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.

Adventures, Releases 0 comments on Three Faces of the Wendigo

Three Faces of the Wendigo

“That stern quality of the tangled backwoods which can only be described as merciless and terrible, rose out of these far blue woods swimming upon the horizon, and revealed itself. He understood the silent warning. He realized his own utter helplessness.”

– Algernon Blackwood, “The Wendigo”

Three authors. Three chilling tales of malevolence and inhuman appetite for The Cthulhu Hack.

Three Faces of the Wendigo features:

Wolves in the Mountain by Richard August

A man staggers into an isolated town with a story of murder and madness. A small group ventures into the wilderness, in search of the truth. But out in the mountains there lies something darker and stranger than they can possibly imagine… and blood. Lots and lots of blood.

Lovely, Dark and Deep by John Almack

Wherein the investigators go on a hunting trip in the Canadian wilderness, but soon wonder who is the hunter and who the prey.

Tainted Meat by Paul Baldowski

Out in the deep woods, a tiny settlement has fought to survive and won. When the travelling investigators arrive, they find proud, tough people and are welcomed with warmth and hospitality. Hard times behind them, why would anyone want to leave?

Designed as stand-alone investigations, suited to running as one-shots or over two sessions. Written for The Cthulhu Hack, adaptable to any game of investigation horror.

These adventures contain mature themes. The Cthulhu Hack: Three Faces of the Wendigo available now in PDF, from RPGNow and DriveThruRPG. Available in print from the start of December – at Dragonmeet (2nd December) and then from All Rolled Up.

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.

Adapting, Thoughts 4 comments on Lost in the Lights

Lost in the Lights

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.

First Impressions

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.

Hand-outs Galore

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.

Check out Lost in the Lights on the Sixtystone Press website, and in PDF through DriveThruRPG.

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.

For releases in PDF, check out the Just Crunch store on RPGNow.

For POD copies of The Cthulhu Hack, visit RPGNow or Lulu.

For printed and boxed copies, visit the Just Crunch store on All Rolled Up.

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.

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.

Playtest 0 comments on Each To Their Own

Each To Their Own

DetectiveBook_confession-of-a-corpseLast night, at my local gaming group, I ran The Keepers of the Woods – the winner of the RPG Geek One Sheet GUMSHOE adventure contest last year, written for Trail of Cthulhu. The investigators head down to Devon to following up a postcard from Professor Margaret Blackwood and a report of her demise in the road accident.

It provided me with the opportunity to run an adventure on the fly using The Cthulhu Hack, the rules for which have got to the almost-done stage. I have been looking to some close gaming friends for feedback and a bit of light proof-reading, so I hope to have the hack out today or tomorrow.

The group generated characters at the start of the session and we plunged into the adventure after 10 minutes of dice-rolling and traditional Old School bemoaning-poor-rolls. We had an Archaeologist (Norris), a Bodyguard (Jack) and a Professor of Folklore (Gwen). Most of them had weak-to-average stats and the Bodyguard managed to roll just 6 hit points, so they had all they needed for combat-lite investigation.

The session went well. Flashlights and Smokes slid easily into place whenever the adventure offered the chance to glean information. Jack managed a single Flashlight roll before rolling a 2, which left him unable to offer much assistance with finding anything for the rest of the adventure. Those better suited to the task stepped down a die or two, but they can probably expect to reach the end of the adventure without ending up completely in the dark. Unless they have a TPK, which might be the more likely end game given their weak physical potential.

After the session, we had a discussion about whether the game needed five Classes. Oddly enough, the Bruiser had target written all over it for this question. Does a Lovecraftian game need a warrior class?

The Bruiser works like a standard The Black Hack Warrior with all the same Special Features and the minimum Usage Die for investigative skills. In other words, they have a 50-50 chance of failing either Flashlights or Smokes tests from the start. Once those go, the Bruiser player has to hope for a fight or some straightforward intimidation. Once burned out on these tests, they don’t come back until the next adventure under normal circumstances.

Firstly, if you compare with classic Call of Cthulhu, having a 50% chance of doing something off-career – like Library Use for a Soldier – sounds like good odds. How many combat-focussed characters in CoC put more than a smattering of points in the scholarly pursuits?

Secondly, if you want to investigate, be an investigator. While you roll for your stats randomly, as per The Black Hack core, you choose your Class. Even if you roll STR and DEX as your best stats, you have the option to swap two scores – so, exchange STR for WIS and be a rogue-type instead.

Thirdly, you need to have some table banter going and the GM needs to be upfront about the adventure. Will the investigation have an opportunity for brawling? If not, don’t make the Bruiser an option; recommend the alternatives and walk the player through the options. If the adventure has pulp elements, fine – a Bruiser will work. In a classic Lovecraftian exploration of esoteric literature and non-Euclidean property management, choose something else.

Beyond 1st level (I like to think most games of The Cthulhu Hack won’t need to refer to the sections of Experience and Advancement much), the Bruiser has an extra attack per level and can add dice to the pools for Flashlights and Smokes. Survivors learn to get better and that includes the fighting-types who realise that all avenues can’t end with a fist fight.

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Sense of Purpose

One Of My Favourite Pictures Of Graham

While I didn’t manage to run a playtest session last night, I did participate in a Cthulhu Dark (Graham Walmsley’s excellent one-page system for running uncompromising Mythos sessions) adventure. While the Keeper (probably) had a plan and a map, I don’t think the adventure had much more preparation. No, I tell a lie – a sensed a hint of a Esoterrorist adventure in there with one very specific and memorable scene.

Basically the adventure had a very vague premise and characters with an awareness of each other and no common purpose. We had a reverend, a funeral director, a lady ex-drug addict, a hostillier, and an ice cream vendor – in a run-down, has-been village. The mayor announced a plan to bring fresh blood to the area with a coach load of immigrants or students (a little confused on the details from the beginning). When they arrived, the village held a fair, but the students (definitely students) seemed to be more interested in visiting a local lighthouse. The reverend (Reverend Ginger) witnessed their visit to the lighthouse and sensed something thoroughly disquieting about the whole affair. Anyway… I digress from the point.

Purpose. That’s my point.

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