As an incredibly huge Lovecraft fan, once I heard about the horror cRPG Stygian I didn’t hesitate to back it. And based on what I knew it looked like it held true to the lore and Mythos while making the subject matter its own. However, I wanted to know more and I reached out to Cultic Games to get to know them and the game a bit better. After sending them several questions I heard back with some interesting tidbits and what to expect from the final product.
The first thing that I asked them was to tell us a bit about themselves as a company. I found out that Stygian was originally going to be a board game but ended up evolving into the computer RPG that we see on Kickstarter today. I’m hoping that if this one sells well we might see it anyway. As for the studio itself, it’s best that it’s taken directly from the horse’s mouth itself: “Team Cultic is comprised of multi-disciplinarian members from video game, film and music industry. I can say that we’re a pretty dedicated and self motivated studio considering the fact that we’ve been using our own resources to bring Stygian to this state of progression in 10 months.”
It’s interesting to note that the idea to bring the Lovecraftian Mythos to Stygian stemmed from Can Oral’s almost life-long love of the man’s writing. According to him, “the themes of facing the incomprehensible and the fragility of human beings against these cold ancient entities left their deep mark on me“. And I can honestly echo these sentiments, although I came to the dark and macabre tomes a bit later in life. There’s just something about the way Lovecraft pits mankind against the ineffable will of the Old Ones and their ilk that’s just asking for a good video game to be made out of it. Especially a genre that focuses on story like RPGs.
I also wondered why choose to make Stygian an RPG instead of an adventure, which is a more popular genre to tell stories based on Lovecraft, and he basically had this to say. “I always wondered why CRPGs were confined to certain settings and themes in the last decades. Think about “Ultima: Martian Dreams” or SSI’s “Dark Sun” games or “Albion” from Blue Byte Software. They are all wonderful and fresh games opening new horizons to RPG gamers. Then somehow games like that started to disappear. Of course there are business reasons behind this. These kind of games require taking a certain kind of risk for the publisher. “Orcs and Elves sell, right? Why change the formula?” “
One of the biggest themes that Lovecraft used, apart from nasty cults and forbidden lore, is the use of the “monster” as a background character. Always referenced but never seen until the end, if at all. I wondered how that will work in an RPG like Stygian and while we’ll most certainly see some of the legendary creatures like Mi-Go it’s a balancing act of “show and tell” when it comes to the Mythos. “Lovecraftian horror takes its strength from the fear of the unknown. Stygian is an axonometric, turn based game. We do not hide the horrors from the player which is a big risk unto itself.” To counterbalance having to show off the horrors Cultic will be focusing on using stats like sanity and mental disorders stemming from having to fight said creatures.
And speaking of which, how will the loss of sanity and psychological distress be handled in Stygian? As we all know, these are mind shattering beings unfathomable by mankind and just glimpsing them is enough to unhinge our fragile psyche. An example that Can used was having to reload a gun while ” a Mythos Entity that induce terror is just a few hexes close, out of panic [you] could reload only 3 bullets instead of 6. The decision is yours now, will you shoot with a half-loaded gun or try to reload again by spending more action points thus becoming more prepared for the next combat round.”
However, the effect that sanity has on your experience isn’t limited to just combat. It affects everything around you from dialogue options to even quests. That’s right, according to Can there’s a quest that can only unlock if you’re below a certain threshold. Also, depending on what ailments have been inflicted upon you, such as “Mania”, “Schizophrenia”, and “Paranoia”, it can give you both boosts as well as possible setbacks. Such as ‘”Schizophrenia” increas[ing] your mental resistance but gives you a small chance to enter a catatonic state in combat and lose a round.” Each one has similar positives and negatives. So, be careful how you handle events and conversations in Stygian as it can really mess with your options down the line.
Similarly, magic is used quite differently in Lovecraft’s works than in more traditional fantasy. You won’t be flinging fireballs and arcane missiles this time around without penalty (minus some mana loss). No, you’ll be tapping into the eldritch energies of the cosmos and it has an effect on your mental well-being whenever you use it. So, use it sparingly. “In Stygian, the path of the dark arts is one of treacherous mental and physical hazard. Spells are not memorized on resting, nor cast from reservoirs of mana. Spellcasters of Stygian must pay a price when using magick, in sanity possibly, health, attributes or their morality.”
Stygian already shows off a good deal of nods to Lovecraft’s work in the Kickstarter, but Cultic Games also plans on including a lot more. For instance, we’ll definitely be seeing the infamous Miskatonic University and, while not confirmed, it’s hinted that the Necronomicon might make an appearance. “As a team we’re really interested in interpreting some of the events and characters that stayed in dark in Lovecraft’s work. We never change the shape of events or take them out of their own context but try to open new areas for narrative freedom.” So expect a lot of unique takes on people, places, and events in the lore.
“I’d like to emphasize that we’re a studio that is unafraid to approach things progressively. We’re experimenting on telling collective stories with our players with the help of the crowdfunding medium. If you check our latest Kickstarter update, we offer something very unusual to people pledging to the highest tier: an unholy union of tabletop role-playing with CRPG. The pledge tier called “Holiday of Al-Hazred” involves 3 night long tabletop role-playing with the game’s creators inside Stygian’s universe. The short campaign you’ll be playing here with us, will also be crafted as a side story which will have several connections with the main storyline of Stygian. Your characters and their ventures will be adapted to the game as a special quest and the computer game’s players will take part in the events which will be shaped by our fortunate (!) tabletop players.”
As a big fan of tabletop roleplaying I do have to say that I envy anyone who takes the €2500 tier. Not just to experience a story from the creators of Stygian themselves but that they also get to shape part of the game’s world. With that said, I do wish them the best of luck getting the remaining funds needed to make this a reality. Both as a gamer and a Lovecraft fan.
UPDATE: I have been informed that the mentioned board game was not for Stygian but for an unrelated project called “4 Lords”. Can told me that they still plan on releasing it sometime in the future.