Okay, this blog entry takes a look at a book which comes with a bit of a back story. Sit down. I'll begin.
Way back in 2021, Aeon Games set up a Kickstarter for one of their books. An author, John Michael Greer, had created a roleplaying game based around the seven book series he'd published, Weird if Hali.
Bad news - it failed to reach the funding goal, so the hardback was scrapped.
Good news, though - the publishers released the roleplaying game anyway.
So, let's take the plunge.
John Michael Greer
Greer has his own Wikipedia entry.
Greer has written a seven-book series, Weird of Hali, which has a unique take on the Cthulhu Mythos. The seven books are titled after landmark locations in Lovecraft's stories. Here are the blurbs to his seven books.
The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth:
There Are Two Sides To Every Story
Like every other grad student at Miskatonic University, Owen Merrill knows about the Great Old Ones, the nightmare beings out of ancient legend that H.P. Lovecraft unearthed from archaic texts and turned into icons of modern fantasy fiction. Then a chance discovery—a lost letter written by Lovecraft to fellow Weird Tales author Robert Blake—offers a glimpse into the frightful reality behind the legends, and sends Owen on a desperate quest for answers that shatters his familiar world forever.
As he flees across the witch-haunted Massachusetts landscape toward the mysterious seaside town of Innsmouth, Owen finds himself caught up in a secret war between the servants of the Great Old Ones and their ancient enemies, a war in which yesterday’s friend may be tomorrow’s foe and nothing is as it seems. The history of the world is not what he has been taught—and the tentacles reaching out for him from the shadows of a forbidden past may hold not only his one chance of escape from the terrifying forces closing around him, but the last hope of life on Earth ...
The Weird of Hali: Kingsport:
As The Old Gods Awakem ...
Like other students at Miskatonic University, Jenny Parrish worries mostly about passing her finals and getting a graduate assistantship. Then an unexpected letter arrives from her great-aunt Sylvia, inviting her to spend the holidays and celebrate a mysterious Festival at the family mansion in the old port city of Kingsport, where Jenny has never been—the home her mother fled at the age of eighteen, never to return.
Once she reaches the ancient mansion, Jenny finds herself in the midst of a tangled web of archaic secrets, eldritch lore, and hidden struggles that pit the servants of the Great Old Ones, the ancient gods and goddesses of Earth, against a terrifying and relentless foe. At the center the web stands the treasure Jenny's family has guarded for centuries, a talisman of supreme power forged in the lost land of Hyperborea: the Ring of Ebon. But the Ring is lost—and the quest to find it and keep it out of the hands of the enemies of the Great Old Ones will send Jenny on a journey beyond the borders of the world to dread Carcosa, the city of the King in Yellow ...
The Weird of Hali: Chorazin:
Something Sleeps Within The Hill...
A last desperate hope brings Justin Martense to the little town of Dunwich in the Massachusetts hills. Justin’s family lies under an ancient curse brought down on them by an ancestor’s terrible deed. Once in each generation, one of the descendants of Gerrit Martense is summoned in dreams to Elk Hill, near the town of Chorazin in western New York, never to return. Now Justin has received the summons; a cryptic message from Nyarlathotep, the messenger of the Great Old Ones, sends him to Owen Merrill, who might be able to solve the riddle of the Martense curse soon enough to save Justin’s life.
As the two of them travel to Chorazin and begin to trace tangled clues reaching deep into the region’s colonial past, strange forces gather, and so do the enemies of the Great Old Ones. Far below the brooding stone circle that crowns Elk Hill, one of the forgotten powers of the ancient world turns in restless sleep—and before they can unravel the secret of Chorazin, Owen and Justin will have to face archaic sorceries, monstrous beings, and the supreme nightmare chronicled centuries before in Ludvig Prinn’s The Mysteries of the Worm ...
The Weird of Hali: Dreamlands
To a Country of Dreams...
For five and a half years, since the mysterious disappearance of two of her graduate students, Professor Miriam Akeley of Miskatonic University has pursued her own covert researches into the forbidden lore underlying the seemingly fantastic tales of H.P. Lovecraft. The clues she has gathered all point to the shocking reality behind those tales, but it takes an unexpected encounter with a creature out of ancient legend and the discovery of a cryptic letter by Lovecraft’s cousin and fellow author Randolph Carter to lead her to the answers she hoped and feared to find—and thrust her out of the reality she knows into the impossible world that Lovecraft and Carter called the Dreamlands.
She is not the only one to pass through that forgotten portal, however. The ancient war between the Great Old Ones and their enemies has spilled over into the lands of Dream, and an agent of the Radiance now seeks the Temple of the Singing Flame in the far west. Guided by the oracle of Nodens, Lord of the Great Deep, Miriam and Randolph Carter must stop him—for he carries the Blade of Uoht, one of the three sorcerous treasures of drowned Poseidonis, and if he reaches the Temple and extinguishes the Flame, the Dreamlands and all within them will cease to exist forever...
The Weird of Hali: Providence
In a Handful of Dust...
As the ancient war between the old gods of Earth and their bitter enemies rises toward a final confrontation, Owen Merrill sets out from his new home in Arkham to Rhode Island, seeking the ultimate weapon in that war—the spells that might succeed in calling Great Cthulhu from his temple-tomb in drowned R’lyeh to fulfill the terrible prophecy of the Weird of Hali. The threads of evidence he and Jenny Chaudronnier have traced through years of hard work all lead to a young man named Charles Dexter Ward, who lived in Providence a century earlier and may have received copies of the rituals from the elderly scholar George Gammell Angell.
As he plunges into the mysteries surrounding Ward and the rituals, he finds himself entangled in a web of peril reaching far beyond the urban landscape of Providence. The Starry Wisdom Church there is racked by rivalries no member will discuss, and the Radiance and the Fellowship of the Yellow Sign are closing in. Owen’s one hope lies with a young woman named Hannah Ward—Charles Dexter Ward’s great-granddaughter—who is in Providence on a mission of her own. She has learned the same terrible secrets of alchemy her great-grandfather mastered, and plans on using them to revive the one person on Earth who might know the location of the rituals Owen needs so badly: Charles Dexter Ward himself...
The Weird of Hali: Red Hook
Beneath Brooklyn’s Sidewalks...
The last thing Justin Martense wants to do is fling himself back into the ancient war between the Great Old Ones and their relentless enemies. Now that his family’s inherited illness has shown up, he wants nothing more than to wrap up eleven years of farming in the Catskill town of Lefferts Corners and figure out what to do with the rest of his life. Suddenly a letter from his old friend Owen Merrill shatters those plans—for Owen is in terrible danger in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, and the letter carries a cryptic call for help. With his friends Arthur and Rose Wheeler, he hurries south through a half-ruined landscape to try to answer the call.
But more waits beneath the crumbling sidewalks of the decaying Red Hook neighborhood than Justin can imagine: a half-human sorceress with strange powers, shapeless horrors from the deeps of time, and a colossal device left buried in the living rock by the serpent folk of ancient Valusia, which may hold the key to the fulfillment of the Weird of Hali. The enemies of the Great Old Ones are in Red Hook as well, searching for the device, for Owen—and for Justin. Before he can overcome the dangers that surround him, Justin must gather the clues from a century-old mystery, journey through time into the forgotten past of New York City, obtain a key of silver from a long-dead witch, bring that back to his own time, and then take it into the deep places under Brooklyn—down a stair that no living person can descend ...
The Weird of Hali: Arkham
The Stars Are Right At Last ...
Twenty years have passed since the ancient war between the Great Old Ones and their bitter enemies swept Owen Merrill away from the world he thought he inhabited. As a seventh-degree initiate in the Starry Wisdom Church, he knows that the time is close when Great Cthulhu will awaken in his temple-tomb in drowned R’lyeh and end that war once and for all. Neither he nor any of the servants of the Great Old Ones is prepared, however, for the last desperate counterstroke of the Radiance—the unleashing of the Color out of Space, an alien form of matter that can end all life on Earth.
As the final conflict looms, Owen flings himself on a last desperate quest to stop the descent of the Color out of Space. His journey will take him from the ruins of a New Jersey college town to a long-forgotten stair descending into a Virginia graveyard, and then to the Dreamlands and beyond. Helping him are a renegade Radiance negation team commander, a sorcerer out of archaic legend, the youngest of the Great Old Ones, and his own witch-daughter Asenath, but against him stands the massed might of the Radiance, a being of the outer voids summoned by the enemies of the Great Old Ones, and the Color out of Space itself ...
The Roleplaying Game
Weird of Hali is a slender 193-page book, packed with useful rules and details on Greer's setting.
The book makes this note on the meaning of the word eldritch:-
El•dritch /’el-drich/ adj. [perh. fr. (assumed) ME elfriche fairyland, fr. ME
elf + riche kingdom, fr. OE ríce—more at rich] (1508): weird, eerie
—from Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1986
Here's what the introduction has to say.
The Cthulhu mythos—the sprawling universe he and his fellow Weird Tales authors created, full of bizarre gods, strange creatures, and books full of secrets humanity was not meant to know—was one of the first great shared worlds of modern imaginative fiction, a cosmos so vivid that it has been an inspiration to writers ever since his day ... In the world of The Weird of Hali, the Great Old Ones—Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Tsathoggua, Nyarlathotep, and the rest of the pantheon Lovecraft and his friends created—are not powers of evil, though propaganda incessantly spread through every human society paints them in that role. The secretive, multiracial cults that still revere the Great Old Ones despite bitter centuries of prejudice and persecution are innocent of the charges of human sacrifice leveled against them, as those same charges have been leveled against so many other religious dissidents down through the years. In the novels, as in this game, the Great Old Ones are the gods of nature, their worshipers preserve a wisdom older than the human race, and those who stumble across long-suppressed clues dealing with that ancient wisdom may find themselves drawn into a larger and stranger world, full of mysterious powers and dreadful dangers.
That is, in a nutshell, what this game book is about. Your characters can come from all corners of the world. You worship Nature and the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods. The bad guys are Greyfaces.
So, then, what do the rules look like?
Weird of Hali uses a modified version of the Mythras core rules. The main differences are ...
- The universal life force is called Voor here, and characters use Voorish points when using sorcery.
- There are three sets of skills - Standard Skills, Professional Skills ... and Eldritch Skills, used with sorcery.
- Characters have Rationality Points to represent personal commitment to conventional wisdom of modern culture.
- Sorcery, as a general rule, does not affect physical matter directly, only the minds and nervous systems of living creatures.
- The sorcerous disciplines available in Weird of Hali are Witchcraft, Initiation, and Conjuration. Access to magic is unthinkably rare. Characters don't start with any Eldritch skills or access to magic.
A Glimpse From The Other Side
The history of the world is not what you have been taught ... There were human civilizations long before the ones named in the history books ... You need to know about that, now that you’ve glimpsed a few of the things hidden behind what you were taught. You need to know it, if you want to survive.
The basic story behind this game is that characters begin play knowing very little about the rteal world. It's prosaic and ordinary to them, until they realise that the world is far stranger and occult than they could have imagined, and hello isn't there a game called Hunter: the Reckoning which is all about ordinary Joes and Janes who have the scales ripped off their eyes? And some other game called Call of Cthulhu?
There are some basic premises behind this game. We are not alone. We have bever been alone. Nor is this the only universe: there are myriads of parallels out there, in all eight directions. up, dow, East, West, North, South, Ulth and Anth.
Pages 1 through 7 are a must-read. They cover the geography and history of our Earth, the Greater Earths and Lesser Earths. There is a guide to pronunciation, and some familiar names and terms.
Page 12 covers the topic of hybrids of human and eldritch stock - human / Deep One, human / Voormi. Even human / Great Old One. There's an origin table which lists the strange possibilities for a character's inhuman ancestry. Your character's weird ancestry gives you certain bonuses, and some disadvantages - if your character is descended from some entity types, or is possessed by a Yithian being, or you're a Serpent Person in human guise, your Rationality Points begin at 0, for instance.
Backgrounds, Cultures, skill generation, all take directly from Mythras. You have four Backgrounds to choose from - Rural, Urban, Suburban, and Privileged. You can choose your character's concept, career, skills, Combat Styles and so on, more or less the same as the Mythras Core Rulebook.
Professional SKills include Espionage, Forgery, Investigation, Mountaineering, Pilot, Politics, Research, and Spelunking - skills you won't find in Mythras.
Eldritch Skills are also new. They are:-
Awareness (INT+POW) - sense and shape voor, the life force; detect sorcery; sense tomes and sorcerous objects; identify and follow moon paths; and detect living things by their voorish aura when they are out of sight — for example, behind a closed door or in a room on the far side of a wall.
Binding (POW+CHA) - exert your will over uncanny forces and beings, banish harmful energies and hostile entities, and control what has been summoned.
Contemplation (POW+CON) - The voorush name for Mysticism skill.
Enchantment (INT+CHA) - to bind voor into material objects and substances. Witchcraft practitioners use this on herbs, weapons, even machines.
Meditation (INT+CON) - used to recover Voorish Points, and also with voorish Mysticism skill.
Spellcasting (INT x2) - perform Witchcraft spells.
Summoning (POW x2) - call upon the Eldritch powers, or in some cases call Mum over the phone for a quick intervention.
Chapter 2 covers what are described as Spot Rules in Mythras - effects such as fatigue, blood loss, acid damage, fire damage, and so on. Page 42 covers a specific set of rules unique to Weird of Hali - where your character loses their physical humanity, and becomes a representative of their inhuman ancestry as their genes assert themselves.
Sections on Science and Sorcery, and Sanity, are also covered.
Chapter 3 is Combat. Chapter 4, page 65, covers Vehicles and Chases, for those times when your characters have to run from some mountainous Thing that's chasing them down the corridors like Doctor Who.
Chapter 5 begins on page 77 and covers Sorcery - the three basic methods, namely Conjuration, Initiation, and Witchcraft. This chapter also covers Moon Paths, aka ley lines. Greer's vocation comes through here: he is an accomplished Druid and geomancer in real life (I have one of his books, a brilliant tome on real world geomancy). This is powerful sorcery which draws upon the land's mobile voor currents, standing stones, and so on.
The book next describes the Tomes - some old favourites, if you're a long time fan of the Mythos. Everything from the Necronomicon and the Pnakotic Manuscripts, and so on, to the lesser tomes such as Thaumaturgical Prodigies in The New-English Canaan.
What then follows are the three main Disciplines of Witchcraft, Initiation, and Conjuration, in that order. Witchcraft is, in effect, Folk Magic. Initiation is essentially Mysticism, with a heavy emphasis on initiation degrees, and a long list of different initiatory cults from around the world.
FInally, Conjuration covers the art of summoning and binding Great Old Ones, making pacts with them, and receiving benefits which extend to permament changes and advantages, as well as to benefits to invoke certain powerful spells.
The review continues from page 103 next week.
Edited by Alex Greene