The magic of the Cthulhu Mythos stems from the unfathomable alien intelligences that reside outside of humanity’s ability to comprehend. What may be the pinnacle of science can easily be interpreted as “magic” by the ignorant.
What is certain is that those who delve into such matters rarely come away unchanged—usually for the worse! Manipulating time and space is not a thing to be done lightly and there can be grave consequences for those investigators who dabble in things best left alone.
Mythos magic is variable and was not tightly defined by H.P. Lovecraft; each occurrence of magic serves a particular story rather than fitting some consistent overarching structure. However, some generalizations can be made. Mythos magic is traditional in scope, centering on perilous summoning of horrible entities and the desperate manipulation of inimical forces. Spells are formally constructed; one wrong word or gesture can disrupt the spell at best, or cause it to go horribly wrong at worst.
Few Mythos spells can be performed quickly, with many requiring exacting conditions as well as lengthy rites and ceremonies. Each spell must be studied and learnt, often requiring the investigator to spend long hours poring over cryptic manuscripts and ancient books of lore. Though rare for investigators, cultists and sorcerers may be taught spells by their fellows, or even granted magical visions, knowledge, and spells through abhorrent communion with the dark gods of the Cthulhu Mythos. Investigators wishing to find a fast track for learning spells are more likely to find a one-way ticket to an asylum, their minds broken and sanity destroyed.
Spells must be approached warily, since often their costs and effects are initially unknown to the spell-caster. For investigators, Mythos magic can be a dangerous trap, for in using it investigators lose Sanity points and gain Cthulhu Mythos knowledge — becoming more like those whom they seek to defeat. Mythos magic bewilders, shocks, disorients, and debilitates its human practitioners. Mankind was not meant to know such things and with enough exposure, the psychic and physical contradictions involved in using magic drive humans insane.
Investigators will mostly experience magic from outside sources, either by being the target or by witnessing the effect of spells cast by someone else. An investigator rarely becomes a mage, since the requisite knowledge and experience usually leads to madness first. Whether investigators gain much by knowing the magic of the Cthulhu Mythos, they often risk much when attempting to use it. Spells learned while playing published scenarios may prove useful only in the course of a single adventure. Consequently, though all players are invited to study this chapter, it is only Keepers who will benefit most from it when planning adventures and creating suitably objectionable adversaries.
In This Section
This chapter discusses spells and the books of the Cthulhu Mythos—how spells are learnt and how they are cast, as well as looking at the dark knowledge contained within ancient tomes. It also discusses the occult versus the magical, and tells ways to increase the POW characteristic.
This section does not contain spells. Mythos spells can be found in Grimoire.
What is Magic?
Gilman had some terrible hints from the dreaded Necronomicon of Abdul Al-hazred…and the suppressed Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt to correlate with his abstract formulae on the properties of space and the linkage of dimensions known and unknown. —H.P. Lovecraft, The Dreams in the Witch House
After World War I, astronomers confirmed that the thirty or forty thousand light years of easily observed stars nearest to us comprised only a minor corner of the universe. There was not one Milky Way, as astronomers had once believed, but rather thousands and millions of galaxies, most so faint and so distant that the truth of the nebulae had long been argued, but never before solved. The notion of island universes—galaxies, as we now say—was a bombshell. In the 1920s, humanity’s perception of the unbounded universe’s true size increased by orders of magnitude.
Writing as such discoveries took place, Lovecraft gradually evolved a background myth incorporating such discoveries and added some flavorings from Einstein and Planck. These new “universes,” so he appears to have speculated, were truly islands—their separation included their natural laws. Isolated by hundreds of thousands or millions of light years, the stuff of life could differ wildly. Very quickly, these islands also took on a Riemannian association of existing in or being connected to other dimensions.
The magic of the Cthulhu Mythos is the unifying logic of this universe of universes. Magic works everywhere. It models and defines the greater reality; it is the ultimate expression of natural law, the will of the Outer Gods made palpable and the arbiter of time, space, and matter.
In comparison, earthly science and religion seem of little avail. Apparently we understand far less than we flatter ourselves as knowing. Is imperfection in what we believe or in how we have come to believe it? Perhaps there is a poverty in our souls or our mathematical equations that forestalls ultimate knowledge and revelation. The Mythos mocks human pretensions.