductions and experiments that occupy much of the Mi-Go dealings with Earth. The Roswell crash was staged by the Mi-Go as the first step in establishing the Accord (see Majestic-12 writeup). They resemble the aliens from Close Enounters of the Third Kind, Communion, etc.
The Mi-Go possess science which makes human knowledge look pathetic. In the 1990s, some of this information has been shared with the US government under the Accord, the fruits of Mi-Go genetic research on humans and human species. They have undetectable satellites orbiting the Earth, which gave them enough intelligence capabilities to produce the 'Book', which contained the position of every military unit on Earth and its capabilities in the late eighties. They also possess vast magical knowlege, and many serve some Outer God or Great Old One. They are a race thoroughly corrupted by the Mythos.
The Serpent People originate in the writings of Lovecraft, but
were more fully developed by Robert Howard, creator of Conan in his Krull
stories. The Serpent Men dwelt upon Earth in the Permian era and later,
building great cities of basalt and viewing themselves as the masters of
the world. They were great sorcerors and scientists, but changes in climate
which killed off the dinosaurs also sent them into decline, and the last
major Serpent Man civilization was wiped out by King Krull of Lemuria.
The few survivors dwell deep underground, degenerate pygmy versions of
themselves. A few sorcerors of nobler stock survive, preparing for the
day when they shall rise again. Whether this day is more than a final racial
delusion is unknown. They are favoured by Yig and often serve him.
The Servitor Races
The servitor races are usually tightly associated with some Great Old One or Outer God they serve. They are typically faithful to their master, though often also coercible with magic to serve other purposes. They are totally insane by any human standard, and often quite malevolent, except to the appropriate cult, with which they might be quite kind.
Byakhee are the servants of Hastur, dwelling in deep space. They can carry a rider, and often serve as steeds, moving at translight speeds in deep space. They are chitinous, winged humanoids with a head somewhat like an insectoid crow and bony, skinny limbs, tipped with clawed hands. They can stand bipedal, and can drink blood with their beaks. They are quite vulnerable to firearms, and while easily capable of slaying one human in hand to hand combat, can be taken down by several trained humans or by a good shot with a gun.
Cthonians are the servants of Shudde M'ell, essentially smaller versions of him. They begin life as eggs, which resemble a 2 to 4 foot diameter basalt (or other minerals) sphere. Such eggs are often found in the deepest mines, and those who carry them off become targets of Cthonian attack. They are telepathic, and mature adults can use a psionic attack that renders the victim progressively more unwilling and unable to leave their home, culminating over weeks in the target being pinned to one spot until the Cthonians come and eat him or carry him off. They are also capable of inducing earthquakes. Largely immune to small arms fire, tank weapons and nukes can take them down. They can survive temperatures up to 7200 degrees Farenheit, so forget about burning them.
Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath are the children/lovers/food source of Shub-Niggurath, resembling huge mobile banyan trees with eyes, a mouth, and two thick hooved legs. Impaling weapons like guns and rapiers do little damage, but they are vulnerable to fire and bashing weapons. Still, they can easily take dozens of bullets and a dozen solid club blows before they pass out. They are most commonly found in dark forests, serving their mother's cult.
Deep Ones are humanoid fish-men, bipedal in form, scaled, with fish-like heads and clawed and webbed hands and feet. It is possible that they are in fact a sub-race of humanity, for they can breed with ordinary humans, and many of those descended from such breeding eventually turn into Deep Ones, some time between puberty and middle age, while others simply take on the 'Innsmouth look', of bulging eyes, sloping foreheads, webbed fingers, and a greenish tint to the skin. They serve Cthulhu and are led by two enormous Deep Ones, Father Dagon, and Mother Hydra, who are over 20 feet tall. They live in off-shore underwater cities, usually located near some town or island dominated by their human cultist relatives. They appear in the stories "Dagon", "The Call of Cthulhu", and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" by Lovecraft. Polynesia, and the North Massachussetts coast both possess Deep One Cities, although the one off Innsmouth is likely abandoned after being repeatedly torpedoed by submarines in 1927 during the Raid on Innsmouth. In fact, the US Government has Deep Ones on ice, though almost no one knows they exist. While they once responded to summoning spells, they have become more withdrawn by the 1990s, probably due to Delta Green's practice of summoning them, then mowing them down with machine guns. (As detailed in Pagan Press's Delta Green supplement for the Cthulhu RPG, which details the US Government's responses to the various supernatural menaces of the Mythos)
Fire Vampires are basically head to torso sized balls of flame, capable of flying around and burning things. They usually hang out with Cthugha. They dwell on, in, or near Fomalhaut with Cthugha. Invented by Derleth. While immune to guns and hand weapons, they can be injured or slain by water, fire extinguishers, piling dirt on them (Good luck getting them to sit still), etc. They will flee fire trucks.
Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua serve their father/mother, Tsathoggua, oozing around underground, eating things and doing his will. They resemble large lumps of viscous black slime, though they are capable of assuming more coherent forms for specialized purposes.
Lloigor are vortices of power in their natural form, invisible to humans, but capable of taking on a dragon or serpent like form. Many live in or around mountain lakes, and likely are the source of the legends of Nessie, Champie, and the dragon Saint George fought. They are mostly apathetic, and spread despair and hopelessness to those who disturb them. They sometimes serve Ithiqua, when they can actually muster the desire to do anything, and sometimes serve Ghathanoa as well. They can drain the life energies of sleeping people, which they use as a feeding method, and can create silent invisible vortexes which cause their enemies to implode. They also have telekinetic capabilities. They are most common in Britain, especially the Highlands and the vicinity of rings of standing stones.
Nightgaunts are the literally faceless, but not headless minions of Nodens, who dwell in the great Abyss and and other lonely parts of the world, coming out only at night. They usually dwell in the Dreamlands, and seize dreamers who disturb them or offend Nodens, and carry them off to lonely and dangerous places. They resemble faceless, bat winged minotaurs, though with a long tail with a barbed stinger. They are noted for tickling their victims, and first appeared in "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" by Lovecraft.
Rat-Things look like large rats with forepaws artiulated like the hands of a human or ape, and a face eerily reminiscent of human features. They are the result of sorcery, once human cultists, or perhaps victims. Many know spells, but have a hard time casting them for obvious reasons. They appear in "The Rats in the Walls" and "The Dreams in the Witch-House" by Lovecraft.
Shoggoths currently serve no masters but themselves, but were originally created by the Elder Things as servants. They are amorphous masses of fetid black jelly, capable of changing into any form, limited only by inability to change their mass. A few small ones take human form and walk among humans, preying on them and preparing the way for the return of the Great Old Ones. Supremely selfish and egotistic, they usually work alone, not even able to cooperate among themselves. Shoggoths are hard to kill, resistant to impact weapons and able to fix bullet holes with their shape-changing. Fire and electricity hurt them, but not as much as they would a human. Running away is recommended, but dynamite, napalm, and nukes do wonders. First appearance is "At the Mountains of Madness" by H. P. Lovecraft.
Star-Spawn of Cthulhu serve Cthulhu, as one might guess,
and look like little baby Cthulhus. Relatively speaking. They're only a
few dozen feet tall instead of hundreds. They typically lurk underwater,
preparing the day of their master's return. First appearance is "At
the Mountains of Madness" by H. P. Lovecraft.
Minor Monsters and Non-Servitor Races
A variety of creatures fall through the cracks of any effort at a taxonomy of this universe. The following are minor independent races who lack the stature and knowlege of the Elder Races or the power levels of the great monsters.
The Color out of Space starred in the Lovecraft story of the same name, which had the misfortune to be turned into the movie 'Die, Monster, Die.' It may be a species or unique, though the story insinuates that it spawned. The adult form resembles a field of shifting color that can travel through space. In its larval phase, it becomes a jellylike fungus that insinuates itself into the life forms surrounding the area in which it crashed. Plant life becomes riotously huge and grotesque, filled with rot. It slowly sucks the life and mind out of the area where it dwells, usually gathering energy in order to leave. The last two major manifestations occurred in the vicinity of what is now the Arkham City Reservoir ("The Color out of Space" [Lovecraft] and "The Color out of Time" [Can't remember who. Deals with the fact that the first story insinuates one of the creature's children was left behind, but stranded in area with no more life force to be drained...until it becomes a reservoir] ) and rural Kansas (Adventure in Cthulhu Now). The creatures hatch out of actual eggs, which resemble small, oddly spherical meteorites which drift through space to some unfortunate world. The Kansas incident was the result of a Space Shuttle mission finding an egg, which hatched and caused a crash. The creature then escaped and had to be hunted before it could spawn. Only daylight seems to bother this creature, though how it can travel through space with this problem is unknown. It might be vulnerable to lasers or sonics, and is certainly vulnerable to magic.
Dimensional Shamblers first appeared in "The Horror in the Museum" by Lovecraft and Hazel Heald, one of his ghost-written works. They are a race of ape-like, but chitinous beings, capable of travelling between different dimensions, often dragging off hapless victims to another dimension. Many cults use them as assassins, summoning and binding them with magic, but they may act on their own as well. They are tough hand to hand combatants and have some limited armor due to thick skin, but die nicely from guns.
The Dwellers beneath the Sphinx are a strange race of beings whose only known base is in the great tunnels beneath the Great Sphinx in Egypt. They resemble the various gods of Egyptian mythology: human bodies and animal heads. Their true intentions and abilities are unknown, though they chased and terrorized the last known intruder into their territory. They appear in a story ghost-written by Lovecraft for Harry Houdini, based on a dream he had. I think the title is something like "Lost beneath the Pyramids".
Ghouls are a subterranean race of cannibals, who feed on corpses. While capable of human speech, their own language sounds like 'meeping'. Some appear to be degenerate humans who gradually transformed into ghouls by living with them, while others seem to have been born ghouls. They live in great tunnel networks under cemetaries and cities, and can pass between the Dreamlands and the physical world by the secret ways they have discovered, guarded, and made. Ghouls range from highly malevolent to relatively friendly, and may share secrets with those who amuse them. They have little interest as a race in the triumph of the Great Old Ones, though they may aid cults in return for services. They first appear in "Pickman's Model". Noted avant garde artist Richard Upton Pickman eventually abandoned humanity and became a ghoul. Ghouls also figure in several adventures from the Dreamlands Supplement.
Reanimated Corpses feature in several stories. There is a spell capable of resurrecting the long dead, an alchemical process that requires the entire corpse to be present, which is then rendered down to its essential salts and revived by the arcane words. Should any part of the body be missing, the result is a hideous beast or a mindless shell. Any body returned to life by this process is vulnerable to the same words being used backwards to return it to its essential salts. This process appears in "The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward".
A second process appears in the story "Cool Air". Developed by Dr. Munoz, this process requires the replacement of all body fluids with a special chemical which is unfortunately quite vulnerable to breaking down if exposed to heat above 60 degrees farenheit. The subject will not rot, does not need to eat, and can function as an ordinary human although incapable of reproducing. They still need to breathe. Unfortunately, the fluid must be periodically replaced, and human spinal fluid is an important component... It is also used by one of the leaders of the Occult Nazi organization, the Karotechia in the Delta Green Supplement.
The third major source of reanimated corpses is the green fluid invented by Herbert West, capable of restoring any dead animal or human to life. However, the longer ago the death, the more mindlessly destructive the revived being is. The movie Re-Animator adapted the short story, "Herbert West, Reanimator" by Lovecraft.
There remains a fourth source, for sometimes, the dead may return briefly
by their own force of will. "It is verily known by
few, but is nevertheless an attestable fact that the will of a dead sorcerer
hath power upon his own body and can raise it up from the tomb and perform
therewith whatever action was unfulfilled in life." --Al
happens in "The
Thing on the Doorstep", among other stories.
Heroes, Fools, and Sorcerors
This is the category of those among humanity who possess knowledge of the truth, who understand what is really going on. Some turn this knowledge against its sources, fighting fire with fire, using Cthugha to cast out Cthulhu, so to speak. These are the often lonely heroes, the investigators and lonely souls who are usually fortunate to get eaten before they lose their minds.
At the other end of the spectrum are the fools, those who flock to the cults that worship and serve the forces of the Mythos, hoping for reward on the day of return. They are tools at best, and food at worst.
In the middle stand the Sorcerors, who seek to use the Mythos for personal
gain or some idealistic goal. Many degenerate to the level of madness of
the foolish cultists, while others rise to become heroes. Some remain in
the middle, barely clinging to sanity. These ones are especially common
in the Dreamlands, where magic is more powerful and less destructive of
sanity in many cases.
Major Cults and Mythos Dominated Organizations
Many of the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods have loosely organized cults which usually consist of a charismatic leader with strong magical abilities and a group of degenerate lunatics who lurk in the wild places of the world like the Outback, the Amazon, the swamps of Louisiana, and other places. Individual 'congregations' are usually only loosely linked.
Several groups are better organized, however, or possess a long-term
cultural organization and are described here.
The Black Brotherhood
This is a cult of Nylarhotep worshipping assassins who promote terrorism and fear, assassinating key leaders. They have a small but important global presence, and probably killed Kennedy. They only appear in the RPG.
The Cult of the Bloody Tongue
This Kenyan cult was featured in the best of all the RPG adventures, the Masks of Nylarhotep. They serve the big N, protecting his great temple on a mountain in Kenya and murdering lots and lots of people. They wear a red headband with a long tongue-like strip that runs down the middle of the forehead to the bridge of the nose. They also maintain a small base in New York City. They only appear in the RPG.
The Brotherhood of the Beast
This group was featured in a RPG campaign adventure. They seek to unleash the 'Beast', a monster of great power, or possibly a Great Old One, of whom the Great Sphinx is a representation. The Beast sleeps beneath the actual Sphinx and appears briefly in the story Lovecraft ghost-wrote for Houdini, apparently served by the Dwellers beneath the Sphinx. The cult now controls New World Industries, although most of its power elsewhere was shattered when intrepid investigators spoiled their plot to unleash dozens of Dholes and awaken the Beast.
The Kingsport Cult
It remains unclear as to who this cult serves, but it bases itself in the caverns beneath a house in Kingsport. It seems to be an ancestral cult with lore passed down through the generations, and like many such cults, the knowledge has become inherent, though often latent, in the bloodline itself. It appears in "The Festival" by Lovecraft.
New World Industries
This company is the Cthulhu universe's answer to Pentex. It is entirely a 'fanfic' organization, not appearing in the source material, but playing an important role in several of the RPG adventures. It continues to exist from the late nineteenth century to the present day and beyond. New World Industries is actually the holding company for a wide variety of manufacturing concerns who are themselves relatively innocuous. The profits are directed to their HQ in the Bahamas and used to fund a variety of mythos activities.
Starry Wisdom is a corrupted Christian church which has become a New Age style cult by the 1990s, although it traces its origins from the eighteenth century. It worships Nylarhotep and Cthulhu, and Innsmouth had one of its original chapels. It appears in "The Shadow over Innsmouth" and "The Haunter in the Darkness", both by Lovecraft.
The Tcho-Tchos are a degenerate, Mythos serving, cannibalistic race of short (4-5.25 foot) humans from central and south-east asia. They are a wretched race of primitives in the 1920s, but by the 1990s are adapting to the modern world and becoming yet another corrosive force. Many fled Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s as the Chinese and Vietnamese attempted to exterminate them. They are mentioned in many Lovecraft stories, but most of the actual development of their culture has taken place in the RPG.
The Witch Cult
In Lovecraft's universe, there was a real witch cult and it served Nylarhotep.
Think stereotypical quasi-Puritan witches. They appear in "The
Dreams in the Witch House" by Lovecraft.
Sorcerors and others who turn the Mythos to their own purposes
Sorcerors form no orders or organizations and tend to be lone, somewhat
crazed individuals who have turned the dark powers of the mythos to their
own purposes. They are rare in Lovecraft's writing, although many of the
classic tomes of the Mythos can be traced to them. However, the RPG has
provided two organizations of magically inclined non-Mythos servants, and
a third organization, best described as patsies of the Mi-Go, but not mythos
controlled. These three groups are briefly sketched below.
The Fate is a group of sorcerors who rent out their powers to organized crime in New York City. They do not control the mobs, but have great influence over them. They steal information, spy, and kill for payment, using monsters and spells to do their work. They appear in Delta Green.
This was the Nazi occult research organization during the thirties and World War II. They were hunted down and wiped out by Delta Green and the Mossad after World War II, but a small group escaped to South America and has rebuilt itself somewhat by the 1990s, though it lost most of its lore to 'Operation Werewolf', the Delta Green hunt for its operatives in the last year of the war and the years following. The Karotechia once possessed the knowlege to summon Azathoth, but lost it twice. (The first time, Azathoth killed them all. The second time, Delta Green agents and Mossad wiped out everyone who knew the rite). One of its leaders has duplicated Dr. Munoz' method for artificially lengthening life or even reviving the briefly dead. They have also duplicated the alchemical method. They appear in Delta Green.
Like the above groups, they appear in Delta Green. Unlike them,
they are an arm of the US government. They were created to study the wreckage
found at Roswell, and in 1980, the Mi-Go contacted them through the Greys
and created the Accord. Majestic-12 gets Grey technology and science in
return for being allowed to abduct and experiment on 'some US citizens
and animals'. In practice, the Greys take as many experimental subjects
as they want and generally carry on as they like while Majestic-12 covers
it all up in return for technology and genetic information. Majestic-12
has advanced weaponry, powerful mind-altering technology and drugs, and
the ability to cure or cause many genetic disorders. The current president
doesn't even know they exist because they haven't trusted a president since
Reagan, and they only revealed they exist to him in order to get the authority
to create the Accord. Majestic-12 feuds with Delta Green constantly and
is torn by internal power struggles, both on personal grounds and on the
issue of whether the Accord is ultimately a good idea. They are rather
like a more evil version of the Men in Black.
Heroes, Investigators, and Scholars
Lovecraft's heroes were usually lonely scholars or very small bands of the same, but the RPG has spawned several organizations that have some knowledge of the Mythos and use that information to fight it. A few noted heroes and groups are laid out here.
Dr. Henry Armitage
Dr. Armitage is a medievalist and the head librarian of Miskatonic University. Responsible for building up the Special Collection, after the 'Dunwich Horror' incident, he founded the Miskatonic Society and began the process of purging that same collection of dangerous Mythos texts, removing them to a hidden vault. He knows the secret of the Powder of Ibn Ghazi, capable of rendering invisible things visible, and the secret of the Elder Sign.
While Delta Green appears under its own name only in the Delta Green RPG supplement, its history is rooted in several of Lovecraft's stories. It traces its origin to the Federal agents and soldiers who raided and destroyed Innsmouth and the off-shore Deep One city in 1927, which first presented the government with evidence of the Mythos. While the depression hampered any immediate response, in World War II, Delta Green was created to battle Hitler's occult experiments, and persisted as a multi-agency task force until the Vietnam war when a disaster involving the Tcho-Tchos in Southeast Asia led to it being 'shut down'. It remains in existence as an informal conspiracy for light, secretly organizing federal assaults on various cults and other mythos forces into the 1990s, though it feuds constantly with Majestic-12, who its members believe have sold out to the Mythos.
Police Inspector John Raymond Legrasse
This Louisiana police officer led the 1908 raid that broke up the cult of Cthulhu in Louisiana in 1908. He appears in the story 'The Call of Cthulhu' itself.
Miskatonic University and the Miskatonic Society
Miskatonic University exists in Arkham, Mass. It was founded as a theological school by the Puritans in the late seventeenth century and has since become a leading liberal-arts school, though not on the same level as the Ivy League schools, in part because Arkham is just too creepy. The University has no official cognizance of the Mythos, but possesses one of a handful of copies of the Latin translation of the Necronomicon and several other Mythos texts. Miskatonic University seems to attract strange events and people, and many Lovecraft stories hinge around it. Herbert West ("Herbert West, Re-Animator") studied medicine here, Charles Dexter Ward ("The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward") and Randolph Carter ("The Testimony of Randolph Carter", "The Unnameable", "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath", "The Silver Key", "Beyond the Gate of the Silver Key") both studied here, as did Justin Geoffrey ("The Thing on the Doorstep"). Professor Nathaniel Winsgate Peaslee ("The Shadow out of Time"), who spent 1908-1913 as the victim of a Great Race bodyswap across time, mounted his archaeological expedition to Australia in 1925 that found a Great Race city from Miskatonic. Another expedition found a city of the Elder Things in Antarctica in the early 1930s ("At the Mountains of Madness"). Professor Albert Wilmarth from Miskatonic University stumbled upon a Mi-Go operation in the backwoods of Vermont ("The Whisperer in Darkness"). Professors Armitage, Rice, and Morgan mounted the expedition that slew the Dunwich Horror on Saturday, the 15th of September, 1928 ("The Dunwich Horror").
It was the latter incident which led to the founding of the Miskatonic Society (Detailed in Gurps Cthulhupunk, an RPG supplement for Cthulhu adventures in the 2030s for the GURPS RPG). The Miskatonic Society seeks to track down and either confiscate or destroy all copies of Mythos texts, in order to deny them to cultists. They possess their own ISP by the 1990s, nicknamed Whatleynet, which is open only to society members and possesses a lot of secret lore. They tend to be more students than battlers of the mythos, acting mainly to deal with immediate threats or to seize newly discovered copies of tomes before they can fall into the wrong hands. By the 1990s, every major university has a member, who quietly causes books carrying mythos knowledge to disappear off the shelves and into safe hands. By the 2030s, they have riddled the Internet with viruses that seek out keywords and destroy any file that contains them, in the effort to keep the Necronomicon, Unausprechlichten Kulten, and other mythos tomes from mass distribution. They also act to influence the publishing industry, causing accidents or arranging for unstoppable printings to be corrupted with meaningless lore that has neither power nor danger. Not every 'Necronomicon in Paperback' that was written in three days by a stoned hack is their work, but they've encouraged the trend.
Professor Nathaniel Winsgate Peaslee
Originally a professor of Mathematics, he was possessed by a member of the Great Race of Yith from 1908 to 1913, and suffered amnesia of the corresponding time he spent 200 million years in the past among the Great Race of Yith. His buried memories slowly began to surface, driving him into Archaeology, and leading to his disastrous expedition to Australia in 1925, which was attacked by the Flying Polyps. He survived and continued to teach at Miskatonic into the 1940s.
Dr. Laban Shrewsbury
Dr. Shrewsbury appears in Derleth's writings, especially
'The Trail of Cthulhu'. He is a skilled sorceror and scholar of
history and the occult, making use of Mythos sorcery to battle the plots
of the mythos. He knows the secrets of Space Mead, and frequently uses
Byakhees for travel. He also knows how to make Elder Signs and many secrets
of the Mythos cults.
The Powers of the Mythos
"Let he who hunts monsters beware, for when you
gaze into the Abyss, the Abyss also gazes into you."
The creatures of the mythos wield a mixture of magic and advanced technology,
which often obeys Clark's law (about sufficiently advanced magic and technology
being indistinguishable). The key element binding them together is the
them that what they do is simply the application of principles of nature
beyond those known or understood by humanity. Whether magical or technological,
the powers of the mythos are damaging to human sanity because it exposes
how human rationality is the result of ignorance rather than knowledge,
and exposes the insignificance of humanity and the environment in which
we flourish in the cosmic scheme of things.
The Cthulhu stories are full of examples of sorcery, too many to list
everyone, so only a few typical types of Cthulhu magic will be discussed
Alchemical and other 'Scientific' magic.
Some mythos magic seems like advanced science. This includes:
-------- dimensional, spatial, and temporal gates by means of geometry and mathematics or machines ("The Dreams in the Witch House" for the former, "The Shadow out of Time" for the latter),
-------- alchemical methods capable of revealing invisible things (The Powder of Ibn Ghazi, used in "the Dunwich Horror"), reviving the dead (seen in "Herbert West, Re-Animator", "Cool Air", and "The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward" with three different methods), providing visions of other dimensions by chemical means or mechanical (the drug Liao, the machine from "From Beyond"), and preparing a body to survive space travel in suspended animation (Space Mead, from Derleth's stories about Laban Shrewsbury)
-------- The advanced science of the Elder Races: Great Race Lightning Guns and mental Time Travel technology, Mi-Go brain jars and speaking boxes, etc.
-------- Servitor races created through genetic experiments: The Greys,
the Shoggoths, etc.
Other magic is blatantly magical. This includes:
Summoning and Binding Magic. This is used to summon and bind various
monsters, servitor races, and even the Outer Gods. (Well, you can't bind
the Outer Gods to your will, but you CAN summon them. Hope you know what
they want). This often involves a sacrifice of some kind, and many beings
can only be summoned at specific times.
Mind-effecting magic. This is the other most commonly blatantly magical
magic. This includes body-swapping ("The Strange Case of Charles Dexter
Ward"), possession, or the warping of minds towards greater insanity. The
Cthonian mental abilities fall into this category.
Magic comes from a variety of sources, but most commonly is passed down
by personal instruction, or pieced together from the various tomes of lore
that contain many secrets of the Cthulhu Mythos. These include:
The Necronomicon (The Book of the Names of the
Dead), aka Al Azif
The Necronomicon is the archetypical Mythos text, written by the mad
Arab Abd al-Azrad (Servant of the Destroyer, literally), around 730 AD.
It contains massive amounts of lore, and at least one spell for summoning
Yog-Sothoth, as well as the secret of the Powder of Ibn Ghazi.
All Arabic copies are believed destroyed, but four major translations exist:
---Greek, 950 AD, Theodoras Philetas. Mass printed in folio in 1501, most copies burnt by the Catholic Church.
---Latin, 1228 AD, Olaus Wormius. Exists in mass printed folios from the fifteenth and seventeenth century. Miskatonic University has the one surviving copy of the first printing, and only four second edition printings are known to survive.
--English, 1586 AD, Dr. John Dee. Dee translated from the Greek, but censored it. Exists in three, possibly more manuscript editions.
--The Sussex Manuscript, English, 1597 AD, Baron Frederic. This
is an amateur translation, badly edited, from the Latin. It is an octavo
Unausprechlichen Kulten ("Nameless/Unspeakable Cults")
Written in 1839 by Friedrich Wilheim von Junzt in 1839, it describes
a wide variety of cults, many with Mythos connections. Contains rites for
summoning several Outer Gods and many monsters. Printed in a quarto edition
in Germany. Printed in England in 1845 in an unathorized octavo edition.
Printed in 1909 in the US by Golden Goblin Press in a badly translated,
The Book of Eibon
This book of sorcery contains many spells which actually only work now
in the Dreamlands. Eibon was allegedly a Hyperborean sorceror. Latin, French,
and English translations exist. No Mass printings, only rare manuscripts.
Cultes Des Goules (Ghoul Cult)
All about ghouls. Lovecraft named the author as the Comte d'Erlette,
as a joke on the name of August Derleth, a correspondent of his and later
author of many stories connected to the Mythos.
De Vermis Mysteriis (Mysteries of the Worm)
1542, Ludvig Prinn. Prinn discusses his life as a sorceror. Many spells,
including the rites for summoning Cthugha and Fire Vampires. Published
in a folio and supressed by the Church.
A collection of allegedly pre-historic manuscripts bound together and
somehow translated in the fifteenth century. Exists only in manuscript
form. Some of the RPG adventures connect it with the Serpent Men, and it
contains prophecies they believe will eventually be fulfilled of the revival
of their race.
This city in north-eastern Massachusetts is home to Miskatonic University
and to a variety of strange activities in too many Mythos stories to list.
It is the county seat and sits on the Miskatonic river.
More than just a place, the Dreamlands are an entire universe, much
of it brighter and shinier than the 'material world', and the rest far
more nightmarish. Most humans do not go there in their dreams, but those
of great creativity, or who learn the way can enter the Dreamlands in their
sleep and dream entire nations into existence. Magic is much more powerful
here, and D&D style sorcery is much more common. The Elder Gods dwell
here, and so does Nylarhotep part of the time, working his plots to wreck
this world as well. Technologically, it is frozen in the late Middle Ages
and early Renaissance. Many strange and wonderful races exist here.
This world is flat, and you CAN sail off the edge. By treating your
sails with Space Mead, you can sail to the moon and the stars, otherwise,
you plummet forever. No one has returned to report whether or not a turtle
is carrying it.
Many of Lovecraft's early stories are set here, including "The Cats
of Ulthar", "The Doom that Came to Sarnath", "The White Ship", "Hypnos",
"Polaris", and the penultimate Dreamlands story, "The Dream Quest of Unknown
Dunwich is a typical Lovecraftian backwoods, semi-degenerate town, home
to the Whatley family, a group of cultists and sorcerors featured in "The
Carcosa is a city ruled over by Hastur, sitting by the shores of a stagnant
lake (Hali) on a planet orbiting Aldeberan. The play "The King in Yellow"
is set here.
Kingsport is the port at the mouth of the Miskatonic river, a sleepy
town that is the site of "The Festival" and "The Terrible Old Man".
This Tibetan plateau is one of the homelands of the Tcho-Tchos. It exists
simulatenously in the Dreamlands and in the material world. It is Leng,
home to the Men from Leng in the Dreamlands, and Tsang in the material
The Mountains of Madness
This Antarctic mountain range is home to a ruined city of the Elder
Things, still occupied by Shoggoths, discovered by a Miskatonic University
expedition in the 1930s.
This huge collection of caverns is under Oklahoma and parts of the bordering
states. Tsathoggua lives deep down within it.
This sunken island in the South Pacific is covered with cyclopean ruins
of black and green stone. It is home to sleeping Cthulhu, and currently
rests on the ocean bottom until the stars are right.
This is Pluto, home of the Mi-Go.
Source Materials and Thanks
Most of Lovecraft's stories are periodically reprinted, and should be
available in collections or hopefully can be found in a second hand bookstore.
The following is a very incomplete listing of major works of the Cthulhu
Mythos by Lovecraft by title. (The actual collections usually list a major
story in the title, but not all the ones in the collections)
The Fungi From Yuggoth (Poetry)
--Beyond the Gate of the Silver Key
--The Cats of Ulthar
--The Doom that Came to Sarnath
--The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
--The Silver Key
--The White Ship
The 'Fantasy' Mythos stories
The Call of Cthulhu
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Curse of Yig
The Dunwich Horror
The Haunter of the Dark
Herbert West, Re-animator
The Horror at Red Hook
The Horror in the Museum (A collaboration)
The Invisible Monster
The Lurking Fear
The Mound (A collaboration)
Out of the Eons
The Rats in the Walls
The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Shunned House
The Testimony of Randolph Carter
The Thing at the Doorstep
The story he did based on one of Houdini's dreams, whose name I always forget. Something like 'Under the Pyramids'
The 'Science-Fictional' Mythos stories
At the Mountains of Madness
The Colour out of Space
The Dreams in the Witch House
The Shadow out of Time
The Whisperer in Darkness
Other Authors contributing to the Mythos:
Robert E. Howard (Creator of Conan, Kull the Conqueror, and Solomon Kane the Witch Hunter)
Steven King (In a short story collected in one of his collections. Can't remember the name)
Frank Belknap Long
RPG Supplements of Note (IMO, of course. This is not
an exhaustive listing)
At Your Door. This adventure is for Cthulhu adventures in the 1990s what Masks of Nylarhotep is for the twenties and thirties. The defining adventure, showing how the Mythos operates in the modern world. A research scientist is missing after smuggling a bizarre life form out of a secret lab at a bioresearch company that is supposed to be conducting research for an environmental activism organization, Full Wilderness. The Pcs are hired to investigate and begin an investigation which culminates in a demonstration of how much damage modern weaponry can do to Mythos creatures, and how limited it is at the same time. Especially good because it demonstrates the many ways in which contact with the Mythos brings corruption and degeneration in its wake. Meet a modern messiah, the Brotherhood of Forks, mad scientists, cultists, a woman who has the ultimate steroid, AND Mr. Shiny.
H. P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands. A loving rendition of the universe of the Dreamlands, including a bestiary, the magic of the Dreamlands, the art of Dreaming, and several good adventures from heroic adventure to bittersweet to a journey into nightmare.
The Fungi from Yuggoth: Desperate Adventures against the Brotherhood. This adventure introduces New World Enterprises and the Brotherhood of the Beast as you strive to prevent the fulfilment of an ancient dark prophecy, spoken in 1733 BC, recorded in Al Azif, and coming to pass now.
Horror on the Orient Express. One of the most brilliantly done linear adventures I've ever seen. There isn't much room for wandering off course here, but this is a strength, rather than a flaw, unlike in many adventures. The framework of the adventure is a ride the length of the Orient Express, from London to Constantinople and back, in search of the parts of an ancient artifact, The Sedefkar Simulacrum. Each piece requires a stop in one of the major cities along the line to recover it, followed by a mad dash back to London with only 100 hours to get there or die trying. And how can you NOT like an adventure with Baba Yaga? It even provides a good hook to get the Pcs into the adventure, even though it is one of the most used Cthulhu adventure hooks of all time, but makes a good twist on the adventure hook.
Masks of Nylarhotep. THE primal Cthulhu RPG adventure. All bow and hail Larry DiTillo and its other authors. Fight the cults of Nylarhotep on four continents (Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa) in the original printing, and on Australia too in the recent expanded edition. This is an awesomely epic adventure, simultaneously free form and well-plotted, a truly brilliant piece of work. In my opinion, one of the five best RPG adventures of all time. If you own only one Cthulhu adventure, make it this one!
Shadows of Yog-Sothoth. Details the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight. Despite a weak beginning (a FREQUENT problem in Cthulhu adventures, I've found), and a somewhat strait-jacketed plot (While each individual scenario has room to move, the PCs get led by the nose too much), and a few deathtraps that can be a little too deadly, this is still a classic and the archetype for the campaign adventures to come. Where else do you get to face off with the Big C himself?
Spawn of Azathoth, Herald of the End of Time. Learn the truth
about Rasputin and Tunguska. Meet Eibon. Save humanity from a method of
saving it that would be worse than it not being saved at all.
Delta Green. The second best Cthulhu supplement of all time. X-Files and the modern UFO movement meet Cthulhu. Learn the true origin of the Greys and what the Mi-Go REALLY want. Normally, investigators have to be careful to keep the law out of their hair. Now, you ARE the law. Doesn't help much, does it? This would easily qualify for the best supplement, but the main adventures aren't quite up to the level of the background material and don't use too much of it. The parody of Scientology is well worth the price of admission, though.
Devil's Children. While this adventure has several flaws as an
adventure, being far too predestined for the tastes of myself and likely
many players, some of this is due to its origin as a tournament adventure,
and the rest is quite deliberate by the author. This is an adventure about
destiny and damnation and the inescapability of both. It also touches quite
well on several major mythos themes. Learn the Truth behind the Salem Witch
Trials. The ending is quite chilling, but be ready for your players to
kick you in the head. Hard.
Steve Jackson Games
GURPS CthulhuPunk. This supplement melds Cyberpunk and the Cthulhu
Mythos very well, exploring the potential for Cthulhoid horror in the 2030s.
It carefully answers several important questions like: Can I find the Necronomicon
on the Internet? Why haven't all the hidden places of the Mythos come to
light by 2030? What are the forces of the Mythos up to? What REALLY happened
to the inhabitants of Australia? The Miskatonic Society makes a good, logical
addition to the Mythos in any period, since its origins trace back to 1928.
My thanks goes out to all the authors who have contributed to the Mythos
and brought me hours of reading pleasure, and the same to all the authors
of the RPG adventures I have been enjoying since 1986. And my thanks as
well to all those I've tormented in those adventures over the years, especially
Jacob "Sadra O' Conner" Schauer, Matt Holder, Clay Carlow, and Kenneth
"Steven 'Montana' Jones" Cambell, Sidney "Sid Vicious" Jones, Justin "Dr.
Rex Fielding" Pilling, Ben Pilling, Mike "Nick Hatchett" Hamnes, Jason
Spivey, Anita Tiff, Laurie Mahagan, and Sean.
"This belongs in a museum!"--Dr. Steven "Montana" Jones
"This belongs in a BLAST FURNACE!" --Sadra O'Conner
--A discussion on what to do with a bronze Buddha that concealed a golden Cthulhu statue.