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Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!
Items associated with the inexplicable and opening the door to unnatural knowledge and its application represent a special appeal within Cosmic Horror. When such Artefacts fall into the hands of player characters, they create facts that should not exist. This is because such Artefacts usually possess properties that are direct evidence of the existence of the impossible.
A prominent example of the use of an Artefact is the Shining Trapezohedron from the short story The Haunter of the Dark by H. P. Lovecraft. This one grants insights into time and space and even seems to be able to contact Nyarlathotep himself.
Since many rituals of unnatural knowledge either take too long to learn or cost too much to cast in a scenario, the use of an Artefact is an obvious choice. Artefacts can serve as a hook for a scenario, be turned against the player characters, or be the solution to the problem for them - at a cost, of course.
brain-cylinders of the mi-go
Extraterrestrial technology for long distance travel
Ritual: None, it is alien technology.
Activation cost: 1d4 WP.
SAN Loss: Using a brain cylinder costs 0/1d4 SAN. A consciousness transported in a brain cylinder suffers a loss of 1d4/1d8 SAN.
Description: The Mi-Go use a special surgical technique combined with their extraordinary technology to preserve the brains of beings who would not normally survive a flight through the cold and vastness of space, and take them with them to distant places.
They gently extract the brain and artificially keep the associated body alive (if they so choose), while placing the brain in a cylinder-like vessel made of a metal mined on Yuggoth (Pluto). There it lies in a special nutrient solution and is connected to some electrodes, which have connections arranged in the shape of a triangle on the outside of the cylinder.
In order to provide sensory input and communication to the consciousness enclosed in its brain, various devices can be connected to provide vision, hearing and speech through special machines or, in the case of non-human races, other sensory input.
Yog-Sothothery: The Mi-Go also use brain-cylinders to enable members of their own race to travel interstellar should their bodies be incapable of doing so. Through this technique, the Mi-Go gather travelers, explorers, and curious minds from distant worlds around them and benefit from their knowledge. Whether the Fungi will ever allow a brain taken into their possession in this way to return to its own body is, of course, highly questionable.
Gold Tiara of the Deep Ones
Ominous jewelry from the deep
Rituals: Aklo Sabaoth (Dagon and Hydra), Call Entities (Deep Ones).
Activation cost: 1d6 WP; 1d10 SAN. The Artefact must be activated willingly.
Description: This headdress has a strange, elliptical shape that doesn't quite want to fit a human head. The tiara is ornately crafted from gold, which must be an alloy with an unknown metal due to its unusual luster. The reliefs and decorations depict geometric and maritime motifs that give off a gloomy aura, as they are partly half fish, half frog-like upright walking monsters. The headdresses cannot be assigned to any contemporary style or historical art movement, nor to any culture in the world.
Traditionally, the mostly hybrid priests of the Esoteric Order of Dagon wear such a tiara, which allows them to contact their deities Dagon and Hydra, but also to summon Deep Ones from the water. Priests of the Esoteric Order do not cost SAN to use the tiara.
Yog-Sothothery: One such gold tiara is in the possession of the Historical Society of Newburyport near Innsmouth, after a sailor from Innsmouth once pawned the piece, then died and the Society acquired it. The Marsh family has been trying to buy the piece back for large sums of money ever since - without success. Also the museum of the Miskatonic University calls such a gold tiara her own.
It took no excessive sensitiveness to beauty to make me literally gasp at the strange, unearthly splendour of the alien, opulent phantasy that rested there on a purple velvet cushion. Even now I can hardly describe what I saw, though it was clearly enough a sort of tiara, as the description had said.
– The Shadow over Innsmouth,
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1936
Idol of Cthulhu
Obscene alien statuettes
Rituals: Aklo Sabaoth (Cthulhu) and Call of Cthulhu (see Cthulhu).
Activation Cost: 1d6 WP; 1d10 SAN (Aklo Sabaoth). The Call of Cthulhu emanates passively from the statuette and cannot be activated or deactivated at will.
Description: The idols that are mostly at the center of Cthulhu Cults are all similar. They are small, only about 20 cm high and rather crudely crafted figures of a vaguely anthropomorphic, bloated-looking creature. However, it features an octopus-like head with antennae and tentacles, as well as a scaly, rubbery body, enormous claws on its hands and feet, and long slender wings. The figure squats on a pedestal whose base is covered with illegible characters. The statuette inevitably evokes a sense of malevolence and revulsion in the viewer. Steadily, the figure is made of an unknown soapy, greenish-black stone that has golden inclusions. The style of the figure cannot be attributed to any known human culture, yet the figure appears to experts throughout to be unimaginably ancient.
The statue makes it easier for the priests of the Great Old One to contact their deity. At the same time, it amplifies the call of Cthulhu, with which the Great Old One can send telepathic messages into people's dreams. The proximity of such an idol thus exerts a downright destructive influence on an unsophisticated and receptive mind, which manifests itself in nocturnal stability tests as long as the statue is in the vicinity. The SAN losses depend on the content of the dream.
Yog-Sothothery: The followers of Cthulhu know that his statues are not from Earth, but were brought from the stars by the Great Old Ones. Unnatural vibrations emanate from the idols, proclaiming threatening ideas of a new time, a new world order - a world in which the Great Old One will take over.
Communication implant of the Mi-Go
Unnatural communication of the Mi-Go
Activation Cost: 1d4 WP (each time used, cost incurred once per day).
SAN loss: 1/1d6 SAN (once upon implantation).
Description: This outstanding piece of Mi-Go technology must be implanted in the neck region below the ear in a frightening surgical procedure. The wires and electrodes, which are made of unnatural material and protrude from the implant, then painfully search their way through the tissue until they reach the inner ear and larynx (or similar structures in other breeds), where they connect to these organs. The communication implant allows the wearer to understand and speak any alien languages, but the process of implantation costs 1/1d6 SAN and is reversible only at the cost of permanent damage.
Dwelling of the hunter from the dark and window in space and time.
Rituals: Dho (Hna) Formula, Call Entity (Hunter from the Dark).
Activation cost: Dho formula 1d4 WP (automatically activated when someone looks into the trapezohedron). It is unknown if the full Dho Hna Formula can be triggered using the trapezohedron.
1d10 WP and several human sacrifices are required to allow the Hunter from the Dark to manifest physically.
SAN loss: none to 1d6 SAN depending on where the gaze falls.
Description: this ancient Artefact appears externally like a pitch black crystal with fine red veining. It has the shape of a roughly oval or egg-shaped polygon about 10 cm long. The numerous irregular sides are mirror polished and it is impossible to tell if it is a natural crystal or an artificial object.
The trapezohedron rests in a kind of suspension made of metal bands in an irregularly shaped box made of an unknown yellowish metal. The box is decorated with monstrous, alien engravings that obviously represent creatures completely unknown on Earth.
The trapezohedron exerts a massive fascination on people, one can hardly resist looking into the reflecting surfaces. If one looks at the countless shimmering surfaces, one could get the impression that the stone is in fact transparent. The fascinating view of strange worlds and countless wonders (the triggering of the Dho formula) is then revealed to the observer, because the crystal is a window into time and space.
In the dark, a strange fine glow emanates from the trapezohedron. But there is something else hidden in it. A kind of observing consciousness emanates from it, which can be invoked.
The hunter from the darkness: The trapezohedron is both dwelling and prison for the hunter from the dark. If contact has been made with this consciousness from the darkest abysses beyond space and time, it can be summoned by activating the trapezohedron and making several human sacrifices. The creature's physical form consists of a large, blurry cloud of darkness with black wings and a triple burning eye. Its presence is accompanied by a pervasive stench. The creature cannot tolerate light of any kind, so it flees into darkness even in low light. If exposed to stronger light or even daylight, it is driven away and returns to the abysses beyond.
It is said that the hunter from the dark has endless unnatural knowledge and passes it on to his worshippers - for a monstrous price. The hunter kills his victims either by mental violence or he simply dissolves them.
History of the Trapezohedron
The trapezohedron is said to have been made eons ago on the Yuggoth. It is certain that it came to earth already in prehuman times and wandered from people to people. Sometimes it disappeared for millennia - but it always reappeared. The Elder Thing created the metal casket in which he has lain ever since. The Serpent Men found it in the ruins of the Elder Thing before it made its way across Lemuria, sunken Atlantis, and Crete to the lightless crypt that Pharaoh Nephren-Ka had built for it - where Professor Bowen found it in 1844. And even though the metal casket and trapezohedron were sunk in the deepest part of Narragansett Bay in 1936, it is only a matter of time before this unnatural Artefact will reappear.
Yog-Sothothery: Every time you look at the trapezohedron, a morbid longing sets in, which grows and becomes stronger and stronger, and finally begins to affect a person's dreams and everyday life. At the same time, the sight of distant places is not the worst thing. Even those who do not knowingly allow the hunter from the dark to break out of his prison may attract the attention of things that a healthy human mind would rather never discover. For it is said that the trapezohedron does not work only in one direction and Nyarlathotep himself is waiting on the other side.
Of the Shining Trapezohedron he speaks often, calling it a window on all time and space, and tracing its history from the days it was fashioned on dark Yuggoth, before ever the Old Ones brought it to earth.
– The Haunter of the Dark,
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1936
Projection Machine (of the Great Race)
Enables Body Swap across space and time
Rituals: Open dimensional rift and Body Swap (intertwined in an ineffable way).
Activation cost: 1d8 WP.
SAN loss: 1d8 SAN.
Description: The Great Race of Yith uses a mechanical assist in the form of a strange contraption for their time travel, in which they transfer their minds through time and space into an alien body. The Yithians call this process projection.
The consciousness of the victim of voluntary or involuntary projection is thereby transferred into the Yithian's body. Before the transfer back, the Eredicate Memories of the affected being are usually erased, but this is not always completely successful. To resist the consciousness swap, the affected being may make a comparative POW × 5 test against the Yithian. If successful, the failed consciousness swap manifests only as a mild headache and possibly nightmares. Often the affected being is not even aware of a failed consciousness swap, but searches for a mundane explanation for the corresponding symptoms. Repeated attempts within a few days intensify the symptoms and cost the affected being 1/1d4 SAN each time.
The mechanism is not very large, just over half a meter high and about 30 cm wide and long. It consists of numerous individual parts, which often have to be specially made by the manufacturers of scientific apparatus. The rods, wheels and mirrors are connected in a way that cannot be understood by rational means, with a round convex mirror in the center of the abstruse construct.
Every projection-traveling member of the Great Race has the necessary knowledge to build such an apparatus, or have it built, when his expedition is over and his mind wishes to return to its own time. But even if the purpose of the construction is not apparent to a human mind, there is nothing to prevent a man from using such a projection machine.
Those who did see it—a workman, a servant, and the new housekeeper—say that it was a queer mixture of rods, wheels, and mirrors, though only about two feet tall, one foot wide, and one foot thick. The central mirror was circular and convex.
– The Shadow Out of Time,
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1936
Jade artifact of the corpse-eating Ghouls of Leng.
Rituals: Call Entity (Bloodhound).
Activation cost: 1d4 WP (automatically activated once you take the amulet).
Description: This amulet, cut from a piece of green jade, appears to be a prime example of exquisite ancient oriental craftsmanship, though the execution and patterns seem strange and exotic. It depicts a creature reminiscent of a crouching winged dog or sphinx with a dog-like face. The facial expression of the creature is repulsive and testifies to death, beastliness and malevolence. Below the figure is an inscription in an illegible, unknown script. On the back is engraved a grotesque skull, which is probably intended to represent the seal of the artist.
Hints to the symbol shown on the amulet are found in the Necronomicon. There it is said that it is the "soul symbol" of a cult of corpse-eating in the isolated Leng in Central Asia. The image of the amulet is based on a mysterious unnatural manifestation of the souls of those who disturb the rest of the dead and feast on the bodies of the dead. The amulet serves the cult at the same time as an identification sign and for the recruitment of new members (see Corpse-eating cult of Leng).
Yog-Sothothery: The amulet evokes a strong desire to possess it in any person who sees it and has a certain "ghoulish" disposition (grave robbers, body snatchers, and archaeologists also fall under this category).
Those who have taken possession of the amulet thus inevitably activate it and evoke the appearance of the Bloodhound from whom it was stolen. Whoever was mauled by the Bloodhound becomes a Bloodhound himself and a member of the cult.
It is not a single item, but each member of the cult has such an amulet as the focus of their transformation and as an identifying mark.
Even had its outlines been unfamiliar wewould have desired it, but as we looked more closely we saw that it was not wholly unfamiliar. Alien it indeed was to all art and literature which sane and balanced readers know, but we recognised it as the thing hinted of in the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred; the ghastly soul-symbol of the corpse-eating cult of inaccessible Leng, in Central Asia.
– The Hound,
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1924
The key to the dreamlands
Rituals: (Dho) Hna Formula (limited to a single location, the Dreamlands).
Activation cost: 1d4 WP.
Description: The Silver Key is a large silver key with mystical decorations on its tarnished surface. It is usually found in an old oak box with fearsome carvings, which smells aromatically of unknown spices. The key lies inside, carefully wrapped in an old faded parchment with characters and hieroglyphics in an unknown language.
Some say the large silver key is a unique Artefact from the Dreamlands, but others believe it is merely the manifested allegory of the key to one's subconscious: access to the inner child, and thus to the Dreamlands of Earth. In a sense, the key embodies the "Sense of Wonder", the ability to wonder.
Yog-Sothothery: Randolph Carter, who disappeared without a trace in the mid-1920s, is said to have inherited such a key from his ancestors and found it in the attic shortly before his mysterious disappearance.
Anyone who finds the Silver Key begins to dream vividly and imaginatively again, and bit by bit regains access to the worlds beyond the wall of sleep. But for each person who finds the key, the path is different, because the gate to which the key fits is usually a special place from childhood days. If the gate was found, the Silver Key enables the physical crossing into the dreamlands - with all the consequences.
There are twists of time and space, of vision and reality, which only a dreamer can divine; and from what I know of Carter I think he has merely found a way to traverse these mazes. Whether or not he will ever come back, I cannot say. He wanted the lands of dream he had lost, and yearned for the days of his childhood. Then he found a key, and I somehow believe he was able to use it to strange advantage.
– The Silver Key,
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1929
The following Artefact Construction Kit gives ideas on how to describe an unnatural Artefact in the game and what properties it might have. It can be used for inspiration or to quickly roll the dice for a spontaneous find.
Basically, the effects stored in an Artefact should always have a negative effect on the user of such an item. Every game with the unnatural knowledge must have its price.
The description of the now following object, whose true origin will probably never be determined, is done with the greatest effort and accuracy that today's sciences and their educated experts can muster. Nevertheless it remains to state that the human language is unsuitable to describe such an Artefact even reliably.
First, the viewer notices that it is an object consisting of ...
- a solid unit
- a single component
- a part of something larger
- an ominous fragment
- a fragment of something unknown
- two different parts
- two identical pieces
- three different components
- several pieces
- countless intertwined elements
... is involved. The respective material itself is best described as ...
- dark wood, almost entirely black; possibly from the heart of a very old forest, whose trees seem to have already experienced many a mystery.
- a kind of clay or pottery that has taken on a dark red, almost brown color, and in some places seems a bit glassy.
- milky glass, on the surface of which streaks appear, like the immense purple cloud banks of an impending storm.
- a kind of crystal with oddly shaped inclusions, whose origin or meaning is completely unclear.
- Mother of pearl, but without the noble and sublime about it, but more like a pale, almost sickly hue, resembling a dead fish.
- Bronze or a bronze alloy that has oddly shaped spots in some places.
- Silver, already tarnished in some places; whether due to the ravages of time or a reaction with other substances is not apparent.
- Gold; but, if it should have once shone, nothing of this former beauty has remained and so it now appears rather dull.
- organic; at any rate, obscene changes in structure can sometimes be seen out of the corner of the eye, making one prefer to quickly avert one's gaze.
- not characterizable by the methods known to us; it simply defies definite classification and this only allows the gruesome conclusion that it may not be of terrestrial origin.
Putting the object in relation to other, certainly far less disturbing things of everyday life, it can best be described as ...
- downright tiny
- very small
- the size of a fist
- big like a person
- frighteningly wide
- too big
- difficult to transport by a human being
- indescribably large
... can be called. The shape corresponds most closely to ...
- a cube.
- a tetrahedron.
- a pyramid.
- a prism.
- an octahedron.
- a cylinder.
- a cone.
- a sphere.
- a ring.
- something non-Euclidean.
Whereby such a statement would probably be firmly rejected by certain scholars and would put the general doctrine of geometry to a severe test.
If one wanted to estimate its age, one would come to the conclusion that ...
- it must be very old, perhaps thousands of years.
- it looks almost unnaturally new.
- it looks as good as new.
- it must have been exposed to great heat or high pressure somewhere for a very long time.
- it must be at least several hundred years old.
- it must be 10,000 years old or more.
- it must have appeared sometime during the last ice age.
- it is probably of recent origin.
- it must have been hidden for eons.
- its age cannot be determined.
If one deals with the Artefact in more detail, one cannot help but notice that it is ...
- in a certain way transparent
- elastic in a strange way
- very hard
- unnaturally warm
- disturbingly cold
- possibly hollow
- surprisingly light
- exhaustion heavy
- blasphemously luminous
... seems to be. However, also here the limits of the known scientific methods are quickly reached and leave the inclined viewer rather helpless and agitated.
Leaving the level of classical sciences and applying one's knowledge of the hidden myths of this world, the following effect of the Artefact may reveal itself, although rituals or other blasphemous actions may have to be performed beforehand.
- It surrounds one with a kind of natural armor (+1d6 armor points), which, however, has a highly deterrent effect on other people.
- It creates a feeling of calm and security and leads to an increase in sanity (+1d6 SAN).
- It produces a feeling of restlessness and anxiety and leads to a decrease in sanity (-1d6 SAN).
- It allows storing willenskraftpunkte (1d10 WP) after a certain period of meditation. These can be retrieved afterwards.
- It has a poisonous effect on everything living in its immediate environment (-1d6 HP).
- It penetrates very slowly, but steadily, all matter on which it lies or stands (1d10 structural damage per day). The effect ends when the object comes into contact with water, earth or stone.
- It triggers a ritual of the game master's choice, which does not need to be mastered by the user of the Artefact. The cost in WP and SAN is the same as for the corresponding ritual. Rituals that cost more than 1d10 WP only have half the WP cost.
- It secretes light, sound, heat, or cold to a degree that is threatening.
- It harbors something that will do anything to get free.
- It obliterates everything around it.