Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Introducing Cthuesday with the Wendigo

Greetings, readers - a heavy winter storm has me home from work early (after needing literally 40 minutes to dig my car out of the snowbank that had formed around it) today, and unfortunately also prevents me from going out later to play - instead of run - Call of Cthulhu.  I found a new local game store recently, and when I mentioned that I mostly run Call of Cthulhu, the owner asked me if I would be interested in running games at the store - they have a guy who runs CofC on alternating Tuesdays, but the demand is greater than he can keep up with.  I offered to take the Tuesdays he has off, and proposed calling it "Cthuesday." Today I was going to go to the store and meet the other guy, maybe play in his game, and at least see how he does things, but the weather is making that a no-go.

So instead, I'm going to start doing a weekly write-up of a Cthulhu monster, taking a critter that has not yet been updated to 7th edition, working out the conversion, and talking a little bit about how I would use them - though maybe not giving away *too* much, as typically I will want to use these myself.  Given the winter storm, the Wendigo seemed a wholly appropriate creature to begin with.

In real-world Algonquin mythology, the Wendigo is someone who, in times of famine, succumbs to temptation and consumed human flesh to survive.  By transgressing the social norms of the culture and committing the taboo of cannibalism, the individual has made themselves a monster to their tribe - manifesting in an insatiable appetite for human flesh, and in some variations of the myth, physical transformation into something ogre-ish; I've seen Wendigo depicted as Bigfoot-like creatures, as emaciated, wide-mouthed humanoids with frostbitten skin, and most recently, bipedal elk-like creatures with fangs and claws.  The elk-form seems a recent addition to me, and I'm not sure where it originates.

The Wendigo enters the Mythos via Algernon Blackwood's short story by the same name, and from there it passed into the hands of August Derleth, who made the Wendigo an avatar or incarnation of his Great Old One, Ithaqua.  Graham Walmsley talks in his excellent book Stealing Cthulhu about Ithaqua/the Wendigo, and how it can be used as the basis for a scenario; he points out Ithaqua as a personification of Desolation, of the empty spaces of the world, a darkling take on the Call of the Wild.  He also looks at how Wendigo stories are abduction stories; Ithaqua takes someone Outside, and they return changed.

In the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, Ithaqua and the Wendigo are two separate entities; Ithaqua is the a Great Old One, while the Wendigo are a race of shaggy, footless humanoids that serve Ithaqua's will on Earth.  It's the latter I'll be talking about here; Ithaqua is covered admirably in the 7th edition rulebook.

I think the way I want to approach these Wendigo is to think of them as Angels; these are Ithaqua's heralds and proxies, interacting with Wind-Walker cults in Ithaqua's stead.  When a cult performs the annual rituals at the standing stones in the darkest part of the woods and offers up a sacrifice, it is one of these creatures that arrives to claim it; the cult may not be aware that this is a proxy, and may believe that the creature descending from the moonless sky is the deity itself.  Ithaqua itself would manifest only in the direst or most important of circumstances; for all other purposes, the Wendigo suffice.
"The barrier was not meant to be crossed....the ground is sour."

As an aside, I'm not sure I would even give Ithaqua a physical form, treating him instead of something like a psychic version of rabies, spreading from mind to mind, opening its victims perception to the vast emptiness of the Arctic (and by extension, the Cosmos) and driving them violently mad; in short, making it a literal "Wendigo Psychosis."

Getting back to the Wendigo themselves, besides the idea of them serving as Ithaqua's proxies when dealing with humans, a good way to play them would be to emphasize the corrupting aspect of the Wendigo; in Blackwood's original tale, those who are carried off by Wendigo become new Wendigo themselves.  The tropes of post-Romero zombie films could be applied to this pretty easily, especially since, as presented in the Malleus Monstrorum, if bitten by a Wendigo, there's a cumulative 1% chance you become one, regardless of whether it carried you off for Ithaqua to transform or not.

Likewise the cannibalism; you have to decide if you want even accidental cannibalism to transmit Wendigoism, or if has to be a conscious act to apply.  A good example of the former can be seen in the 1999 movie RAVENOUS, starring Guy Pearce and Jeffrey Jones in which, (minimal spoiler), a Wendigo prepares a stew of human flesh with the intention of causing a mass-conversion.

Let's take a look at the game stats using the appendix in the 7th edition rulebook to convert the 6th edition stat-block from the Malleus Monstrorum.  Here's an "average" Wendigo:

STR (3d6+6) x 5 = 82
CON (3d6+6) x 5 = 82
SIZ (2d6+10) x 5 = 85
INT (3d6) x 5 = 52
POW (3d6) x5 = 52
DEX (2d6+10) x 5 = 85
Hit Points: 16-17
Move: 8/90 when flying
Av. Damage Bonus: +1d6
Build: 2

Attacks: 2 (2 claws or one claw and one bite)
Fighting 30%, damage 1d8+db
Bite 25%, damage 1d4 + fear (bitten victim must roll under POW or be filled with a supernatural, soul-chilling dread; failure means they drop everything and flee the area for 100 minutes minus the victim's current Sanity Points.  A successful Psychoanalysis roll quells the fear immediately) + cumulative 1% chance of contracting Wendigoism.

Armor: 6 points of thick, shaggy hide.  Piercing a Wendigo's heart with something heated to incandescence instantly kills it; to strike a Wendigo's heart requires an Extreme success on an attack roll.  If its heart is not destroyed by fire, a Wendigo rises from the dead at the next sunset, fully regenerated.

Spells: A Wendigo knows 1d3 spells upon a successful INT roll.  These are typically spells relating to Ithaqua, weather control, etc., though a Wendigo with something like Create Zombie could prove a sinister on-going antagonist and give the Wendigo a Pet Sematary twist.

Skills: Listen, Spot Hidden, Stealth, Track, other skills relating to hunting or survival in the frozen north as desired, at 75%.

Sanity Loss: 0/1d6 Sanity Points to see a Wendigo; 0/1d2 Sanity Points to hear its eerie howl.

This conversion is not *strictly* by the book; I've made a couple little tweaks, most notably giving it the option of two claws or one claw and one bite attack; by the book, it gets one of each every round.  Similarly, as written in the 6th edition rules, to strike a Wendigo's heart requires a roll of 10% your normal attack skill value; I thought that was a bit fussy and requires a little bit of extra math at the table, whereas the Extreme skill percentage in 7th edition is already right there on the player's character sheet for easy reference.

The idea that the Wendigo is not permanently slain until its heart is destroyed by fire is a good one, though I don't think it appears in the original legends.  It has a nice mythic ring to it, given that the Wendigo are creatures of ice and darkness.  It's also an investigative hook for the players; they might think they've sent a Wendigo to hell in a hail of gunfire, but when it comes back for revenge the next night they'll realize their mistake pretty quickly.

My one big concern with the icy heart bit is that it might make the Wendigo too much of a "gimmick" monster like a vampire; it's a pain in the ass until you know the trick, and then it loses much of its threat.  Similarly, I personally dislike the "if a Wendigo bites you, you might become one."  It drags the Wendigo too far into Werewolf or Zombie territory for my tastes (or Vampire territory, for that matter), and loses some of the unique flavor of the Wendigo.  I'd rather go the route of "the Wendigo carries you into the sky, and when he returns you to Earth, you have a Wendigo heart beating inside your chest" as I think that maintains a bit more of the Weirdness we're looking for in Call of Cthulhu scenarios.  So were I to run a scenario centered around the Wendigo (which, to tell the truth, I kind of want to do every winter), I wouldn't even bother rolling for that cumulative 1% chance.

If you wanted to shift the Mythos Wendigo more towards the traditional folkloric Wendigo, a good feature to focus on would be its all-consuming hunger; According to the Ojibwe, Wendigo are perpetually hungry, and no matter how much the eat they can never feel full, because they grow in proportion to the amount of human flesh they eat; give a Wendigo to opportunity to eat a man, and his SIZ attribute gets added to the Wendigo's, with a resultant increase in hit points and damage bonus.  If you wanted to go this route and still include Ithaqua as a physical entity, maybe he's just the oldest and hungriest Wendigo of them all.

I think that'll just about wrap it up for this week's Cthuesday installment; join me next week for...I dunno? Maybe the Reptile People.  Or Swine-Things.  I'll make it worth your while, regardless.

No comments:

Post a Comment