Players Scared of Death….in Call of Cthulhu

Sorry for the lapse in posts, university work has kept me insanely busy, and I probably should not be taking the time to write now, but I’m hoping that getting it out of my system will help me study.

I’ve encountered a new problem in my Call of Cthulhu game. I’ve written about ideas I’ve had for this game before, and I’m starting to implement some of them:I’ve not added in the XP system, though I have added a lot more liberal use of Idea rolls to give hints, and that seems to be helping– They breezed through the first section of the adventure, despite a fairly non-linear plot and quickly figured out what was going on, despite gaining a new player and some intraparty conflict. However they stalled for a bit at the bridge between the ‘figure out what is going on’ and ‘doing something about it’ stage. I managed to prod them into action, and they kidnapped a gangster, got him to confess and turned him over to the police. The adventure assumes that you are not going to do this, as do NONE of the CoC adventures I’ve encountered, despite it being the logical choice of action in many of them. Anyway, I have figured out a way to get them back into the plot (also a backup if I need, though it isn’t as good).

Anyway, the main problem I’m having with my game is players being scared of dying. I mean, no one wants there characters to die, but well, it seems a bit extreme. Now one player is retiring her character at the end of this adventure, so that she will not die and she can play one she is less attached too. Now, I like it when people get into my game, but I’m running CALL OF CTHULHU. The horror RPG known for killing characters. Confession time: I’m a bit of a carebear DM. I’ve only killed one character in all of my CoC games, that is ~3 gaming groups over 4 years of play. Which given the horror nature of the game is kinda low. On the other hand, they usually seem scared of dying, so I guess that doesn’t matter much.

Anyway, I would be interested in trying a different game with my group. Something outside of the horror genre, to let them have characters they can grow attached to without the constant fear of death. However they don’t like rules: CoC is about the heaviest thing I can interest them in I think, even the core BRP book has too many rules for them. They make there character based on the 1 page ‘how to make a character’ description, and ask what the skills do if the name is unclear. That is pretty much the extent that 3 out of 4 players want to know about the rules.

They also think CoC combats are about the maximum length they would enjoy, and let me tell you, combat in CoC is pretty damn fast as long as you don’t get a wiff-fest (Trying to do long ranged combat without anything but default rifle, for example).

So I’m looking for a new game where they will not be quite so paranoid about dying. I was thinking Savage Worlds, but that seems expensive to me, and when I browsed through it the rules seemed a bit too complex: I’m looking for something like ‘Pick a skill, roll under it’ like BRP does, not a big stack of advantages and disadvantages.

Now there are lots of retroclones and indie RPGs I could run, however I like a concrete rules system: None of this abstract ‘You have a combat state, a mental stat and a magic stat’ type of stuff. I like a nice concrete list of gear and stats and whatnot. D&D retroclones would probably be about the right rules density if I went and cut out THAC0 and all that legacy cruft that my players would be confused by, however they are not interested in D&D from what I understand.

Anyway, even if I do find a game I don’t have time to write adventures: I’ve had to take time off from studying just to write this blog post. So a large published base of adventures would be good, preferably short, episodic type ones. CoC is pretty good for this, since it is so old, there are a lot of ones from the 80s and such online. Ditto for pretty much any edition of D&D. I’ve contemplated the Serenity RPG as there are some published adventures for it, however 2 of my players are not really fans of the show, so that would be a hard sell.

So in summary: Are there any games that have:

1) Players do not need to own any books or look up anything during play

2) Non-abstract rules. Ie D&D, GURPS or BRP like, rather then The Pool, Wushu or such. (However both any edition of D&D newer then 3e, possibly even 2e, have too many rules for them, likewise with GURPs).

3) A large published base of adventures. They can be pay, though free is preferable. These should be episodic, not epic. In terms of plot more like an episode of CSI, Firefly or another serial show, monster/crime/problem of the week, as opposed to a epic Adventure Path or Lord of the Rings or something like that. Alternatively: If there adventures that I can convert to it given a couple hours of work that would be acceptable. For example, if they were interested in fantasy I could use Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game since I could convert any old D&D adventure without too much trouble since the monster states are almost identical. I couldn’t convert it to microlite20 however, as I’d have to write custom monsters, which takes too much time.

4) The ability to make a character in under 30 min. Under 1 hour is allowed the first time, after that it should be faster. It can also be longer if you take into account passing around 1 copy of the book to a bunch of people.

5) Works with 2-6 players + DM

6) Not horror, that is what I want a break from. Also low character mortality, something that will make them feel confident.

7) An interesting setting, not typical fantasy. I think I could sell them on Eberron, I could not sell them on Greyhawk, Dark Sun or the Forgotten Realms. 1890-modern would be cool, but other things could also work. Something I can explain simply is a big plus: CoC is pretty simple, I tell them it is the 1920s USA, and possibly a bit about the horror. Basically it needs a simple ‘hook’ that is all the players really need to know to get started, the rest they can learn as they go. Ex: Twilight 2000: “Instead of peace as in our world, in the 1980s nuclear war broke out between the USSR and USA. You are members of a military unit stationed in Europe. Both sides militaries  have collapsed, leaving you with one final mission: Get home.” or Fallout “Nuclear war broke out in the mid-21st century. You, along with many others, fled to underground shelters to survive. Now you need to go retrieve the water purification chip from Vault 60 to keep your vault safe.”. Stuff like that.

8) BONUS: If it is in either of the charity bundles that RPGNow has put up, I own both of those .

I’ve looked at Savage Worlds a couple of times, but it seemed complicated in all the wrong ways, i.e. adding in cards and such when it did not need too. I’d be willing to give it another look if someone pointed me me to a supply of adventures that will not eat my wallet.
I also own some other games that I have not had time to read through: I’ve downloaded all the OpenD6 books, and bought Atomic Highway. If someone could let me know if these might fit my requirements that would be cool.

Does anyone have any suggestions? I might try running the sample adventures from the BRP book and see how that goes once I finish the current adventure, and one of my players wants to run some Don’t Rest Your Head, so that gives me some time.

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Have you considered Traveller? A great low complexity hard science fiction game. You can get the first edition as a PDF for free. It also can be a fairly low PC mortality game. Not sure the availability of cheap adventures, most are out of print.

    Anyway, good luck. Have you asked what your players what they would like to play?

    • I’ve not considered Traveller as my only experience with it is the original black books. I might look at it, though the game has been improving since that post. I’m going to try a couple of one shots and see what they enjoy. I will keep that in mind. Does Traveller have a one-shot fastplay version?

  2. Having just been introduced to Savage Worlds and Atomic Highway I can say that both are good and pretty light systems. Both have pretty unpredictable combat in them where a few exceptional rolls can destroy a character (or your big bad guy) so the feeling is a bit more pulpy than in some systems. I find (from limited exposure mind you) that the Atomic Highway dice explosion mechanic is not quite as unpredictable as the one in Savage Worlds. Also Atomic Highway is a lot of fun and if you want to do a lot of vehicle stuff it. As for Microlite – it’s really good as well and very easy to tweak. You can use most d20 material with it and monsters from the SRD are real easy to drop in. Also there are a bunch of variants (like microlite 74) that would work with old d&d/ad&d modules or have monsters and stuff already converted.

    • Microlite is what I would run if I was doing Fantasy, but I don’t think I could interest my party.

      Savage Worlds might be possible, but character creation looks too complicated due to the bennies and whatnot.

      I think I am going to try BRP, but with a different genre or such, give them more HP and some sort of hero-points. Should be interesting. Thanks to everyone for the advice!

  3. It may be too free-form for you, but I’ve found Feng Shui is easy to pick up. While the rulebook is large, the actual rules crunch is minimal. Characters are quickly built on action movie archetypes, so my friends made characters and picked up the basics of combat in minutes.

  4. I’ve had groups like that… in fact I tend to prefer them.

    You could try RISUS (… At least for the core mechanics and then apply them to any scenario that grabs your fancy.

    It doesn’t get much simpler than that without being freeform.

  5. Thanks everyone. I think everyone wants to keep the system, though if I bump into something simple I might give it a try. Which leaves me looking for adventures in a non-horror genre for BRP or something that is easily converted into it. My players have surprised me by asking for more combat, so I’m thinking something fantasy or post apocalyptic or such, where they could survive a bit of violence. Suggestions are welcome as always!

  6. could you just rip the story/plot/adventure from sources books and just stat converse for counters/situations? just a thought.

  7. If you like COC I’d get new players.

    If you like the players then you’ll need to devise a new system using BRP or grab another game.

    • I tried moving to another game, with ah, poor success. Then the game kind of folded as people moved away, so I found up following your suggestion by default.

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