Thursday, October 3, 2013

Favourite Monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos

As October rolls around my thoughts turn to Halloween.  This time last year, I was publishing EPOCH, my game of survival horror, and I’ll be posting here shortly about my thoughts on being a micro-publisher and publishing games one year on.  For now, to get warmed up for Halloween, let’s look at my favourite monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos.

There are many monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos – some derived directly from the work of Lovecraft, and others drawn from other sources. Indeed the venerable Ken Hite tells us there are 38 monsters listed in the Call of Cthulhu core rulebook, and a further 98 listed in the Malleus Monstrorum.

I’ve used many of these monsters when running games, and more besides, as many Call of Cthulhu scenarios like to introduce unique monsters of their own.  However, over the years I’ve come to be fond of some, more than others.

In my view a truly great Cthulhu Mythos monster has the ability to be terrifying, (not just in terms of mechanical San loss for the investigators, but also in the way in which it is encountered) and balances this either with either a mortality that puts it on a par with an armed human, or, it can be outrun if the investigators take to their heels.  Here are my top 5 creatures of the Cthulhu Mythos:

1. Bhyakee: A great stalwart of the game, the insectoid, winged Bhyakee can be used to stalk its prey (for example see ‘A Happy Family’ in Adventures in Arkham Country),  and can be a fearsome opponent for lightly armed investigators.  Even better, Bhyakee can be summoned and bound by investigators willing to plunge into the fearful tomes of the Mythos, serving as a potential assassin, or even a means of transport.

2. Ghouls: Ghouls are great.  They lurk beneath cities and towns, and sometimes even infiltrate society.  They are not necessarily deadly, but when encountered en-masse, or in their natural environment, they can be terrifying.  In addition they have a link to the underworld of the Dreamlands, livening any expedition into a ghoul warrens.  Then, of course, there’s that potential for human fascination and even devolution (see: Pickman’s Model).

3. Insects from Shaggi: A monster which hides inside people is a terrific idea.  There are several mythos monsters that do this, but these are my favourites.  Forcing their victims to perform terrible acts, any monster which promotes trepanation must be pretty terrible.  Several scenarios have made great use of these monsters, but my favourite remains Hobo Quest by Joseph Donaghue, which features in the Cthulhu Masters 05 monograph.

4. Dimensional Shambler:  A monster which can appear anywhere, and which drags its victims into another dimension?  Fantastic!  The shambler is great for stalking investigators and is a versatile foe, which emphasises the supernatural nature of the Mythos threat.

5. Shoggoth, what’s not to like about a bubbling, acidic creature that rolls like a monstrous freight train?  Okay, they're hunting cry is a little fruity, and because of their lethality the Shoggoth is often featured at the conclusion of scenarios, and can seem overpowering to players.  However, if you can manage some foreshadowing, and construct an environment which promotes investigator options, encounters need not be fatal. Surviving an encounter with a Shoggoth is a true badge of honour for any investigator.

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