Elder Thing

Known by various names on various worlds, but most often as “elder things” or “old ones,” these strange creatures have very little of the humanoid in their shape, yet their philosophies and goals shine with very human features—fundamental curiosities about the nature of life, deep interests and skills in creating lasting works of art and architecture, and a boundless capacity for war and egotism.

An elder thing’s body is the shape of an elongated barrel featuring ridges that run from one end to the other. The creature’s head rests at one end—a starfish-shaped organ with eyes at the tips of the arms, stalked feeding tubes, and a mouth-like opening at the center. At the other end of its body coil five long tentacles and a wriggling mass of smaller tendrils—the creature’s primary source of locomotion on land. Five sets of wings can extend from its body, along with five sets of branchlike arms ending in numerous small feelers that work akin to a human’s fingers and hands; both sets of limbs can be retracted into the body as needed. A typical elder thing is 6 feet from head to foot, with a 7-foot wingspan. Surprisingly heavy for their size, an elder thing generally weighs about 450 pounds.

Elder things are most at home in water, yet comfortable on land as well. While quite heavy, they are capable of flight, although this method of transportation is one without grace for an elder thing. Even the depths of outer space hold little danger for these creatures, and there are few places in the universe that are barred from their exploration.

An elder thing’s blood is thick and syrupy, with a nauseating green tinge and an even more nauseating odor. Many animals, dogs in particular, find this scent unpleasant or downright frightening, driven to extremes of fear or violence if confronted with it. The creature possesses both lungs and gills, but its physiology is also capable of shutting itself down completely in times of need, allowing it to enter a state of profound hibernation during the course of a long journey or when faced with no other recourse than to retreat into a well-defended bunker or vault to outwait danger.

Highly intelligent, the elder things are no stranger to magic or technology. While their bodies are decidedly inhuman, they possess analogous limbs that function well enough for them to utilize weapons or magical items similarly to most humanoids. Obvious exceptions such as armor, helms, boots, and gloves are unusable by elder things unless they are crafted in such a way as to fit their unusual bodies, but their limbs can easily accommodate things like rings, amulets, bracers, belts, and even cloaks. Most elder things eschew melee weapons, opting instead for their natural weapons, magic, or strange technological items for combat, but they are capable of wielding any weapon a human could in their strong, agile tentacles.
Habitat & Society

The elder things are travelers—with the ability to navigate interstellar distances, their kind has journeyed to and settled upon countless planets throughout the universe. The time required to make such journeys is significant, so once a colony arrives on a planet, they generally remain for eons, only sending new colonists out into the darkness when the urge or need to find a new home grows too strong. In some cases, elder things who dwell too long upon a planet lose the ability to survive in outer space, effectively stranding that colony for the rest of time.

Elder things have their own language—a strange sounding “tongue” consisting of haunting piping sounds and shrill cries that are difficult for humans to mimic. The written version of this language incorporates a radial pattern of markings—to the untrained eye, elder thing writing looks like a random sequence of dots in strange circular patterns. The elder things prefer to colonize planets devoid of sentient life, for among their great sciences is the art of creating new organisms. The elder things often engage in war against other societies for dominance of such ripe planets—their histories are filled with accounts of such wars against mi-go, star-spawn of Cthulhu, or the aboleths.

Elder things are cited in many blasphemous texts as the creators of the dreaded shoggoth—a creature bred for its versatility and strength and used to erect vast cities for the elder things to dwell in. Yet the race’s egotism often exceeds its discretion, as in the case of the shoggoth. Uprisings of shoggoth slaves who develop intelligence over the course of several generations have spelled the doom for countless elder thing colonies, yet most elder things consider such events to be the failures of “lesser minds,” thinking themselves above the level of making such mistakes. On other worlds, the elder things are said to have created even wider varieties of life, and it may be that the elder things are the true source of entire alien ecosystems.

An elder thing buried in ice.

An elder thing has a barrel-shaped body, with ridges running from one end to the other. Its head is shaped like a starfish whose arms end in eyes, with stalked feeding tubes and a mouth at the centre. At the other end of its body are five large tentacles and numerous smaller ones, which serve as legs on land. An elder thing has five sets of wings and five branch-like arms ending in prehensile 'fingers' capable of manipulating weapons and magic items manufactured for humanoids (although they obviously cannot wear humanoid clothing). All of an elder thing's limbs can be retracted if needed. A typical elder thing is six feet long, has a seven-foot wingspan and weighs around 450 pounds.[1]

Despite their weight, elder things can fly, albeit clumsily. Their thick, syrupy, green blood has a nauseating odour, that is repulsive to many animals, especially dogs.[1]

Elder things possess both lungs and gills. When needed, they can shut themselves down completely when there is nothing they can do. Elder things are highly intelligent and advanced in both technology and magic. Their language, also called Elder Thing, consists of piping sounds and shrill cries that the human mouth has difficulty learning, and is written with a script incorporating radial markings.[1]

Elder things are comfortable in most environments of the Material Plane, from land, water, to even the vacuum of space. Due to their ability to travel between the stars, they have seeded life on countless planets, preferably those with no native life. Since it takes aeons to do so, elder thing colonies rarely leave their new planet, only sending out new colonists when truly necessary. Sometimes, elder things that live too long on a planet can no longer survive in space, becoming stranded on their home.[1]

Despite their inhuman shape, elder things have very human-like drives: a curiosity about the nature of life, the creation of lasting works of art, and boundless capacity for war, and egotism. Elder things view the creation of new life as an art, and are said to be the source of entire ecosystems. They often come into conflict with creatures like mi-go and star-spawn of Cthulhu over planets. In battle, they rarely use melee weapons and prefer natural weapons or magic items.[1]

Elder things are the creators of the shoggoths, which they breed as versatile, strong builders of the cities they live in. However, countless elder thing colonies have fallen to uprisings led by shoggoths who developed intelligence, yet their hubris causes most elder things to consider such errors to be failures of lesser minds that they can never commit.[1]
On Golarion

On Golarion, elder things came into conflict with the alghollthus and neothelids. The elder things were defeated by the alghollthus, but their colonies can still be found across dark corners of the planet. They are aware of the neothelids' plan to call their mother Shub-Niggurath to Golarion and the catastrophe, not seen since Earthfall, that would ensue if the neothelids were to succeed. The conflict between elder things and neothelids has long been in a stalemate, with elder things manipulating patsies into opposing the neothelid overlords.[1][2]

Golarion's solar system

In Golarion's solar system, they are most commonly found hibernating beneath the ice of Akiton's southern pole, but have been spotted on the other planets as well.[3]

There is some evidence that suggests the Elder Things created humanity for their psychic potential, which will be harvested in the near future. In Peter Rawlik's Lovecraftian pastiche The Weird Company, the Elder Things are identified as the Q'Hrell or the Progenitors, and it is suggested that they are synonymous with the extinct Krell from Forbidden Planet. Rawlik further suggests that the Great Race of Yith originated as a splinter group of the Elder Things that have discovered the secret of psychic time travel.

The Elder Ones were previously the dominant force in the galaxy whom colonized hundreds of worlds. By the 21st century, they are a pale shadow of what they were before with only a few worlds left in their possession. Have nanotechnology that is capable of using hyperspatial energies to create a field around their body that lets them fly through hyperspace.

The Qhrell are fighting a war in pre-historic Earth (hundreds of millions of years ago) against an extra-dimensional invasion by the Xothians. The Qrell possess directed energy weapons and are masters of genetic engineering. They stand 7 ft all and can survive the pressures of the deep ocean, the vacuum of outer space, and freezing temperatures.

The Primordial Ones are a genocidal species that hates all other sentient life and will destroy such life if the opportunity presents itself. They have both psionic abilities and the ability to use magic.

The Elder Things (also known as the Old Ones[1] and Elder Ones[2]) are a fictional alien species created by H. P. Lovecraft, which make their first appearance in the 1936 novel At the Mountains of Madness. Additional references to the Old Ones appear in Lovecraft's short stories "The Dreams in the Witch-House" and The Shadow Out of Time.

The Elder Things were the first alien species to come to the Earth, colonizing the planet about one billion years ago.[3] They stood roughly six feet tall and had the appearance of a huge, oval-shaped barrel with starfish-like appendage at both ends. The top appendage was a head adorned with five eyes, five eating tubes, and a set of prismatic cilia for "seeing" without light. The bottom appendage was five-limbed and was used for walking and other forms of locomotion. The beings also had five leathery, retractable wings, which were used both for in-atmospheric flight and for sailing through the "ether" of empty space. They had five sets of tentacles that sprouted from their torsos, which divided twice into finer tentacles that could be used for swimming and manipulation. Both their tentacles and the slits housing their folded wings were spaced at regular intervals about their bodies.

The Elder Things were vegetable-like in shape, having radial symmetry instead of the bilateral symmetry of bipeds. They also differed in that they had a five-lobed brain. The Elder Things exhibited vegetable as well as animal characteristics, and in terms of reproduction, multiplied using spores, although they discouraged increasing their numbers except when colonizing new regions. Though they could make use of both organic and inorganic substances, the Elder Things were preferably carnivorous. They were also amphibious.

The bodies of the Elder Things were incredibly tough, capable of withstanding the pressures of the deepest ocean and the harsh vacuum of space. Few died except by accident or violence. The beings were also capable of hibernating for vast epochs of time. Nonetheless, unlike other beings of the Mythos, the Elder Things were made of normal, terrestrial matter.

Their blood was thick and green and had a horrible, indescribable stench that was smellable from very far away. Their presence generally caused dogs to become violent and provoked them into attacking them.

The technology that the Elder Things possessed was not described at length, but was described as being extremely advanced, and At the Mountains of Madness even makes an off-hand mention that they may have had directed-energy weaponry. However, for the most part they made minimal use of high technology, as their natural resilience and movement abilities made many forms of life-support and transportation unnecessary.

They are also described as having a great command of biological principles and genetic engineering, and are known to have synthesized many lifeforms, including the Shoggoths and the ancestral forms of all native life on Earth.

Carvings found in the Elder Things' lost city in Antarctica hint that they possessed an understanding of cosmology and physics at least equivalent to that of mankind as of the mid-20th century, and likely much greater.

The Elder things were also mentioned to have had a very advanced agriculture. The murals on the walls described the Elder things as possessing vast wineyards and having domesticated many prehistoric animals as workforce and as pets. Among them was also a primitive primate, that looked similar to humans and were kept as entertainment.

Because the Elder Things reproduced through spores, there was little biological basis for families to form, and they would thus live together with others whom they would get along with. Elder Thing "families" lived in large dwellings, where furniture and other decoration was placed in the center of the rooms, to leave the walls open for murals.
“ In furnishing their homes they kept everything in the center of the huge rooms, leaving all the wall spaces free for decorative treatment. Lighting, in the case of the land inhabitants, was accomplished by a device probably electro-chemical in nature. Both on land and under water they used curious tables, chairs and couches like cylindrical frames - for they rested and slept upright with folded-down tentacles - and racks for hinged sets of dotted surfaces forming their books. Government was evidently complex and probably socialistic, though no certainties in this regard could be deduced from the sculptures we saw. There was extensive commerce, both local and between different cities - certain small, flat counters, five-pointed and inscribed, serving as money. Probably the smaller of the various greenish soapstones found by our expedition were pieces of such currency. Though the culture was mainly urban, some agriculture and much stock raising existed. Mining and a limited amount of manufacturing were also practiced. Travel was very frequent, but permanent migration seemed relatively rare except for the vast colonizing movements by which the race expanded. For personal locomotion no external aid was used, since in land, air, and water movement alike the Old Ones seemed to possess excessively vast capacities for speed. Loads, however, were drawn by beasts of burden - Shoggoths under the sea, and a curious variety of primitive vertebrates in the later years of land existence. „
~ HPL: , At the Mountains of Madness

In "The Dreams in the Witch-House", the central character is sent through a dimensional portal to a planet in a triple star system (with a yellow, red, and blue star) located "between Hydra and Argo Navis", and populated by Elder Things.


On Earth, the Elder Things built huge cities, both underwater and on dry land. They may be responsible for the appearance of the first life-forms on Earth, including the entity known as Ubbo-Sathla (although sources differ in this regard). They bio-engineered the dreaded Shoggoths to be their all-purpose slave race. Eventually, however, the Shoggoths rebelled–an event that hastened the decline and ultimate collapse of their civilization.

They are known to have warred against the Cthulhi, the Great Race of Yith and the Mi-go. Despite these conflicts, it was the gradual cooling of the planet during the last ice age that spelled their doom. Retreating to their undersea cities deep in the ocean, they would thereafter have no further dealings with the outer world. Their last surface city, located on a high plateau in the Antarctic, remains frozen in ice. The ruins of this city were discovered in 1931 by two members of an Antarctic expedition from Miskatonic University.

I've always been super interested in the backstory of the Aboleth in Pathfinder; however, after reading At the Mountains of Madness for the first time somewhat recently, as well as the update on the Aboleth in the PathfinderWiki (sourced from the Ruins of Azlant journal devoted to their history) I realized how similar they really are to the Elder Things of Lovecraft's stories.

Tell me which creature I'm talking about here: An ancient race that came down from some other Galaxy, who developed on this new world to mainly live underwater and created several species to serve their needs - most notably the Shoggoths.

The only real difference I can think of is that Aboleths didn't necessarily create the life that would eventually become humans (although I wouldn't be surprised if that theory exists in Pathfinder Lore), and that there was obviously no Earthfall caused by Elder Things in Lovecraft's fiction (Or was there; K-T extinction, anybody?)

Am I wrong, or are these two species the same thing? Is this common knowledge that I somehow missed, and Paizo had to change the name of the Lovecraftian creature they wanted to use similarly to what happened with the Skum vs Deep Ones? I'd love to get feedback on this from some other people.

Might be fun to write a campaign around the idea that the various expies and duplicate monsters are two sides of one coin. Skum and Deep Ones, quantum eldritch superposition making only one version exist in any given circumstance. When the right conditions are met, they tip into one possibility

think I remember reading somewhere that one is due to copyright issues with (I think?) Chaosium that they eventually got sorted out, leading to the addition of Deep Ones. Has anything ever been mentioned about the situation being similar for Elder Things vs Aboleth?

Aboleths came from a adventure module called Dwellers of the Forbidden City for AD&D in 1981 which is around the same time TSR removed references to the Cthulhu Mythos as they didn't want to have to credit Chaosium in their books.

Aboleths were more malicious and evil in their intentions I think

The Elder Things were described at one point in Mountains (its been years since i read) as being a possible kindred spirit in science if they could communicate as equals. But the horror was in part how unequal they were, that the humans were just no different than a dog or penguin.

The Elder Thing may observe a human in the same way it observes a dog. The Aboleth will revel in the human's suffering because of some perceived slight a millenia ago, or just for the idea that humans are the "reigning" force which I don't think we have any idea how an Elder Thing would respond to.

Alignment is…difficult in D&D terms generally. I would describe the aboleth as evil, but the elder thing as a most horrific true neutral possible.

This is a really compelling take. Having the advantage of reading Mountains more recently, the comparison isn't even just to a dog; the main character directly compares Elder Things to humans.

On the other hand, based on the history lesson in Elder Thing city, every creature created by Elder Things was created in order to be a slave (or was an accidental consequence, in which case they were promptly ignored); and I kind of think the relationship of Aboleth and Humans in Golarion makes sense as a natural extension to how Elder Things would have reacted had they remained active during Humanity's rise on Earth, especially when considering how they reacted to the Shoggoths development.

I mean the elder things had the same approach and interest of dissecting humans as they did dogs and penguins, humans are just another beast to them.

Aboleths are huge bizarre eel whale creatures with quite a few psionic abilities.

Elder Things are smaller semi plant-like creatures with little to no psionic abilities.

Elder Things are seemingly scientists at heart, and while they have hurt people in the Mythos, they did it in a way to suggest that they were studying these strange humans and dogs that showed up and thawed them out in the Antarctic.

Aboleths are seemingly individualistic and at times egomaniacs.

Elder things travel the cosmos and create colonies and technology to further their entire race (and potentially other races), not any discernible individual goal.

So they're not really similar besides being aberrations that don't really belong in the world.

It's not like the Lake Expedition has claim to the moral high ground here, either. There was a dissected Elder Thing lying on the table when its better-preserved companions woke up.

The tragedy of the story is that, if they'd had more time to sit down together and work out a means of communication, the humans and the Elder Things might have arrived at a plan of peaceful cooperation.

I say "might". The Mi-Go and the Deep Ones are happy to cooperate with mankind, too, but not in a way that the narrator of either story finds agreeable.

I'm running the Strange Aeons AP right now and the Elder Things make a brief appearance in the second book: The Thrushmoor Terror. In it, the Elder Things came to Golarion long ago, didn't estsblish life like the did on Earth, but fled the world when thousands of Flying Polyps arrived. The Flying Polyps were subsequently imprisoned deep beneath the ground by the combined arcane might of the Serpent People.

And cool side note: the script for Del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness is available as a PDF online, easily accessible with a simple internet search. I enjoyed it amd I hope he gets to make it.

Hibernation (Ex)

An elder thing can voluntarily enter a state of hibernation with 1 minute of preparation. In this state, it is essentially helpless, much like being in deep sleep. The duration has no limit and it does not need to eat or drink, nor does it age. If another creature touches it or it suffers damage while hibernating, an elder thing can attempt a DC 18 Will save.

If successful, it awakens after 2d4 rounds. If it fails, it takes 1d4 days to awaken. When it first enters hibernation, it can set a specific duration for the state. When the time has elapsed, it only takes 1d3 rounds for it to be ready to act.
Limited Starflight (Ex)

An elder thing can survive in deep space, despite the lack of air.

Unlike certain other creatures, it cannot remain conscious during space travel, nor can it travel at extremely fast speeds. It calculates the distance and then relies on inertia and remains in hibernation to survive the journey.

Elder things, for instance, are an ancient, radially symmetrical race of beings who move from world to world, hibernating during their interplanetary journeys and waking to build great cities both on land and under the sea. They might have left a more lasting mark if they hadn’t also created the shoggoths as a servitor race. These monsters eventually rebelled, neatly illustrating why you should never create a CR 19 ooze servant when you’re a CR 5 aberration. But as they “possess a boundless capacity for war and egotism,” according to the Bestiary 4, they’re not likely to learn that lesson any time soon.

Speaking of that boundless capacity for war, they are also enemies of the aboleths, mi-go, star-spawn of Cthulhu, and the yithians. All these factors, along with their clumsy and slow limited starflight, have curtailed their spread. (According to Wikipedia, they also don’t like ice ages.) But you have to guess that any race hated by manipulative psionic fish, intelligent fungi, time-travelling super-intelligences, and the children of Cthulhu himself probably isn’t going to be besties with the human race either.

Snow elves explore a domed crystal city not unlike their own. Their meddling awakens the hibernating elder things within, as well as darker threats—including an immature and hibernation-weakened (but still quite deadly) shoggoth. If the elves do not seal up the strange city their own civilization might be doomed. But as the initial explorers accidentally brought russet mold spores back with them, they have their own problems to deal with first. Though it shames them to admit it, the snow elves need outside help—possibly even from revolting non-elves.

The subterranean city of Dez Muthoin features an unusual proprietor of magic items: an elder thing spellcaster. It specializes in headgear, cloaks, and other items it cannot wear, keeping useful rings, rods, and similar treasures for itself. Its familiar is a disturbing ratling who keeps a close eye on newcomers whose magical gear the elder thing may wish to purchase…or steal.

A duergar vampire is an unusual thing, even in the largest spaceport in the cluster. His request isn’t: He seeks bounty hunters to kill an elder thing. All dwarves hate the terraforming colonizers, so that’s no surprise. But that he’s willing to hire living agents straight up, with no domination…? Well, that’s a scenario that smells of plotting and mystery, make no mistake. Might even be worth taking the contract just to find out why this particular elder thing, why this dead dwarf, and why now, when fulfilling the contract means running through the 3rd Couatl Fleet blockade to a godsdamned mummy world…?

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License