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Grammar and Grimoire: An Aklo Based Magic System for Call of Cthulhu
Contributed by James Haughton Monday, 19 May 2008

Magic in Call of Cthulhu is unsystematic, haphazard and subjective in nature, ill-fitting Lovecraft's conception. As made clear in "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", Lovecraft saw magic as a quasi-technological, repeatable phenomena turning upon the precise invocation and pronunciation of a mystical language. It is also made clear in many places (eg The Dunwich Horror, The Courtyard), that that language is Aklo, that Aklo is the "programming language" of the (local) universe, and that Aklo is inherently tied to the Great Old Ones.


All hypersemantic procedures, henceforth spells, of significance are created by the correct pronunciation and comprehension ("casting") of Aklo. A correctly pronounced spell always works, irrespective of whether the PC has enough MPs. A spell consists of one or more, henceforth N, Aklo words. To cast a spell costs N magic points and 1dN SAN. If a PC has insufficient magic points, Hit Points will be lost.

A PC can "safely" learn a number of Aklo words equal to the PC's POW score. Learning a word requires at least an hour, often more, of uninterrupted meditation upon the word, although certain drugs may short-circuit this process (Keepers may require a Know roll if their game lacks a "meditation" skill). Learning an Aklo word costs a point of POW, but also triggers a POW test (roll under your POW, if successful, increase your POW by 1d3). Each word learnt beyond your current POW triggers a 1dM SAN loss, where M is the number of words known already, and may cause physical damage to the brain.

Each word learned grants a 5% skill in Other Language (Aklo). Once the first word is learned, the skill starts at INT+POW+5%. It must be rolled successfully to cast a spell. There is a 1 SAN cost for an unsuccessful casting due to cognitive dissonance created in the brain.

This skill can also be used to read and understand Aklo without necessarily learning the true depth of the words necessary to use them in spells. However, whenever an Aklo inscription is read, the PC must roll against their POW: success means the spell encoded in the words is invoked, whether or not that was the PC's intention. This is why reading "Tomes" is such a hazardous activity.

The hypersemantic entities known as Great Old Ones and Outer Gods function as "cognitive chunks" of Aklo; each one incorporates several Aklo words and may be used as a substitute for one or all of its components, thus reducing the MP and SAN cost of the spell. In addition, once the hypersemantic entity is learned (by the same process described above) its component words are subsumed into the chunk, "freeing" POW points to learn further Aklo words.

However, use of a hypersemantic entity within a spell automatically adds a further component to the spell, which functions in the same way as the "Contact (deity)" spell. For example, casting a spell which uses the "Cthulhu" entity triggers dream visitations from the dead but dreaming god when the caster next sleeps.


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It may be possible to minimise this effect by invoking the hypersemantic entity in uncongenial surroundings, e.g. casting a Cthulhu spell in the Arizona desert or a Hastur spell when Formalhaut is below the horizon. It is also possible (though potentially catastrophic if the Other Language (Aklo) roll is failed) to invoke multiple Great Old Ones with opposed hypersemantic content, thereby causing them to neutralise each other; this technique was known as "The Shrewsbury Shuffle" to occultists of the 1920s and is called "The Constantine Contract" by the young Turks of today.

Grimoire: A partial lexicon and example.

Ia! : I Hunger! The primal scream of feeding desire. It is not for blood and meat and the crunch of bone. It is the hunger for knowledge. IA! is a Spiritual Hunger for Wisdom and Experience. Like suckling babes, our infant species hungers for the milk of true realities. In worship, humanity partakes of a deadly nourishment spewing forth from the infinite and withering teats of the Great Old Ones.

Ia! is an all but mandatory component of most spells, connecting the caster's mind to the semantic processes of the universe. In addition, invoking a Great Old One without the use of Ia! is disrespectful.

Yuggoth: the black sun. An emanation into the dreaming time during which the true reality sleeps. Revealing only darkness, the black sun casts its shadow upon an altered totality. It's inverted radiance allowing those from beyond a glimpse into our realm of slumber and illusion. The Mi-Go beat their wings upon its glory and swim through the night. Yuggoth is a doorway between truth and lies. It is a darkness that absorbs imagination. Yuggoth is a piercing into the false light by the void beyond.

Yuggoth is used for most spells connected with the Dreamlands and many connected with the Mi-Go.

Relzelalm: an unsubtle word indicating the ripping, tearing and violation of body and soul, used in many spells of damage. Crudely translated by one adept as "please anally rape my enemy with a gargantuan gerbil".

F'taghn: dead but dreaming. An indivisible bondage between spirit and flesh surpassing even entropy and death. F'taghn remains as the fading soul of corpse light, inhabiting decomposing corruption in a marriage with etherial forces.

F'taghn is the principle of the UR-reality that allows reanimation of the dead. Zombies, Vampires, Glaakeen, and most undead are made possible by the F'taghn. Ressurection from essential salts is a process born from the F'taghn. It is F'taghn that can be amplified by powerful sorcerers to provide physical immortality.

F'taghn is linked to the Dreamlands, an area of reality made corporeal by unified beliefs and fantasies. F'taghn transmits radiant thoughts from beyond through the hideous flesh of the dead. The Tomb-Herd, or Candarian Demons, are creatures of the F'taghn.

R'lyeh: The sunken city. If the sea symbolises the unconscious, then the city is its opposite. The city is rationality, nature squared and walled away. In its rationality, artificiality and alienation it is connected to the labyrinth, reminding us that in
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the heart of the maze, the Minotaur of the unconscious still lurked, bounded and baffled by the structures of civilisation.

What then do we make of the city that sinks beneath the waves? Rationality is overwhelmed, flooded by the conquering tide of instinct. Tidal waves of desire crash across the feeble structures by which mankind seeks to rule itself. Feed. Revel in the weightlessness of the womb-like depths. Sport and enjoy ourselves. Kill.

R'lyeh is used in many spells connected with unconscious secrets and lost and forbidden places.

Dho-hna: a force which defines and transgresses; lends significance to its receptacle as with the hand in the glove; the wind in the mill-vanes; the guest or trespasser crossing a threshold and giving it meaning; the breaking of the law from an orthogonal direction, as the sudden removal of the chessboard from beneath the chesspieces.

Dho-hna's versatility enables the breaking of physical and metaphysical "law" and adds additional force to a spell.

Cthulhu's hypersemantic cognates include R'lyeh, F'taghn and Dho-hna, for he is the sunken dreamer who teaches the breaking of all laws.

Example: Randolph Carter wishes to journey bodily to the dead city of Sarkomand within the Dreamlands directly, without passing through the Gate of Deeper Slumber and taking ship from Dylath-Leen. He invokes:

Ia! F'taghn Dho-hna R'lyeh Sarkomand! Ia! (opening) F'taghn (living, bodily dreaming) Dho-hna (to violate the law that all must pass the Gate of Deeper Slumber) R'lyeh (to travel to a lost place) Sarkomand (his destination).

He rolls his Aklo skill of 60% and succeeds. This costs him 5 MPs and 1d5 SAN. If he only had 3 MPs available, he would lose 2 HP and arrive in Sarkomand unconscious. If he had failed his roll, he would lose 1 SAN.

Randolph could instead have invoked: Ia! Cthulhu Sarkomand! as Cthulhu contains F'taghn, Dho-hna and R'lyeh, for a cost of only 3 MPs and 1d3 SAN, but he would then have called Cthulhu's attention to him, which he wishes to avoid.

If Randolph had wished to travel in dream-spirit instead of in body to Sarkomand, he would invoke Ia! Yuggoth Dho-hna R'lyeh Sarkomand! Cthulhu is not as useful a "chunk" for this spell, but another Great Old One with connection to the dreaming-sense of Yuggoth and R'lyeh's forbidden places, like Nodens, might substitute. However Nodens is not a violator of the law and so Randolph would have to go the long way.

Further entries in the lexicon and summaries of the cognitive chunking of hypersemantic entities are left to those with more POW to spare at the moment.


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