Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cthulhu Rules the Mutant Future

“And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished, for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare.” 
"These Great Old Ones... were not composed altogether of flesh and blood. They had shape — but that shape was not made of matter. When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, They could not live. But although They no longer lived, They would never really die…"
-H.P. Lovecraft

Beyond the blighted zones lie the sepulchral remains of the coastal cities.  Elongated shapes, things that were once people in the distant past but now more insect than man, cavort and gibber around the gigantic, squamous hulks that glisten near the water's edge.  New York is the second coming of R'lyeh, its massive skyscrapers jutting at incomprehensible angles against the pallid sky where the red eye of the sun glares down on inhuman streets.  And always above the sound of wind and surf can be heard a faint, distant piping.  It is a sound that grows no closer, no matter how long the listener follows it back to the source.

The futuristic "golden age" of man was brought to a jarring end after oceanic researchers used deep sea mechs to wrench open a pair of gigantic, cyclopean doors on the bottom of the Pacific ocean, releasing a massive, octopoidal horror (and its teeming followers) back into the world.  Across the globe, coastal cities came under siege as these gigantic, tentacled leviathans surfaced near populous harbors and bays.

The mutagenic effects on the local population were devastating.  The sickening miasma brought to the surface by the Great Old Ones permeated the city streets near the harbors, causing irreversible genetic degeneration through direct exposure.  Leering mockeries of humanity, with attenuated limbs, insectoid eyes, and clacking mandibles shambled from each infection site in waves to feast on their brethren.  The viral infection spread rapidly from the coasts.

History doesn't describe how long the war was fought using the conventional weapons of the time, before  decisions were made to burn the sky and blast the earth with sanitizing atomics.  It was all such a long time ago.  No one recorded exactly how the lotteries were conceived and how selections were made to pick those who would to take refuge in the vast, underground "sanctuaries".  It's assumed people that demonstrated natural immunity or resistance to the mutagenic viruses of the Great Old Ones were prioritized, earning the appellation "pure strain humans".

Life has gone on in the polis-sized shelters for generations, long enough for knowledge of the surface world to fade along with memories of the time before the return of the Great Old Ones.  The shelters weren't made to last forever, and overcrowding, disease, and crime is rampant in the maze-like subterranean cities.  Food stores, medical supplies, and various spare parts are valuable items on the black markets.  Always there is the need to eradicate the apocalyptic death cults that sprout in the slums and back alleys of the polis, worshipping the alien gods that devastated the surface.  Unchecked, the madmen that fall prey to the whispered dreams of the Old Ones would lower the defenses and allow the surface horrors to invade the last refuges.

The governing council needs information about the surface world.  Robotic probes have broadcast footage depicting violent societies of armed inhuman raiders, motoring across the wasted great plains.  Thus, volunteers are trained as scouts and soldiers to infiltrate the surface and bring back specimens, take soil, air and water readings, and determine what still lurks within the urban blighted zones.

Notes:
I haven’t done a post-apocalyptic game in a long time - like probably not since the 80's, back when the threat of nuclear destruction seemed very real to my youthful brain.  I always wanted to take it just a little bit more serious than Gamma World - flying robotic death machines = YES, human-sized talking bunnies = not so much.

Like the campaign background above, I love the conceit of having the players start in a relatively civilized underground settlement, cut off for generations.  Like the explorers on the original Gamma World cover, they ascend to the surface as true outsiders.  Their characters don't know any more about the "brave new world" than they do as players.  It's really a perfect set up for a gigantic hex crawl.

Of course, I can never decide what kind of apocalypse triggered the scorched earth.  Was it the zombies, the aliens, the rise of the machines, a human conflict that went nuclear, or the return of Great Cthulhu?

Let's go with all of the above.

Has anyone been reading the Dark Horse BPRD comic book series?  They've  been slowly destroying the earth with the Hellboy equivalent of "The Great Old Ones" and it's been a pretty awesome story arc.  I'm also inspired by the movie 12 Monkeys and the way the scientists send out volunteers to scout the surface, looking for signs of the infection.  The dystopian, underground city of 12 Monkeys is perfect as a model for "Sanctuary", humanity's last refuge from Great Cthulhu and his ilk.

I really liked Stephen King's post-apocalyptic "Dark Tower" series featuring the gunslinger; I wish there was some way I could work a Wild West and gunslinger (or samurai) theme into it.  I'm not sure this particular kitchen sink is actually that big.

Of course, I already have a game supplement that describes a war-torn, debased world where the Great Old Ones terrorize and despoil humanity.  I could just place the underground settlement of Sanctuary beneath the surface of Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa.  I may find myself digging out my copy of Mutant Future, nonetheless.

I'm not saying this is jumping ahead of anything else in the queue, but you know how it is - fish got to swim, birds have to fly, and writers got to write.

Ps: I'm thinking both The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth, two atomic age monsters-from-the-ocean movies, had a sub theme around prehistoric disease or radioactive blight. A mutagenic Old One is in good stead.