The chamber smelled like rancid fish stuffed in a corpse that had been left to float in a pool of excrement for weeks. Jabez figured it was an image thing since it wouldn’t do to confuse C’thul, may he forever sleep, with a different Great Old One. Nobody would take his cult seriously if it didn’t at least conjure images of rotting sea life.
Jabez sneezed and cursed.
He really didn’t want to be in the chapel and had avoided going to services for weeks. Sadly the summons had been impossible to put off since it came directly from the Master.
It wasn’t so much faithless as lazy. He’d joined the cult initially because they promised unknowable power to do with as he pleased. What teenager wouldn’t want to use that to wreak havok upon his enemies?
Now he was stuck shuffling around in the dark serving things that didn’t always understand the difference between loyal servant and snack.
As he stood there, contemplated his poor life choices, he could feel them watching him across the thin barrier of the physical world. Those depthless orbs of inky darkness, the silent screams of the unending abyss, and the all consuming unreality a hair’s breadth beyond the prime material plane. It gave him a headache each time they looked his way.
The first time had nearly destroyed him. The crying had gone on for hours, the shakes never really settled, and even after five years there were days full of nothing but gibbering.
“Just one lousy mistake…” Jabez whispered.
“I hope, brother, that you are referring to the creation of life itself?”
The voice was right next to him and Jabez leapt. The Master was standing there, wrapped in his filthy green robe of office, hood pulled forward to hide his face as always. The stench was much stronger. Jabez got down on one knee and quickly genuflected.
“Of…of course that’s what I was referring to Master! What other mistake could possibly be worse?”
“Indeed young one,” the Master circled him, his robe swishing with each careful step. “What could be greater? Surely not reading the holy words without commitment? Surely not being embarrassed by the call to service? Surely not being ashamed of a life dedicated to unbridled power?”
Jabez cringed and kept his gaze on the floor as the Master voiced his darkest thoughts.
The Master laughed, “fear not young supplicant! You are but a mortal creature and C’thul cares not a whit about your doubts. Rise and receive your duty.”
Jabez smirked and rose. He spread his arms wide and awaited the Master’s instructions. The darkness of the master’s hood regarded him. The air warped and the skin around his neck began to itch. Sweat dribbled down the small of his back.
“Your task is sacred Jabez. You are to travel across The Reach and bring a traitor back to us. You will be given great power for this purpose. This may hurt…a great deal.”
Jabez swallowed and felt something in his throat shift. The itching was suddenly worse and bile coated his tongue. Vomit exploded from his mouth and he fell to the floor. Pain ripped through every part of his body. He tried to scream but only a gurgle came forth. He struggled to look at the Master as the transformation took hold.
The Master pulled back his hood and Jabez saw his face for the first time. Tentacles writhed where his mouth should have been. Two dark eyes bulged along the sides of his rubbery head. Slime glistened across his pale white flesh.
“C’thul may not care about lazy doubters like you…but I certainly do…” the Master’s voice was in his head and it was laughing.
The Gods and The Great Old Ones
Some sages claim that there was a time before there was time, when worlds were dreams, and when existence had no meaning. Eventually some of the gods grew bored of this and decided to wake up. A group of them gathered together and made an agreement. In that instant they created The Known World with all its creatures, all its joys, and all its pain. The gods who woke gain tremendous power from the world they built and now they must protect it from things that envy the power they’ve gained.
The Great Old Ones exist beyond the Prime Material Plane and even the layers of reality that the Prime touches. They are things so alien, so powerful, so unfathomable that they would unmake all that has come before should they ever enter the world. The gods keep them at bay but there are those in the world who crave the arrival of the Great Old Ones. Are they mad? Are they evil? Do they even know what they’re doing?
Deep in the endless waters of the unfathomable abyss, beyond even the homes of demons and devils, sleeps Great C’thul. He dreams in fits and starts. It is these dreams that find their way through the barrier of the gods. It is these dreams that manifest in physical form. It is these dreams that warp mortals into his devoted followers. His power is undeniable but his dreams are fickle things. Beware.
The Pulsing Flesh
Pleasure pits beyond reason, pain beyond endurance, experiences beyond the soul’s capacity to withstand. It is through these states that The Pulsing Flesh has extended tendrils into the world. Its agents move among the highest echelons of power to tantalize and traumatize. They inspire creatures to heights of wonder that open the weave of the world just enough for shadows of The Pulsing Flesh to manifest and spread.
The Yellow King
It sits upon a throne of will and inhabits the symbols of the mind. It is through knowledge, through thought, and through madness that it pushes past the net of the gods. Some knowledge is forbidden for a reason and each mind that the Yellow King touches is another gate for it to extend itself through.
The Hunched One
No clerics gain spells from the Great Old Ones, that’s what the gods do. Instead there are certain breeds of Warlock who make deals with things beyond the world and it is these that form the heart of Great Old One cults. Warlock players can freely choose one of the the Great Old Ones as their patron but this is not without risk as such a patron’s intentions are so alien that simple contact is enough to create insanity, transmogrification, or the death of all living things.
The Great Old Ones are chiefly inspired by Lovecraftian ideas and should be used sparingly unless you really want to ramp up the cosmic horror. Additionally the Pulsing Flesh has some definite Hellraiser inspiration to it which can be problematic depending on the maturity level of your players and how they handle body horror. Good communication with your players and clear expectations regarding themes, mood, and taboo subjects are paramount should you wish to incorporate any of the things mentioned in this article.
As usual, you are free to ignore all of this when you run The Known World.