The chamber smelled like rancid fish stuffed in a week old corpse. Jabez figured it was an image thing. 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 include rotting sea life.
Jabez sneezed and silently cursed his fate.
He really didn’t want to be in the chamber. He’d managed to avoid services for weeks but the summons had been impossible to put off. It came directly from The Master.
It wasn’t that Jabez was faithless, he knew very well the true power of C’thul, he’d used it often enough. At his core he was just lazy and afraid. He’d joined the cult because they promised unfathomable power to do with as he pleased. What teenager wouldn’t want to use that to wreak havoc upon his enemies?
That had been a decade ago and now he was stuck shuffling through dark tunnels serving things that had a hard time distinguishing between servant and snack. Not for the first time he wondered what it would have been like if he’d stayed on at the cobbler shop instead.
As he stood there, contemplating his life choices, he realized they were watching him from the other side. Those depthless orbs of inky darkness, the silent screams of the unending abyss, the all-consuming need a hair’s breadth beyond the material plane. He felt the inevitable headache spreading across the back of his skull.
The first time had wrecked him. The wailing had gone on for hours, the shakes never really settled, and even after all this time there were days full of nothing but mumbling incoherence. He’d torn out his fingernails that first time and they hadn’t grown back.
“One lousy mistake…” Jabez muttered.
“I hope, young one, that you are referring to the creation of life itself?”
The Master’s watery voice was right next to him and he nearly fell from the shock. The Master was standing there, wrapped in his filthy green robe of office, hood pulled forward to hide his face. The stench was stronger than usual and Jabez could just see something undulating in the hood’s darkness. He kneeled before The Master and stared at the chamber’s slick floor.
“Of…of course that’s what I was referring to Master! Life has proven beyond doubt to be the worst thing the gods ever wrought.”
The Master circled him, his robe swishing with each step, so Jabez could know exactly how close he was.
“Yes…what could be worse? Speaking the holy words without conviction? Avoiding the call to service? Fear?”
Jabez face was hot. His bladder felt suddenly full and the headache grew worse. He kept looking at the floor and tried not to think about what The Master was doing.
The Master was silent for a long time and Jabez knew only terror and sour sweat.
“Fear not young supplicant!”
There was a liquid chuckle.
“In truth C’thul cares not a whit about your doubts. You are beneath his notice. You are still but a worm to him. Rise and receive his blessing.”
Jabez rose with difficulty, his hands shaking, his knees weak. He desperately needed to relieve himself. He could feel the gibbering creep into the back of his throat and he clamped his jaw as hard as he could to stop it.
“Your task is sacred child. You will bring a traitor back to us. C’thul grants you the tools you need. There will be pain…a great deal of clarifying pain.”
Jabez tried to swallow and felt something in his throat crack. There was movement in his stomach and he tasted bile. Vomit forced its way from his mouth and he fell to the floor. Agony ripped through every part of him. Pure animal terror filled the chamber. He struggled to look at The Master but his vision doubled, quadrupled, twisted.
He thought he saw The Master pull back his hood. There were tentacles. Two dark eyes bulging from a shapeless head. Slime covering pale white flesh.
“C’thul may not care about lazy doubters like you…but I 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 world and all its creatures, all its joys, and all its pain. The gods who woke grew more powerful from their creation. The other gods, the hungry things, the ancient ones slavered with alien desires to take the power for themselves.
The Great Old Ones exist beyond the Prime Material Plane and planes that touch it. They are things so alien, so powerful, so unfathomable that they would unravel reality itself should they find a way to 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? Does it matter?
Deep in the endless waters of an infinite abyss, beyond the dank chambers 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 grant power to his followers. His presence is undeniable but his dreams are both joy and nightmare. 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. Such knowledge is forbidden and each mind the Yellow King touches is another crack in the world.
The Hunched One
There are no clerics serving 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 may 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 corrode the mind, flesh, and soul of any mortal.
The MANY forms of Aberration in DnD can easily be the result of fragments of The Great Old Ones finding their way into the Prime Material Plane. Mind Flayers and Aboleths make decent servants of C’thul while Beholders could be spawned from a Yellow King reality crack. Gibbering Mouthers and the Hunched One are a no brainer. The Pulsing Flesh mutates creatures as it inhabits their mortal forms creating aberrations that were once humanoid.
The Great Old Ones are inspired by Lovecraftian ideas and should be used sparingly unless you really want to ramp up the cosmic horror. The Pulsing Flesh was inspired by Hellraiser which can be problematic depending on the maturity level of your players. 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 your own version of The Known World.