Cardboard Children: Shadows Over Scotland

By Robert Florence on August 20th, 2011 at 5:39 pm.


Hello youse,

Today I want to talk a little bit about the greatest roleplaying game on the market. It’s a game that has seen very few changes since its inception 30 years ago, because it was pretty much perfect right out of the gate. It’s a game that has inspired countless roleplaying and board games with its take on HP Lovecraft’s horror fiction. It’s Call of Cthulhu.

And I’ll also be taking a look at a new Call of Cthulhu sourcebook. I’ll be looking at it from a pretty unique perspective.

I’m living inside it.

CALL OF CTHULHU

Have you ever played an RPG? I mean a pen and paper RPG, not one on your PC or your bed. Walk into any good gaming shop and you’ll see racks full of RPG books. So many different universes of adventure that your head might well spin off its fat stalk. There’s D&D, which has evolved over time (or devolved, some might say) into a sleek hack and slash battle-heavy fantasy game. There’s Pathfinder, which has taken the deep system of D&D 3.5 and made it more accessible and clean. There’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which has become this spectacular, exciting storytelling toyset. There’s Shadowrun, a cyberpunkish game that now feels strangely dated, as all things cyberpunk do these days. There’s Vampire: The Masquerade, which is dark and angsty and very geeky. There’s Mutants and Masterminds, allowing you to do some great superheroing. There’s the HERO system, alowing you to do ANYTHING. There’s the beautiful, beautiful, glorious Savage Worlds system, that lets you have fun with bennies. There’s plenty more.

And then there are the supplements and sourcebooks. Loads of them. Everywhere. Monster Manuals. Villain Archives. Map Books. Atlases. Rulebooks for car chases. Books for wizards and warriors and werewolves and witches and Water Margin style samurai.

And then there is Call of Cthulhu.

It has always been the case that you can pick up the Call of Cthulhu RPG book and know that you have everything you need to go adventuring in Lovecraft’s world. It is a complete thing. A perfect, complete thing. When you start D&D, you are led down a nasty, winding little route I like to call “The Path of Purchasing”. You need the Starter Set. Then you need the Rules Compendium. Then you need the GM Kit. Then you need some Player Books to create characters. And on it goes. Call of Cthulhu is different. It gives you everything you need, and leaves all its supplements as optional things. It knows you’ll want them anyway. CoC doesn’t need to do a crude hard sell – it’s the most confident, assured RPG on the shelves.

So what’s so great about Call of Cthulhu? Two things, really. One of them is thanks to HP Lovecraft. And the other is thanks to Sandy Petersen.

1. THE SETTING – Until the day I die, I will argue that there is no greater setting for RPGing than Lovecraft’s dark, fatalistic universe. The Call of Cthulhu RPG is built on Lovecraft’s observation that “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” CoC adventures are usually set in the 1920s, and feature characters who are real people. When a game asks its players to play real people, you get real roleplay. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re the best roleplayer in the world, you will struggle to convince that you are a 9-foot tall lizardman with an axe. You can, however, convince that you are a university professor, or a trumpet player from Chicago, or a journalist for a small-town newspaper. CoC gives people a chance to properly immerse themselves in a character, because the characters are never more than a step or two removed from the players themselves. Lovecraft’s stories are about how normal people deal with the impossible and the unknowable. Every character reaction can be mined from a player’s actual psyche. The world of CoC is our own, slightly skewed. Indeed, 90% of a CoC adventure will be almost indistinguishable from our own world. Beautiful normalcy, an investigation into strange events and rumours, and then a sudden jump into a terrible and incomprehensible impossibility. And this is all Lovecraft’s stuff. That’s his thing. Our world, shot through with something newly learned, and impossible to deal with.

2. THE SYSTEM – Simplicity. I feel like I’ve said this a hundred times – the best games present themselves in simple terms. And here is CoC, explained. Characteristics are multiplied by 5, then you make percentile rolls. So, you have a Dexterity of 10 – roll 50 or under and you succeed. That’s it. With percentile rolls, you understand the chance of success or failure at a glance. Skills work in the same way. Percentile rolls. Of course, there’s more to the system than that – but percentile rolls are the foundation for the whole thing. And it just works. Easy to explain, quick, and perfect for the setting. The other key winning element of the CoC system is SANITY. Death is not your enemy in Call of Cthulhu – the slow unhinging of your mind is the player’s greatest challenge. In a sense, the better your character does in CoC, the more he learns about the dark truth of the universe, the closer he gets to being locked away forever in an Arkham asylum. Watching these points being whittled away is truly unnerving – players often feel that they want to go no further. That’s exactly what you want from characters in a Lovecraft story.

Oh, but there’s something else. The writing.

Call of Cthulhu’s main rulebook contains one of the greatest one-shot scenarios in RPG history. It’s called “The Haunting”, or “The Haunted House”.

The scenario serves as a wonderful introduction to what an RPG is, and is the perfect introduction to Lovecraft’s world in game form. It’s a simple haunted house tale, with some investigation and a nasty final encounter. Of course, there might be no final encounter, because The Haunting also presents the players with the freedom of roleplay that CoC is married to. It is also a tricky little scenario that leaves many players scratching their heads and wandering the rooms in search of an answer.

The Haunting is a prime example of the great writing and design on display throughout Call of Cthulhu, and throughout most of its supplements and additional sourcebooks. Why is the standard so high? I think it might be because those people who are interested in writing for a Lovecraft roleplaying game are interested in writing itself. There is a pride in the writing of these works, a pride that encourages the richness of feel that this line is known for.

Which brings me to what I’m reading right now. One of the greatest RPG supplements I’ve ever read. Shadows Over Scotland.

SHADOWS OVER SCOTLAND

Shadows Over Scotland, by Stuart Boon, is a supplement that gives you everything you might need to run Call of Cthulhu adventures in 1920s Scotland. A big hardback 288-page monster full of history and information and adventures.

As a Glaswegian who has lived all my days in Scotland, I picked up this book with low expectations. I don’t know why. I knew I had to have it, because how often does an RPG supplement feature locations that are five minutes away from where you live? And I knew that the hit-rate of Call of Cthulhu-related supplements was pretty high. But I still had low expectations. I knew that this thing would probably make me laugh, and make me sneer, and that I could probably make some fun of it on this very page.

Here’s why my expectations were low – I think I wanted it to fail. Because in truth, the first thing that popped into my head when I saw it listed was “I should have written that.”

Thank heavens I didn’t, because Stuart Boon smashed it.

I couldn’t possibly have done it better. The book is meticulously researched, and heaving with content. To my shame, I found myself having to Google for stuff mentioned in the almost 5-page Mythos Timeline of Scotland to see if they actually happened or were part of the fiction. The first thing that struck me, like a fist in the face, upon reading this book was that I KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING ABOUT SCOTTISH HISTORY. Clueless. Utterly clueless. Here I was, learning things about my own country from an RPG supplement written by a man who was born in Canada.

(It might be of interest for you to hear that when I was at school, there was barely any Scottish history taught to Scottish children. Plenty of English history, but barely anything of our own past. And surprisingly next to nothing about the Highland Clearances! Fancy that! Things might have changed these days, but I doubt it. I doubt it.)

The book starts with a history of Scotland, and then moves into some detail on specific places, starting with the Scottish Lowlands. My home city Glasgow is in there, and it was a thrill to read about the ghouls living under the Necropolis – ten minutes from my house. Oh, and there’s a Thing In The Clyde too. And did you know that there are Deep Ones threatening the Kingdom of Fife? (Insert your own Fife nightclub joke here).

Then it’s on to the Highlands and Islands, and the realisation that hey, Scotland is actually an amazing location for Lovecraft-related shenanigans. Aberdeen, Fort William, Stornoway, they’re all here – with scary wullies like Salty Bob and the Blue Men of the Minch cutting about like the bad yins they are. Scottish myth and legend is given a coating of Lovecraftian goo, with my favourite being the treatment of Sawney Bean – he’s now a suave, handsome cannibal cult leader with a direct line to an avatar of Shub-Niggurath. There are lots of clever little spins like this throughout the book, making you smile as you sit on the toilet.

One of my favourite bits of the book is ‘The Lingo: The Talk of 1920s Scotland.’ Seeing words like Manky and Mingin’ and Wheesht in an RPG supplement is just – well, it’s beautiful. Hilarious and beautiful. Now I know how Klingons feel when they play the Star Trek RPG! It’s yet another section of the book that makes you go “Man, this Scotland place is one rich setting! It’s like Dark Sun up in this motherfucker!”

Adventures? Did someone just say the word “adventures”? There are six adventures in the book, and while I haven’t played them yet, I have read each one from front to back. The standard is mad high. The first scenario in particular, ‘Death And Horror Incorporated’, really resonated with me, with its exploration into the mausoleums of Glasgow’s Northern Necropolis. It resonated because I’ve done this – I’ve cracked open those crypts.

As a young man, I would sneak through the gated doors of these mausoleums, and inside you would find sleeping bags and blankets. Homeless people would shelter in the old crypts and mausoleums, and you would see their belongings all around. I remember finding a pile of letters in one crypt, tied with a little ribbon. Letters that obviously mattered a lot to the person sleeping in the crypt. I remember desperately wanting to read them, but persuading myself not to. A person who had been forced by circumstance to sleep in an ancient crypt had probably suffered enough without having a teenager invade their privacy.

Man.

Another scenario finds the investigators popping over to Mallaig, another place from my youth, investigating disappearances on a forbidden isle. Yet another takes place in Aberdeen, where my brother lives, and good luck to any Keeper trying to get a handle on those Aberdeen NPC accents. The scenarios come with plenty of handouts to keep the Investigators busy, and have the traditional CoC lean towards investigation over combat. Everything you expect from CoC, in terms of quality, is here. But the setting, the Scottish theming, freshens the game. I’d wager that some people buying this book might never want their investigators to leave Scotland. It’s glorious.

Man.

I would make this RPG supplement compulsory reading in Scotland’s schools. Stuart Boon has seen the beauty and mystery of Scotland, and has captured it all within these pages. He’s saying “Hey, isn’t it cool how five minutes from a city there’s mist-covered hills?” And we’re saying “Hold on, he’s right! This place is amazing!” And then he’s saying “There’s probably something ancient and evil in that water.” And we’re all like “You’re probably right. Wha’s like us? Let’s have a drink!” This is a fantastic book – it’s in with a chance of being my gaming release of 2011. Take it from a Scottish guy – there’s nothing missing here. There are no Scottish stones left unturned. (In fact, I’m wrong. What I’d love to see is a modern Scotland spin on the book. Something with a Delta Green feel, set in modern Scotland. Maybe if this sells well enough, we might see that!)

If there are any Scottish readers of this column out there – buy this. It’s that simple. In fact, it’s unpatriotic not to buy it. It’s a love letter to Scotland, stamped with an Elder Sign. This is OUR Lovecraft gaming book. Any people out there who have never played an RPG – buy Call of Cthulhu. It is the greatest. A classic. And probably the easiest of them all to play, and the least expensive to buy.

Of course, you don’t need to do what I’ve done. I have about four copies of the main rulebook. And recently I bought this too:

It’s the 30th Anniversary edition. A beautiful leatherette thing printed on art paper. I love this book THAT much.

Next week, back to board games.

See you then!

__________________

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129 Comments »

  1. Bodminzer says:

    Another article that’s a pleasure to read due to it’s unbridled enthusiasm and love for a deserving subject. Let’s not have a repeat of last weeks comments nastiness, humans.

    • Kaira- says:

      I didn’t really like last week’s article, but this was just a joy to read.

      Now, if I only could convince some of my friends to start playing this, I remember the library near me having the d20-version of Call of Cthulhu.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      THERE ARE NO WORDS FOR POLITENESS IN YORGOTS LANGUAGE. OR WORDS. ONLY THE BEAUTIFUL KEENING WAIL OF THE 6TH DIMENSIONAL BRIDGE.

      self thing yorgot feels prior issuance of unexpressed thought was inferior to current by third dimensional chronology issuance of unexpressed thought. previous issuance demanded flensing.

    • Nallen says:

      @TsunamiWombat Are you Oct or something?

    • Ravenholme says:

      @ Nallen – Was… was that an Iain M Banks reference? From Matter, iirc.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      @TsunamiWombat

      I have no idea what that is, or what it’s in reference to.

      However, for some inexplicable reason, I want more of it.

    • shitouniua says:

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    • anon_coward says:

      I didn’t like last week’s article, but this one was awesome!

      Really well done! Now my minds all fired up about scottish horror adventures! :)

    • jpl says:

      Seconding comments above. Loved the imagination of the last week’s piece, but found it somehow condescending towards the reader.

      But this – ooh – what a nice read. Why not write that “Quebec horror” supplement book?

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    • Josh W says:

      @Ravenholme:

      Reference, as veil to oct, obscured. Appearence to, discernment, of observer, rare.

  2. Ba5 says:

    I love the setting of this, it’s the only RPG I’d consider playing, as there’s no fucking elves, or anything resembling elves in it.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      Well if you wanted fantasy in Coc, there was also the Dreamlands. If you haven’t read Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath I would recommend it. It’s one of the most far out fantasy adventures you’ll read.

      I have never played Coc in the Dreamlands but there’s scope for a whole other RPG in that. I imagine that there are supplements for it. It’s a little more light hearted than your typical Lovecraft with little forest Zoogs, intelligent cats and various evil monsters. Probably a little Robert E Howard inspired. But it would be a fun change of pace for your characters.

    • son_of_montfort says:

      I hate to burst your bubble, but the Hyporbeans or Lemurians (can’t remember which) were decidedly elf-like. That being said, they aren’t a big part of the Mythos. In fact the beauty of CoC RPG is that you can craft whatever adventure you so desire. You like fantasy, do the Dreamlands. You want zombies, throw in zombies. You like ancient civilizations and an Indiana Jones style adventure, do it! My personal favorites are monsters masquerading as humans and pulling the strings of humanity for their own alien goals.

    • Quine says:

      I had fun times in a Dreamlands campaign being chased through the fungus wood by werewolves and armed only with rudimentary technology.

      Fortunately one of out party turned out to be an axe murderer in the wakey wakey world, so all went well.*

      *As well can be expected in CoC campaigns, anyway.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      Well starting the campaign as an axe murderer, you have the advantage of already having lost your sanity or at least not have that much to lose anyway.

  3. President Weasel says:

    Hello. I am a Scottish reader of this column and I shall buy this thing, for I like Call of Cthulu the best out of all the RPGs.

    • jRides says:

      Same here, and I had seen and avoided this for the very same reasons Rab gives above – I’m not interested in the external twee pictures we generally see painted of Scotland, its not like that – we’re not like that.

      But I’m sold on this now, i’ll pick this one up, Rab.

  4. Moth Bones says:

    I agree with every word of this article, and now I want the Shadows Over Scotland thing. Even though I haven’t played CoC for years and no longer own it.

  5. TsunamiWombat says:

    SELF THING YORGOT THE TERRIBLE SUCKLES ON THE SWEET SUSTENANCE OF HUMAN FEAR. YORGOT LEFT CAPSLOCK ON.

    sorry. psuedopods not good for keyboard.

    self thing yorgot like unexpressed thoughts. pathetic three dimensional meatbag enjoys thing it writes about. it thrums with pleasurable feelings. yorgot will milk pathetic meatbags for these feelings in the future.

    self thing yorgot finds this standard three dimensional time reference of seven solar rotations unexpressed thoughts superior to last standard three dimensional time reference of seven solar rotations pathetic mewling and squirbling. yorgot is filled with slightly less disgust and malice for pathetic three dimensional meatbag and will only half-consume soul-thing of next sacrifice out of satisfaction for this, keeping remainder in half-state for amusement. this is reward. pathetic three dimensional meatbag will issue gratitude or be flensed from fleshy prison and exposed to glories of infinity before dissolution in retaliation.

    self thing yorgot demands psuedopod accessable keyboards.

  6. withnailmarwood says:

    I am not Scottish ,but I think I may have to buy this. Really well written article.

  7. Baines says:

    Call of Cthulhu. I still remember my last words of my first character at the end of my first session. “I shoot myself in the head.” Not even for any failed sanity reasons, but simply because what else can you do when you are trapped in a room with something you can’t kill?

    My second character took a much more practical approach to investigating, being more thoroughly prepared for eventualities like enemies that aren’t affected by revolvers. Unfortunately, he fell prey to the legal system when he found that “Protecting humanity from encroaching unkillable entities” wasn’t a valid defense for blowing up someone else’s house with a trunkload of dynamite.

    • Arglebargle says:

      In a Call of Cthulhu campaign, whenever you are considering dynamite, you are already losing.

      In Mask of Nyarlathotep, I blew up myself, my insane ex-comrades, a house of cultists and most of a London city block with dynamite and improvised petrol bombs. I did not have to worry about the legal ramifications.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I prefer sulphuric acid. Lots and lots of sulphuric acid.

      But in Lovecraft’s universe, it’s the investigation and the creeping dread that are usually the fun bits, rather than direct confrontation.

    • apa says:

      Hardware store keeper: “So, you need dynamite? How much do you need?”
      An investigator: “How much do you have?”

      Eventually, we managed to blow up only innocent villagers coming to help us :/

    • Quine says:

      One day I shall get round to writing that 1960s Vietnam campaign where the assembled war journalists, Huey pilots and gung-ho marines realise the limits of heavy weaponry and the benefits of hallucinogenic recreationals.

      Unless someone’s already done that sourcebook?

    • MonkeyMonster says:

      In a Call of Cthulhu campaign, whenever you are considering playing, you are already losing.

      Not sure if you are ever allowed to win are you? That’s not the point…

  8. ain says:

    I greatly appreciate Lovecraft’s works. Would you say getting these books (Call of Cthulhu and Shadows Over Scotland that is) is worth it if you just want to delve a little further into his universe and not use them for RPG at all?

    • Temple says:

      Definitely. There is a lot of extra background and ideas beyond Lovecraft’s -and the quality of writing for CoC is pretty good usually.
      Even RPGs that aren’t tied to something still open up a world of possibilites.
      I have a lovely large collection of roleplaying books and have never played a single one. My view is a novel can give you a single story, but a world setting from an rpg can give you hundreds.

      RPG books definitely fill a void. If you like a setting then they expand it immensely. There are Elric RPGs, Black Company, Babylon 5 etc -I have a Dune Encyclopedia that does something similar, but for those many worlds where there is no expansion beyond the novels I feel a lack.
      I pray for a Malazan Encyclopedia/RPG.

  9. BarerRudeROC says:

    Happy Birthday H.P. Lovecraft!!!!!!

  10. abigbat says:

    Awh some of my buddies do the art for this, looks great.

  11. pakoito says:

    So where’s that “Scotland” you talk so much about? Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio?

    • westyfield says:

      It’s a province on the east coast of Canada.

    • JFS says:

      No, it’s the other way ’round. You’re a province on the western coast of Scotland.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      I think it’s part of Engerland.

      [runs]

    • thegooseking says:

      It’s a province on the east coast of Canada.

      Given that I live in Edinburgh and my girlfriend lives in Newfoundland, I kind of wish that were so!

  12. Sardukar says:

    Well, each to their own. I found CoC somewhat…predictable. I preferred it’s modern, conspiracy-laden cousin, Delta Green. Perhaps your preferences were affected by SoS?

    For RPGs, I’ll take WFRP for fantasy and either CPunk 2020 or Vampire for modern-ish games. ALthough as you said, everything cyberpunk does seem strangely dated. Some less dated and more eerie, though. The Bodyscan doorway scanners, with the nervous woman clutching her handbag as a guard leers at the image seems…familiar today. And that’s from nearly 20 years ago.

    Oh and Dark Heresy for crazy and guns and more crazy.

    Call of Cthulhu tells you what is up in the universe and, ironically, leaves for me few mysteries. The rest is less a question of “why” and more one of “how”. How will everything go to poop? How will your investigator die? How long until you succumb to the lure of power and learn some sorcery and how long until you go bonkers.

    Fun, but not my idea of a game to spend a year or three running, thanks.

    • Harmonist says:

      Did you ever play Conspiracy X? I seem to remember it being pretty decent, though I the last time I played it must have been about thirteen years ago.

      Looking on Amazon i see that it made it to a Second Edition of the rules, so someone must’ve been playing it…

    • Archonsod says:

      It doesn’t, even Lovecraft never really explained what was going on in his universe. It all depends on the GM too; one of the best campaigns we ever played saw us spending an awful lot of time dealing with gangsters, the effects of the Great Depression and civil rights, with the eldritch horrors not turning up until late into the campaign (after about eight months of weekly sessions). A friend of mine also ran a campaign set in WW1, no Lovecraft abominations or the like anywhere in sight, just the horrors of the trenches for the players to deal with.

    • Sardukar says:

      We did briefly play Conspiracy X, although our GM of the time didn’t tell us that. Weirdly enough, I just recently adapted his start of that game to a modern cyber game. I hesitate to say “punk”, since it isn’t.

      Well, what was going on in HPL’s universe was insanity at the center of everything for no other reason than it was. If I recall correctly. The magic answer was “BLAARGH-cry-WAFFLE-bleed-slime”. HPL never really got a whole lot deeper because he didn’t need to – the stories were, of course, background for the human play that was his actual concern.

      Don’t get me wrong – CoC is a lot of fun to play. I find it less fun to run than others and even as a player, I prefer a less…horrific, pointless mythos. And I like WFRP! So..go HPL and your utter, utter grimnessessess? I guess?

    • RichardFairbrass says:

      As much as I loved Call of Cthulhu I think Delta Green and Delta Green: Countdown are the two best RPG supplements I have ever read, bar none.

      To anyone who doesn’t have it: If you like standard 1920′s Lovecraft, get it. If you like the X-files, get it. If you like both of those things then get it *right now* and rejoice for ever more.

      - Delta Green: Countdown might be a bit harder to track down these days but is definitely worth it, all the more so because it has a UK focus.

  13. Harmonist says:

    Reading this article finally made me sign up, just so I could say well done sir.

    Well done sir.

    Now if only there was a way that one could play the Call Of Cthulhu RPG over the interwebz….

    • Moth Bones says:

      Here you go – http://www.callofcthulhu.org.uk/

      I participated in one of these threads for a while, but dropped out due to personal circumstances. You have to be pretty committed or the plot just takes ages to move on.

  14. Vorrin says:

    Ah what a nice thing to find this article just as I’ve recently started playing CoC over other RPGs, and totally agree with what is said here :) Much more rpging, much less boring dice pseudocombat…

  15. G_Man_007 says:

    I’m something of an amateur Lovecraft nut, and I happen to be moving to Scotland within the next 8-10 weeks, so this has really caught my attention. This couldn’t really get more portentious if Cthullu himself came to my front door, and asked me to look after his shoggoth for a couple of weeks while he went visiting Nyarlathotep at Unknown Kadath. Cheers for covering this, and for the column in general; it’s nice to have something distantly related to video games covered on this site to break up all the other interesting stuff that RPS does.

  16. ThriftyDiomedes says:

    CoC quicstart rules

    http://www.chaosium.com/article.php?story_id=87

  17. oatish says:

    Man, gotta love those Chaosium RPGs.

    My group’s GM gave us the best game I have ever played last weekend with the BRP system. At this point I think we are in an artificial mountain held as captive-slaves but I have yet to determine if it is ultimately “science-fiction” or “fantasy-mythology”… and that is just the BRP Yellow Book and imaginations.

    I really wanna try their Roman Republic source books.

    • Whosi says:

      Grew up a big fan of Chaosium and Steve Perrin with Runequest, Stormbringer(I’m a big Michael Moorcock fan, plus had the original boxed version of this) and his helping on Thieves’ World and Call of Cthulhu.

      Considering I’ve been Robert Bruce, Bon Scott and Robert Florence in previous lives I believe I will have to get this….I think I may have also been a 9-foot tall lizardman, but I don’t recall anything about an axe. Oh well.

  18. Colonel J says:

    God I had the original US Chaosium box set from the 1980′s (so much nicer to hold than the shoddier GW UK reprint) and just about all the supplements & campaigns ever printed back then. Including the brilliant and beautifully presented Masks of Nyarlathotep box set campaign, the best RPG campaign I’ve ever played. Like a fool I sold the lot for little more than beer money to a local uni RPG group about 10 years ago in a house move to make space. I’m never likely to play them again but it would be nice to have them in my hands again and reminisce on old times. Greatest paper RPG of all time, it still resonates through all my PC gaming years later. Still waiting for the definitive Cthulhu CRPG, hey maybe one day.

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      Similarly I have a load of Call of Cthulhu stuff from the eighties, but thankfully it’s still sitting in my loft. I still have the classic Horror on the Orient Express campaign which goes for a pretty penny on eBay, but I don’t think I’ll ever sell. I’d love to run it properly one day (only ever got a short way in as a youth).

      I’d really enjoy running an RPG again but, shallowly, I’m not sure I could get past the arch-geek stigma. I was recently in Leisure Games and heard a group raucously role-playing at the back of the shop. They were having a fantastic time but were so tragically unhip. I realise this makes me sound like a spectacular arsehole – in fact I hate myself for this judgement – but it’s true.

      In order to RPG as an adult I think you’d need to have many geek friends, or be so secure in your social group that you wouldn’t be judged by your non geek friends / wife and family. Maybe as I get older I’ll care less about such judgements.

  19. Jake says:

    I was just listening to an audiobook of The Dunwich Horror when I thought I’d take a break and lo and behold. I just got the Arkham Horror boardgame to try out, I’d love to play this too but I’ve never played an RPG and I don’t really even know how I would go about organising it. Someone up thread said it takes 8 months! How many players do you need and how do you organise 8 months worth of weekly sessions with the same players – or can they change/miss games? Are they long sessions? And I guess you need an experienced GM?

    • G_Man_007 says:

      Wouldn’t happen to have been read by David McCallum by any chance?

    • Jake says:

      I’ve listened to lots of different ones, including some podcasts, but recently got The Dark Worlds of H.P Lovecraft read by someone called Wayne June, you can hear a sample here: http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Worlds-H-Lovecraft-One/dp/B004BDTXFK/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1 – I think he is actually really good, the right sort of accent and voice for a Lovecraft reader.

    • Temple says:

      Depending on how socially brave you are you could go to your friendly local game shop and see if anyone is advertising -link is on here
      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/group.php?discussionid=26&do=discuss

      I feel I’m missing something, but there don’t seem to be any starter guides or websites that jump out at me as good for newcomers.

      I like playing with pornstars (obvious joke is obvious) but he’s normally pretty indepth.

      This site is interesting, though pervaded by curious advertising, this is a link to a typical tips example
      http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=502#tips

      Ah, a bit of a guide on gms. There is a thing going around at the moment -the three questions in the post, so there are a few people writing about how to DM.
      http://shirosrpg.blogspot.com/2011/08/hill-cantons-challenge-building-better.html

      An experienced GM is a boon, but the wonderful thing about pen and paper RPGs is that the rules are a guideline and can be broken/ignored without mods or hacks. What you want is someone who can tell a story -or who can do lots of funny accents. If they are good at book-keeping and willing to do a decent amount of prep pre-gaming session that is a what is needed.
      The amount of players is game dependent. There is no reason why there cannot be a GM and one other player if you so desired. There was a lo-fi indie pc game a while back almost like that. One person creates a story and the second plays it. There are some games that can take a long time in character creation and people can really love that -almost a game in itself- typically less stat heavy and more into storytelling.
      A more typical party size would be four or five players both from the days of D&D, eg the staple of Warrior, Mage, Cleric, Thief, but also from practicality of what size can be managed. A group of 4 or 5 would obviously create more player interaction and side-stories that are non-GM made.

      Unllike some boardgames with a GM where they are in opposition, in a RPG the GM is there to help the story along and provide interesting balanced encounters, ie don’t kill off the players unfairly.

      Length of game is again up to you. There are one-shot adventures for many games. ‘Paranoia’ is a good one for that as something invariably goes wrong and everyone dies horribly (and amusingly). There is no reason your average D&D adventure cannot be a one-shot. CoC can end quickly of course -nothing like an all powerful elder god arising to finish a session abruptly.
      Typically though, the greatest investment in a game comes when your character has a chance to grow through a campaign: your investigator learns more and becomes steadily more insane as she does so, your warrior gets phat loot and can wrestle dragons bare-handed etc

      And that was longer than I intended.

    • G_Man_007 says:

      I found some read by a woman called Morgan Scorpion, who has MS as I remember, and she uses Lovecraft’s stories as escapism from her condition, but the great thing is that as his work is public domain, there’s so many free readings available of his stories. I recommend The Dunwich Horror and The Rats In The Walls (two of my favourites) read by David McCallum of The Man From Uncle and NCIS fame, and The Outsider and Grave Robber read by Roddy McDowell, of Planet of The Apes, and Laserblast fame.

    • Jake says:

      Thanks Temple. It sounds like a GM has to have a taste for the theatrical, like they have to really roleplay their characters – do they do different voices and things? I would tend to play with a group that, well, would be mean if I tried to do voices and I would understand that. I really need some geekier friends with overactive imaginations (instead of all these damn pornstars). I’ve also been looking at the 40k roleplaying books – would you happen to know which is more accessible as a gateway drug?

      @GMan – I’ll check out David McCallum, maybe I have already heard him. I find audiobooks work really well but the narrator really sells the story with Lovecraft – the wrong voice can sound totally anachronistic.

    • Temple says:

      /currently cursing Firefox 6 which ate my post

      So, short version this time :)
      I don’t like the system myself in any of the WH40K books -it is basically the same system. Rab wrote a love sonnet for Deathwatch a while back somewhere on RPS.
      Deathwatch would be my recommendation as a gateway. It is the latest, so most polished, and can be played as a freeform Space Hulk. The mission aims are easy to grasp for newcomers -go here kill that translates pretty well. The main book has some good guidelines for mission creation, basically choose a main objective and a couple of secondary ones and plonk you characters down. The players get better equipment depending on the difficulty of the mission.
      Actually that sounds pretty good now I describe it :)
      Sample mission and characters here
      http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite_sec.asp?eidm=108&esem=4

      Dark Heresy would probably lend itself to a more experienced group/GM as it is more investigation based. Rogue Trader, well you have a bloody great big ship and the missions would probably take a lot more work than a simple DW mission.

      Of course Black Crusade is out soon, if you are that way inclined…
      http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite.asp?eidm=154&enmi=Black%20Crusade
      Actually already out at Gencon.

  20. BunnyPuncher says:

    No mention of Paranoia?

    • Lemming says:

      In the Call of Cthulhu article? Give him a chance he’s got to play a new board game every week

  21. Lambchops says:

    If it wasn’t rainy when Fort William was used then the book is doing it wrong!

    Also, you didn’t get taught about the Highland Clearances at school? It’s one of the few bits of Scottish history I actually remember being taught, along with the Stone of Destiny and the Jacobite rebellion.

    • thegooseking says:

      I didn’t get taught any Scottish history from that period. We got stuff up to about the 8th century, I think, and 20th century history as well, but nothing in between.

      But our history classes were never about events; they were always about day-to-day life back then.

  22. bluebogle says:

    I always liked the Rifts series by Palladium. I haven’t played many table top RPGs, but for some reason have about 15 of the Rifts books which I always enjoyed reading.

    • Josh W says:

      Someone should port rifts over to FATE, I’ve heard it was hilariously vibrant and contradictory in it’s setting, but with an infuriating rules structure. It strikes me that taking all that madness and putting it into a system where the upsides and downsides automatically balance could be a good way to make it playable.

  23. magnus says:

    I’m a hell of an H.P. Lovecraft fan, oh yes.

  24. jezcentral says:

    Call of Cthulhu was the best pen-and-paper RPG I ever played, better than D&D, Runescape or Traveller. Backed by a wonderful gamemaster, I went from a shoot-out in a hotel, to fleeing the country (the U.S.) To Scotland where we had to infiltrate a members club. Fortunately, my character was already established as a published author, and was welcomed with open arms. Great times.

    1920 was the best time period, rather than 1890 or the modern day. Alas, I never found anyone to play with after sixth form. :( And so it ended. Until the blessed internet arrived.

  25. ClockworkTiger says:

    As someone who really (really, really, really, etc…) hated (loathed, abhorred) last weeks article, and expressed it a bit more harshly than I had intended to, I have to say that this week’s was a joy to read from start to finish. Crackin’ good work on this one, Mr Florence! If I could hug text on a screen, I would.

  26. Ravenholme says:

    Excellent read Mr Florence – I’d just like to say that when I finished with school around three and a half years past, there was still next to no scottish history taught in the history classes that everyone had to take (Before you choose your courses for standard grades/highers), and, as you noted, absolutely nothing about the highland clearances.

    I would get this for the same reasons as you, it’d be awesome to read about scottish history with a Cthulhu-verse spin, and even cooler to roleplay it. The Aberdeen accent might give me less hassle than most GMs/Keepers, but that’s only because I live right next to it (Though my accent is a curious mix of some the Aberdeenshire towns north of the city)

  27. Lemming says:

    I’ve known of call of Cthulhu for a while now, but never taken the plunge. Based of this article I finally did, and tracked down that 30th anniversary edition as well.

  28. SkiDesignS says:

    My friend designed an RPG system from scratch, and it’s very flexible. I ran one of the trial sessions, in a CoC setting. It started off all pleasant and friendly, with all characters being neighbours in a small English town. Within half an hour, on their way to Cambridge for further investigations, their car was overturned by another car filled with cultists, and all but one character were nearly dead thanks to a spectacular car crash. The one that did survive without any kind of surgery was, spectacularly, the town drunk. I still maintain that, as a GM, this was one of my favourite RP moments of all time.

  29. Dawngreeter says:

    A perfect, sublime work of art that is Call of Cthulhu core book, containing absolutely everything you need to play the game, has this awesome supplement that has everything you need to play the game… in Scotland!

    I kid, though. I’m an RPG junkie, I know what was meant in the article. It’s good to see tabletop RPGs on RPS, I hope indie titles will be covered in the future as well.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Oh and, also, any thought on Trail of Cthulhu RPG? I feel the original CoC is, well… a bad game. Great setting. Impressive scope. Bold and daring approach to RPGs. But it’s not a very good game because you can, and often do, die from a single bad roll. It was impressive back in the day. But it’s equivalent to not having a save game option in a modern computer game.

    • Sif says:

      “Oh and, also, any thought on Trail of Cthulhu RPG?”

      I wanted to love Trail SO BAD. (Writing by Kenneth Hite? System by Robin Laws? How could this go wrong!) But it treats skills as finite resources (that don’t refresh until the next session, I believe) which bugged the hell out of me and my players.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Hrm, that’s unfortunate. I’ll have to downgrade Trail of Cthulhu from “something I might play” to the “something I’ll buy to steal ideas from” list.

    • malkav11 says:

      My understanding is that it assumes a basic level of competency and success in unopposed skill use that will garner the most critical clues automatically. The players then have a certain amount of points in skills that they can temporarily expend to achieve greater degrees of success and extract more information. And in opposed checks there’s a simple die roll (d6, I believe) where points can be spent to add to the check.

      This is based on listening to recorded play sessions of Fear Itself, which is another horror RPG based on the same Gumshoe system Trail of Cthulhu uses. its specific implementation may be different, I may be missing finer details, and of course the people in question could have been playing it wrong.

    • Hastur says:

      As you might infer from my nom-de-nom, I am a big Call of Cthulhu fan. But I’ve run Trail of Cthulhu several times now and I really think it’s a much better game in many ways.

      Trail really gets so much right, including splitting Sanity into two stats (Sanity and Stability), and offering Pillars of Sanity and Sources of Stability (providing a target-rich environment for the GM). But hands-down, the best part about playing Trail of Cthulhu is this: if you have a stat, you can utilize it competently without a roll. Who hasn’t run into this narrative brick wall in Call of Cthulhu:

      “If you want to find this [crucial clue to continue the scenario], make your Library Use roll to find the right book in the library. Er, you failed with a bad roll, despite the fact that you’re the world’s most renowned librarian? Alright, I’m sure you’ll know another library in the area, make a Knowledge roll. What, failed that too? Maybe you can Persuade the librarian? Another bad roll?

      OK, make a Luck roll.”

      In Trail of Cthulhu, if you look for a clue using any reasonably applicable skill, you simply get the clue. The mechanic gets out of the way.

      People who haven’t played Trail often whinge about how it will make the game too easy. I have yet to hear that from someone who’s played. This complaint arises because pixel-hunting has become so ingrained in the mechanic of other roleplaying systems, people aren’t at first sure what to do when it’s eliminated.

      But after playing Trail, doing it any other way begins to seem absurd: the GM has designed this exquisite story. She desperately wants to give you the clue. You desperately want to get the clue. To make the story compelling and sensical, you need to get the clue. SO JUST GET THE CLUE.

      The fun is then focused rightly on piecing the clues together, which is usually what you would rather do anyway. Instead of starving for clues, you’re awash in clues. But which ones matter? Where do they lead next? Can you figure it out Before. It’s. Too. Late?

      Trail of Cthulhu/GUMSHOE is a fantastic system, a terrific fit for the Cthulhu paradigm. I encourage both newbies and jaded Call of Cthulhu players to give it a try.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Hastur is exactly right. The Gumshoe system is great and naturally somewhat uncomfortable for people who only ever played traditional skill-check systems. I haven’t actually gotten around to playing Trail of Cthulhu, though I read the book, but I did play Esoterrorists which is the game with which the Gumshoe system started. The investigation mechanic is pure genius. Pure. Genius.

      And yes, people lose their minds when they realize they are playing characters which are actually competent. And not competent like, I have 90% chance of accomplishing a basic task defined by my primary profession. Competent like, I can always perform basic tasks defined by my profession. If you thought there’s something incredibly wrong with games which make a professional blacksmith do a chance roll to determine if he is able to forge a horseshoe, you’ll love the Gumshoe system.

    • Harlander says:

      I really like the Gumshoe system. I played Mutant City Blues, which uses it, and also asks the question “What if the X-Men were officers in the NYPD?” It’s great, and, as mentioned, removing the fear that you’ll fail a skill roll makes investigations flow a whole lot better.

    • Schiraman says:

      @Hastur:

      I don’t really agree – IMO sometimes failure is fun. Characters who always succeed at the skills they’re good at leads to a predictable, boring game. Roleplaying isn’t storytelling – it shouldn’t just be a series of automatic successes that leads you along a pre-set path, it should be a challenge, with plenty of room for unexpected success and failure, and the attendant sudden need for improvisation and quick-thinking. In short: dice add risk, which makes things more exciting.

      That said, I’m not keen on the CoC system, because it’s way *too* random. Give me a system with a bell-curve on its dice mechanics every time – something like GURPS (roll 3d6 and get under your skill) where you have a reasonable expectation of success at skills you’re good at, rather than the CoC or D20 where it often feels like it’s the dice that are in control.

    • Hastur says:

      @Schiraman: Definitely, failure is fun when it leads to interesting consequences. Bringing the narrative to a grinding halt is rarely interesting.

      Trail of Cthulhu is not a diceless system; you can still fail at all kinds of things. Just not at finding clues that move the story along.

  30. malkav11 says:

    I still maintain that people who are upset that a game (D&D) that started life as adjunct rules for a miniatures combat game continues to have a heavy emphasis on the miniatures and combat haven’t been paying much attention.

    I’ve long been curious about Call of Cthulhu, particularly how a campaign is meant to happen when combat and Mythos creatures are both ridiculously (though appropriately) lethal and sanity is so fragile. I’ve yet to actually play, though, just listened to podcasts of people playing it.

    A science fiction take on similar themes with a similar system can be found in Eclipse Phase. They’ve taken the startlingly progressive step of Creative Commons licensing all Eclipse Phase products, and have made official, updated PDFs of the main rulebook and all significant additional content available for free (though obviously they’d like you to buy a copy, either physical or PDF, if you like it). Recently started playing in a campaign of that and it’s been quite interesting.

    • Sif says:

      “I’ve long been curious about Call of Cthulhu, particularly how a campaign is meant to happen when combat and Mythos creatures are both ridiculously (though appropriately) lethal and sanity is so fragile.”

      Delta Green solves that rather neatly by being an anti-mythos organization with hundreds of more or less willing agents waiting in the wings. Other times, well, the players and GM have to be a little flexible with that mysterious Tibetan monk suddenly joining your party of 1920s British adventurers on the Plateau of Leng.

    • Jesse L says:

      D&D started (under a different name) as an adjunct to a miniatures combat game, then became D&D, had little to do with miniatures for a couple of decades, and suddenly in its latest edition cannot be properly played without miniatures and hex grid battle maps. If you look at many of the classic D&D modules (Tomb of Horrors, for instance) you’ll see that its brand of adventuring has less to do with hacking monsters to death than with slowly, cautiously, cleverly prodding one’s way through a series of horrible death traps. You might not think that’s fun either, but it didn’t have a whole hell of a lot to do with minis. D&D never emphasized roleplaying, but at its start it was a game whose object was to collaboratively and creatively solve riddles of various kinds, whereas in its latest incarnation it’s about tactical grid-based combat.

    • malkav11 says:

      The 4E rules more strongly emphasize tactical positioning, yes. But grids and maps and combat and hack-n-slash have been the meat of D&D for four editions (and change) now. It wasn’t until 3rd edition that they even had proper, fully integrated rules for non-combat skills.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Eclipse Phase is indeed awesomeness itself. I wouldn’t, however, strictly recommend it to Lovecraft fans. There’s horror in Eclipse Phase for sure, but more than anything else, it’s for us live-forever-or-die-trying Transhumanism proponents.

    • Schiraman says:

      Totally agree WRT D&D – it’s always been a tactical combat game, not really a role-playing game. Nothing wrong with that, it’s good fun – but yeah, seems strange to complain about it now.

      As for CoC campaigns: IMO they just don’t work very well. You can run them, and people do. But horror games are always better suited to a one-off scenario than a long-running game. A scenario is like a horror film, an ongoing campaign is like adding a string of sequels to that film – inevitably you water down the horror and end up with something pretty cheesy and derivative.

      If nothing else, having narrowly survived one dread horror – half dead and with your sanity in tatters – why the hell would you seek out another? Let alone a long-running sequence of them! ;)

    • Werthead says:

      “But grids and maps and combat and hack-n-slash have been the meat of D&D for four editions (and change) now.”

      Grids and maps were not required for 1-2E and were optional at best. Certainly none of the rules really required the use of miniatures or made reference to them. 3E changed this to refer to ‘squares’ and illustrations in the rulebooks used miniatures to demonstrate things like line-of-sight and areas-of-effect. However, the actual use of miniatures, though more strongly emphasised in 3E, remained optional. Certainly not once in eight years of running 3E campagns did I ever use miniatures and never noticed the lack of it.

      4E is almost unplayable without miniatures and the emphasis in 4E is squarely back on combat to the exclusion of everything else. Whilst it is true that early D&D traditionally emphasised combat-oriented campaigns, it is not true that the game is only about the combat. In fact, the RAVENLOFT and PLANESCAPE settings focused on atmosphere and character (and in the latter case, ideology) over combat and magic, whilst DARK SUN also featured environment survival aspects.

      During 2E, sourcebooks were released which made the game much more historically accurate, with rules for running historically-based, non-magic campaigns where roleplaying and character interaction were strongly emphasised (since without magical healing, combat was far more frequently lethal). The lack of flexibility in the non-combat rules, particularly the silly ‘nonweapon proficiency’ attempt to paper over the issue, led to the development of much stronger and more RP-based skills and rules in 3E.

      In summary, D&D stated off as a tactical combat game (understandably, as RPGs did not exist back then), and then evolved – somewhat bumpily – into a ‘proper’ RPG which allowed for much more satisfying ‘real’ RPing. One of the reasons 4E is so controversial (and has sold badly) is that non-combat-focused gaming has been drastically reduced.

    • Sardukar says:

      Call of Cthulhu and Eclipse Phase. Reading up on the Gates and What Lurks Beyond, I definitely got a Cthonian vibe. Combined with the incomprehensible agendas and horrific methods of the TITANS, I’ve been considering a very HPL-style bent for an Eclipse Phase game.

      The fun bit of CoC for me was it’s very alien-ness of the antagonists. You don’t get them and probably can never “get” them and must struggle against this or perish. I see a lot of potential in approaching or, ah, breeding that into an Eclipse Phase game.

  31. Sif says:

    “Call of Cthulhu’s main rulebook contains one of the greatest one-shot scenarios in RPG history. It’s called “The Haunting”, or “The Haunted House”.”

    Hell yes, “The Haunting”! I’ve run that sucker about 5 times now.

    It’s lovely that the quality of the CoC supplements has remained so high. (The only other system that rivals it for imaginative richness AND great writing is Unknown Armies, in my opinion. Maybe Over the Edge) I remember tearing through the massive Delta Green: Countdown book in a single night, I loved it so much. (It’s possibly the only RPG supplement I’d consider superior to its core book.

    Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll have to snag this one, it’s been too long since my group played in Lovecraft’s world.

  32. aircool says:

    I don’t know if they still make the ‘Green and Pleasant Land’ sourcebook (I bought mine in the late 80′s), but that was similarly awesome. Just the cover was reason enough to buy it.

  33. echoMateria says:

    For those who wonder what this whole Cthulhu deal is, here is an accurate summary:

  34. Prime says:

    Shadows over Scotland? Those’ll be clouds.

    • Jake says:

      yes, really Scotland could do with an Elder God awakening just to cheer the place up a bit.

  35. Jody Macgregor says:

    Nice work, Mr Florence. I would love to see regular coverage of pen-and-paper RPGs on Rock Paper Shotgun (said the guy who used to design them).

  36. Reivles says:

    Oh, lovely. More reviews like this please!

    You made me actually want this thing… now I have to find space on my RPG shelf.

  37. Nilokey says:

    Well, I think I’m sold on just this review alone.

    I’m from Edinburgh, play CoC with my friends and I love reading other peoples interpretations of Scotland and all the weird things I don’t know about it.

    I’ll buy a copy and then force our usual GM to run a campaign set in Old Town or something in the ‘burgh, that place has a lot of history and extremely suitable dark spots : D

  38. xandertron says:

    “There’s Vampire: The Masquerade…”

    Well, no. Not for the last 7 years there isn’t. V:tM was discontinued and replaced by a reboot called Vampire: The Requiem, which is significantly different (and in my opinion more dark, less geeky and angsty).

    Yes, I logged in just to post this. What a jerk.

    You’re right, though — Call of Cthulhu is the best RPG of all time.

    • Sardukar says:

      That he called it The Masquerade instead of Requiem really speaks to the popularity and perception of WW main game line, even today. My wife and gaming friends have pretty clear perceptions of Masq and very few of Requiem.

      I’m not saying the one is superior, simply better-known. I found Delta Green to be more enjoyable and more…likely…than CoC in 18 or 1900s form, but CoC is much more iconic.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Well, no. Not for the last 7 years there isn’t.

      V20, bitches. The Masquerade is back. They’re publishing an updated version of the core rulebook (limited fancy edition first) and releasing all-new material. Not to mention making all the old stuff available as print-on-demand.

      The plan seems to be to maintain both lines simultaneously. Which is quite sensible, since they’re vastly different settings, and there’s a whole lot of affection for the oWoD that never quite carried over to the nWoD.

  39. Hastur says:

    Oh, The Haunting. Truly a classic in its simplicity. That haunted bed has been a fount of hilarious roleplaying moments.

  40. Fuxalodapus says:

    Aside from the Cthulhu-green cover, I think I prefer the 20th Anniversary Special Edition better.

    Looks more Necronomicon-y.

    And, yes, moar articles like this. Less like last week’s fiasco, plox.

  41. Malkara says:

    The story of the greatest character in Call of Cthulhu, ever:

    http://imageshack.us/f/13/henderson1.jpg/

    (the original thread, and rest of the story: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive/10964326/)

  42. OJSlaughter says:

    Don’t worry things have changed: history isn’t taught in schools anymore :p

    Man, this does look awesome of a Table-top though

  43. SavageD says:

    Well, I finally caved in after reading these articles. I’ve just placed an order for the 6th Ed of the CoC RPG book (standard version, not the leatherbound 30th Anniversary Ed), and the Arkham Horror boardgame.

    My life is complete, let the insanity begin.

  44. idespair says:

    I’ve not played CoC since school, but this brought back a lot of fun memories – I might have to pick up the Scotland book just to have a read through. I did notice that RPGNow are having a 15% off Cthulhu sale this week, so the pdf works out to be about a tenner.

    I keep on thinking about ordering Uncle Mike’s Strange Aeons, for some Cthulhu miniature gaming, but the international shipping is a might bit off-putting. The demo rules seem like fun.

  45. Hidden_7 says:

    This article reminded me of that time I found out that Vampire did a Vancouver supplement. It’s pretty bizarre to see the place you live as a setting for a fantasy game, moreso if the place you live isn’t one of the big cities. It was doubly bizarre because it was written in the early nineties, and the city has changed a fair amount over the past twenty years. Reading the posh yuppie neighbourhood referred to as “the warehouse district” is possibly equally weird as learning that the old town touristy bit has sprawling catacombs underneath it, home to one of the underworld’s biggest libraries, or that the university forest is patrolled by various clans of werewolves. Whodathunk it?

  46. ShadyGuy says:

    While I haven’t played Call Of Cthulhu, I am at the moment reading Lovecrafts stories, having just finished The Shadow Over Innsmouth and now going through Herbert West: Reanimator. Call Of Cthulhu and The Mountains Of Madness will be next.

    Lovecraft’s world is truly creepy and his use of language sparks the imagination, conjuring images of unnamable horrors. Excellent stuff.

  47. Harlander says:

    I almost always enjoy Call of Cthulhu when I play it. The two things that dent its glorious sheen are these:

    1) The characters don’t know about the Mythos, but the players know loads about the Mythos. Harms the mystery of the setting just a touch.

    2) The game can degenerate into a “who can go insane the quickest” contest. This is, admittedly, usually very entertaining, but not superlative when you’re trying to play seriously.

    My personal favourite RPG is Shadowrun, though, despite the somewhat flaky rules, and because of the way the vague silliness of its setting is played completely, diastopically straight.

    • Schiraman says:

      I really agree with point 1, though I’d say a good solution is to to run a horror game in the *style* of Cthulhu but using your own monsters and horrors rather than sticking to the cool-but-now-familiar critters from the published material.

      That said, a lot of CoC players seem to get genuine enjoyment from trying to guess what the monster of the week is, so I guess it maybe depends.

    • malkav11 says:

      Two of the best Call of Cthulhu sessions I’ve encountered (Bryson Springs and Delta Green: Lover in the Ice, over here: RPPR) used horrors entirely out of the GM’s own imagination. In fact, he said after one of the sessions that he’s never actually read Lovecraft, yet in my opinion the things he came up with were very Lovecraftian indeed.

  48. Caleb367 says:

    *opens RPS*
    *sees article on Call of Cthulhu*
    *thinks “neat! it’s been years but it’s my fav RPG system and setting!”*
    *clicks read more*
    *HPL face popping out from nowhere and staring directly into soul*
    *fail real life sanity check*
    *aieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee*

  49. Xanadu says:

    Big fan of CofC. Had the old GW book and it scared the willies out of me back on the 80s.
    On the topic of localism in RPGs, I had a soft spot for The Price of Freedom back in the day, which positively encouraged you to set the game in your own home town, however small, after it was overrun by the Red Army.

  50. BigglesB says:

    As someone who’s never read any Lovecraft nor played DnD or any other PnP RPG since I was a wee lad, is this accessible enough to play with a few other non-accustomed-to-this-sort-of-thing friends? How many people do you need to play? Only I’ve been meaning to go on holiday to by Gran’s old place in the highlands which is miles from anywhere and has no tv or internet or any such thing and this sounds like it would be perfect!