Unusual Elements in Yig Snake Grandaddy

Unusual Elements in Yig Snake Grandaddy

Yig Snake Granddaddy is Petersen Games’ new roleplaying campaign for 5e, based on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu universe as found in Sandy Petersens Cthulhu Mythos. It brings players from Level 1 up to Level 14-20 over the course of several months of play. It comes in four acts, each 60-90 pages long, which combine into a single epic campaign, from the minds of Sandy Petersen and Matt Corley. This campaign is unusual for two reasons.

First, it features time travel, in that ancient creatures – clear back to the dinosaurs – are being brought to the present day to take over the world. This gives gamemasters a chance to feature extinct species and creatures. For example, dinosaurs and pterodactyls play a role in the campaign. Ancient now-vanished Lovecraftian beings, such as serpent men, elder things, and Yithians also make their appearance, and are fierce opponents, to say the least.

These beings are often less-used in Lovecraftian campaigns, because they’re hard to fit into the game world – Yithians should be controlling a world-spanning empire, not lurking in a dungeon, for instance. But this time-travel feature gives us an excuse to feature them. Spoiler – the Yithians do immediately take steps to establish that world-spanning empire!

Second, almost all the opponents are super-intelligent beings. The “stupidest” are the Serpent Men, who have an average INT of 18! The Elder Things and Yithians have average INTS of 23, and many are higher.

This leads to a problem for most gamemasters – how do you portray enemies who are smarter than humans? Smarter than the players, and for that matter, the gamemaster himself?! Well, the rules contain advice on how to do this very thing, and a summary of it is listed here, because it is useful in other situations and games.

Here are some tricks that I’ve used to play super-intelligent opponents.

  1. They almost always know when the PCs are approaching, because they’ve predicted it.
  2. They can instantly identify any equipment, gear, and magic items the PCs have visible. Even if they’ve never seen the item before, they can correctly work out what it does from its appearance. Remember: super-intelligent.
  3. As the gamemaster, listen to the players while they discuss possibilities of action. Then assume that the enemies have taken those player options into consideration.
  4. If the players pull off a coup of some sort, surprising you, you have two options. First, you can let it succeed. After all, wolves and even insects can sometimes surprise humans. Or if you feel your super-enemies would have figured this out, give them a contingency plan. Just pull it out of your butt – there is an escape pod, or a teleporting dinosaur, whatever. Don’t over use this though.
  5. If the enemy is defeated, figure out a way that they can work that defeat into their evil plan. You may not see how at first, but you might be able to figure out something by next week’s game night.
  6. Such enemies should rarely or never fall for an ambush.

Don’t despair – it’s okay if the PCs pull off victories. You’re not trying to “beat” the players. You just want their victory to feel like they beat entities who were smarter than they. This will give them a real feeling of accomplishment and make your game night a fun one.

About Sandy Petersen

Sandy got his start in the game industry at Chaosium in 1980, working on tabletop roleplaying games. His best-known work from that time is the cult game Call of Cthulhu, which has been translated into many languages and is still played worldwide.

He also worked on many other published projects, such as Runequest, Stormbringer, Elfquest and even the Ghostbusters RPG, and was instrumental in the creation of dozens of scenario packs and expansions. He also acted as developer on the original Arkham Horror board game.

In 2013 he founded Petersen Games which has released a series of highly successful boardgame projects, including The Gods War, Evil High Priest, and the much-admired Cthulhu Wars. His games have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and he has received dozens of awards from the game industry.

Unusual Elements in Yig Snake Grandaddy

Why doesn’t Sandy play Call of Cthulhu in the 1920s setting

Call of Cthulhu (the RPG) was the first ever game based on H.P. Lovecraft’s works, and it’s considered the most successful horror game of all time. Since its release in 1981, a popular way to enhance the role playing experience has been the introduction of miniatures, used to represent the characters in the game.

Petersen Games has now released our own line of Cthulhu mythos miniatures, previously only available by ordering our board games. While you are considering adding them to your role-playing activities, here is some background behind Lovecraft’s popularity, how I came to design CoC, and why I don’t play it using a 1920s setting.

How did Lovecraft become so Popular?

Lovecraft was a forgotten author – except among authors and a tiny loyal group of fans. He was reviled by critics, those few who read him, and the assumption was that his stories were terrible. His popularity started in 1981, when Call of Cthulhu the RPG came out. Then, starting in 1985, some good films also started coming out, based on Lovecraft’s works.

Also, in the 1980s S. T. Joshi, a literary critic, started the re-evaluation of Lovecraft as an author. He more-or-less singlehandedly redeemed Lovecraft in the eyes of arrogant academics.

These three factors combined. My game moved through the roleplaying audience – even people who hadn’t played it had heard of it. Stuart Gordon’s movies moved through the horror geek audience. And S.T. Joshi influenced the intellectuals– he also successfully edited new editions of Lovecraft’s books, with HPL’s original language.

All these things happening simultaneously popularized Lovecraft in a way that had never happened before. I’m not sure which was the most important – probably Joshi had less effect than either me or Stuart Gordon, but all of us spread the news. Today, Lovecraft is well known. Games, books, films, toys, all thrive thanks to this.

I am proud to be the person who started this renaissance, so let’s discuss how my games did this, and why I don’t play in the 1920s, as the game seems to prefer.

How I Came to Write Call of Cthulhu

In 1980, I had started writing a few supplements for Chaosium. The biggest one was Gateway Bestiary, which actually misspelled the name Runequest on the cover. In this product, I introduced some Lovecraft monsters – shoggoths, deep ones, and so forth. I loved Runequest and played it plenty.

The difficulty was that Chaosium had the rights to publish a Lovecraft game, but they had no respect for Lovecraft’s writing. They realized if they wrote it, they would not do the game justice. Simply because they had contempt for Lovecraft, they realized this contempt would seep through the game, and taint it. You’ve seen this happen in other genres, such as movies, when a director doesn’t respect what he’s doing.

That’s why they hired me to write the Call of Cthulhu. They didn’t tell me of their lack of respect for Lovecraft. But they knew I loved it and would do the best job I could. That’s what they wanted. The best job.

But … Chaosium also knew that to do a full roleplaying game would require them to put in lots of work into it anyway. How could they somehow get a love for the topic? How could they find interest in the work of this so-called hack?

Why I don’t Play Call of Cthulhu in the 1920s

Chaosium’s genius was that they said, “The stories mostly take place in the 1920s. The 1920s are cool. Let’s set the game then!” and thus the 1920s era for Call of Cthulhu was born. They did a whole great big sourcebook for the 1920s and put it in the box. Folks loved it. Not just horror, but the 1920s.

Because they’d hung their hat on the 1920s, they were able to love the topic and get into it. Because they had a Lovecraft fan write the rules, I was unfettered and able to make it as creepy and horrifying as I liked.

Now, you must understand that Lovecraft wasn’t writing in the 1920s. He was not creating nostalgia – he was creating horror and science fiction and incorporating the latest discoveries. His tales feature airplane exploration of Antarctica, submarines, ultraviolet light, the discovery of Pluto, and so forth. He was cutting-edge. So, to me it was natural to set Lovecraft’s stories in the modern world. And I’ve usually played with that assumption.

So, when I played a game of Call of Cthulhu, mostly I ignored the 1920s setting. Sure, it was ostensibly 1920s, but the players drove cars, and carried guns, and there were police. It was close enough to the modern time that usually it made no difference. It gave me an excuse to force the players to travel overseas by boat, which was cool, and occasionally in dark corners of the earth there were groups or tribes no longer in existence.

But generally, I played it without reference to the time period. Not so the rest of the Chaosium team. They exulted in talking about the quaint old cars, flapper costumes, zeppelins and so forth. But the important thing is we all had fun, and so did the gamers.

Making Horror Horrific

In short – horror to be most effective has to be brought home to the players. In general, it’s harder to imagine yourself in the 1920s, because we never lived then. That becomes an additional obstacle to feeling terrified.

If you can set the horror in the same time as the players themselves live, it’s that little bit easier to scare them. It just gives you an edge, and I want all the advantages I can use.

But in reality, you can set horror in any era you choose. Just remember that if it is not set in the here-and-now, you may have to do a little extra work.

But that little extra work may be worth it!

About Sandy Petersen

Sandy got his start in the game industry at Chaosium in 1980, working on tabletop roleplaying games. His best-known work from that time is the cult game Call of Cthulhu, which has been translated into many languages and is still played worldwide.

He also worked on many other published projects, such as Runequest, Stormbringer, Elfquest and even the Ghostbusters RPG, and was instrumental in the creation of dozens of scenario packs and expansions. He also acted as developer on the original Arkham Horror board game.

In 2013 he founded Petersen Games which has released a series of highly successful boardgame projects, including The Gods War, Evil High Priest, and the much-admired Cthulhu Wars. His games have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and he has received dozens of awards from the game industry.

Unusual Elements in Yig Snake Grandaddy

How To Use Ghoul Island (Vol 1) In Your 5e Fantasy Campaigns

Ghoul Island (Vol. 1) is my first campaign for the Cthulhu Mythos. It lets you introduce the Cthulhu Mythos to any 5e fantasy RPG campaign and setting. Before taking this step however, you will want to understand horror fiction and how to create a believable horror scenario.

H.P. Lovecraft, the master of horror fiction, had a favorite ghost-story author M. R. James. James wrote some rules about making horror effective, and his chief rule is “The Ghost Must Be Malign”. In other words, he didn’t write about friendly spooks that just wanted to show you where their lost treasure was buried.

Now, how does this apply to the Cthulhu Mythos? You’d think that the horrors of Lovecraft are pretty solidly malign in nature. Oddly enough, there exist folks who try to “whitewash” Mythos entities. For example, they may have a plot or a tale in which Yithians figure as good guys. Or in which the Mi-Go from Yuggoth just want to be left alone to mine their blue metal in peace. Or something similar.

But if you want to keep true to Lovecraft, remember that contact with these beings is always inimical to humankind. Sure, the Yithians might not be focused on killing a particular human, but they are remorseless and deadly. Remember the Yithian lifecycle is based upon the periodic extermination of sentient species. Though the Mi-Go do want their minerals, they are willing to wipe out millions of humans if needed to ensure access.

Always, to the powerful races of the Mythos, humans, dwarfs, elf, and similar riffraff are mere encumbrances or obstacles. If a Mythos race got established in a significant way on your fantasy world, one of the first items on their agenda would be to reduce humans to a stone-age state. Why tolerate competition? Of course, the Old Ones, Mi-Go, or whoever wouldn’t see this as “evil” any more than humans, dwarfs, or elfs would feel bad about extermination an infestation of ants.

But there’s more — having the elder races be indifferent to the player-races survival isn’t always interesting enough. You can punch it up. What if in your adventure, the Mi-Go, mining their blue metal, leave tailings of mutagenic ore, which is transforming local wildlife into dreadful monsters. The Mi-Go don’t care. But the elf-woods down the road are becoming a hellhole.

Or, what if a Yithian faction is scouting out the dragonborn species as a possible new host. Imagine a million dragonborn suddenly becoming super-intelligent Yithian hosts. How would this affect your campaign world? Even if the Yithian/dragonborns aren’t organizing an immediate attack on other races, they are a dire threat.

Other such malign plans are easy and fun to come up with.

In Ghoul Island, a band of ghouls has been more or less cooperating with the humans on the island for centuries. Ghouls usually operate as a parasitic/symbiotic race with humanity after all — they eat our dead. On the island of Farzeen, things haven’t entirely changed. The ghouls are still cooperating with humans, but now they are allied to a secret cult plotting horrors which menace the entire island’s civilization. Plus, the Deep Ones are somehow involved, and they are always enemies to humanity. The plot is intricate, and the ghouls, Deep Ones, and human destinies are interwoven in an exciting and we hope fascinating reveal for you and your players.

About Sandy Petersen

Sandy got his start in the game industry at Chaosium in 1980, working on tabletop roleplaying games. His best-known work from that time is the cult game Call of Cthulhu, which has been translated into many languages and is still played worldwide.

He also worked on many other published projects, such as RuneQuest, Stormbringer, Elfquest and even the Ghostbusters RPG, and was instrumental in the creation of dozens of scenario packs and expansions. He also acted as developer on the original Arkham Horror board game. 

In 2013 he founded Petersen Games which has released a series of highly successful board game projects, including Glorantha: The Gods War, Evil High Priest, and the much-admired Cthulhu Wars. His games have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and he has received dozens of awards from the game industry.