Independent Great Old Ones

In developing the independent Great Old Ones, three factors were constantly warring within my brain. First, I wanted the entity to feel like the story or stories in which it featured – to have the personality of that Great Old One. Second, I wanted all of them to affect the gameplay overall in some fashion – to be like a Great Old One, not just another monster. To force every player to take cognizance of its presence. Third, I required that the gameplay not be slowed down by them.

To handle my first requirement – which was basically “theme” – I relied on my vast knowledge and copious reading in all the various Lovecraftian works available. I would read, and re-read stories, and steeped myself in the lore. The game is full of theme, and I need it to stay that way – not just different flavors of magic, or monster-of-the-day, but (for instance) I wanted the Hunting Horrors to feel like Hunting Horrors – terrifying beings that swoop in out of nowhere unexpectedly. Shoggoths swell up enormously, as they absorb their prey.The same was true of the Great Old Ones. I wanted Chaugnar Faugn, Ghatanothoa, etc. to remind players of their origin, or even stimulate them to read about these beings. That’s why Bokrug is a curse you saddle another player with, for example, and why Tulszcha alarms everyone during the Doom phase.

For my second requirement, I had to carefully balance the Independent Great Old Ones. Fortunately 11 years of top-flight game balance experience at Ensemble Studios served me well here. I had to ensure that each of my babies had a far-reaching game effect, and yet did not utterly upset the game to the point. I think I accomplished this. Each Great Old One affects other players every turn, and yet the game feels dynamically imbalanced, rather than unbalanced. (At least so I’m told by my testers.)

For my third requirement, timing, I was focused. This is because large games such as Cthulhu Wars share a characteristic I hate, namely, that when expansions are added, the game starts to slow down and take longer, I feel diluting the game experience. Rules multiply, along with rules exceptions, and then there are new phases of play etc. All of it adds “grit” to the game mechanisms. While the Independent Great Old Ones do add a bit of “grit”, they also speed up play. Atlach-Nacha’s tight control of new victory conditions, Chaugnar Faugn’s seizure of the Elder Signs – these things emphatically don’t make the game take longer, though they do make play more exciting and energetic.


I hope you found this interesting and useful. I am not sure whether, in these Design Corners, it would be more fun to focus in generalities (as I did here) or on specific aspects of design (which I could also do). Maybe my best bet is to alternate between the two!