Call of Cthulhu is a difficult game

edited March 2012 in Story Games
Posted By: Zak S
Wait, what?

It's a horror game: You're there drinking your tea, being a non-monster-hunter then suddenly FUCK! MONSTER! DEAL. NOW!!

While a proactive investigator is a possible way to roll, the clueless rube is part of the very set-up of the game. Because: horror. Most horror movies presuppose a nonprofessional nonmonster hunter who has to deal with the supernatural because otherwise they or the world are doomed otherwise. The Lovecraft source material very much included.

I don't understand how introducing nonmonster hunters ot monsters could foul up the game--thatisthe game.

...and how you do that without railroading:
http://www.dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2012/02/hunterhunted.html
Well, yes. There are solutions. The main difficulty with Cthulhu is that it's a very wide-open game. I think that anybody would agree that it's a wide-open tool-set, for the most part. Heck, take your average CoC text (any edition, they're near identical), and it's going to be 20% tools for creating all sorts of characters, 20% discussion about all the possible ways of running a horror game, 30% monster listings and the rest some ready-made adventure scenarios. That's not much in the way of focus. What gives the game its profile is the Lovecraftian color, but that's just color: there is nothing particular in the structure of the game to make it "Lovecraftian", nor does it really try to even define what that would mean aside from having player characters go crazy now and then. I have identified at least four self-consistent but mutually incompatible ways of playing "Call of Cthulhu", all with some degree of textual support.

I'm not saying that it's insurmountable to play the game in a fun way. I just personally happen to have had a long history of lukewarm sessions that have left me very aware of the game's weaknesses as a game text. Hit upon a functional and fun way to play, and you'll never have the same problems.

Interestingly, the game text is very much against your suggested solutions. Not that this makes those solutions wrong for CoC - it's very clear to me that it's a toolbox game, you do what works. But if you look at the actual text we were working with while learning the game, proactive GMing like "monsters jump out" or "the supernatural is going to get you whether you want it or not" were definitely, specifically not in the repertoire: old man Corbit in "The Haunted House" ("The Haunting", as this probably most well-known CoC scenario is also known by) is not going to jump out, and he's definitely not going to escalate beyond the types of tactics established in the module text. Or maybe he is, or should be, but reading the text you don't get this impression, the way it carefully delineates the things that can happen. Corbit also doesn't have any in-character motivation for going on a rampage, so I'd say that this quintessential CoC scenario is a very good example of how the game can go if you play ineffectively: a random bunch of characters sort of messing about with detective work, a monstrous backstory that never gets unearthed, and a monster climax that might happen or not, but probably won't happen with any sort of satisfactory pacing.

(For those wondering about the play experience the CoC game text teaches, I note that Chaosium is giving "The Haunting" away for free as part of an introductory pdf. Definitely nostalgic, I remember running this in my teens. The book bound in human flesh was something that I very much desired to show to the other players as a climax of sorts. I don't think us teenagers were at all equipped to unravel the actual system of clues and backstory, of course. Certainly when I GMed this for a fresh bunch two years ago we didn't fare any better - a dull session of mostly barking at the wrong trees, and the players never even thought to look in the cellar.)

And again, because for some reason our discussions resemble arguments more than discussions, so maybe I need to be extra-clear about my point: I'm not saying that the game is bad or doesn't work. I'm just saying that CoC's been a difficult game for me historically, and I think that there are recognizable reasons for that in the game's text. Nowadays, as I grow stronger and stronger in my roleplaying, I am positively brimming with ideas for what to do with the basic premise of CoC. One of these days I'll no doubt get it right (perhaps in multiple different ways), but I don't think I can attribute much more than the core inspiration to that game text I got in '92. An inspiring text, but not particularly effective for us in reaching a functional set of play procedures.
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Comments

  • Yeah, ok.

    I mean, I guess you just assume the gamebook is gonna (or should(?)) give you way more guidance than I do.

    A "wide-open" game is the opposite of a problem so far as I'm concerned.
  • @ Eero

    I think it's worth noting that The Haunting/The Haunted House is basically an entirely location-based adventure and so doesn't really call for the "hunter/hunted" structural overlay that Zak identified above.

    <blockquote><cite>Posted By: Zak S</cite>A "wide-open" game is the<i>opposite</i>of a problem so far as I'm concerned.</blockquote>

    I concur.
  • I think part of what makes CoC "easy" is that the whole premise is RIGHT THERE. When I ran it back in the day, it always went wonderfully because I and my players all had an intuitive grasp of how the game is supposed to work. It's a very simple formula. The one time CoC ever failed me I was playing a written module exactly as written. The module just told you to do stuff, so I skipped all the intuitive horror bits that I'd been doing all along. The adventure fell flat. I've never read the Corbit scenario, but that may be where the problem comes in. It seems to tell you more about how to run the game, but in this case you end up with less because, thinking you've got a clear set of instructions, you stop doing the stuff you need to do.

    The thing with CoC though is that if you don't have the intuitions, it can just collapse. As an aside, some of the collapse states are pretty interesting games in themselves. I know CoC players who've had a blast hunting Shoggoths with rocket launcher or crashing aircraft carriers into Cthulu. Good clean fun.

    Graham Walmsley's "Stealing Cthulu" is a really great book to look at. The focus of the entire book is on transmitting the feeling of Lovecraftian investigative horror. Once you've read through it you'll be so brimming with Cthulu-esque awesomeness you won't be able to wait to play, and you'll know exactly what to do. Oh, the game also has a page of rules at the end. They are basically all you need to run CoC.

    Reading Graham's book made me understand what I was already doing intuitively when I ran Cthulu, so in that sense it was very useful. I'd probably use his game to run it again, just because it's so spectacularly rules light that I can pull it out any time and start running it. Old-school CoC is great, too.

    One other important bit that I never realized myself, but that Graham talks about very well, is the difference between PCs and Lovecraft protagonists. The protagonists in Lovecraft don't really investigate. For the most part they mystery is spoon fed to them until they hit the big horrible reveal at the end. PCs are not so accommodating. It's not a huge deal, but I think it throws people off sometimes when they're focusing on making the game look as much like a Lovecraft story as possible.
  • edited March 2012
    Probability simulation task resolution mechanics + immersive character play + mysterious threats + investigation opportunities = "How am I going to solve this problem?"

    I'm there, in character, there's a problem that threatens me and/or the world, and look, the skills on my character sheet are a toolkit for tackling that.

    This is why, when people play Cthulhu wrong, I'm not inclined to lay the blame solely on them.

    Yeah, the flavor text in the book tells you to focus on atmosphere and horror and discovery. If this was a freeform game, and that was all you had to go on, then it'd be obvious that you make or break that with your own chops.

    But it's not a freeform game, so not everyone gets that you make or break it with your own chops at horror; and hey, look, here are some concrete gameplay options that are not about horror at all but about problem-solving*.

    I wish my first CoC GM had said the following to me:

    "Dave, your survival and progress are up to me. I'm aware of this and will take the responsibility for making it a fun arc. Your job is to get in character and experience what unfolds, reacting dramatically and letting everyone see how the horror is affecting you. When you roll dice, it's just to introduce a random element into the narrative, to color the shape it takes, so I don't have to simply decide how every little action turns out. Do not focus on solving the mystery and defeating the badguys; there is no guarantee that you will have a fair shot to do those things**. Think of success as an optional garnish on the real activity of discovering mind-blasting horrors and descending into madness. Final note: we want to sustain fictional plausibility, so don't do anything that'd obviously get you killed or remove you from the adventure, unless you really want to stop playing."

    Maybe that's a little extreme, and getting caught up in solving any given problem and succeeding at any given task is fine, but it's pretty clear to me that as an overall orientation to play, problem-solving makes for lousy Cthulhu.

    *Sanity loss is cool, but is not a gameplay option; as a player, you don't make any choices with a clear connection to losing Sanity, other than the choice to actually play (rather than hiding from everything interesting in the game)
    **as Tony said; Cthulhu GMing is about transmitting a feeling, not providing balanced obstacles
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenHeck, take your average CoC text (any edition, they're near identical), and it's going to be 20% tools for creating all sorts of characters, 20% discussion about all the possible ways of running a horror game, 30% monster listings and the rest some ready-made adventure scenarios. That's not much in the way of focus.
    Well... yeah, but the game is a footnote to the Lovecraft texts.

    I guess you could try to run it from just the rpg books without ever picking up anything written by Lovecraft, but I bet it'd be pretty weird.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: David Berg
    "Dave, your survival and progress are up to me. I'm aware of this and will take the responsibility for making it a fun arc. Your job is to get in character and experience what unfolds, reacting dramatically and letting everyone see how the horror is affecting you. When you roll dice, it's just to introduce a random element into the narrative, to color the shape it takes, so I don't have to simply decide how every little action turns out.Do notfocus on solving the mystery and defeating the badguys; there is no guarantee that you will have a fair shot to do those things**. Think of success as an optional garnish on the real activity of discovering mind-blasting horrors and descending into madness. Final note: we want to sustain fictional plausibility, so don't do anything that'dobviouslyget you killed or remove you from the adventure, unless you really want to stop playing."
    Seems odd.

    I wish it'd said:
    "Try to do whatever seems fun and interesting to you, just don't be a dick to the other players. The Keeper may get in your way and you might go insane. You might like that part, too. There's no one right way as long as you're having fun. If you die, you can always make a new character."

    As I pointed out in Hunter/Hunted, problem solving can easily be one of the modes in Cthulhu--and acts as an interesting counterpoint to the going insane business. If you push it hard enough, you can use it to shape the story in extremely interesting ways.

    What you're describing above seems to say "Hey, I'm going to railroad you, enjoy that". I don't see any reason Cthulhu has to work like that.
  • The horror and madness exist as an obstacle to mystery-solving success, ideally (and in my experience usually) an entertaining obstacle. Success is elusive but horror is a delicious consolation prize. It's possible to "win," on a certain time scale, a given scenario of CoC as written, it's just, as David said, not guaranteed. But I don't see where the game suggests it would be guaranteed, nor does the self-advertisement as a horror game seem to suggest so either. I mean, even the fact that you have percentages in skills suggest that success isn't guaranteed, since you can't be reliably good at everything.
  • Posted By: Zak SI wish it'd said:
    "Try to do whatever seems fun and interesting to you, just don't be a dick to the other players. The Keeper may get in your way and you might go insane. You might like that part, too. There's no one right way as long as you're having fun. If you die, you can always make a new character."
    Now, I can get behind that.
  • Do you guys think that GMing Cthulhu as a problem-solving exercise wherein good player performance succeeds and bad player performance fails is not hard?

    I've never seen anyone pull it off. If you've done it, hats off to you, I say!

    Figaro, I wasn't saying success isn't guaranteed (I agree that's obvious), I was saying that having a fair shot to succeed isn't guaranteed. Again, perhaps a good GM could make it so; I just haven't seen it (and from that I conclude that the book isn't doing all it could).

    Zak, your quote sounds great to me on the level of a single player and GM. But what if I'm all "must logically figure out who's responsible for the profane conspiracy and concoct the best way to strike at them" and another player is going "agh, the horror, the horror!" Even if the two of us are being polite to one another, aren't we going to bore the fuck out of each other?

    Agreed that a railroad isn't the only option; I was just trying to drive "this game isn't a strategic exercise" home in a way that my teenage self would have really gotten the picture.

    That Hunter-Hunted post is awesome, full of great points, but I'm missing the takeaways for problem-solving.
  • Posted By: David BergBut what if I'm all "must logically figure out who's responsible for the profane conspiracy and concoct the best way to strike at them" and another player is going "agh, the horror, the horror!" Even if the two of us are being polite to one another, aren't we going to bore the fuck out of each other?
    In my experience, no. In practice a huge portion of the entertainment is each of these people trying to deal with each other. "The horror!" chair tends to rotate. The game periodically INSTRUCTS someone go into freakout mode due to blown SAN. The problem of dealing with a freaked out comrade is part of the overall "how do we deal with the profane conspiracy" process. It is gold.
    Posted By: David BergDo you guys think that GMing Cthulhu as a problem-solving exercise wherein good player performance succeeds and bad player performance fails isnothard?
    Due to the inclusion of random chance and odds that tend to favor the opposition, good player performance does not necessarily succeed, but is more likely to.
    Posted By: David BergI wasn't sayingsuccessisn't guaranteed (I agree that's obvious), I was saying thathaving a fair shot to succeedisn't guaranteed.
    It depends on what you mean by "a fair shot." If by "fair shot" you mean "the odds of your success are likely," or "if you are careful, success is certain," then no. But the game does not promise these things either. Generally you have a fair shot in the sense that the scenario has a certain set-up and the Keeper responds fairly to player action, doesn't reshuffle the situation to enforce failure, etc. I.E. the game is hard and favors the opposition, but is not rigged. so in that sense is a "fair shot."

    I think that to an extent CoC as written is a strategic exercise. But it is one in which there are horror-specific complications, and that it is openly a difficult strategic exercise. Note the example of play, where it's a clusterfuck and they die. But they die "fairly."
  • Hmm. That all makes sense to me intellectually, but absolutely does not jibe with my experience.

    By "fair shot" I meant that there is a knowable link between player performance and success. That is, I know that coming up with a clever way to approach the cult will help, and when I do it, it does. As opposed to the GM not having the improv chops to get from "Dave's weird improvised solution" to "a place where I am confident I can continue to GM a fun game", and thus saying either "that doesn't work" or "it works, but it doesn't wind up mattering." And suppose the GM and I simply disagree on what's a clever way to approach the cult, purely as a matter of personal opinion?

    This is a potential issue in more games than I can name, but CoC is one of the worst cases I've seen in practice. I suspect that the culprits are (a) withholding info, (b) lethality, (c) mechanics that model some of reality but with gaps, and (d) mechanics that model reality poorly. So you wind up with paranoid, cautious, slow, hesitant, blind attempts with implausible odds.
    Posted By: FigaroThe problem of dealing with a freaked out comrade is part of the overall "how do we deal with the profane conspiracy" process.
    Oh, hell yeah, that's great! I wasn't talking about the problem-solving player who loses too much Sanity, though. I was talking about the player who is not there to problem-solve at all; he's there to see weird shit and go "Oh gods no!" even when the mechanics don't tell him to, because that's what Lovecraft protagonists do. This player has no patience for endless debates on how many shots the crazy cultists will get at us as we sprint across the field versus the feasibility of attaching a grappling hook to a statue. This player just wants to keep the fiction moving and see more cool horror stuff.
  • edited March 2012
    Call of Cthulhu is not a difficult game.

    It is Moldvay era Basic D&D, set in the 1920s, with a mystery's network of clues replacing a physical dungeon's series of rooms. The GM is either allowed to use 1/2 to 2 HD monsters or 8+HD monsters, but if he uses 8+ HD monsters, he has to provide tips and tricks among the clue matrix to defeating those 8+ HD monsters by means other than physical confrontation.

    PCs have two kinds of hit points: Regular old hit points and mental hit points, which can have critical table type effects, but don't kill the character directly. You start out with a whole lot of the second kind, but the critical hits mostly invovle stuff like running away or otherwise being useless. Sometimes the clues that you discover to help you defeat the 8+ HD monsters whittle away at those second kind of hit points and make later criticals easier to suffer, so watch out! it's a trade off.

    There are only humans as PCs, but there is magic. Magic isn't the flashy kind, but it is the big and powerful kind, and mostly for PCs is related to defeating the 8+ HD monsters. PCs that can end up using magic usually lose a lot of those Mental Hit Points learning to use those more powerful spells. Those spells they do learn often take time to get cooking, so they'll need pals that are the equivalents of fighters and thieves in the 1920s to protect them while they go about their business.

    The other guys don't get much in the way of armor (watch out, you'll bekinda squishy) or magic swords or pretty pony warhorses, but they do get stuff like tommyguns, and nickleplated twin .45 automatics and fast cars and autogyros, so really, who cares? Mowing down a horde of gibbering 1/2 HD monsters is awesome.

    The PCs are heroes, but nobody around them much believe in monsters except them and the poor devils that encounter them, and usually those folks are the hooks for an adventure. The PCs don't get rich like in D&D ( sometimes they start pretty much rich!!!), but they do get to risk their necks doing terribly heroic stuff like saving a family, or town, or even the whole planet from those nasty big critters and their minions. Or rmaybe they die trying.

    There ya go. Done.
  • Posted By: David BergBut what if I'm all "must logically figure out who's responsible for the profane conspiracy and concoct the best way to strike at them" and another player is going "agh, the horror, the horror!" Even if the two of us are being polite to one another, aren't we going to bore the fuck out of each other?.
    Why would they?

    When players have conflicting creative agendas, each is an interesting challenge or bump for the others. The freak out player is one more challenge for the detective to work around and the detective is a straight man for the freaker outer.

    At least, in every game I've seen.

    Your mileage has presumably varied.
  • Posted By: komradebobIt is Moldvay era Basic D&D, set in the 1920s, with a mystery's network of clues replacing a physical dungeon's series of rooms.
    This makes me want to cry. Certainly, you can play it this way, but the good games at conventions are nothing like this.
    By "fair shot" I meant that there is a knowable link between player performance and success.
    There isn't a fair shot at success. In Call of Cthulhu, you're signing up to fail.
  • Interestingly, the game text is very much against your suggested solutions.
    The Call of Cthulhu system isn't explained in the text. It's taught at the gaming table.

    Everyone who's played knows how Call of Cthulhu works. You're doomed. You'll die. If you fight, you're very likely to die. You'll probably go mad and you should enjoy that process. You should enjoy playing your character, but know they're doomed. There'll be a big horror at the end, which will be supernatural. And so on and so on.

    (And there are different ways to play. I'm describing the one I see at British conventions.)

    The system isn't the mechanics. It's embedded in a set of social procedures and narrative expectations, which you learn through play.
  • Posted By: Zak SI mean, I guess you just assume the gamebook is gonna (or should(?)) give you way more guidance than I do.
    Definitely seems that way. My own gaming has improved tremendously with the post-millenial game texts that have been written more with the multitude of subcultures in mind. I don't mind the loss of theoretical freedom, as I have plenty of freedom in choosing which game texts to use and how to use them. There are a thousand ways to be wrong for every way of being right, so I see a clear game text as a useful guide in the wilderness of all non-fun ways to play. Of course this isn't going to be that compelling for somebody who already has hit upon functional play by themselves or thanks to some formative texts or smart tutoring or whatever; I can totally see how a gamer like that would be less interested in the definitiveness of a text and more interested in whether it is inspirational or not.

    CoC is a good example here, because we can contrast it with later games with different relation between the game text and the game group. Games like Dread, Dead of Night and Dread: First Book of Pandemonium (no relation, believe it or not) traverse a part of the same ground CoC does, but do so with more concrete procedures and a more exact vision of what is going to happen at the gaming table. None of these games really embraces the entirety of what CoC purports to be, but I find that they're dependable at doing whatever subset of horror each attempts.

    In this regard I find the type of writing that e.g. Graham Walmsley does on Cthulhu to be extremely appropriate and compelling for our times: we need more interpretative and instructive writing on roleplaying, especially regarding the classical games that provide plenty of opportunity and depth, that have a valiant history and immense potential, but that are also difficult and ambivalent. I see much of OSR writing in this same light, and can only applaud it: write me your instruction manuals, I'll be perfectly capable of synthesizing them with the original texts and utilizing the resulting well-defined game to have fun with it.
  • Posted By: GrahamThe Call of Cthulhu system isn't explained in the text. It's taught at the gaming table.
    I believe that Graham is correct here. This goes for all of these games with ambivalent and self-contradictory texts. The true game (in the sense of the most compelling and functional) lives in the oral culture. It is often, of course, much easier to play well than write what you're doing well, which explains why this is the way things are. Also, many people have told me that many "old school" game texts are intentionally badly written because the ideal of game writing in that culture was to not write a game, but rather just a bunch of disparate tools that might or might not be used by the GM. Perhaps this is the case, although the idea superficially smacks of a posteori justification.
  • Posted By: GrahamPosted By: komradebobIt is Moldvay era Basic D&D, set in the 1920s, with a mystery's network of clues replacing a physical dungeon's series of rooms.
    This makes me want to cry. Certainly, you can play it this way, but the good games at conventions are nothing like this.



    Next you'll be telling me you don't let the PCs get their hands on flamethrowers or big ol' vats of acid to fight the monsters either.

    I'm not much of a convention goer, so I can't speak to that point. However, i have played home games almost exactly like that and I assure you great fun was had.
  • Posted By: FigaroIt depends on what you mean by "a fair shot." If by "fair shot" you mean "the odds of your success are likely," or "if you are careful, success is certain," then no. But the game does not promise these things either. Generally you have afair shotin the sense that the scenario has a certain set-up and the Keeper responds fairly to player action, doesn't reshuffle the situation to enforce failure, etc. I.E. the game is hard and favors the opposition, but is notrigged.so in that sense is a "fair shot."
    Well, it depends on the scenario too. There are easy and harder scenarios that they've published.
  • I found that Call of Cthulhu is generally unclear in its mechanics for basic resolution, but there is a strong basis for the larger structure of play from the combination of clear, specific source material in Lovecraft and the strong textual culture of written Call of Cthulhu adventures. In my experience, there hasn't been a strong oral culture - though of course there might be strong oral cultures in other regions. For me, different groups all went in different directions from the basis in Lovecraft and the written adventures and sourcebooks.

    In contrast, I felt that in my Dead of Night games, the mechanics for resolution were more clear and explicit, but the larger structure of the adventure and how to play weren't as clear as in Call of Cthulhu. Dead of Night didn't have as specific a source material, and the sample adventures were more varied and had fewer specifics than the classic Cthulhu adventures.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyPosted By: FigaroIt depends on what you mean by "a fair shot." If by "fair shot" you mean "the odds of your success are likely," or "if you are careful, success is certain," then no. But the game does not promise these things either. Generally you have afair shotin the sense that the scenario has a certain set-up and the Keeper responds fairly to player action, doesn't reshuffle the situation to enforce failure, etc. I.E. the game is hard and favors the opposition, but is notrigged.so in that sense is a "fair shot."
    Well, it depends on the scenario too. There are easy and harder scenarios that they've published.
    The default assumption that you'd actually use published scenarios (which are a commercial bolt-on to the hobby, and notoriously difficult to match to a playgroup) is also strange to me.

    I mean if a rulebook says "You can make up whatever you want or used a published adventure, whichever you prefer"--I mean, I can see getting one or two published adventures if you're totally lost, but after that? They take longer to prep than regular adventures, are less convenient at the table than your own notes, are guaranteed to not be customized to your group, and cost money.
  • Posted By: Zak SI mean if a rulebook says "You can make up whatever you want or used a published adventure, whichever you prefer"--I mean, I can see getting one or two published adventures if you're totally lost, but after that? They take longer to prep than regular adventures, are less convenient at the table than your own notes, are guaranteed to not be customized to your group,andcost money.
    They can also be totally awesome, as with such mega-scenarios as Masks of Nyarlathotep. This is very much a "your mileage may vary" situation.
  • I think there's a non-trivial number of gamers/game product buyers who prefer purchasing products they feel/believe/hope have been playtested, vetted and "made official" by the publishers.

    DIY is a great old-school tradition but I don't know that it's universal. I might even argue that an entire generation of gamers were raised outside the DIY tradition.

    Personally, I never once bought a published adventure (although I wrote lots and lots of them for publication).
  • Posted By: Sam!Posted By: Zak SI mean if a rulebook says "You can make up whatever you want or used a published adventure, whichever you prefer"--I mean, I can see getting one or two published adventures if you're totally lost, but after that? They take longer to prep than regular adventures, are less convenient at the table than your own notes, are guaranteed to not be customized to your group,andcost money.
    They can also be totally awesome, as with such mega-scenarios asMasks of Nyarlathotep. This is very much a "your mileage may vary" situation.Good scenarios exist but the default assumption that they are so much a part of the game that that's what we judge the game by is the odd part.

    Again: given a choice between someone else's ideas (for money) and do whatever you want!! (for free) why would the default be the former?

    The same, to some degree, goes for the "different horror games for different scenarios" thing:

    There's a different mindset between someone who goes:

    -I'll just buy one horror game for 16 bucks and use it forever for whatever horror scenario I think of forever, and
    -I sure hope someone puts out a horror game about fleeing from zombies after an apocalypse with a focus on intra-group paranoia and panic psychology this week because otherwise I can't run that game.
  • Even if you're not running primarily pre-written modules, I think sample adventures and published adventures can inform how you play. i.e. The DIY adventures that you come up with are informed by how published modules work as well as the literal rules.
  • Posted By: Zak SThe default assumption that you'd actually use published scenarios (which are a commercial bolt-on to the hobby, and notoriously difficult to match to a playgroup) is also strange to me.
    Right, but my point is if there's different difficulty levels in published materials, there's no reason the same thing can't be true for home-made scenarios.

    I've seen a lot more module-based play for CoC than I have for anything outside the RPGA, interestingly.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: jhkimEven if you're not running primarily pre-written modules, I think sample adventures and published adventures can inform how you play. i.e. The DIY adventures that you come up with are informed by how published modules work as well as the literal rules.
    Can.

    They only "will" if you actually read them or care about them or know about them.

    Which, believe it or not, it's pretty easy not to do.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Zak SWhen players have conflicting creative agendas, each is an interesting challenge or bump for the others. The freak out player is one more challenge for the detective to work around and the detective is a straight man for the freaker outer.
    I've been part of groups that tried that and it was no fun. I think it was no fun because the detective didn't really appreciate the distraction from mystery-pursuit, and the freak-out player didn't really appreciate the laborious thinking through problems. It sounds to me like you're talking about a situation in which everyone at the table is really adept at not only pursuing what they want, but also at recognizing the different things that other people want, and being fully supportive of them in those ends. On the one hand, I agree that this is a fantastic way to play RPGs. On the other hand, it sounds like an extremely tall order. If you have any tips for pulling that off besides "play with awesome people", I'd love to hear 'em. I usually help groups play well together by communicating about the shared aspect of play, and getting folks to unite around that. Accommodating vastly different agendas at once is something I wouldn't know how to teach.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenThe true game (in the sense of the most compelling and functional) lives in the oral culture. It is often, of course, much easier to play well than write what you're doing well, which explains why this is the way things are. Also, many people have told me that many "old school" game texts are intentionally badly written because the ideal of game writing in that culture was to not write a game, but rather just a bunch of disparate tools that might or might not be used by the GM. Perhaps this is the case, although the idea superficially smacks of a posteori justification.
    It is true, to varying degrees, that a greater proportion of RPG culture has been part of an oral, subcultural tradition than the textual tradition that it might appear, given that the medium for new materials is often actual texts. I am wary of phrases like "the true game" even while I am intrigued and curious about the separation of system and mechanics into the cultural system and the written mechanics. I think that's a fruitful area.

    I agree that for many gamers—myself, for example—it is easier to play well than to write well what one is doing well at the table. (For me, it's because I am probably a better GM than I am a writer, much to my own horrific dismay.)

    [Edit: I've cut a bunch of my post here, which was in the wrong tone. Who cares if I was offended, anyway. But watch what we call "badly written," as subjective trouble that way lies.]

    Call of Cthulhu's culture of play was not developed solely through convention play, I don't think. It was not a fluke that some/many players understood how to play and experienced similar emergent tales from its text.

    tl;dr: The oral tradition is real, the cultural vectors are important, but I think it's disrespectful to the game designers to suppose that this happens despite the text.

    Can we talk about the roads we took to understand and improve our CoC games without casting aspersions on other people's routes to this common place we enjoy?

    Cheers,
    Will
  • There's no one way to play Cthulhu, although I have my favourites.

    I've thought, that from a genealogical perspective, CoC sprang up from old-skool D&D. You face challenges and try to avoid violent death, but in CoC the challenges are intellectual. Thinking about CoC this way helps me understand the game in one way: make the game deadly and challenging, but logical and surmountable if you have luck and the wits. As the Keeper, you don't have to be a prisoner to the scenario – if a player comes up with a good solution that makes perfect sense, do allow it. Now, add memorable NPCs, evocative locations and all that story stuff.

    Being the Keeper and playing the game that way takes skill, which you develop. As a player, you become more resourceful, and as Keeper, you hone your skills in writing memorable scenarios and fair challenges for the players.

    I haven't ever played Cthulhu this way, but people have described it this way, and I get that feeling from Shadows of Yog-Sothoth (the first published campaign) and Masks of Nyarlathotep (a fine example of a sandbox-ish campaign that still has a plot).

    The published scenarios and campaigns make up a lot of the CoC culture on the net. The best ones might be more time-consuming than doing stuff yourself, but you make up for it by reading a 400-page tome on an Antarctic expedition in the 1930s, a very well-designed modern day conspiracy setting (designed by folks who know more stuff on that subject than me), or by getting to know what the Kerguelens are. The best CoC scenarios and books are based on a ton of research, and you can partake in some of its fruit by reading it. And you learn other ways to play and design scenarios, to boot, if you're not lucky enough to have another GM in your area.

    In the 1990s the Chaosium scenarios and campaigns took a turn for the pre-written, railroaded stories. That's one way to play the game. The Tatters of the King, a Hastur-themed campaign, published as late as 2006, is an example of that. It's been applauded, but I found it appalling: it's made for players to follow the story and play out the horror. There's insanely little freedom in the book, and several times the author instructs you to ask for rolls that matter squat. "Roll for Hide. Even if you succeed, they see you." And even if the GM would want to insert freedom into the campaign, it's made extremely difficult. The first part of the campaign is a huge, intertwined scenario, that has a gazillion moving parts and necessary clues, with no attempt to make it easy to digest or gather all the important stuff in one place.

    Surely it's possible in theory to handle handwaving such stuff – and that takes skill, again. I didn't have it when I ran the campaign and forever swore myself off of prewritten adventures.

    Then there's the school which looks like pre-written stories, but the authors make the assumption that you give players the ball – if they lose it, they just lose it and screw them. They don't see kill the monsters, they don't find out the truth behind stuff, they die ignorant like the specks of dirt they are on the cosmic scale. Dennis Detwiller, of Delta Green fame, talks of his stuff in this way, and a lot of my acquaintances play this way, too.

    Many players and Keepers don't much mind for the rules, and a session without any dice-rolling is considered a good one. They can handle the quirks and the faults, because they've houseruled them ages ago, or simply don't ignore them for the sake of a good fright night. GUMSHOE has gotten a quite a lot of flak from the more militant of these; they've houseruled the "I missed the clue-gathering roll" ages ago or simply ignore the result, and think that designing a new game just to circumvent this is lunacy, and from I gather from the tone, treachery.

    As I see it, Kenneth Hite formulated the most important rule and skill of playing Cthulhu: the Keeper's job is to scare the players, and the players job is to willingly get scared. Drop your guard and your cynicism. If as a player you ignore all the dangerous stuff, or throw inappropriate jokes, or can't stand the tension and the atmosphere, or if as a Keeper you're not intent on frightening the players, I don't want you in my game.

    (As an aside, I think the biggest problems in horror gaming arise from players who contribute nothing, resist the building atmosphere, and expect the Keeper to do such a marvelous job that even dicks get scared.)
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Will Hindmarch
    Can we talk about the roads we took to understand and improve our CoC games without casting aspersions on other people's routes to this common place we enjoy?


    I borrowed the 4th edition book from a library in the 1990s, but never played it – instead, I read Lovecraft. I began my COC playing-career in a few Delta Green scenarios. I don't know how closely we followed the published scenarios, but I remember producing content: my character had a wife and a kid back home, and he phoned them every night, and bought his son an SF novel from a bookstore, and voted Republican. Sadly the other players weren't as much into this as I was, but the Keeper played along. The campaign died out when the Keeper executed two PCs in absentia and everyone pretty much lost interest.

    A few years went by and I bought the butt-ugly sixth edition. I longed for the Tatters for the King campaign, above. It was supposed to be "Cthulhu done right" – with humane cultists, a logical plot, serious themes, and so on. It felt good to read, and I inflicted it on my players within a 1,5 years. As the campaign progressed, I began hating the tone of the book and the railroad structure, but almost without exception, everyone enjoyed the scenarios that we played. In retrospect, I felt I could've enjoyed it much more if I could've played, if I could've concentrated on what was happening and not what clues I was supposed to give out this time. The book doesn't always emphasize what's crucial for the story, so I ended up saying everything there was.

    A couple of months into the campaign, I ran two scenarios at Ropecon.

    The first, John Tynes' In Medias Res, an hour-long bloodbath in which you have a gripping starting situation, a location, and the intense characters. I ran it five times, and it got better every time once I'd gotten the gist of what makes the scenario tick and I'd learned to give all the players the proper instructions at the start. Each time was very different from others, and I threw all the dice after the first game.

    The second, John Wick's The Curse of the Yellow Sign, Act 1. It's 1939, and six Nazis (the PCs) are in Africa to dig diamonds and use the natives ruthlessly as workforce. Of course, not everything goes as planned. It's very freeform, very bloody, and absolutely player-driven. There are a lot of things the Keeper must just make up on the fly and react to what the players do. And the players loved it, and did some really creepy, insane stuff just by adding to the fiction.

    Then I finished the campaign, disappointed at the lack of freedom I'd so much enjoyed at the con games, and came out a lot wiser.

    Before, during, and after those I've perused CoC and ToC tomes, read forums, listened to podcasts, read essays. I feel CoC has a become parallel Lovecraftian canon – at times it's far removed from what I enjoy in Lovecraft, but the end result is still enjoyable at times. However, I much prefer what Pelgrane and Graham have produced.

    edit: I'm apparently not able to quote properly. Really bad layout replaced by a quite bad one.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: David Berg If you have any tips for pulling that off besides "play with awesome people", I'd love to hear 'em.
    - Make sure everyone there is at least potentially awesome at Cthulhu. Dead weight is dead weight. I have lots of people in my regular D&D group who wouldn't be into Cthulhu. They know it, I know it, they do other stuff that day.

    - Make sure everyone realizes they are as responsible for the other players' fun, in their own way, as the Keeper or game designer are. You can reinforce this in micro-ways like:
    "What do you do?"
    "I don't know...hmmmm...."
    "Make sure it's something awesome..."

    - When someone does something cool, make sure you immediately say "Wow, that was cool" or otherwise back it up. You can have a scary Cthulhu game without total immersion all day long, use the "meta" level to Carrot good play practices. (Examples....

    - If a situation has turned out better (or worse)(or different) because of things the PCs did, point it out right then. "If only you;d left the key in the lock..." Remind them about their agency.

    - If someone is actually very scarable, when they get scared, go ahead and say "I love playing Cthulhu with you". Like, being actually scared is a good thing a player did at your table.

    - Emphasize the other players actions or inaction as factors in the scenario. If your detective is like "Stop freaking out, I'm trying to detect!" you're the Keeper, frame the freakout as a part of the scene. "Alright, if you can manage to get Adam to stop crying you might be able to hear well enough to hear the rats in the walls. Adam: you can see he's staring death-beams at you because he's trying to listen and you keep whimpering. What do you do?". Don't ignore what's there and hope it stops being a problem, use it. Make strengths out of weaknesses. Is someone not afraid? Say "Lisa is a rock in the face of the hideous abomination!" Is her character afraid but she's not? "Ok, Lisa, you failed your SAN check here, can anyone tell? Or is it some kind of silent thing has broken inside? How does the fear manifest itself?"

    - Related: the tensions in the real group can model tensions in the real game. That's ok. Show the players that: "Ok, Freddy is running around trying to find anything useful in the room while you two are just sort of staring dumbstruck in horror doing nothing, the awfulness of it all is kind of oozing up through your nervous system..." They either will do something about it or it becomes what the scenario is about.

    -Remember: It's actually really hard to derail supernatural horror. The players blocking or bickering or steadystating is perfect for the monster. They cease to be a moving target and it can come to them. And point out the cause-and-effect "If you had left the hotel room, then it wouldn't have noticed, but since you just stood there for five minutes, it begins to uncoil..." You don't kill them for behaving wrong--that's bad Keeping. But you prod them a little with their own decisions.

    -Be fair and never railroad. Point out when you are being fair. "Did the cops keep the car running? Ok, 50-50 chance..." If the players think you are being fair then they will indeed see that the consequences of their own actions are actually consequences of their own actions and take responsibility for stuff happening in the game. Many published Cthulhu scenarios are terrible at this--mostly because the "path not taken" path is one the game designer never had to GM so doesn't want to bother to write out. You don't have that luxury. If you railroad the players, they will stop thinking their actions matter and if they stop thinking their actions matter they will stop acting responsible for the fun at the table. Just because the foe is implacable does not mean the players' choices do not matter in terms of where, when, how, and with what resources the foe is confronted.

    -Remember your main aesthetic job is to make the players' curious. Direct any resource you can spare toward that. If they are curious, then their freedom is not threatening because they will use it to investigate what you or the adventure-writer dreamed up and then you are playing the game. (You can always scare them later. But curiosity and fear both require an unknown at the center. Mystery begets horror.)
  • Now, see, if that was the first page in the Call of Cthulhu book, that would make me very happy. :)

    Good stuff, man. I actually use a lot of those "narrate the links between the players' actions and the thing that's happening now" techniques when I run my medieval supernatural problem-solving game. I wonder why none of my Cthulhu GMs have ever done that?
  • Posted By: David BergNow, see, ifthatwas the first page in the Call of Cthulhu book, that would make me very happy. :)
    Unfortunately, I don't think it works like that. Teaching GMing is like teaching art or writing, you can give good answers if you know exactly what problem someone's having, but there's very little general advice that is going to be broadly applicable to everybody reading.

    That's why I don't think you can get too down on the trad rulebooks for their lack of GM direction: they are written for everybody ever in history who might pick up the game at any age or game literacy level. What they have to say may not be relevant at all to you or your GMing style.

    Indie games (and other niche-directed games like Chris Hogan's OSR Warhammer retrofit Small But Vicious Dog) have the advantage of having a narrower and more knowable audience which has a set of familiar problems that can easily be addressed by an author who hangs in that mileu. Of course what the rulebook says is going to seem smart and relevant: it's directed right at you.
  • Posted By: Zak SThey only "will" if you actually read them or care about them or know about them.
    You can't really avoid it in Call of Cthulhu, which includes at least one pre-written scenario in every corebook.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: JDCorleyPosted By: Zak SThey only "will" if you actually read them or care about them or know about them.
    You can't really avoid it in Call of Cthulhu, which includes at least one pre-written scenario in every corebook.

    You can totally avoid it unless you have some bizarre disease which forces you to read every single word in any book you see and take it seriously.

    Like, thousands of people every day go "Sample adventure? Fuck that."

    Otherwise you do go down this path of "You gave me extra material! What a rip!" The book says "Do whatever you want" 50 times if it says "Hey, try this, for example" once, are you then going to blame it for not having every single other possible kind of adventure included, too?
  • edited March 2012
    How many times do I have to say that my point remains the same whether it's pre-prepared or home-prepared material? You can make an easy Call of Cthulhu scenario, and the game shows you how to do it in many examples if you're not sure how.

    I would also like to see the statistical methodology by which you arrived at the thousands of people scoffing at sample adventures every day. Do they, like, record it on youtube, or is there some kind of Nielsen box?
  • edited March 2012
    I would also like to see the statistical methodology by which you arrived at the thousands of people scoffing at sample adventures every day. Do they, like, record it on youtube, or is like some kind of Nielsen box?
    Every time a copy of Call of Cthulhu is sold, Chaosium sends a small, invisible, imaginary black-bellied nightingale to follow the purchaser home.

    This bird sits on the readers' shoulder as s/he reads, hearing his or her thoughts and making notes. It pays special attention to which sections are and are not read. It is highly trained in market research and is completely silent.

    When a scoff is heard, the bird flies off, through the chimney if there is one, back to the Chaosium office in Hayward California. If the customer was further east than the Mississippi, further South than Juarez, further west than Hawaii or further north than Seattle the bird often takes a break in between. It generally stays at a Motel 6 if one is available and carries one of those glove-compartment where-are-all-the-Motel-6's? maps at all times. Overseas it generally stays with friends.

    Upon reaching the offices in Hayward, the bird records its observations using a stenography machine with wooden stops, using a talon-keyed Morse device.

    Once every three months, a small child with a red wagon wanders through the back door of the Chaosium offices--which has been left open because someone is trying to air out the consequences of things having been left in the communal fridge too long. The child removes the printed tape containing the nightingale's observations from the machine, copies them carefully in DaVinci mirror-writing and then transmits them to me--using methods too sensitive to disclose here.
  • There are two issues for me when it comes to running Mythos games (both of these are directly addressed by Ken in Trail of Cthulhu). One is an internal issue for the player/character about why should they go into the pit and deal with the nameless horror, the other is an external issue about how to lead them into the pit. Obviously there's a strong link between these two issues. The way Lovecraft does this in fiction, and the way it's recommended that you do it in Call of Cthulhu, is by slowing building up to the reveal so that, much as how you'd cook a frog, the players don't realise how crazy the whole thing is until they're so deep into it that retreat is no longer much of an option. (Trail of Cthulhu has Drives and Clues to deal with these issues in a more obvious way).
  • Posted By: Zak SPosted By: David BergNow, see, ifthatwas the first page in the Call of Cthulhu book, that would make me very happy. :)
    Unfortunately, I don't think it works like that.

    Well, I guess that's the fundamental point of disagreement right there. Providing clearly-written advice to game masters and players that's not burdened by bullshit and half-baked ideas seems to be the essence of providing good game texts.

    Also, I'm not sure I buy the idea of challenging the players in a CoC game. The idea of facing challenges and overcoming them is oblique to the Lovecraftian aesthetic. It can happen, but it's not core. You're never challenged by Cthulu. You're overwhelmed by it or (if you're lucky) you manage to survive and/or stay somewhat sane. You're not challenged by the mystery and the horror. They are things that happen beyond your control, leaving you mostly helpless to really make them come to you any faster or slower than they do.

    You might be challenged by the cultists trying to grab you in the night. But it's never in the mode of staving of the horror. It's more a question of whether you're the one tied to the slab when the horror arrives. You might be challenged to unravel the mystery, but it's never in the mode of failing to uncover the mystery. It's more in the mode of what you know when the mystery turns to horror. When you try to make the challenge the core of the game, that's when Cthulu goes off the rails.

    I've been told there's a whole mode of Cthulu play where this isn't true (again, killing Shoggoths with rocket launchers). I guess when you hit this kind of point of diversion it's time to ask yourself whether you're one of those people and whether the current game environment is serving your needs. If it's not, then you might be the person who needs to start hacking out something new.
  • Posted By: tony dowlerPosted By: Zak SPosted By: David BergNow, see, ifthatwas the first page in the Call of Cthulhu book, that would make me very happy. :)
    Unfortunately, I don't think it works like that.

    Well, I guess that's the fundamental point of disagreement right there. Providing clearly-written advice to game masters and players that's not burdened by bullshit and half-baked ideas seems to be the essence of providing good game texts.


    Well good for some guys on a forum dedicated to a different kind of game and good for the people who made the game the most popular horror game in the history of role-playing might be different things.

    And, yeah, Cthulhu is totally suiting a wide range of needs for my group so I think I'm good.
  • I started playing CoC before ever reading any Lovecraft and it worked fine. I also learned how to play it by running the published adventures.

    I agree with Eero that the game rules do not tell you how to run the game, specifically. I mean, these are the same rules as Stormbringer and RuneQuest, and these three games are not the same. But I think the published adventures can do quite a good job of teaching you how the people who wrote CoC played it, and the way they assumed it would be played.

    Of course you can play the game whichever way you want, they don't call it Basic Role-Playing for nothing. You can even do conflict resolution instead of task resolution, it's all there. But if your concept of "playing Call of Cthulhu" maps to the way the writers and designers of CoC were actually playing the game, then you want to check the adventures.

    I find that they are a lot like Moldvay D&D, except that in D&D, players are exploring an unfamiliar environment that the DM has prepared in advance. In CoC, the players are investigating a set of relationships the Keeper has prepared in advance. Obscure relationships between clues and past events, secret relationships between conspirators, the true connections between a bunch of disparate pieces of evidence that all add up to some kind of Horrible Thing that nobody wants to happen. Sometimes Investigators do go to a strange place and explore it, but usually there is still some mystery-solving and a Horrible Thing that needs to be stopped and only gathering clues will make that happen. Often they're just in a town or city they already know, so they're not exploring it.

    In a typical adventure, the Investigators are notified of a problem, and they wander around town looking for clues until they piece together some semblance of the Horrible Thing and then they go and try to stop it. And that's when most of them die or go permanently insane. Much like a dungeon, if you have your prep done, it's a setup that always works.
  • Posted By: tony dowler I've been told there's a whole mode of Cthulu play where this isn't true (again, killing Shoggoths with rocket launchers).
    Or just running into Cthulhu with a boat.
  • edited March 2012
    In my experience Call is a difficult game. I have played a fair number of times, and have observed that the game is very much dependent on how the leader handles it. The game falls flat with leaders that turn out nice game-play in other games, and that is an indication to me, that the game is harder to run than most classical games out there.

    I believe this has to do with the inclusion of two great challenges in role-playing:

    1 - The puzzle ... is hard to do well. You balance on a knifes edge, and if you fail to get the balance right your players are either left clueless and feeling stupid, or they are left with cheap victories and little suspense.

    2 - The horror: it is hard to do well. To make it hit home you have to exercise a lot of control over the game-play, but that must be done in a way that leaves the players the necessary space to invest in their characters too. It's both a balancing act and a psycho-social challenge. The psycho-social challenge is to have the players invest emotionally in the characters and the situation. Without that investment the game feels lame.

    The tools to do these things are not part of the game. They have to be invented by the leader. Leaving two great challenges like these to be met, simultaneously, by intuition and inventiveness, makes Call of Cthulhu a very hard game to run, in my view.
  • edited March 2012
    The puzzle you handle like this:

    http://www.dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2012/02/hunterhunted.html

    The horror is your own business as a creative GM. There is absolutely no game design that is going to make your players scarable or guarantee players invest in their PCs enough to become scared--however, there are many games that scare away anyone not willing to invest in their PCs from the outset.

    CoC is not one of them/
  • Y'all are waaay overthinking this.

    Like seriously overthinking it and running yourselves in circles because of that.

    Let's start with something terribly basic: Are Lovecraft's stories in fact scary?

    I don't find them to be so, and never have, so that may change the way I view this whole thing. Sure, fun romps where everyone plays along with monstery scariness, but actual chills down your spine when you read them level scary? Nah, not even close to what other writers put out. Hell, Two Gun Bob Howard's Cthulhu stuff is generally scarier than HPL's.

    So if you answered, No, they ain't really that scary, then trying to run the game at this super high value of scary for your players is actually shooting for a higher mark than the inspirational materal manages to achieve.

    Let's try another really basic question: Do we really see such deeply complex, developed characters in HPL's stories that we truly become fascinated with them, or are they mostly just quickly drawn sketches that are a vehicle to get us to the important part of the story, which are the descriptions of weird monsters and events?

    Yeah, ya already know what my answer to this is by the only slightly biased way I phrased that last question.

    If you're shooting for more player to character involvement and development, you are once again shooting for a higher mark than the actual source material.

    Tomas, go back and really look at my post comparing CoC to Moldvay Basicif yu want to run CoC successfully.

    It might not give you the vision of what CoCought to be that you have, but it will quite likely give you a successful game play session, and it isn't hard at all to play, either on the part of the players or the GM.
  • Posted By: TomasHVM1 - The puzzle... is hard to do well. You balance on a knifes edge, and if you fail to get the balance right your players are either left clueless and feeling stupid, or they are left with cheap victories and little suspense.
    Start with the Horrible Thing, whatever it is, and then figure out what various clues it leaves behind, that could potentially reveal it to the world. Then pick one to hook the player characters with. They will go around looking for the other clues, and clues should lead to other clues. If the players figure out what the mystery is and can confront the Horrible Thing after finding about 50-60% of the clues, that's perfect. Maybe they will track down the rest of the clues to make sure they didn't miss anything crucial (like the monster's weakness, or the banishing spell, etc), and maybe they skip those clues, but they will eventually get to the end of the adventure, as long as they do the legwork. No knife edge, just a bunch of clues.
  • Posted By: JohnstonePosted By: TomasHVM1 - The puzzle... is hard to do well. You balance on a knifes edge, and if you fail to get the balance right your players are either left clueless and feeling stupid, or they are left with cheap victories and little suspense.
    Start with the Horrible Thing, whatever it is, and then figure out what various clues it leaves behind, that could potentially reveal it to the world. Then pick one to hook the player characters with. They will go around looking for the other clues, and clues should lead to other clues. If the players figure out what the mystery is and can confront the Horrible Thing after finding about 50-60% of the clues, that's perfect. Maybe they will track down the rest of the clues to make sure they didn't miss anything crucial (like the monster's weakness, or the banishing spell, etc), and maybe they skip those clues, but they will eventually get to the end of the adventure, as long as they do the legwork. No knife edge, just a bunch of clues.

    Which is almost exactly like mapping and exploring an old D&D dungeon. Missing a clue or missing a room hidden behind a secret door are very similar. Examining your graph paper map or going back over the clues works pretty much the same exact way.
  • Yeah! Clues = rooms. Like I said, you discover relationships instead of environment. I guess the other difference is that instead of looking for treasure so you can level up, you're looking for the monster so you can get killed or go insane uh, stop it from destroying the world.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Will HindmarchThe oral tradition is real, the cultural vectors are important, but I think it's disrespectful to the game designers to suppose that this happensdespitethe text.
    The oral element is absolutely present, yes, and important to heed. Call of Cthulhu was written back in an age when this element was largely left to the leaders of games. Containing the challenge of creating a scare, this game suffered more from the lack of oral/storytelling/leader-advice than most games.
    Posted By: GrahamThe Call of Cthulhu system isn't explained in the text. It's taught at the gaming table.
    So the leader has to teach herself, at the table? I hold that to be a poor way for a designer to aim for great game-play with his game. I'd rather see the designer giving out tools that make the trip better for more players, not only for those with leaders able to invent a method of play on-the-spot.
    Posted By: komradebobCall of Cthulhu is not a difficult game.

    It is Moldvay era Basic D&D, set in the 1920s, with a mystery's network of clues replacing a physical dungeon's series of rooms. ...
    I am sorry to say that this does not make it for me. Far from it. You say nothing of how to set the tone, serve the clues, handle the psychology of the characters, etc.
    Posted By: JohnstoneStart with the Horrible Thing, whatever it is, and then figure out what various clues it leaves behind, that could potentially reveal it to the world. ...
    Nice way of telling how to set up the clues, but is that really the great challenge in this game? I would rather see you telling people, as straightforward, how to set the tone, handle the tilted conflicts, putting a scare into a scene, etc.
    Posted By: komradebobLet's start with something terribly basic: Are Lovecraft's stories in fact scary?
    The question is, in fact, not relevant. What is relevant when discussing the game, is the expectations of the players, and I have never heard anyone talk about Call of Cthulhu as anything but a horror game. Most people consider it a horror game, and are expecting the thrill of horror when they play it. Ideally the players want to be scared by it!
    Posted By: komradebobLet's try another really basic question: Do we really see such deeply complex, developed characters ... or are they mostly just quickly drawn sketches that are a vehicle to get us to the important part of the story, ...
    In role-playing games I'm all for the quickly drawn sketches at game-start, and then to see complex characters develop in lieu with the drama. The brunt of players don't care how a "true" lovecraftian character looks like; they want a character to use in heated interaction. If they buy into the Call of Cthulhu thing, they will enjoy making a clueless nincompoop about to be beset by horrible monsters, and they will wonder if survival is at all possible. And then, if the method really catch hold of them, they will fight nail and teeth to keep that nincompoop alive! In Call of Cthulhu I have seen that the method is too rudimentary to make this happen most of the time. I've had some magic moments there, with great leaders, but most of the sessions have been lame.

    The game is dependent on the leader; can she manage to invent a method to work magic?

    I'm not concerned about running Call of Cthulhu myself. I know I have developed the tools to do it. I am more concerned with leaders lacking those tools, being given a game that points in the right direction and leave you to wander the woods of confusion all by yourself.
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