October 4

October 2014 Blog Carnival: Things that go bump in the night


An explanation.

In the previous post I described something that is mostly true, cobbled together from my childhood and sprinkled with a little artistic licence.  If I had told it straight it would have been an insight into nothing more than my psyche, a little embellishment though added the extra spice to it.

In case you’re wondering I did have that poster and it did freak me out each and every night it hung on my wall and it did eventually get replaced.

If you want to scare your players though, you do need to take something very familiar to them and spin it slightly; Hollywood has made fortunes featuring  haunted; houses, bottles, dolls, paintings, boxes and nightmares from beyond.  Heck someone made money from nothing more than two people in a house recording themselves on video cameras.

So a haunted poster is a great idea to freak your players out with; brought to life by the wishes and dreams of a small child, perhaps even a small demonic child 🙂 .  You could even say that the poster is a portal between two worlds and that when the stars are right; correct ritual performed in front of it or even certain times of the year, those trapped within the poster are free to wreak havoc upon the living.

There is an excellent scenario for Call of Cthulhu in a haunted house which works because of the set-up; it may or may not be haunted, that’s up to the Keeper to decide.



October 3

Top 10 rpg list: Number 2 – Call of Cthulhu

I first learned of Call of Cthulhu from reading the gaming magazine White Dwarf, this was in the day when all sorts of games that weren’t developed by Games Workshop were given column inches.

I was intrigued by this game set in the 1920s that emphasised investigation over combat and knowledge was the ultimate weapon; the problem being the more your character knew the quicker you were to losing them to insanity.

The premise of the game is that it is set in the writings of one H.P Lovecraft; a pulp horror writer who wrote about dark things in the universe and that man was an inconsequential being, a mere ant in the scheme of things.

As luck would have it I bought this game for under £5 as Games Workshop had lost the licence to print it in the UK and were clearing out there unsold stock of the game.  I got it, read it, re-read it and was a little puzzled to what the players were meant to do.

I gathered it was a horror game but this edition was the 3rd edition of the game and assumed you knew about Lovecraft’s creations and the Chtulhu Mythos.  As of writing this article, the current edition of CoC is the 6th and comes with the short story The Call of Cthulhu so at least you are given some exposure to the mythos.

Undeterred I talked to some friends at the games club I used to attend and they recommended to me the three volume compilation of his stories and if you want to know more I heartily recommended them to you.  Although I’d suggest you start with the second volume as these contain short stories and they’re easier to digest.

I learned many things reading these stories; most notably that Lovecraft was verbose and used a wide and varied dialogue in his books.  I also found at that most of the stories have a single protagonist rather than a group of two or more people as in the standard gaming group.  There was also some sort of unspeakable horror which would eventually cause the doom of the protagonist.  In this context I hesitate to use the work hero as victim seems a little more appropriate; most of the victims go insane or are consumed by something or other.

It took a while but I digested all three volumes and one other collection of works I found at a book fair and still had no idea of what to do.  So I bought some of the supplementary books I could find and managed to get a handle on what you’re meant to do.

In most fantasy games your adventuring party is in the pub and gets a plot hook to the adventure.  While CoC does have pubs the default setting for my edition was the roaring 20s during prohibition so pubs are few and far between.

Most CoC adventures start with one or more player characters getting a communication of some sort from an old friend, workmate, professor, librarian or family member.  You have known this person for a number of years, etc and are therefore trustworthy.  After meeting them you discover their situation and agree to help them.

I’ve always found a start like that to be a little on the weak side and the players may feel like they have been railroaded into the task at hand.  Some of the other scenarios have the PCs gainfully employed by an NPC, trying to get them to accept such a job can be almost as sanity eating as the mythos beasties you may encounter.

To try and correct this situation the last time I started a CoC campaign I used the World War One scenario No Man’s Land and had the characters members of the same unit.  So when I came to run the adventure the players knew the person in question as they had served with him.

Unlike many games, your character is likely to succumb to the aforementioned sanity eating things that man was not meant to know.  Call of Cthulhu provides you with two tracks; one for hit points and the other for your sanity, which erodes faster than hit points and is harder to recover.  It is imperative that if you want to succeed a CoC adventure you must learn to fold your hand and run for the hills if it all goes *poof* in a strange ritual that contacts something from beyond.

Despite all these things I still enjoy playing the game; a strong emphasis on investigation and copious uses of the Library Use skill are always in order.

As I mentioned before the game has remained relatively unchanged between editions, some of the changes are for the best while removing the Linguistics skill I feel was short sighted.  The smaller the group, the less resources you have to fight the mythos and while having individual languages may be realistic it means you have to spread a thin number of points over different languages.

Character Creation

Creating a new investigator for CoC is relatively easy and having access to the double page spread in the later rulebooks helps smooth things out.  Having access to a character creation program is even better and can speed up the process considerably; plus some of them can produce spiffy looking character sheets.

The system boils down to rolling a handful of dice for the character, calculating secondary attributes, picking a profession, selecting skills, spending extra points on non-career skills, rolling for money and buying some possessions.


This is another area where the system works, skills are rated in percentages and trying to achieve something is as simple as getting under the listed percentage.  Whether you are shooting a gun, casting a spell or trying to run away it uses the same core mechanic.

The other area where I think the game has problems is the tomes of the mythos; these ancient books contain vast amounts of forbidden knowledge and power at the cost of more sanity.  The trouble is that these books takes weeks or months to study before you can comprehend the information; this is somewhat in keeping with the stories but doesn’t help if the adventure you are playing in requires a spell or ritual to complete it.  The game designers came up with rules for skimming a book which for me was a kludge that didn’t sit right with me; three hours to learn the spell or ritual to defeat the unspeakable horror from beyond seemed a cop-out.

Other eras.

As I said before the default era is the 1920s and Chaosium have released other supplements detailing other eras; Cthulhu by Gaslight which is the 1890s and the modern era.  The 6th edition rulebook details them at the cost of pages that used to contain background for the 1920s.

I shall look at the other eras for this game later on this month.

August 23

#RPGaDAY Day 23: Coolest looking RPG product / book

As a somewhat veteran gamer who has seen various books from B&W efforts of typesetting through to the early days of DTP packages and the later revolution of full colour books I have seen several games that try to stand out from the crowd.

One or two have caught my eye over the years and I’ve bought them because they look cool, of these my favourite would have to be Trail of Chtulhu by Pelgrane Press.  The whole book just exudes coolness and sets the tone just right for tales of Lovecraftian horror.

May 1

Old habits

So for the first time in a while I find myself playing in a game and its pretty good to roll the dice as a player. The game is Call of Cthulhu using the Achtung Cthulhu books and set in the early stages of the war.

Something has been playing on my mind though, despite having reasonably competent skill ratings  I seem to be failing to make skill checks; perhaps this is to be expected or maybe I have failed to live up to my tradition when starting a new game.  So I have taken steps to rectify this situation by buying a new set of dice; this time I’m going old school and have ordered a set of white inked red Gamescience precision dice.  I know its a silly superstition but you never know these dice may live up to the hype.

I shall let you know in due course if my new dice do indeed roll true and are better luck than the ones I’m currently using.