Can You Fight the Mythos? Part I

One of the sacred cows of Cthulhu Mythos gaming is that you cannot fight back; you are eventually doomed to be devoured by unnameable entities; guns are useful only against human cultists.

But how much of this is an artifact of creature stat blocks, and how much is based in Lovecraft’s actual works. Out of a desire to read more Lovecraft, and this curiosity, I start this expedition into madness: Can You Fight the Mythos?

I’m going to take a look at every Lovecraft story ever written, and look at what’s actually in the text: are the tools of the destructive player-character, such as guns and copious quantities of dynamite, actually effective in dealing with the mythos threat?

Oh, Spoilers Ahoy.

I started with The Lurking Fear and Other Stories, because it contains Dagon, which is the first Lovecraft tale. Tim suggested I try to follow a chronological order, but I’ll be reading at work and don’t want to lug too many books around.

The Lurking Fear
Short Spoilery Synopsis: Degenerated ex-human subteranean murders lurk in tunnels connected to their abandoned ancestral house, and when there’s lightning storms, they come out and kill people.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: Extremely effective, the protagonist not only kills one with his pistol but in doing so causes them to go berserk and chase each other around. Then he dynamites the whole place. In general, the protagonist acts exactly as a Mythos Power-Gamer should, confronting the mystery with meticulous research followed by overwhelming force.
Can You Fight the Lurking Fear? Yes.

Short Spoilery Synopsis: A castaway ends up on a newly risen volcanic island with a strange creature and strange idols.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: None is used. The Dagon itself is depicted as using spears to hunt whales. One can only assume that as a creature of flesh and blood, enough bullets, harpoons, or dynamite should do the trick.
Can You Fight the Dagon? Inconclusive, but leaning Yes.

Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Short Spoilery Synopsis: A racial degenerate (are we sensing a theme?) with vivid dreams is admitted to an asylum; a researcher explores shared dreaming technology and contacts a strange intelligence.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: None is used. The strange intelligence strives against a celestial star and is apparently shortly lived in that attempt.
Can You Fight whatever is Beyond the Wall of Sleep? No, although it’s not entirely certain if there’s any compelling reason to do so.

The White Ship
Short Spoilery Synopsis: A lighthouse attendant hails a strange ship and sails to strange impossible places, but forsakes paradise to chase a fantasy and returns home.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: None. The story is mostly about not chasing legends and being happy with what you have, lest you lose it.
Can You Fight While Sailing on the White Ship? Irrelevant.

Arthur Jermyn
Short Spoilery Synopsis: The Jermyn family are racial degenerates descended from an African explorer and some sort of ape. Arthur loses it and kills himself and burns down his house.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: Fire certainly seems to do the trick against degenerate ape-men.
Can You Fight Arthur Jermyn? Yes, quite easily. (Although it seems to be another trend that many of Lovecraft’s protagonists are descended from the very evil they investigate and choose to end their own lives- unfortunately sometimes Fighting the Mythos means fighting yourself.)

From Beyond
Short Spoilery Synopsis: An inventor creates a device that allows people to perceive alternate dimensions, but also the creatures in those dimensions to see (and eat) said people. He goes crazy and invites his friend over to be killed.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: Our protagonist draws his pistol, but wisely chooses to shoot the device, rather than the creatures.
Can You Fight the things From Beyond: Inconclusive, but leaning strongly No. But a pistol can still be handy in a pinch.

The Temple
Short Spoilery Synopsis: A bunch of Nazis in a U-Boat find a strange icon and are led to a strange underwater temple (much like that depicted in Dagon) and go crazy.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: The Nazi officers use it on their crew, but they actually don’t even see any mythos creatures (except possibly at the very beginning of the tale)
Can You Fight the Temple? Inconclusive, leaning yes, but a couple of submarine torpedoes would do some damage if you can keep your damn head straight.

The Moon-Bog
Short Spoilery Synopsis: A rich man decides to drain a bog to make his lands nicer, but uncovers a strange ruins and a curse that turns himself and his workers into strange frog-people.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: None is used.
Can You Fight the Moon-Bog? Inconclusive, leaning yes. Don’t drain the cursed bog, but frog people should die pretty darn easy under concentrated machine gun fire.

The Hound
Short Spoilery Synopsis: A duo of corrupt occultists dig up a corpse for an amulet, and are pursued its ghost, which can take the form of a shadowy dog.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: None used. One of the occultists is shredded to ribbons by the ghost dog.
Can You Fight the Hound? Inconclusive, but leaning no. It might be possible with forewarning and preparation, but our characters don’t make the attempt.

The Unnameable
Short Spoilery Synopsis: Almost as a direct retort to his critics, two characters have a discussion over whether or not things can be accurately described as “unnameable,” or whether that’s just a cheap cop-out. Then an unnameable abomination attacks them.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: None is used.
Can You Fight the Unnameable? Inconclusive, but leaning no- the partial description given is consistent with the most otherworldy of Lovecraft monsters, but since no one actually tried dynamite, there’s no way to be sure. However, the Unnameable isn’t all that nasty- it leaves both characters alive to continue their discussion.

The Outsider
Short Spoilery Synopsis: A mythos tale from the perspective of the monster, a lurking terror that does not, at the beginning of the tale, realise it is a terror.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: None is used.
Can you Fight the Outsider? Inconclusive, but leaning yes. It’s a big ugly humanoid beast. Probably one of those racial degenerates Lovecraft seems so fond of.

The Shadow over Innsmouth
Short Spoilery Synopsis: The longest tale in the book, a curious antiquarian goes to the town of Innsmouth, where the majority of the population are racial degenerates from human and fish-men (possibly Dagons). The townsfolk come for the protagonist in the night, and he makes a harrowing escape from the town. Then in the last portion, he does some research into his family tree and finds out he’s one of them. Oh Snap!
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: In the prologue, it’s mentioned that the government wiped out the town and blew up an evil reef, though it’s established that there’s more fish-men, and more fish-half-breeds elsewhere in the world.
Can You Fight the Shadow over Innsmouth? Yes, judicious use of overwhelming force wins the day. And the government is even helpful.

The score so far:
Yes: 3
Inconclusive, leaning Yes: 4
Inconclusive, leaning No: 3
No: 1
Irrelevant: 1

So far, it’s looking good for the good guys! Stock up on bullets and dynamite.


5 thoughts on “Can You Fight the Mythos? Part I

  1. eruditus says:

    Honestly some of the inconclusives leaning yes and the irrelovent I’d make as no. Part of your questioning hypothesis was “But how much of this is an artifact of creature stat blocks, and how much is based in Lovecraft’s actual works?” The spirit of the stories (and a strong philosophical undercurrent in all of Lovecraft’s work) is that man’s mind cannot manage the truths of the universe. The question, I believe, is not can you fight the mythos, rather, does it mean anything in the struggle. Inevitably the answer is no. The damage is done. The point, IMHO, is not about can I kill a critter with a gun but will the damage effect the outcome.

    For instance, you say that because the protagonist sees a depiction of Dagon fighting whales that bullets could affect him. Isn’t it important that no amount of firearms brought to bear in this story would have made a hill of beans to the now-mad protagonist? (Never mind you’re idea that because he’s depicted doing something terrestrial means he’s vulnerable is kinda a leap of logic – Zues came down and copulated with a swan. Does that mean anytime PCs meet Zues they could just stab him… 1st Edition D&D aside?)

    In Arthur Jermyn the Ape men are not “the Mythos” as you suggest. The reality that no matter how many Ape Men Arthur kills he’s still confronted with the realization that he’s descended from them. Him shooting himself is not fighting the mythos, rather it’s Arthur losing and the Mythos shooting him.

    And yeah, I do respect you listing them as inconclusive but my own inclination thinks your leanings tend toward supporting your idea that “stocking up on bullets and dynamite” will somehow protect you from the real threats… going mad or saving your friends and loved ones, nevermind the world.

    I’d say half of Lovecraft’s protagonists survive their ordeals but they are far worse for wear. I’ll say this is a topic near and dear to my heart and I’m disappointed with players that get upset when their characters die or go insane in CoC, Trail or other Mythos related games with the well-meaning goal of emulating Lovecrafts work on some level. And I am totally cool with the players trying to fight. It’s all they can do in their down-ward spiral… it’s their only means of success – “alternate winning conditions” as someone close to me used to say. They may lose their brother, or wind up an the wing of an asylum or continue to fight the Mythos using the soul crushing power of the Whithering but at least they show an indomitable human spirit to push on, guns blazing. 🙂

    – Don

    • oberonthefool says:

      Some good thoughts there, Don. I particularly like this bit:
      “The reality that no matter how many Ape Men Arthur kills he’s still confronted with the realization that he’s descended from them. Him shooting himself is not fighting the mythos, rather it’s Arthur losing and the Mythos shooting him.”

  2. oberonthefool says:

    Just listened to The Shunned House again, where although flamethrowers and “etheric rays” don’t seem to faze the evil, unearthing the monster’s slumbering corpse and pouring several barrels of acid down the hole seems to do the trick.

    Also just watched Dagon (the movie version), which is based on Shadow Over Innsmouth, in which the fish-people themselves are susceptible to all the usual things humans are, but Dagon himself seems more or less beyond harm (although a physical being that could presumably be torpedoed if it could be cornered somewhere).

    This is a good and clever idea. I’ll be interested to read the next installment. Oh, and if you’d like to read some proto-Mythos stuff, I suggest the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath anthology, in which Cthulhu gets only a mention (and not even with particular dread)- the stories are more dark fantasy than horror. I think the White Ship one is in there, too.

  3. Willow says:

    The hard Yeses and Nos are only present if there’s direct textual evidence. If there’s not, anything, other than an Inconclusive is going to be conjecture. I personally believe it’s more of a stretch to assume that a terrestrial, corporeal creature would be immune to direct conflict than it would be to assume it functions like other such beings.

    I freely admit that all of this takes into account only the physical aspect of the menace. It is a given that the stress of the ordeal takes a permanent toll on the protagonist. That is a constant in every single one of the stories so far- even the Outsider is troubled by its own appearance.

  4. […] This Way Lies Madness Willow’s Random Thoughts « Can You Fight the Mythos? Part I […]

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