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midwinter

A plea: Chaosium, please make Call of Cthulhu creepy again

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The thing with ghouls and Deep Ones in CoC though is that regardless if you show a picture of them or describe them during a session, seasoned players will know what they are up against. It's metagaming, but it's unstoppable. By the way, here I must confess I dislike the canine features of ghouls. Maybe he got the canine features from the hyena and Arabian shapeshifting ghoul connection? I read that Lovecraft loved One Thousand and One Nights when he was young and maybe there was some depiction of a ghoul in his edition? Maybe it's because of werewolf lore were the monsters were said to dig up graves and eat the bodies of the dead (like real wolves did all the time in France).

Overall, I find the ghoul art in Chaosium a bit confusing. Do they have canine looks or not? Whatabout their feet? With every artist there is a new variant. Maybe that's the point, I don't know? But regardless of artists, certain features ought to be similar? I myself will go for the less canine variant (forgive me, Mr. Lovecraft) and go with something like this. And I will never ever have ghoul in trench coats like I think some scenario had:

 

 

ghoul 1.jpg

86B.jpg

Edited by midwinter

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1 hour ago, midwinter said:

The thing with ghouls and Deep Ones in CoC though is that regardless if you show a picture of them or describe them during a session, seasoned players will know what they are up against. It's metagaming, but it's unstoppable. By the way, here I must confess I dislike the canine features of ghouls.

It's not unstoppable. Just make them look different. If your players expect ghouls to have canine features, then make your ghouls look different - maybe like zombies, maybe some other animal features, whatever you can come up with. Similarly don't make the Deep Ones have the characteristic look from Lovecraft.

Lovecraft's whole thing was coming up with "new" creatures instead of the same old vampires, werewolves etc. So make your creatures look "new" and unknown to your players too. One thing that you can do to jolt them out of their preconceptions is to have something like like creature A from Lovecraft, but actually make it creature B. They'll soon stop assuming they know what they're facing when they see it, and act more like the terrified characters that they're playing.

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2 hours ago, tedopon said:

I agree with your post.

However, a thing I learned a long time ago was that when I am GM, if I mostly stick to the method of "showing, not telling," everyone is more engaged at the table. Obviously, you're going to say "there are a bunch of orcs sitting around a campfire telling dirty jokes" in most cases, not some pretentious crap like "a foul smelling lot of pig faced brutes awash in the smoke and soft glow of a fire built with damp wood stuff meat in their snouts as their grunts and chuckles rend the silence of the dewy clearing." 

But, especially in something like D&D (which is a loaded for bear trope wagon that even casual people understand from other sources), it's easier to hook players by witholding some information. The Monster Manual scholar is a good example to illustrate my point. If you say "it's a vampire, roll initiative" the guy/gal(s) at every table who knows all the mechanical underpinnings of the system will immediately shout to the table about holy water, garlic, stakes, daylight, running water, holy symbols, level drain/enervation etc. If you say "a wisp of smoke rolls under the doorway and a woman emerges from the smoke, and in an instant moves so quickly it's almost a blur then Sir Johnson crumples to the floor in a shower of blood, roll initiative" they have no clear idea what the hell they are up against but are terrified.

I think we're in agreement here...?  If the characters would recognize a non-human foe with easy surety, then use the name of the foe... be descriptive, sure (it isn't always "pretentious crap" to describe in detail) but positive ID's on a creature the PC's have never met seems dubious at best.

If you leave out a name from a description,  though, the assumption becomes:   "like looks like <X> but definitely NOT <X> (or the GM would have called it <X>); some detail (that the GM hasn't yet mentioned) has cued us to the not-<X> of the thing, that we'd otherwise be going 'this is totally <X> and our characters know how to handle it'..."

To use your example of a vampire above, I'd want to know:  would the characters automatically know (from the key details (1) "it can swiftly shapechange between human/wisp-of-smoke" and (2) "it can move&attack with supernatural speed") that the creature was a vampire, and nothing else?  They recognize those traits, and they positively know that no other creature has them?

If the characters wouldn't know, then I wouldn't use "vampire" in the description (as you didn't).  But if the characters would know, then I'd call her as a vampire...  "a wisp of smoke rolls under the doorway and a woman emerges from the smoke, and in an instant moves so quickly it's almost a blur then Sir Johnson crumples in a shower of blood  at the vampire's feet..."

If the characters themselves would surely know, then the characters themselves are in-world vamp-scholars (or vamps are common in the setting?), and IC knowledge should include the litany "holy water, garlic, stakes, daylight, running water, holy symbols, level drain/enervation etc."  Even if the players are not such scholars, it's incumbent on the GM in that case to call for all the anti-vamp measures... "You all begin pulling your Holy Symbols out from under collars etc, those with holy water get vials out of belt-pouches, and Escoffier opens his grocery-bag to pull out the garlic-braid he just bought..." I'd finish with "Anyone who is doing something OTHER than their best anti-vampire measures -- or has multiple, choose one! -- speak up now, because I'm assuming that's everybody's action for the round."

It's always a bit of a balancing-act, conveying the huge amount of IC-knowledge -- that even the least-informed and least-perceptive PC in the party can see at a glance -- vs over-disclosing and/or infodumping.

 

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Yeah we're on the same page...and honestly "vampire" probably wasn't the best example to use, I was just pulling a name out of a hat.

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1 hour ago, tedopon said:

Yeah we're on the same page...and honestly "vampire" probably wasn't the best example to use, I was just pulling a name out of a hat.

Actually, I really like the "vampire" exemplar, here!

The "describe what happens" can be suitably terrifying, if the PCs are ignorant; the litany of defenses/weaknesses is clear & specific, if the GM needs to itemize/infodump, and the whole situation lets us get into the nuances of "known" vs "unknown" and resultant ho-hum vs horror...

So, yeah.  Vamps FTW!   (uhhh... waitaminnit, here...)

 

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The various Cthulhu games each have their little genre. Delta Green is dark psychological stuff and short adventures. Trail is avante garde artistic intellectual stuff. Chaosium is Cthulhu's greatest hits (hey, they've got the rights, why not) for monsters and long pulpy campaigns. If you look at the more general RPG forum posts on Cthulhu, you'll find a consistent press to move in the opposite direction from dark and scary towards a more D&D mentality. The funny part is that they don't seem to be adopting Pulp in the way that, imho, they should given their interests. There's plenty of material out there that's dark and scary, both older stuff and third party, but it's just not Chaosium's bread and butter.

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8 hours ago, Steve said:

It's not unstoppable. Just make them look different. If your players expect ghouls to have canine features, then make your ghouls look different - maybe like zombies, maybe some other animal features, whatever you can come up with. Similarly don't make the Deep Ones have the characteristic look from Lovecraft.

Lovecraft's whole thing was coming up with "new" creatures instead of the same old vampires, werewolves etc. So make your creatures look "new" and unknown to your players too. One thing that you can do to jolt them out of their preconceptions is to have something like like creature A from Lovecraft, but actually make it creature B. They'll soon stop assuming they know what they're facing when they see it, and act more like the terrified characters that they're playing.

Yes, but at the same time I want to stay true to the source material, well apart from the canine looks of the ghouls perhaps. But I really like the look of Deep Ones and other Mythos creatures. But I understand what you're saying.

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5 hours ago, Numtini said:

If you look at the more general RPG forum posts on Cthulhu, you'll find a consistent press to move in the opposite direction from dark and scary towards a more D&D mentality. The funny part is that they don't seem to be adopting Pulp in the way that, imho, they should given their interests. There's plenty of material out there that's dark and scary, both older stuff and third party, but it's just not Chaosium's bread and butter.

 

ladda ned.jpg

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1 hour ago, midwinter said:

 

ladda ned.jpg

OMG, IT'S A FLERKEN!!!


RUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Edited by g33k
more seriously, consider what you could do with stuff like a "friendly dog" that is actually neither...
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When I first read Lovecraft it seemed to me that he was purposefully taking the common tropes of horror... weird rural folks, old houses, cursed histories... and subverting their supernatural assumptions by giving them a different set of underpinnings. So we get a 'vampire' in The Shunned House... but it sure ain't Dracula, and we got 'werewolves' in Pickman's Model, but they're a different sort of critter altogether.
Lovecraft, smartly, didn't just have tentacled horrors rain down from the nihilistic universe without handholds, he had them creep up through the well-established foundations of gothic horror and folklore... then pounce... and the crucifixes and holy water and silver-tipped canes you thought would save you did no good at all.
Anyway, that has always been my assumption of why the ghouls have their canine appearance, to echo the familiar werewolf legends.

As for subverting the now familiar Mythos creatures... I'm not sure how to do that without just randomly altering things... but that smacks of D&D 81 flavors of goblin. Maybe that's why I always used a lot of cultists in CoC games, because even though we live among them humans can always be weird and scary.

Edited by Simlasa
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On 8/19/2019 at 7:56 PM, tedopon said:

Why would a vampire still have hair?

Vampires without Widow's Peaks? They might as well not have pale skin and long canine teeth.

Bald Undead say "ghouls", "skeletons" or "zombies" to me. Undead with full sets of hair say "Vampire".

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As to the covers of Call of Cthulhu supplements, tastes in horror change over the years, as does the appetite for horror.

What was an 18 when I was a kid is probably a 15 or 12 certificate film now. However, having naked ladies on the cover of some magazines in the 80s was fine, nowadays they have to have opaque covers and rude bits not showing, or so I am led to believe.

What was considered a scary cover in the 70s or 80s is probably laughed at by kids nowadays. For me, tentacles are not, and have never been, scary, so the abundance of tentacles on Call of Cthulhu artwork does nothing for me. Pictures of ecstatic women with their throats torn out by a suave and sophisticated gentleman are far scarier than a tentacled horror, for me at any rate.

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5 hours ago, soltakss said:

As to the covers of Call of Cthulhu supplements, tastes in horror change over the years, as does the appetite for horror.

What was an 18 when I was a kid is probably a 15 or 12 certificate film now. However, having naked ladies on the cover of some magazines in the 80s was fine, nowadays they have to have opaque covers and rude bits not showing, or so I am led to believe.

What was considered a scary cover in the 70s or 80s is probably laughed at by kids nowadays. For me, tentacles are not, and have never been, scary, so the abundance of tentacles on Call of Cthulhu artwork does nothing for me. Pictures of ecstatic women with their throats torn out by a suave and sophisticated gentleman are far scarier than a tentacled horror, for me at any rate.

 

The Burning cover 1.jpg

The house by the cemetery.jpg

The Beyond.jpg

ladda ned (14).jpg

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10 hours ago, soltakss said:

Pictures of ecstatic women with their throats torn out by a suave and sophisticated gentleman are far scarier than a tentacled horror, for me at any rate.

That’s just the evening news, though, not escapist fiction. 

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And they look completely unusable as cover art if you were intending to sell them in a regular games store in the US, amongst other countries.

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35 minutes ago, Steve said:

And they look completely unusable as cover art if you were intending to sell them in a regular games store in the US, amongst other countries.

um and really dated

horror is contextual to its era

Edited by Qizilbashwoman
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On 8/25/2019 at 6:36 PM, Steve said:

And they look completely unusable as cover art if you were intending to sell them in a regular games store in the US, amongst other countries.

What games stores would that be? Aren't most rpgs sold online anyway? Btw, back when Kult came out we were able to buy it and other rpgs in a local toy store in my hometown. But those days are gone now.

On 8/25/2019 at 7:11 PM, Qizilbashwoman said:

um and really dated

horror is contextual to its era

Enzo Sciotti who made the cover art for The Beyond, House by the Cemetery, Cujo, etc, can't be dated. It's great horror art (and actual paintings). The first one for The Burning was made for some newer release.

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5 hours ago, midwinter said:

What games stores would that be? Aren't most rpgs sold online anyway? Btw, back when Kult came out we were able to buy it and other rpgs in a local toy store in my hometown. But those days are gone now.

Ok, so because your home town doesn't have a store selling RPGs, nowhere else does? Um, ok ....

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4 hours ago, Steve said:

Ok, so because your home town doesn't have a store selling RPGs, nowhere else does? Um, ok ....

No, what I said was that if we were able to buy Kult 1st edition in the local toy store it shouldn't be a problem peddling a real horror game with a real horror cover in rpg stores. Btw, stores don't sell horror comics secretely behind the counter, do they? They are out there in the open for every comic fan to see. And some of them have quite gruesome covers, don't they? So what's the difference?

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31 minutes ago, midwinter said:

No, what I said was that if we were able to buy Kult 1st edition in the local toy store it shouldn't be a problem peddling a real horror game with a real horror cover in rpg stores. Btw, stores don't sell horror comics secretely behind the counter, do they? They are out there in the open for every comic fan to see. And some of them have quite gruesome covers, don't they? So what's the difference?

To be honest, the only one of those pictures that I think makes a decent cover is the first picture for The Burning (the more abstract piece with the rivers of blood). I would reject the others as being exploitive B movie schlock (I particularly don't dig the the implied murder-rape or the throat cutting scene). Clearly, your aesthetics differ from mine. 

Edited by Jeff
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8 hours ago, Steve said:

Ok, so because your home town doesn't have a store selling RPGs, nowhere else does? Um, ok ....

I live near http://www.pandemoniumbooks.com/page/events/ and it's two stories tall with a room where 150 people can game at once and it often is at capacity.

Edited by Qizilbashwoman
i swored

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7 hours ago, jajagappa said:
8 hours ago, Qizilbashwoman said:

Ha! Didn't realize you were that close by (I'm just 30 miles north of Boston). I was just down near there last weekend though Cambridge tends to be a pain to get in and out of (and park in).

Next time either of you are there if you see any of our games on the shelves take a pic and we will share in our #seeninthewild posts, showing Chaosium stuff in FLGSs around the world. We always include a link to the store.

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16 hours ago, Jeff said:

To be honest, the only one of those pictures that I think makes a decent cover is the first picture for The Burning (the more abstract piece with the rivers of blood). I would reject the others as being exploitive B movie schlock (I particularly don't dig the the implied murder-rape or the throat cutting scene). Clearly, your aesthetics differ from mine. 

Yes, and clearly our views on horror differ too. The 70's and 80's were the best decades for horror movies. Lucio Fulci among others certainly didn't make any PG-13 stuff. And the cover art sold the movies. There's nothing exploitive about the covers either. Women getting killed or hunted in horror movies is a very old trope that's still used today. Now, there's nothing Lovecraftian about a movie like The Burning. It's a slasher movie. But what's interesting is the approach in the art. You KNOW it's a horror movie just by looking at the cover. Think back to those old VHS-days when people went to the local videostore to rent movies. How many times didn't people rent a shitty movie that had a cool looking cover and an thrilling blurb on the back? And when you got to the horror section you KNEW you were in the horror section. Because of the covers. Now, imagine having a cover like Chaosium's Gateways to Terror there in the horror section. "Gateways to Terror..hmm...cool title, sounds like a real horror movie, but that cover...is it a horror comedy? Not sure...compare it to the cover of House and it looks like Scooby-Doo...Tremors? Nah, that movie looks scarier too. Evil Dead 2? Fright Night? Forget about it. Nope. Oh, wait, I found this in the comedy section: The Burbs. Somebody must have misplaced that Gateways movie.". Green colour, but more realistic faces. Hmm...maybe it looks scarier than Gateways to Terror come to think of it.1317723858_laddaned.thumb.jpg.93a56b213cf50c733ec50d3b44b090c5.jpg

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