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.

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.

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.

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