Into the Weird Blue Yonder: What is Weird and how do I make it? (Essay+d12 list)

What makes something weird? 

This was a question I was asking myself after someone asked for tools for creating weird monsters. On one hand, it seems pretty easy to make weird creatures, using chimeric tables. On the other hand, I think weirdness is something that goes deeper than mear appearances. 

Weird fiction was a genre that endeavored to find different ways of using horror, invoking a phrase which I feel we use fairly commonly in the rpg sphere: cosmic horror. Weird fiction depicted creatures and forces beyond humanity. Lovecraft's various monstrosities all reveal human being's smallness in a universe where much greater forces battle. That is on the grander scale of weird fiction. A lot of weird fiction like some SCPs go for smaller examples. A mirror that shows a slightly different version of yourself. Sheet music that demands your lifeblood to finish it.

All of this fits into the category of weird because they are all attacking the anthropocentric conception of the world, notably found at the core of Western thought. Anthropocentrism doesn't just mean that human beings are the most important things in creation but that human beings are capable of comprehending and taming their reality. It means we can understand the universe and make something good out of it, solving problems and mysteries alike. It means that we can use our tools of perception and comprehension to grasp reality. 

So the weird attacks those ways in which we orient ourselves in the world

Lovecraft often made out space and geometry to be the key to accessing other worlds, alienating us from our own basic sense of dimension and position. Knowledge that brings madness attacks the basic notion of human beings mastering our reality if reality itself is harmful to us.

This can be done with more carnal mechanisms, as well. The Voice in the Night by William Hope Hodgson attacks hunger: that basic biological need which orients us in our day to day lives gives way to alien horror. Bodily mutation is a great way of getting to the core of the weird because our bodies are really the totality of all our orientation mechanisms, though focusing in on one aspect of the body is a good way of concentrating that alienation

From Call of Cthulhu the video game

How can I make my games Weird?

Pick a method of attack. What orientation mechanism would you like to challenge? 

Want to attack sight? Make creatures that exist on another layer of reality, normally hidden to human sight. They aren't just invisible, they exist in a realm of perception off-limits to human beings. Give your players someway to glimpse this other layer and you have alienated them from their vision by demonstrating the insufficiency of their eyes.

Here are some examples put in a d12 list:
  1. Sight: creatures always exist just in the corner of your eye.
  2. Sound: a sound from somewhere else mutates those that hear it.
  3. Memory: false memories pervade your consciousness, contradicting the reality you know but being no less real.
  4. Touch: the lingering feeling of a prolonged touch that never fades, making the victim wonder if the touch has ever truly ceased.
  5. Smell: the irresistibly delicious smell of apple pie follows an unspeakably deadly creature.
  6. Self: a creature that slowly morphs into its victims, stealing their memories and form, confusing the victim on the point of their own uniqueness.
  7. Speech: all words ring hollow. In the creature's presence nothing anyone says sound honest or convincing even though nothing evident has changed about what they say.
  8. Body: the victim's body is being made into something else, as though several different creatures are spawning out of their body, undermining the victim's concept of wholeness and singularity.
  9. Reproduction: a human woman is giving birth to an inhuman creature.
  10. Knowledge: on a scroll is written a truth that drives men mad.
  11. Hunger: a creature that causes you to crave its flesh and lives on through your consumption.
  12. Compassion: a perpetually wounded creature whose hideous moaning and suffering are so painfully pitiable that they damage the mind.
Is the Weird right?

Partially but not entirely.

Is it really true that we human beings are utterly helpless before a vast cosmos which barely gives thought to our existence?

I don't think so. 

It might be easy to say yes, but I really don't think that would be entirely true. Are human beings small and fragile? Yes. There are limits to our control and there are things we ought not to. Our own human nature is something with which we really can't change or tamper without causing mass suffering.

However, human beings are evidently capable of doing incredible things with our world. Technology, trade, religion, society, and government have shown awesome advances which have reduced suffering to a phenomenal degree compared to our ancestors. We appear to be capable of choosing paths which truly do grasp a hold of our world and mold it into something habitable for us. It seems to me that the individual, speaking the truth and acting upon it, can change the world for the better. 

That doesn't necessarily mean that everything always turns out alright for the one who speaks truth. It often means more suffering for the individual but this is good suffering that leads to the betterment of the self or of the world. The one who seeks to better the world often finds the pursuit self-destructive and these acts of martyrdom pave the way for great change.

As it is written: "And you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free."

Putting the Weird into a game kind of demonstrates this. In order to have a fun game, the Weird must be beaten. Players have to be able to deal in some way with the trials sent for them so that, with ingenuity and luck, they might overcome. Otherwise, the game isn't fun. You even find in games that smart plans can deal with utterly overwhelming odds and lucky player characters can utterly alter circumstances which once seemed far beyond them. In the game, our normal inhibitions and fears are stripped away and the impossible becomes possible.

So many times, I have found that players do absolutely incredible things and it seems to be a revelation of a truth beyond just the demands of the game. Freed of the things that hold us back, we appear to have astounding potential.

Though this assurance that we do have some command over our world might make us cocky, the Weird can remind us that this is not wise. We ought not to believe that we are so powerful that we can tread in those places where we ought not to go. We can wrench our own humanity into hideous shapes and cause terrible suffering. This is pretty much the story of the 20th century. Our technological might can give way to weapons of inhuman might and cruelty. Our soceities, governments, and religions can convince people to do abominable evil.

In this way, the Weird peals back the illusion of our arrogance and see that there are forces with which we ought not to tamper with. It ought to give us a fear of playing god.

Throw the Weird at your players. Give them all the feeling of smallness and fear that you can muster, then lean back and smile when they overcome that fear and punch Cthulhu in the face.


  1. Essay + d12 list is an *excellent format*. Just by-the-by. Excellent stuff all round!

  2. Thank you, this finally explains to me the in-congruence I felt about a lot of weird fiction. The in-congruence being, if this monster that was birthed from the womb of a human woman a creature from beyond, than why does pop out of a human womb. Another example is the mind flayer, their behavior and physiology isn't that of something from the future or another world, it's that of a predator who so happens to view us as prey. A similar thing about knowledge that drives men mad, it can't be something that we can't understand because there are a ton of things we don't understand and our heads don't explode over them, we just ignore them or misunderstand them and move on with our lives. For information to drive us mad it needs to line up just right that we understand enought to tell what's so horrifying about it. What I'm saying is that weird fiction and cosmic horror doesn't present the truly indescribable and most alien that could be, because that's not as compelling as human centered deconstruction of an anthropocentric world view.

    1. That's really interesting. What you are saying there, I think, says that even deconstruction of anthropocentrism is still anthropocentric because it is ultimately still the endeavor of a human to prove a point to humans about humans. I didn't talk about this in the post but it was something that I have thought about: if we examine our own actions, it seems as though we are all anthropocentric even if we don't claim to be, because our actions all invariably attempt to work towards the good of our own kind. We can't really seem to think outside of anthropocentrism.

      One might interpret this as a human failing. Since I do hold an anthropocentric worldview, I see it as a refutation of the deconstruction. Without the ideological groundwork of anthropocentrism, it seems as though we are just utterly at a loss of what to do. It seems necessary to our very being that we believe in our own importance and that is a powerful thing to me. Even the deconstructors find themselves at a loss to truly divorce themselves form the worldview.


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