Throughout the ages, there were those who stumbled across dark and terrible secrets. They whispered of things Man Was Not Meant To Know, and muttered of dreadful consequences: global madness, a new Dark Age, the doom of humanity. So the old men locked away their old books and kept their secrets, while Things slunk in the darkness and slumbered in the seas. But you know, they said much the same things about votes for women and free jazz.
They didn’t understand humanity. We didn't come from tree shrews to global civilisation through weakness. We grew. We learned. We changed. We spread out across a world full of hungry giants and we made it our own. And we got very good at giant-slaying.
When the old world shook, we forged ourselves a new kind of sane for a new reality. We learned. We changed. And when the jolly green giant woke, the welcoming committee wasn't what he expected.
But we have to admit, they were right about free jazz.
Make Your Own Stars Right
All the old stories say that Mankind is doomed. The Sleeper in R'lyeh will wake, and mankind will descend into an endless chaos of jubilant killing. Doom will come from the stars. Terrible things that slumber beneath the earth will rise, and appalling entities burst from the ice, and the fragile veneer of civilisation that humanity has built will be shattered forever. Frail human minds will break beneath the awful relevations of the things to come; and so these truths must be hidden away forever by those unfortunates who learn them, so that at least the rest may go on in blissful ignorance.
It's for your own good, you know.
But amongst ten billion human minds, minds honed over millenia to learn and change and thrive in an ever-changing world, primed with myths and stories and the wild fantasies of outcast scientists, there's plenty of people who can believe just about anything, and plenty of others who just aren’t all that interested.
With digitisation encroaching ever-deeper into priceless archives, it was only a matter of time before carelessness, apathy, methodicalness, relentless professionalism or a tragic inability to read proto-Arabic left a swathe of Mythos texts firmly in the public domain. Though most people didn’t notice, linguists, mythologists, occult hobbyists, conspiracy theorists and would-be cultists were enthralled. Increasing disquiet rumbled across the globe. Strange happenings were reported. Psychiatrists began an urgent recruitment drive. All manner of official and unofficial bodies began to take a serious interest in these disparate, yet somehow connected events.
On a bright spring Wednesday morning, a consortium led by Miskatonic University and Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University proudly announced that a number of priceless manuscripts by that under-appreciated author, Abd al-Hazred, had entered the public domain. Within an hour, the server was down and smoking, but by that time it was everywhere. Information wants to be free.
Within a week, shifty-eyed folks who'd locked up memories for decades were spilling them for the cameras, and antiquarian bookshops were either making a killing or crumbling into ash. Within a fortnight, most of the world was in lockdown and six million people were dead. Not all of them were human.
Within a month, the first of many pacts was sealed in the catacombs of Paris.
Within a year, the second was made in Zagazig, over silver bowls of cream.
Within a decade, the third was signed in a cavern beneath the Antarctic ice.
And when the stars came right and the waters of the Pacific split with the rising of R'lyeh, and Great Cthulhu forced his loathesome bulk from the coffin-bed of aeons and gazed out over the world that was once his and should have been again, he barely had time to scream before the Eternal Lie came to an abrupt and unexpected end.
The Aftergreen setting
So, if you haven't worked it out yet, Aftergreen is a system-free Lovecraftian setting where the secrets of the Mythos went viral, humanity turned out to be (on the whole) more resilient than the fainting heroes of Lovecraft's writing all feared, and after devouring every Mythos text in sight and making deals with a host of other races, we annihilated Cthulhu and made our way out amongst the stars.
Truths that earlier scholars had thought to be terrifying, blasphemous and apocalyptic turned out surprisingly tame to a humanity that had been misusing the word "quantum" for decades and devised both acid house and paraphilosophical horror. The discovery that we were descended from discarded shoggoth-matter brought to earth aeons ago by vegetoid aliens required only minor alterations to textbooks, on the whole. Extraterrestrial visits spanning millenia weren't much of a surprise in some quarters, and frankly a relief in others. The real revelation wasn't that the Universe was an ancient, terrible, uncaring and even malevolent place in which humanity was a mere insignificant speck whom most of its denizens would not even bother to destroy; it was where to find them.
Admittedly, it wasn't all peaches and cream. Between the sudden outbreaks of madness, most of the Internet collapsing under its own weight, and a spate of hasty uprisings by ill-prepared cultists who didn't really see what else they could do, an awful lot of people died before we got a grip on ourselves. Governments collapsed. Countries dissolved. Panicking world leaders left smoking radioactive holes in Colorado, Qinghai and the Libyan Desert, and only some very impressive countermeasures limited the damage that far. More than a hundred cities worldwide are still under perpetual quarantine. Nobody ever found out where Madagascar went - along with every lemur in existence, living or dead. But a lot more of us, and our civilisation, was left standing than we might have expected. And we had what humans always thrive on: common enemies.
Fast-forward a few decades, and humanity is strung out across the stars. Admittedly, we've changed along the way. We're a bit less sentimental, a bit less given to daydreaming, a bit more coldly paranoid. We stopped telling a lot of old stories when we found out where they came from, but we found plenty of new things to talk about. We're more inclined than ever to cooperate - quickly, quietly, and carefully - with uniformed agents that report sightings of monstrosities beyond space and time. But basically still the same old Homo sapiens.
Well, we redesigned our own genome a few times. Let’s say, 94% the same, give or take.
Features of the setting
This is essentially a sci-fi setting with Lovecraftian entities, but not particularly designed for Lovecraftian themes.
Humans live and work and explore alongside some of the more approachable Mythos races: the ghouls, the elder things, and of course, cats. Alien science has advanced our abilities at phenomenal speed, and alien knowledge expanded our knowledge of our own history a thousandfold. We toil in our cities and spaceships, laboratories and mines much as we always did. Some of us explore alien worlds for the first time, others decipher ancient tomes discovered mouldering in libraries. But there's purpose behind it all, slow and near-invisible. There are things out there that are no longer beyond our imagination, only beyond our ken; things that could destroy us all in a heartbeat. And slowly, surely, carefully, beginning with the weakest of them, we mean to work our way up that chain, learning as we go, until there's nothing left to threaten us. Only then can humanity be safe. Along the way, we will encounter more races than we had ever believed. Some are weak and irrelevant; some are strong, and worthy to join us; some are dangerous and must be destroyed. And some don't know a good deal when they hear one.
For most of us, life just goes on, as we explore our way across the universe. The Great Plan doesn't generally affect day-to-day matters. It's a long-term goal that humanity as a whole is working towards, and shapes policy and law more than everyday behaviour.
Humans are a little different from the old days. We’re fitter, more resilient, and generally healthier after all the genetic tinkering. We understand a little more of the underlying reality, and our minds are a little more in tune with it. Magic isn’t exactly commonplace – we might shrug off interdimensional monstrosities, but our brains still aren’t really evolved to think the right way – but it has its occasions, and its specialists. A few are relics of the old days, but plenty more are recent acolytes kept firmly under the official thumb, with weekly visits to therapists.
Now that nobody’s getting sectioned for reporting alien weirdness, people keep an eye out for interlopers, shapeshifters, extradimensional horrors and cannibalistic sorcerers. Crack teams of special agents, regened and equipped with whatever we’ve managed to understand so far, investigate the mysterious and battle the horrific. There are always cults to undermine, summonings to interrupt, and stray star vampires to round up. Certain caverns need constant guarding lest terrible things pour out that we haven’t yet worked out how to destroy. Besides that, there’s plenty of less confrontational work to do: the stars aren’t going to explore themselves. Cities still need maintaining, most of us still need food, there are plans to make and resources to distribute. Machines of unimaginable complexity need constructing. Children need educating. People who go mad need reprocessing. And there’s always room for more cat handlers.
Okay, specific features of the setting...
- Humans have truces and mutual benefit treaties with Earth cats, ghouls and elder things – reading from most trusted to least. Whether the trust is well-assigned remains an open question, but habits are hard to break. I'll probably want to leave relations with other Mythos races open to adaptation, though I can't imagine the deep ones are very happy with us.
- Pretty much everyone can talk to cats and ghouls, at least enough to ask for directions or report a Reality Breach.
- Many aspects of the Mythos are familiar (though not necessarily known well or accurately).
- Sanctioned sorcerers, official occultists and chartered champions are sent to deal with outbreaks of weirdness. They are the newest emergency service, under phone number 666 (we didn’t lose our taste for officially-sanctioned awkward humour).
- Superstition and the occult are widespread; we know some of these things are roughly true, and act accordingly.
- Technology is highly advanced, but not universally understood. We’re learning as a species far faster than we can really follow individually.
- There is widespread contact with alien races, sometimes peaceful, sometimes not.
- It’s not exactly post-apocalyptic, because we never had an apocalypse. However, there have been some pretty major alterations in terms of radiation deserts, cities destroyed, cities under quarantine, ruins, and the destruction of suspicious landmarks. There are fewer people on Earth, not least because quite a few of them moved to the stars. There are a fair number of mad people around.
- Sinister presences, lurking monsters, evil sorcerers, dangerous cults and would-be dictators still present a threat.
- Exploration of the Dreamlands is an ongoing project.
I haven’t defined any of those things particularly tightly at the moment, partly because I’d quite like to leave flexibility, especially in terms of things like precise government structure or which cities got destroyed. However, that’s not the most useful way to design a setting... so I’ll probably come up with some details in the future.
This idea just came to me one day out walking. I don't remember the exact thought process, but I think I was listening to some Call of Cthulhu podcast or other, with people mentioning how of course humanity is doomed, and belligerently said to myself: "well, says who?".
From there it was only a matter of moments before the idea of hardened Mythos-hunters in a slightly harsh world of the differently-sane came to mind. Not a pointlessly cruel world, but a place of tough people making tough decisions, yet also full of weird tech and frequently in space. A place where, Ghostbusters-like, when terrifying otherworldly monstrosities appeared, so did people with unreasonably large and shiny plasma annihilators. Where you might, quite reasonably, trap Tulzscha in a massive Faraday cage and use it as an inexhaustable supply of renewable energy.