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.

October 2

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


This months carnival host is Scot Newbury http://ofdiceanddragons.com/october-2014-blog-carnival-things-that-go-bump-in-the-night/ .

This is a true story……

I shared a room with a monster.

Many years ago when I was much smaller I had a nice inviting bedroom to live in and things were good; it was a happy place for me to live and play with my toys.  The downside was that we lived in a block of flats and my parents really wanted a house of their own to live in.

One day they got their wish and we moved into a new terraced house in a new estate and initially things were good.  Until I got some new posters.

At the time the Muppet Show was a very popular show in the UK and I loved it to bits, so imagine my surprise when my parents got me a Muppet Show poster featuring Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, with a shot of Animal grinning inanely into space.  I liked that poster and it faced my bed; slowly as time wore on I thought that the smile was merely a façade, I could see the evil grin every night and I became convinced that he was watching my every move.

It didn’t help that his eyes seemed to follow me around the room.  Each night I would stare at this demonic creature convinced that one night he would detach himself from the poster, slowly walk over to me with his three legged gait; before slowly consuming my soul.

As the months wore on I got increasingly frightened by his countenance and made excuses to try and delay going to bed, each time I would peek around the door and stare at this thing leering back at me.  I guess I could have asked for the poster to be taken down but that would have been wrong of me to do so.

The insanity raged for a few more months, I was starting to believe that the image was whole and that Animal was there just holding his head up like you do for those sea-side cut outs where you poke your head through.

Then one day I snapped, I managed to convince my parents that the posters were getting tatty and they replaced them with posters of the A-Team instead.

The real terror was to be had later on after the posters had gone and been rolled up into a cardboard tube.  Our house was relatively new but still had a few quirks.  I became more aware of a ghostly sound; footsteps from the loft.  I was the only one who could hear them each night and they sounded like something was prowling about up there; I imagined it was Animal trapped in his prison seeking vengeance on me.

The whole sage came to a dramatic head shortly afterwards when the water tank burst and that’s when I realised I had heard water dripping into the tank; normality seeped back into my life and I went on being a happy child again.

I even found my stored posters and unravelled them to look at them and reassured myself that they were normal posters; until I got to the picture of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, they were all still there looking happy as ever, but where Animal should have been was just a black empty void……………

September 29

Campaign idea: Go to jail, do not collect $200

At the moment I’m sick and not so I’m trying to keep myself entertained by watching movies; sometimes these films inspire me to come up with an adventure idea, in this case the film is Escape Plan.  The premise is simple, a person who has the ability to break out of prisons.  So why not spin this on its head and present the setting to the players and allow them to plot their escape.

So I got to thinking, how many campaign settings do I know of that use a prison as a backdrop and there are surprisingly few.


Dream Pod 9 devised Sub-Attica for Cyberpunk is one such book, a prison created miles beneath the waves, the ultimate objective for the players is to form an escape plan and break out.  The setting is very well detailed complete with a colourful array of personalities for the players to interact with. This is probably one of the more traditional settings for the players to work with and has plenty of opportunities for role-playing.

Abandon All Hope

By www.rpgobjects.com is another prison setting, this time the characters are violent criminals incarcerated aboard a giant spaceship which slips through a dimensional rift.  Here the adversaries are robots, mutants, other inmates and things that have come aboard during the dimensional slip.  Unlike Sub Attica there is no chance of escape; the players have to survive for as long as possible.

Death Valley Free Prison

Was originally another Cyberpunk style setting but this was written for the old Iron Crown Cyberspace system.  This is probably the more open of the three settings, a sandbox world full of opportunities for the players and not just working out a way of escaping.

Set in a prison constructed from Death Valley there are more than just inmates here; some people willing settled within the walls and eke out an existence.  The whole theme is very much inspired by Mad Max.

My idea.

If I was to come up with a setting then I would set it in the future and base it upon the idea of a penal colony.  The player characters would be dropped there on a one way shuttle and then would have to find a way to survive.  I did plan this as a surprise for my players with the Star Trek Colony game.

No matter what route you go down, in the end the players have to escape their jail.  While a closed setting with an escape proof prison may sound like fun, I know I would soon lose any motivation to play the game.

Category: horror, RPG, sf | LEAVE A COMMENT
September 28

Feng Shui 2

Feng Shui was one of those games I always wanted to play but never had the chance to do so.  It ticked so many boxes for me; a multi-genre war for reality; mixed parties of different genres and a light rules system which sounded perfect.

The book has had a bit of a chequered history as the full colour first edition was supposedly sold at a loss.  So each copy sold cost Daedalus Entertainment money and that’s not the way to run a business.  The second edition was a more reasonable black and white edition but compared to today’s modern games the layout looked a bit dull.

I did eventaully get around to playing this game at Killercon in Runnymede a long time ago and had a lot of fun with it.  Our group was tasked to recover a crystal skull before it fell into the hands of Nazi Germany.  The adventure worked really well and the game hurtled along; just the sort of convention game I like.
I was somewhat surprised to find that there is currently a Kickstarter project under-way to fund a second edition of the game and I am interested to see what it looks like.

You can find the Kickstarter link here : https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/atlasgames/feng-shui-2-action-movie-roleplaying-game-by-robin

September 4

#RPGaDAY Day 13: Most Memorable Character Death

I haven’t lost many characters recently and I am aware that we all lose PCs as we get used to learning a new game system; either through a trap or inexperience.

The most memorable for me would be when I lost my Werewolf character Slash of the Wendigo tribe in a ritual duel with a Black Spiral Dancer.  It was an epic fight during which both sides put down their weapons and allowed both pack leaders to duel one-on-one to determine the outcome of the fight.

Unfortunately Slash was fatally wounded in the combat  but the duel had bought enough time for our sides theurges to complete a binding ritual, so it was nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory for the Black Spiral Dancers.

Category: horror, RPG | LEAVE A COMMENT
August 28

#RPGaDAY Day 28: Scariest Game you’ve played

The scariest game I ever played in was the old Game Designers Workshop classic Dark Conspiracy 1st Edition.  A near future horror game involving all sorts of strange going ons but tied together with a relatively consistent background.

I vividly remember this one game session becoming more and more engrossed with the atmosphere being set by the GM that it became almost like being hypnotised; our collective consciousness focussing on his voice more and more until someone in the house banged a door which made us all jump out of our seats.

I’ve never experienced anything like that since.

Category: horror, RPG | LEAVE A COMMENT
August 18


David F Chapman http://autocratik.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/rpgaday-in-august.html came up with the great idea of having people discuss role-playing games each day during the month of August.

I know I’m a little late to the party as I was on holiday for the first couple of weeks but I’m going to try and catch up.

I’ll start the ball rolling later tonight.

1st – First RPG Played
2nd – First RPG Gamemastered
3rd – First RPG Purchased
4th – Most recent RPG purchase
5th – Most Old School RPG owned
6th – Favourite RPG Never get to play
7th – Most “intellectual” RPG owned
8th – Favourite character
9th – Favourite Die / Dice Set
10th – Favourite tie-in Novel / Game Fiction
11th – Weirdest RPG owned
12th – Old RPG you still play / read
13th – Most Memorable Character Death

14th – Best Convention Purchase
15th – Favourite Convention Game
16th – Game you wish you owned
17th – Funniest Game you’ve played

18th – Favourite Game System
19th – Favourite Published Adventure
20th – Will still play in 20 years time…
21st – Favourite Licensed RPG
22nd – Best Secondhand RPG Purchase
23rd – Coolest looking RPG product / book
24th – Most Complicated RPG Owned
25th – Favourite RPG no one else wants to play
26th – Coolest character sheet
27th – Game You’d like to see a new / improved edition of…
28th – Scariest Game you’ve played
29th – Most memorable encounter
30th – Rarest RPG Owned
31st – Favourite RPG of all time


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