"Gothic and Lovecraftian horror are inherently thematically incompatible."

Baulderstone

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For a while now I've been thinking of designing a horror-themed megadungeon (Castle Hellsgate). Apart from a few notes and some wandering monster tables this largely remains a grand thought experiment. One idea I had was for the upper levels to be gothic themed and the lower levels to have more of a Lovecraftian vibe. I feel that this is doable - that I can segue from one into the other. Partly I think because I feel that it's possible to layer the gothic over the cosmic, for the latter to represent a deeper (literally) level of revelation. I also feel that I can blend one into the other by mixing gothic trappings with cosmic themes. I've been thinking of the middle levels as being the Poesque levels, where the aesthetic is still clearly gothic but the horror is more impersonal, more existential.
I think layering can work. In some of my CoC campaigns, I used the Dreamlands as a bubble made of collective human psychic energy, and it contains gods, monsters and magic of human conception. Interacting with entities from within the bubble could give more traditional horror stories, but that bubble was fragile and beyond and above it was the larger Mythos.

Howardian horror, in my experience, usually differs from Lovecraftian horror only in how easy it is to escape the horror by stabbing it in the face. :wink:
That's a big oversimplification though. Yes, there are stories by Howard that are essentially pulp adventure stories with some horror trappings, but he wrote plenty of genuine horror though, like "The Black Stone" and "The Worms of the Earth" where the horror isn't something you can stab in the face. As with his fantasy, much of his horror deals with his idea of the inevitable barbarism of man, with civilization being a fleeting mask it wears at times.

The claim that Howard's horror stories are all about punching Cthulhu in the face is about as true as the claim that Lovecraft's stories always end with the protagonist going insane.
 

Simon Hogwood

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That's a big oversimplification though. Yes, there are stories by Howard that are essentially pulp adventure stories with some horror trappings, but he wrote plenty of genuine horror though, like "The Black Stone" and "The Worms of the Earth" where the horror isn't something you can stab in the face. As with his fantasy, much of his horror deals with his idea of the inevitable barbarism of man, with civilization being a fleeting mask it wears at times.
There is, I admit, a good bit of facetiousness in my first comment. And yet, "The Black Stone" is actually one of the stories that I would point to to support it - yes, the horrific point is supposed to be the very existence of the Master of the Monolith (and the implication that it might not be unique), but that doesn't stop it from being killed by the medieval Turkish soldiers.
 

urbwar

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The claim that Howard's horror stories are all about punching Cthulhu in the face is about as true as the claim that Lovecraft's stories always end with the protagonist going insane.
Wasn't some of Derleth's original Mythos fiction more in that vein. I remember reading some of his stuff, and iirc, one story had them use dynamite to trap something
 

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While browsing the old Fraternity of Shadows fansite for Ravenloft, I found this interesting passage from John W. Mangrum, the author of many 3rd edition Ravenloft products.



I found this particularly interesting in light of how often Gothic and Lovecraftian trappings are casually mixed in horror gaming. I'd sensed something was off, but I hadn't been able to put it into words.

Of course, this could just be purist nonsense. What do you think?
I'd disagree. A lot of Lovecraft's worse short stories are pastiches of Poe, one of the premier Gothic writers (eg. 'The Rats in the Walls'). Two of his best stories, 'Shadow over Innsmouth' and 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward' are very Gothic. It is only in his most distinctive stories, 'The Color Out of Space,' 'The Shadow Out of Time' and 'Mountains of Madness' where he combines sf with horror that I feel his stories move beyond the Gothic (although even 'Color...' has strong Gothic elements).

The Gothic is very much about madness and blurring the lines between reality and the supernatural...sound familiar?
 
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Voros

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I think layering can work. In some of my CoC campaigns, I used the Dreamlands as a bubble made of collective human psychic energy, and it contains gods, monsters and magic of human conception. Interacting with entities from within the bubble could give more traditional horror stories, but that bubble was fragile and beyond and above it was the larger Mythos.


That's a big oversimplification though. Yes, there are stories by Howard that are essentially pulp adventure stories with some horror trappings, but he wrote plenty of genuine horror though, like "The Black Stone" and "The Worms of the Earth" where the horror isn't something you can stab in the face. As with his fantasy, much of his horror deals with his idea of the inevitable barbarism of man, with civilization being a fleeting mask it wears at times.

The claim that Howard's horror stories are all about punching Cthulhu in the face is about as true as the claim that Lovecraft's stories always end with the protagonist going insane.
I haven't read all of Howard's horror stories but I'd agree I haven't encountered many that resolve via action, including the excellent 'Pigeons from Hell.'
 

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I haven't read all of Howard's horror stories but I'd agree I haven't encountered many that resolve via action, including the excellent 'Pigeons from Hell.'
Pigeons from Hell, where...
The sheriff shoots the immortal undead in the face and kills it:wink:?

Is not an example of horror where the resolution includes overwhelming violence? How so?
 

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Pigeons from Hell, where...
The sheriff shoots the immortal undead in the face and kills it:wink:?

Is not an example of horror where the resolution includes overwhelming violence? How so?

I referred to 'action' not violence, most horror stories end in violence,
the shooting struck me as perfunctory, the focus at the end of the story is more on the horror of the reveal of the bodies and the undead. 'Action' is more gung-ho than the near breakdown, panicked shooting and running away of the protagonist in that story. He doesn't even realize he's killed the thing he shot at until near the end of the story.
 

Stevethulhu

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The Gothic is very much about madness and blurring the lines between reality and the supernatural...sound familiar?
Only it really isn't. It's a much bigger tent than that. Here is a link to a syllabus from a Gothic Literature course. Note week 7 and Week 9.

The problem is, much as with GNS terminology, people have come to apply their own meanings to what are in this case, centuries old definitions. And that means, three different people having a conversation, each with a different definition in mind of the thing they are talking about. It just becomes noise.
 

Baulderstone

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There is, I admit, a good bit of facetiousness in my first comment. And yet, "The Black Stone" is actually one of the stories that I would point to to support it - yes, the horrific point is supposed to be the very existence of the Master of the Monolith (and the implication that it might not be unique), but that doesn't stop it from being killed by the medieval Turkish soldiers.
The monolith is a source of horror centuries after that event. Killing that thing wasn't any kind of conclusive climax.
 

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I would say that Lovecraft's oeuvre is a development of supernatural literature that is strongly influenced by the gothic tradition (primarily via Poe). And there are certain shared themes - decay, degeneracy and madness all spring to mind.
 

Voros

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Only it really isn't. It's a much bigger tent than that. Here is a link to a syllabus from a Gothic Literature course. Note week 7 and Week 9.

The problem is, much as with GNS terminology, people have come to apply their own meanings to what are in this case, centuries old definitions. And that means, three different people having a conversation, each with a different definition in mind of the thing they are talking about. It just becomes noise.
Sure there are lot of definitions of the Gothic but many of the classic tales and novels have those two elements prominent in them, Lewis’ The Monk for instance.
 

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Sure there are lot of definitions of the Gothic but many of the classic tales and novels have those two elements prominent in them, Lewis’ The Monk for instance.
If by lots of definitions you mean has been clearly defined in literary terms for nearly 150 years, then yes.
 

AsenRG

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I referred to 'action' not violence, most horror stories end in violence,
the shooting struck me as perfunctory, the focus at the end of the story is more on the horror of the reveal of the bodies and the undead. 'Action' is more gung-ho than the near breakdown, panicked shooting and running away of the protagonist in that story. He doesn't even realize he's killed the thing he shot at until near the end of the story.
Are we even talking about the same story:shock:?
In the story I remembered, the zuvembie called one of the two protagonists to her with a "whistling", which I suppose was some kind of music she produced. He walked in a trance and couldn't even speak unordered.
Then the sheriff, who had followed him, shot the thing and killed it. Granted, he had frozen at the sight - but the later reveal shows that he was, in all likelihood, frozen more by the reveal that she was once the Celia Blassenville sister.
In fact, the sheriff had crouched low so the thing wouldn't see him, and basically crawled and shot...like one would sneak up to game, I suppose. The zuvembie might have believed she was the predator in that story, but she was being hunted.

In fact, checking it on Gutenberg shows me that the translator (I didn't read it in original) had actually done a very good job. The ending is exactly as I remember it, the difference between the two languages is basically non-existant.


Funny, I just realized you could perfectly represent this story with CoC or even better, with UA rules:grin:!
 

Voros

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Are we even talking about the same story:shock:?
In the story I remembered, the zuvembie called one of the two protagonists to her with a "whistling", which I suppose was some kind of music she produced. He walked in a trance and couldn't even speak unordered.
Then the sheriff, who had followed him, shot the thing and killed it. Granted, he had frozen at the sight - but the later reveal shows that he was, in all likelihood, frozen more by the reveal that she was once the Celia Blassenville sister.
In fact, the sheriff had crouched low so the thing wouldn't see him, and basically crawled and shot...like one would sneak up to game, I suppose. The zuvembie might have believed she was the predator in that story, but she was being hunted.

In fact, checking it on Gutenberg shows me that the translator (I didn't read it in original) had actually done a very good job. The ending is exactly as I remember it, the difference between the two languages is basically non-existant.


Funny, I just realized you could perfectly represent this story with CoC or even better, with UA rules:grin:!
I think I was mixing up the two protagonists in my memory.
 

AsenRG

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I think I was mixing up the two protagonists in my memory.
OK, that explains it:smile:! Totally understandable, too, since the protagonist that has it happening to him is basically the narrator.
Which makes me think we should really talk whether we can convey horror even in fights the PCs win, via picking the point of view of the least successful one and narrating the action as experienced by said PC:evil:!
 

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Sure there are lot of definitions of the Gothic but many of the classic tales and novels have those two elements prominent in them, Lewis’ The Monk for instance.
Yes. And Frankenstein is clutching for his last SANity points throughout most of his story, and isn't much at all about Judeo-Christianity.
 

CRKrueger

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Yes. And Frankenstein is clutching for his last SANity points throughout most of his story, and isn't much at all about Judeo-Christianity.
A human tries to steal the act of creation from God using science (The Postmodern Prometheus) and the results of this terrible sin destroy everything around him and finally himself. How does that not have anything to do Judeo-Christianity?
 

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A human tries to steal the act of creation from God using science (The Postmodern Prometheus) and the results of this terrible sin destroy everything around him and finally himself. How does that not have anything to do Judeo-Christianity?
I hear what you're saying, but I feel I should underline that Prometheus is a pre-Abrahamic Greek myth too. :wink:

I think the theme of being divinely punished for defying the natural order of things is as old as religion. Mary Shelley obviously had that fact in mind with her subtitle.
 

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At this point there is going to be talking past each other. :goof:

But I will note that "At the Mountains of Madness" is a surprisingly solid leap for gothic aesthetics that parallels outside anthrocentrism. The Primordial One who escapes stasis during a Polyp attack on the exploration team, only to discover the dark end of its civilization, and later its doom at the hands of its Shuggoth ex-slaves, is a good turn to elicitic sympathetic horror for the alien through Gothic Structure. Granted it's a century late compared to Frankenstein (and all sorts of retakes on villains, like vampires), as sympathy for the horrific and alien has been routine for the gothic. "At the Mountains..." may be bombastic and slow, but the revelatory delay from Primordial One to Human punctuates the horror by eliciting "we are not so different..." and "yet where are we as a society going?" sympathy. :brokenheart:

I think you might have to look at some modern horror movements to get away from the "Dark Romantic"... Splatterpunk immediately comes to mind as shying away from the didactic, the sympathetic, and the revelatory. It's having too much fun playing in the disemboweled guts to bother. :devil::eat:
 

CRKrueger

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I hear what you're saying, but I feel I should underline that Prometheus is a pre-Abrahamic Greek myth too. :wink:

I think the theme of being divinely punished for defying the natural order of things is as old as religion. Mary Shelley obviously had that fact in mind with her subtitle.
Right, she’s obviously drawing from the Classical era like all the Romantics, but Prometheus was a Titan, not a man. Prometheus’ transgression was of a different kind.

Frankenstein’s sin is more than just Classical human Hubris, he’s a technological necromancer, grave-robbing and desecrating corpses in an act of violating God’s Natural Law.

Obviously there’s a ton of other stuff in there, Mary’s abandonment by her own father, her fear of childbirth, her miscarriage, technology without ethics or morals, etc. which is why the novel is so widely studied.

It’s just weird to say Frankenstein doesn’t have much to do with Judeo-Christianity.
 

soltakss

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Lovecraftian Horror seems to be a case of building up suspense, following clues, getting to know what is happening, only to find out that it is a Mythos Being or their Cultists and you go insane when you find out. Alternatively, you find out that you had a rich uncle you never knew about and he leaves you an old house, with a dusty book in the attic, you read it and go insane. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

Disclaimer: I am not overly fond of Lovecraft's works or the Call of Cthulhu game, so please ignore me.
 

AsenRG

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Lovecraftian Horror seems to be a case of building up suspense, following clues, getting to know what is happening, only to find out that it is a Mythos Being or their Cultists and you go insane when you find out. Alternatively, you find out that you had a rich uncle you never knew about and he leaves you an old house, with a dusty book in the attic, you read it and go insane. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

Disclaimer: I am not overly fond of Lovecraft's works or the Call of Cthulhu game, so please ignore me.
The disclaimer is kinda important, because that's not how many of the HPL works are structured. And the ending is different, too.

Granted, I don't like HPL either, but I definitely like CoC:grin:!
 

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Lovecraftian Horror seems to be a case of building up suspense, following clues, getting to know what is happening, only to find out that it is a Mythos Being or their Cultists and you go insane when you find out. Alternatively, you find out that you had a rich uncle you never knew about and he leaves you an old house, with a dusty book in the attic, you read it and go insane. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

Disclaimer: I am not overly fond of Lovecraft's works or the Call of Cthulhu game, so please ignore me.
I'd be curious to hear your summary of gothic horror. :tongue:
 

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I’ve read very little Lovecraft, but is there any scientific backing to the notion that people will go insane under such situations (as much as that’s possible in the real world) I can see being terrified to the Nth degree, but not sure about people breaking.

I’ve read that the US government did studies back in the 50s on what would happen if people’s worldview had an abrupt shift and that it would cause mass panic, but panic isn’t the same as going insane.
 

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A human tries to steal the act of creation from God using science (The Postmodern Prometheus) and the results of this terrible sin destroy everything around him and finally himself. How does that not have anything to do Judeo-Christianity?
I didn't take any of the repercussions as being due to the 'sin' of creating life... it all happened because Frankenstein abandoned the child he made. The story is a about bad parenting and the horrors that can arise from it.
 

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I’ve read very little Lovecraft, but is there any scientific backing to the notion that people will go insane under such situations (as much as that’s possible in the real world) I can see being terrified to the Nth degree, but not sure about people breaking.

I’ve read that the US government did studies back in the 50s on what would happen if people’s worldview had an abrupt shift and that it would cause mass panic, but panic isn’t the same as going insane.
The thing of people reading books or seeing creatures they can’t comprehend, then going insane from it, comes pretty much whole cloth from the RPG. There’s moments, but there’s also things like the way the dreaded Necronimicon is quite widely read among the protagonists in HPL stories.
 

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I’ve read very little Lovecraft, but is there any scientific backing to the notion that people will go insane under such situations (as much as that’s possible in the real world) I can see being terrified to the Nth degree, but not sure about people breaking.
What about people during war? Soldiers or otherwise, facing overwhelmingly horrific situations? Nowadays we might not call it 'insane', but dropping weapons/running in fear... cowering somewhere and having nightmares for the rest of your life... seems plausible.
Plus, I've always figured that, at least for the bigger bads in Lovecraft's stories, there is an element beyond visual/intellectual confrontation... that the presence of the entity is anathema to this plane/reality/dimension and causes a warping effect on mind and body... similar to mythical creatures that could beguile or 'curse' a man who came upon them, except using non-Euclidean geometry instead of magic.
 

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PTSD, yes. Insane to me implies you are perpetually a blubbering mess.
 

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I've always figured that Lovecraft was just blithely unaware of how high-strung he really was, and assumed that other people (or at least all the ones who weren't soulless brutes!!! :tongue: ) were as prone to swooning and nervous breakdowns as he was. The world of Lovecraft makes perfect sense if you assume that it's populated by a bunch of Lovecrafts.

That said, it is also true that neither the game nor the stories makes going mad from the revelation anywhere near as inevitable as people tend to claim.
 

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The thing of people reading books or seeing creatures they can’t comprehend, then going insane from it, comes pretty much whole cloth from the RPG. There’s moments, but there’s also things like the way the dreaded Necronimicon is quite widely read among the protagonists in HPL stories.
I don't have the story handy but doesn't 'The Mountains of Madness' end with the protagonist going insane and speaking in Cthluhuish tongues? A lot of protagonists in these stories are certainly broken by their encounters and go into retirement/solititude where they then write the story we're reading.

Reading a book is pretty unlikely to drive you insane in CoC, long term use of the magic in a book is likely to lead to madness though.
 

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I don't have the story handy but doesn't 'The Mountains of Madness' end with the protagonist going insane and speaking in Cthluhuish tongues? A lot of protagonists in these stories are certainly broken by their encounters and go into retirement/solititude where they then write the story we're reading.

Reading a book is pretty unlikely to drive you insane in CoC, long term use of the magic in a book is likely to lead to madness though.
It has a character, not the protagonist, go insane near the end. However, that character had previously studied the Necronomicon thoroughly with no ill-effect. Being pursued by monstrous shoggoths was the trigger that made the character snap, but the protagonist goes through the same thing and is okay.
 

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One thing you have to notice about HPL's stories is that a significant number of the protagonists act as if they are alone in their realizations, whether or not the characters are alone. This is part of how HPL seemingly felt about his place in the world, and shows a fundamental lack of understand of human's group mentality. Which the games also mimic without realizing it.

The Sanity system simply doesn't work in a group setting if there's more than one survivor. Even if they are legitimately insane, they will keep it to each other as they can reinforce their knowledge and new beliefs within their circle, thus allowing them to operate seemingly normal in a society. There might be slip ups, but for the most part the survivors of a traumatic experience will seem reasonably sane, if suffering PTSD, which was not a known thing back in the 1930's.
 

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There might be slip ups, but for the most part the survivors of a traumatic experience will seem reasonably sane, if suffering PTSD, which was not a known thing back in the 1930's.
I'm confused by this sentence. Do you mean that the diagnostic term 'PTSD' didn't exist in the 1930s (true) or that PTSD itself didn't exist in the 1930s (false)?
 
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Baulderstone

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There might be slip ups, but for the most part the survivors of a traumatic experience will seem reasonably sane, if suffering PTSD, which was not a known thing back in the 1930's.
PTSD hadn't been created as a diagnosis, but in the 1930s in the UK alone, you still had 120,000 WWI veterans getting disability pensions for Shell Shock or Effort Syndrome. Lovecraft was writing in an era where the idea of previously sane individuals being driven mad by their experiences was particularly strong in the public imagination.
 

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Some CoC adventures get pretty silly with their potential for San loss... calling for rolls at moments that would be better left as atmospheric description. Losing San for reading just about any old book on the occult, for example.
 

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Some CoC adventures get pretty silly with their potential for San loss... calling for rolls at moments that would be better left as atmospheric description. Losing San for reading just about any old book on the occult, for example.
That is the issue I have with Sanity rolls. They can come at moments that are ripe for the players to do some roleplaying, but instead of letting the players react, you interrupt to have everyone roll dice. There is a lot to like about them too, but I am conflicted.
 

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I'm confused by this sentence. Do you mean that the diagnostic term 'PTSD' didn't exist in the 1930s (true) or that PTSD itself didn't exist in the 1930s (false)?
The term didn't exist, and they didn't really understand it. In the 1940's it was called Shell Shock, and it wasn't listed as a mental condition, although it was big enough that people did get disability from it. Before then, a lot of the time, soldiers were expected to 'walk it off'.

But my point is that when you have a support structure, insanity gets harder to notice as you have friends and family who, if they went through the same thing you did, can help.
 
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