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Author: Paul Baldowski

Gamer, reviewer, history buff and business analyst. Living in Manchester, in the UK. I work as a senior business analyst and manager. When I’m not at work, I: * Write tabletop game and book reviews, * Develop and market All Rolled Up dice bags with my wife, * Wallow in a library of Tudor history books, and (occasionally) * Write freelance RPG projects – like Paranoia, Maelstrom & Outlive Outdead
AireCon and ConVergence UK

AireCon and ConVergence UK

Just Crunch will be at AireCon – the Analog Gaming Festival – in Harrogate this weekend.

AireCon – 10/11/12 March 2017 – is a friendly family focused event, catering to all manner of gamers; the event offers a library of board games to borrow and an enthusiastic offering on the role-playing front. AireCon is sponsored by both Travelling Man and the UK Games Expo. Just Crunch will be there with All Rolled Up with a full stand for the event – offering a plethora of gaming goodies, dice bags, folding dice trays, and more.

And in less than two weeks, we have the first ConVergence UK, in Stockport.

ConVergence UK – 17/18/19 March 2017 – kicks off for the first time this year, at the Northern Gaming Centre in south of Stockport, along the A6. It’s gaming from the Northern Powerhouse; and it’s on my doorstep! As ever, All Rolled Up will have a range of game rolls and dice trays on offer – and the event offers war games, board games and roleplaying games (including the Pathfinder Society) organised through Warhorn.

I hope (even plan) to run some of The Cthulhu Hack at the events; I’m also very happy to chat about the system, a fast and lightweight route into the world of Lovecraftian investigative horror.

Advantage and Disadvantage

Advantage and Disadvantage

Nobody said it was easy / No one ever said it would be this hard…

The Cthulhu Hack includes a section on Advantage and Disadvantage that I think warrants a little consideration.

To be clear, Coldplay got this one spot on. Top marks to them.

When you see a character Class offering Advantage on something, it isn’t because the character finds it easy. A character with a Special Feature that offers Advantage does so because they’re prepared. A character’s occupation or background offers them a perspective or a professional appreciation of something that means when they come to try and exercise their skills under pressure, they do so with benefit.

If you, as a GM, believe that a threat is easy to avoid, don’t ask for a roll. To return to the example from the last article about a hole to climb down, if that hole is rough, sloped or has corroded rungs hammered into the side, don’t ask for a roll. It’s easy – so, throwing dice won’t add anything to the experience. Indeed, you may well find that throwing dice breaks the narrative flow. Have the players describe what they do when they reach the hole – and you can add some zest with a description of the distant sound of their adversaries. The hard stuff will be here soon enough to take them down a peg or two.

Now, if the same character were being pursued through the tunnels and they didn’t have any climbing gear or a decent light source — maybe they just have a Zippo lighter — then, yes, that’s a Disadvantage. Unprepared and truly ill-equipped, they absolutely warrant a Disadvantage on their roll. Further to the last article, I think the GM could argue against the scholarly types making that roll with an INT Save, because they don’t have time to ponder the best route down. If they insist on going down that hole in a hurry, in the flickering light of a Zippo without any proper climbing equipment, that’s a DEX Save with Disadvantage and not doubt.

A really zealous player with a mountain climber character might argue, but at best I’d suggest you let her roll a straight DEX Save — any Advantage simply cancelling out the Disadvantage. Otherwise, the cirumstances amount to enough negatives in respect of prep to impact everyone.

As a GM, you should let the players make the call whether they want to risk the climb down or stand and fight. Don’t wait until they’re committed to the foolhardy descent before revealing they’re going to die!

When they make their decision, they’ll have only themselves to blame; next time, they might prepare a bit better before going down any holes in pursuit of the Mythos.

As a GM, just remember that Advantage and Disadvantage relate to preparation. If a task is easy, don’t roll. If it’s really hard, don’t let them roll — tell the player of the antiquarian that if they insist on climbing down a hole in the dark without a rope, they’re going to slip, fall and die. If circumstances are testing — like darkness or high winds — then preparation will determine whether to apply Advantage and Disadvantage.


You can pick up The Cthulhu Hack and a range of adventures and supplements at RPGNow – currently all 30% off as part of the GM Day Sale, until 13th March 2017.

Handling Threat

Handling Threat

Characters in The Cthulhu Hack handle Threats in different ways. Sometimes, the situation doesn’t allow any kind of decision making; or at least, it doesn’t allow any careful finessing. A teacher battering seven shades of hell out of a bully in a car park might Save versus the Threat with Strength or Dexterity, dependent on if the teacher choosing to wrestle or evade.

The same teacher faced with a ragged hole in the ground and no rope or climbing gear to speak of might also look for options. Strength and Dexterity, again, might prove the most obvious approaches, but maybe Intelligence would allow a teacher to eke out some assistance from the environment – roots, for example, or the careful knotting of torn fabric from an overcoat.

If the teacher gives lessons in Physical Education and opts for Strength, the GM could offer an Advantage. If the character was a stevedore or sailor, the GM might offer Advantage to make the Intelligence Save.

A player might also offer strong argument about time. Time offers a way to relieve a degree of pressure without necessarily reducing the threat – or possibly haggling for an increase in potential harm. The GM doesn’t have to agree to a bargain like this if it doesn’t make sense. Maybe the only way forward has to be through physical stress and the Threat won’t wait; or, if the character takes too long researching in the library, the Threat will escalate to encompass a wider area of impact or an adversary will claim a victory unopposed, complicating a later encounter.

If a teacher of the Classics opts to climb with a physical Save – despite low scores – the player could argue that the teacher simply takes his time to make the descent. The GM might agree to offer an Advantage, but bargain that a failure will not be from a damaging fall, but capture by the strange pursuer crawling through the shadows of the tunnel.

I suggest that players have plenty of opportunity to get themselves hospitalised or institutionalised during the course of an adventure in The Cthulhu Hack without robbing them of some sense of progress. If you follow the path of nurturing a more Lovecraftian approach of intellectual characters over sluggers and brutes, asking for Strength Saves every 10 minutes seems churlish.

GM’s Day Sale

GM’s Day Sale

The annual GM’s Day Sale has kicked in at RPGNow, with thousands of titles for sale at 30% off.

The sale lasts for 12 days and the range covers a massive catalogue of titles from across genres, publishers and interests.

The whole Just Crunch Games back catalogue features, including all The Cthulhu Hack titles for less than $12 total:

It’s well worth a rummage!

Cthulhu Hack at UK Games Expo 17

Cthulhu Hack at UK Games Expo 17

I will be attending UK Games Expo this year, as I have for the last half-a-dozen years, with the plan to run games and man the stalls for Just Crunch and All Rolled Up.

UK Games Expo runs for three days and explodes across both the NEC and local hotels, offering game-players of all interests the chance to see, play and buy games, old and new.

I have a stall of my own, where you will have the chance to pick up copies of all the books in The Cthulhu Hack range – which, I hope, will include some new material by the time June rolls around.

In addition, I will run two evening games, on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd June. I have made these intentionally generic in the RPG Event offerings over on the UK Games Expo web site. While I realised making these generic would not sell them, I didn’t want to tie myself down to offering something with certainty.

I hope to have many options to offer in terms of adventure – and might even open it to the players on the night to choose what they’d like to play.

I recommend dropping over to the site to see the games running across the spectrum – and you can find The Cthulhu Hack games and many others in the Role Playing Games Event section.

January 2017 Update

January 2017 Update

Where did January go?

A quiet month with no releases, as my efforts have been focused under the hood, so to speak.

I have been wrangling writers for a trio of adventures to be released Quarter 2 or 3. I will be one of those writers, but the other two I’ll keep under wraps for the time being. The adventures will focus on the same driving force, but show how that idea can be extrapolated into quite different experiences.

Time and again, while re-reading Lovecraft, I have had this notion of fractured possibilities around a single entity, event or aspect of the story. You can take all you read on face value, or dig a little deeper.

More often than not, you need to cast aside the preconceptions that you have acquired through playing other games that use Lovecraft and the Mythos as their backdrop. Especially those that hail from the Mythos, that formless spawn of ideas by a multitude of creative minds.

The Cthulhu Hack returns solidly and unashamedly to Lovecraft, pure and simple. If you read something in an adventure, like Save Innsmouth: Chapter 0 or Thro’ Centuries Fixed, then that thing has come from my direct interpretation of Lovecraft’s words.

This is the reason why I included the entire text of The Haunter of the Dark in the supplement of the same name – as I wanted you to see my thoughts processes in the annotations. They arise from reading and re-reading Lovecraft, whether his stories, his notes or his letters.

I recommend you go back to the texts and give them another look next time you consider running anything Lovecraftian.

In addition to writer wrangling, I have been slowly re-writing The Blessing of St Agnes – a supplement originally put together as a generic fantasy adventure, but which I’m currently reworking for The Cthulhu Hack. Anyone who already has a copy of the PDF will get the updated automatically.

The daughter of a local businessman vanishes overnight and evidence quickly reveals the possible involvement of a cult mixed up in misguided pursuit of power through occult channels. However, the investigators soon find that nothing could be quite so simple…

Finally, I’m working on a refinement of the core rules to better support the development of the optional ones! In spring it will be a year since I started tinkering with the rules of The Black Hack. Since then, I have run enough games and made enough notes to know that things have moved on organically. Refining the core means I have a sort of ‘bible’ to work from when putting other supplements and adventures together – and should allow me to better focus on things like Unspeakable Hacks and character creation cards.

The Price of Evil

The Price of Evil

The Price of Evil provides an interesting mechanical approach for generating spirit infested real estate on the fly. Written by Zzarchov Kowolski for Neoclassical Geek Revival and other Old School Renaissance games, The Price of Evil is a handy tool for The Cthulhu Hack.

The Toolkit

To create a haunted house you need a pack of cards. You can generate a house in advance or, at a pinch, do something on the fly. You follow one of the standard layouts provided – including fixed features like a lobby and master bedroom – dealing out cards and interpreting the value and suit to determine the purpose and contents. A heart denotes the default states, while the other suits equate to valuables (diamonds), accoutrements of the occult (spades) or damage (clubs), whether through vandalism, infestation, the elements, or the passage of time.

The play of cards determines the presence of certain rooms depending on the floor, all drawn within the limitations of the layout. Drawing more than one Unique Room leads to the presence of a Junk Room instead – which reminded me of investigating the old Corbitt House in The Haunting.

The sort of house generated suits those Lovecraft would have been familiar with in his time, with gabled roof, expansive attics and cellars, and impressive entrance halls. You can certainly tweak the state and descriptions to suit countries other than the US.

Currency

Written for a fantasy role playing game, the text uses coins of differing value by metal. For general reference and conversion, assume that a Gold Piece = a Dollar, so that gold, silver and copper pieces directly convert to dollars, dimes and pennies. Therefore, if the characters discover 120 copper pieces in a locked box, they in fact have found a bunch of coins, mostly pennies, that amount to $1.20 in value. Dollar values might be in bills or coin, with the former more likely to suffer destruction where vandalism or possession have occurred (or occur).

Throughout the house, the values assume that the property lies within a good district and the previous owner purchased quality products. Half the values for a more standard affair or cut to a third in poorer districts. Whatever the value of individual goods, a character selling anything on will need to find a buyer and few will offer catalogue/shop window prices for anything.

For characters looking to “flip” a property – or assist a landlord in doing the same – the overall value of a house depends on overall condition, sound construction, fittings and reputation. If the characters takes weeks or months to resolve the “issues” associated with a property, they’re as likely to rubbish its reputation and leave it devalued.

Anachronisms

Originally written with a fantasy setting in mind, most rooms nevertheless translate seamlessly to a more modern setting. However, where anachronisms exist, either allow for them with rumours of odd behaviour in previous occupants or update the offending articles.

If your house includes an Armoury, for example, replace the content with suitable alternatives, like survival/hunting gear, revolvers, shotguns, and so forth. Drawing diamonds in this instance might suggest a selection of antiques, explaining the oddities – and necessitating an adjustment in market value. Drawing spades could suggest oddities, artefacts from overseas, esoteric paraphernalia or simply signs of the unhinged and weird.

Oppression

Where the text references Oppression inflicted by events or haunting entities, assume a test of Sanity. If the Oppression inflicted equals or exceeds half the highest value of the die thrown, roll with Disadvantage.

For example, shaky investigator Henry Alwood – Sanity d6 – enters the vaulted observatory, perched on the top floor of the house, in the middle of the night. The oppressive forces of the house twist the fabric of the room, causing the rug-strewn timber floor to dissolve beneath Henry’s feet, threatening to drop him into the unforgiving void. The manifestation rates three skulls – meaning the Oppression matches half the highest value of the character’s Sanity Die (max value of 6 divided by 2 = 3). The player rolls two six-sided dice instead of one and the GM will force them to use the worst result.

Gameplay

I suspect, given a little thought, you might find a way to run solo adventures using The Cthulhu Hack and a house generated with this excellent toolkit. You might also wanted to seek out suitable ‘solo gaming tools‘ to stand in as GM for your session.

For group gaming, it means you can spice up a session with a genuinely odd and unexpected haunted home; or, perhaps, the investigators can face the challenge of ridding a property they own of unwanted spirits. When they get that letter about their recently departed great uncle, the envelope weighted down by an odd looking key, the value of the inheritance may depend on their surviving a night in the property – or slogging through months of research and effort.

A haunted house might even serve as a quirky sub-plot; perhaps something in the house could serve to benefit them in handling another case.

As Zzarchov wrote The Price of Evil for the OSR, you can use any stats provided for spirits straight off the page, referring to the antagonist table in the core rules to determine baseline damage for any direct corporeal attacks or even indirect assaults.

If you want to flesh out a manifestation, a roll or two in the horror generator of From Unformed Realms can provide the taint or spoor of evil; enough detail to provide a clue or flesh out the fleshless dead without needing a full blown entity.

You can purchase The Price of Evil from RPGNow and DriveThruRPG.