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Mythos Tomes in Libraries

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In "The Dunwich Horror", Wilbur Whateley, in the furtherance of his evil plans, attempts to steal a copy of the Necronomicon from Miskatonic University. His attempt is ignominiously thwarted by a guard dog. Wilbur's attempt was by purely mundane means - I think he broke in through a window.

Now look at any of the evil cultists, priests or sorcerers that appear in pretty much any CoC module. Look at the spells and abilities at their command.

In Masks of Nyarlathotep, without giving anything away, a mythos tome is stolen from a library. No muss, no fuss, they just steal it because the have the magical ability to do so.

How is that that a single significant Mythos tome is still to be found in any major library? Any one of these NPCs has multiple magical means of swiping these rare and powerful books. Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler alone is probably enough to steal almost anything. Okay, so the dimensional shambler might have difficulty grasping exactly what it's supposed to steal, like a horrifying, sanity-destroying Baby Groot stealing a prototype fin. But if it comes back to the sorcerer with the librarian's head on the first attempt then, like with Baby Groot, you just send it back to try again.

You could say that anyone with the magical ability to steal from their local library probably doesn't need to. But there are a LOT of books with a LOT of different spells. There is almost always going to be more than enough incentive for the attempted theft of these books; the gain is almost always going to be greater than the (trivial) effort and cost to the sorcerer.

Maybe all these different cults have come to accord, whereby they all agree not to steal tomes from libraries and from each other, as it would lead to an escalating cycle of thefts and attacks that would probably result in a great deal of destruction. This is not a serious option that I'm suggesting. It makes the various Mythos cults sound like the Legion of Doom or some other super-villain organisation.

Maybe which tome is found at which university is a matter known only to a few. But with spells like Mental Suggestion and Cloud Memory, these secrets would soon come to light after a few conversations with the head librarians at a few major universities.

I realise that this is a very trivial gripe, but it does touch on one of the tropes of Cthulhu fiction: the ancient forbidden texts looked away in libraries and museums and private collections that are consulted by the protagonists for the few scraps of hideous lore that they require to defeat the cosmic threat. I feel in most cases that when they arrive to read the Necronomicon, they should be informed that "yeah, that book disappeared from the vault a few years back. No idea what happened to it. We just found this pool of glowing slime where the book was."

Also - PCs. I don't know about your players, but I can definitely see some of my players, once they realise that some of these tomes are protected by middle-aged librarians rather than by sorcerers and monsters, taking steps to acquire these tomes for themselves. And if the players have come to this conclusion, then you have to ask why is it that so many NPCs haven't thought of it themselves.

Edited by tendentious
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I think ignorance is one of they key saving graces here - not knowing that some of these tomes are at certain places (the copy of the Necronomicon at Miskatonic University seems to be the only one that's relatively widely known of) and also not knowing that these are "books of power". Just because your NPC is a cultist/high priest of evil/ancient sorcerer doesn't mean they know what the Necronomicon is/the significance of the knowledge within. We all know because we have read HP Lovecraft's stories.

As for your PCs - if that's the kind of lengths they will go to in search of forbidden knowledge then I would say let them, they're already well on the way to turning to the dark side! Especially if their attempt at theft results in the death(s) of some poor librarian/nightwatchman - I make my PCs lose SAN if they willingly put their humanity to one side to achieve their goals (this is the kind of thing that Nyarlathotep revels in - spread knowledge that will result in madness and destruction)

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Mm.. sorry to intrude...
I am not much into CoC verily.... (more like BRP), just following the conversations here...

But it suddenly struck me... Why take great pain and incur great cost to steal a book from a library?
You could just get a member card and check it out! :P 

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42 minutes ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

But it suddenly struck me... Why take great pain and incur great cost to steal a book from a library?
You could just get a member card and check it out! :P 

You don't want to see what the overdue fees are, let alone who/what is sent to your house in case of non-return!

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1 hour ago, Karl Frost said:

I think ignorance is one of they key saving graces here - not knowing that some of these tomes are at certain places (the copy of the Necronomicon at Miskatonic University seems to be the only one that's relatively widely known of) and also not knowing that these are "books of power". Just because your NPC is a cultist/high priest of evil/ancient sorcerer doesn't mean they know what the Necronomicon is/the significance of the knowledge within. We all know because we have read HP Lovecraft's stories.

"In a rear vestry room beside the apse Blake found a rotting desk and ceiling-high shelves of mildewed, disintegrating books. Here for the first time he received a positive shock of objective horror, for the titles of those books told him much. They were the black, forbidden things which most sane people have never even heard of, or have heard of only in furtive, timorous whispers; the banned and dreaded repositories of equivocal secrets and immemorial formulae which have trickled down the stream of time from the days of man’s youth, and the dim, fabulous days before man was. He had himself read many of them—a Latin version of the abhorred Necronomicon, the sinister Liber Ivonis, the infamous Cultes des Goules of Comte d’Erlette, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, and old Ludvig Prinn’s hellish De Vermis Mysteriis. But there were others he had known merely by reputation or not at all—the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Book of Dzyan, and a crumbling volume in wholly unidentifiable characters yet with certain symbols and diagrams shudderingly recognisable to the occult student. Clearly, the lingering local rumours had not lied. This place had once been the seat of an evil older than mankind and wider than the known universe." - HP Lovecraft, The Haunter of the Dark.

You definitely get the impression from Lovecraft's writing that those steeped in the mythos are conversant with the relevant texts, like a academic knows that titles and authors of the core texts of their discipline. Even Lovecraft's protagonists, who always begin the story not believing in the Mythos, are aware of the books of these myth-cycles and believe that the contents of the books are dangerous, as in the excerpt above.

Given that this is the impressive Mythos library belonging to one small cult, it's possible that copies of these books are far more common than is generally believed by bibliophiles and academics. Maybe for every copy locked away in a library vault there are ten copies in the hands of cultists. There certainly seem to be a lot of copies of the Necronomicon floating around in the literature: Joseph Curwen (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) had one, the cult in Kingsport (The Festival) had at least one as a coffee-table book, a couple of necrophiliacs (The Hound) have one, Wilbur Whateley had an incomplete copy (The Dunwich Horror), Ephraim Waite may have had a copy (The Thing on the Doorstep).

And with that number of books, there may be a great deal of "churn", with copies moving around between cults and sorcerers and libraries and collections. In the story "The Call of Cthulhu", a cult in Louisiana is broken up by the police. While there is no mention that they possessed any Mythos tomes, if they had you could imagine that such books might be taken by the police as evidence, then eventually pass on to a collector or a museum or library. Later they may be stolen by a sorcerer. When that sorcerer is killed in ritual gone wrong, the books are found amongst his possessions and move on again.

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Wow. OK. So, let's take a concept from other games, magic-poor vs magic-rich, or something similar. You can have a setting with wizard guilds and magic shops where everyone has several enchanted items and they live in floating houses with bound demons for guards. Or, you can have a game where rumors of a local witch remain just that, and a cow was once born with two heads, and the only weapons you've seen are knives and clubs and maybe a pitchfork if the guy was imaginative. See what I'm getting at? HPL says there are a few old tomes locked up, here and there. Once or twice, ever, someone with some knowledge comes along and spends a lot of time studying it. Eventually something bad happens. If there's a few wackos somewhere who follow some esoteric faith, you've never heard of them, and they're busy sacrificing goats somewhere. They sure aren't focused on doing anything else unless a GM or author needs something exciting to happen. Meantime it's status quo. My thought is that you've imagined a very different setting, which is of course up to you, but it's too high-powered for my liking.

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1 hour ago, tendentious said:

"In a rear vestry room beside the apse Blake found a rotting desk and ceiling-high shelves of mildewed, disintegrating books. Here for the first time he received a positive shock of objective horror, for the titles of those books told him much. They were the black, forbidden things which most sane people have never even heard of, or have heard of only in furtive, timorous whispers; the banned and dreaded repositories of equivocal secrets and immemorial formulae which have trickled down the stream of time from the days of man’s youth, and the dim, fabulous days before man was. He had himself read many of them—a Latin version of the abhorred Necronomicon, the sinister Liber Ivonis, the infamous Cultes des Goules of Comte d’Erlette, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, and old Ludvig Prinn’s hellish De Vermis Mysteriis. But there were others he had known merely by reputation or not at all—the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Book of Dzyan, and a crumbling volume in wholly unidentifiable characters yet with certain symbols and diagrams shudderingly recognisable to the occult student. Clearly, the lingering local rumours had not lied. This place had once been the seat of an evil older than mankind and wider than the known universe." - HP Lovecraft, The Haunter of the Dark.

Hmmm, I think you are telling me to start reading HP Lovecraft again to refresh my memory! (It has been a long time since I read any of his stories)

As you mention it is possible that copies of these books are far more common but I prefer the idea that these "extra" copies are incomplete - like Wilbur Whateley's copy of the Necronomicon they are reproductions scribbled in odd journals/on scraps of paper by someone having access to the proper text for certain periods. The "Describing Mythos Tomes" section in the Keeper Rulebook has some good pointers on the state of such books and also mentions elsewhere the idea that such copies may have errors in the information given (accidental or deliberate), especially in spells. And as you also say there may be a great deal of "churn".

 

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Having a few spells in CoC doesn't make you are superhero in the original CoC books.

Wilbur Whateley had enormous potential because of his inhuman heritage but his knowledge was incomplete, that's why he needed to steal the book. His grandfather Old Whateley was senile and probably insane to the point of incoherent. Just because Old Whateley cooked up a ghastly almost successful plan to overrun the entire Earth with horrifying invisible monsters doesn't mean he remembered or could explain spells which would help Wilbur enter the library.

There are examples of more organised wizards in CoC books, such as Robert Suydam (Horror at Red Hook), who eventually dies horribly as he turns away from a magical transformation at the very end, or Joseph Curwen, the mysterious resurrected wizard (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). 

But most of Lovecraft's wizards are a mess, such as the scientist Crawford Tillinghast (From Beyond) who goes crazy building a machine which amplifies people's senses, giving them the ability to see other dimensions, Old Whateley with his incoherent plan to conquer the world, the hideous descendants of the Martense family (The Lurking Fear), who degenerated into small goblin like horrors, or the adherents of the Cult of Starry Wisdom (The Haunter in the Dark), who didn't appear to gain any special advantage from their crazed quests, just nightmarish but useless insights into the nature of the universe and eventual persecution for all the disgusting things they did to fuel their fascination with magic.

Of course even the messed up wizards are dangerous, Whateley almost did ruin the entire world. 

Edited by EricW
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I suppose my point is two-fold.

In the literature, spells are so uncommon even amongst those initiated into the mysteries of the Mythos, and copies of the various texts seem to be so thick on the ground - there are about half a dozen copies of the Necronomicon in New England alone - that it makes sense that all those mouldering tomes in library vaults are unmolested and available for research and consultation by protagonists.

In the game and its various scenarios, this is not so much the case - at least when it comes to spell availability. As I'm running Masks of Nyarlathotep (MoN) at the moment, which inhabits the pulpier end of the spectrum, my views might be skewed. But every tome contains multiple complete spells, and over-powered sorcerers are everywhere. In MoN, a sorcerer literally sends a hunting horror to steal a book from a library. And in a setting where spells are so common, it's hard to see why that would happen just the once.

So, to re-iterate: in the stories of Lovecraft it makes sense that tomes remain un-pilfered, as there seem to be so many of these tomes, and most of the faithful are limited to mundane means to acquire them. In the game, it's just too easy with the availability of magical means and too obvious not to do so.

In my original post, I acknowledged that the point is a trivial one, even comparing it to Groot's failed attempts to follow simple instructions. And of course you can play the game with whatever tone suits your group. I just like to rationalise the state of the world with the game that I happen to be playing. With MoN, it just struck me that most of these villains should have fairly comprehensive libraries that they didn't buy through auctions.

2 hours ago, EricW said:

There are examples of more organised wizards in CoC books, such as Robert Suydam (Horror at Red Hook), who eventually dies horribly as he turns away from a magical transformation at the very end, or Joseph Curwen, the mysterious resurrected wizard (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). 

But most of Lovecraft's wizards are a mess,

Of course, there is one scarily powerful, competent, mysterious and unidentified sorcerer in the works of Lovecraft: the being that Dr Willett inadvertently resurrects in the tunnels under Curwen's farm in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Interestingly, it doesn't seem to be hostile or inimical to Dr Willett, even going so far as to save his life when it eradicates Curwen's lair. There is no suggestion that it has the same or similar goals to sorcerers such as Curwen or Wilbur Whateley, despite its apparent great power.

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On 5/1/2020 at 10:19 AM, tendentious said:

In "The Dunwich Horror", Wilbur Whateley, in the furtherance of his evil plans, attempts to steal a copy of the Necronomicon from Miskatonic University. His attempt is ignominiously thwarted by a guard dog. Wilbur's attempt was by purely mundane means - I think he broke in through a window.

In the Starter Set Adventure, there is the revelation that Miskatonic University has a library with a restricted collection. It says 

Quote

Keeper note: recently alerted to the threat of the Cthulhu Mythos (as told in the H. P. Lovecraft story “The Dunwich Horror”) and having no clear understanding of it, Dr. Armitage actively discourages visitors from reading the restricted books.

The Miskatonic Library is covered here https://www.chaosium.com/miskatonic-university-pdf/ with its own chapter, floor plans and NPCs. It says:

Quote

The Restricted Collection Vault

Originally a dingy storeroom left undamaged when the previous library building collapsed, Professor Armitage hastily moved the nucleus of the Restricted Collection to this room following the Dunwich Horror of September 1928.

Basically no one really understands what the mythos books are and what they contain. The chapter also contains details on all the Mythos works and hermetic tomes. I found it an invaluable resource. I moved the date of the break in backward to the early 20's as Wilbur fails, so has little if any effect on the timeline. It stops the investigators from just waltzing in and finding info. It meant they had to establish a rapport with Armitage, who I made head of The Society for the Exploration of the Unexplained, which they were all members of.

I treat knowledge of these books as very rare. Even if the player know what they are, their investigators don't. As for cultists, they are mad and if they are seeking out tomes, I'd make that a whole plot for the players to thwart (I'm currently watching Agents of Shield, with its Mythosesque Darkhold book and the main characters attempts to thwart cultists attempts to obtain and use it).

On 5/1/2020 at 10:19 AM, tendentious said:

Also - PCs. I don't know about your players, but I can definitely see some of my players, once they realise that some of these tomes are protected by middle-aged librarians rather than by sorcerers and monsters, taking steps to acquire these tomes for themselves. And if the players have come to this conclusion, then you have to ask why is it that so many NPCs haven't thought of it themselves.

My player are the opposite, reading these books causes them to go mad. They've had a bad experience with a tome already. NO ONE MUST READ THEM. One player has already tried to burn down the library.

Edited by David Scott
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Why hasn't some enterprising publisher of pornography, pulp novels, or comic books put out Illustrated mass market editions of some of these titles for the weird fiction and occult literature markets?  They're public domain if you can get your hands on them, and there is obviously an audience for them.  Forget shoggoths and sorcerers.  Your next scenario's villain is an unscrupulous publisher planning to pack the news stands with Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know!  The Earth doomed by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee!

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8 hours ago, seneschal said:

Why hasn't some enterprising publisher of pornography, pulp novels, or comic books put out Illustrated mass market editions of some of these titles for the weird fiction and occult literature markets?  They're public domain if you can get your hands on them, and there is obviously an audience for them.  Forget shoggoths and sorcerers.  Your next scenario's villain is an unscrupulous publisher planning to pack the news stands with Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know!  The Earth doomed by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee!

Widespread publication has been attempted. It didn't work out. HP Lovecraft's History of the Necronomicon;

Quote

 

Original title Al Azif—azif being the word used by Arabs to designate that nocturnal sound (made by insects) suppos’d to be the howling of daemons.

Composed by Abdul Alhazred, a mad poet of Sanaá, in Yemen, who is said to have flourished during the period of the Ommiade caliphs, circa 700 A.D. He visited the ruins of Babylon and the subterranean secrets of Memphis and spent ten years alone in the great southern desert of Arabia—the Roba el Khaliyeh or “Empty Space” of the ancients—and “Dahna” or “Crimson” desert of the modern Arabs, which is held to be inhabited by protective evil spirits and monsters of death. Of this desert many strange and unbelievable marvels are told by those who pretend to have penetrated it. In his last years Alhazred dwelt in Damascus, where the Necronomicon (Al Azif) was written, and of his final death or disappearance (738 A.D.) many terrible and conflicting things are told. He is said by Ebn Khallikan (12th cent. biographer) to have been seized by an invisible monster in broad daylight and devoured horribly before a large number of fright-frozen witnesses. Of his madness many things are told. He claimed to have seen fabulous Irem, or City of Pillars, and to have found beneath the ruins of a certain nameless desert town the shocking annals and secrets of a race older than mankind. He was only an indifferent Moslem, worshipping unknown entities whom he called Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu.

In A.D. 950 the Azif, which had gained a considerable tho’ surreptitious circulation amongst the philosophers of the age, was secretly translated into Greek by Theodorus Philetas of Constantinople under the title Necronomicon. For a century it impelled certain experimenters to terrible attempts, when it was suppressed and burnt by the patriarch Michael. After this it is only heard of furtively, but (1228) Olaus Wormius made a Latin translation later in the Middle Ages, and the Latin text was printed twice—once in the fifteenth century in black-letter (evidently in Germany) and once in the seventeenth (prob. Spanish)—both editions being without identifying marks, and located as to time and place by internal typographical evidence only. The work both Latin and Greek was banned by Pope Gregory IX in 1232, shortly after its Latin translation, which called attention to it. The Arabic original was lost as early as Wormius’ time, as indicated by his prefatory note; and no sight of the Greek copy—which was printed in Italy between 1500 and 1550—has been reported since the burning of a certain Salem man’s library in 1692. An English translation made by Dr. Dee was never printed, and exists only in fragments recovered from the original manuscript. Of the Latin texts now existing one (15th cent.) is known to be in the British Museum under lock and key, while another (17th cent.) is in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris. A seventeenth-century edition is in the Widener Library at Harvard, and in the library of Miskatonic University at Arkham. Also in the library of the University of Buenos Ayres. Numerous other copies probably exist in secret, and a fifteenth-century one is persistently rumoured to form part of the collection of a celebrated American millionaire. A still vaguer rumour credits the preservation of a sixteenth-century Greek text in the Salem family of Pickman; but if it was so preserved, it vanished with the artist R.U. Pickman, who disappeared early in 1926. The book is rigidly suppressed by the authorities of most countries, and by all branches of organised ecclesiasticism. Reading leads to terrible consequences. It was from rumours of this book (of which relatively few of the general public know) that R.W. Chambers is said to have derived the idea of his early novel The King in Yellow.
 

Chronology


Al Azif written circa 730 A.D. at Damascus by Abdul Alhazred
Tr. to Greek 950 A.D. as Necronomicon by Theodorus Philetas
Burnt by Patriarch Michael 1050 (i.e., Greek text). Arabic text now lost.
Olaus translates Gr. to Latin 1228
1232 Latin ed. (and Gr.) suppr. by Pope Gregory IX
14... Black-letter printed edition (Germany)
15... Gr. text printed in Italy
16... Spanish reprint of Latin text

 

Only a small number of people who get their hands on such a book would find it interesting enough to read it through and learn anything dangerous, so its unlikely to ever be a mass market book. And the catastrophic fallout of the failed experiments of people who do read the book eventually lead to someone in charge vigorously suppressing it.

Of course, if someone succeeded in writing a mythos book with mass audience appeal, well John Carpenter made a movie about that.

 

 

Edited by EricW

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On 5/2/2020 at 3:09 AM, tendentious said:

I just like to rationalise the state of the world with the game that I happen to be playing. With MoN, it just struck me that most of these villains should have fairly comprehensive libraries that they didn't buy through auctions.

Story-telling is inherently irrational. Any story demands whatever set of parameters are needed to affect us emotionally as people so we invest in it. I will never understand this modern trend of demanding rational from the irrational. The truth is that the story does whatever it needs to do in order to be fun. Now, you make a good point that different people find different things fun. I'm just concerned that this demand for rationality in story-telling is ultimately self-defeating, because there has never been an underlying expectation of rationality in human story-telling. Story was crafted by early humans to make them afraid of animals or situations that could kill them. They appealed to a bias toward primal instinct, not rationality. And our myths and legends have largely carried on this tradition.

Now, as to your specific request, another question that could be asked is: To what extent are different stories within this "world" all happening at the same time, versus individual one-shots? It depends upon how you imagine it. It seems that you are imagining it as all stories exist, simultaneously. Another way to imagine it is that every story is an isolated incident. I'm thinking of the end of Clue where you get the "but it could have happened this way." To me, seeing someone obtain a tome in one story doesn't inherently mean that every other story in which a tome is discovered is happening concurrently. I view many of these stories as potentially isolated "what ifs." Whether Lovecraft intended it one way or the other doesn't really matter, in my opinion. It is up to each individual to interpret literature through their own lens. There are a lot of people who seem to think that people "must" consume Lovecraft in a certain way, and I find that perspective to be unfair.

My perspective aside, I've really enjoyed reading your posts. :)

Edited by klecser
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In interests of answering the original post, for my part, I'd suggest that there's many a library that says it has XYZ tome but ... is it? Really?

I mean' if a book is rare then it takes a rare scholar to confirm that it's genuine. Blahtown Library may claim it has a "genuine" copy of Noddy's Book of Spells ... but it takes an expert to access it, study it, and then declare that it's either the genuine Blyton original or a knock-off. Any rare book - of any specialism - adds kudos (and funding) to a library. It's an investment. Now, a genuine library (a repository of knowledge) may be run by a true scholar, who knows exactly what they have. They then have the double-edged problem of persuading the investors - who know nothing of the literary value but everything of the financial value - to protect the ... ah ... investment. The library might have a 'ringer' i.e. apparently genuine, to suit investors, insurers etc. but not the case.

As in any, um, industry there's fakes. And there's times when a library doesn't actually value what it has.

So ...

You have a situation where in the Miskatonic U. library, they are famed for having the Latin version of the Necronomicon. Investors don't know it's value as a powerful tome, they have it's value as a 'draw' to students. So they'll be fairly strict about its security but not exactly open to the idea of a buried vault. Always keep in mind the social and technical attitudes of the period. There might be places which hold other arcane tomes with less security (such as Blahtown Library, as above) that may or may not have the 'real deal'. If you had magical powers, which clearly had potential life-threatening consequences if you use them, would you risk your life and/or sanity (existence negligible) to break into a place, only to find a 'ringer' written by a popular pulp author?

In short, the security surrounding such powerful writings depends on both the appreciation of those who possess them, the finance behind that possession, and the actual import or genuineness of the book itself. What a great story, to have a Cultist risk life and sanity, to blast out puny Earthbound bonds of protection ... to find their grasped prize to be published in softback edition by Penguin.

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1 hour ago, Stormkhan Cogg of Pavis said:

What a great story, to have a Cultist risk life and sanity, to blast out puny Earthbound bonds of protection ... to find their grasped prize to be published in softback edition by Penguin.

In the Mouth of Madness gave an interesting motivation, reality started to crack because the softback  books were so convincing, so compelling. Each new reader granted more power to the author, or those he represented.

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On 5/3/2020 at 11:15 PM, klecser said:

Story-telling is inherently irrational. Any story demands whatever set of parameters are needed to affect us emotionally as people so we invest in it. I will never understand this modern trend of demanding rational from the irrational. The truth is that the story does whatever it needs to do in order to be fun.

Agreed, the impulse to story-telling is irrational. And characters are not pure rational beings. But what we recognise as a character requires at least some consistent motivation, or a reason why the character is acting contrary to its established motivations.

Now to act contrary to motivation, or for motivation to be incomprehensible to the observer seems very Cthulhu-esque - at least for the truly alien beings. Its something I try to convey when encountering horrors beyond our comprehension. It's not really related to this topic, but I feel that the way monsters are portrayed and played is far too prosaic and predictable.

Scenario one: the characters encounter a Hound of Tindalos. Each round the monster attacks the players and the players do what they can to defeat or escape the creature. Other than its weird attacks and immunity to mundane threats, its response isn't much different to a conventional attack dog.

Scenario two: on the first round the hound looks around, seemingly unaware of the players, but a gaping wound appears on one of the characters. Second round a wound appears on the hound's flank, oozing blue fluids, and the hound appears to lunge at thin air. Third round the hound ululates, as mist pours out of a nearby obtuse angle. Fourth round the hound departs.

In this second scenario, the Keeper rolls the hounds attack in the first round, but just changes the description such that the wound precedes the attack that caused it. The hound attacks but its motivations are unguessable. What does it want? Will it return? Is it hostile or just defending itself? The players don't - and probably shouldn't - know.

Anyway, back to the cultists. While they are mad, in that their SAN is zero, their motivations as portrayed in the scenarios I've read are pretty consistent. And the bosses - the priests and sorcerers and mad scientists - never seem to be deficient in reason; just of questionable intent.

But - bottom line! - this is absolutely a contrivance that I'm happy to accept. Is the game world a cooler place if ancient, moulding tomes sit in the restricted sections of libraries? If academics and investigators sit in darkened reading rooms, carefully turning the crinkled pages of blasphemous lore; seeking the unspeakable knowledge therein that will grant them their one slim hope of defeating a monstrous, ancient evil?

Absolutely!

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8 hours ago, tendentious said:

Scenario two

I really like this! Thanks

8 hours ago, tendentious said:

Anyway, back to the cultists. While they are mad, in that their SAN is zero, their motivations as portrayed in the scenarios I've read are pretty consistent. And the bosses - the priests and sorcerers and mad scientists - never seem to be deficient in reason; just of questionable intent.

I often find that past a given level of "backstory complexity", the players start getting lost -- they misunderstand what's going on, miss it, or worse. These are the types of adventure where, at the end, I talk with them about all the stuff they missed and what really happened behind the scenes... which happens often :) But there's a fine line between " oh wow so that's what was going on!" (similar to rewatching a movie and catching things you missed the first time) and "so it really didn't make any sense because they're mad/alien/whatever?". They love the first one. They don't love the second one so much, although they're OK with it when it comes with truly alien motivations (Delta Green Mythos monsters are very much of this type... it's fine that the Mi-Go don't have methods and agendas that can be understood). But there's also a fine line between something that looks alien in one scene (like the Hound attack example, or an encounter with unfathomable Mi-Go scientists), and a whole background story of alien things that don't make sense (i.e. a collection of events and encounters that can't be pieced back together... again, Delta Green makes aliens weird on a per-scene level, but generally they have one "understandable" goal over-arching each scenario).

As far as human NPCs are concerned, I always try to make them have some kind of sense. There's method in madness, as they say. The logic may be strange and skewed, but there's a logic. It makes for more interesting villains, and it also gives me guidelines to make the NPCs react to the PCs' actions -- if I can't understand the mad cultists' motivation and logic, then anything can happen and that doesn't help me improvise. Half the time, though, I make up random stuff based on this framework, and then the players poke holes in that, and then I need to write more material between sessions to plug those holes, and then they poke more holes, etc. This push-and-pull kinda helps coming up with schizophrenic motivations, sometimes.

So back to Mythos tomes: yep, they're in various libraries and other similar places. And yeah, it's very possible that my players start asking questions about this. What I would do is, first, see if they're genuinely interested in pursuing this line of thought, or if they just want to joke around. If they want to pursue this, that's when my "in-between sessions writing" kicks in. I would probably:

  1. Establish that many libraries have Mythos tomes in a restricted collection, or even in the back room, as these are items that are in restoration, being studied, or just considered too rare/fragile for public access. Do you know what's currently in the non-public areas of the Oxford University Library? Heck, do you even know what's in the public area?
    1. Are cultists expected to regularly check all the libraries around the world to check when an item of interest shows up? It might be years between the item being acquired by a library, and a cult attempting to steal it.
    2. There's a big difference between 1920s and modern times here. Assuming most cults have internet access and computer skills, they might have automated crawlers that notify them when an item of interest shows up in a public collection listing. In the 1920s, such automation is impossible, and they can't travel around the world all the time to check all the inventories, so they would only get wind of it by chance, or if they purposefully pay informants to keep them notified. That's an adventure seed right there!
  2. Mythos tomes in public libraries might be a minority. They might be most often in private collections. See the Ninth Gate movie.
  3. As Mythos tomes start showing up in libraries at the beginning of the 20th century, cults might see this as a viable way to acquire forbidden knowledge, and, indeed, the 1920s and 1930s in particular might see increasing break-ins at universities and libraries around the world. This, coupled with the scholars' realization that these books are more than what they seem, might lead to the formation of various counter-Mythos organizations... Bookhounds of London, The Armitage network, Delta-Green's precursor P4 division of the OSS, whatever you want. Suddenly there's a secret warfare between these people and the cults, and the Mythos tomes move away from the public areas of libraries before the start of WWII. By the end of the war, these books are locked in private vaults, government vaults, or whatever else.

So.... sounds to me that, instead of treating this as an unfortunate plot hole that needs to be kept for the sake of the genre's tropes, it can actually be an excuse to write a decades-spanning campaign!

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4 hours ago, lordabdul said:

I often find that past a given level of "backstory complexity", the players start getting lost -- they misunderstand what's going on, miss it, or worse. These are the types of adventure where, at the end, I talk with them about all the stuff they missed and what really happened behind the scenes... which happens often :) But there's a fine line between " oh wow so that's what was going on!" (similar to rewatching a movie and catching things you missed the first time) and "so it really didn't make any sense because they're mad/alien/whatever?". They love the first one. They don't love the second one so much, although they're OK with it when it comes with truly alien motivations (Delta Green Mythos monsters are very much of this type... it's fine that the Mi-Go don't have methods and agendas that can be understood). 

I think you've hit at one of the key challenges of Keeping any game, which is Keeper desire/perception doesn't always align with player experience. And, as you say, communication is key. I know a GM who builds really intricate relational connections between NPCs that we, as his players, completely miss the majority of the time. They are fully logical, yet so complex that the discovery is just tedious by the time the denouement/revelation lands. He never really asks us about the extent to which we follow his web of connections and when it transpires in a game it goes something like this: We aren't really reacting to this amazing connection he has set up. It was far too subtle. We sit there and stare at him and he is very clearly waiting for our "a ha" moment. And then, usually in game, he starts slowly re-feeding us all details until we figure things out. The whole time he has this sardonic grin on his face, and by the time he steps us through all the information that we were "supposed to" pick up on initially, he expects us to be amazed by what he has written. And we just aren't. That isn't to say we don't have fun in his games. We do. He just finds his intricate logical webs far more interesting than his players do. ;) You may say that "if communication is key, why not bring this up?" The short answer is that he is incredibly sensitive, prone to taking even the most gentle criticism personally, and it just isn't worth the drama. We have fun in other ways (he is an absolute master at interesting combat encounters) and usually only game with him once or twice a year. And that is the danger, if the logic is so detailed and/or complex it is very, very easy for players to miss details. This is why moving critical clues around is so important in CoC. Sometimes getting a clue really isn't "optional" and the story is much more about the fun of how the clue is discovered, than whether it is or is not. This is the reason why I think Gumshoe is attempting to solve a problem that never actually really existed. A good CoC Keeper has always understood that clues should not be "high stakes" if they are critical to the plot.

 

Quote

As far as human NPCs are concerned, I always try to make them have some kind of sense. There's method in madness, as they say. The logic may be strange and skewed, but there's a logic. It makes for more interesting villains, and it also gives me guidelines to make the NPCs react to the PCs' actions -- if I can't understand the mad cultists' motivation and logic, then anything can happen and that doesn't help me improvise. Half the time, though, I make up random stuff based on this framework, and then the players poke holes in that, and then I need to write more material between sessions to plug those holes, and then they poke more holes, etc. This push-and-pull kinda helps coming up with schizophrenic motivations, sometimes.

This is a good point. I'm not saying that stories should have NO sense elements. You are correct in that some layer of logic is needed. I think when you combine all these examples together, the Keeping axiom that emerges is that depth or breadth of logic doesn't really matter if it isn't accessible and fun to players. I know a lot of GMs that keep their logic under lock-and-key in their head. They seem to be "challenging" the players, in an adversarial sense, to unravel their logic. And the players may not have necessarily being given clues that "hit," so to speak.

In the context of the original thread, the question is: Under what level of logic are the players and Keeper, mutually, going to enjoy the established logic of the "hunt?

If it is skewed to one side or the other, the other side just isn't going to have fun. Keeping is a dance, in this way. People don't mind being lead, so long as the experience is fun.

4 hours ago, lordabdul said:

So.... sounds to me that, instead of treating this as an unfortunate plot hole that needs to be kept for the sake of the genre's tropes, it can actually be an excuse to write a decades-spanning campaign!

What opportunities are there for, over time, "explaining the unexplained," rather than assuming that the loosely explained is some kind of error? How can "problems" be turned into opportunities?

Edited by klecser
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On 5/9/2020 at 9:06 PM, klecser said:

We aren't really reacting to this amazing connection he has set up. It was far too subtle. We sit there and stare at him and he is very clearly waiting for our "a ha" moment. And then, usually in game, he starts slowly re-feeding us all details until we figure things out. The whole time he has this sardonic grin on his face, and by the time he steps us through all the information that we were "supposed to" pick up on initially, he expects us to be amazed by what he has written. And we just aren't.

 

On 5/9/2020 at 9:06 PM, klecser said:

I know a lot of GMs that keep their logic under lock-and-key in their head. They seem to be "challenging" the players, in an adversarial sense, to unravel their logic. And the players may not have necessarily being given clues that "hit," so to speak.

As a matter of interest are these "Keepers that only Keep" by any chance ? I feel it is very important for Keepers to experience being an investigator so as to know what it is like having to piece together information and how little of what a Keeper "thinks" is communicated to players actually "is" communicated.

I became a better Keeper by being an investigator periodically and think it is frankly almost a mandatory experience Keepers should put themselves through.

It can also dispossess such Keepers of the notion of how their scenario "should" play out ( where they end up railroading players through the Keeper's desired path for the scenario and prevent players from taking actions, that are entirely possible, but just not conducive to how the Keeper thinks the scenario should progress ). As an investigator I abhor being told "you can't do that," it actually makes me really angry and I suddenly lose a lot of patience with the Keeper. Unless the suggested action is a physical impossibility, no Keeper should ever say such a sentence to a player. 

But I think I'm getting off-topic.

Edited by groovyclam
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1 hour ago, klecser said:

What opportunities are there for, over time, "explaining the unexplained," rather than assuming that the loosely explained is some kind of error? How can "problems" be turned into opportunities?

There is certainly a delicate balance between explaining too little and explaining too much, as countless of horror/sci-fi movies and TV series have showed us (for good or bad). But I learned that the level of subtlety required to get a satisfying RPG adventure is far below the level of subtlety required to get a satisfying screenplay or novel. When they're "in the heat of the action", the players just pick up less hints than they would with a passive, crafted narration.

To me, a "problem" gets turned into an opportunity whenever, well, you think it's fun, or whenever you actually find the right idea :)  (in the meantime, you can just wave mysteriously from behind the GM screen, stroking your chin, saying "that is an interesting question, isn't it?", and giving your best GM poker face... I believe I'm pretty good at the GM poker face by now...). My earliest realization of this was, I think, when I was watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer in high-school. After the first couple seasons, me and my friends were joking that, surely, the city police and city officials must, by now, have realized that their crime and death stats are completely out of whack. Of course, barely a season later, the shows comes up with a season centered around the fact that the Mayor is in on it. I imagine that the writers had very similar discussions on the topic, and just decided to lean into it. So as a GM I do the same, and lean into what the players give me.

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12 hours ago, lordabdul said:

 the level of subtlety required to get a satisfying RPG adventure is far below the level of subtlety required to get a satisfying screenplay or novel. When they're "in the heat of the action", the players just pick up less hints than they would with a passive, crafted narration.

Very, very important point - it should be stressed hard in any "Keeper-ing 101" course.

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