Another point that came up during my review of the Great Old Ones compilation was a set of suggestions early in the scenario ‘The Pale God’ for keeping things a bit mysterious for the players. I am highly in favor of this idea and am going to expound on it..and more, the other aspects of the game that it touches on.
Momentary spoiler that is part of that review, the scenario in question deals with Eihort, and its brood, and the action of the scenario begins with a victim of the brood dying in front of the party. In an attempt to enhance the feeling of mystery, the keeper is encouraged to change the description of the small creatures as they erupt from the body. And this brings up a couple of interesting concepts right off the bat.
There are some creatures in the Lovecraftian canon that are hard to disguise in any way, and experienced players brace for the experience when they realize that they are about to encounter Deep Ones, or ghouls, or…this is hard to avoid, but unless you really push the envelope, it is hard to avoid completely. Note, I specified, experienced players. Characters may very well be facing the creatures for the first time, and it is a good idea for the keeper to find a way to help the players find that chill for the players again. For the longest possible time, I strongly suggest using description to describe creatures encountered rather than breaking it down to the title of the this entry.
Yes the players will know it’s a deep one that just crawled over the gunwale; yes, the players will know that it’s a pack of ghouls stalking them in the cemetary; yes they will have an idea that the invisible thing that just appeared in the room and begins to take a pinkish hue as it drains its first victim as it titters is a star vampire. But describe don’t say ‘the star vampire grabs the professor, and you begin to see its form.’ Or ‘the deep one clambers aboard and approaches you.’…hold off that familiarity as long as possible. And don’t let the players use the terms until they can find a legitimate way to use the term, finding the name in some book, or finding a way for the characters to justify coming up with the term or an equivalent.
And then again…..
Why not use completely different names for some things, modified descriptions, or combinations of the two? We all do this with situations in the course of the game, so at least occasionally it makes sense to do it with the creatures and entities in the game if circumstances warrant it. Simplest example, I’ve had two moderately successful campaigns, one set with a base in Kansas City, one set in Dallas (the cities where I lived at the time). I did, in both instances, have a lot of “Lovecraft Country” type additions to local geography, a plethora of the small towns surrounding each that weren’t on any real map, but fit into the ‘game map’…and in both of these campaigns, there was one small city that corresponded to Innsmouth. A glance at any map of the United States shows that neither of these are even remotely close to the ocean, so Deep Ones as the creature du jour was not a logical development. In the Dallas campaign, I created an odd variation on Serpent People that fit the hybridization program template, with a subterranean city of degenerate Serpent People who were struggling to raise above their station. In the Kansas City version I created a completely different species that was treating the humans of its town the same way. I won’t go into the specifics of that race, or the events that game play produced, but rather than agonize over a full creation for something that I expected to only use for a small storyarc, I used the statistics for the Deep Ones straight out of the book, altering any aquatic references for ones appropriate to their natures.
But at the same time, never be afraid to create entirely new creatures, there is no familiarity if no one has seen it before. The first scenario released for 7th Edition, Dead Light, does a marvelous job of this, a creature that is mysterious in origin, nature, and motivations, a great creature, and perfect for its purpose, a one shot adventure…but at the same time, easy to reuse if need be.
And in addition to that, if you’re willing or able to pick up the Malleus Monstorum, you will have more creatures than you can use in a dozen campaigns. Oh, they yawned when they investigated the asteroid impact crater and saw a Colour Out of Space? Next time they’re out in the wilderness, let them trip over a Space Eater. They just shrugged when the wizard summoned a dimensional shambler? Have a Shugoran step out of the mists. Don’t feel obligated to have every campaign lead ultimately to the known Great Old Ones and powers. I know, the game is Call of Cthulhu..and my fondness for the big guy is huge, but I have no intention of him ever showing up directly in a game, though his cultists may abound. But servants of Yidhra will pop up too. Sometimes it can be daunting, the volume of things already available and the ease to create more for your own campaign. But no campaign should be about finding everything or doing everything.
Find what works for you and your players. Just try to find a way to keep it mysterioius.
That shambling somewhat humanoid creature that just crawled aboard your boat, the moonlight glistening off its scales as it steps forward should send a chill down the players at that sight. They should never just ‘oh it’s a Deep One.’ That mentality belongs in D and D, and not really a good fit there, in my opinion. Of course, if the moonlight gets brighter, and it turns out to be a Dweller in the Depths, all the better. (insert evil laughter here)