Jump to content

Running CoC without the Mythos


Recommended Posts

I recently ordered the new starter set (which should arrive on Thursday). My main reason for this was that due to circumstances most of my game books are packed away and in some cases, in storage. Also, sometimes I just want to buy new gaming stuff, and recent years output has failed to pique my interest (one of more recent acquisitions I made was the Star Wars D6 anniversary set, which was fun to run, and is probably fun to play with. The others were something of a disappointment - - one didn't pay off with material, and the other felt like there was too much to do to have something that I'd want to work with) 

 

I've dabbled in CoC in the past, having run the Haunting with a used copy of the 5e book, and played in an on-line game over Google 6-8 years ago. 

 

The system generally does what it says on the tin, although some concessions might have to be made in order to keep an investigation going (the old trap of the game stalling because a player failed to find the crucial clue). However, while I want to do something with the system, I'm just not in the mood to deal with the Mythos right now. (I've been a long time Lovecraft fan since hearing about him on an episode of Real Ghostbusters). 

 

So my idea was two fold. Keep most of the mechanics as is, but instead of horror, the game becomes one of investigating 1920s pulp science fiction (which is quite possibly a completely different beastie from what a lot of people might be expecting). (The other idea was to go for a slightly pulpier version of 20s Detective fiction like Poirot or Jeeves and Wooster, but with added cliffhangers). 

 

SF in the 20s involved prototypal mad scientists, rampaging robots, journeys to microscopic realms, and vaguely described technology. (Lovecraft dabbled in this with "From Beyond"). 

The basic premise starts out the same, with people drawn somewhere for various reasons - - the scholar/scientist is looking for their colleague who hasn't responded in quite a while, the gangster who coming to collect on money or is scouting the location for a possible location to build a distillery, etc. But now have to find out what what happened, and deal with whatever has gone wrong, which may not be at that location. 

A possible new rule could be for cliffhangers. At certain times during the session, the keeper, wanting a short break, sets up a situation, and asks the players to write down how they would react to the situation, and after the break, the cliffhanger would be resolved. 

 

Aside from that, I could see some random scenario tables to establish the basis of the adventure, and diagram on how to set up the mystery in the scenario that makes sense logically, and let it develop naturally on the player's side of things. 

Thoughts? Opinions? 

I think that I have an interesting idea, but am not completely sure how to proceed with it. 

 

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites

I think you would like the Pulp Cthulhu rules.

The Children of Fear is designed with the option of being run as a non-Mythos globe-trotting Pulp campaign in the idiom of Indiana Jones, and indeed I am doing exactly that with it myself. 

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

You have great ideas and I say run with them! Any game system is what you make of it. Call of Cthulhu is very history-genre-adjacent and CoC rules run perfectly as a history game. There are also plenty of ways to run weird sci fi with it as well. The Pulp Cthulhu rules, as suggested by Nick, are probably the way to go. 

Consider the Mythos races that have potential for more Sci-Fi tech: Serpent People, Mi-Go, and The Great Race of Yith. Their technology can be plucked out of a Mythos-context and put in any context you want. We all love reading role-playing supplements. I read role-playing supplements for inspiration.  Ideas are ideas. The context is whatever you choose to put them in.

You can always bounce ideas off us here!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, the one thing that I can say about a lot of early pulp sf is that with the exception of interplanetary stories, a large majority of them were set in a then contemporaneous setting, with the only major changes being the subject of the story, beit a mad science invention, a normal piece of technology running amok, or an alien visitor/invader.

So a roughly historically accurate setting would be something that would fit this idea like a glove. Even some of the SF written in 40s had a similar feeling to them. One example of this would be Henry Kuttner's "Robots Have No Tails", a collection of science fiction stories about a scientist that can only invent the really creative stuff when he's drunk, the kicker usually being that he has no idea how he did it when he becomes sober. The main impetus of these stories aside from the outlandish is that the protagonist has to figure out exactly what the latest invention was for, and if he needs to figure out something to keep it in line. 

The idea would be to have have a historically accurate starting point, and to let things go on from there. 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Like others have said, Pulp Cthulhu will most likely scratch that itch for you. Characters are generally more competent (better characteristics and skills), tougher (more hit points) and more heroic (enhanced uses of Luck and Talents).

There is also a section to make Sanity/Insanity pulpier, including insanity induced talents. If you do not want Sanity/Insanity to be a thing in your pulp game, rename Sanity for Stress or Doom and tone down the insanity aspect of it. Heroes or not becoming insane or losing their minds but the pressure or ominous aspect of a situation makes them more vulnerable. Or don't use the Sanity mechanics at all (but keep Luck which you could rename Fate or Heroics to make it feel more, well, heroic).

Pulp Cthulhu describes the 30s as a default but you can easily set it in the 20s. The Investigator Handbook as a good section describing the 20s. 

Many published adventures and campaigns can be played by downplaying or removing the mythos. Many pulp stories involve dark and occult cults after all. Children of Fear, A Cold Fire Within, The Two-Headed Serpent and even Masks of Nyarlathotep and Horror on the Orient Express come to mind. Some other adventures like The Code in Mansions of Madness or The Necropolis in Gateways to Terror, would also fit the bill.

Of course the amount of work required to adapt them will depend on how little occult elements you want. Removing reference to the Mythos and using the Pulp rules (specifically downplaying Sanity) should provide a very different experience than out of the book CoC.

  • Thanks 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Pulp Cthulhu might be a little too action-packed for what I have in mind. Like I said in the first post, I just want to do simple mysteries with average people getting caught up in the weird science of the nineteen-teens and the roaring 20s.

I realized that I mentioned cliffhangers in the first post, having thought about it, I realised that one can do cliffhangers that aren't physically perilous, but could cause complications. 

One example I thought of was of Poirot (it might be interesting to run CoC for post Holmesian mysteries), going to the store and finding out that the store has sold out of the mustache wax that Poirot uses. It's a crisis of sorts, because Poirot is an immaculate and fastidious groomer, and a setback like this one could be troublesome. In addition, it could be used as the impetus for a new investigation - - did the store, which usually keeps the wax in stock coincidentally run out of stock, or did someone else buy it all up? 

 

Another is that of a reporter calling their editor, only to find out that they haven't checked in for quite a while, and if they don't have something to turn in by the end of the day or the next, then they're at risk of getting fired. (actually, this one could work in a regular CoC game). 

 

Basically mini-events/situations that provide peril not from a physical standpoint, but from the characterisation or in-game standing of a particular character. 

 

  • Like 4
Link to post
Share on other sites

I admit having misunderstood your intent. This part of your first post lead me to believe you were leaning towards a pulp feel. For my defense, you mentionned "pulp", "pulpier" and "cliffhangers" 🙂

On 6/2/2021 at 7:14 PM, Ashikaider said:

So my idea was two fold. Keep most of the mechanics as is, but instead of horror, the game becomes one of investigating 1920s pulp science fiction (which is quite possibly a completely different beastie from what a lot of people might be expecting). (The other idea was to go for a slightly pulpier version of 20s Detective fiction like Poirot or Jeeves and Wooster, but with added cliffhangers). 

SF in the 20s involved prototypal mad scientists, rampaging robots, journeys to microscopic realms, and vaguely described technology. (Lovecraft dabbled in this with "From Beyond"). 

Allow me to modify my answer slightly.

Pulp Cthulhu could still be useful for the weird technology but the section is not big so it's not required at all. The artefacts decribed in the Keeper Book give enough flavour and guidance to wing other stuff.

You would not need the Pulp rules mod but for this type of campaign, I would still recommend toning down Sanity to Stress or simply removing it. Having said that, using it to represent Stress could be a nice way to mechanically represents the non-physical perils you describe. Aquiring too much stress (even failing the equivalent of a bout of madness) could result in a penalty die in all activities for 1d10 rounds instead of rolling on the Bout of madness table and subsenquently only the activities related to the source of the stress. Removing stress would be done by adding or rewriting a background element of the character.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with your suggestion about Sanity. It wouldn't come up constantly, as in a regular CoC game, but some of the stuff that could crop up could be a bit much for average person of a hundred years ago, even if they were veterans of the Great War. So your stress system might be what's needed there. I used to play/run a lot of Savage Worlds, and the included chart for characters who failed a Guts/Spirit check had some great reactions to not being able to handle weird stuff, with my favorite being that the character goes insane, and comes out of the other side able to function normally, but still showing some twitchiness under the surface. (Much like Ash in the later Evil Dead/Army of Darkness episodes, especially in the recent tv series. When he has to fight, he becomes confident, competent, and charismatic, yet when given time to himself, that's when his sanity wavers). 

Link to post
Share on other sites

On the subject of pulp, the magazines had been around for for decades before the tropes that constitute the modern conception of 'pulp'. In fact, CoC can be considered as a type/genre of pulp, and pulp from the late 1910s to the 1920s has the possibility of being different from what became popular in the 30s. In fact, at one point there were people who considered the tonal change of pulp to hard sf in Astounding magazine to be the beginning of the 'Golden Age of Science Fiction'. 

 

That's all well and fine, but it does disregard the hard work of the writers beforehand who quite literally attempting to figure out just exactly what the genre should do, and a lot of it was simply throwing stuff against the wall to see what stuck. Hence clunky early nomenclatures such as 'scientifiction'. 

While alot of the materials may be hard to find, scans of science fiction magazine covers are now widely available online, looking at those can give you a rough idea of how the genre developed during the 20s-30s. (I managed to acquire some books of pre-hard SF and combined with my impressions of the scanned covers, has shaped how I envision early pulp sf. 

 

While not necessarily pulp, the Jeeves novels and Agatha Christie's works came out concurrently, and show a nice parallel between themselves and mystery/crime pulps (which were a major seller at the time, and feature early work of writers who became more well-known as novelists, and featured the origins of the Film Noir genre in print form.) 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

it's always been my go to for investigative horror gaming and i've run many a scenario (and a few long campaigns) without any mythos elements.

(generally, though, i tend to view said elements less through the lens of derleth's codified notions of 'cthulhu mythos' and more through hpl's weird adn vague 'yog sothothery' where nothing is static or codified and everything is filtered through millennia of dodgy translations.)

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

The first CoC game I bought (I think it was a translation of 2nd edition) had a bunch of traditional non-mythos creatures in it.

And even the most iconic Chaosium published campaign contains non-mythos material. 

Spoiler

The English chapter of Masks of Nyarlathotep has a werewolf in it.

Non-mythos CoC campaigns actually sound more like barebones BRP than real "Call of Cthulhu" to me, but there's no reason it couldn't work.

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/2/2021 at 7:14 PM, Ashikaider said:

(I've been a long time Lovecraft fan since hearing about him on an episode of Real Ghostbusters). 

I always wondered if such inclusions managed to encourage the curiosity of kids watching the cartoon.  It is nice to know that some kids pay attention 🙂

On 6/2/2021 at 7:14 PM, Ashikaider said:

So my idea was two fold. Keep most of the mechanics as is, but instead of horror, the game becomes one of investigating 1920s pulp science fiction (which is quite possibly a completely different beastie from what a lot of people might be expecting). (The other idea was to go for a slightly pulpier version of 20s Detective fiction like Poirot or Jeeves and Wooster, but with added cliffhangers). 

I have run a CoC primarily based around Bootlegging Operations, where the mythos often took a complete back seat to 1920s gangster lore, jake-walking hobos, souped up Hudsons outrunning police flivvers, speakeasies using converted gas fittings and so forth.  I found that making only 1 part in 4 of the campaign about the mythos lent the characters' lives a lot more context, and made the horror far more gripping, but the campaign could have run without any mythos whatsoever and still been fun, I think.  It was a little like GTA 1920s in places, but there is so much written about the period, and so many colorful characters that are easy to adopt.  It is also amusingly ironic to have civilization and humanity defended (albeit patchily) by the same hoodlums in cheap suits who are "undermining the social order" with their illegal hooch and murderous ways.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...