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 have been reading this modern day, Las Vegas-based adventure-supplement with interest. Part-background for a cult, part-adventure—it also contains a bunch of information and several spot rules – the last of which fit Call of Cthulhu, but has less value for The Cthulhu Hack.
Lost in the Lights – including the adventure Invisible Sun – offers much potential. It has been available in a couple of formats in the past – physical and PDF. In the last week, it was released as a physical book in the UK.
For information, I have read this supplement through a couple of times with plans to run it in the near future. This is not a review – this is a view, based on my reading and interpretation of the materials.
In my opinion, the adventure won’t require much prep for The Cthulhu Hack—which I’ve always presented as the strong point of the system—as key clues and locations appear in capitalized text and the few stat-blocked antagonists can slide over to TCH on the fly. At heart, the adventure either hurts hard or will require some cautious and somewhat structured investigation – you’ve no need to worry about complex conversion for prolonged gun battles or weird esoteric spell play.
You may want to highlight the clues in different colours to call them out for ease of visibility in play or make some additional notes. My personal favourite would be a combination of highlighting (or use of opaque Post-It markers) and some notes in the margin (or Post-Its, if you’re squirming at the prospect of writing in a book). With a PDF version, you could annotate the text on a tablet (though see below, as currently, I don’t believe a PDF exists).
Some of what follows contain spoilers – so if you’re the perennial player and might end up being the investigator rather than the showrunner, stop here!
Breakdown of a Cult
The supplement handles details of a new cult—and then the investigation sets out a faction of that cult in action. The source of the cult lies far away—so if the events go down and the protagonists in Las Vegas collapsed or implode, the threat remains. Indeed, what this cult believes could easily translate wholesale into other sects and realms of worship, possibly without any real understanding of the Mythos.
The first section of the book goes into considerable detail about the origins of the cult. With this material, not only can you rely on its remote source to keep it tenable, you have a timeline (and guidance) on having it as the antagonist for investigations stretching back through the ages.
As a GM of any game revolving around the Cthulhu Mythos you have to remember the long game. Very few of the entities of the Mythos keep to some 5-year plan! Indeed, it’s the cults, sects, and covens that have the plans – as the entities themselves exhibit (rightly) an alien quality that defies reasoning in human terms. The people of Earth mean nothing to them – they might provide momentary sustenance or a trickle of extra-natural energies, but little else. For some, Earth might as well be a buffet, for others the timescape of our world provides a curious diversion or a convenient battleground.
The strangest thing about the cult herein relates to the mindset. The book goes to some effort explaining why the people in this cult pursue their worship of the Mythos entities. No sane or balanced individual would consider this worship as anything but suicidal. I found myself reading the explanation and still wondering why – and, in truth, my stance, I hope, means I lack the ingrained sociopathic world view. That’s a good thing. I get it that people exist on a spectrum and I’m holding on tight to the barrier well away from the need for death-defying thrills or adrenalin junkie-ism.
What Happens in Vegas
At heart, this investigation involves a missing girl. The way the player characters approach the investigations matters a lot. Careful and low key will make for an entirely different adventure to all guns blazing. Indeed, all guns blazing will end in a Total Party Kill 9 times out of 10, with certainty. The antagonists have no qualms about silencing those who would interfere – and anyone making noise will drown out the hushed cover-ups and clues, simply drawing attention without benefit.
The adventure contains a fair smattering of exposition, background reading and rule additions (for Call of Cthulhu 7e) at a tangent to the absolutely necessary. The GM could skip a fair few pages and run the adventure without reading this material in detail – though it might make it harder to improvise and adapt to the unexpected. A section on the effects of radiation – in the real world and game terms – you could skip altogether and just run on the fly with typical preconceptions.
I have a strong feeling that you could, with consideration and a careful eye on timing, run this adventure in a single session. You might, with a secure grip on the reins, reach a conclusion in a convention slot. However, the wealth of material here means you could also run this with less pace and more emphasis on atmosphere. Heck, you might go all David Lynch on this bad boy and turn it into something very peculiar (why not turn on a loop video of a long dark road and just walk away from the table for 10-minutes?).
In terms of characters, you can approach this with existing groups or generate something on the spot. The adventure allows for – and supports – groups with or without law enforcement powers. Actually, possession of some measure of authority serves to simplify and complicate. It can mean getting easier access to people and locations to pose questions, but more often than not puts them on edge.
The book closes with a gathering of hand-outs, otherwise scattered around the text at relevant points. I like that. Yes, it takes up a bunch pages with duplicated material, but Lost in the Lights has made some seriously immersive and engaging hand-outs. As a modern adventure, you can find clues scattered everywhere – news footage, web pages, text messages.
The adventure was originally released a few years ago as a PDF by Sixtystone Press. At the time of that release, they also made an enhanced hand-out pack available, which allowed the GM to tweak the details – like changing dates or specific references. That level of personalisation appeals to me – but, the website offers only dead links for the PDF and enhanced hand-outs.
I have dropped them a note to see whether these will become available again, as the hand-out personalisation takes things to a whole new level. I can see why the PDF might be unavailable at the moment, with the recent release into print for this updated 7th edition version, but I’m not certain why the hand-outs have disappeared, as these are not system dependent.
Stays in Vegas
I like the potential of this investigation because it offers a slice of lore, a chapter in the existence of a cult that has persisted through centuries and won’t fall because the investigators poked out a block in the Jenga tower. Thro’ Centuries Fixed references the use of an adventure as a sort of teaser, a glimpse of a broader campaign. Well, Lost in the Lights does more than offering a passing reference to the idea in the margins – with the detail and timeline about the cult, you have the basic building blocks to create callbacks and echoes long after the dust has settled in Vegas.
That the book sells itself as both adventure and supplement means you have more than just a one-off when you make this purchase. The inclusion of all the additional material around the cult, the worshippers, their motivations and so forth means that Invisible Sun can serve as the first step in a longer campaign arc. The cult could serve as a focus or a sub-plot recurring malefactor. On the caveat of this being a view rather than a review, I give this a thumbs up.
When 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.
In completing playtesting for The Cthulhu Hack, I made a point of using adventures from other varieties of Cthulhu. Both Chaosium and Pelgrane do Cthulhu rather well. The Cthulhu Hack looks to run Cthulhu, too; it just looks to do them simpler.
Both Call and Trail of Cthulhu look to recreate a sense of Lovecraftian horror. Investigators from fairly common occupations get mixed up in a world of the esoteric and occult. They have different backgrounds, motivations, and skills, but they work together to battle against the unknown.
They have different game systems, but both have a wide range of skills that support an investigation. Trail of Cthulhu has abilities split between Investigative (Academic, Interpersonal, and Technical) and General. Call of Cthulhu investigators has a range of occupational skills. In the original Basic Roleplaying system, categories exist as a way to break out and align the skills – like Perception, Communication, and Physical.
The Cthulhu Hack looks to the purpose of these skills and condenses right down. Trail abilities and Call skills fulfill two basic needs: survival and discovery. Both systems have their own way of handling these and what a player does to trigger success. The Hack offers something different.
While threat and harm continue to demand a roll for success – because players always seem to like to hold fate in their hands – the discovery of information works on the basis of ‘Yes’ or ‘Yes, but…’. You always discover a new piece of information, but the dwindling pool offered by The Cthulhu Hack‘s use of The Black Hack‘s Usage Die mechanic means that you can’t keep pushing forever. Rumours peter out and clues dry up.
The mapping of basics – abilities and skills to Saves or Usage rolls – means that you can take an adventure for either system and quickly swap out checks, even on the fly. I have posted my version of the Call classic The Haunting. Over the last two weeks, I have run a Trail of Cthulhu One-page adventure called The Keepers of the Wood.
Adventures might include other mechanics – like handling damaging traps or sanity-blasting major entities – but these exceptions, when they come, can be handled with the application of common sense. For example, damage from either system could work straight off the page, with a degree of caution.
The more chances I get to run the game the better grasp I hope to get for quick off-the-page conversion.