The last destination of a bodiless starfarer shall be heard from a mouth not of flesh,
A drop of swarming chaos shall be stolen under the ruins once halls of wisdom,
And the book shall be read which should not be read.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a horror cRPG based on the Cthulhu Mythos, developed by the Turkish Cultic Games and published by 1C Entertainment. It was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign on July 1, 2016, and was released on September 26, 2019 for Windows and Linux PCs on GOG.com and Steam.
The story takes place in the city of Arkham at the height of both Prohibition and The Roaring '20s — in the wake of the Black Day, when the city and all its inhabitants were dragged into a shadowy Otherworld of horrors and madness. Arkham now lies at the mercy of the Great Old Ones and their servants, ruled over by the Mob who controls the drug and liquor trade, the only thing allowing many of the survivors to hold onto a semblance of sanity, and the Cult that worships the Old Ones, sacrificing those who bear their mark to the dread gods in the vain hope of earning their favor.
The game provides examples of:
- Arbitrary Headcount Limit: The player character can have a maximum of two "proper" companions (out of three total) and one hired henchman at a time. The main henchmen, Eduardo, leaves if you run out of cigs to retain his services; the other two are only available temporarily, during the quest to clear out the Marsh warehouse and on the surface of Nithon respectively. Eduardo decides he's had enough and leaves the party if he's still with you after the Blasted Street.
- Bare-Fisted Monk: The Outsider fights with his bony, clawlike hands, useless for wielding other weapons. They start out weak, but can be gradually upgraded to damage HP, Action Points, and Sanity all at once.
- Bayonet Ya: The Nameless Soldier's melee attack has him spear enemies with his bayonet.
- Beast and Beauty: A female player character can romance the Outsider. Adding to the allusion to the fairy tale is when the Outsider gives the PC a rose and, in a dream, dance together in a large, spacious ballroom.
- The Berserker: The undead Nameless Soldier's fractured memories have him believing he's still in wartorn France. In combat, he has a chance every turn to go berserk, attacking a random target (friend or foe) with his equipped weapon.
- Blackout Basement: There are a few areas and world map events that are so dark, you need to carry a lit oil lantern in order to navigate them.
- Body Horror: The denizens of the Blasted Street have withered and amalgamated into pallid, multi-limbed horrors.
- Cliffhanger: The game ends when you decide which one of your companions to sacrifice to the black pyramid which will transport you back to Arkham, with a vision of a man transforming into a shoggoth and bursting up from under the foundations of Miskatonic University and a voice beckoning you to finish your search for the Necronomicon.
- Cosmic Horror Story: The Great Old Ones are not to be defeated or appeased, escape seems impossible, and indeed the rest of the Earth may be destroyed. The story of the game is not about winning, but survival, and finding some reason to keep living in the awful new world you find yourself in.
- Crapsack World: For the inhabitants of Arkham, life is terrible enough with them being dragged into the nightmare-inducing realm. The Mob and The Cult are the de facto rulers of the city, with the former ruling the city with iron fist, which is backed by their control of significant majority of food, weapons, and other necessities that Arkham requires for survival, and the latter sacrificing citizens at will, murdering anyone who dares oppose their crazed worship of Cthulhu, and terrorizing the rest. Food is running out, as anything edible apart from dwindling supplies of canned products is non-existent in the new realm. As a result, the surviving populace of Arkham is miserable with many either killing themselves, hooked on narcotics and booze, or driven insane by such an environment.
- Critical Hit: Played with. While there are certainly critical successes, which include critical hits, there are also critical failures, much like the original Fallout games.
- Cuckoo Nest: A brief segment between the Witch House and Nithon takes place in an alternate reality where you and the other inhabitants of Arkham are all simply inmates at an insane asylum, and everything you've experienced is an elaborate hallucination on your part. You're about to be lobotomized when you suddenly switch back to "reality" and flee an Alien Autopsy as the Elder Things' city comes under attack by the Mi-Go.
- Dialogue Tree: Here, the preset conversation options are regularly complemented not just by the skill check responses, but also by the options stemming from your character's worldview (picking which enhances roleplaying and restores sanity unless you play as a Nihilist). Moreover, playing at low sanity regularly distorts some of the available responses into barely coherent, and frequently aggressive, ramblings.
- Drop the Hammer: A sledgehammer is one of the available melee weapons, favored by the Mob's thugs. It's definitely powerful, but expensive.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Cult worships Cthulhu himself as "Grandfather", a distant, invincible, cyclopean Physical God to whom they pledge their own lives and deaths and those of their victims even as the mere sight of him drives others to madness. The "miracle" which you can view from the top of the Essex Hotel is a mere glimpse of what at first seems to be an oddly-placed mountain — then unfurls its wings and disappears into the fog. It's one of the single highest Sanity-damage events in the game. The sighting causes the Mob gunman guarding the roof to blow his brains out.
- Experience Points: In addition to regular experience points gained for completing quests and surviving combat, you also gain Angst points, a kind of anti-experience gained for causing or witnessing pain and suffering, which comes with its own (mandatory) anti-perk penalties.
- Funny Schizophrenia: More surreal than funny ha-ha, but rather less frightening than the actual monsters you're encountering, schizophrenia comes with a whole host of audiovisual hallucinations of bizarre and horrific beings wandering the streets of Arkham, such as people with the heads of fish or pigs, clowns dressed in teddy bear costumes, a small child with the head that's just an eyeball, or a hulking troll-like creature that likes to peek out from around corners, then duck out of sight when you get too close.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: A gameplay mechanic which takes two main forms: the Sanity Meter, damaged by environment and the appearance of monsters which should not be, as well as functioning as your Mana Meter for casting spells; and Angst, primarily increased by the horrible actions you must undertake to survive, such as watching harm come to others or causing it yourself and all kinds of combat — a kind of anti-Experience Points. If your Sanity drops low enough, near or below the halfway mark over an extended period of time, your character will go mad, randomly receiving one of the game's disorders, also permanent: Schizophrenia, Paranoia, Mania, or Psychopathy. Each comes with its own quirks — penalties but also unique bonuses, representing, like your character's chosen belief system, a unique way of coping with the world.
- Historical Domain Character: Companion Sonia Greene Carter is Sonia Greene Lovecraft Davis, apart from being married to Lovecraft's Author Avatar Randolph Carter instead of Lovecraft himself. Like the real-life Greene, she was a horror author in her own right and worked in New York as a milliner. In-game, instead of amicably separating after a few years, this version of Greene has become an Occult Detective, searching for her missing husband Carter.
- Intangibility: Sonia seems to be fading out of existence, becoming more incorporeal and spectral. She doesn't need to eat and is immune to some of the more hostile environments of the game. She doesn't know why, but as it happens she becomes increasingly abstracted and detached, making it hard for her to notice or care.
- Item Crafting: Investing points in the Science and Occult skills allows the player to craft either more conventionally advanced weapons and equipment, or strange relics you barely understand yourself, respectively.
- Lovable Rogue: Henchman Eduardo presents himself to you as such, a Cubano bon vivant, gun for hire and knife fighter who's happy to do your killing for you so long as you pay him 20 cigs a day. He freely admits that he would have been a criminal before the Black Day, but he's very much A Lighter Shade of Black compared to the Mob.
- The Mafia: The Mob are one of two main human enemy factions in the game. They've taken over the town through a combination of force and control of drugs and liquor, the only thing most people find lets them remain even slightly sane. They were in town to broker a deal to run Cuban rum through the port when the Black Day stranded them in the city.
- Magic Meteor: A meteor, seemingly the same as the one from "The Colour Out of Space" lands in the backstreets of Arkham and twists those it doesn't kill outright into hybrid monstrosities. The disembodied Energy Being which inhabits the buried meteorite acts as the Arc Villain for the Blasted Street as well as the final major, non-optional boss fight of the game.
- Mythology Gag: The game leans heavily on Lovecraft's own stories. Cthulhu and the Necronomicon are heavily referenced, but also some of his lesser-known creations like the Dreamlands, while Innsmouth and its fishmen are largely eschewed. The game takes place in Arkham and begins with the Dismal Man showing the protagonist a vision before the gates of Miskatonic University.
- Default player character name Lewis Theobald is one of Lovecraft's old pen names.
- The Outsider, from the story of the same name, is a recruitable companion, swathed in bandages, learned in the arcane, and torn between his own self-loathing and his newfound realization that the humanity he longed to be a part of are themselves wicked, fallen, and cruel.
- Lovecraft's Author Avatar Randolph Carter, protagonist of "The Unnamable", "The Silver Key", and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, is here shown to be a dead ringer for the author himself. You meet him in a dream, and his wife, Sonia Greene Carter (based on and named after Lovecraft's actual wife), is another of your potential companions.
- Third companion the Nameless Soldier is a World War I volunteer who died in France only to be brought Back from the Dead by Herbert West, the Re-Animator himself.
- Stanley Fredkin has his brain placed into a brain canister and is impersonated by a Mi-Go using his severed head and hands, just like in "The Whisperer in Darkness".
- A warehouse formerly owned by the illustrious Marsh family (from "The Shadow Over Innsmouth") has become infested with subhuman Pickman's ghouls (presumably named after the artist-turned-ghoul from "Pickman's Model").
- The meteor from "The Colour Out of Space" landed within Arkham's city limits, creating a Blasted Street instead of a blasted heath.
- The Witch House and the Elder Things' homeworld of Nithon are both playable locations.
- Nice Hat: Sonia was a milliner in New York in her past life, and wears a rather elaborate wide-brimmed hat with a large feathery plume. Like the rest of her outfit, the hat is green. She waves it in the air to distract enemies before firing her Trick Shot.
- Non Standard Game Over: One can occur before you finish your first quest. The Antiques Merchant will be so fascinated by your artifact, that he'll offer you more and more cigs for it; while your character automatically rejects the first two offers, the third one is so large that you get the choice to accept it. Doing so, however, ends the game as soon as you walk out of the antiques store, since you now have no more means of progressing the story.
- Optional Sexual Encounter: The desperate state of Arkham has predictably led to the appearance of several prostitutes, and you can pay for their services as well. Gameplay-wise, it restores your sanity without the downsides of addiction that are associated with the alternatives like booze or drugs.
- Optional Stealth: Practically all of the combat encounters can be sneaked past if you are good enough, and investing points into a corresponding skill will decrease the enemies' detection range as well.
- Practical Currency: Since the Black Day rendered all normal currency worthless (to the point the game treats stacks of dollars in the Bank as useless Junk, and you are outright told you are better off using them as toilet paper), everyone started using cigarettes as currency instead.
- Sadistic Choice: The game ends with the player being forced to decide on one of their companions to sacrifice to power the black pyramid which will send the rest of party back home from Nithon.
- Sanity Slippage: You begin with a set amount of sanity that is mainly determined by your intelligence stat. Once it sufficiently declines, the player character begins to experience plenty of hallucinations (see Funny Schizophrenia above), and your dialogue options change. That's not even to mention the Angst "anti-experience".
- Skill Scores and Perks: Skills include weapon skills such as Melee and Firearms, Athletics, Occult, Medicine, Psychology, Science, Survival, and more. Perks are mostly limited to the usual bonuses to various skills for the Player Character, while each of your companions has their own skill and perk trees unique to them.
- Stuck Items: The Outsider's bare claws are the only weapons he can use, and his Spellcraft-boosting broken mirror artifact can't be removed. The Nameless Soldier will not relinquish his army-issued Enfield rifle — switching weapons for him merely determines whether he'll fire it at range or use its bayonet. None of your companions can wear clothing or headgear other than the basic outfits they start with.
- Survival Sandbox: Downplayed as the game is heavily story-driven, but it does have aspects of this, with limited resources, Item Crafting, a ration and rest system, and permanent afflictions like Angst "perks", addictions and insanity.
- Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Necronomicon, naturally — the Book Which Should Not Be Read. The Cult is searching for it, and by the end of the game, so are you.
- Unconventional Alignment: Represented by the various Beliefs characters can choose: Humanistic, Materialistic, Nihilist, Divine, Rational, and Esoteric. All but Nihilistic restore Sanity when making relevant choices in dialogue and elsewhere, as well as for roleplaying your alignment in other ways, such as for acquiring wealth as a Materialist or researching your subject of interest as a Rational or Esoteric character. Nihilism, meanwhile, simply provides a blanket bonus to your mental resistance, thus inuring you to further loss of sanity.
- Was Once a Man: Many cases straight out of the Mythos: Stanley Fredkin, reduced to a Brain in a Jar by the Mi-Go; the ghouls in the Marsh warehouse were presumably human once; and the Two Beings, One Body horrors in the Blasted Street only became fused together under the influence of the meteor.
- You Have to Have Jews: Isidore is a rare example of a sympathetic Jewish character — a Kabbalah mystic to be precise — in a Mythos story. Sonia, if she's anything like the real-life Sonia Greene Lovecraft, would also come from a Jewish family.