GM Excuses V: Lovecraftian Horror

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GM Excuses, Part V

And the 3rd will be 5th. Somehow we jumped over the Lovecraftian episode of Writing Excuses. Perhaps our broken minds blocked the show out. And now, it’s back, more terrifying than ever!

MaplecroftAnd it’s a great episode, with guest speaker Cherry Priest. Her latest novel is Maplecroft: Lizzy Borden with an ax vs. Cthulhu! Hello?

Take a listen, then let’s do our homework.

Writing Prompt: Take a character, and from that character’s point of view, describe their reaction to something horrific and awful, but do so without describing the thing itself.

OK, great fiction writing prompt. How can we twist this for gaming? If we use an npc, when would the players ever hear about it? If we take a PC, how would you describe something to them without describing it?

Here’s my shot. It’s a PC, and here’s the READ ALOUD text addressed to ONE character:

As you step across the obsidian floor, white glyphs flare into existance across the surface and twist and turn. The rest of the party watches in horror as you vanish.

You fall to the floor in front of your friends, covered in a foul caul of mucus. How long were you gone? Thankfully you don’t remember, until, then you do. Just bits and pieces. Being on a stone table as surgical implements held by what? Pincers? As you were cut open? There was a lot of screaming. Yours.

And they put you back together. But not quite the same as before. And didn’t they add something? Cold and wriggling? Can you feel it now wrapped around your heart, or is this some delusion?

You hope it never happened. But you know better. There is no hope, and it’s only going to get worse.

So the poor player doesn’t really know what took them away, nor what they looked like. What all the players know, is any of them can be taken at any time. And unspeakable horrors are hovering.

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4 thoughts on “GM Excuses V: Lovecraftian Horror

    1. Great question. I took to the easy way out by putting it in an investigative scene instead of a combat scene.

      Normally, you as the GM tell a player what they see, hear, feel, smell, and taste.

      You could do something like this: There’s a 13th Age monster (in 13 True Ways) called The Flensed, where the description is “It moves… and it fights, but you can’t really remember its shape, its features, or even whether it’s attacking you with a club or a claw.”

      I would imagine this would be cool in small doses, but if every other monster was “unseeable” the impact would be gone and your players would just think you’re being lazy.

      You could also have a big description worked up, but each encounter focus on one aspect of the creature. Its eyes, claws, twisted maw… So you never describe the whole. It’s a blur except for one bit. If PCs met a lot of them, eventually they’d build up the entire critter in their minds.

      And if it’s this devastating to the PC’s mind, a mechanical price could be paid, like sanity point loss in Call of Cthulhu. In Trail of Cthulhu you get to lose not just sanity but stability as well. Yay! In 5E you might get a disadvantage as your mind fought against seeing what was right in front of you. In Numenera you might take Intellect damage. There’s a whole supplement for Lovecraftian Numenera called In Strange Aeons that has a number of great ideas.


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