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A Guide to the Different Cthulhu Systems


Joe Kenobi

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  • 2 weeks later...
8 minutes ago, TheEnclave said:

"Characters will usually die or go insane."

I guess this misconception will never go away.

Let's be clear: I don't say "Characters will usually die or go insane every single time you play." But if you have a long-running Call of Cthulhu campaign, do most PCs make it to a friendly retirement? How many starting PCs make it to the end of Masks of Nyarlathotep? Even after 6 months of regular play through scenarios, how likely are you to have all your starting PCs in place? That's a pretty notable differentiator from most RPGs.

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5 hours ago, Joe Kenobi said:

Let's be clear: I don't say "Characters will usually die or go insane every single time you play." But if you have a long-running Call of Cthulhu campaign, do most PCs make it to a friendly retirement? How many starting PCs make it to the end of Masks of Nyarlathotep? Even after 6 months of regular play through scenarios, how likely are you to have all your starting PCs in place? That's a pretty notable differentiator from most RPGs.

Granted, I've mostly played oneshots, but I was in a game going nearly a year without a single player death. Some close calls, but no deaths, and it was pretty combat-heavy in parts. The stories I read about games where it's common sound more like an issue with the scenarios or the Keepers. Some scenarios, like MoN, sound like they're full of death traps, but I can't say for sure about Masks as I've not played it. Stories about Keepers though? Some just seem downright sadistic or powerhungry, like they actively want to beat down and kill PCs for flexing purposes. I dunno man. I've had player deaths in my games, but plenty where everyone's survived. This old misconception becomes a real problem when those Keepers don't do it because they want to trip on power, but because they were told it's the way it's meant to be played. I've seen so many topics and discussions start with someone talking about how frustrating it is that someone's character is succeeding, or is disappointed and feels like a bad GM because they haven't killed anyone. That crap can ruin groups.

You're definitely more vulnerable than in some systems, but there's more lethal systems out there, and it's a common misconception that Call of Cthulhu is, or is meant to be, some kind of meat grinder where you can never get attached to a character because there's never any hope of survival long-term. For some people it makes them think that's the whole point, and lethality should take precedence over roleplay, story, and fun. You know, despite the creator of the system himself saying that's a misconception.

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8 hours ago, TheEnclave said:

"Characters will usually die or go insane."

I guess this misconception will never go away.

That has been my experience of Call of Cthulhu, after one scenario, except for one PC who was Withered and ended up with one useless leg and one useless arm, so retired.

Simon Phipp - Caldmore Chameleon - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982. Many Systems, One Family. Just a fanboy. 

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Jonstown Compendium author. Find my contributions here

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@TheEnclave, I don't want to pick a fight here--you're making a valid point and overall, I even mostly agree with you. Characters can have a lot more longevity than the discourse sometimes suggests. But I also think, moving from almost any other RPG to Call of Cthulhu, players are going to find their characters to be a lot more fragile. It clearly depends on your reference point; you're responding to a certain strain of thought sometimes found amongst Cthulhu Keepers, while I wrote that sentence for people new to Call of Cthulhu but likely with a background in other RPGs. Maybe for some people, a warning up front that "ultimately, your character's probably not going to ride off into the sunset" will dissuade them from playing because then they can't get invested in their investigator. In my experience, it's useful information in that it informs how a player approaches the game and orients them up front not to rush in where fools fear to tread, which actually helps keep their character alive.

And as for the thoughts on Keeper psychology, well, anything in any roleplaying game becomes a problem when it it's approached as taking precedence over roleplay, story, and fun. People would do well to read an implied "your mileage may vary" at the end of any description of any RPG and how it's "supposed" to run.

Long story short, "Characters will usually die or go insane" is certainly an oversimplification, but I don't think for a broad-brush characterization it's unfair.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 2/17/2021 at 9:03 PM, TheEnclave said:

Granted, I've mostly played oneshots, but I was in a game going nearly a year without a single player death. Some close calls, but no deaths, and it was pretty combat-heavy in parts. The stories I read about games where it's common sound more like an issue with the scenarios or the Keepers...

To (mis)quote a (fictional) wise man:

Quote

your Keeper was simply being too soft... from a certain point of view.

😉
 

That is to say, neither the "deadly&mind-blasting" CoC nor the "entire party survives for a year of realtime play" CoC is explicitly the "right way" or the "wrong way" to play the game.

If your table is having fun -- even if none of them are dying or going crazy; or even if all of them are -- then the GM & players are "doing it right."
 

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On 2/17/2021 at 2:51 PM, TheEnclave said:

"Characters will usually die or go insane."

I guess this misconception will never go away.

That the PC's might "reasonably" be expected to go insane -- that this is even "on the table" as an outcome -- marked CoC as Something Different, back when Chaosium introduced the game.  It's no longer quite unique as a feature (and arguably, some newer games do "insanity" better), but to this day the idea of screwing around with the  mind  of a PC (possibly forcing them to act (or not act) in certain ways, probably "limiting agency" in some fashion) remains a highly unusual feature, particularly if on a permanent basis (and SAN tends to death-spiral:  the less you have, the harder it is to keep the remainder).

Your alter-ego... your in-game "YOU..." doesn't do what you want.  For some players, this is itself a fate worse than (PC) death.

SAN-loss, we note, is SUPPOSED to be part of the game.  Not necessarily an "endgame" feature that takes a character out of play; but the mechanics are there to be used.

And so that final endgame for your PC... it could be sobbing in a straightjacket, rather than a heroic death in a burst of glory.

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  • 2 months later...

Another for the List - "Punktown - A Setting Book for Call of Cthulhu and Basic Roleplaying". Was the last thing done by Miskatonic River Press I believe. PDF still available for purchase, not sure about physical copies. 

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On 3/5/2021 at 11:27 AM, g33k said:

SAN-loss, we note, is SUPPOSED to be part of the game.  Not necessarily an "endgame" feature that takes a character out of play; but the mechanics are there to be used.

And so that final endgame for your PC... it could be sobbing in a straightjacket, rather than a heroic death in a burst of glory.

Ever play the (FPS) Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem ?

Not only does the character undergo sanity loss during encounters with the enemy, but if said sanity goes low-enough, the game starts messing with you the player... Images of cockroaches scurrying across the screen, an emulation of the volume level being changed, and even "Thank you for playing ... The game will continue in a sequel..." (IE; an implication that the game you've been playing ends without a resolution and you have to buy another installment to continue).

 

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On 4/26/2019 at 5:21 AM, Joe Kenobi said:

GORE – Utilizes a d100 percentile dice system that is fairly rules-light and based on OpenQuest,

Quick correction here, GORE is based on the MRQ1 SRD

It actually predates OpenQuest release wise, with its one and only release coming out in 2007, while OQ was released in 2009 🙂

Head Honcho of D101 Games
Publisher of Crypts and Things/Monkey/OpenQuest/River of Heaven
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  • 1 month later...

A few more systems I didn't see in the initial post are Eldritch Tales: Lovecraftian White Box Role-Playing, Mythos World, Spiralis - A Lovecraftian Roleplaying Game and Tiny Cthulhu.

Thank you for the list, btw!

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