Conversion, Mechanics 0 comments on Compatibility Hack

Compatibility Hack

The association between The Black Hack and The Cthulhu Hack is a funny old thing. In the 3 years that both games have existed, an explosion of other supplements and expansions of the former have appeared. In the meantime, TCH has drifted along a path of its own.

What does that mean?

It means that many elements of The Cthulhu Hack are backward compatible with The Black Hack and other games of The y Hack type (where y is an indeterminate take on the core TBH), but I never really write them to work without thought or due consideration. I’m not including that sort of note in the material associated with the game—I’m not declaring anywhere in the core game or supplements that they work out of the box with The y Hack .

I do declare, in a general sense, that The Cthulhu Hack material can be run with other Cthulhu game systems and that you can use other Cthulhu game system supplements with The Cthulhu Hack. Again, I’m not declaring compatibility—you have to do an amount of work equal to indeterminate value n. You can use The Haunter‘s investigation structure and story mining for anything, but something crunchier might need a moment.

I have run scenarios from Call of Cthulhu, World War Cthulhu, Achtung! Cthulhu, Delta Green, Trail of Cthulhu, Bookhounds of London. Cthulhu Dark and others on the fly. Aside from reading the material in advance, I did nothing much else except make the sort of prep notes I do for any other adventure I GM.

On the other hand, if you lifted the Investigation Resource mechanic or Special Abilities from The Cthulhu Hack and used them in a game of The y Hack, you would have to give some thought to the process. TCH has no levels, so anything that assumes the use of levels probably won’t work at all—or at least needs some thought. TCH handles advancement through investigations survived, but that isn’t the same as levels, per se.

Creatures from The Cthulhu Hack will probably work, but again—some of their Abilities might warrant tweaking to make them more potent against a gang of leveled characters.

I hope that makes sense—and that you’re taking advantage of DriveThruRPG’s Christmas in July to pick up all manner of y Hack supplements and material, including The Black Hack and The Cthulhu Hack.

And if you’re up for new material or stuff you can convert with an amount of work equal to indeterminate value n, pledge your support through The Cthulhu Hack Patreon for as little as $1 a month.

Mechanics 0 comments on All the Dice, No Gimmicks

All the Dice, No Gimmicks

At the heart of many tabletop games lie a handful of dice. When you write a game, I propose that you should keep it simple, especially as a self-publisher or small scale game company, and stick with dice – because no one wants to spend money on something weird and wonderful for a game that might only play occasionally. What use would you have for tokens or cards keyed to a specific game – and why, as the publisher, would you mess with production and possibility of getting stuck with unsold stock?

Simple Just Works

In the early development of The Dee Sanction, I had a notion to use almost anything to make the character generation and record a bit different. I had tokens, I had character cards, I had a Tarot deck. In the end, it seemed to me that if I asked for any of those things, I might be asking for something that the table didn’t have to hand. Admittedly, they might not have dice either – but, I think you should feel relatively safe that a tabletop roleplaying game with a dice mechanic can be viewed as a fairly standard thing.

I was pleased when I ran a game of The Cthulhu Hack at Tierra de Nadie (in Mollina, north of Malaga) that someone commented they liked the fact that the game used a whole polyhedral set. I mean, it was both interesting and a little strange to get that feedback, but I guess it’s a truth that we’re not sticking to all the dice anymore. There are games that use just one die, or one type of die. If you’re Fantasy Flight, you might even get away with using some really odd dice. Both TCH and TDS use a whole polyhedral set – and, oddly enough, they use them all slightly differently.

Base Mechanics

In The Cthulhu Hack, you use the twenty-sided dice for handling Threats; the rest of the dice, you use those for Resources. You don’t use a d20 for Resources (normally). And you never use the lower-sided dice to figure the success or failure of a Threat. By the end of a session, you will have used all the dice, probably, some more than others – especially when you’re kicking off the use of a high value (12-sided) Resource. This division of purpose means that when I say to save against a Threat, there isn’t a doubt about what die to pick up.

When it comes to The Dee Sanction, the status quo on dice won’t change much, though I intend to include some alternate mechanics. Ultimately, if you just use dice, the game will play the same way – but there will be the occasional option to use a deck of cards, for example, when determining your character background, as if all the players draw a card from a single deck you manage to perform an act of randomisation without the possibility of duplication. Yes, you might want be OK with two porters or courtiers, but using the cards means that won’t happen unless you specifically choose to not randomise. Or use the dice and allow it.


I suppose for some players, when you come to a game and you have spent the time picking our your favourite dice, it can be disappointing to find that the game you’ve signed up for out of interest uses only one type or none at all. Why did you go through all that ritual effort of purification and orientation for the last week, bathing them in holy water and hanging them from the mantle of your fireplace, only to find the careful balance of perfection instantly disrupted… or dissipated by disuse?!

On top of that, if you just use a standard set of dice, you don’t have to spend time explaining how to use them. I mean, I like the dice mechanic for Star Wars and Genesys, but that thing does take a while to bed in or necessitates a reference chart that won’t stay memorised for long (or at least not in my experience). When you say, roll a twenty-sided die, that doesn’t need any explanation (well, it did in Spain, but only because i tried to explain the singular and plural versions, die and dice, and how it had fallen into disfavour).

Once you start adding cards and tokens, the tabletop might start looking more interesting and colourful, but you also generate an overhead of explanation. At a convention, that’s time you could be spending playing the game. I have found with systems that use more than a basic dice mechanic that I kick off the session and explain when I need it – aware that this will mess with the flow and immersion, but conscious that time’s of the essence. I find that this works well because you might find by the end of the session you have managed to get by without using all the mechanics – which would have been time wasted if you had explained them all upfront or created a comprehensive reference sheet before the game.

Roll ‘Em

There’s room for innovation in gaming without worrying about weird and wonderful gadgets and tools at the tabletop. If you want to wow, find a strange and satisfying mechanic. By all means, you could consider using some strange device, like weird dice or colourful tokens, but I think it’s important to keep the core game working without them. And, it would seem, some gamers find that simplicity reassuring and satisfying, because they know when then sit down and play your game, they’ll have the chance to use their “special dice” they’ve spent so much time choosing in preparation for a game.

Image: Pretty certain those dice are Eldritch Rose-Green, available from Dice Shop Online.

House Rules 0 comments on Removing Investigative Resources

Removing Investigative Resources

I’m open to discussion about The Cthulhu Hack on many levels. I’m not precious about the rule set and I accept that once released into the wild anyone can do anything with it.

In the Google+ Community for the game, Scott Maclure asked:

Could [The Cthulhu Hack] remove Investigative Resources, i.e. Flashlights and Smokes, without really affecting the game overall?

My response:

Not For Everyone

I suppose that the first take away from this discussion is that you can’t please all the people all of the time. There are so many game systems out there and so many approaches to play and so many players and GMs… something isn’t going to suit everyone. I want to say, first and foremost, thanks for the feedback – and that if The Cthulhu Hack doesn’t suit you… well, still thanks for picking up a copy!

(I always appreciate feedback, because I value the thought that goes into alternate views. I’m open to house rules, optional approaches and lateral thinking, because they drive the ongoing development of the game. I can think of few things more frustrating than feedback left without thoughts behind the writing – one of the odd options available to those who purchase the PDF.)

Elevator Pitch

To be clear – and this is my pitch on the booth at cons – the Unique Selling Point is an effort to emulate the descent of Lovecraftian characters into despair, insanity, disappearance and so forth. More often that not, the character at the heart of each tale doesn’t come out of it in a good place, if at all. That is the core of the game – and that is why the Investigative Resources dwindle.

I have tagged on the essence of never withhold a clue that might stall the story flow because it makes sense to do that – getting to the end of the story is just part of the game. If you can get to the end and still have something to fight with, all the better – but the current Investigative Resources – including Sanity, after all – mean that this is not a certainty.

Now, Saves don’t dwindle. They protect you from threat of harm and capture, but they don’t fade away. The athletic investigator will always outrun the cultists, but like the protagonist of The Shadow over Innsmouth running away might keep you alive but it won’t shore up your Sanity against the revelations.

I would suggest that you give the game a go as is – and keep in mind that, weird as it might be, you throw a test for Resources AFTER handing over the clues or explaining the sanity-busting discoveries. They’re an abstraction to generate the sense of spiralling decline. The players still have to guide their characters in the right direct – don’t just throw clues at them… otherwise they will have no sense of challenge.

Robert Blake has to go to Federal Hill, interact with the Italian guardians of the site, squeeze through the defences and search through the decrepit interior of the church. He has to poke and prod to make his discoveries – and some of the things he finds are Threats, like those protective local residents and their insistence that he stay clear.

Completely Untested Alternative

If you want to try an alternative, scrap the Investigative Resources by all means. Just use the Saves.

1. All characters start with 8 in each Save.

2. Players have 20 points to spread across the Saves as they see fit. (Experiment with this. 22 points might be the sweet spot; 20 points might be too harsh.)

3. No Save can be higher than 17.

4. When considering a location for clues or seeking aid from locals, judge the approach and determine the appropriate Save. Social interaction won’t always be Charisma – it might be educated discourse with Intelligence or intimidation with Strength.

4a. After receiving a clue, throw d20 versus the Save score – rolling equal or lower is good. if you roll higher, reduce the score by 2 points.

5. Combat becomes more about deciding how you’re going to handle an opponent rather than just slugging with Strength – but equally it becomes an act of real struggle by the later part of the investigation with Saves on the decline.

5a. If a character strikes an enemy, they inflict damage to Hit Points per the normal game rules. Unarmed attacks or those with improvised weapons do 1D4. Other weapons inflict damage equal to their starting Supply Die (see page 25 – exceptions are any weapons that state a damage in Notes – and Supply Die deplete as normal).
5b. If a character takes damage reduce Saves by the amount suffered. A Shoggoth will mean a lot of spreading out to survive! Creatures and opponents continue to have the advantage of the modifiers on the Average Antagonist table (page 23), as we still want to make fighting a Shoggoth the WRONG thing to do.
5c. If you lose all the points in a Personality Save, roll for Insanity (page 27) If you lose all the points in a Physical Save, roll d8 on the Out of Action table (page 17). Yes, the OoA table might mean losing more points from Saves – but that represents the character taking critical internal injuries. Bones crack, organs burst, blood leaks, etc.

6. Healing does the opposite of damage – in that recovery of an amount can be applied to any or several Saves. First Aid recovers an amount that the player can choose to spread across any reduced Saves. They can’t raise a Save above the original starting value.

6a. At the end of a Scene, recover 1 point in a Save. A character with any zero value Save AFTER this needs to sit out the next scene. Let the player do something else – run a servant, a valet, a friend of a friend. They have Saves with 10 across the spread, except for one with a score of 12.

7. Investigators do not have Hit Points. Sanity rending revelations tend to harm Personality traits (CHA, WIS and INT). Falls, poison, traps, acid, etc. tend to harm Physical traits (STR, CON and DEX).

That’s untested and incomplete – but it gives you an approach to the game that does away with Investigative Resources while it keeps the spiral of decline. Which is the point – the decline should persist, even if you strip away the current mechanic that records it!

Featured image: Investigation in the Slums by FreeMind93. Used with kind permission.

Mechanics 0 comments on Supply Dice

Supply Dice

Supply Dice exist for the tension of the moment.

The Cthulhu Hack is not about shopping lists and equipment runs. You can, by all means, go shopping, but the finer detail probably doesn’t matter. If you need a change of clothes or a hire car, go for it. The player can track small change if desired and keeping an eye on their checking account, or the GM might hand wave the situation.


In the middle of an adventure, the GM might ask for a roll of the Wealth Die (see core book p16, Wealth as a Resource) because at that a miscalculation of available funds might matter. If the investigators have gone out to get equipped and find they’re losing steps on their Wealth Die, perhaps they won’t have a chance to get everything on their shopping list.

Wealth Die Note: By the way, if you do use the resource approach for wealth, allow only the best funded investigator on the trip to make the rolls. If you allow everyone to roll, it just because an exercise in throwing dice. Make a single player take the lead and have their Investigator responsible for all the purchases.

As and When

Assign a Supply Die for each item that warrants one. Two characters carrying a handgun each would have a SD for each handgun. A character in a game of Save Innsmouth I ran last year had a store-bought Flashlight (SD6) and a Tablet in rugged rubberised case (SD8). The Tablet warranted a SD in this one because the characters were utterly lost and genuinely ill-equipped, so what little they had was very important to them. Each SD rolls separately when used.

Supply Dice have a singular purpose in the definition of dwindling resources. That might vary a bit from adventure to adventure. Investigators in the wilderness will worry about rations and they will have Ration (SD6) or whatever as a result; but, in the middle of Boston investigating a missing persons case, that stuff doesn’t matter. When the investigators get something to eat, you don’t need to roll – if they choose to eat some hardtack, fine. In truth, they’re more likely to draw attention to themselves for looking a bit odd, eating hard biscuits rather than picking something up from a local diner or fast food outlet.

Supply Die Definition

The Supply Die applies to any piece of equipment the loss of which would create more tension or danger. Mostly, use a d8.

Generally speaking you will get a certain number of uses from an item – d4 (2), d6 (5), d8 (9), d10 (14), d12 (20), d20 (30) – before it becomes useless. If an investigator picks something up or purchases it, imagine (or check online) how much use they might get out of it. A flare gun they find in a ship’s stores – probably a SD4. A gun taken from the corpse of a gangster – assume a SD6, because they probably don’t have full or spare clip.

The level of a Supply Die might also reference the state, maintenance and general condition of an item. The same gun found in a blasted desert might offer only SD4, because the mechanism has got filled with dirt and dust. If the investigator takes the time to clean it — which might give their enemy the opportunity to get ahead or launch an ambush — they can shift it up to SD6 or even SD8 with a full strip down.


A fair selection of examples follow, including types of equipment and quality or state of repair. The weapons reference have more to do with condition that the amount of ammunition.

  • SD4Unreliable, ancient, unpredictable. A rusty derringer or a guttering oil lamp
  • SD6Reliable, previously used, average grade. An old style revolver, a shotgun, or an Android tablet
  • SD8Dependable, solid tech, grade A. A modern mid-o’-the-line pistol, an unreliable piece of alien tech, or a vacuum-packed military grade wilderness survival pack
  • SD10Ultra-tech, brand new, grade A+++. A factory-fresh CZ 75 SP-01 with a full magazine, a military grade waterproof flashlight, or an Area 51 energising hyper-awareness derma-patch.

Beyond that, you probably don’t want to worry about it! If losing something or hearing an item clicking on empty isn’t going to make the Investigators scream or pray for a quick end, it probably doesn’t need a Die at all. The Cthulhu Hack should be all about the tension and never about keeping an ordered inventory of your store cupboard.

Conversion, Solo Gameplay 0 comments on The House of Hell

The House of Hell

It was an experiment in the possibilities of solo gaming that occurred to me at work.

I genuinely have no recollection of why this struck me when it did, but I had the thought that one or two of the classic Fighting Fantasy books might provide an interesting challenge as solo sessions for The Cthulhu Hack. Recently re-released, could I fend off the threat of the House of Hell?

And how?

What adjustments did I need to make?

Hapless Wanderers

Create a character as normal for The Cthulhu Hack. That means rolling all your Saves and setting the dice to your investigative resources. You don’t really needs to consider Special Abilities – if you want to give yourself a break, assume that you have the option of Topped-Up Hip Flask that can restore D6 hit points once per session and On The Hop that allows you to burn a Flashlights or Smokes to score an automatic success with an attack.

When the book asks you to Test Your Skill or Test Your Luck, make a judgement on what Save to roll, with a touch of honesty. If you’re in a situation with people trying to overcome your sense of self or with hypnosis, it’ll be Charisma. Genuine luck, roll Wisdom. Dodging a trap, roll Dexterity. Releasing something or facing a melee attack, roll Strength. Just opt for a Save that feels right.

Investigative Resources are harder to judge. I’m tempted to use these as burnable resources. If you have a choice, keep a note of the paragraph you’re on and make it. If you turn to the choice and it either kills you straight off the bat or causes you to lose Hit Points, lose a dice from your Resources and go back to make another choice. I know… it isn’t entirely in the spirit of The Cthulhu Hack, but it at least provides a mechanic for that thing we all do anyway when reading a solo gamebook!

Blood-Curdling Adventures

Most standard fights will lend themselves to Strength or Dexterity, as normal. Take the Skill of your opponent, as listed, and divide by three, rounding down fractions. Check the Average Antagonist chart (pg 19 in the current core book) and assume they have that number of Hit Dice, for calculating damage and armour. Yes, you’re going to die.

Most creatures in the game will probably have 2 or 3 Hit Dice, inflicting 3 or 4 damage. You can actually choose whether to roll damage or suffer a fixed amount. When inflicting damage yourself, roll as you would in normal group play.

When you suffer any damage, deduct it from your Hit Points. Stamina deductions work the same way – coming off as Hit Points. When you strike a foe, the same applies – deduct whatever you roll from their Stamina.

Oh, and remember – you start this adventure off unarmed. Until the book tells you that you’ve found a weapon, you’re stuck tackling fights with your bare hands. And most enemies will have a point of armour, as 2HD opponents.

Night to Remember

The game includes the addition of Fear, on top of the standard Skill, Stamina and Luck. Whenever the book asks you to deduct Fear points, roll your Sanity resource instead. If you run out of Sanity, you lose the game – just as you would in the original by running your Fear up to the threshold. If you somehow uncover a way to restore Fear, add a die back to your Sanity.

Adopt a similar approach to recovery when handling Hit Points, restoring the amount indicate for Stamina.

Your Last Memory is…

The stab of sharp teeth. Yes, he got me. Indeed, I didn’t even get this far, as the Fear that struck before meeting him forced me to roll the d4 of my Sanity. Babbling in the face of this horror, I lost myself in the House of Hell forever…

Q & A 0 comments on Twixt Stats and Saves

Twixt Stats and Saves

Following the brief review of Tainted Meat (which I ran at Concrete Cow) posted on Department V, I have been giving occasional thought to character stats in The Cthulhu Hack.

I was less keen on the disconnect between the usual OSR six stats, and the Flashlights and Smokes. It’s easy to assume that a high INT character is going to be a top investigator, only to find that really it’s the number of dice you put into Flashlights that matters and INT is kind of irrelevant.

Should ‘stats’ and investigation overlap more thoroughly? It’s a valid question and it’s worth giving a considered answer.

I’m comfortable with what exists – but then I’m also the closest to the topic! I’m not above admitting that it might warrant tweaking. It might even warrant a little constraining, mayhaps dropping a stat or two at some point through the power of conflation. Version 2 might pick that up as a thought.


I had given the stats more thought when I wrote v1.5 of the core rules.

Version 1.5 spends more time than the original making it clear that they’re Saves rather than stats or characteristics – they protect you from harm or hindrance.

You avoid being hypnotised because you’re personality is solid (CHA Save). You escape from the gang chasing you because of your indepth knowledge of Morocco’s marketplace and back alleys (INT Save). You manage to stagger across to the door and open the locking mechanism before you take a gasp of poison tainted air (CON Save).

Yes, a high INT means you’re well educated and a low WIS means you’re dull witted – but, when it comes to the crunch your Investigative Resource tests just how prepared you’ve come to this encounter with the Mythos.

That’s the disconnect. Investigative Resource isn’t driven by the Saves – it shows something else altogether.

Advantage and Aid

You can influence Saves with Investigative Resources and vice versa, in the same way that Occupation aids in meeting challenges. If you have a well-educated character, allow them to discover simple facts without a roll – commonplace book text or similar. If you have a Gameskeeper, they’ll know if an animal moved oddly or was injured from a trail, but the trail itself… It’s all finer detail – but the clues that will pave the way to progress and success always depend on testing your Resources.

A strong Occupational connection to a query or a hard sell from the player on the relevance of a Save might offer Advantage on an Investigative check. In turn, a player can expend Resources to get themselves out of a fix – knowing the tendency of the Model VII to fire short (make a Flashlight roll), the GM allows a Dexterity Save with Advantage.

The GM might also allow automatic success on a Save if the Player offers to burn a Resource – the group manage to get one of the cultists to leave the key on the table and walk away (normally a tough old CHA Save) because one of the player characters realises they attend the same club haviing spotted a special tattoo around the chaps left index finger (burn a Smokes die).

They’re supporting but not utterly intertwined.


As I run the game – or hear reports back from others – The Cthulhu Hack evolves. In time, it might lose all resemblance to the original, while remaining close enough in form and function that it essentially plays the same. I think much of the change has come from emphasis and description – explaining how the moving parts work to propel the game forward. I fully expect more changes to come with the passage of time and the playing of games. Version 2 lies somewhere ahead, veiled in the mists and murk of actual play and game development.

House Rules 0 comments on Hit Dice as Resource

Hit Dice as Resource

I put a very short section on Hit Dice as a Resource into the new v1.5 core book. It’s very short. And just today – I realised, too short.

The Hit Die

What’s in the core book is a fairly abstract and underdeveloped idea – so, use it at your own risk.

When you’re hit by something, instead of deducting hit points you roll your Hit Die like a Resource. If you roll a 1 or 2, the Hit Die drops a step. If you’re a Ruffian, you start with D6. Someone shoots you. Roll 3-6, you get a graze or something. Roll 1-2, you drop to a D4. Healing restores a Die step.

It works OK between fairly similar opponents, but when you start using big guns or monsters it makes less sense. If you battle a Shoggoth, something has to give because that Crush attack is not small beans.

Big Damage, Big Disadvantage

Therefore, I offer this suggestion as a general system – more damage has a greater chance of forcing a drop.

When hit with damage, compare the amount against the Hit Die of the character. The player then rolls the Hit Die with appropriate adjustment. A big creature means the possibility of rolling with Disadvantage – roll two dice and take the worst result – or Double Disadvantage – roll three dice and take the worst result.

This means that a Shoggoth will make a greater impact that a Cultist with a knife. Robust characters will get Advantage on their Hit Die roll if all they face is a knife, but everyone rolls with Double Disadvantage when subjected to a Shoggoth’s crush attack – unless the character with a D12 hit die can get behind the cover of a metal barrier (AP 9), which means they’ll only roll with Disadvantage.

The original example still holds – the Ruffian getting shot will still roll D6 as normal, as an average attack with a gun does 3 damage. That falls in the Normal range for making a Hit Die roll. A shot run, which might do 5 damage by an NPC, means Disadvantage.

Player vs Player

Really? In Cthulhu? Like you didn’t have enough enemies already.

You have a choice:

Roll the Damage: Roll as normal and compare against the table. If you roll well with a pistol, it could be bad for that Ruffian. Roll a 6 on D6 for the pistol damage, and the poor chump has to roll with Double Disadvantage.

Half the Die Type: Take the size of the Die and half it. A D6 attack does 3; a D10 attack does 5. If you’re rolling multiple dice for some reason, add all the Die sizes together and then add half the number of dice rolled.

For example, the player has found some hideous Mi-Go blasting gun that does 4D4 damage. If the GM chooses to use the fixed damage method, it inflicts ((4+4+4+4)/2) + 2 (half the number of dice) = 10 damage.

Care Instructions

Please use with care. While I have used Hit Dice as Resource myself, I did so in adventures with relatively human-scaled opponents; therefore, this has not been tested at all — but, it will be now!

Q & A 0 comments on Opposed Investigation

Opposed Investigation

When you roll Flashlights or Smokes in The Cthulhu Hack, you’re checking to see if the investigator taxes their resources in discovering something key about the situation. When they throw a 1 or 2, they have pushed themselves too far, but they haven’t failed. Whatever they roll, they discover something new and vital in the progress toward their goal.

However, what if getting the clue isn’t that easy? What would happen then?

Well, there lies the Threat.

Handling Threats

soon they found the passage came to an abrupt stop. He pulled the obstacle away & to his dismay water rushed in in torrents. John was an expert swimmer & long breathede. He had just taken a breath, so he tried to rise but with the box & his sister he found it quite impossible…

A Threat lies between the Investigator and their success – and it means getting the clues might be harder or it could even mean that someone else gets there first. In the Indiana Jones movies, it means the evil archaeologist managed to wrest the artefact from Indy’s hands – surrounding him with natives in the jungle, or capturing a key contact in the city and spiriting them away in the back of a van.

To take an example from Lovecraft, consider The Haunter of the Dark.

Mechanically, Robert Blake’s first visit to Federal Hill to visit the brooding church on the summit could have been hindered by the Italian locals knowing best about his well being or the bewildering geography of the hill itself. These would hinder him with what amounts to a social or intellectual conflict.

In this case, a CHA Save failed might generate damage – of a significant, but neither fatal nor permanent kind – and if the number reaches or exceeds his hit points, the threat overcomes him. Perhaps Blake stumbles away from the area overcome by the dark looks and worrying stories from the deeply religious and protective residents of the hill.

Flashlights and Smokes would have got him clues, but the Italians weren’t interested in talking. They’re scared of the church, but they’re the defacto protectors and feel they need to turn people away.

Federal Hill’s geography could work in a similar way. The GM might call for a WIS Save to navigate the streets – and again, might choose to inflict hit points. When they drop HP to zero, Blake becomes so confused and frustrated he wanders back to his lodgings disheartened.

Maybe the locals secure the gates with a better padlock in the meantime or inform the Police of their concerns about the building – and they have an extra office patrolling the place. The delay means that a return becomes much harder; the clues might even be gone when they get there, spirited away into secure storage or carted off to the City Morgue.

Saves & Attributes

Most roleplaying games have attributes or characteristics that denote the physical, mental and social talents of the characters. In many, these map precisely to those used in The Cthulhu Hack. However, Saves are not the same as Attibutes.

In other games, attributes serve a broader purpose because they deal with what a character can or can’t do. Can they break the door down? Can they spot a distant figure? Will they persuade the king to match their number with his guardsmen? You roll against the numbers and hope to get a positive result.

In The Cthulhu Hack, if you were in any of these situation outlined above, the situation would need a positive and negative outcome. If the character doesn’t break down the door, will the cultists get away or will they become someone’s prisoner? If they don’t spot the distant figure, will they become the target of a falsified manhunt or discover the tomb missing a key artefact? Were they to fail to persuade the king, would he imprison them for their impertinence or leave them sorely underresourced against the massed ranks of the evil sect?

A poor test against an attribute might simply block the way ahead. In The Cthulhu Hack, the cost of success or failure on a Save should appear more clear cut – though the ripples that follow might appear less focussed in their repercussions on a fail.


A Threat doesn’t need to mean combat. It does mean an obstacle to progress – whether a barrier, imprisonment, stern warning, or perhaps legal intervention. It should wear the character down or stop them in their tracks – and as they stand helpless, the enemy gets away, the locals stop talking, or the artefact slips out of their grasp. Not unsurmountable, the Threat ramps up the challenge, without whittling away at precious resources; at least, not directly.

Conversion 0 comments on Rough Conversions

Rough Conversions

Yog-SothothWhen I do play testing for The Cthulhu Hack, I often turn to other publishers for their adventures. As I noted in A Call from the Trail, Chaosium and Pelgrane do some good stuff – and it’s pretty easy to convert on the fly.

Someone asked whether any conversion rules existed for Call or Trail of Cthulhu. I see fuller consideration of conversion as a much bigger project, but for the time being I have a rough-and-ready approach.

Conversion should be rough, unless you’re looking to convert pre-gen characters or major NPCs. If the investigators interact with a non-player character for just a moment, you don’t need to spend time coming up with anything more than appearance and a tic or two.

Trail of Cthulhu

Because Trail of Cthulhu doesn’t have characteristics or attributes, you need to extrapolate strength and expertise from Abilities. VERY roughly, look to see whether the character has more points assigned to Academic or Interpersonal Abilities. If the former, give them more Flashlight dice; latter, give them Smokes.

For Hit Points, divide Health by 5 to see how many HIT DICE they have (rounding up).

You should look to General Abilities and work out where the character has more points spent. This is probably way too complicated

  • STR (physical power and performance): Athletics, Scuffling, Weapons
  • DEX (accuracy, coordination and bodily control): Driving, Firearms, Stealth, Riding
  • CON (resilience and fortitude): Fleeing (it isn’t necessarily how fast, but how long you can run), Health (this is really rough, as a guide only – as characters will dump points here and in…), Stability
  • INT (knowing technical stuff): Electrical Repair, First Aid, Mechanical Repair, Psychoanalysis
  • WIS (instinct about the right or the wrong moment): Conceal, Filch, Preparedness, Sense Trouble
  • CHA (exerting your presence or hiding it): Disguise, Hypnosis, Shadowing

For an NPC, see what Abilities the character has and note those with higher points assigned. If a character attempts to leverage the NPC for assistance, they would provide Advantage on those topics. If a character seeks to ‘beat’ an NPC with notable point allocations in any Ability, a Disadvantage would be in order.

Call of Cthulhu

Call of Cthulhu has a history in the Basic Role Playing system where you used to categorise skills into things like Communication and Academic. I did the same with 7th Edition – see the linked character sheet.

Again… VERY roughly, you can look to see how many points have been spent and convert to Flashlights and Smokes. Many skills I’ve categorised as Instinct fall into Smokes; a few of those and Learning are Flashlights. The rest – Training – cover physical stuff.

Saves you can extrapolate from characteristics by dividing them by 5.

I would suggest for a quick NPC, divide Hit Points by 6 to see how many HIT DICE they have (rounding up).

If a character significant enough to have skills, PCs will suffer Disadvantage against them if the skill is used as a threat. I’d suggest only do this if the NPC has a skill of 50% or higher.

For example, if the character has Persuade 60%, the investigator will make WIS Saves at Disadvantage if the NPC tries to deceive them.

For spells and unusual abilities, check the Spell list and existing Creatures for close equivalents.

Mechanics 0 comments on Flashbacks of Cthulhu Hack

Flashbacks of Cthulhu Hack

save-innsmouth-adventure-0-coverNot all information comes to your characters in the here and now. While, a character will roll a Flashlight or Smokes to discover something current, they can do the same to unearth an element of their past.

Therein lies the flashback.

Flashbacks allow you to glean information from events that haven’t happened in the game yet, but have already happened during the character’s life.

For example, you want to find out who’s behind the development work on the Innsmouth site. The GM frames a meeting in the lobby of the University refractory. You play out the characters having a coffee and muffin when they see a guy hanging around with a clipboard under a banner at the end of the hall. They go and check and find that it’s a marketing rep for the construction firm with a 3D model of a new leisure resort with facilities that will be open to the university. The characters get into a bit of a heated discussion when they find the resort will be built on the site of a place of historical significance. The GM calls for the test and the player rolls a 3. They have the information – and they hold on to their current Smokes die.

This gathering of information isn’t a dry roll of the dice – this is a chance to run a short scene of actual play. Because it’s about gathering information, it won’t have lasting physical impact. You should avoid Threat in these flashbacks. You can have repercussions, like sparking unwanted interest or leaving evidence, but only as a result of the player stepping down a die where they’ve managed to roll a 1 or 2.

The adventure Save Innsmouth works exactly on this principle right from the start of the adventure. Old episodes of Lost might come in very handy here. As GM, you should open the game to Flashbacks, while also serving up fresh and immediate discoveries. They all drain the investigative resources of the party – but some of those losses are effectively in retrospect.

You can apply this principle to both Flashlight and Smokes rolls. You saw something; read something; spoke with someone at a conference; chanced across someone in a bar; or you chanced into a conversation between two people while rushing to get to a lecture. Play it out – giving the player time to get the information. At the same time, as GM, you should note any potential new motivations, hooks, complications, or looming threats.

If you can spin something half mentioned in the past into a threat immediately in the characters face in the here-and-now, all the better for impact and entertainment! Or, if you keep a note of a drop word or a half-glimpsed face, insert it later or repeat it as a motif, driving it home as a connection, perhaps, to the culprits behind a plot or the truth behind a terrible ritual.

You can pick up Save Innsmouth (Chapter 0) now for a one-shot contemporary adventure; or, grab The Haunter of the Dark for more thoughts on designing and structuring adventures.

Q & A 0 comments on Perception Check

Perception Check

perception-check-for-threatsGot a good question from a user on the Google+ community for The Cthulhu Hack. I thought it warranted a wider post, as I imagine anyone coming from other game systems might have similar questions:

How do folks handle perception checks?

If there is no clue to be found in the story and a character just wants to make sure no one in a diner is a threat. Do you use Flashlights or would that be a candidate for a Wisdom Save?

If the characters have gone to the diner on a whim and there’s genuinely nothing in there, don’t make them roll; tell them whether it appears safe or not. Perhaps tell the character with the most fitting occupation. The only reason I’d suggest this is that investigation pools are shallow, so a Flashlight roll that reveals absolutely nothing is not a fair use. A roll requires the presence of a substantial clue.

If the characters have gone to the diner seeking a clue, a Flashlight roll would be in order if someone is watching them, and offer up more information on their appearance. If they roll a 1 or 2, you might tell them all they need, “but…” then something else happens. They notice, too late, that the threat was not alone or that their mark has just slipped out of the fire exit (only to be waiting out in the alley to ambush the characters).

It could be that a Smokes would work better; if seeing someone or something comes down to the right social knowledge or contacts. Maybe you recognise a tattoo from your time inside Statesville Pen on an otherwise innocent looking customer?

In either case, where investigation fits, harm is not on the cards as an immediate response. The characters have walked into a negative situation, but the risk of hurt lies somewhere beyond the clue. Perhaps it can be avoided.

If the characters are expecting a threat and it exists, by all means, make a Save. However, you should judge the type of Save based on the situation – it’s about the nature of the threat, not just the instinct to spot something.

If they walk in and a good-looking agent sits in wait, a CHA Save would be in order. Fail and they get the drop on the investigators.

If the baddie planted a bomb, a DEX Save – or take damage as it explodes and the threat scarpers.

Poison gas under the table? A CON Save – or lose consciousness, only to wake bound and trussed in a cellar.

Disguised as a waiter, a WIS Save. Or, they get close enough to aim a handgun at the investigators, hidden under a serving platter, and put the investigators at a Disadvantage to react.

Make the Save flow into the threat, rather than spot first, attack later. The Save should generate harm if failed.

You need to establish the outcome of the perception attempt and roll into it, rather than making a roll all on its own.

Join the Google+ community for The Cthulhu Hack to get early news on releases, ask questions on the game, and read session report.

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Mechanics, Playtest 2 comments on Classless Save

Classless Save

daughters-of-doom-threat-classlessCharacter generation for The Cthulhu Hack opens up to a classless approach to shift from the Old School roots of warriors and thieves. It makes sense – and I have had some comments on why I adhered to the Class-based approach. The truth? At the time it seemed to make sense to stick with The Black Hack‘s simplicity and work from there.

And in tinkering with the character generation system and enlightened by my adventure in gaslit alleys earlier in the week, I thought it worth reminding you that a Save is a matter of life and death. If you want to play cards to win possession of an ancient relic, make a Smokes roll; but, if you need to wrestle the artefact from the hands of a cultist, that’s a Strength Save with repercussions.

Going Classless

After a couple of dozen adventures, both as player and GM, and some feedback in reviews, it makes much more sense to break it down and take an approach with more flexibility. I have done this in other systems, like Vortex and Gumshoe, so it seemed right here.

The system still involves dice throws to determine Saves and Occupation-related randomness, but Special Features and resources – like Sanity and Hit Dice – require the player to make some decisions about the sort of character they want to play. When they level up, a character grows a little – surviving an adventure against of the forces of the Mythos ensures you grow up quick. The playtest document suggests level up after each adventure, but you might want to slow that down to every other adventure or based on game play time with a character.

At the moment, I’m tinkering with the idea and you can access the playtest document through the Cthulhu Hack Community on Google+. In the short term, expect this to appear in Unaussprechlichen Hack early in 2017. In the longer term, expect a polished and refined version to figure in a second edition of The Cthulhu Hack.

Save Yourself

One thing that came up in my last game session, but also occurred to me while putting the Classless playtest document together, is that The Cthulhu Hack doesn’t use attributes to determine simple successes. You roll against Strength or Wisdom to save yourself – or someone else; that’s why they’re called Saves.

If you go into a library to seek out lore on a creature of the Mythos, you roll Flashlights. If you ask a researcher at the university what they know about Starry Wisdom, you roll a Smokes. If you need to find a ward that will protect you from a slavering ghoul racing straight at you, make an Intelligence Save. If you need to sway a lowly adherent of a cult to turn against their uncaring masters, make a Charisma Save.

What’s the difference?

A roll on Flashlights or Smokes won’t hurt if you fail. Indeed, they don’t fail. When you roll a 1 or 2, you wear your patience thin, burn a contact, or spend a sleepless night finding the information.

If you fail that Save, it’s going to hurt. Indeed, before you make a Save, you and the GM should agree on what you’re doing and how it’s going to hurt if you fail. If you fail to find the ward, the ghoul will attack you and you won’t have time to defend, taking damage as per a normal attack. If you can’t sway the adherent, they call for back-up and strike with sudden ferocity, forcing a DEX Save at Disadvantage – or they burn the precious Book of Unholy Prayer in their possession, forcing you to lose a Flashlight die.

A failed Save is a setback, a punishing event that should serve to remind you what you’re up against. You’re not investigating a philandering husband or solving a cold case – someone has plans to let loose the Elder Gods or rend your consciousness clean out of your soggy brain matter and project it, irrevocably, into an alien, sanity-shattering future.

House Rules 0 comments on Double Features

Double Features

safecrackingI freely admit that I have been ruminating on expanding Special Features for a while, but I haven’t had the chances to playtest that I’d hoped for. Therefore, it seems a better idea to start posting those thoughts here and let someone else give them a go!

In the current version of The Cthulhu Hack rules, at 3rd level and every odd level thereafter, you can increase one of your investigation resources by a single step. In this alternate version, you can still choose to do that OR you can select a Special Feature to add to your arsenal instead.

On top of that, you may choose to spend a later advance to get an Improved version.

Admittedly, you could do both – offer an extra die and a Special Feature. That will make the game way pulpier and characters will buff up faster as both investigators and worthy protagonists. Really, The Cthulhu Hack isn’t about that sort of thing.

Alternatively, you could let a character swap out an existing Special Feature for one of the new ones. Maybe you want a Ruffian safecracker who can turn his hand to any lock and do away with the ‘assassin’-esque backstab ability?

Every odd level (3rd, 5th, etc.), either:

Enhanced Investigation – increase the Usage Die for either Flashlights or Smokes by one step, up to a maximum of d12

OR acquire an additional Special Feature (or an Improved Special Feature if possessed of original):

Pugilist – increase unarmed damage by one step (if currently 1, raise to 1d4)
Improved Pugilist – as Pugilist, plus roll d6 – if 1 or 2, cripple one of your opponent’s limbs

Heavy Hitter – increase melee damage by one step
Improved Heavy Hitter – as Heavy Hitter, plus DEX Save to disarm

Like a Mule – increase Encumbrance by +5
Improved Like a Mule – as Like a Mule, suffer no Disadvantage while Encumbered

Like a Rock – while standing still you temporarily gain 2 Armor Points and do +2 melee damage, but DEX Save at -2
Improved Like a Rock – as Like a Rock, roll DEX Save to disarm

Lockpicker – you can crack any lock by making a Flashlight roll
Improved Lockpicker – as Lockpicker, but roll with Advantage

Scrounger – you can offset the loss of an Ammo die by losing an Investigation die instead
Improved Scrounger – as Scrounger, plus always roll Ammo die with Advantage

(Sorry, I couldn’t help myself but use the D&D-esque parlance of a better ability being Improved X.)

House Rules 1 comment on Shock


screamThe current version of the Sanity rules in The Cthulhu Hack aims to turn the slow slide into insanity into a source of stress. All Usage Dice use challenges the ability of the player and the group to manage their personal and joint resources. If they push too hard, too early — they may find they lack the faculties and facility to get the job done. In a Lovecraftian sense, that works. Characters start strong and then they begin to struggle as the revelations grind away, wearing them down.

However, the danger of insanity might be too extreme and you may prefer something more like a short sharp Shock. Most of the results below last for a Moment (rather like when you Miss a Turn in a boardgame). Take a counter and drop it on your character sheet to remind you. Or take two, or whatever the result indicates.

When your turn comes around, discard a counter (or use a six-sided dice and spin it down a number).

If you forget, keep the counters (or don’t move the die) until next time you have a fight or face a Test that challenges the attribute listed – and face the listed modifier. You managed to struggle through the original shock, but it all comes back to you when you next push yourself.

See — that moment of forgetfulness about book-keeping might just come back to haunt you.

1 Shaking Shuddering shock, roll d6: DEX Saves reduced by the result for a number of Moments equal to the roll. The penalty reduces in-sync with the number of Moments remaining.
2 Can’t Think Straight Struggling for focus and lost for words, Disadvantage on INT, WIS, and CHA Saves until the end of the Scene (or when the GM says)
3 Rabbit Stand motionless, as if trying to avoid attention while in plain sight, for the next Moment. Can make no physical action or reaction in this state.
4 Dive No action possible, other than hiding, for the next 1d3 Moment
5 Black Out A Moment for someone else to revive, Disadvantage on STR, DEX, and INT Saves for the next Moment
6 Scream Expel a lengthy and piercing scream, certain to attract attention
Mechanics 0 comments on Always More to Learn

Always More to Learn

scuffle-with-a-villainMichael Julius posed a great question over on The Cthulhu Hack Google+ community:

Say there’s an interaction with an NPC who has a negative disposition towards the PCs. For example, Peter Bulgrew in The Keepers of the Woods. Perhaps he has just beat up on a PC.

Is it possible for the players to gain information from him with ‘smokes’?

My response was that if the characters need a clue that the antagonist holds, they should get it whatever his mood if they’ve used an investigative ability to extract it. In this case, if the player rolls Smokes, he should get what he needs.

Of course, this also comes down to the information the antagonist has and the inclination of the GM. If Peter knows something that the characters absolutely must know to proceed, yes – hand it over. Think of all those TV series and movies where the hero and minions share taunts and retorts that, while barbed, also give away snippets of information. It’s a fatal flaw of all villainous types that through ego or aspiration to greater minionhood they let slip information through monologues or cruel sniping.

As you rough the drunk up in the shadows behind the pub, trying to get sense through his inebriation, a great bulk shifts toward you. Peter Mulgrew, all muscle and no neck, barrels you to the floor, his hamfists smacking and thudding into your flesh.

“It’s no use you picking on Old Bill. Once I’m done with you and your friends you’ll be doing nothing ‘cept supping hospital gruel from a bowl.”

You splutter your disbelief through the taste of blood in your mouth, cursing at the brute and defying the plans of his hidden masters.

“No use fighting back. Happened before, happen again. Nothing for it cause it’s in the good grace of God hisself what we do.”

Small as it might be, you see where you should head next, after you’ve dealt with the small matter of your dwindling consciousness…

Yes, the clue uncovered might be coloured by bile and a certainty of the character’s impending failure/doom, but it remains a clue. The same applies to both Flashlights and Smokes – as even a silent minion may have telltale signs of their path or purpose, like dirt, dust, scars, scraps of paper or idle doodles.

A poor negative reaction should absolutely mean a great physical challenge and a threat to life that warrants more than a few Saves to resolve, but it should not be a dead end to your investigations.