An Experience System For The Call of Cthulhu

I’ve been tempted as of late to write an experience point/level system for Call of Cthuhlhu.

For those of you not familiar with Call of Cthuhlhu or the BRP system it runs on character advancement works as thus: At the end of each adventure you have a chance to increase each skill you successfully used during that adventures. The chance your skill will go up is inversely proportional to the amount you already have in the skill. I like this as I find this rewards player creativity by encouraging them to use as many skills as possible, including ones they don’t use that often. If they solve every problem by playing to their strengths then they will soon find they are having a hard time raising their skills, if they have not maximized them already. This is somewhat opposite from most class/level systems which rewards specialization at the expense of everything else. While I do like specialization I find that one-trick-pony characters drive me batty. I also very much like the fact that characters are organic: The more you use something the more likely it is to go up. You want to be a better marksman? Shoot stuff. You want to drive better? Drive more. Skills can also be raised through training, though this takes a lot of time.

However the fact that this only occurs at the end of an adventure is somewhat problematic. During the last adventure I ran my players got bored partway through as they had been starting out going down each clue chain without finishing it and felt stalled due to a lack of accomplishments. I feel that some sort of reward system tied to each clue uncovered would help this.

I was thinking of a very simple system of 100XP per level. The amount of XP you need over time does not rise, in keeping with the very flat power curve the BRP system has- You can easily get the maximum possible value in a skill at creation, so effectiveness at any one area is less due to experience then choice, more experienced character tend to be more well rounded then new ones.

I was also thinking of combining this with an idea I heard about in Trail of Cthulhu/Gumshoe. In it you always pass checks to find a clue if you have the right ability. This prevents the plot from stalling on a failed roll when they miss something really obvious. Even if you give them a huge bonus to the roll they might still botch it. I am thinking of making this true, however you only get experience if you succeed on the roll. Also if you fail the roll you might sometimes get a less informative version of the clue: both will point you in the right direction, but one will take longer. There is the downside that players can use XP as a guide to whether they have found a clue or not, but they can already do that a little based on the fact they have found a clue.

The real question is how should I decided on how much XP to give out? 100 points is a pretty shallow scale, but they normally level at the end of an adventure. Should I let them advance twice as fast by giving out a level at the end of every adventure in addition to this? I think that they would be upset if they somehow did not level at the end of the adventure. Should I give out XP for killing things? That does make sense, but you also often gain sanity from slaying them.

Alright: Here is the outline
Players can at any time spend 100 XP to level. There are no limits on how many XP they may have at any one time. This allows them to store XP in case they gain a level when they only have a chance to raise one or two skills, say if they finished an adventure with 90XP then gained 100XP from finishing the adventure.

Everything that gives XP has a flat XP value. All XP gained is divided equally among the people present. Fractions are rounded up.

Finishing an adventure is worth 100XP. Major plot points are worth ~50XP, clues are worth ~15XP. Monsters give XP based on the difficulty of slaying them. Killing a God is worth 100XP to the survivors, if any, to enjoy in the asylum. Killing a major villain or horror is worth less. Killing a major plot monster is worth ~25-50XP. Killing a Dimensional Shambler is worth 15XP. Killing a weak zombie may only be worth 5XP.

Well? What does everyone think? Any glaring problems?

Until Next Time, Stay Geeky.

–Cangaeek

Edit: I should add that the group I’m referring to this is quite fun to play with, though with a very quirky playstyle. I’m trying to adapt my DMing style to match, and this is part of that. Most of the people in it are not gamers, or were not when they started, so some of this is learning via doing. It is nice seeing a totally fresh approach to things from people who don’t know the cliches and tropes of gaming. I thought I would add this since I reread my post and noticed this could be taken as a slight against my group when it shouldn’t be taken as such. –Canageek

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Published in: on September 27, 2010 at 11:59 am  Comments (14)  
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  1. I could use a combination of basic BRP exp and your level based exp. Give experience points what players can use as you told, but also after an adventure let them roll exp marked skills as free bonus advancement what does not cost experience points.

    Call of Cthulhu is really slow game for character development, so this could speed it a bit and give rewards during gameplay for characters.

    Basically I like your idea, but I’d stick also with that after adventure experience as free bonus (if they success to roll under that is).

    • That is the option I prefer, I’m glad to hear that others agree with my logic. However I think giving out 100XP at the end of the adventure might work better, in case you level right before it and thus haven’t succeeded on many skill rolls yet, so that you could save it until you’ve passed a few more.

  2. I’m not sure I like the idea of giving out XP for killing things. It rewards the players for attempting such actions, when in CoC you might be better off running away. I realize that you might replace the context of “killing” with “defeating,” in which case if your game is about monster hunts, that could totally work. On the other hand, consider not handing out XP for defeating enemies, but rather surviving.

    In the same light, you might want to reward other CoC specific things. Give them 1 XP for every HP or SAN they loose. XP for casting a spell. You might want to keep the mythos skill as a forced acquisition (as I’m not sure players would choose to level it too often,) but you could encourage it by handing out a good chunk of XP per mythos point gained.

    • I mainly wanted a reward system for finding clues as a carrot to keep my players going- They got very discouraged in the last adventure as they were getting clues, but not enough to piece everything together. This way they would know that they are on the right track and get a cookie each time they find a bundle of notes, or a crooked account book and whatnot.

      I agree that “defeating” is a much better term- blowing the entrance to a cave and leaving it there is a good solution, as it unsummoning it and so on. As long as it isn’t stealing people in the night anymore or such.
      I’ve had a number of players way to scared of CoC’s reputation to try magic, so I am thinking of giving some rewards for trying it: 10 XP for each participating character each time you successfully cast a new spell or somesuch. I don’t like giving XP for losing San, however a fast formula for XP gained from a tome might be that you gain XP equal to the maximum sanity you could have lost.

      My campaign so far has had a monster hunting aspect to it as I’ve been using published adventures, and 3/4 of the ones in the core book are monster hunts. The adventure I’m writing can end in a fight, but does not have to, however it may be a very long time before I finish it.

      I agree that Mythos should not be able to rise in this way- It can’t rise at the end of the adventure, so it wouldn’t be able to be raised in this way. It would just be another way to trigger the current end-of-adventure roles which don’t effect stats, Mythos or HP.

  3. I like it. I always did feel like you leveled just a tad too slow in CoC. Keep us posted as to how it turns out!

    • I’ve found that the leveling is actually quite fast- since most of my adventure so far are 1-2 sessions long characters get more skilled very quickly. However since you tend to get very good at a few things quickly, and there is a limit to how good a shot you can be and so on I don’t have a problem speeding it up, since I don’t have to worry about God McUber showing up Marty McNewplayer.

  4. I have a few suggestions. One is to go a different way, when it comes to improving skills. E.g. in Unknown Armies – which looks a lot like BRP (you might want to take a look at it) – you have percentile skills, and when ever you roll a double (IIRC), ypu get to increase the skill by one instantly, besides any other increases during the game.

    Secondly you might want to take a look at Mouse Guard or one of the other Burning Wheel-games. Here skills increase, whenever you have X successes and X-1 failures. In other words the players want to fail their skills once in a while. Failing under certain circumstances gives an advantage later in the game – and more importantly it does not stall the game. Instead you as the GM get to introduce a complication. In CoC a failed Library Use skill might mean, that the cultists suddenly arrives [complication], and once they are defeated, you find the desired clue [failed roll becomes a succes, once the complication is handled].

    In my own Delta Green-campaign I use something akin to Trail of Cthulhu. Looking for clues cannot fail, since it is interesting to see, the investigators find the clues. It’s all the other stuff, that can fail, i.e. finding a clue unobserved, without leaving a trail or arousing suspicion. Nothing is free, but the game is not stalled due to a failed ‘look for clue’-skill check.

    Additionally if you want to have a level-based version of CoC, the d20-version might be the right thing. It does have an experience point system, but the levels are toned down quite a lot in a manner, that fits the Cthulhu Mythos-setting.

    Trying not to weer too much off topic, I would like to ask you more about this statement:
    “During the last adventure I ran my players got bored partway through as they had been starting out going down each clue chain without finishing it and felt stalled due to a lack of accomplishments.”

    Why did your players become bored, and why do you think a reward will solve this? I am not claiming it would be wrong to reward your players during the game, it might be the right thing to do, but I do get the sense, that there is something to your statement, that would gain from being elaborated a bit.

    I my self use some of the Mouse Guard-rules for my D&D-game, and whole lot of specific house rules for my CoC Delta Green-campaign. I have compiled a lot of my house rules here, though I haven’t got to my Delta Green-rules yet: http://mortengreis.wordpress.com/house-rules/

    • I was using an adventure that I found online, I’m not sure where. It was a town-based adventure with a few problems that I thought I had worked around. They easily solved problem one (Rescue someone from an asylum) though a direct approach. However they then tried to learn more about the problem. They would make a couple of reasurch checks a the library, getting a couple of newspaper articles, but not keep going and get to the good stuff. Then they would go check out the strange caves, then the mine. They didn’t spend long enough on any one task to get to the end and so they finally grabbed someone and got him to confess, then called in the state troopers.
      A similar thing happened when I was running Dead Man Stomp from the core books. They were making really good progress and all they had left to do was destroy the trumpet, but they got bored and took a train out of town. Cue horrible ending.

      I’m going to try to keep things to shorter one and two session long adventures, but I would on occasion like to run a multi-part adventure. For all the talk online of ‘you can’t railroad your players, they sure be free to go wherever’ one of the main bits of feedback I got was more of a clear path. Whenever they get stuck I call for an idea roll then give them a hint, but that doesn’t always work.

      I have 2 ideas if I want to run longer adventures: break it up into mini-adventures, ie part one is deal with the mob boss, part 2 is destroy the trumpet and so on.
      The adventure that I am writing, based on an obscure Robert E. Howard short story is very clear (I hope) and should only take a session or two. I based the idea on old living Greyhawk adventures that were designed to be self-contained in 4 or 8 hours, or part of a series.
      However I’m not sure how well I will be able to do this. I thought if in addition to this I give them a cookie each time they find a clue that might encourage them to keep going. Also getting a cookie would help them noticed that they had gotten a clue.

      • Thanks for elaborating. I cannot help but wonder, why the players stop researching. I can understand, that you want to encourage them to investigate further, and an incentive might be rewarding them XP for doing so. As others have pointed out, killing monsters might not be the right thing to reward them for – loosing HP and sanity, acquiring Cthulhu Mythos-points, saving innocents (both physically and mentally) – is one way, and rewarding them for picking up clues is another, but before that it might be interesting to consider why, they stop investigating – do they know, that they should keep investigating? That not all clues have been picked up? Are they bored? In other words have you talked with your players about the scenarios, about their picking up clues or following the scenario through?
        I myself take some time to talk with my players about expectations and how a scenario is supposed to be played through. Sometimes they perceive it quite differently from one self.

        • I’ve talked to them a bit. I think in part they got bored with rolling library use checks- The adventure specified 2 articles gained per successful check, I think I might just make it all on 1 roll, or half per roll next time, at least with the number of articles.

          This was the first time I’d run a longer adventure for them, and the first time it was a site based adventure so they told me they just didn’t see what to do next, and would like more of a clear path next time. I’m hoping that by adding an XP cookie trail that might help a bit. I’d also cut down on the number of red herrings and such, as there where a number of them in the adventure.

          I’ve passed this link on to players in my group, so hopefully they will leave a comment with their take on it.

          • Thanks. Just as a quick reply I understand your players. Rolling a series of Library Use checks in that manner does not sound interesting. Personally I would have reduced it to one single roll – there are lot of scenarios that contain superfluous die rolls, and this sounds like it. If you fail, the game halts, and you have to keep rolling even though nothing exciting happens. This is one case, where I would follow the approach of Mouse Guard, e.g. telling the players, that if they fail, something will complicate matters – but then again that is my style.
            I hope your players respond, as it would be interesting to hear their side.

    • Sorry, I should have mentioned: I’m not so much interested in adding an XP system to CoC because the current one doesn’t work, but as a reward system for the players.

  5. […] has rules for gaining HP already, but I will have to look at the system more. I also might tack on a simple XP system, as ‘when you finish the adventure’ doesn’t work in […]

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