Cthulhupunk the Masquerade

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents." - Call of Cthulhu.

"You're a big bad vampire. Hey, great, congrats. Now keep it to yourself." - Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.


In 2077 apathy and isolation define the outlook. The fallout screens over the mega-corporation arcologies have turned the sky the color of television tuned to a dead channel. The dichotomy between rich and poor, influential and weak, powerful and powerless, is much more pronounced than now. Decadence, cynicism and corruption are common. Humanity seems less human every year, with body parts replaced by machines. Many rich embrace Transhumanism and the Quest for Cybernetic Immortality. For the poor, clothing and even skin are rented to advertisers to afford the basic standard of living. Architecture is dominated by Gothic styling and fashion and personal style embrace Goth, Punk and fetishistic elements. Crime is everywhere, making it publicly acceptable and even expected. It's a global culture of mass consumerism without context fueled by mega-corporations.

Of course, this is just as our hidden masters have planned.

The world of 2077 is run by multi-national corporations (or "korps"), they are virtually small autonomous nations without borders. They have their own currency, their own military, diplomatic and espionage arms, and public security and welfare programs. High-level executives wield an almost feudal power over their subordinates. There are hundreds of thriving korps, all with their fingers in everything from restaurant chains to bowling-ball manufacturers. Korps inspire absolute loyalty in their employees by delivering absolute security - lifetime employment, full health care, a safe place to live, an active korp-sponsored social life, guaranteed education for the kids, and eventually a bungalow at the corporate retirement enclave and a nice clean shelf for your family's urns at the corporate mausoleum.

A korp is about as far as you can get from the Mythos. The korps are almost the last bastion of the great consensual illusions of civilization and progress that have shielded humanity from cosmic reality for the last 10,000 years. With the exception of a few specialists and field-agents, korpfolk are the least prepared to come face-to-face with the Mythos of any segment of 21st century society.

Humans are unwitting victims or pawns of vast secret organizations of supernatural creatures that have long ago dominated our governments.

Vampires, werewolves and wraiths (among others) struggle with internal factionalism and against other species in secret wars of intrigue for control of reality. The battles in these wars may last centuries, beyond the realization or comprehension of ordinary humans.

The societies of these dark beings have unwritten rules, which the clear majority obeys and forces upon others. The most important one is the Masquerade, that is the absolute prohibition against revealing supernatural occurrences to ordinary human beings. Of course, there are factions, which don't like these rules very much. Among vampires there are some who call for abolishing the Masquerade and openly ruling over mortal humans. The highest authority in the vampire society is the Camarilla, a sect which calls itself the rightful government of all bloodsuckers. It enforces the Masquerade and severely punishes those who break the rules. For example, turning a human into a vampire without permission is punishable with death by decapitation.

Despite their secret rule over the world all these dark beings and creatures are nothing compared to the real state of affairs in the universe. Ancient beings, older than our solar system, are waiting for the right moment to once more rise and rule over reality. Sleeping dead gods, extra-dimensional beings or other illogical things await their moment.

Among vampires and even ordinary humans there are secret cults and sects which await the return of these eldritch titans with impatience. They conduct strange rituals and rites supposed to speed up the destruction of the current life on Earth when from the skies descend horrifying gods and the lands will be bathed with blood.

There are of course organizations combating these cults, trying to prevent the end of the world. Dark Inquisitions, brutally murdering every cultist or devotee of forbidden beings.


Mythos

The Great Old Ones and the independent races of the Cthulhu Mythos are incredibly ancient. Cthulhu came to earth one and a half billion years ago, and it was already ancient and powerful then. The reason that the powerful entities of the Mythos have not eradicated humanity is simply that in the meager 20 thousand years Homo sapiens has been in existence, the Great Old Ones have not yet really had time to notice us. Humanity likes to fancy itself the lord of creation, able, given sufficient time and effort, to conquer any problem through the application of logic and creativity. This, however, is a lie - a comforting delusion of a fundamentally inadequate race.

We are intrinsically inferior to the older races of the galaxy, we are incapable of even acknowledging our own inferiority. When a human mind is brought forcibly into contact with the realities of the Mythos, the usual response is either death or madness. We are simply unequipped to deal with the reality of the universe.

The Great Old Ones do not care whether our insignificant race lives or dies, they have no reason to exterminate, enslave or even notice us as more than a momentary curiosity. Our little race will be allowed to continue for a few thousand, or a few million years before it finally succumbs to extinction in the natural order of things. And that, perhaps, is the ultimate cosmic insult.

There is a definite taxonomy to Lovecraft's immortal beings.

The first order of Great Old Ones includes beings like Cthulhu, Hastur and Tsathoggua. These are entities of great power, but they are physical creatures with solid bodies - they are bound, at least to an extent, by time and space.

Nonetheless, they are immortal. They are completely immune to the ravages of time, and incredibly difficult to destroy through violence or mystical forces. They also represent a repository of supematural power which can be tapped by anyone who's willing to pay the price. In both these senses, therefore, they can be accurately characterized as "gods." Because they are, like humanity, physical creatures, the Great Old Ones can sometimes be persuaded to aid potentially useful humans, or destroy potentially annoying ones.

The next order is often called the "Outer Gods." These entities have their origin outside of our space-time continuum, and are generally not bound to a single physical form. Many of the Outer Gods are quite mindless, though some of the most powerful ones have at least the potential for sentience. Only one, however - Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos - displays anything remotely like a human personality. These entities display a vast range of power, from Azathoth the Demon Sultan, and Yog-Sothoth whose existence permeates all time and space, to the uncounted hordes of unnamed lesser gods who gibber mindlessly and eternally in Azathoth's orbit. With the sole exception of Nyarlathotep, who seems to derive perverse pleasure from tormenting humanity, the Outer Gods seem to be unconcerned with the affairs of our race - many seem to be completely unaware that we even exist. Nonetheless, the power of these creatures permeates all reality, and can be harnessed by those who know how to do so . . . again, not without cost.

Finally, there is a mysterious order of beings called the "Elder Gods." These enigmatic creatures are closest to the usual human definition of a "god as a spiritual entity corresponding to a specific primal archetype. They include Nodens, Lord of the Great Abyss, Hypos, God of Sleep, and perhaps many other beings as well that are known to human mythology. Bast, the Egyptian goddess of cats, and Neptune, the sea god, have both been reported to be among the Elder Gods. Elder Gods often appear in human form, but probably this is simply how human minds perceive them, rather than their true appearance. Some believe that the Elder Gods are at war with the Outer Gods, that they are "good" entities opposed to the "evil" of the Outer Gods. Others, however, say that the Elder Gods are largely indifferent both to humanity and to the other Great Old Ones, and if any of them ever decides to take action for the good or ill of a human being, they do so for reasons of their own which we cannot comprehend. It is generally held that the power of the Elder Gods cannot be tapped, though they can sometimes be called. They may be capable of giving certain favored individuals potent supernatural powers, hut they seldom if ever do so, and when they do, it's for reasons of their own. They seem to be a great deal more active in the Dreamlands than in the physical world.

Culture

Music is slooow and scary, with a throbbing bass line and incomprehensible, sinister vocals buried way down in the mix. It is not uncommon to find that the lyrics match the incantations from the Necronomican. Clubs catering to the lunatic fringe attracted to the macabre image are irresistibly attracted to the Mythos. They are an excellent breeding ground for cultists, particularly those of a nihilist bent. A genuine Mythos Tremere wizard posing as a musical artist will sometimes use chants and rituals in their performances using the crowd as an unwitting "congregation" from which to draw energy for a summoning ritual or some other piece of dark magic. There are even lovecraftian ghoul bands and more than a few ghoul fans. One human "band" only performs in the Dreamlands, the price of admission...

Gladiatorial combat is back. Arena bouts between two human beings (with or without weapons or cyberwear) are among the most popular. Actual fatalities are common enough to keep fans interested.

The Mafia, Yakuza, South American drug cartels, Chinese Triads, and Russian Mafia have all become mega-corporations that are literally feudal enclaves, having staked out vast tracts of land in their home countries where they are the only law and the only government. The nominal governments in their territories are on the payroll and preserve their autonomy.


Cyberwear

Cyberwear is only starting to come into its own. There are basically three grades of the stuff: State of the Art (SOTA), Standard, and Street. You can get anything you can pay for at the SOTA or Street grades. The difference is that SOTA is safe, reliable and (if the buyer wants it that way) invisible.

Street cyberwear is obvious, ugly and frequently unreliable.

SOTA cyber can be bought, but it's only available to characters with higher Social Status, Wealth, a powerful Patron or an appropriate Unusual Background.

Standard cyber is safe, reliable and unobtrusive, but not invisible (it can he spotted, or automatically detected by touch).

There are also a lot of cybermods that are just flat unavailable at Standard grades - mostly military and espionage-oriented stuff. Black market cyber is, by definition, either SOTA or street. Offensive, defensive or spy modifications are always harder to get than general utility or information-processing gear.

As far as guns are concerned, most countries limit high tech arms ownership strictly to licensed users, of course, that doesn't mean that they are in any way unavailable. . .