In 2011 - two hundred years ago - the Stars Were Right. R’lyeh arose, and the most psychic 20% of mankind either went mad from fear or went gleefully psychotic. The seas arose and billions of Deep Ones flooded ashore. Unimaginable things emerged from beneath the ground, and darkness fell upon the Earth.
Nuclear weapons could at most annoy Great Cthulhu himself and destroy some of his stuff, but a sufficient number of them could in theory wipe out most of humanity and deprive him of subjects, as well as doing a serious number on his oceanic minions. A rump US and Russia managed to negotiate a tenuous armistice on the basis of “you don’t eat our brains, we don’t blow up the world to spite you.”
Two centuries passed. The continent underlying R’lyeh arose further, and the seas penetrated deeper inland. The spawn of the Great Old Ones multiplied and built monstrous cities across the face of the earth. The wild shoggoths of the sub-Antarctic were taught obedience with a little trouble. Some disputes with distantly related horrors deep within the earth were resolved with the death of only a few tens of millions of humans, mostly from famine, although some through submersion in hot magma.
Now, the world is mostly ruled by the heirs of the Cthulhu Cult and opportunistic evil bastards and mages, an all-powerful priesthood whose rule as “shepherds” of the human flock includes slaughterhouse delivery and whose rule is backed by divine retribution far more swift and sure than any previous variety. Mass human sacrifice is the norm, although the details of how the various human states are ruled are of no great concern to Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones which are his “family” and friends. Bloodlust, violence and weird sex are the social norm: close influence of the Great Old Ones may lead to power, but it leads to madness or monsterism in the long run, and as for those too psychically insensitive or strong to be driven mad by the general psychic background, they are reduced to a state of foggy placidity by various foul magics.
Technology is an odd mix, mass slave labor and 20th century hardware, cities more monumental than New York but no computers, the occasional odd bit of unearthly super-science and the use of weird forces best called “magic.” The Great Old Ones prefer their subjects and soul-munchies ignorant: research, scientific or otherwise, is not encouraged.
The star-spawn and associated horrors – Cthulhuoids (like the big C, but smaller: think classic King Kong vs. Godzilla), shoggoths, night-gaunts, zombies and litches, Hounds of Tindalos and Deep Ones large and small, Colossal Worms, worm-men etc. – inhabit and build the monster cities of dubious geometry that disfigure the face of the Earth. What everyday life (or undeath) is like in these cities is unknown – like a roach motel unto Blattidae, humans check in but do not check out. There is often but not always a full Great Old One in residence in the central temple complex; Cthulhu generally stays in R’lyeh, although he occasionally visits his human subjects for a little Al Fresco dining and to remind his human subjects Who’s the God?
The huge polygonal region surrounded by 2000-foot walls remains wrapped in impenetrable darkness, while the Atlantic Vortex is quite visible but equally unexplainable: and these are only two of seven equally vast and obscure projects the Great Old Ones and their servants have created in the last few decades.
These developments worry the Democratic Human Republic of America, which has made determination of their nature a top priority. After a long period of instability and various withdrawals in the face of irresistible pressure, the Democratic Human Republic of America has managed to achieve some stability: there hasn’t been a pro-Cthulhu revolt above pants-bomber levels of competence in decades. Given existential despair at the continued non-appearance of Jesus & Co., and the frequency with which the religious-minded were befooled by the Great Old Ones, the theocratic rule of the Republic’s early decades failed to sustain itself, and has been replaced by a ruthless scientific atheism as the creed of the Republic. Although the Government’s refusal to call a spade a spade or Black Magic Black Magic is perhaps a weakness, the insistence on the non-demonic nature of the Great Old Ones and the eventual scientific explicability of all their mysterious powers is something of a spine-bracer.
Powered by fusion reactors, bristling with atomic weapons, and recycling every scrap (there’s not exactly much trade with the rest of the world, although a lot of smuggling), the Republic is more democratic than it used to be, but is still a fearfully regimented society, in which any deviation from the Rules for survival is punished ruthlessly. Psychic sensitivity is tested from infancy, and all “susceptibles” are required to wear protective head-gear (aluminum-foil lined and marked with certain ancient symbols) whenever outside. (All buildings are heavily psychically shielded as a matter of course). Constant closed circuit monitoring for signs of Alien Influence is an accepted norm, as are physical and blood tests for signs of Monsterism.
There has been a return to space, although made risky by the fact that most of the Great Old Ones and many of their minions can move through space with little difficulty (How Not to be Seen is an important part of space science: low-flying spy satellites in particular tend to cease working rather abruptly, especially when passing over R’lyeh).
The Republic is not entirely alone in a world of Cthlhu-worshippers: radio communications remain open with the New Russian Empire. Other forms of communication are trickier: it takes a brave and highly skilled individual to travel undercover through the slave nations, boats and subs are too easily noticed by the Deep Ones, and planes are also rather visible (and taking a detour through other dimensions always carries severe risk of attracting unwanted attention). Besides communications difficulties, relations with the Empire are inherently a bit shaky, given its far more open embrace of Black Magic and Abominations in their pursuit of survival. (There is considerable suspicion that the Fifth Putin, which has ruled for over fifty years, is no longer technically human).
There is also the Sultanate of Dust in the Arabian Desert: its inhabitants no longer look very human even on satellite photos, and they appear to have managed to remain independent through some sort of terrible pact with the even more powerful Outer Gods. (One of the more creatively decadent Saudi princes discovered that his multi-million dollar collection of blasphemous books and scrolls was actually useful while the world was coming to an end). Communications are understandably limited.
Other “free humans”, refugees from the Archonate, squat on the territory of the Mi-Go: the chance of being abducted and experimented on or even end up as a brain in a jar are probably higher than of becoming a snack or sacrifice back home, but at least the Mi-Go have no interest in governing humans or eating them, and as long as they stay away from the Mi-Go’s mining operations, they are free to pursue their primitive agricultural lifestyle unmolested. The Archons have complained to the Great Old Ones, but the Mi-Go do have a solid short-term (less than a million years) lease.
Other potential allies include the Chthonic Old Ones and the Outer Gods, but so far the Republic’s government has put them very solidly in the “Friends like These” category. There are also contacts with some discontented mages and dark creatures within the boundaries of Great Old One territory, who find that the Return of the Great Old Ones has not been nearly as cool or rewarding as promised or find being immortal and masters of life and death over millions does not make up for having the ultimate Boss From Hell. Special Intelligence has a new and very promising contact in New England, whom they just refer to as “the TOM…”
The Great Old Ones are not particularly concerned about the independent human states, although they are a bit miffed by the Outer Gods putting a tentacle in their pie. Two centuries are barely a blink of an eye to the immortal Old Ones: and in very little time (quite likely less, even, than another two centuries), certain plans will come to fruition, and the minor annoyances will end.