Posted By: Zak S
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:
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.