I was giving some more thought to what would make a horror genre game Lovecraftian:
- Protagonists are usually normal people or even those more fragile and sensitive than normal. - Needs a dynamic tension between wanting to learn more yet being afraid to learn more. - Horror isn't about killing characters, but scaring the players (building tension/atmosphere/dread). - The climax of horror in Lovecraft stories often comes about from some revelation at the end. - Mind transfer is a frequently used theme. - An obsession with New England architecture should figure into the games somehow (PC/NPC). - An obsession with 17th, 18th, and 19th century New England should figure in also (PC/NPC). - Dreams are a frequent theme often related to lost youth, idealized past and/or other world. - Old age is often related to something sinister or otherworldly/monstrous. - Lovecraft's repulsion at miscegenation gets filtered in as human/monster hybrids. - What may be perceived as insanity may in fact be revelation or enlightenment.
I'm reposting something I wrote in the Marvel Super Heroes RPG thread here, for my own reference:
In the super hero game there has to be some provision for overcoming a weakness or limitation, since that is so central to the archetype. Facing and overcoming your weakness is an important part of the hero's journey. And from a meta-gaming standpoint, a weakness is like throwing the GM a bone to give him more personalized details to work with in coming up with a scenario. So, that is a must-have.
In CALL OF CTHULHU it is a bit more difficult, since Lovecraft's stories are often more about creating an atmosphere of dread and eerieness than they are about the protagonists actively driving the plot along... There a few exceptions, like in "The Dunwich Horror" "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," "The Lurking Fear," or "The Shunned House." But for the most part his protagonists are the neurotic dreamers or sensitive artists or fainting scholars who end up fleeing for their lives ("The Festival," "The Whisperer in Darkness," "At the Mountains of Madness"), getting destroyed ("Dagon," "The Haunter in the Dark," "The Temple"), or finding out they themselves are monsters or otherwise disappearing from the earthly realm ("The Outsider," "Rats in the Walls," "Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Silver Key"). A lot of times his protagonists merely uncover a story or observe events without making any difference ("The Call of Cthulhu," "Pickman's Model," "The Shadow Out of Time"). So, I think it is inherently challenging to have a game that stays true to Lovecraft, yet also allows the players to be active participants who can make some kind of difference. A way to handle the skill button pusher problem is simply tell the players they cannot ask to use a skill, they must describe what they do and you as the GM will tell them when a skill check is required. So, the game can end up being more about what the player does, how he investigates, where and how he looks for details, making logical connections, etc. than about his character successfully making skill checks.
So, it is should be about immersion in the atmosphere and seeking knowledge ("I want to find out but I'm afraid of what it might be"), not a focus on rules mechanics, skills, big guns, etc.
Last Edit: Apr 28, 2018 14:30:55 GMT -5 by GRWelsh
I’ve cooled a lot on my criticism of the CoC skill mechanic. It’s still something of a bore, but, if used sparingly it is okay. With a big enough group, it at least is a way of deciding who gets to complete the fire drill, and the jams that result from failures are sometimes interesting (force creative solutions) and sometimes funny.
But, I’m also a lot less concerned with the CoC game being particularly Lovecraftian (New England, etc.), let alone the jokey/populist take that Gene encapsulated. I just like the basic setup of, Let’s go see what’s “really” under the Pyramids, or on Easter Island, or in the sewers of New York City. And the flavor can be whatever.
“A man may do both. For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!” —J.R.R. Tolkien
I’m also a lot less concerned with the CoC game being particularly Lovecraftian (New England, etc.), let alone the jokey/populist take that Gene encapsulated. I just like the basic setup of, Let’s go see what’s “really” under the Pyramids, or on Easter Island, or in the sewers of New York City. And the flavor can be whatever.
I agree that a CALL OF CTHULHU game doesn't need to be Lovecraftian in the ways I was describing to be successful. The New England setting and other details aren't essential but could be enjoyable to HPL fans (like it could be fun to go to Arkham, Miskatonic University, Arkham Sanitarium, interact with NPC's from the stories, etc.). But none of that is as important as creating the "weird tale" feeling, and if you can do that, the game can be set anywhere and played by anyone (including those who haven't read HPL). I don't care about the game being a period piece, either -- set in the 1920's or 30's -- except that has the advantage of no cell phones and thus it is easier to create some sense of isolation. But period play can be distracting if there is too much focus on the details and differences. So, it may be best to have things be as familiar as possible to give the game a "this could happen to you" feeling which is the baseline for most horror. This is especially true of the best Lovecraftian fiction -- it doesn't try to slavishly imitate his style or setting, but tries to capture the same sense of eerieness or unsettling revelation, and usually written in the time period and setting the author is most familiar with (Clark Ashton Smith in Oakland, CA, Ramsey Campbell in the UK, Stephen King in Maine, Michael Shea in LA, W. H. Pugmire in Seattle, Joe Pulver Sr. in Schenectady, NY, et al.).* If I were going to write horror fiction, it would be set in Western PA in the late 20th or early 21st century because I wouldn't want to get called out on getting the details wrong!
*The only time I ever thought a Lovecraft pastiche worked was Peter Cannon's "The Madness out of Time" because he perfectly imitated Lovecraft's style and it was presented as a 'lost' HPL story not as a hoax but an homage to the way old stories often had a framing device of "I didn't write this; I found it and as far as I know it is all true."
As an aside: I could swear that new Gaia network is made for CALL OF CTHULHU players... Pyramids in Antarctica? Let's go!
Last Edit: May 12, 2019 16:30:32 GMT -5 by GRWelsh
you suddenly realize that you are not really your character anymore but rather a simulacrum made of "star cheese"...
I had an idea for a story similar to what Gene wrote years earlier (quoted above). As a game idea, if a character gets replaced in a "Body Snatchers" way and the player has to role play the duplicate that's not so different from a player running his doppelganger in D&D. But the twist is: what if the imitation is designed to perfectly mimic the original all the way down to the thoughts and motivations until 'activated'? Sort of like the perfect sleeper agent. So, how this would work is a character may find out he isn't human and it is very disconcerting... He still feels and thinks like a human, cares about his human companions, and so on. Like, he gets cut and there's no blood, and the wound reveals strange matter that appears part animal and part vegetable. In the game, the player can determine how he wants to react upon learning that. In the story, since the imitation never gets 'activated' he helps the other humans against the 'masters' who created him. I just realized this sounds similar to TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY and other sequels like TERMINATOR: SALVATION, except in this case the imitation isn't reprogrammed, but rather his next level programming never gets activated.
Last Edit: May 13, 2019 14:10:59 GMT -5 by GRWelsh
Something else that might work in a CALL OF CTHULHU game is behavior that isn't necessarily threatening, but is odd and therefore eerie or unsettling. Like what if investigators suspect someone of wrongdoing and spy on him and witness him just standing in his house in the dark, unmoving? Or if someone has a neighbor who is digging all the time -- like obsessively. Or a neighbor keeps bringing animals into his house, but they are never seen again. There are probably lots of oddball, real life behaviors that could inspire weird scenarios or stories.
[SNIP]just standing in his house in the dark, unmoving? Or if someone has a neighbor who is digging all the time -- like obsessively. Or a neighbor keeps bringing animals into his house, but they are never seen again.[SNIP]
Seriously, there are a lot of examples in the stories. One of the things that I don't like about "THE EXCLUSIVE GAME RIGHTS OF CTHULHU" game is the insanity being a major part and being functional. Its in D&D but that is not the functional part of the game. Combat in D&D is the functional part of the game which gets extended down to the segment of a spell cast. COC is a game that is D&D derivative with this insanity material piled on top. Its as if D&D was run with an elaborate mental breakdown system and simplified percentile "combat checks".
What is sane? Its ridiculous. Comparatively in D&D, there is all this real armor and real weapon damage and then magic effects on top. What is lost at the end of a HPL story? Innocence, happiness, contentment, complacency, morals, etc. Insanity is almost a non-sequitur of not necessarily happening. If the ancient ones offered unlimited power everything else would be irrelevant. Doesn't sound like insanity.
Last Edit: May 13, 2019 8:39:29 GMT -5 by geneweigel
I get what you're saying since the "sanity as hit points" system doesn't really simulate what happens in most Lovecraft stories. People like it because it reverses the fantasy hero trend of always (usually) improving by creating a system in which you do (mostly) nothing but degenerate and so that emphasizes how utterly doomed you are. That touches on cosmic horror, but not the details of what happens in most HPL stories since they are about revelation or transformation rather than simply going insane. One may act in a way that appears insane to others because of what he knows and they do not. You could easily run scenarios that de-emphasize the sanity point system. For example, if a character discovers he is a "star cheese" simulacrum, instead of having the player make a sanity check, the Keeper (GM) could simply have the player role play the reaction. He could decide this knowledge drives the character temporarily insane since he cannot reconcile his two identities, or he may have him adapt to this revelation and move forward, or live in denial. It's like in the end of "The Shadow over Innsmouth" when the narrator finds out he is descended from Deep Ones, he is tormented by that knowledge for more than two years but eventually accepts what he is.
From that day on my life has been a nightmare of brooding and apprehension, nor do I know how much is hideous truth and how much madness. My great-grandmother had been a Marsh of unknown source whose husband lived in Arkham—and did not old Zadok say that the daughter of Obed Marsh by a monstrous mother was married to an Arkham man through a trick? What was it the ancient toper had muttered about the likeness of my eyes to Captain Obed’s? In Arkham, too, the curator had told me I had the true Marsh eyes. Was Obed Marsh my own great-great-grandfather? Who—or what—then, was my great-great-grandmother? But perhaps this was all madness.
So far I have not shot myself as my uncle Douglas did. I bought an automatic and almost took the step, but certain dreams deterred me. The tense extremes of horror are lessening, and I feel queerly drawn toward the unknown sea-deeps instead of fearing them.
Last Edit: May 14, 2019 10:26:08 GMT -5 by GRWelsh
Post by geneweigel on May 13, 2019 10:31:38 GMT -5
Thats a perfect example, its like contained in a D&D moment that as madness essentially being nerfed works. But in a game centered on HPL it doesn't because everything is then being nerfed so the players start "playing" out an alternative genre hence the gangster games of hit after hit that ruined everything that I worked on for a coc campaign in the mid-1980s.
I have lots of seeds for ideas to fix it but I might just put in my Skulldon adventure which has a few HPL moments and is next on the slate for me.