Contrary to popular belief, encountering Mythos entities, reading texts that convincingly upend the supposed laws of reality, confronting the dark miracles of sorcery, or witnessing the dark miracles of alien gods do not drive you mad—at least, not in the conventional sense.
“Madness” is used as a casual term for mental illness, a phenomenon that is partly neurological, partly social, and entirely within the realm of ordinary human experience. Sometimes the word is used as a tool of discrimination. But in Cthulhu Awakens, encounters with the unnatural do not have any special power to cause mental illness beyond the ordinary effects of stress. The Mythos inflicts psychic harm because you start to understand it—comprehend a cosmos beyond what your fat-and-blood brain is adapted to as it muddles through the four dimensions of spacetime. There is an order to the unnatural in its unresolved paradoxes, the unearthly biology of its beings, and the implications of its symbols, which is incompatible with human life and thought—and it is in the nature of the Mythos to embed such paradoxes in witnesses, so that they know what should be impossible to know, perceiving impossible colors, principles, and dimensions beyond our cage of spacetime. We call this phenomenon Alienation.
The game systems for Alienation divide Mythos phenomena into four categories:
Entities (test Willpower (Courage))
Monsters combine a terror coded into our genes from ancient predation with an alienness for which our ancestral memory offers no counsel. Mythos creatures are evidence of alternate lines of evolution inimical to human life, or of anti-ecologies, incompatible with all Earthly life, yet horribly entwined with it.
Visitations (test Willpower (Faith))
Your gods mean nothing when the other gods come, breaking your faith with their undeniable, terrible reality. Even secular pillars of understanding melt before the Outsiders, who are bound to a science and metaphysics where all human thought is an error, and our existence a fragile, temporary outlier in cosmic probabilities.
Phenomena (test Willpower (Morale))
When you see something rotate across five or more dimensions; when sorcery opens doors in the Void; when you stand at the Cyclopean gates of a citadel made when we were microbes, hinting of a civilization we will never match; when you see the curves of time blister into its angles—all are evidence of a universe where everything we know is a provincial exception to a callous, life-destroying rule.
Revelations (test Willpower (Self-Discipline))
The Necronomicon is the most famous source of Alienating revelations, but many other texts, artworks, oral traditions, scientific papers, and even the masterworks of corrupted geniuses can contain seeds of toxic wisdom that, when studied, flower into knowledge that leaves no room for the human condition.
Failing a test provides Enlightenment and Terror: special Bonds (we’ll cover these in future updates) that fuel special effects. Enlightenment in a source of Alienation provides useful insights as your mind filters the strange into the pragmatic. Terror is used against you when your spirit strains against the threatening truth. Accumulating Enlightenment and Terror may eventually lead to distortions, habits of thought that are rational within the context of your extraordinary experiences but interfere with more prosaic matters.