The Weird Century
The key setting concept of Cthulhu Awakens is the Weird Century, a rough period from the 1920s to the present characterized by rising Mythos activity. Isolated cults such as the Esoteric Order of Dagon become worldwide movements powered by advances in technology and global integration. Conspiracies attain greater sophistication and infiltrate governments, and governments themselves must conspire to keep humanity safe from the Mythos—at least, the parts they know about.
Classic stories in the public domain form the roots of the Weird Century, but with a proviso: We assume the accounts are unreliable, influenced by bias and incomplete information. The Weird Century provides what is, for our purposes, a more accurate view of the world under the Mythos, but still doesn’t answer every question. From a game design perspective, this approach means we can not just eliminate problematic elements of the source material and give ourselves the whole arc of the last 100 years to play in, but tailor the truth to fit the demands of a roleplaying game setting, as distinct from a world in which to set non-interactive fiction. That means finding groups characters can affiliate themselves with, as well as antagonists and conflicts that can support an extended campaign. It means we can include elements like:
The Carter-West Agency: In the 21st Century, scions of the Carter and West families join forces to start a peculiar investigation agency which eavesdrops on strange cults as often as on cheating spouses and the other mainstays of private eyes.
The Court of the Dead: Led by their queen Nitocris, the dead but ever-stirring followers of Nyarlathotep crawl across the Weird Century, though in later decades they must contend with reanimated rivals created through various versions of Herbert West’s infamous techniques.
The Implicit Cartography Group: After following leads to a cache of sensitive documents about the future, the analysts of the Implicit Cartography group use it to uncover sensitive sites in rival states…and hoard an arsenal of eldritch texts and artifacts.
Thalassology: The ocean is, of course, a ready metaphor for the primordial self and evolution, and this human potential movement harnesses that to supposedly guide followers to their best selves, especially after they spend thousands of dollars on initiation fees and sign multiple non-disclosure agreements. Coastal cities around the world host Encounter Centers, but the most prestigious is in the otherwise staid, suburb of Innsmouth.
There’s much more going on besides these examples, from the Mi-Go harvesting the brains of public intellectuals to the ambiguous effects of Yithian history manipulation—and that’s before getting alternate universes. That is, after all, the purpose of the Weird Century: to create a history filled with opportunities to tell your own stories.