How and why I turned Beckii Cruel into a Mask/incarnation of Nyarlathotep...

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Summary: I needed a central baddie for my tremulus powered Cthulhupunk game, and who better than a Crawling Chaos modeled after a person known for being bright, cute, and somewhat scattered in identity?

BLOT: (08 Sep 2013 - 06:23:09 PM)

How and why I turned Beckii Cruel into a Mask/incarnation of Nyarlathotep...

When I was starting to script out some ideas for running a Cthulhupunk [Lovecraftian/etc + cyberpunk] themed game with tremulus mechanics, my original plans had it much closer to one I'd tried to start up using the original GURPS-flavored CthulhuPunk circa 2003. A campaign involving deep paranoia. The players were going to receive information, in the midst of a crisis, from a numerous set of NPCs, some of which were working with them, some of which were working against them. The horror was going to be driven largely by the inability to come up with easy answers. Very psychological. It was far too complex for me to manage and never got out of the developmental stage. It was still my starting point, though.

I quickly started editing bits out: there wouldn't be many multiple NPCs, just a small handful (the first move had a few different people referenced, since then there has only been a couple more major NPCs). Rather than a inchoate sense of horror based on a lack of knowing what was really going on, there would be a more definite horror, though it might take time to show up (it took months of playing to expose the truth, but there were some bloody deaths along the way). Rather than an indefinite time in the future with fairly advanced technology, it would be set only about 15 years in the future, a future where technology advancement has taken a back-seat to technology refinement and aesthetics. People are using the same devices, roughly, that they are, now: the bells-and-whistles are just better; the integration into all aspects of life more pronounced.

Something like a coincidence led me to Nyarlathotep* as my bad-One of choice. I had received my copy of Wilum Pugmire's The Strange Dark One, a book all about his take on The Crawling Chaos.** I had also had backed the Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter put out by Chaosium. And in that scenario is the The Skinless One, a Mask/incarnation of Nyarlathotep that not only walks around bleeding and skinless, but just by looking at you can flay the skin entirely from your body. That felt like it needed some Lovecraftian italics.

In an RPG, though, having a baddie that is just simply a walking swath of destruction has issues. Either it has to show up later, e.g., summoning Cthulhu himself, or it has to be faced with a major weakness, e.g., Lumleyian Elder Signs. Neither fit my intended gameworld, so I started working on something different. I wanted a clever bad guy, one that was perfectly willing to make deals with the "good guys", deals that even mutually benefited both sides though in the long run was more suited to evil. I started with a world that could make this make sense.

What if, in the future, the ability to be anonymous online was made illegal: people have to trust their identity being verified with corporations operating under government contracts? Since Nyarlathotep's ability to exist as multiple entities is much more align with the Internet as it started out and is, ostensibly, now, with usernames and alts, what if a couple of big mega-corps—Sony and Google were two of the ones named—made a special contest where, in select cities, there was a game where not only could you be anonymously logged in, but you had to be. And if players start dying, how can you keep tally? People drop in and drop out of The Game all the time. Parents and loved ones don't necessarily know who is playing.

Now that I had a place for N to thrive, I needed a form. Genderbending N was no biggie, it has been done before—The Bloated Woman, for instance—so I started with the idea for a female N. In this case, my initial idea was to use the woman who gives instructions near the start of the movie Battle Royale. She cheerfully describes things like bloody combat and having your head explode with happy aplomb. The contrast to the bright and the horrific is played off comically to the audience, but to the people inside the BR world, it would be just that much more terrible: they don't even care about you outside of entertainment.

In this form, N was to be something like a game moderator/host who would send clues and set up challenges. She dressed consistently, not quiet professionally, and nearly always interacted purely through her videos posted to The Game forums where she was very ironic in wishing them luck while sending them on weird, and sometimes horrifying, missions [go and beat up a homeless person until you find one with the golden ticket, there are 10! Act fast!]. Her online name was Anna No Mouse (say it aloud with the first name more pronounced as Ahn-na and the no and mouse blending). And right up near the start of the game, it was the form I was going with. Until by another coincidence, the British Gaijin-rock band, Area 11, had started to promote their then upcoming video for "Shi No Barado". And basically at the end of every video they would put out, it would show this little clip from the video, and part of that clip had Beckii Cruel, who sang on that song, looking up from her computer in a dimly lit room with a thoughtfully distant, but kind of happy, look in her eyes. Within about a week or two of seeing that image, I realized I had started swapping Anna for a younger take: Annie (Annie Non Mouse works slightly less as a direct play on words, but has a weird tongue feel and so I kept it).

Unlike Anna, who was a Game official, standing above the players, Annie is active and actually joins up with players to hunt out the Sigils and Scrolls of The Game (though still acts as The Game's chief spokesperson for the area). Annie is known for always wearing a mask—many different masks with lots of the masks having wires and devices fused right to them even when they are of classical style—and changing her clothing, hair color, general dress sense, and technically even her voice [early mentions had her as a Southerner-by-accent, later restored to Beckii's Isle of Man accent]. A lot of Beckii's bright, inquisitive, open personality made its way into Annie, though presumably Beckii hasn't taken over a complex ARG to use it for some unknown ritual involving Hali and the Moon and some old films taken by Soviet Cosmonauts, though, you know, maybe Beckii is The Crawling Chaos. She ended up making a interesting mental model to my game's chief villain, with her different styles of outfit and different wigs, and her more-than-averagely mercurial apparent identity. The one strange drawback is that I didn't spot any pictures of Beckii wearing masks, but you can't win them all.

It is important to remember that N is still a force of evil, though a much more subtle force of evil in this telling than normal. Here is the description from when she first exposed her true nature in the game (game is a play-by-email, so copy-paste is easy):

Annie says something. Gideon...turns to find her smiling beatifically. She reaches up, grabs the lower half of her mask and tugs upwards...Except it is not her mask that pulls off, but the whole top her face. And Gideon finds himself struck by double vision, as one eye reports a 17 year old girl, her upper face an empty expanse collapsed back into a star field from ancient, horrible deep space; and the other eye sees a tall, dark man, seven or eight feet tall, dressed in old desert robes, with piercing eyes. An Egyptian god come to life. And as s/he bends forward, the tall black man speaks in the voices of a British teen, while the faceless girl speaks in the voice of an ageless, terrible being in a language outside of humanity from which all nightmares are described, and Gideon's other senses pick up others also leaning forward - some more vast that all of Huntsville, and others borne at the death of known of physics, some wearing no skin and others draped in the skins of many - and they all whisper in his ear.

There you have it. Apologies to Ms. Cruel for the "crawling chaos" thing. Also, there are a couple of other definite evils in the world. One is "The Kid", a Ligotti-esque terror who looks and acts like a angry pale teenage boy who warps into this tall, super thin "man" with vaguely insectlike movements***, who possess people and manipulates them like marionettes by inserting thin strings into their blood vessels. And another being. I'll keep it nameless for now. wink

[See also, part 1 of my initial tremulus game write-up (a different campaign to this) and the concluding part 2.]

* For those not in the know and not possessing time/care to read up on Mythos entities, Nyarlathotep was original referenced (in his eponymous tale) as a dark skinned foreigner with a electricity show, possibly a jab at Tesla, who could warp perceptions and send people off to horror by his mastery of physics. Later, N shows up in a number of other forms, sometimes implicitly assumed and other times explicitly named, likely because Lovecraft sometimes reused some of his ideas/names in new ways [see also: Necronomicon], but a practice which became codified by Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath where N says, "Pray to all space that you may never meet me in my thousand other forms," which is frankly the most metal line in all of Lovecraft's work. Traditionally, most people take this as a challenge to make something more horrible than the last with the idea being that since N can break all the rules including his/her own, then why not have N-Mythos be the byproduct of whatever the current horror story needs: Pugmire shows restraint by casting Nyarlathotep as a Yellow-Mythos-style artist figure, while most end up with stuff like The Skinless One.

** As a note for those interested, in a recent video ("A Gift from Laird Barron &c", around 2:10 mark), Pugmire says there is a special edition coming, and points out the original edition had typos that have been corrected for an upcoming edition. So, hold off a moment.

*** No, not Slenderman style. Think more like the shadow of a thin, dead tree cast into negative relief. Specifically, there's a running them of blood vessels, so his stretched out arms and legs turn into thin rope like appendages that flail in the wind with fingers and toes stretched out and askew. Annie is the bright, anonymous side of the Internet. The Kid represents the controlling, angry, habitual side. Third thing is going to represent the unspoken trusts and truths.

Lovecraftian RPGs/tremlus


Written by Doug Bolden

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