Friday, February 07, 2014

Cthulhu as a D&D demon-lord?

As part of my discussion on the iconic picture of the 3e iconic D&D party getting their tushes handed to them by Cthulhu (albeit a small-sized one) there was some discussion about whether or not Cthulhu is "deity level" in D&D, or what, exactly he is.  My own point of view is that assigning this kind of heirarchy is antithetical to Lovecraft's design (although it was done by Derleth, and followed by every RPG company that ever featured any kind of Lovecraftiana since.)  But if you have to do it, the only deities are really Yog-Sothoth, Shub-Niggurath, Azathoth and Nyarlathotep.  Guys like Cthulhu, Tsathoggua or Hastur are better represented as equivalent to the archfiends, if you will.  Demon-lords.

But let's look at his stats in the various D&D versions over the years.

Cthulhu infamously showed up in the first printing of 1980's Deities & Demigods, where he was inexplicably called a Greater God, on par with Azathoth.  This is clearly in contradiction to Lovecraft's own text, where he's often called the High Priest of R'lyeh.  Whatever.

In the d20 Call of Cthulhu book, he's a CR 34 monster, although it was an early 3e era book, and I'm not sure that I'd consider that CR to have been "trued up" very well.  However, for the sake of argument, let's say that it's more or less accurate.  If so, the Demonicon of Iggwilv gives demon lord stats of high twenties to low thirties--Demogorgon himself showed up as 33.

In Paizo's Bestiary 4, they included Pazuzu, a demon lord, and Cthulhu.  Both came in at CR 30.

I think these latter stats are about right, and the perspective of Cthulhu as a "peer", if you will, of guys like Dagon, Orcus, Demogorgon or Pale Night is about right.  Given the overtly Lovecraftian description of the obyriths anyway, this is a good fit.  There's actually a case to be made that Dagon and Cthulhu are the same, as it turns out.  Dagon, of course, has a former mythological life of his own as a Philistine god, as well as the "star" of two of Lovecraft's stories, his early effort "Dagon" and his masterpiece "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."  There is a great deal of overlap in terms of how Dagon and Cthulhu are presented in the Mythos, and there have been several postulates that "The Call of Cthulhu" was, in fact, a rewrite and reimagining of the earlier story "Dagon", and the two of them are in fact two names for the same being.

In the d20 Call of Cthulhu book, of course, Dagon and Cthulhu have separate write-ups.  But, by definition, all of mankind's attempts to characterize the Mythos are incorrect--the only reason we can't correct it is because we don't know where its incorrect.  As it happens, I think the conflation of Dagon and Cthulhu makes a great deal of sense.

And since Dagon of D&D is overtly the same as Dagon of Lovecraftiana (complete with the worship of kuo-toa "Deep Ones" in weird seaside towns, riffed almost word for word from "Shadow Over Innsmouth") that means that the CR 30 (or 32, or whatever it was exactly) Dagon from the Demonomicon of Iggwilv series of articles in Dragon Magazine can be stand-in stats if required.  And if you want a lower CR version, for whatever reason, there's one in the low 20s in Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss.

In the end, though, what does all this matter?  It doesn't, except as an interesting point of reference.  I can't imagine that I'd ever really have my characters "fight" Cthulhu or Dagon, or any other demon lord, archfiend or god.  That's simply not the kind of game that I'm likely to run.  If I use d20, then I also use E6, which means that even the low-CR version of a demon lord, at over CR 20, is way out of the league of the most powerful characters imaginable.


Timothy Brannan said...

It could work, especially in D&D where Cthulhu has always been welcome as a "Special Guest Star" for years.

It doesn't give perfectly with Lovecraft's visions, but it would still work.

Konsumterra said...

i destroyed my first DnD world with characters freeing cthulhu

next game was after all gods killed, cthulhu asleep again and new gods from greatest of previous age survivors

I make mythos not really fit into DnD gods and demons - a force in their own right but a august derleth version of temple of elemental evil with his mythos would work fine - i have cultists use derleth system they are just wrong

Joshua Dyal said...

I'm not really a fan of Derleth's vision of the Mythos. There wouldn't be any "friendly" entities. The demon-lords are, of course, partly based on a Judeo-Christian apocryphal cosmological position which seems incompatible with the Mythos. But this is only true if we try to reconcile it. I don't bother.

Demon-lords are creatures like Cthulhu (some of them explicitly so) and there isn't any implied "good" counterpart to them. In my settings, if angels exist at all, they are, by definition, fallen angels. In reality, I consider angels and demons in my gaming to be equivalent; its just that angels are better looking and have better PR. If you really have to deal with them, though, you see that they're not terribly different.

jprp999 said...

I`m not sure what the confusion is here, the "Cthulhu Mythos"mega beings were taken out of the Background due to copyright issues so could not be used by name, they are now FAR REALM creatures.
In terms of power you could argue forever about what they should be but my take would be to say Cthulhu and pals should be nominally on par with the most powerful Demon lords and the great old gods similar to the highest level gods but not individually as powerful as Tharizdun.
If i was to start a campaign i would link the Far realm to the Abyss by having the Obyrinths breaking through at two points, one was the Abyss which was not a complete success the other being what has become the Far realm which is now like the Universe that the Obyrinths originated from.The Queen of Chaos would rise to rule the Abyss and an entity known as the king of Chaos would rule Far realm, at some point the two would meet and re-form into the single entity that had previously ruled in the Obyrinth universe.

Deplorable Gaiseric said...

I'm not confused at all, but much of what you said either indicates that you don't understand the "copyright issues" at all because there are none; the Cthulhu Mythos is in the public domain and has been for years) or didn't understand what I was saying.

I don't need a lecture on D&D lore, because none applies directly with the exception of the old Deities & Demigods Cthulhu Mythos entries, and noodling about with placing the Cthulhu Mythos directly into D&D and where it would fit if so.

The Far Realm is "Lovecraftian" certainly, but in a generic sense, not in a specific sense. There is no Cthulhu or Azathoth or Deep Ones in the Far Realm.

The D&D Lore is even more of a toolset than Lovecraft's "Yog-Sothothery" and I think hewing closely to D&D canon is really missing the point anyway.