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.
The Goat Against The Queen
It began when travelers reported dozens of beautifully-crafted Elven ships sailing from the mouth of the Goldleaf into the Iron Sea. Halflings in Old Town, Twist, and Burrow, and residents of Concord noticed that their elven neighbors in the town had disappeared overnight, leaving neat, empty, abodes. Those with icon relationships with the Elf Queen could barely sense her presence. Many half-elves who remained behind fell into melancholy and some began journeys to reunite with their elven kin.
Those seeking answers at the Court of Stars found all edges of the once comforting forest had turned to a sinister Darkwood (13 True Ways, pp.123-14, but more so). The once-tidy paths into the Queen’s Wood were now overgrown with ragged moss and fungus. Some reported seeing Drow in pitched battle with legions of Fungoids, Treants the color of pitch, and less-familiar tree-like creatures whose ropey tentacles and slavering maws could consume half a dozen Drow calvary and their mounts. A lone Chaos Beast made it as far as Burrow before a party of Drow, hardly ever seen in the city, descended to slaughter it. Even the giant spiders may be turning against those for whom they once had an affinity. Rumors speak of a new, unspeakably foul queen at the center of the Wood.1
Whether the Elf Queen departed across the sea of her own volition (as elves are wont to do) and opened a hole for The Goat to take over or whether The Goat and its servitors forced her out, the forest has become hideously tainted by its presence. Surprisingly, the Drow have remained behind. Do they fight for their Queen? Or are they simply too tied to the caverns beneath the forest to leave? Either way, your party may find them surprising allies in this time of upheaval.
Is there a way to save the Queen’s Wood? Can its new potentate be uprooted? Can the Elf Queen be persuaded to return?
The answer here depends entirely on your decisions as the GM. You could pose an eldritch campaign in the same way one seals a door in Arkham Horror or you could focus on smaller, immediate goals. Some possible plot-hooks below will determine your answers. Moreover, you can ask your players a meta-campaign question: do you want the 13th Age to be saved? Or do you want to be fighting to slow its demise and mediate the ills that will follow? …or are you on the side of these new icons?
The Black Goat of the Woods
We start with the unfortunately-named Shub Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, who will continue to be called “The Goat” unless in a textual quote.2 She, for Lovecraft established her gender in “Out of the Aeons,” was a creation of H.P. Lovecraft (although he calls her a “he” in “Whisperer,” but most stories consider her a she), although she never appeared directly in his stories. Her name is used primarily in incantations by cultists.
As I said above, because she is a Lovecraftian creation, I will first give some background on her use there.
Lovecraft’s works (including collaborations, where he loved sneaking in references) in which she is used in an incantation, reference, or text from the Necronomicon:
- “The Last Test” (1927)
- “The Dunwich Horror” (1928)
- “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930)
- “The Mound” (1930)
- “The Medusa’s Coil” (1930)
- “The Horror in the Museum” (1932)
- “The Man of Stone” (1932)
- “The Thing on the Doorstep” (1933)
- “The Diary of Alonzo Typer” (1935)
These references to her are all fairly nebulous beyond establishing her identity and her position as a potent figure in the world of mythos entities.
Fortunately, in “Out of the Aeons,” (a collaboration with Hazel Heald) Lovecraft describes her high priest. The story also introduces her sons—Nug and Yeb. This high priest attempts to make contact with her and solicit her, her sons, and Yig, the Serpent-god (stay tuned!) to help in a battle against the darker mythos entities. To spoil this part of the story—no, The Goat, her children, and Yig are not ready to take up with humans, although it would be an interesting campaign if they were. Of Lovecraft’s work, this is as concrete a reference as we get.
Other Mythos Writers
Clark Ashton Smith sculpted how he imagined the head of Shub-Niggurath, although alas we do not also have a side photograph. This vision is rather different and much more goaty than how she later came to be seen.
Otherwise, one of the best places to read about her is Chaosium’s Shub-Niggurath Cycle., ed. Robert Price. Not all of the stories are good, but the work as a whole serves to establish a sense of how a GM might write her and her cultists. The stories it collects are:
- “The Horn of Vapula”, Lewis Spence
- “The Demonic Goat”, M. P. Dare
- “The Ghostly Goat of Glaramara”, J. S. Leatherbarrow
- “The Moon-Lens”, Ramsey Campbell
- “The Ring of the Hyades”, John S. Glasby
- “A Thousand Young”, Robert M. Price
- “The Seed of the Star-God”, Richard L. Tierney
- “Harold’s Blues”, Glen Singer
- “Dreams in the House of Weir”, Lin Carter
- “Visions from Yaddith”, Lin Carter (sonnet cycle)
- “Prey of the Goat”, M. L. Carter
- “Sabbath of the Black Goat”, Stephen M. Rainey
- “The Curate of Temphill”, Robert M. Price and Peter H. Cannon
- “Grossie”, David Kaufman
- “To Clear the Earth”, Will Murray
Stories before “Moon-Lens” are not connected to The Goat but are good the imagery of goats in horror (in fact some were written before Lovecraft conceived of The Goat). “Hyades” deals at least as much with the King in Yellow as The Goat. “A Thousand Young,” and “Seed” are both reasonably good but contain rape, so be warned. “Curate” may not deal specifically with The Goat but is an excellent story of how the worship of an evil entity may infect a town of ordinary folks, a good insight into how one might balance a world in which the mythos entities are icons (the third story with rape). “Dreams in the House of Weir,” on the other hand, gives a fascinating perspective on tensions between servants of The Goat. “To Clear the Earth” briefly treats The Goat’s twin sons Nug and Yeb, or rather their legacies on Earth.
In sum, the Goat is a surprisingly-flexible and visually ill-defined entity in mythos literature. Sometimes she’s goaty, sometimes she’s a blob, often she has some kind of tentacles. You could make her specifically goaty, but you could also style her more on her Dark Young (see Pt. 2) or really however you see fit.
Coming in Pt. 2, Plot Hooks and Servitors.
2. While some would point out the obvious spelling difference and pronunciation, knowing Lovecraft’s history it’s hard to shake the feeling of an insidious racism (even perhaps an unconscious one) attached to it. ((And thanks to Robert Bloch for totally going there in a story.)) Many Lovecaftians have taken to pronouncing it as Ni-GOO-roth/ath in an attempt to deal with this. For the purposes of my writing on the subject, I will refer to the entity known as Shub Niggurath as “The Goat.” Back to the text.