How Cthulhu Armageddon came to be
Cthulhu Armageddon is a special case of world-building because it’s not completely my world. Instead, it is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmology created in the 1920s until his death in 1937. H.P. Lovecraft was an early believer in “open source” writing and often cross-pollinated with other others as well as encouraged them to use his concepts as well as ideals. Some of his fellow writers in the so-called Lovecraft Circle included Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian) and Robert Bloch (Psycho).
For those unfamiliar with HPL’s writings, essentially the concept is that the world is sitting on top of a bunch of incredibly powerful aliens that have been sleeping since ancient times. These Great Old Ones are the size of Godzilla and possess vast reality-altering powers. There are also numerous offshoot races of humanity that worship them that are each more horrifying than the last, living among humanity in secret or in the dark forgotten corners of the Earth.
Above both are the Other Gods who are the lords of the Dreamlands where everything is possible and they are, at best, casually indifferent, and, at worst, amused with humanity the same way a child might torment an insect. Magic is real but eventually drives users insane and is tied to the terrible forces above. Eventually, the Great Old Ones will awake “when the stars are right” and destroy humanity.
Lovecraft’s work was very imaginative and influential despite not giving him financial success in his time. In simple terms, it was just too darn weird. Many writers from Brian Lumley, J. Michael Straczynski, and Stephen King have found it to be inspirational. Others have found Lovecraft to be troublesome or even offensive due to the fact, in simple terms, dude did not like minorities.
Some writers like myself, Matt Ruff, Ruthanna Emyrs, and Victor Lavalle have even addressed that as we’ve adapted his works. Nevertheless, his works helped inspire everything from movies to television to music to video games. I was introduced to it by the Call of Cthulhu tabletop roleplaying game.
The ideal for the Cthulhu Armageddon world came from a combination of factors that have competed for attention ever since. The first was the idea as a logical endpoint for Lovecraft’s writings. Eventually, the stars would be right and the world would be destroyed. However, humanity is remarkably good at surviving mass-extinction events and it occured to me there was potential in stories about the remnants of our once proud race struggling to survive in the shadow of literal giants. Sort of Call of Cthulhu meets Fallout: New Vegas if you will.
Even more so, as I wrote out the world, I started to get a sense of a Wild West feel to the place. Perhaps it was the Mad Max and New Vegas influences but hundreds of tiny little communities, lawlessness, tribal communities, and an eternal frontier invoked the idea for me. Thus, Cthulhu Armageddon became the Weirdest Western of them all. Even if it takes place in the Esoteric East.
Themes and Mood
Cthulhu Armageddon is a somewhat existentialist work that follows the fact there is no judgement or morality beyond the principles the protagonists choose to follow themselves. The gods are real but they are amoral and uncaring to the works of man. Life is cheap and arguably pointless since humanity’s civilization has been washed away and extinction is a very real possibility. It is a stark and uncompromising world where the definition of “human” is also changing and what that means. The protagonists must define what provides their life meaning in the very probably few decades that humanity has left and whether it is better to live eternally as a monster or to experience merciful death as a man.
Human history is similar but different. Long before Earth, the universe was created by Azathoth the Blind Idiot God, who was there alongside Yog-Sothoth, and the Other Gods. Incarnations of physics and the universe’s laws, they transcended human understanding or even alien. Mutation and capriciousness created many races across space that evolved, lived, and died. Consciousness, however, created the Dreamlands that spawned ideas of gods.
These gods, called the Elder Gods or Small Gods, were more akin to the races that existed. They were less powerful but less inscrutable than the Other Gods. One of the Other Gods, Nyarlathotep, developed a fascination with these beings and became both their guardian as well as minder. It assumed countless visages across time and space, inspiring many gods and taking their forms.
Many of these races went extinct without issue but a small number developed science and magic to the point that they transcended normal existence to become immortal godlike beings. Nyarlathotep cultivated these quests no matter the morality and a handful of beings became the Great Old Ones. Some were gestalt hive-minds of their entire race and others were powerful individuals in their own right. Cthulhu was allegedly the first of their beings or, at least, among the first and led many to settle on the primordial Earth.
Earth was unimportant except for the home of several of these beings but attracted a fair number of alien colonists long before the primordial soup cooled. The Elder Things were the first of these races, dwelling on Earth for a billion years as scientist-kings. They created the protoplasmic shoggoths to serve as their slaves and would, in the twilight of their reign, help “uplift” humanity to replace them when the shoggoths rebelled. Eventually, the Elder Things would retreat under the continent of Antarctica’s surface before leaving the Earth altogether.
Another race that came to inhabit the Earth were the Great Race of Yith that lived during the time of the dinosaurs with vast cities as well as psychic powers. Destroyed by a ravenous infestation called the Flying Polyps, because their name is untranslatable, they psychically projected themselves into the future to escape extinction. It was their intent to possess a nonhuman race after the extinction of humanity, who they learned of via time travel, but this proved impossible given the events of the Rising.
Early Human History
The humans altered by the Elder Things escaped their captivity and interbred with mortals, some of them learning the secrets of Elder Thing technology. Knowledge is corrupting and a source of madness, though, as early humanity would soon learn. Early humans sought out the resting places of the Great Old Ones and attempted to make contact with them using primitive misunderstood magical rites or their Elder Thing bestowed psychic powers.
These poor fools were inevitably mutated, driven mad, or enlightened. From their brief psychic contact, they learned the Great Old Ones were almost omnipotent in power and would eventually emerge from their slumber to reshape the world in their image: an action that would result in humanity’s extinction. This time would be known as “when the stars were right” and created the earliest doomsday cults of the Great Old Ones. Nyarlathotep sent several of his avatars among them to help uplift the resulting doomed race in order to see if they would amount to anything.
Contact with the Great Old Ones resulted in the offshoots of humanity known as the Deep Ones (worshipers of Cthulhu), the Faceless Ones (worshipers of the Other Gods), Serpent Men (worships of Yig-Seth), and ghouls (worshipers of Shub-Nigguarath and Tsathoggua). These offshoots maintained the ability to breed with humans even as they eventually moved to different portions of the Earth or disguised themselves.
Much of the early human history with these offshoots passed into myth and legend with the fall of Atlantis, Acheron, Hyborian Age, and Stygia. Simply put, modern scholars or cultists obfuscated the true history of Earth as legend or mythology. The cultists of the Great Old Ones believing that the end of the world would make them gods beneath the gods rather than exterminate them like any other vermin.
The End of the World (“The Rising”)
Much of human history would be secretly defined by the conflict between cults fighting conflicts over which Great Old One or Outer God was the greatest (as if they would notice or care about such efforts). Much of human religion and science would be defined by half-understood glimpses into the greater universe by psychics or fragments of knowledge.
Perhaps the most complete and authentic book on the subject of the world’s true history would be authored by Abdul Al-Hazred, called the Necronomicon. It would describe the Old Ones, Other Gods, branches of humanity, the End of the World, and many rituals to channel the power of the sleeping beings.
By the 1920s, it was understood by many governments and academic institutions there were secret forces in the world. The greatest center of learning about this subject would be Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts. Humanity believed after several small occult wars in the shadow of “normal” history that it could survive the coming apocalypse or perhaps outlast it.
Humanity was wrong.
When the Great Old Ones rose, humanity was slaughtered en masse by the massive psychic powers of their kind. It not even war as attempts to use weapons of mass destruction were barely noticed by the beings. Worse, the laws of physics and time were broken. The Dreamlands swallowed the universe and not only was the Earth consumed but every galaxy as well as every star. What followed was not the end of humanity but the beginning of a new universe hostile to life as it once was. Humanity has survived 100 years in the shadow of the Great Old Ones. It may not survive much longer.
The Esoteric East (“The New England Wasteland”)
The Esoteric East consists of the North East of the former United States and parts of Southern Canada. It is a vast desert that is crisscrossed with small towns, villages, and the occasional city that has managed to emerge in the Rising’s wake. Most of humanity has been rendered extinct but the survivors are hardy as well as benefiting from the fact that few creatures of the New World actually care about their existence. While the universe is immensely hostile, indifferent, and uncaring to mankind–that applies to other species too.
Technology has roughly reverted to a early Industrial level with a focus on steam, easily repairable weapons, and domesticated creatures. Many of the animals and foods humanity lives on are changed in strange ways but they have been able to subsist on them regardless. Part of this may be that magic is much more powerful as well as prevalent. In a very real way, humanity continues to be able to live because they dream powerfully that they can and that has a tangible affect on the world even in a small way.
Humanity continues its bigotry in some forms, though, as while most humans have gotten past their previous racial bigotries, they now hold distaste toward mutants or those who bear inhuman ancestry. Ironically, the human offshoots are struggling to survive just like humanity and some have made peace with the race they formerly held in disdain. If mankind is to survive the next few generations, it will certainly have to change to become something else.
Religion has been strongly impacted by the cults that were prevalent in the region Pre-Rising and now mix openly with more traditional faiths that have become “weird” now that the apocalypse has occurred. Atheism and agnosticism mix with maltheism as well as polytheism as beings exist who are not gods but might as well be are everywhere. Many psychics and regular humans touch the Old Ones with their dreams now and go mad but it is impossible to tell as it is an insane world.
New Arkham – A former US Air Force base turned city inhabited by the descendants of soldiers and “pure” humans of various races. They tend to be more technologically advanced than your typical Wastelander community but practice a nonsensical ideology about reclaiming the Earth for regular humans. They also bully and intimidate other communities for resources. They are one of the few places with any actual industrial manufacturing capacities, though.
Dunwych Nation – The descendants of a tourist group that took up residence in the ruins of Dunwich,MA. The Dunwych Nation is an alliance of tribes united by a shared culture and worship of the Other Gods as well as Great Old Ones. They have combined technology, survivalism, and magic to become a hardy but dangerous power in the region. New Arkham and the Dunwych maintain an uneasy rivalry.
Kingsport – One of the largest cities in the region and most prosperous. Kingsport caters to the Dunwych and other communities with trade and vice. It also possesses a still-functioning electrical plant of unknown energy sources. Sadly, Kingsport is also a place where slaves are marketed from by the Deep Ones.
Miskatonic – A community constructed around the libraries of the university that have since been moved to the building’s old steam tunnels. Miskatonic has become, ironically, a cult itself as it works with the Great Race of Yith to seek some way of keeping both their races alive.
New Innsmouth – After Cthulhu failed to recognize the Deep Ones for their faith, a purge of hybrids commenced to rid their race of “impurities.” The survivors included one band of refugees that headed in-land nearby a saltwater lake. They are a decent, albeit fishy, frontier people.
Scrapyard – A fairly typical settlement in the region that is built around an oasis. The locals practice an uncomfortable relationship with a nearby ghoul settlement that provides them resources in exchange for the bodies of their dead.