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Sherlock Holmes Role Playing Games

Sherlock Holmes By Sydney paget

I don’t really consider myself a game designer, more like a hacky writer, but I have been having a pretty good time working with my friend Andrew developing a Sherlock Holmes inspired Roleplaying game.

We’re basing the game around the literary trope of “the Great Detective”, with Sherlock Holmes being the obvious choice for an initial offering.

Andrew’s put up a playtest document here, on his website Pizza Pranks (which I designed and built for him*). Please, if you’re interested in such things, download it, play it, read it, let me know. It is still in a very very crude, “pre-alpha” state, so please bear that in mind.

*I'd be happy to create a custom website for you as well, just e-mail me and we can talk about it.
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RPG Live Play Episode 1: Delta Green: Convergence Episode 1

I Want to Believe Delta Green Convergence Podcast Cthulhu Dice

I just uploaded our first episode of our Live Play RPG Podcast. There are plenty of other (dare I say better and more professional) RPG podcasts, but if you’re like me and you listen to a gazillion hours of podcasts a week, sometimes you just need something cool to listen to. I personally like these podcasts, we have dozens of hours in the can of Trail of Cthulhu podcasts, so I think we’ll be able to put these out somewhat regularly.

During this episode, we played Call of Cthulhu/Delta Green. We played a scenario in the classic Delta Green Rulebook, the lauded Convergence.

Some of us played a different introductory scenario, Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays, also from the original Delta Green rulebook. Some of us are more interested in Call of Cthulhu than others, and we are all primarily having a good time rather than trying to produce a professional sounding podcast, so listener beware. I know that’s a lot of warnings, so let me just say if you like Fly on the Wall style RPG recordings, this is probably something you’d enjoy. Also, we discuss Delta Green and it’s mythology quite a bit as we get going, so if you’re interested in learning a little about Delta Green, give it a listen.

The players are as follows:

Andrew Baillie as the Game Master
Matt Bevilacqua as Carla Steele
Chris Baillie as Clayton “Bruce” Armstrong
Gino Vasconseles as Sam Wells
Steven Riley as Issac Summers

We’re going to try and keep each recording to “about” an hour. In this case, that happened to work out nicely to coincide with the first day of “in game” time. Let me know if you enjoyed our first recording, there will be more Convergence to come, I really want to know what would make it better/more interesting, or if you just want to talk shop, let me know. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, or leave a comment!

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Sanity Check

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Probably my favorite mechanic from the Call of Cthulhu RPG is also one of it’s trademarks – the sanity check. It is an incredibly simple yet compelling mechanic that largely defines the way the game works, places the crunchier players in numbers driven jeopardy, models the source material in an effective way, and encourages wild and fun roleplaying.

How does a sanity check work?

Your character in Call of Cthulhu is assigned a starting Sanity points value based on his attributes, and the amount of Cthulhu Mythos he knows/understands. When a player encounters something that is either Yog-Sothothery or would otherwise challenge their mental state, they have to make a sanity check.

In Call of Cthulhu (if you didn’t already know), most checks involve a d100+d10. The combination will generate a number between 1-100 – this result is tested against an skill, if it’s less, the check is a success. Otherwise, the check is a failure.

Each event in Call of Cthulhu that calls for a sanity check has a failure state and a success state. Sometimes, on a pass, you lose 0 sanity – other times, you still lose sanity, but not as much as those who failed.

Why is this so clever? Mainly, because it becomes easier and easier to fail a sanity check the more sanity checks you fail – the danger and excitement rachets up as you go.

The main problem that occurs with sanity checks in the games that I play is that the players will OFTEN try and talk their way out of having to roll one. An incident that gets discussed to this day in my gaming group involves a bridge disappearing in an underground cavern in while exploring Under the Pyramids. Somehow, making the group roll a sanity check in that scenario is evidence of my overbearing style – after all, having seen actual monsters, a bridge disappearing is hardly worth worrying about.

Dwight Frye as Willie

Sandy Peterson on the Sanity Mechanic

From a long piece that Call of Cthulhu fans should definitely read, Sandy Petersen talks about his own game:

As such I’d like to take full credit for inventing it. But I can’t, alas. The original concept was published in an article for the Sorcerer’s Apprentice magazine, where the authors (whose names are published in other interviews of mine) suggested that the player be given a Willpower stat or some such thing, and if he saw something too scary, he could take a Willpower check, and a bad enough failure could reduce it permanently. Reduce it permanently?! This was what I hung my hat on. I took the fundamental idea, called it Sanity, made it the focus of the game, and instead of, on rare occasions, lowering this stat, I had almost every encounter and event reduce one’s Sanity, till player-characters could become gibbering wrecks, or even turn into GM-controlled monsters.

It really is a stroke of ingenuity – the sanity mechanic is the fundamental idea behind one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Because it is unforgiving, challenging and fun – and apparently, as Petersen goes on to say, it was supposed to be even more unpleasant.

I knew I was on to something and kept refining the Sanity mechanic, in conjunction with the people at Chaosium, until it reached its current state. One big change was that I had concluded that Sanity should only diminish, and never increase, and the folks at Chaosium thought that was too negative even for a game about Cthulhu. They were right, I feel. And after all, Sanity still trends downwards, so I got my way in the end. If anything it’s more agonizing for the players this way, because they are fooled into thinking they can work their Sanity back up. Ha ha.

How often do players really regain sanity anyways?

An enduring design

FREE RPGs

The sanity check is great for creating tense gameplay. It is also great for two other reasons – firstly, it causes players to indulge in some wacky roleplaying. It is compulsory for players to “go insane” when losing sanity. Many players do not love to role play extravagantly, but there is something about the onset of paranoid schizophrenia that brings out the amateur dramatics. Many people’s most fond memories of Call of Cthulhu are related to the madness of themselves or their fellows.

The other is that the unforgiving descent into madness brought on by repeated exposure to the horrors of the world is one of the most “Lovecraftian” concepts to make it into the final game.

In the comments, tell me about the most fun you’ve had, playing an insane character, or demanding sanity checks from your players, or look us up on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ and tell us there!

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Mythcreants How to Keep Your Horror Game Scary

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Over on the Mythcreants blog, there is a very pertinent article on how to keep your horror game scary. This is a tricky proposition!

Make it clear that you’re running a horror game from the moment you start inviting people to play. Even if the system you’re using implies horror, be explicit. Many a game has fallen apart because of PCs who saw shoggoths as nothing more than medieval tar monsters. The bottom line is, you can’t scare players who don’t want to be scared, and trying will only lead to aggravation all around.

There is plenty of helpful advice here. If you’re like me, every single time I run a game, I say to myself, “well, that went ok – how could that be better?” I’m preparing to run a game tonight – I haven’t exactly decided if I’m running a homebrew dungeon or some Call of Cthulhu, but I may try and put these lessons in practice myself this very evening.

Please let me know if you have any tips on running horror games in the comments, or on Facebook.

Or, if you think you could write an article on the subject, or any related subject, let me know via an e-mail to admin@cthulhudice.com.

The Link: Mythcreants: How to Keep Your Horror Campaign Scary

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Sedefkar Simulacrum Project on Indiegogo

Sedefkar Simulacrum

Delphes Desvoivres, a companion of one of the writer’s of the new Orient Express supplement from Chaosium, is sculpting a life size duplicate of the Sedefkar Simulacrum, one of the mcguffins from the game. She is seeking crowdfunding for the project. Available rewards seem very cool, custom posters, prints, a box, and a small version of the Sedefkar Simulacrum. The kicker? For $35,000 you can get your very own life size Sedefkar Simulacrum.

Sedefkar Simulacrum Indiegogo Campaign
Post on Orient Express Writer’s Blog

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Indie Initiative on The Bundle of Holding

Indie Initiative

The Indie Initiative is the newest Bundle of Holding. This is a really great one to get. The value of these games is pretty unbelievable and there are some real classics of role playing in here.

What’s in the Indie Initiative?

Breaking the Ice
octaNe
The Shadow of Yesterday
Trollbabe.

Pay more than the threshold price of $21.39?
Sorcerer
My Life With Master
Dogs in the Vineyard
Baron Munchausen

I’ve wanted to play many of these games for quite a while and I think I may even do a spin through of “Trollbabe” tonight.

Indie Initative on the Humble Bundle

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Chaosium releases print back catalog on Drive Thru RPG

Chaosium Call of Cthulhu

Chaosium, publishers of Call of Cthulhu, have added their print back catalog on popular (the most popular?) RPG PDF bookstore Drive Thru RPG. If you’re like me, and you still prefer to have an actual book in front of you whilst you game, this is good news.

What Did Chaosium Release

A TON of BRP and Call of Cthulhu supplements, many of which I’ve never read before. The Casting Call of Cthulhu, The Agents of the Crown, and even new stuff like the 7th ed quickstart rules and the newest supplement, survival horror scenario Dead Light.

Dead Light - Chaosium

Why no Mega Campaigns?

Good question. I’m aware that they are redoing Horror on the Orient Express, but it would be cool to see them offer Masks of Nyarlathotep: Perilous Adventures to Thwart the Dark God (Call of Cthulhu roleplaying) and Shadows of Yog-Sothoth: A Global Campaign to Save Mankind (Call of Cthulhu Horror Roleplaying) in print on Drive Thru RPG. In the end, it’s not that big of a deal, because those are available elsewhere and this stuff, like all of those quality Miskatonic University supplements, are a great deal harder to find.

What would you like us to review? Leave us a comment, e-mail me (matt@cthulhudice.com), or tweet at me @COCDice.

Chaosium – Drive Thru RPG

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Scenic Dunnsmouth (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)

Scenic Dunnsmouth

Scenic Dunnsmouth is a campaign for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. What makes Scenic Dunnsmouth interesting is that it’s halfway between a guided adventure and a setting.

Dice Rolls and random draws from a basic deck of cards is used to determine the layout of the swamp town and the inhabitants of the town. There are a couple of constant points of focus regardless of these outcomes, but the random elements ensures that the adventure will play out differently based on the results and the combinations, enabling Scenic Dunnsmouth to be replayed despite it’s mysteries remaining largely the same.

Scenic Dunnsmouth

The most prolific secret of Dunnsmouth is a spider cult that plagues the town. Villagers(or players) that are infected become devoted to the original spider that began the cult bloodline and attempt to convert others by bringing them to the original spider. The spider’s size is determined by the level of infection in the town and location is randomized.

The other mystery in Dunnsmouth is the Time Cube. The Time Cube seems to affect the flow of time in and around Dunnsmouth. The cube is thought to be powerful if it’s power is able to be captured, but the mysteries of the cube are not fully known to the people of Dunnsmouth.

Aside from these two objectives, there are two more constants in Scenic Dunnsmouth. The less active is a witch Magda. There are some cases where she won’t be present based on her randomized starting location, but largely she just acts as another inhabitant of Dunnsmouth but slightly more specialized. Uncle Ivanovik could be considered the campaigns other antagonist (the first being the spider). Ivanovik is a crazed warrior cannibal who’s location largely determines his behavior, but he’s never up to something good.

Scenic Dunnsmouth

The rest of the inhabitants of Dunnsmouth are determined by drawing from a deck of cards. Each card in the deck corresponds to a unique person or family(each suit represents one of the four greater families of Dunnsmouth). Each household of Dunnsmouth has a unique personality differentiated even more by whether or not the household is infected. Infected households can range from violent tendencies, to spider-based mutations, to no outward signs.

The Final Judgment

The problem with Scenic Dunnsmouth being structured as it is, is that it lives and dies by the group playing it. A lot of improvisation is needed on the part of the game master in order to not only make the adventure last, but to make it engaging. The game master is not entirely responsible for the success of the campaign however. The adventurers must be engaged and willing to explore and interact with the inhabitants and environments.

If everyone is capable of being engaged in Scenic Dunnsmouth, it stands to be a very successful campaign. There are lot of unique and fun characteristics of the inhabitants that the game master can do even more with than what the game provides. That along with the capability for the adventurers to find themselves afflicted or met with less than desirable fates but not necessarily outright killed ensures that interesting things are bound to happen. No adventurer will leave Dunnsmouth unchanged whether it be physically or mentally.

Buy Scenic Dunnsmouth

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The process of developing Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, written by the designer

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A pretty interesting article from the book designer working on Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. Like many of you, I backed it on Kickstarter and when the book arrives I’ll no doubt look at it with different eyes having read this article. Design and Call of Cthulhu are two of the subjects I like to read about the most, so I found this article very interesting.

The process of developing Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition