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.

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

Published in: on September 27, 2010 at 11:59 am  Comments (14)  
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The Haunter of the Ring

I’ve been working on an adventure but it is taking longer then I thought. I’m mostly done the statblocks & body of the adventure but still need to write up the finale and locations for when the players inevitable break into places. However it has been a month since my last update and well, that one was pretty light to say the least. So here is a preview: The Haunter of the Ring is the main threat in the finale, so I’d like some feedback on him. He is stated out from the Call of Cthulhu, which is about 90% compatible with BRP. If you are familiar with either of those systems let me know. The description is intentionally vague since I figure players imaginations are stronger then my writing, though if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them.

The Haunter of the Ring:
Str 25, Con 25, Siz 15, Int 36, Pow 36, Dex 35
Move: 7 flying

HP: 21
Damage Bonus: +1d6
Weapons: Claw: 55%, damage 2d4+1d6
Armour: 3 points of supernaturally tough hide
Spells: The Haunter knows a number of spells, all frightful in nature but will not use them in combat for Roelocke does not know about them and thus has not ordered it to use them. If the investigators summon the creature from the ring encourage it to trade them the most horrific spells the keeper has access to in exchange for horrific payments, preferably the character’s souls.
Skills: Bargain 60%, Mislead 75%, Spot Hidden 60%, Listen 50%, Entice Mortal 80%, Parry 60%
Sanity Loss: 1d4/1d8

Possession: The most dangerous power of the Haunter of the Ring is it’s ability to control others. For the cost of 5 Magic Points it can attempt takes them over with a Power vs Power test. Double this cost for truly innocent characters who also gain +10 to their power for the purposes of resisting. The length of time the character is possessed is also determined by their innocences. A truly innocent character may only be possessed for one action at a time. A normal man or women can be possessed for 10 minutes at a time, and someone risking a stay in hell already can be possessed for up to an hour. Truly depraved people can be possessed for an day at a time. The Haunter can spend an amount of Magic Points equal to 5+(The number of periods it has possessed the character for already) to continue to posses it. When possessing a character they must be in physical contact with the haunter or the ring. While possessing a character it cannot be physically harmed, though it does not heal or regain magic points. It can however still be targeted by magic attacks and is subject to bindings and exorcisms, even those not actually magical in nature.

Description: A demon as old as the world, the Haunter of the Ring is said to have been bound by Solomon himself. Those with more occult knowledge realize that Solomon’s reign is far to recent for that. When it takes physical form the Haunter appears as a shadow with eyes the colour of molten steel and dagger-length claws that glow as if they had just been pulled from the forge.

Modifications to my CoC/BRP game

So my in person games are going pretty well, people keep asking me when the next session is going to be which I take to be a sign everyone is enjoying themselves. However I’m a bit tired of it. I don’t know why, and this might get better when I get the books I left in Montreal back, since they update things in ways that I like and have adventures I can hopefully use. [Update since this was written: I’m intrested in the game again, see next post]

Anyway I’m looking for ways to keep the game fresh: One player has also expressed interest in actually using mythos spells & I am going to be introducing more spells into the game  to increase the temptation (Hand picked to give one character more of the voodoo powers his character wants to make it harder to resist)

I think it might be I’m just not a great horror DM. I’ve now run about 10 short adventures for a variety of players and so far I have killed 0
characters. In Call of Cthuhlhu. My players just have too much fun with complex plans, and gripping onto the side of racing cars and such, and well they have fun, and I have fun so why stop? [See next post]

The rules system is also working pretty well: Character generation is fast, though not as fast as pure CoC since we have to look up a couple
of things, and since we have new characters regularly (new players joining or existing players playing in 2 adventures at the same time)
and the rules are light enough a lot of non-geeks (or mild geeks) I know are willing to play.

I’m thinking of changing things to match the two-fisted style though as I know at least one player has complained about it being too lethal (He seems to think characters should never die though, whereas I like how lethal it is as a change from D&D).

I’m thinking of using the optional rule that PC’s get Con+Size HP instead of the average of Con+Size. This should make characters a bit more durable, but it might make them a bit TOO durable, so I think I will leave it for now. If we start having complaints about it I can add this in latter right?

I was also thinking of giving each character +1HP after each adventure so that experienced characters have a slightly better chance of surviving then newer characters. The most experienced character is on it’s 4th adventure, but in this system +4 HP is a pretty decent amount.

Also so that characters grow & change a bit more I’m going to use the BRP advancement rules (Your int gives you a bonus to raise a skill and you add +1d6 vs +1d10, so more skills will go up but they will each go up less. It is also easier to grow new skills)

I’m also going to make skills up to 50% cost one point, up to 75% cost 2 points/% and over 75% is 3 points/% instead of the normal flat 1 point per %. This should encourage more diverse characters. Existing characters will be grandfathered in due to the work and time of redoing every character (and it doesn’t change total number of points, just distribution)

So: Proposed rules changes:

+1HP for each adventure survived

BRP skill advancement (Really just part of moving to the BRP system)

Keep Sanity & Education

Added costs for new character boosting skills above professional level (To discourage characters starting with 99% in one skill as I’ve had a
couple of times)

Personal goals:
Give out more magic! I’m going to go and add more spells to adventures to increase the temptation to use them. I’m also going to drop more hints about what they do: I wanted it to be scary & evil so I labeled “Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler” as “Summon/Bind Dark Angel of Glory” or some such.

Well that is my slightly rambly State of the Game post. The day after I wrote it I was struck with inspiration (Ok, so I read a book that filled me with ideas) so keep an eye out for the sequel to this post. Bonus point to anyone who can guess what author the book I read was by. Hint: The author was a contemporary to Lovecraft, had the Necronomicon in it.I don’t have any prizes, but consider it a challenge.

Until next time, Stay Geeky
–Canageek

Advantages for BRP and Call of Cthulhu

So I’ve decided to do something I’ve never done before: Write crunch. Yes, I am going to write up some rules. Now BRP does not have advantages so I’m also going to add them as I want players who fail to raise a skill after an adventure to get something, also BRP characters need some chrome to keep them apart. Something one player can do that the others can’t.

If a character successfully completes an adventure without managing to raise any skills they may choose an advantage. A player may forgo attempting to raise skills to choose an advantage. The advantage gained must be related to something they did in the adventure.

I’ve been reading [setting riff] Voices From Below and the Long Stairs [Great work by the way, I’ve been drawing a lot of ideas from it, just depressing as heck. Expect a post based on it soon] and the news so these may have a military theme to them, also given the source material some of thee may have a touch of a …bitter flavour to them. Sorry about that.

Some of these are fairly unloriginal I admit, but others I think are pretty cool. I admit a number of them are to help players start off new skills, or to give them a broader skillset. Others I managed to stick to my chrome idea. If you have any ideas please post them up!

Protect Your Own

“He may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard” -some solider in Highlander TV show

Requirement: Have lied to protect someone from serious harm at least 3 times OR have been a member of an insular group (Military, British bordering school, gang) where one would have reasonably lied to protect ones mates.

Bonus: You’ve lied to cover your friends/comrades/etc so many times it is second nature to you now. You get +20% on checks made to lie to protect someone.

Should I limit this more? ‘to protect someone from the consequences of their actions’?

Inspiration: Players lying to cover eachother, the behind the back messages in The Voices From Below and the Long Stairs, ‘Buddy codes’ and ‘Bro codes’ from many movies.

Acceptable Casualties

You’ve got so much innocent blood on your hands that you can justify just a bit more.

Requirement: In the course of the characters career they must have taken san loss equal to the maximum amount for killing an innocent person due to innocents dying in the course of the PCs mission

Bonus: You no longer suffer sanity loss for killing people as long as you can justify it for ‘The greater good’ (Stopping Cthuhlhu, Demogorgon, etc)

Inspiration: The news.

Our Boys are the Good Guys

Your side is the good guys right? They must have needed to blow up that bridge with civilians on it.

Requirement: Not sure. None? All you need is the ability to ignore things which much of the public seems to have during any war.

Benefit: You don’t need to make sanity checks for acts that are committed by your team members that you don’t directly observe or participate in. Even if your allies torture people to death as long as you aren’t there you can pretend it didn’t happen.

Inspiration: Also the news.

For the public good

Some things are just to much for the public to know

Requirement: Have lied to authority about mythos related activities at least 3 times

Benefit: You have been protecting the public from knowledge for so long you have gotten good at it. You get +20% to lie to conceal mythos activities.

Inspiration: Every piece of conspiracy fiction ever written.

Shall not be killed by a bullet

You’ve been shot so much you barely feel it anymore

Requirement: You must have been knocked unconcise my the weapon you choose

Benefit: Pick a manmade category of weapons: Guns, Blades, etc. You take one less point of damage per attack when struck by such weapons.

Inspiration: There was a western where a minor character made the above claim, though I can’t remember the title.

Fast on the Draw

You know that he who draws last doesn’t get a chance to try again

Benefit: You get +1 initiative rank above what you would normally get.

Inspiration: Westerns.

Bat Out of Hell

You’ve learned to run like the devils on your heels, as last time it was

Benefit: Your move speed is one point above normal

New Learning

It is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks

Benefit: Add 10% to 3 skills that were previously at default value.

Natural Prodigy:

“Why does one stop learning till he dies when it makes all lands and place his?”- Tiruvalluvar, Tirukkural: 397

Requirement: You must have succeeded on a check 3 times with a skill at default value

Benefit: Add 20% to that skill

I know it’s weakspot

“Hit them between the 2nd and 3rd set of arms, its armour is weak there!”

Requirement: You must have helped slay 3 of the target creature. You must have delivered at least one finishing blow yourself.

Bonus: You do 1 extra point of damage when attacking the target type of creature.

It’s my baby

Your baby won’t let you down when you need it

Pick one specific item. You gain +15% on roles using that item. If that item is destroyed or irretrievably lost you must spend 1 adventure familiarizing yourself  with a new item. The new item may be a different type then the original. (For example if an investigators silver-plated .45 is lost they may grow more attached to their car)

Inspiration: Various places: Dresden’s Blue Bug in The Dresden Files. Various characters that are attached to one item. Players that want custom items that give them bonuses.

Master of the Muses

“The blessing of the muses inspires you” – Natania Barron

Benefit: You gain +10% in all art skills that are at default value.

Science!

Stand Back, I’m going to try SCIENCE!

Benefit: You gain +10% in every science skill that is at default value.

Inspiration: Pulp, XKCD

Disturbing Insight

But if that is true then that means….Lord above have mercy on our souls….

Benefit: Gain +5% to Cthulhu Mythos or Blasphemous Knowledge along with all associated benefits and penalties.

Eternally Cheerful

For myself I am an optimist — it does not seem to be much use being anything else.  –Winston Churchill, November 9, 1954

Benefit: Gain 1 extra point of sanity at the end of every successful completed adventure. If every goal in the adventure is met gain an additional point of sanity. This benefit is not gained if player did not make an attempt to maintain an optimistic outlook.

I didn’t take nothing officer!

Wasn’t me govn’r, God’s truth!

Requirement: The character must have experience lying to such figures, either in backstory or play.

Benefit: You’ve lied to authorities so much it is now second nature. Gain +20% to checks to lie to people in significant position of authority over you. For example: Bosses, police, superior officers.

Inspiration: A number of books featuring thieves or streetkids.

Ladies Man/Seductress

“The names Bond, James Bond”

Benefit: Gain +15% to social roles when interacting with the opposite sex in a social setting or for other appropriate purposes at the DMs discretion.

Inspiration: Do I REALLY need to say?

Fast Learner

To look for something meaningful is the beginning of a life long search.

Benefit: Count all skills as 5% lower when rolling to increase them.

Blasphemous insight

Knowledge is power, power corrupts.

Requirement: At least 20% in Cthulhu Mythos/Blasphemous Knowledge

Benefit: At the end of any adventure you may sacrifice 5 sanity to attempt to raise one skill that you did not already attempt to raise.

So what does everyone think? Do you like the system? Are there any that you think are over/under powered? I am thinking of cross-posting this on RPG.net since I enjoy the discussion there, and would like more people to see it then the few who visit my blog. Heck, some might even visit my blog. Does anyone know rpg.net’s policy on such things?