Prince of the Crawling Shadows (Pt. 1)
This post is in the Eldritch Icons project which will weave a narrative to supplant the 13 Icons of the Dragon Empire with more sinister icons born of Weird Fiction.
When the Elf Queen departed, the heart of the Dragon Empire skipped a beat. When the blood druids took control of the Wild Wood, the Dragon Empire felt its veins turn cold. When the cathedral of Santa Cora shattered, millions flinched without knowing why. Yet the coming of the Crawling Chaos was more frightening in its silence. Not everyone agrees that the Prince of Shadows has changed; none of those who do can fix a date to it.
Nyarlathotep could not have commissioned a finer avatar than the Prince of Shadows. It's possible that one day he simply slid into the icon's shoes. But his enemies and rogues alike realize with growing horror that the Crawling Chaos is the Prince of Shadows…and has been for some time.
He is the author of the discord now overtaking the Dragon Empire. Through his agents, he weakened subtle points in each icon's realm. He tampered with reality, whether through forces magical or mundane. He watches his bride, Yhoundeh with special interest.
Long before the denizens of the Shadow Port realized the change, his thousand sable tendrils had infiltrated the city. The battle against this new Prince of Shadows will not take place anywhere near its foggy streets. Rather, his influence must be fought throughout the empire.
The Crawling Chaos
Unlike Yhoundeh or Moriamis, who were only mentioned in a story or two, Nyarlathotep's stories and avatars number in the dozens. After Cthulhu, he may be Lovecraft's best-known creation. He was first conceived in Lovecraft's short story of the same name and called the crawling chaos. He was not originally the “Black Pharaoh” of later imaginations but a “swarthy, slender, sinister” man of “old native blood” with the bearing of a Pharaoh.
Best known for his propensity to take on mysterious avatars or inhabit apparently inoffensive bodies, he even has a Table of Forms (Masks/Avatars) on Wikipedia which may be worth drawing on for campaign inspiration. Players may meet the Prince of Shadows in disguise and not realize until much later in the campaign.
He's found in many Lovecraft works:
- “Rats in the Walls” — early flute association but perhaps conflated a bit with Azathoth in madness.
- “Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” — as a major force and messenger of other gods, with a speaking part and either a priest or second avatar as a yellow-masked figure on the Plateau of Leng.
- Sonnet #21 of “Fungi from Yuggoth” — another version of “Nyarlathotep,” perhaps.
- “The Whisperer in Darkness” — in chants where we get descriptions of him again as a messenger, as having a waxen mask and a robe.
- “The Dreams in the Witch-House” — where he's named and revealed as also the “Black Man” of the witch-cult.
- “The Shadow Out of Time” — where an ancient Pharaoh has had dealings with him
- “The Haunter of the Dark” — in the final passage, Blake seems to indicate that Nyarlathotep is the Haunter or directly connected to it.
and in the work of many Lovecraftian writers, both of short-stories and RPGs. Robert Price put together the Nyarlathotep Cycle for Chaosium, which has some of the Lovecraft stories and those by other authors. As with all the cycle books, I'm not entirely sold on Price's assessment of the material's relevance, though I think the stories are more on point than the Shub Niggurath Cycle stories.
And a bonus—to pull from an additional piece of Lovecraftiana, consider introducing elements or effects from Lovecraft's story “The Crawling Chaos.” Published just a year after “Nyarlathotep,” the story is based on the co-author's dream and simply uses the descriptor because Lovecraft really liked that turn of phrase. That's not reason not to pretend it's part of the canon. Perhaps the players must fight the influence of a vision-inducing drug or have disturbing visions of a future only they can prevent.
Like Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep's cultural saturation might make him old hat to players if you call him by name:
What's this? Oh, another Avatar of Nyarlathotep. Oh look, there's a little cult too. It must be Tuesday…
Next time, I'll outline some of the angles by which he undermines original Icons, who he's working with, and what kind of beasties one might encounter when taking him on.