Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Free and Wild - Mixing Transhumanism and the Cthulhu Mythos

"The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom."
- H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Quite a few people interpret the above quote as a prophecy of the End Times - the end of humanity. But maybe humanity doesn't die out - but instead transforms... transcends? Humanity as it currently exists may be doomed in the universe of the Cthulhu Mythos, but humanity was different from it was in the past and will be different in the future - especially since humanity will likely soon develop the power to change its very nature, thanks to Transhumanism in its many forms. Human genetic engineering, cybernetic implants, possibly even uploading of our very consciousness into computers - and, considering what it is possible in the Mythos universe, even transforming ourselves into energy beings.

No doubt Lovecraft would have been horrified. But then again, he was also horrified of Asian immigrants in New York City having a Rave. For us gamers I think this vision would be interesting to explore - of beings who aren't quite the same humans we are right now at the beginning of the 21st century, but still human enough to be recognizable to have human emotions and passions, before they transform into something utterly alien.

Currently I am of course preoccupied with another project, but this is nevertheless something I would love to explore and possibly publish one day. Here are some of my general development guidelines:
  • The setting would take place near the end of the 21st century or the early 22nd, to make much of Earth still recognizable.
  • The Cthulhu Mythos has become at least partially public. Various alien entities are known and discussed widely, even if their full implications are not understood. Given the information technology of the era, keeping such things truly secret would be impossible anyway.
  • A full range of Transhumanist technology should be explored, including some stuff that was created via repurposed Mythos technology.
  • The setting should have a fairly global scale, and not be Western-centric. Other nations will rise in prominence, and the West will decline somewhat. Each culture will pursue its own vision of the future.
  • Some Mythos factions - humans and otherwise - will make war on normal humanity, but these will not a global war for extinction like in Cthulhutech. Some will essentially function as terrorists, while other regions - especially those where known Great Old Ones dwell - have largely been abandoned. But it is possible to fight many Mythos creatures, and many humans and human governments are doing so reasonably successfully.
  • This will not be a "grimdark" setting. While stopping Mythos threats is always a worthwhile goal, and something that must be done, humanity won't be in danger of truly sudden extinction. There is a certain wistfulness in that unmodified humanity may die out at some point, however - but humanity's legacy will live on in its many children.

If I am to publish this as a setting. there is one decision I need to make early, however: Which system?

Submitting it as a Monograph for Call of Cthulhu would be the obvious choice, and it would have the added advantage of being able to use Cthulhu Mythos stuff from authors other than H.P. Lovecraft (whose works are in the public domain now). However, I am not sure how well the Call of Cthlhu rule system would handle transhumanist aspects of characters - and their payment scheme for monographs is somewhat strange, since it only covers printed books (50 cents per book) and doesn't cover PDFs at all.

Another RPG with more flexible licensing arrangements would make publishing easier, though it would limit me to Lovecraft's work. But which to choose? Level-and-class systems like the iterations of d20 are right out, as Transhumanism doesn't really fit well into them. There is Savage Worlds, but it has similar problems for characters diverging strongly from a heroic human norm. And there is FATE... but I don't really like FATE as a system.

Your thoughts?