While clearly named The Cthulhu Hack, in honour of the dread Old One, the nature of the Hack means you can handle any investigation using the system’s associated mechanics. Both Smokes and Flashlights serve as a medium for a little luck, a bit of insight and a knack for finding the half-hidden or forgotten.
Like the investigators in a US procedural or a British Christie-style murder mystery, the Cthulhu Hack‘s investigation rules give essential clues mixed with the tension of a dwindling pool. In a non-Mythos game, you could swap out Sanity for Fatigue or Stress – they all stem from the same source, but Sanity has a strong connection with certain types of game.
There’s also nothing stopping you from folding the idea back into The Black Hack or one of the other derivatives – or using The Cthulhu Hack system with fantasy or sci-fi trappings. The Career Paths might need a tweak and you’ll need to improvise the equipment list a bit – but you could also just co-opt that sort of thing from a favoured setting.
Blood and Lumber
Take the Shadow of the Demon Lord, for example. The recently released adventure Blood Will Run involves the characters investigating the disappearance of twin boys in a small village. Stereotypical genre tropes can get the investigators on board, with a letter from their uncle, a newspaper cutting or some other tenuous association with the settlement.
Before running the session, the GM needs to read through the adventure – and I would recommend printing it out and have two colours of highlighter to hand. Three if you can manage.
As you read through, highlight any sentence where the investigators might:
Spot, uncover, trip over, research, stumble, recall or otherwise discover something – that’s a FLASHLIGHT.
Overhear, carouse, interrogate, coerce, fast talk, bribe, claim common kinship or otherwise extract information through social connection – that’s a SMOKE.
If you have that third highlighter in hand – mark any instance where the adventure either threatens direct harm or would cause pain, damage, distress or similar. That sounds like either a SAVE or a test of SANITY – in either case, the player will need to roll.
Reading from the beginning, I started making notes, some of which I include below. In reading, if you get any sense of a piece of information, a find, a muttered word or a threat of danger – highlight it!
- FLASHLIGHT The village of Cheqwood has a long history in the lumber trade, providing highly prized wood to craftspeople and artists far and wide. The limited supply makes for fierce, even violent, competition.
- FLASHLIGHT An ancient charter, signed centuries ago, limits the quantity of lumber the village can take from the wood, backed by royal decree. The inhabitants have never tested these limits and the settlement has never really grown much as a result.
- FLASHLIGHT One of the glass panes in the windows bears the slightly greasy, smudged handprints of a child; it appears as if one pressed close to the window to spy any activity within.
- SMOKES Someone has been disturbing graves of the departed in a disused private ground near the old manor. When the village turned out to find the missing boys they found several graves dug up and desecrated.
- SMOKES Clyde, something of a spokesperson for the community, had a raging argument with the local blacksmith, out in the street in front of The Black and Staff pub. The ‘smith claims Clyde’s children stole from him, but absolutely denies any responsibility for their disappearance.
- CHA SAVE Speaking with Clyde runs the risk of pulling too many chains and turning his stress into outright rage. A thumper by nature with the physique to match, failure to make the Save will shift him to hostile reactions until calmed by a local or restrained.
And so on… I don’t want to spoil the adventure, but you’ll have opportunities to test Sanity and a possible fight or two to keep the Bruisers entertained.
The adventure in this example needs some tweaking to remove fantasy elements – like elves – but the core of an abduction and a stressed out community stands. With little more effort than reading the adventure – and a few highlighters or similar in hand – you have a fresh adventure to add to the stable.