Builders of R'lyeh

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Builders of R'lyeh
Designed by Matthew Rogers
Iä fhtagn!
Constructing the drowned city of Cthulhu
:Players Players: 1 - 5
:Time Length: Medium?
:Complexity Complexity: Low
Trios per color: 5
Number of colors: 1 per player plus one more
Pyramid trios:
Monochr. stashes: 1 per player plus one more
Five-color sets: 5
- - - - - - Other equipment - - - - - -
dice, "floor cards" of various shapes
Setup time: 1 minute
Playing time: 5 minutes
0.0833 Hr
- 30 minutes
0.5 Hr
Strategy depth: Medium
Random chance: High
Game mechanics: stacking, dexterity
Theme: architecture
BGG Link: Builders of R'lyeh
Status: complete? (v1.0), Year released: 2987

"In his tomb at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu lies dreaming."

"In his doom at R'lyeh lead Cthulhu dice teaming?"

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."

"Oh, I thought you said that."


The antediluvian city of R'lyeh was constructed of cyclopean stones by extraterrestrial intelligences. Players are the shoggoth minions laying the pyramidal cornerstones of dread Cthulhu's great watery manse, where he and his brethren will wait for the stars to align. May the stones that you have quarried from the depths serve to enclose his tomb at the pinnacle of the crazed city!


There must be a single 15-pyramid monochrome stash for each player, plus one extra non-player stash. Cool and slimy colors are preferable: Black, Green, Blue, Purple, Cyan, Clear, Gray.

In addition, there must be "floor cards": at least seven for two players, ten for three, twelve for four, or thirteen for five. Floor cards can be cut out of lightweight cardboard, and may be inscribed with eldritch runes. Even better is 0.03" clear polyester sheeting (as shown in the pictures in this wiki article), which cuts easily with scissors. The following shapes are recommended: blob, trapezoid, triangle, vesica, ring. They should have roughly the surface area of a conventional playing-card, and be no more than six inches across in any dimension. (See "Printable Files" below for a printable pdf with floor card designs.)

This game was designed to be played with the exquisite dodecahedral die from Steve Jackson Games' Cthulhu Dice. Failing that, the same probabilities can be achieved with a numbered d12, or even two conventionally pip-marked cubic dice. (See the table under "Turn Play" below, and the later "Impertinent Notes on the Cthulhu Die.")

Although Builders of R'lyeh plays fine on a bare tabletop, a playmat may be useful to help clearly demarcate pyramids in play from those in reserve. Stash pads may also serve that purpose (with the further benefit of making it obvious when any one color is used up, and the game is over). Further modifications to the play surface with possibly desirable effects include:

  • A felt playmat to reduce the effect of extraneous vibrations communicated from the table to delicate play constructs.
  • A high-gloss playmat to exhibit reflections of the insane chaos built on top of it.


Have a pyramid of your color be the uppermost component of the finished city of R'lyeh before it sinks below the waves.

Turn Play

Identify a clear space on the table where the city will be erected. The player who has been the closest to 47°9′S 126°43′W / 47.15°S 126.717°W in the southern Pacific Ocean goes first.

For each player's turn, roll the die and consult the following table. Note that players may add pyramids of any color, not just their own.

"He talked of his dreams in a strangely poetic fashion; making me see with terrible vividness the damp Cyclopean city of slimy green stone--whose geometry, he oddly said, was all wrong...."
Builders Rolls of R'lyeh
2d6 d12 Cthulhu Die Result
2-3 1 CTHULHU Ascend: Add a floor card on top of existing pyramids, if you can; and place a new pyramid on top of it, if you do.
4 2 UTCHAT (EYE) Arrange: Adjust up to three pyramids by changing their orientation (upright, flat, weird) or position on their current surface. They must remain on the tabletop or the floor card where they were first played. Stacked pyramids may not be reoriented, but a stack of up to three may be repositioned together. (Each pyramid in the stack counts as one of the three being moved.) Then add a floor card on top of at least one of the adjusted pyramids. Finally, if possible, move a pyramid already in play onto the newly-played floor card.
5-7 3-7 YELLOW SIGN Spire: Add a new pyramid oriented upright, either sitting on its square base, or stacked on another upright pyramid.
8-10 8-11 TENTACLE Brick: Add a new pyramid oriented flat, resting on one of its triangular sides.
11-12 12 ELDER SIGN Skew: Add a new pyramid oriented weird--neither upright nor flat.

Pyramid orientation is defined relative to the table or to the floor card on which the pyramid is set. So if the floor card is not parallel to the tabletop, a pyramid can still be set "upright" on its base, or "flat" on its side, on that card.

In actions that require placing a floor card (arrange or ascend), the player may freely select among the unplayed cards.

In any case where a player cannot follow the instructions for the roll, that player passes the remainder of the turn. It is not possible to play a skew, an arrange, or an ascend at the very start of the game, for instance. And sometimes it will be prudent to pass rather than to attempt an ascend when all it is likely to do is knock over pieces.

Ending the Game

A completed two-player game in which blue defeated black

There are several ways the game can end.


In the event that one player knocks over the constructed city, that player loses, and his protoplasmic shoggoth substance is absorbed by his enemies, never to be restored.


When any one color of pyramids is exhausted by being built entirely into the city, the game stops. The color of the uppermost pyramid in the structure determines the winner, who will prowl the insane angles of the city, devouring any who chance upon it until Cthulhu awakes. (The losers are driven off into the oceanic depths to fend for themselves against krakens and leviathans.)

Draw, or Apparent Draw

If two differently-colored pyramids share the highest altitude at their utmost tops, then the color with more pyramids in play (by pip count) wins. (It will typically be easier to count for fewer un-played pyramids.) If that score also matches, the game is genuinely drawn.


If the non-player color is uppermost, then He Who Dreams notes the insubordinate ambitions of his shoggoth servitors, and casts them all into an abyss from which they cannot escape. ("Game Over: Cthulhu Wins!" as they say.)

Tips and Tactics

  • To place a floor card in an even, stable position requires the support of at least three points (of upright pyramids), two edges (of flat pyramids), or a point and an edge. The points and/or edges cannot be collinear!
  • A upright small pyramid is about the same height as a flat large.
  • A weird pyramid on top of a stack will give that pyramid an uppermost position and prevent further spire actions from adding to the stack.

Solitaire Variant

Cthulhu Die and Pyramids

Hey, it's awfully fun to build R'lyeh, even if there are no other shoggoths in competition with you. For a solitaire game, you can play with just two stashes and four floor cards, or (for more and better fun) set aside floor cards appropriate to the number of monochrome stashes you will use: 7 cards for 3 stashes, 10 cards for 4 stashes, 12 cards for 5 stashes, 13 cards for 6 stashes. Then assign each stash a different number from 1 to 6 -- I like to indicate these for reference by placing a die with each stash, turned to show its number.

Roll a d6 and an IceDice Pyramid die with the Cthulhu die (or its duly-appointed substitute). Read the Cthulhu die as usual; the d6 indicates which stash (color) to use, and the Pyramid die determines the size. If the d6 gives a number other than the ones assigned to the stashes, choose color freely. If the Pyramid die shows two sizes, choose between them.

Alternatively: If you have a compass die, then circle the stashes around the building area, and use the direction rolled on the compass die (rather than a d6) to determine which stash should serve as the source in that turn. If there are no pyramids in the direction rolled, choose color freely.

The goal in solitaire play is simply to erect the tallest, most awesome R'lyeh you can.

Impertinent Notes on the Cthulhu Die

Steve Jackson Games' polyhedral die for the Cthulhu Dice game has a lot of potential for those of us who are interested in twisted game design. It has five different results, with the odds 5/12, 4/12, 1/12, 1/12, 1/12. Further combinations of these (so that, for example, the Yellow Sign and Cthulhu have the same effect) can create any number of uneven distributions constructed on a duodecimal basis.

It may be worth remarking that two of the symbols on the die faces are, strictly speaking, incorrect. Both the Yellow Sign and the Elder Sign are in fact popular misrepresentations that do not tally with the original conceptions of authors Robert W. Chambers or H. P. Lovecraft, respectively.

Lovecraft's original Elder Sign
  • The Yellow Sign on the die is one originally designed by Kevin Ross and corrupted in the editorial process for the Chaosium role-playing game Call of Cthulhu. Chambers' original Yellow Sign was probably the "inverted torch" design that appeared on the binding of early editions of The King in Yellow.
  • The Elder Sign on the die is a variation on the graphic theme established by August Derleth in The Lurker at the Threshold to represent the sigil mentioned by Lovecraft. Derleth was unaware that Lovecraft had drawn a very different version in correspondence with Clark Ashton Smith. (See image at right.)

It is probably just as well that the Cthulhu die has these inaccuracies, or "blinds," in order to insulate the fragile sanity of gamers everywhere. Builders of R'lyeh is only a tiny bit less fun if played with a numeric d12, or even the humble old knucklebones (2d6). It does not depend on the sorcerous powers inherent in the eldritch glyphs to which the lovely dodecahedron alludes.

Printable Files

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