Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Cthuesday: The Scions of Tsathoggua

Thusfar, Cthuesday has focused on entities that investigators can overcome with brute force and a bit of luck.  I think it's time for a change; there are plenty of monsters in Call of Cthulhu that require a great deal of smarts and specialized tools (i.e., magic) to overcome, and are best dealt with via a good set of running shoes.  One of my favorites, despite its association here with Clark Ashton Smith's toad-god Tsathogua, is a creation of Robert E. Howard, a man best known for his sword-and-sorcery tales.  Never named in the stories but dubbed the "Scions of Tsathoggua" by Chaosium, these giggling, elephantine beasts are also associated with the toadlike entities Gol-Goroth and Ossadagowah, both entities being speculatively identified as an elder member of the species in the Malleus Monstrorum.

I like the nebulosity this creates; if the investigators are going up against a cult of Gol-Goroth, are they going to ultimately be fighting against the Great Old One, or a Scion misidentified by its worshipers as Gol-Goroth? It makes a big difference and can keep the players on their toes.

The story most strongly associated with the Scions of Tsathoggua is "The Thing on the Roof," in which a Scion follows an adventurer home to retrieve a stolen amulet from an ancient temple.  According to Von Junzt, author of Nameless Cults, the Scion is both the treasure and the god of the ancient temple, furthering the association of these creatures accepting worship on their sire's behalf or being flat-out misidentified as gods themselves.  Personally, and I say this as no dedicated Howard scholar, I identify the creature that appears in "The Fire of Asshurbanipal" as another Scion.  A slightly more controversial, perhaps, identification on my part is to identify Thog, the entity that Conan slays, or at least banishes, in the story "Xuthal of the Dusk" (aka "The Slithering Shadow") as a Scion of Tsathoggua as well.  There is precious little in the story to differentiate Thog from the temple guardians in the other two stories, so I see no reason not to treat them as members of the same species.

The description given in "The Thing on the Roof" is amazing, telling us everything we need to know while also telling us precious little of concrete substance - only hints and insinuations, as is best for Call of Cthulhu:

"Gathering my shattered nerves, I broke down the door. A foul and overpowering stench billowed out like a yellow mist. Gasping in nausea I entered. The room was in ruins, but nothing was missing except that crimson toad-carved jewel Tussmann called the Key, and that was never found. A foul, unspeakable slime smeared the windowsill, and in the center of the room lay Tussmann, his head crushed and flattened; and on the red ruin of skull and face, the plain print of an enormous hoof."

Let's see what these stats would look like in 7th edition:

STR = (6d6+34)x5 = 275
CON = (3d6+6)x5 = 82
SIZ = (6d6+42)x5 = 315
INT = (2d6+6)x5 = 65
POW = (3d6+6)x5 = 82
DEX = (3d6)x5 = 52
Move: 7/10 Flying
HP: 39-40
Av. Damage Bonus: +6d6
Attacks: 2d6 tentacles OR 1 bite OR 1 trample

Fighting 45%, dmg 1d6 (bite), 1/2 damage bonus (tentacle) or 2d10+DB (trample)

Armor: because of the mucus-like makeup of their bodies, Scions of Tsathoggua suffer minimum possible damage from physical, non-enchanted weapons.  Fire, chemicals, electricity and spells and enchanted weapons harm them normally

Spells: all know Contact Tsathoggua, Call Ossadagowah and Contact Formless Spawn spells.  These entities may know 1d6 other spells as well if an Extreme INT roll is made on 1d100.

Sanity Loss: 1d2/1d10 Sanity Points to see a Scion of Tsathoggua.

So now what do we do with one of these? They've got a strong association with being the guardians of sacred sites and the avengers of slights to the Toad God, which I think is a good starting point for pulpy, globe-trotting adventure scenarios, but what if we want something a little darker?

Maybe for a modern (or, I suppose, a classic) era scenario, one of these creatures takes up residence in the sub-basements of a major museum; a globe-trotting adventurer 80 years ago brought home an idol he shouldn't have, the Scion showed up, killed the adventurer -- but decided that leaving the idol here could allow for the formation of a new and revitalized cult.  It has made itself comfortable in a sub-basement among the dusty crates of past expeditions and has begun to call out to the minds of men, summoning the weak-willed to serve it.

First, a janitor or two.  Just as a warm up.  Nobody notices much when these guys start spending their lunches down there, and working extra late.  Then a security guard.  Presented with a living god, driven mad by its presence, what is there to do but to serve? Now the cult has a little muscle; a man with a gun can sometimes accomplish what an alien monster cannot.  One by one, the museum service crew and security are taken under the Scion's guidance before setting sight on the curators and scientists working upstairs.

Eventually, there's a Mistake.  Someone goes mad and flees gibbering from the scene.  They manage to make it up into the museum proper before the cult can stop them.  The madman is seen before they can be dealt with.  This is messy; the cult moves to start covering up the escape.  The madman was working too hard, had a nervous breakdown, they start to say.  If there's a police investigation, they try to deflect it away from where the Scion is hiding, or separate the cops and bring only one at a time into the Scion's presence.  After all, members of law enforcement would be handy for the cult to control.

And then there are those pesky Investigators who start poking around...

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