Creating Azathoth

Creating Azathoth

Quick Note on the Pledge Manager

We had some hiccups in preparing the various credit giveaways for this project (related to backers who also backed the CATaclysm KS so they don’t pay extra on shipping, as well as other ones). Due to this, we will be launching the PM late next week.

NOTE: After the PM launches, it will only be open for a few short weeks (we are looking to close it towards the end of July). This is a major change from how we have normally run pledge managers in the past which normally stay open for several months. This one will be much shorter so we can get the reprint numbers to China faster and get the games to you sooner. 

Creating Azathoth

Let’s talk about how the Daemon Sultan Azathoth was designed (my version). Not the rules, but the actual concept and visuals.

First off, many people have noted that I used an odd approach to naming the avatars. Rather than stages or forms they are actually the three parts of the Fichtean dyad, and this is essential to the concept. You see, the philosophical way these work as as follows:

THESIS – represents some assertion. Example, “The universe is under a supreme entity’s direction.”

ANTITHESIS – represents the opposite of the assertion. “The universe is random and chaotic.”

SYNTHESIS – this reconciles the two previous concepts into a new, correct, whole. “The universe is controlled by a blind idiot.”

This is critical, because you cannot have a Synthesis without both the Thesis and the Antithesis existing. If we instead imagined Azathoth as three stages like a larva/pupa/adult, you could imagine the adult appearing by skipping over a previous stage. But a Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis only works in relationship to each other. Each of the three parts is necessary to the whole (well, technically you could have just the Thesis or the Antithesis by itself, but the Synthesis requires all).

So that is the philosophy of it. How about the appearance?

The Larvae

First let’s discuss the Larvae.

The Larvae are displayed as smaller, weaker, undeveloped forms of their respective adults. But Azathoth doesn’t “breed”. It’s not a species that needs to reproduce. It is a lone singularity, a terror at the center of the cosmos. So what is going on? Quite simply, the larvae are projections of Azathoth to all corners of the universe. A sorcerer can use one of these projections to “suck in” the greater reality that is Azathoth, and bring a real avatar of the Daemon Sultan to his presence. So they are actually more like trigger points, or if you will let me make an analogy from Youtube these are “thumbnails” of Azathoth – if you click on one, then Azathoth’s reality “loads up” and becomes awful reality.

The Thesis

The Thesis is “classic Azathoth” as it is often portrayed. Tendrils, mouths, and raw terror. This is the positif of Azathoth – the aggressive awful form. It grows cancerously until it fills all around it. It can devour, and converts what it eats into itself, growing logarithmically in speed and size until that unfortunate section of the universe is doomed.

The Antithesis

The Thesis, on the other hand, is Azathoth as the Big Bang – the cosmic explosion and destruction. This is Azathoth negatif – the cancellation of reality, the End of Everything. Instead of a growing, replicating mass of life (Thesis), you get a devouring hungry maw with no interior – just oblivion. This is the opposite of the burgeoning Thesis. Instead growing fat on the rest of existence, and leaving a giant monster in its place, this swallows the universe and leaves behind nothing – not even a black hole.

The Synthesis

This is one of the realities behind the growing tentacle-beast of Thesis and the destructive whirlpool of Antithesis – this is the entity whose other aspects are simply facets of the awful whole that is the Daemon Sultan. It has tentacles, yet the bulging spheres on the front in fact are the opposite of eyes – they project destruction, annihilating all that they rest upon, rather than taking in light or images. Thus the feral chaos that is Azathoth rules the cosmos.

But what about the OTHER Azathoth?

Of course we have another Azathoth figure, and it’s not obsolete. What the heck is Sandy thinking?

This is the projection of Azathoth that I regard this as the common form – when a mad sorcerer tries to contact the Daemon Sultan, conceiving of it as a sort of super-monster, this is what he gets – a sort of “shadow” of the Outer God. It has a form, and in fact you can see within the orbs and open “maws” the universe itself roiling, as though it surrounds and engulfs everything, instead of being at the center as it is usually imagined.

This form may take its shape in response to the mind and spells of the sorcerer, but it is a sort of sub-type of the reality that is Azathoth, bringing through a horror and a power that is much more difficult to dismiss than it is to summon.

Creating Azathoth

Chaos and Daemon Sultan

The Cthulhu Wars factions are, obviously, extremely asymmetrical. But they have some features in common. All of them have some way of earning extra Elder Signs, and all of them have some kind of interesting Power bonus. Let’s talk about the latter.

Let’s take Black Goat for example – she has two Power bonuses – one obvious and one less-so. The first is the combination of her Red Sign spellbook with Dark Young. In effect, this gives her 3 extra super-cultists, who also can’t be captured (except by Tsathoggua, that cheater). Her other Power bonus is that she can get her monsters on the cheap with Thousand Young. She can combine this with her sometimes-maligned Fertility Cult ability to react extremely quickly to an enemy move.

Her Elder Sign bonus is Blood Sacrifice which she needs to get and use as early as possible. Unlike some factions’ Elder Signs, she is limited to just 1 special bonus one per turn, which means if Shub Niggurath is out on the second turn, she’ll probably get just 4 more. Not terrible, but not amazing.

Now let’s talk about your power bonuses as Daemon Sultan Power. You have three. First, your Psychosis ability, which places cultists for free (some conditions apply). Second, your spellbook requirement which lets all your rivals choose between 1 Power or 1 Doom – but you get the same. In a 4 player game, if all your rivals picked getting 1 Power, you’d end up with +3 Power. This one is kind of unreliable though, because those jerks will make their choice partly based on whatever they feel you need least at that moment. Your final Power bonuses are your Undirected Energy & Fiendish Growth spellbooks. The former straight up gives you Power, while the latter just gives you free units, which is sort of a shortcut.

Both Undirected Energy and Fiendish Growth require an Avatar (Thesis & Antithesis respectively). If the Avatar’s not in an area with an enemy, then these spellbooks are a wash. They cost 1 Power, and you earn 1 Power (or get a unit that costs 1 Power). Big whoop. You only start making a profit if you are in an area with a foe. If you can find an area with two foes, it’s even better though. Still, these are not going to make you rich – they’re maybe 1-3 extra Power per turn.

If you don’t count free units & monsters as “Power”, then during the course of the whole game you’re likely to end up with only 6-8 total bonus Power. Say 2 from your spellbook requirement, and another 4-6 for effective use of Undirected Energy during Turns 2-5. That’s not much, compared to the other factions. Nyarlathotep can pull in 3.5 a turn with Thousand Forms, and even more if he uses Harbinger for Power rather than Elder Signs. Yellow Sign can get 6-8 extra Power PER TURN once he’s on a roll.

SO you don’t get much Power, yet you have to spend a lot to win – you need 19 Power to awaken your Avatars, plus you will want at least one Ritual – maybe more – to take advantage of having three Great Old Ones in play.  How do you do it? (Why 19 Power – 8 for Thesis & Antithesis, 8 for Synthesis, and 3 for the 3 required Larvae.) It’s a good thing your cultists are free, and your gates difficult to steal. It’s also good that Antithesis eats a cultist from each enemy when awakened, because this helps slow down their response.

How about getting extra Elder Signs? Well, one I’ve already referenced – the fact that you have up to three Great Old Ones. A single Ritual gets you 3 Elder Signs, and that’s pretty great. But you may only be able to afford this once, on the last turn. However, you have another tool – your Traitors spellbook. This gives you an Elder Sign at the cost of a Chaos Gate and a Cultist. The Cultist is nothing – you’ll get him back free. The Chaos Gate is only a slight problem, since it costs just 1 Power to reclaim. So in effect you are spending 1 Power for an Elder Sign, which is amazing. Unfortunately, unless you’ve carefully set your plans, you can probably only do this once per turn. And if you HAVE gotten set up, you can still just do it twice. But you should try to do it every turn – that’s 3-4 more Elder Signs over the course of the game.

You need to be efficient and careful in spending Power, obviously. But you have another secret weapon – that you spread chaos and dissension among the other players.  Let’s look at how you do this.

ANIMATE MATTER & TRAITORS COMBO –  move your Chaos Gate into somewhere obnoxious, like another faction’s home area. Then Traitors away your cultist, replacing it with a cultist from a third faction. His cultist is now in a dangerous situation, and he must choose whether to protect or abandon that gate. Meanwhile the first faction must muster to attack. In either case, they’re focusing on each other. Not you.

AWAKEN AVATAR THESIS or AVATAR SYNTHESIS – you divide up Power among the enemies. Nothing says you have to be fair about this. Boost players who are less likely to harm you, or who are enemies of a mutual foe. Did Cthulhu just drive Sleeper’s out of his home area? Why not give all the Power to Sleeper so he can wreak vengeance? Did Crawling Chaos just roll “6” on his hated Thousand Forms die? Perhaps the other factions would appreciate an ability to strike back at him? Or, if Crawling Chaos only rolled a “1”, and is sad, you could cheer him up by pointing out how much you’d like NOT being targeted with Harbinger. Then give him some Power to hit the others.

Creating Azathoth

Daemon Sultan

As Daemon Sultan, you need to react to what’s going on. Because of this nature of your faction, you can’t just make a plan from the start and stick with it. You have to be able to respond to the situation. This is really obvious right from the start, while you are placing your first, free, cultists using Psychosis. Where do you put them?

And when do you get your spellbooks? This is core to any faction. So let’s examine your spellbook requirements, and when you can take them.

One of each type of larva. There are three types, all of which cost 1 Power each. Since you need a gate to summon them, you can’t get this in the first turn.

An abandoned gate is on the map during Gather Power. In theory you could do this in the first Gather Power – if you are the last player, you can just abandon your gate. I wouldn’t recommend it though because you’ll be starting turn 2 with a bad power differential. And then someone will steal your gate first thing next turn. Instead, wait till you have Chaos Gates, and abandon one of them.

During the Doom phase, each other player gets either 1 Power or 1 Doom, and you get what they get. Again, you can’t get it the first turn, but you could kick off your second turn with this boost.

Awaken your Great Old One – you have three to awaken. Sadly, you can’t awaken any the first turn. Do the math. Building a Gate costs 3 Power. Summoning a Larva Thesis costs 1 Power. Now you’re out, and can’t take any more actions. Exception: if you can talk Sleeper into giving you a Power boost in the first turn, you can awaken Avatar Thesis. Lots of luck.

The bottom line is you’re at most going to have one spellbook as your second turn starts (the one where everyone gets Doom and Power). Early on, you can awaken Avatar Thesis, for 0-2 Power easily enough, for a second spellbook. Then build from here. But let’s check this out turn by turn. Let’s say it’s a 5 player game.

TURN ONE

You have 4 Power and 0 Doom.

You recruit a cultist somewhere free, and keep doing this until you have at least 4-5 cultists in play. One or more might get captured. Obviously it’s good to avoid this if possible, but c’est la vie. It’s cheaper to recruit a new cultist than to defend one. You need to build 1 gate and summon 1 Larva Thesis this turn. That’s all four of your Power. Don’t do it till the end of the turn, when the other players are low on Power, so they don’t know where you’re going to be setting up.

TURN TWO

You have 1 gate, and let’s say 5 cultists out. This gives you a start of 7 Power and 1 Doom. In the Doom phase you get your “everyone” spellbook. Let’s assume two of the other players took Doom and 2 took Power. This bumps you to 9 Power and 3 Doom. A logical spellbook to take is Animate Matter.

Animate Matter (Action: Cost 1) Flip this spellbook face-down. Move a controlled Chaos Gate from its Area to an adjacent Area, taking its cultist along. You cannot move to another player’s Start Area. If the new Area has an existing physical Gate, replace that Gate with the Chaos Gate.

As one of your first actions, you then create a Chaos Gate for 1 Power, following up with a Larva to guard it. You have 7 Power left, and now two guarded gates. You can now awaken Avatar Thesis to whichever gate seems more threatened. If you think you need more monsters & cultists, get a cost 0 Thesis. If you want a tougher Thesis, spend 1-3 Power on it. Say you get a 2 Power thesis. Now you have 5 Power.

Creating Azathoth

Nodens

Nodens and the Elder Gods

I was pondering what to add to you all for a big reward for your loyalty. I didn’t want to make another “Dire” sculpt, largely because I am really happy with the other Great Old Ones. And I wanted something new, anyway. Felt you deserved it. I pondered new Great Old Ones … Cyaegha? Hypnos? The Man With A Thousand Legs? Nothing seemed important or “cool” enough.

Then it hit me – probably the most important missing god-level being from HPL’s works. NODENS! I know what some of you are thinking. “Isn’t Nodens a good guy?” August Derleth & other authors have even positioned Nodens as a member of a pantheon opposed to Yog-Sothoth, Cthulhu, et al.

Well, my answer follows. First, HPL calls Nodens “Lord of the Great Abyss” which doesn’t particularly sound like a goody two-shoes. Second, Nodens in the Dream-Quest controls the Nightgaunts, which are explicitly malign and terrible, and are found guarding relics of the Other Gods (such as Azathoth). Please note that in Cthulhu Wars I posit that the nightgaunts serve Crawling Chaos, either tricked, converted, commanded, or enticed away. Also the nightgaunts obey Nyarlathotep’s orders when he gives orders. So, anyway on with Nodens.

Third, the main evidence from HPL of Nodens being “good” is that the creepy guy in the Strange High House in the Mist hangs out with him (hardly decisive, and possibly even a contraindication) and that Nodens is pleased when Nyarlathotep fails to capture Randolph Carter. But this last isn’t so much Nodens favoring Carter as taking delight in Nyarlathotep’s discomfiture.

So while Nodens may not be as terribly malign as Hastur or Ithaqua, he certainly can be dangerous. Really, we have as many examples of people speaking amicably to Nyarlathotep or Tsathoggua yet no one thinks THEY are good guys.

THE ELDER GODS

Let me be clear. I do not regard the “Great Old Ones” as a pantheon, but as a certain level of power. Any entity that has reached this level, by any means, is termed a Great Old One. This is why, in Cthulhu Wars, I freely term beings such as Shub-Niggurath or Yog-Sothoth as Great Old Ones (instead of Outer Gods or whatever). Because they’ve reached that level of power.

Think of it as a parallel to Earth’s “nuclear club”. Our world’s nuclear-armed powers aren’t necessarily friends, nor co-operative, nor even equal in might, but they are at a particular level – they all have the means to employ nuclear weaponry.

Now, because of the immense cosmic significance of Azathoth & his court, certain beings derive at least some of their might directly from the Daemon Sultan. These beings are sometimes called Other Gods or Outer Gods. Again, they are not necessarily pals nor a true pantheon, though they do sometimes appear to act in concert.

Nodens is often called an Elder God. But I suspect that this, too, is not a pantheon, but indicates some other status. It certainly does NOT indicate friendship towards Earth life. Read Lovecraft’s stories of “The Temple”, “The Moon-Bog”, or “Hypnos”, for examples. All three, in my educated opinion, have to do with Elder Gods or their equivalents. For that matter, I consider Hecate, referenced by HPL as “Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon” as an Elder Goddess. And also possibly the Magna Mater. So the Elder Gods are clearly able to be inimical.

Creating Azathoth

Asenath and Jenkins

Asenath Waite and Brown Jenkins

Brown

I loved Brown Jenkin from the first moment I read Dreams in the Witch-House. He was an amazingly creepy character, seemingly anchored in old-school satanic imagery, but yet instead he turns out to be a gateway into Lovecraft’s mathematical and scientific Beyond. On one side, we have a cackling witch with her familiar, the dread Black Man and his hellish contract, and child sacrifice . All conventional terrors. But then it turns out that the witch and her familiar are visiting other dimensions, interacting with alien races, and even the Black Man is not the devil, but something much worse. And it’s all based on transcendental mathematics. What a head trip. And even more, my mind swirled with the implications. Why did Keziah want to kill children? What does this have to do with using advanced geometry to visit other universes? Why did the hero need to sign his name in blood, for a multiplanar being? Do they care about contracts, even? And where the heck did Brown Jenkin come from? As we dig deeper into the mystery it’s clear that the Christian Hell and Lucifer have nothing to do with this menace. It’s all from Beyond. What a tale.

Asenath Waite

Some history: way back on the very first Cthulhu Wars kickstarter, just before it started, we were discussing adding a figure for a first-person marker. My partners at the time wanted me to add something that was a “little bit sexy” to use their words. Not cheesecake, really, but not just another horrible monster. I think they felt some of Kingdom Death Monster’s success was due to the buxom female sculptures included (me, I liked KDM’s monster). “So, Sandy,” they asked. “Did Lovecraft write up any attractive women?” Internally, I rolled my eyes. Then, I decided to play a joke on them. “Yes!” I replied. “There are two prominent ones. Asenath Waite, a sophisticated society woman, and Lavinia Whateley, a fresh blonde farm girl.” (Albino counts as “blonde”, right?) +I didn’t tell them anything else about those two “attractive women”. (Those who are wondering why this was a practical joke should read “The Thing on the Doorstep”, and “The Dunwich Horror” to find out the real truth behind these two characters.)

My partners selected Asenath Waite, and so she became the very first first player marker we did. Rich Luong did a great job in portraying her. (Those interested in seeing her without her cloak of tentacles should check out Fenris Games “Succubus Queen” figure.)

Anyway, she has not been available since the original campaign back in 2013. Now, we are releasing her again, though in a different color (thus maintaining the exclusivity of the original model – as Petersen Games has always defined KS exclusivity). In addition, she now comes with a loyalty card and abilities, should you wish to use something else as your first player marker, which would free her up for unit duties.

HOW DOES SHE WORK?

Asenath is a Terror, in game terms, though her combat is 0. (Zero combat terrors seem to be cropping up of late, what with Brown Jenkin and all.) She has THREE special abilities. Her first is Seductress, which enables any player to summon her. “Why would they do this?” you ask. Good question, since even if another player summons her, she stays under her original owner’s control. Her second ability is Eidolon, which means she cannot be moved by the Move action. She can still be Pained, retreated, or affected by move-like abilities such as Submerge.

So once she is summoned, she tends to stay put, until she is killed.

This is where her third ability comes into play: True Vision. This kicks in during the Doom phase. At this time, the player with the highest “ranking” unit in Asenath’s Area gains an Elder Sign. (This is in addition to any Elder Sign gained via doing a Ritual of Annihilation or other means.) The unit ranks, from lowest to highest, are: Cultist, Monster, Terror, Independent Great Old One, Faction Great Old One. (In case of a tie, all participants gain the Elder Sign).

What happens in play? Well, other players try to get their highest-ranking nearby unit into Asenath’s area by the end of the action phase, so they can get their Elder Sign. Meanwhile, the owner is trying to kick them out of the area, to preserve Asenath for himself. If another player manages to kill Asenath, he can re-summon her somewhere more convenient for himself. The end result is everyone is fighting over her area, hoping to score their Elder Sign in the next Doom phase.

She results in a lot of interaction and play value.

Creating Azathoth

Neutral Monsters vs. Indie GOOs

Neutral Monsters vs. Independent Great Old Ones

This article is inspired by (and based on) a great discussion from BoardGameGeek. Thanks to all the Cthulhu Wars fans who brought up these ideas, to which I’ve added a few of my own.

To get a neutral monster, you have to pay doom, and later on, usually some power. To get an independent Great Old One, you only have to pay power, and it’s usually only about the same as a high-dollar monster. Both have special abilities, but the Great Old One can also get a spellbook, plus it’s a Great Old One. Why waste your time with an expensive monster instead of the Great Old One? Here are some reasons:

REASON ONE – LOYALTY

Once you hire a monster or terror, it stays hired. A great old one can be awakened by someone else after it’s killed.

REASON TWO – DEFENSE

Monsters enhance your board presence. They give you shields and let you hold onto more gates. Independent Great Old Ones actually constrict your board presence, since they require you to use other units to guard them.

REASON THREE – SYNERGY

Monsters have great combos with several factions. The Dhole is not only a good deterrent, but his Elder Sign production can be a keystone to a win. The Yellow Sign loves Ghasts, because he gets all of them at once, and they can garrison Desecration tokens without weakening your battle. Tsathoggua loves Gugs, because he can get his “roll 6 combat dice” in the second turn easy with those babies. Cthulhu is a big fan of Spiders of Leng, because they ensure he gets his “kill a dude” spellbooks. And so forth.

REASON FOUR – INSTANT GRATIFICATION

You can get a monster in the first Doom phase, and their special ability is ready-to-go. To get an independent great old one, first you have to awaken your own great old one (typically turn 2-3), then get the independent. This means you only really get the use of the independent great ole one for a couple of turns. While the monster is with you from the start of turn 2 on.

In other words, monsters are an early game boost, and great old ones are a mid-to-late boost. It’s common to see people take one of each. It’s rare to see a player take more than one monster type or more than one independent great old one (unless Gobogeg rears his ugly head).

Really, monsters and great old ones simply fill different niches – they’re hard to compare directly. Both have their uses, and there’s no reason to deny yourselves one of them.