Gaining a clearer view of a Cthulhu Mythos apocalypse:
Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy author David J Rodger talks about how writing his latest novel, Dog Eat Dog, has helped him find the narrative visuals to expand the rulebook for his roleplaying game: Yellow Dawn – The Age of Hastur.
It’s just past 8 o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting in the Boston Tea Party cafe, in Bath; a stunning historic Roman spa town in the South West of England.
Image by vintagedept via Flickr
The place exudes centuries of history with a subtle yet tangible baneful atmosphere, as if there are echoes of shocked emotions and pain from bloody rites carried out in secret temples, fused into the stone facade of every building and the volcanic rock beneath. An appropriate location to be writing about the ripples of catacyclsmic events through history.
I’m working on the next chapter of the new version of Yellow Dawn – The Age of Hastur; part of the process of updating it from the existing version 2.1 to a new, beefy version 2.5. This chapter is about the synthetic humans grown as slave labour, Carbons – and the politically motivated abduction and forced “ascension” that’s now occurring among them. Just one of the many threads of intrigue woven into the core fabric of the Yellow Dawn universe. Like all my novels – they’re loaded with political, corporate or religious (and cult) groups with criss-crossing vectors of different agendas, often conficting, sometimes not, all of which shape the unfolding plots, packing them with surprises that are delightful for an author to unleash on a reader, and so charge the stories with pace and energy.
Available as paperback from LULU or iBook and Kindle
Dog Eat Dog is the first novel to be set within this post-apocalyptic world where particles of Hastur have caused a “zombie” Infection (something that in the role-playing game is evolving into far worse threats, and where the physical reality is warping as the corruptive influence of Hastur expands) and non-human entities of the Mythos are gaining footholds in the now mostly abandoned landscapes of planet Earth. It’s a chilling, disturbing and violent place to be a survivor.
I wrote Dog Eat Dog between September 2009 and June 2010, a period where I also watched my mother starve to death (cancer) and had to deal with powerful emotions of anger and grief, and the abrupt responsibility that comes in the wake of such things. I think some of that gritty, raw feeling has seeped into the writing. The novel was launched in November to much applauding from fans.
I’m updating Yellow Dawn with the primary aim of adding much more narrative flavour and isolating the dice-crunchy systems, so that GMs can utilise Yellow Dawn as a setting for their own game system. Writing Dog Eat Dog has provided me with a vast amount of narrative that I can use to enhance key sections of the Yellow Dawn rulebook – desciptions of places, things and technology. For example. here’s a scene from Dog Eat Dog; it delineates what the Yellow Dawn rulebook merely refers to as a boundary between a Dead Zone and Living City:
All of the buildings here were empty and weather damaged; none of the reclamation teams had been in to touch them yet. Hand-painted signs stated that ‘zone reclamation’ work was taking place and individually warned of ‘slow moving heavy vehicles’, ‘new road formats’, ‘new boundary layout’ and the risk of ‘fire and explosion’. No mention of the risk of infection. An intentional omission to avoid stirring up disturbing reminders of what lurked just beyond the walls? Or extreme confidence in the applied safety measures?
Ahead of him was an unmanned IFZ, a physical gateway in the Boundary wall, passing between the Living City and the section of the Dead Zone currently being cordoned off and cleared of infection: the crux of the reclamation programme. The Boundary wall was four-metres high, individual sections of yellow painted mesh, slotted together and reinforced with overlapping slats fixed with bolts; high-tech modern materials, it made New York’s Boundary, with its charred concrete slabs, layers of water-swollen plywood and wooden supports, look medieval. There was a heavy duty ladder chained-off leading up to a catwalk; he knew the layout beyond. He’d done his research as part of selecting this location. There was no work taking place today or the next; thanks to UPD policy, all workers were entitled to two days holiday after every five days graft. This particular work-gang had closed shop and locked-up for the period. Drobná knew the protocol. Each work-gang was a tight unit; they ate together, they took holiday’s together, each man or woman had to watch out for the others: one infection could spread through an entire crew in less than a minute.
The weather was turning to shit: cloud cover was thickening, blocking out most of the daylight. Suited him fine. Red cherry lights rotated round, splashing the side-street in scarlet flashes. His eyes fixated on the gateway leading into the IFZ. It was secured with heavy-duty chains and three chunky locks. Beyond there would be an enclosed area, protected by a similar Boundary, acting much like an airlock, overlooked by flamethrowers or hard-foam guns, some means of dealing with any breach that might threaten the gate. Beyond the IFZ was the reclamation zone, a labyrinth of roads and temporary barriers, leaving streets either completely segregated from the Dead Zone or in the process of being so. Some streets would still contain Zeds.
Drobná realised he hadn’t taken a breath in a while; his jaw was clenched tight; his massive hands were gripping the hydrogel control paddle. He inhaled explosively, blinked rapidly and looked away from the gateway.
- Excerpt from Dog Eat Dog
With the overhaul of Yellow Dawn underway I’m facing at least another 6 months of work on this beast; the result is going to be the same tense, brutal and action-packed game world but layered with descriptive structures that will give GMs much more command of the universe they’re introducing and guiding players through.
Writing the post-apocalyptic novel Dog Eat Dog, in which deluded agents of Hastur have struck a near-fatal blow against the human population of Earth, has clearly helped Rodger crystalise his vision of the Mythos-infected world of Yellow Dawn.
Likewise, there is a clearer view on how H.P.Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos fits into a world left almost deserted apart from several hundred million survivors crammed into a handful of Living Cities or scattered between small and remote settlements. These cold-minded, cruel and monstrous alien races have been filtering through the minute fraction of the universe where Humans exist, for millennia. Occaisionally there are uneasy alliances based on mutually beneficial co-operation, but more often than not these encounters result in bloody carnage or shocking displays of madness. The human mind is not as tough as many of us like to think it is, and typically collapses into quivering jelly when exposed to cosmic revelations – new knowledge donated by these beings that traverse unknown dimensions and distant realms of Space. And the weak molecular bonds of human tissue are easily damaged by the corruptive energies that radiate from blasphemous portals torn open within the fabric of time & space during grotesque ceremonies, performed by things we would call monsters in worhship of entities so powerful they deserve the nomclature of gods. Such encounters are more likely to occur in the world of Yellow Dawn. There are also new races, new Great Old Ones and Outer Gods included in the Yellow Dawn rulebook – and one of these makes an appearance within the Dog Eat Dog novel:
Approaching the base of the protrusion, Carlos felt his scalp contract and his hands began to shake. It took an act of willpower not to reach his mind out to the synaptic bridge and gland a dose of oxytocin derivatives into his bloodstream; he wanted an instant and overwhelming hit of heavy calm but suspected he’d need to be sharp as a razor during the next few moments of his life.
Tribondi walked past the statue at the base of the protrusion and began to hike up the steep, rocky ascent to the plateau ten metres above. Carlos had assumed the twisted, upright and supplicating figure of the statue was a relic from the estate, some piece of modern art placed in the garden and abandoned with the villa, but now he saw with grim certainty that it fitted into the ghastly horror show this place had become.
Carlos nearly stumbled as he skirted past, his gaze transfixed by the disturbing object.
It was a shrivelled body of a man, undoubtedly once a real living person. But what had caused the man’s demise, Carlos was too appalled to speculate. The figure stood as if warding off something; the skin taught like plastic, as if every gram of fluid had been removed, hard like resin, rippled and twisted as if frozen in a wind tunnel; most of its clothing was missing, what little remained was shredded and bonded to the hard warped flesh. Thousands of tiny, black and glistening holes had punctured the body everywhere. Such disfigurement rendered the man unrecognisable.
Carlos said nothing, but turned his head to look upwards and ahead, and with a dazed stride followed Tribondi along the steep ascent. The heavy depression intensified.
What was that thing for? A warning? Some sick memento?
Despite high levels of fitness, Carlos struggled with the climb, and near the summit he was forced to drop forwards and scrabble with both hands and feet.
He was also aware of a feeling similar to when you’re coming down with a savage flu. He was sweating, more than he should have been; a growing dizziness grabbed at his vision and made him nauseous. There were strange smells here, harsh and unpleasant odours that he didn’t recognise and could barely describe.
The low buzzing sounds were now like a thousand angry bees inside of a large metal bucket, yet as if heard from a distance. It wasn’t an overpowering sound, it was just there, along with fragmentary screeches of a metallic noise, like a dense metal door being dragged across concrete. The effect was similar to flashes and starbursts across your vision, except this was auditory.
Reaching the summit he pulled himself upright. Thermal updrafts whipped and tugged at his clothing. The world seemed to swirl around him. The greens of the forest shimmered and blurred. The precipice beyond the edge of the plateau seemed to stretch, then flip in an inconceivable way, as if he could fall upwards. A terror of falling gripped him and he fought the urge to drop to his knees and hug the solid earth. Breathing hard, sweating, eyes bulging and straining, he used all his strength of body and mind to remain focussed and get through this experience.
“What do you want?” Carlos forced out the words.
His hearing had changed. The sound of his voice was muffled and yet far away and very crisp, with a varying pitch as if moving quickly across his auditory field.
Tribondi was watching him, the shimmering, smearing features of his broad and ugly face impossible to decipher.
Carlos had the urge to charge at him and push him from the crag, but in his current state suspected he’d probably manage to stagger past him and fall over the precipitous edge.
His limbs were heavy in their sockets; his head turned on a neck that felt like stiff rubber. His eyes focussed on the conical pyramid. Slightly taller than him, its sloping surface was smooth, hand-patted clay, or similar material, dry and sun-baked. Yet inside his mind, Carlos was drawing conclusions from information far beyond what his eyes were telling him.
This thing, up here, high above the terrain like this… like a beacon.
His head juddered as he took a shuffling pace towards it, one hand outstretched, the features of his face contorted, his flesh slick with sweat.
It wasn’t dry on the inside. Inside was a latticework structure of some vile brown resin, glistening, wet with a slimy albumen-like substance; repulsive, abhorrent, and packed with the congealed and clotted blood of the human organs that had been stitched together inside…
Still pumping the fluid this thing needs to work.
The new version of Yellow Dawn should be available around December 2011. Dog Eat Dog is available in paperback from LULU, or as an iBook from iTunes, or in Kindle format from Amazon.
- Dog Eat Dog: official web page – click
- Yellow Dawn – The Age of Hastur: official web page – click
- Project “Free Lite”: updates about the overhaul of Yellow Dawn – click
- Cthulhu Mythos Wikipedia page – click
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David J Rodger – DATA