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tendentious

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  1. So I'm running a certain globe-spanning campaign. The Cthulhu Mythos skill of one of the players is rising surprisingly fast, thanks to a large supply of of the drug Liao that the party has acquired. Out of curiosity, I flipped through the stats of the NPCs that might be encountered over the course of the campaign. To my surprise, most have relatively low Cthulhu Mythos scores - and some of these guys are immortal sorcerers dedicated body and soul to the Outer Gods. And all have 0 SAN, so the impact of CM on SAN is not a consideration. I'm wondering whether the rationale here is the assumption that if you have a Cthulhu Mythos skill of - say - 95%, then you know 95% of all possible matters regarding the mythos: pre-human (and post-human) history, trans-dimensional horrors, spells, the works. So having CM of more than - for example - 50% suggests that the NPC is approaching god-like levels of awareness. But surely the Cthulhu Mythos skill should be considered as other knowledge skills - relative to the available sum of knowledge for a particular time and place and people. An NPC in the 1920s with 95% Cthulhu Mythos skill is an expert in the sum total of information that is available to someone in the early 20th century. Most of this is drawn from mythos tomes; most of which are dated from the last thousand years or so, with fewer and fewer sources available the further back in time one goes. So the detail grows sketchier and sketchier with time and distance. And we know at least some of the information in the tomes is flat-out wrong; Abdul Alhazred denied that there were any shoggoths on earth! Shows what he knew! And all this is still only a infinitesimal fraction of everything that is available to be known. And then of course there is everything that is totally beyond human comprehension! Let's say you have a score of 95% in Cthulhu Mythos. Well, not you - but some immortal servant of the Outer Gods. You still have only a 19% chance of knowing anything about a subject that would be ruled to require an extreme success on a skill check - like a Historian inquiring after a piece of esoteric information in an period outside their expertise. And as for any knowledge relating to subjects that are hardly known at all in the present day - ancient Hyperborea; the civilisations of the serpent folk or the elder things or the great race; almost anything to do with the mi-go other than their colonies on earth and that one on Yuggoth - then your 95% CM score is going to do you far less good than a time gate spell, a space suit and some field research. Now I am just talking about the NPCs, and of course I can give them whatever CM score I feel is appropriate. And it's difficult to remember a time when an adversary NPC ever had to make a CM roll. But when one of the PCs score in the skill is approaching that of a centuries-old servant of an Outer God - with a repertoire of spells that would choke a grimoire - I have to wonder about the bench mark when it comes to Cthulhu Mythos. Side Note - if you use the optional rule for spontaneous use of Cthulhu Mythos to perform spells, then restricting CM would make more sense. A 95% chance to cast any spell you can think of? That might be a problem, except that we're talking about NPCs; they already have whatever spell they need (or that the Keeper feels they need) for the scenario. And it's a simple matter to simply change the requirement for spontaneous casting to making a hard or even an extreme CM success. Your regular success on the CM check means that you are aware of the spell and have some idea of how to cast it. But to actually perform the ritual successfully without practice? Like everything else, there is a large gap between academic understanding and practical execution.
  2. A bit off topic, but just a question about disengaging from close combat, as per the rule on pp 109: Escaping Close Combat - A character can use their action to flee melee combat on their turn in the order of combat, providing they have an escape route and are not physically restrained. From the use of the word 'flee' I took this rule to mean that if you want to leave the combat scene or transition from combat to chase, then you spend an action. Or is it intended that if you are in close combat with an opponent you can't just step back without spending an action? So a character can't just attack in close combat and then step away so that their ally with a pistol doesn't suffer the 'firing into melee combat' penalty.
  3. I didn't think that fighting back was ever an option vs a firearm under the official rules, even in close combat. Don't get me wrong - it makes perfect sense to me to grab an attacker's arm, whether they are holding a knife or a gun, to neutralise their weapon. And I'd certainly allow it in play. But I didn't think that it was an option in the rules as written.
  4. Firearms with the Fire Rate 1(3) - such as pistols - suffer the one die penalty on all attacks if you make more than one attack. For double-barrelled shotguns, you can fire both barrels at a single target. It counts as two attacks, but since you just pull both triggers simultaneously, there is no penalty on the double attack. Whereas if you attack two targets, then you fire once, switch targets, then fire again - just like firing multiple shots with a pistol. Automatic weapons have their own rules, but when you fire a burst of semi-auto fire, it's treated the same as other multiple attacks, so a penalty on each shot. Sustained fully automatic fire deals with volley size, and extra bullets to move between targets, and other things. I'm hoping to avoid having to deal with the automatic fire rules in an actual game.
  5. So yesterday I ran a massive chase/running battle with 6 players, 12 cultists, a car and a fleeing belly-dancer! I implemented the two house rules mentioned above: slowest character gets 2 actions instead of 1, and you can't attack after moving more than 1 space until everyone has had a pass in the initiative. It actually worked really well. I write an outline of each session for my players, and here's an excerpt covering the scene So this was an action scene involving 20 moving parts. It took about 2 hours to resolve but everything moved briskly. Fortunately all the cultists DEX fell between one PC with 85 DEX and the next PC with 60, so I could just run all the cultists at the same point of the round. The one part that didn't quite work was the car. The car pulled out into the street and drove towards the PCs. I decided that it would have to accelerate from its standing start, so on its first action it moved 1 space, on the second action it moved 3 spaces etc. Since it had moved for more than one action, it seemed fair that - although running over a character was just a part of its movement and not an "attack" - it couldn't roll to strike a PC until everyone had a chance to act. When the PCs acted, some of them just moved past the car, reasoning that the safest place to be was behind the car. I accepted that the car couldn't just immediately head back the way it came, so it continued along the road, swerving at one of the PCs who was further away. This wasn't much of an issue - I just need to remember in future to leave cars at least 5 or 6 spaces away at the end of their first initiative pass if I want to run over an investigator with a car! But I realised that if the car had gone later in the initiative, then any of the PCs that had already acted and made an attack, like a punch or a fighting manoeuvre, would not be able to move at all. The melee combat rules really only allow for movement before an attack - although not for firearms, but put that to one side. The PC would get a Dodge against the driver's Drive check (which is what happened in the session) but leading up to that moment they would have to just stand and watch the car accelerate towards them. Or in a simple PC vs NPC chase. If the PC is pursuing the NPC and the two characters start in the same space. If the PC acts first and attacks, then the NPC can spend all their actions to move away, and the PC just stands and watches them go. So now I'm toying with ideas around movement after melee attacks. Something like that you can only move a single space, either before or after your attack or action, in the first initiative pass. And maybe a DEX check to see how many of their remaining actions they can spend for the rest of the round: Extreme success equals all their remaining actions, Hard success equals one less than their remaining actions, Regular equals two less than their remaining actions, Fail equals four less than their remaining actions, and Fumble equals no remaining actions. Or I may be waaaaaay over thinking this, and should probably just play it be ear and do what makes sense. If the character has already acted in a round and a car is speeding towards them, then let the situation determine their options. If the car is a hundred metres away and the character is well aware of it, then they should have time to go for cover. If the car comes out of no-where, then the investigator should be more like the proverbial deer-in-headlights.
  6. Okay, so this is largely a re-stating of previous points made. I think that the question as to whether investigators should learn mythos spells is ultimately an issue of tone: given the tone of the game I (or we) am aiming for, does the learning of spells impact on the tone of the game, either positively or negatively. If the effect is positive, well and good. If negative, why is that? Call of Cthulhu is inspired by the genre of cosmic horror, so presumably the game design is intended to facilitate a tone of horror. This is not to say that "the intent of the game is horror" or that "you must play it as a horror game or you'll make Lovecraft cry". But as an obvious starting point, let's assume that the gamers (Keeper and players) are aiming for a "horror game", with a strong tone of cosmic horror. Does the learning of spells undermine a sense of horror? Necessarily? It's been said by everyone who has ever commented on the subject since the genre was created, but cosmic horror relies on an understanding of one's own insignificance in the universe, as well as traditional sources of horror: threats to life, loss of valued things, confronted by the unknown, proximity to things that revolt us, and so on. Now learning a spell that perhaps doesn't have much utility - such as Contact Deity - doesn't seem to impact some sources of horror. If you're freaked out by weird bugs, an ability to Contact Y'golonac isn't going to make the idea of a tide of cockroaches creeping over you as you sleep any less awful. Does it effect our sense of our cosmic insignificance? Well, maybe. Before we learn our first spell, the distinction between ourselves and those others that are the source of our sense of insignificance, is clear. Once we take up the tools of these others, then we become a little more like them; like the ones that make us insignificant. And if we are more like them, it's almost like stepping into a different league. We look back at the really insignificant - those who are still ignorant, like we used to be - and we feel like we're now part of a select group. The same way that people may join a "secret" society to be part of the "important" or "powerful" people. As illusory as this impression may be, it's impact on the tone of cosmic horror may be real. The learning of spells also impacts on horror of the unknown; the more you know about the way things work, the less terrifying they seem. You can keep the mechanical effects of the spells a mystery to the players - and I think it's a good idea - but once you know that you can do things like summon and bind creatures, or contact deities, and that there are these things called "spells" that accomplish these things, then you know more than you did before. The Cthulhu Mythos skill has a similar problem. If the player's can make a successful roll and you as the Keeper go from merely describing what they experience to some amount of explaining, then you are making everything more tractable. Even if you don't mention goofy names like "Fungi from Yuggoth." Spells definitely come at a cost, both in learning and in casting. And I think that loss of something we value, as I mentioned earlier, is a source of horror. So prudence and self-preservation would limit the actual use of any spells that characters learn. But simply having the spell, and knowing that you could cast it, if you really had to, seems similar to an insecure person who carries a weapon to feel strong. They feel safer, and better, just for having it. Also, as the spell has a cost, it would tend to lead to some sort of cost analysis, limiting the use of spells to those times when the cost of not using the spell is deemed greater than the cost of casting the spell. So simply having the spell seems to be all up-side: it gives a sense of security, it grants utility you wouldn't otherwise possess, and its cost would be measured against potential gain or against loss avoided. So if you're attempting to achieve a tone of horror in your Call of Cthulhu game, I feel that players learning spells will tend to undercut that effort. However, is achieving an actual tone of horror in a game - sitting around a table, with the clatter of dice and the crunching of chips - a realistic goal? I can only comment on my own games and I can say that when you do achieve it that it's almost an accident. You try all sorts of tricks and ideas, and very rarely one of them hits the mark. So when it comes to Call of Cthulhu, it relies mostly on everybody being willing to throw themselves into the conceit of the setting. And if the players are eager to grab on and run with the tone, and portray one of Lovecraft's neurasthenic protagonists instead of a 5th-level fighter in a pinstripe suit and spats, then the characters in the game will run a mile from learning any of the blasphemous lore they uncover. If they learn a spell then it's because they decide that they have to; because the Keeper has run the scenario such that learning the spell is the only solution they can see (true or not) to an inescapable threat. And if everyone is playing in that spirit, then the question as to whether characters should learn spells becomes moot.
  7. Agreed, the impulse to story-telling is irrational. And characters are not pure rational beings. But what we recognise as a character requires at least some consistent motivation, or a reason why the character is acting contrary to its established motivations. Now to act contrary to motivation, or for motivation to be incomprehensible to the observer seems very Cthulhu-esque - at least for the truly alien beings. Its something I try to convey when encountering horrors beyond our comprehension. It's not really related to this topic, but I feel that the way monsters are portrayed and played is far too prosaic and predictable. Scenario one: the characters encounter a Hound of Tindalos. Each round the monster attacks the players and the players do what they can to defeat or escape the creature. Other than its weird attacks and immunity to mundane threats, its response isn't much different to a conventional attack dog. Scenario two: on the first round the hound looks around, seemingly unaware of the players, but a gaping wound appears on one of the characters. Second round a wound appears on the hound's flank, oozing blue fluids, and the hound appears to lunge at thin air. Third round the hound ululates, as mist pours out of a nearby obtuse angle. Fourth round the hound departs. In this second scenario, the Keeper rolls the hounds attack in the first round, but just changes the description such that the wound precedes the attack that caused it. The hound attacks but its motivations are unguessable. What does it want? Will it return? Is it hostile or just defending itself? The players don't - and probably shouldn't - know. Anyway, back to the cultists. While they are mad, in that their SAN is zero, their motivations as portrayed in the scenarios I've read are pretty consistent. And the bosses - the priests and sorcerers and mad scientists - never seem to be deficient in reason; just of questionable intent. But - bottom line! - this is absolutely a contrivance that I'm happy to accept. Is the game world a cooler place if ancient, moulding tomes sit in the restricted sections of libraries? If academics and investigators sit in darkened reading rooms, carefully turning the crinkled pages of blasphemous lore; seeking the unspeakable knowledge therein that will grant them their one slim hope of defeating a monstrous, ancient evil? Absolutely!
  8. Either way, something needs fixing!
  9. I suppose my point is two-fold. In the literature, spells are so uncommon even amongst those initiated into the mysteries of the Mythos, and copies of the various texts seem to be so thick on the ground - there are about half a dozen copies of the Necronomicon in New England alone - that it makes sense that all those mouldering tomes in library vaults are unmolested and available for research and consultation by protagonists. In the game and its various scenarios, this is not so much the case - at least when it comes to spell availability. As I'm running Masks of Nyarlathotep (MoN) at the moment, which inhabits the pulpier end of the spectrum, my views might be skewed. But every tome contains multiple complete spells, and over-powered sorcerers are everywhere. In MoN, a sorcerer literally sends a hunting horror to steal a book from a library. And in a setting where spells are so common, it's hard to see why that would happen just the once. So, to re-iterate: in the stories of Lovecraft it makes sense that tomes remain un-pilfered, as there seem to be so many of these tomes, and most of the faithful are limited to mundane means to acquire them. In the game, it's just too easy with the availability of magical means and too obvious not to do so. In my original post, I acknowledged that the point is a trivial one, even comparing it to Groot's failed attempts to follow simple instructions. And of course you can play the game with whatever tone suits your group. I just like to rationalise the state of the world with the game that I happen to be playing. With MoN, it just struck me that most of these villains should have fairly comprehensive libraries that they didn't buy through auctions. Of course, there is one scarily powerful, competent, mysterious and unidentified sorcerer in the works of Lovecraft: the being that Dr Willett inadvertently resurrects in the tunnels under Curwen's farm in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Interestingly, it doesn't seem to be hostile or inimical to Dr Willett, even going so far as to save his life when it eradicates Curwen's lair. There is no suggestion that it has the same or similar goals to sorcerers such as Curwen or Wilbur Whateley, despite its apparent great power.
  10. "In a rear vestry room beside the apse Blake found a rotting desk and ceiling-high shelves of mildewed, disintegrating books. Here for the first time he received a positive shock of objective horror, for the titles of those books told him much. They were the black, forbidden things which most sane people have never even heard of, or have heard of only in furtive, timorous whispers; the banned and dreaded repositories of equivocal secrets and immemorial formulae which have trickled down the stream of time from the days of man’s youth, and the dim, fabulous days before man was. He had himself read many of them—a Latin version of the abhorred Necronomicon, the sinister Liber Ivonis, the infamous Cultes des Goules of Comte d’Erlette, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, and old Ludvig Prinn’s hellish De Vermis Mysteriis. But there were others he had known merely by reputation or not at all—the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Book of Dzyan, and a crumbling volume in wholly unidentifiable characters yet with certain symbols and diagrams shudderingly recognisable to the occult student. Clearly, the lingering local rumours had not lied. This place had once been the seat of an evil older than mankind and wider than the known universe." - HP Lovecraft, The Haunter of the Dark. You definitely get the impression from Lovecraft's writing that those steeped in the mythos are conversant with the relevant texts, like a academic knows that titles and authors of the core texts of their discipline. Even Lovecraft's protagonists, who always begin the story not believing in the Mythos, are aware of the books of these myth-cycles and believe that the contents of the books are dangerous, as in the excerpt above. Given that this is the impressive Mythos library belonging to one small cult, it's possible that copies of these books are far more common than is generally believed by bibliophiles and academics. Maybe for every copy locked away in a library vault there are ten copies in the hands of cultists. There certainly seem to be a lot of copies of the Necronomicon floating around in the literature: Joseph Curwen (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) had one, the cult in Kingsport (The Festival) had at least one as a coffee-table book, a couple of necrophiliacs (The Hound) have one, Wilbur Whateley had an incomplete copy (The Dunwich Horror), Ephraim Waite may have had a copy (The Thing on the Doorstep). And with that number of books, there may be a great deal of "churn", with copies moving around between cults and sorcerers and libraries and collections. In the story "The Call of Cthulhu", a cult in Louisiana is broken up by the police. While there is no mention that they possessed any Mythos tomes, if they had you could imagine that such books might be taken by the police as evidence, then eventually pass on to a collector or a museum or library. Later they may be stolen by a sorcerer. When that sorcerer is killed in ritual gone wrong, the books are found amongst his possessions and move on again.
  11. In "The Dunwich Horror", Wilbur Whateley, in the furtherance of his evil plans, attempts to steal a copy of the Necronomicon from Miskatonic University. His attempt is ignominiously thwarted by a guard dog. Wilbur's attempt was by purely mundane means - I think he broke in through a window. Now look at any of the evil cultists, priests or sorcerers that appear in pretty much any CoC module. Look at the spells and abilities at their command. In Masks of Nyarlathotep, without giving anything away, a mythos tome is stolen from a library. No muss, no fuss, they just steal it because the have the magical ability to do so. How is that that a single significant Mythos tome is still to be found in any major library? Any one of these NPCs has multiple magical means of swiping these rare and powerful books. Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler alone is probably enough to steal almost anything. Okay, so the dimensional shambler might have difficulty grasping exactly what it's supposed to steal, like a horrifying, sanity-destroying Baby Groot stealing a prototype fin. But if it comes back to the sorcerer with the librarian's head on the first attempt then, like with Baby Groot, you just send it back to try again. You could say that anyone with the magical ability to steal from their local library probably doesn't need to. But there are a LOT of books with a LOT of different spells. There is almost always going to be more than enough incentive for the attempted theft of these books; the gain is almost always going to be greater than the (trivial) effort and cost to the sorcerer. Maybe all these different cults have come to accord, whereby they all agree not to steal tomes from libraries and from each other, as it would lead to an escalating cycle of thefts and attacks that would probably result in a great deal of destruction. This is not a serious option that I'm suggesting. It makes the various Mythos cults sound like the Legion of Doom or some other super-villain organisation. Maybe which tome is found at which university is a matter known only to a few. But with spells like Mental Suggestion and Cloud Memory, these secrets would soon come to light after a few conversations with the head librarians at a few major universities. I realise that this is a very trivial gripe, but it does touch on one of the tropes of Cthulhu fiction: the ancient forbidden texts looked away in libraries and museums and private collections that are consulted by the protagonists for the few scraps of hideous lore that they require to defeat the cosmic threat. I feel in most cases that when they arrive to read the Necronomicon, they should be informed that "yeah, that book disappeared from the vault a few years back. No idea what happened to it. We just found this pool of glowing slime where the book was." Also - PCs. I don't know about your players, but I can definitely see some of my players, once they realise that some of these tomes are protected by middle-aged librarians rather than by sorcerers and monsters, taking steps to acquire these tomes for themselves. And if the players have come to this conclusion, then you have to ask why is it that so many NPCs haven't thought of it themselves.
  12. So far so good, although my chases have been simple affairs so far - players run down fleeing cultist(s). As I say, my chases have been very vanilla, and i haven't had a chance to see how this works in practice. But, as far as I can tell it shouldn't take more than 2 passes for every character involved to complete the round. So first pass: PC1 runs up to cultist, PC2 moves away from cultist and ends their round, cultist catches up to PC2; second pass: PC1 runs up to cultist and attacks, cultist decides whether to attack PC2 or deal with PC1; end of round. Okay, that didn't occur to me. I was thinking of changing initiative to MOV order rather than DEX order - in a chase where you are already moving, raw speed seems more relevant then reflexes. In my game, the player with the highest PC DEX keeps complaining (joking) because he has to commit to the chase before anyone else. One reason I want to keep initiative in DEX order is that it allows for easier transition from combat to chases and back again. They can almost become a single system where you don't need to worry about the chasing part if everyone just stands and fights. And if someone bolts while others keep fighting, then the order doesn't change. So the cultist can't delay in combat and then run, and then go first in the next round because he's at the front of the newly established chase.
  13. And to just to clarify: the restriction applies to any action the character wants to perform after making more than one move. Whether that's an attack, kicking open a door, fast talking a guard, casting a spell, or whatever.
  14. I started with 6 players. 2 more joined since the lockdown began. One of the newbies is sharing a house with one of the original 6 players, so they were around when we were playing anyway.
  15. Yeah, I really didn't want to do that. We have 8 players plus me (Keeper), and we're playing on-line. Going one action at a time would, as you say, probably slow what should be an exciting and dynamic scene into a plodding grind. And for many chase participants, in a given round they're just going to move and make checks against any hazards or barriers. That doesn't need to be resolved action by action, character by character. It's when there is the option for a character to start interacting directly with another chase participant that something needs to be added to reflect the fact that both characters are in motion at the same time.
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