I never understood the fascination with Lovecraft. I assume it’s because I’m an escapist who loves happy endings and triumphing over evil, and the Lovecraft mythos is about creatures so alien and powerful that to merely look upon them is to collapse the scaffolding of our ephemeral sanity, scattering our concepts of morality, strength, and even space like roaches in the light. Also, he was more than a little racist. But if yesterday’s post was any indication, I’m not above stealing the bits I like from something while ignoring the rest, and I can get some mileage out of Cthulhoid creatures.
Qlippoth are a race of outsiders in Pathfinder, like angels or demons. They existed before creatures who existed before time, they probably come from the most vast reaches of the Great Beyond, and they all have horrific appearance traits that inflict status ailments. Though their Bestiary 2 entry doesn’t mention the Great Old Ones, and the Bestiary 3 entry for the Great Old Ones doesn’t mention the qlippoth, their Lovecraftian influence is clear. They share no physical features and there’s no indication that they work together in any way. They have no culture besides “hurt things.” They’re D&D monsters in their purest form, bundles of dangerous abilities and little worldview or coherence, enemies of the sort only a fool would try to reason with.
The one thing that makes them significantly different from a typical Lovecraft creature is that they do, as a race, have one goal: they want to abolish sin. Originally they lived on the Abyss, and when the demons started rising from evil and taking over, the qlippoth figured out sin was the root cause of their woes. One might assume they would be militantly good, but a nuanced villain doesn’t suit the game’s intended narrative. No, instead the qlippoth reasoned that as sin was the root cause of demons, mortal life was the root cause of sin, so they want to destroy all mortals. Especially humanoids. Especially children and pregnant women, because if you’re going to kick a puppy you might as well go for a field goal. I hesitate to call them the result of lazy design, but they’re definitely the result of a lazy gaming culture.
Luckily, The Eight Arms and the Empire of Sin was about sin, so I had a chance to do something interesting with them instead of just slapping a crazy cult together and going on lunch break. The two lowest-level qlippoth are a sort of spore that infects tiny creatures and a squid thing that uses mind control. Their CRs were perfect for the party to fight several of the former and deal with the latter as a boss, so I built the first act of the campaign around them as a red herring villain. I went full horror with it; the books only provide the stats for a tiny infected creature, but there’s nothing in the monster entry to suggest there’s a size limit on what the spore can control. By the time the campaign started, a good portion of a major town had already been infected or dominated, and in the early sessions the players slowly learned just how far the spores had spread. It culminated in a battle against the squid and a hasty retreat as the infected townsfolk attacked the party, but after the spores died off the party received a hero’s welcome.
This as I understand it is how Lovecraftian horror should work, that growing sense of unease and otherness building to a point from which the protagonist cannot recover, spurred on by a gradual discovery about the true nature of things. D&D and Pathfinder have little patience for that, but I am very dumb and I tried to make it work. I’d say it went alright; I didn’t give any players nightmares, though I hit them hard enough for them to fear for themselves and others. I do think I about peaked the entertainment value of the qlippoth. I don’t see them as a campaign villain or even much of a recurring threat. They’re more about a brief moment of shock, maybe after a bit of buildup, and a battle. No matter how alien or special they’re supposed to be, they’re exactly like every other uninspired creature, and that’s the real sin.