HPL High is a huge brick pile sprawling in multiple wings along the top of a bluff overlooking Arkham, overgrown with ivy and crowned with a verdigris-domed bell tower. Dating from the 1930s, the building has many features that have evolved out of modern schools (like windows) and lacks others that are now common (eg, a centralized cafeteria). The school is much larger than it needs to be, even for the entire teenaged population of Arkham, and several wings are locked and disused. Even the main portion is labyrinthine, and frosh have been found wandering three floors away from their locker, crying "I'm sure it's just around this corner!".
The faculty and curriculum are a mixed lot, ranging from the timelessly sadistic football coach to the ultramodern Ms Nichols and her surprisingly popular computer class to Mrs Armitage, who teaches Latin, Aramaic, and Babylonian, which she apparently learned from native speakers. The school is run by vice-principal T Marks, who did far worse in his youth than the pathetic children of this degenerate age could dream of; the principal, referred to familiarly as Mr C by the oldest of the teachers, is never seen to leave his office, and students sent to him invariably repress the memory.
In addition to the locked-off wings, the building boasts a complicated network of sub-basements and steam tunnels (some of which connect to the third and fourth floors), which are of course utterly barred to the students. A voluminous body of mythology has grown up around these forbidden areas, much of it describing what happened to people vice-principal Marks caught there.
The most curious feature of HPL High, of course, is its acceptance of abhuman horrors as students. This is still very much a trial program, but the great hope of the administration is that it will provide a model for integrating the respective strengths of the two civilizations of this world and enable humanity to take its rightful place in the universe. Or something like that.
Arkham is the sort of city in which a building like HPL High is not out of place. Although the downtown and waterfront areas have been modernized with glass highrises and shopping malls, there are still mazes of steep, narrow streets slithering between ancient brick buildings with overhanging shingled roofs.
The most famous Arkham institution is Miskatonic University, which is populated by three sorts of people: clueless frosh, young and enthusiastic undergrads and grad students who eagerly delve into the deepest mysteries of the universe, and professors who spend most of their time in a state of complete denial. Since it is the latter class that has all the power, Miskatonic's excellent occult and metaphysical library requires great cleverness to access.
Arkham is no stranger to supernatural activity, and all except the most recent immigrants have come to some sort of mental accomodation with it. Blasé acceptance and complete denial are both popular options, but profiteering, pure love of knowledge, and the burning desire to protect humanity (or at least white male landowners) from Things That Should Not Be also play strong roles in the community response to teenaged monsters devouring the mall.
Carefully sited far enough inland to be safe from monsters rising from the sea but not so far as to make yachting inconvenient (ie, about half an hour), the township of Dunwich consists mostly of palatial estates inhabited by unbelievably wealthy snots and their armies of loyal and underpaid servants. There are also a lot of horses.
Almost everyone in Dunwich is a cultist; it's how they got to be so rich. None of them ever admit it.
Whately Prep is much like the school in the movie Cruel Intentions only with more black magic and more money. Where other schools have football and basketball teams, and go on field trips to the local museum or factories, Whately students join the polo or skiing team, and go on field trips to the Louvre and Tokyo. When things are quiet, they drive down to Arkham in their expensive sports cars, sneer at people whose parents work for a living, and corrupt the innocent by dazzling them with glimpses of the high life.
Back in the 30s, Innsmouth pretty much belonged to the Marshes, who stocked half the local government with their fishy relations, and bought off the rest with the profits from their Refining Company. Things haven't changed much since then, except that the Marefco refineries have gotten larger and more modern, and need more people to run them. Innsmouth is now a thriving industrial town, with a busy port and numerous rail lines, and the whole place still jumps when Marefco says "Deep One".
Obadiah Marsh High is a soul-deadening modern prison of a school, all concrete cubes and swimming pools. The students are uniformly a tough lot, mostly the children of refinery workers (children of executives go to Whately, or other private schools) who sort themselves into gangs according to the various plants their parents work at. The curriculum is strong on chemistry, ichthyology, and ancient languages, but Marsh High is hardly a beacon of academic glory.
The Marsh High swim team has held the state championship 29 years running.
New England in general is a popular location for Lovecraft stories: how can you go wrong with dark untraveled woods, ancient Indian ruins erected to the worship of forbidden inhuman gods, and small villages that have remained closed gene pools since the 1600s?
Other important areas are Europe (like New England only older), the Middle East in general (Abdul Alhazred, the Man Himself, was an Arab) and Egypt in particular (ancient secrets, lots of dead things, half-human gods, pyramids!), and the South Pacific (including, of course, R'Lyeh). However, there is clearly Mythos activity in all parts of the world; that comparatively few Lovecraft stories are set in Africa, Asia, or Antarctica is only reporting bias, and should not be taken to indicate that you can't meet a horrible fate there just as easily as if you'd stayed at home.
It's a big scary universe out there, much too big and scary for the human mind to deal with. On the other hand, is it really as bad as this week's special in the cafeteria?
Many monsters come from other planets or stars, or at least are extraterrestrial-Americans. The best-known instance is the Fungi From Yuggoth (also known as Pluto, depending on who's teaching the basic science course), but Byakhee come from Aldebaran, and Cats From Saturn come from Cykranosh. Colors Out of Space and Flying Polyps are reputed to come from outer space, but it's not clear just where.
Few extraterrestrial locations are described in detail in the source material, and those that are, are not necessarily in accordance with modern planetary science (eg, the icy plains of Uranus), so you might as well make stuff up, performing whatever balancing act between accuracy and humor suits you.
As envisioned, the Power to Travel In Space takes hours to get around the solar system, which means it would take a Really Long Time to get to other stars (Alpha Centauri is about 65 000 times as far away as Yuggoth). Possibilities for interstellar adventure include using Gates, allowing Travel In Space 2, which gets to other stars in hours, or conveniently ignoring piddly little factors like 105.
The Dreamlands are an alternate universe where the souls of certain specially-gifted people go when they sleep. It is actually possible to get to the Dreamlands physically, but only at certain spots which are heavily infested with ghouls, zoogs, or both. Dream-travellers reach the Dreamlands by first descending the Seventy Steps of Lighter Slumber to the Cavern of Flame, where they are inspected for moral rectitude by the priests Nasht and Kaman-Thah. Those allowed to pass descend seven hundred more steps to the Gate of Deeper Slumber, beyond which lie the Dreamlands proper.
The Dreamlands are sort of like the setting of a fantasy adventure novel: untravelled forests inhabited by hungry monsters, cities with peculiar architecture ruled by benevolent or insane kings with beautiful daughters, trackless deserts where sandstorms blow over ancient ruins containing puissant mystic artifacts, underground labyrinths large enough to contain entire countries, etc. Things get weird around the edges: for example, there is at least one place where ships can sail off into the sky and travel to the Moon and other planets. There are, of course, horrible monsters from the distant stars and distant past, particularly Cats From Saturn, ghouls, and nightgaunts.
Although the Dreamlands are as real as the waking world, they are still somewhat "soft", and can be added to in small ways by those of strong will and adequate Mojo. This is based on Sanity plus whatever Knack is appropriate, and is pretty difficult. A result of 0 or less causes the dreamshaping to go horribly wrong, so be careful doing this at low Sanity!
Making an inanimate object has a base difficulty of 9, and costs 1-3 Mojo depending on its size (carriable, too big to carry, too big to even push around). Complicated or artistic creations have a difficulty of 12. Living things have a difficulty of 12 for animals or 15(!) for people, and cost 1 extra point of Mojo. The created object generally doesn't just appear in a cloud of smoke, but gets worked into the dream at some point in the near future. It may or may not still be around for future dream journeys.
The same Knack is used for most spell-casting in the Dreamlands. Worship <higher power> usually doesn't work: the Dreamlands does not have the same gods as the waking world.
This is obviously nowhere near a complete descriptions: entire books could be (and have been) written about the Dreamlands, but most of the good bits are collected in the CoC supplement The Complete Dreamlands. You should probably pick it up if you plan to run Dreamlands adventures.
The depths of time are nearly as common an origin for monsters as the depths of space. Sometimes this just means the monsters are very patient, but actual time travel, either mentally or physically, is also known to happen.
Time travel usually involves great spans of time, up to the hundreds of millions of years a mind of the Great Race of Yith traverses to study humanity, rather than the small distances that would allow you to, for example, give the corrected copy of the history exam you just failed to your self of last Tuesday. Fortunately for players adapted to live in linear causality, then, time travel in SCOOS is mostly like space travel, in that it just provides a new and exciting location to blow up. Temporal logic (or illogic) puzzles are certainly possible, though.
Not all monsters can fly unaided through the airless gulfs of space, so when the ones who can't want to go vacation on the lava beaches of the Magma Seas of Fomalhaut, they travel by the network of Gates strung throughout the universe.
Gates can look like anything, although usually either an archway or standing stones are involved, and are usually in out-of-the-way places (possibly as a result of the natural human tendency to dynamite standing stones and use the results to resurface their driveways). However, either a Gate Key or the spell Open Gate can be used to find a gate.
Gates can only be opened at certain times (at night, when Aldebaran is in the sky, on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month), and will only connect to certain other Gates. Both of these characteristics can be modified by the spell Open Gate, although doing so will possibly damage the Gate and will definitely anger whoever's in charge of maintaining it.
To open a Gate requires a Gate Key, a small ritual, and a point of Mojo. Opening a Gate to another solar system costs 2 Mojo; to another galaxy costs 3. Passing through a Gate costs a human 1 Sanity. Passing through several Gates on one journey costs an extra point of Sanity and Mojo.
Many jillions of monsters are listed in the Call of Cthulhu rules and supplements, and it seems clear that GMs are expected to add to the list to keep the players from becoming complacent. Nevertheless, there is a core set, if you will, of monsters from the more famous original stories, which many or most SCOOS players will have heard of. Full descriptions of most of these can be found in the CoC rules, but here is a quick reference list of those well-known monsters, providing that information most necessary to using them in SCOOS.
The descriptions given are the fully monstrous ones from the original sources; as described elsewhere, you will probably need to cutify PC monsters.
Almost any monster can have Big Sharp Scary Claws or Tough, and can have Monster Out if it's only in human form part-time. Mind-Blasting often but not always accompanies Monster Out.
A Mi-go is a chitinous, vaguely bug-like horror about the size of a human, with an elliptical head covered with myriad short stubby antennae but no eyes or other features. It has several pairs of limbs with multiple pincers, and might have wings allowing it to fly through the air or even into space. Although they are also called Fungi From Yuggoth, mi-go are no more fungal than they are insectile, being instead of wholly unearthly biology.
Mi-go are among the most comprehensibly smart of monsters, and have an advanced technology, including such infamous gadgets as the mist projector and the brain cylinder. Mi-go still lose Sanity from human technology, and vice-versa, however.
Mi-go reproduce by conducting mass rites of worship of Shub-Niggurath, which culminate in the thousands of celebrants dissolving orgiastically into a mass of slime from which millions of larvae grow. You can see how human mating customs might hold some appeal.
Typical Powers: Travel By Air 0-2, possibly Travel In Space; Artifact
Patron Deity: Shub-Niggurath
Among the most human-like of monsters, Deep Ones often in fact interbreed with humans, producing hybrids that appear human for the first part of their life, then develop Deep One features and swim off to join their kin in their undersea cities.
A Deep One, or converted hybrid, is human-sized and shaped, but has many fishy and frog-like features adapting it to underwater life.
Deep Ones worship Cthulhu, but their secular leaders are Father Dagon and Mother Hydra, ancient Deep Ones who have grown to immense size and magical power.
Typical Powers: Travel Underwater
Patron Deity: Cthulhu
Ghouls are perhaps even more closely related to humans than Deep Ones; not only can they interbreed, but some humans are reported to have turned into ghouls. Of course, the possibility exists that they unknowingly had ghoul blood and it only manifested late in life.
Ghouls are essentially humanoid, but with bestial features and a somewhat rubbery texture. They sometimes wear clothes but rarely use tools or weapons. Ghouls run in packs, lead by the strongest or cleverest member, who abuses his power accordingly. Ghouls do not build, but sometimes dig lairs if they cannot find any pre-existing structure or cave to occupy.
Typical Powers: none in particular
Chthonians are worm-like, many-tentacled monsters that live underground, burrowing through the earth's crust and mantle. Not much is known about them, except that they can band together to cause earthquakes. Their king is the monstrously huge Shudde M'ell.
Chthonians are unbothered by temperatures in the thousands of degrees, but dislike water intensely.
Typical Powers: Travel Underground 1-2, Tentacles 1, Vulnerability: Water 3
Native to the Dreamlands, nightgaunts are 8-foot-tall, scrawny black horrors covered in rubbery black hide, with horns, wings, and long fingers that they use to tickle their prey into submission. Disturbingly, they have no faces; it is entirely unclear how they eat, breathe, or see.
Nightgaunts are famous for swooping down upon the unwary, carrying them off to inescapable, inhospitable locations such as the Peaks of Thok, and leaving them there.
Typical Powers: Travel By Air 2
Byakee are winged humanoid creatures, "not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor decomposed human beings", popular among cultists for being easily summoned and relatively obedient. They hail from the star Aldebaran, and can normally be summoned only when it is in the sky.
Typical Powers: Travel By Air 2, Travel In Space
Patron Deity: Hastur
Cats from Saturn don't look much like Earthly cats, being glowing masses of multicolored filigree, with a varying number of appendages that might be limbs or tails and some luminous nodules that might be eyes. However, they most assuredly have cat nature.
Most commonly found in the Dreamlands, Cats from Saturn can (like other dream cats) leap through interstellar space, which they do regularly to assault Earthly cats, with whom they have a constant feud.
Typical Powers: Leap Through Space 2, Big Sharp Scary Claws 2
A Flying Polyp is a huge mass of monstrously plastic flesh that flies without wings and undergoes unnatural lapses of visibility. Although it has many mouths, short tentacles, and other unpleasant organs, it captures its prey with a variety of unearthly wind powers.
The Flying Polyps live in great caverns beneath the continent of Australia, having been driven there eons ago by the Great Race Of Yith.
Typical Powers: Travel By Air 1-2, Invisible 2, Zap 2-4
Constructed by the now-extinct Elder Things as general-purpose slaves/heavy machinery, shoggoths are basically huge blobs of protoplasm that can form any needed organ or appendage at will. They are equally at home in the water and on land, and are very difficult to destroy.
Typical Powers: Tentacles 2, Amorphous, Travel Underwater, Tough 2
Fire vampires are a form of intelligent gas or plasma, fluidly amorphous but capable of setting flammable objects alight. They are quite visible at night, but almost invisible in bright sunlight.
Like Cthugha, fire vampires are native to the star Fomalhaut.
Typical Powers: Invisible 2, Travel By Air 2, Tough 2
Patron Deity: Cthugha
The original Serpent People looked like snakes with arms, but millions of years of degeneration have added more humanoid elements to their phenotype, and they now can fall anywhere on the spectrum between humand and serpent.
In the time of the dinosaurs, the Serpent People had a high civilization with a great command of both magic and technology (though, like that of the mi-go, their technology is terrifyingly abhuman). Some of them still have relics of that ancient knowledge, and there are even some Serpent People still alive who date from the height of their power, come down to the present day by advanced hibernation techniquese.
Typical Powers: Artifact.
Patron Deity: Yig
The chief servitors of Shub-Niggurath, her Dark Young are towering creatures, supported by many huge goat-like hooves and sprouting many long tentacles that reach upwards like the branches of a tree. The globular body between is covered with mouths which gnash ceaselessly.
Typical Powers: Tentacles 2
Patron Deity: Shub-Niggurath
Nonphysical creatures from the stars, Colours Out Of Space appear as shimmering glows of a color found in no Earthly spectrum. Their presence drains the life force of the surrounding area, causing insanity and death. Not much more is known about them.
Typical Powers: Immaterial 2, Invisible 2
Patron Deity: unknown, maybe Azathoth?
More traditional monsters, such as vampire and werewolves, also exist in the SCOOS universe, but you probably know what they're like.
Worship of the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods (collectively referred to as GOOs) is an important part of SCOOS, if nothing else because it's a good way to get spells. For full details on the various GOOs, you should consult the primary sources or the condensations of arcane lore found in the various CoC books, but here is a brief summary of a few of the more notable GOOs.
|GOO||Appearance||Associations & Spell Types||Worshipped By|
|Nyarlathotep||999 forms, at least one of them human||Anything that causes trouble||Witches, people with more Erudition than Competence|
|Shub-Niggurath||A vaporous mass of eyes, mouths, and other organs||Fertility, forests||Environmentalists, sex fiends, Dark Young, Mi-Go|
|Cthulhu||Immense, winged, octopus-headed humanoid||The Ocean, also dreams||Deep Ones, artists, primitive tribespeople|
|Cthugha||A huge burning mass of ever-varying shape||Fire, the star Fomalhaut||Fire vampires, pyromaniacs|
|Yig||A giant snake or immense Serpent Person||Snakes, poison, stealth||Serpent People, ninja|
|Azathoth||Writhing, ever-growing nuclear chaos||Blind fury and nuclear destruction||Lunatics|
|Alan Greenspan||A middle-aged man in a three-piece suit. With a briefcase.||Money||Rich people, people who want to become rich|
|Yog-Sothoth||A congeries of shimmering globes that appear, swell, shrink, and vanish||Time, space, other dimensions||Black magicians|
|Hastur||Scaly and octopoidal, with an unspeakable face||Travel through space, horrible monsters, the star Aldebaran||Byakhee, space travellers, generic cultists|
|Bast||A lion, a giant cat, or a woman with a cat's head||Cats, the sun, sleep, self-indulgence||Cats, sensualists, slackers|
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