A while back there was a certain amount of talk on this journal about the possibility of using the world of my fantasy novel series The Weird of Hali as the setting for a RPG. I'm pleased to be able to say that at this point it's not just talk. I got a polite no thank you from Chaosium, the company that owns the Call of Cthulhu game -- no surprises there, but I thought it was reasonable to talk to them first. Apparently the stars are right, though; maybe a week later, I was contacted by a smaller RPG firm that's interested, and so Weird of Hali: Roleplaying the Other Side of the Cthulhu Mythos is now under development.
The company in question has a house system -- they're one of several firms that's licensed the Mythras fantasy RPG system, which cognoscenti will know was originally going to be the 6th edition of Runequest. Under the terms of the license, I can't change the rules or mechanics of the basic Mythras Imperative system, but I can add additional rules to my heart's content. I don't mind the restriction, as the rules as given are straightforward and intuitive to use -- you can download a set from this page if you're interested -- but the question of what to add is on my mind, and I figured I'd ask my readers for help here.
If you've used Mythras, Runequest 6th edition, or any of the burgeoning family of d100 roleplaying games -- or for that matter, if you've done other kinds of roleplaying games and have things you especially love and hate about rulebooks for RPGs -- what would you like to see in a Weird of Hali RPG? The game will be set in the modern world, and characters will start out utterly clueless about the Great Old Ones, the elder races, the real history of the world, and especially about a secret and powerful organization nobody is willing to talk about -- an organization that seeks to impose its bloodstained utopian fantasies on the world once and for all, and will stop at nothing to get its way.
As your characters flee for their lives across the witch-haunted Massachusetts landscape, or venture into a vast and sinister house that one of them has just inherited from a mysterious great-uncle, or head into the swamps of tidewater North Carolina looking for a graveyard where legend has it that a stair leads down to unknown things, or jump down from a helicopter near a research station in Greenland where strange things have been happening...what do you want the rules to do for you? What skills should your characters be able to have, what problems in the rulebooks need to be patched, what really cool things did a GM you know add to that really memorable Runequest game two years ago? Tentacular minds want to know...
Some of the additional details should be fairly clear to those who've read the first two volumes of The Weird of Hali; the others will become a little less opaque as the story proceeds.
These are the Great Old Ones who play central roles in The Weird of Hali and its tentacular kindred. (Yes, I know, some of these are considered Outer Gods or Elder Gods in other versions of the mythos, but not here.) There are other Great Old Ones in my fictional world—several hundred active on Earth, and unimaginably many in the cosmos as a whole—but this is the cast of divine characters readers of the series will want to have in mind.
The eldest of the Great Old Ones, a bubbling primordial chaos inhabiting a realm of being incomprehensible to humans. Does not manifest on Earth except under very special conditions, but forms the backdrop to the entire cosmos. Servitors: immense lumbering flute-playing beings of indescribable shape. Worshiped by: some witches. Form usually encountered: nothing you can possibly imagine.
The Gate and the Guardian of the Gate, a being who spans all space and time; the father, grandfather, or great-grandfather of most of the other Great Old Ones on Earth. Servitors: none. Worshiped by: some sorcerers, the Starry Wisdom church, the Tcho-Tchos. Form usually encountered: floating luminous spheres that reflect the entire universe.
(Yeah, I know, Lovecraft spelled it differently, but then he could never miss a chance to slip in a racial slur.) The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, the great mother goddess of Earth, she can also manifest as the Black Ram with a Thousand Ewes. Most of the Great Old Ones are her offspring or descendants. Servitors: the Dark Young of Shub-Ne’hurrath, massive treelike beings with heavy legs below their huge bodies, and a forest of tentacles above; also the Thousand Young, who are humans or other intelligent beings strangely reshaped by Her power. Worshiped by: pretty much everybody. Forms usually encountered: often puts on the appearance of an old woman, but may also be seen as a gigantic faunlike shape, female, with horns and shaggy hips and legs.
The Lord of the Great Deep, he is not strictly speaking present on the Earth, but rules all movement to and from other realms of being, including the Dreamlands. Servitors: Night-gaunts. Worshiped by: some sorcerers, families descended from the people of drowned Poseidonis. Form usually encountered: a vast midnight-black male form, hoary and bearded, with eyes like moons.
The high priest of the Great Old Ones, the only one among them capable of invoking those powers as far beyond the Great Old Ones as they are beyond human beings, Cthulhu lies, “dead yet dreaming,” in his temple-tomb in drowned R’lyeh until the stars are right. Servitors: Cthulhu-spawn, who are wingless but otherwise resemble him, and Deep Ones, who are aquatic hominids closely related to humans. Worshiped by: the Deep Ones, the Esoteric Order of Dagon, families descended from the people of drowned Poseidonis, the Starry Wisdom church, the Tcho-Tchos. Form usually encountered: he hasn’t been encountered awake since the end of the Cretaceous period, but when he rises from the sea at last, he will be a titanic bipedal figure with great dragonlike wings, many eyes, and tentacles descending from the lower half of his face.
The Wind-Walker, lord of the world’s frozen places, Ithaqua is the god of limits; he is half-brother to Cthulhu and full brother to Hastur. He strides through the air and is accompanied by tremendous cold. Servitors: the gnophkehs, monstrous six-limbed hunters of the frozen wastes. Worshiped by: nobody. You respect Ithaqua, but you don’t invoke him. Form usually encountered: a gigantic, gaunt, naked human figure with flowing white hair and a long white beard, most often seen stalking through the sky; his eyes burn red like coals.
The King in Yellow, ruler of the Great Old Ones on Earth, he dwells in the City of the Pyramids in far Carcosa. His face has been hidden behind the Pallid Mask for sixty-five million years. The Yellow Sign is his emblem. Servitors: the Fellowship of the Yellow Sign, an order of humans and other intelligent beings who are sworn to his service. Worshiped by: the Esoteric Order of Dagon, families descended from the people of drowned Poseidonis, the Starry Wisdom church, the Tcho-Tchos. Form usually encountered: tall and thin, pallid white in color, with flowing white hair. His face is covered by a mask the color of ivory; his hands have six fingers each; he wears tattered and scalloped robes of yellow.
The Lady of the Beasts, she was worshiped as an elk goddess in old Hyperborea and has special rulership over all mammals. A daughter of Shub-Ne’hurrath by Ithaqua. Servitors: all wild animals. Worshiped by: families descended from the people of drowned Poseidonis, the Starry Wisdom church. Forms usually encountered: a winged elk, or a young woman with elk’s antlers. She can also take human forms when this is convenient.
The soul and mighty messenger of the Great Old Ones, the One in Black is coeval with Azathoth and Yog-Sothoth. He is the Black Man of witchcraft lore, the crossroads devil of blues legend, and the messenger of the gods revered in many ancient faiths. Servitors: witches, human cultists, silent black dogs who appear and disappear as he wills. All animals obey him. Worshiped by: everyone who reveres any of the Great Old Ones. Forms usually encountered: a very tall man of Egyptian appearance, dressed in a long black coat and a broad-brimmed black hat. In the Starry Wisdom church, he also takes the form of the Watcher in Darkness, a bat-winged horror with a three-lobed blazing eye.
The god of sorcerers and lord of voor (the life force), Tsathoggua is the oldest of the Great Old Ones on Earth. He dwells far underground and works mostly through his servitors, and through human sorcerers that venerate him. Some of his human worshipers call him Saint Toad. Servitors: voormis, who are prehuman hominids who dwell underground, and the Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua, pools of fluid black shapelessness that eat Tsathoggua’s enemies. (According to the Pnakotic Manuscript, shoggoths were created by the Elder Things in imitation of the Formless Spawn.) Worshiped by: families descended from the people of drowned Poseidonis, the Starry Wisdom church, the Tcho-Tchos. Form usually encountered: an odd, huge, somnolent form, rather like a toad, something like a bat, a little like a sloth, with glowing red eyes usually half-closed.
The youngest of the Great Old Ones on Earth, just nine million years old and so little more than a hatchling, Phauz is the daughter of Shub-Ne’hurrath by Hastur. She will be Queen of the Great Old Ones on Earth in the far future, when Hastur and Cthulhu have both withdrawn into contemplation. Her emblem in Hyperborean times was a woman-breasted cat. She is the mistress of cats; what any cat anywhere in the world knows, she knows. Servitors: cats. Worshiped by: families descended from the people of drowned Poseidonis, witches. Forms usually encountered: a cat, or a cat lady of indeterminate age.
Alongside the Great Old Ones stands another being who is not one of them, and so doesn't have a spot on the diagram, but has similar powers and characteristics. Back in the early Triassic, the Elder Things—a race of extraterrestrial critters who settled what is now Antarctica and several continents then nearby—set out to create a being comparable to the Great Old Ones but under their control. Their work succeeded rather too well, and the resulting entity—Nyogtha, The Thing That Should Not Be—rebelled against them. While he was defeated, he could not be reduced to subservience, and he fled into the deep places of the Earth. There he conspired with the shoggoths, the slave species the Elder Things made in imitation of the Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua, who had attempted unsuccessfully to win their freedom in the late Permian. The result of that conspiracy was the total extermination of the Elder Things. (If this suggests to you that Nyogtha is not an entity to mess with, why, yes, that's what it suggests to me, too.) Nyogtha remains active on Earth, and his pact with the shoggoths remains firm, so he can be added to the list above to make an even dozen:
NyogthaKnown as The Thing That Should Not Be—the Elder Things called him that, and he adopted the title as a gesture of defiance—and the Dweller in Darkness, Nyogtha lurks in the deep places of the Earth and pursues intricately plotted plans of his own. Servitors: shoggoths. Worshiped by: shoggoths, and also small cults of human witches. Form usually encountered: sheer impenetrable blackness.
Epic fantasy with tentacles? You bet. H.P. Lovecraft, who is a large part of the inspiration for this project, mostly has a reputation these days as a horror writer, but he was at least as important as a major figure in American fantasy fiction. I'm a fantasy reader, not a horror buff; the tentacled critters from three whole weeks before the dawn of time that populate Lovecraft's imaginary cosmos always left me feeling delighted and exhilarated, not horrified. The thought of watching Great Cthulhu rise from the sea fills me with the opposite of dread.
Of course there's another factor at work here. Lovecraft was a hardcore rationalist throughout his adult life, and one of the recurring themes in his fiction is his distaste for occultism. You know the sinister cultists who are running around in Lovecraft stories, invoking the tentacled critters just mentioned, not to mention hanging out with people of other ethnic backgrounds (the horror!) and otherwise violating the sanctity of the status quo? Er, that's me, basically. Cue the eerie music while I get on my robe and pick up a ritual item or two...
So I wrote the other side of the story, a tale of tentacled critters in which, ahem, the tentacled critters and the human beings who associate with them are the good guys. The bad guys? A cult of mad rationalists who want to turn all that rhetoric about Man's Conquest of Nature into a bloodspattered reality. (Call of Cthulhu fans can think of them as Delta Green with the xenophobia and hunger for power cranked up to 11.)
This is the first volume. Volumes 2-6 are already finished and will be appearing in the months immediately ahead. The final volume is half finished as I write, and will be in print within a year -- and yes, before it's all over, Great Cthulhu will rise from the sea...
So that was pleasant. The other thing that's been a real pleasure to me is watching MYTHIC ripen from a promising beginning to a solid science fiction and fantasy magazine, one that's getting contributions from a growing list of capable authors. A quick glance through the issue tells me that I'm going to have a couple of evenings' worth of very pleasant reading. If you're into good lively imaginative fiction that's into storytelling rather than striking literary or political poses, it's worth your while.
*There's going to be a whole series of these. The first, "The Phantom of the Dust," appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of MYTHIC; a third, "The Mummy from R'lyeh," has been submitted, though I haven't heard yet whether it's been accepted or not.
**Yes, that's Jenny Parrish from the second book, The Weird of Hali: Kingsport. For reasons not too hard to guess if you've read that book, she changed her name after she finished her doctorate.
The Weird of Hali: Kingsport is the second novel in my epic-fantasy-with-tentacles heptalogy, The Weird of Hali, which takes H.P. Lovecraft's fiction and stands it on its head. Those tentacled horrors and sinister multiracial cultists? Yeah, they were the good guys all along: the old gods of nature and their worshippers, slapped with the usual blood libels by the cultural mainstream.
Each volume is written as a standalone novel and can be read independently of the others. The viewpoint character in this one is Jenny Parrish, whom readers of the first novel, The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth, will remember as one of Owen Merrill's housemates. She's finishing up a postgraduate year at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts, prior to beginning grad school there. A letter invites her to spend the winter holidays with her relatives in Kingsport, ten miles away on the coast, whom she's never met; there's a certain ancient festival held there once each century, this is the year, and Jenny's invited...
Lovecraft fans will already know that his story The Festival provided a chunk of the raw material, and may suspect -- accurately, as it happens -- that the Terrible Old Man puts in an appearance. (He'll be a major character in the sixth book, The Weird of Hali: Hyperborea.) Robert Chambers' The King in Yellow and Arthur Machen's The White People also contribute their quota, as do the stories of Clark Ashton Smith. That said, it's not just a pastiche; this is my own quirky vision decked out in borrowed finery, and I hope my readers will have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.
BTW, this is the fine edition; the ultra-super-duper-fine edition, traycased and bound in shantak hide, will be out a bit later, and the ordinary trade paper edition is at least six months out, maybe more. The trade paper edition of The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth is now in preparation and I hope to be able to announce it shortly.