Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Going Gonzo with John: Love for Lovecraft

By John Belliston

We all love Lovecraft. It doesn’t matter if you hate him, hate his writing and ideas, and raise your fist to uncaring universe cursing his name, in reality you love Lovecraft. That is the twisted power of his art. But what is it that we think of first when the man’s name is conjured?

We think of tentacles. We think of Cthullu. We think of the 1930s. If we’re really deep in the know we think of the Elder Sign or the King in Yellow. We imagine the trappings of his fiction. The aesthetic he created.

But that’s not the point of Lovecraft.

It never was.

Putting tentacles on an alien isn’t Lovecraftian in the same way that filling a pillow with feathers doesn’t make it a bird. Cosmic horror of the kind that HP so beautifully crafted is about tapping into things beyond comprehension, forces so vast and alien that the mind refuses to even try and understand. It’s about unstoppable forces. It’s about looking into the eye of the hurricane and knowing that deep down there is no hope. You can only cower or try and postpone it for a little while longer.

That is the truest essence of his work.  And the one that needs to be explored far more than 1930s tentacles.

So how does one do that? How do you tap into the Cosmic part of the cosmic horror? Well the first step is to look at the scope of the forces you’re dealing with. Because despite what you may think, Lovecraft didn’t write about Good Vs Evil. He wrote about the stalling tactics that both good and evil would use against things that neither side could defeat. A Lovecraftian horror is something that even the “Forces of Evil” will rise to fight against. Despite the fact that they will fail.

Because failure is guaranteed. At least ultimately. These are forces which create realities to lock them away, beasts from before there were names chained within the hearts of stars. When whole worlds are used to bind these creatures what exactly do you do? And the part about Lovecraft’s work that so thrills and captivates me personally is that there is no answer to that question. His heroes shrug their shoulders in confused despair.

So in the hope of justifying my title, I’m going to take something and look at it through a Lovecraftian lens. Let’s take something good and make it terrifying.

Of course I’m talking about love.

We have our protagonists, our Player Characters. As time goes on they have good luck. Strange good luck. The kind of luck that does seem possible. Twisted coincidences that always seem to fall in their favor. Bizarre gifts thrusts into their hands by glassy eyed strangers. Small things you could spread over a session or an entire campaign. Let them know that they are loved but something beyond them.

Your paladins and clerics may even view it as a mark of favor from their god. And at that point is where you start to take it to the next level. If their god is good have undead refuse to attack them, or bow low and whisper declarations of love and devotion. If they worship an evil god have that love bubble up in other places that seem wrong.

That is the trick with this, to show in little ways that it’s wrong. That something strange is brewing and that they are the focal point. The players are loved by something beyond them, something that hungers for them, something that can shape reality. And let them slowly taste of this thing, and when they confront it make sure they understand that this thing will change reality, that it has powers far beyond any they handle.

And it wants its feelings returned.


Now that’s the bulk of my message, but I offer this little trifle for those that seek crunch here. A drawback.


Unearthly Prize

Somehow you have attracted the attention of something horrible from a distant plane. They seek to please you in strange and terrible ways.

Effect: Your aura is tainted by strange forces. For the purposes of detection spells you count as a Chaotic Evil outsider.

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