This past weekend, I ran a game... my first in several years. The rules we used were Cthulhu Dark by Graham Walmsley; the scenario was part one of Red Eye of Azathoth, originally written using the Call of Cthulhu rules (Basic Role-Playing by Chaosium).
- Everyone had lots of fun, and it turns out my GM-ing skills aren't all that rusty. I really appreciate having some players who know how to drive the story and ask pertinent questions... it makes my job easy, and lets everyone take responsibility for their own fun.
- Most of us enjoyed Graham's incredibly rules-light take on Lovecraft. Characters have an Occupation and only one stat (Insanity), although I used Jason Morningstar's suggestion of adding a Harm stat, as well, so that we could fight zombies and take damage. The system is quick to pick up, and very intuitive, if you can grok the logic.
- Our resident self-described system monkey, Dan, had two complaints about the bare-bones system: 1) the basic die mechanic is somewhat counter intuitive, and 2) there's little to no mechanical distinction between the Investigators.
Although much fun was had, I am forced to agree with both of Dan's criticisms. Let's take each in turn:
1. Insanity and Harm
We treated Insanity and Harm the same way. When you fail one of these rolls, you check a box. The more boxes you check, the less likely it is that you'll fail the next roll; effectively, the more hurt you are, the more resilient you become.
As Dan noted, this makes a certain amount of sense for Insanity. The Investigators become hardened to the horrors of the Mythos as they proceed, which makes it less likely that they will tip over the edge. We all agreed that, though different from traditional Cthulhu, this was appropriate.
Where this mechanic broke down was in Harm. As the Investigators took injury and made Harm checks, they became stronger and more effective at withstanding violence. If anything, this process should be reversed.
2. Mechanical Differentiation
Investigators get this: Name, Occupation, and Description. Then a stat or two: Insanity, and Harm (if you want to use the common hack). Their Occupations allow them to roll an extra die under certain circumstances, but when everyone is rolling 2d6 or 3d6 for nearly every action, there ends up being little or no distinction between disparate skill sets, beyond how each player portrays the Investigators through narration.
Obviously, this is a known pitfall (or benefit) of every system that strives to be rules-light: you sacrifice complexity to make the mechanics easier to navigate, but you end up with short and similar stacks of numbers.
Resolution? Nah... frustration!
I'm currently re-reading my Sixth Edition Call of Cthulhu book, and remembering why I gave up on it. It's not that it doesn't work -- nearly every mechanic in here, from Sanity to Magic to Impaling Weapons, makes a lot of sense. They're pretty elegant, too. It's just that, as a GM, I absolutely detest having to keep track of all this stuff. Just looking at The Resistance Table or the various skill lists for each historical era makes my teeth hurt.
This could be a product of my age, my attention span, my busy schedule... I dunno. I just want to have a few simple mechanics to resolve conflicts that are an intrinsic part of the setting:
- Sanity/Insanity: call it what you want, but this is pretty much the touchstone of Lovecraftian fiction. The Investigators need to be fragile in the face of chaos.
- Investigation: I like how Trail of Cthulhu and Cthulhu Dark address the *whiff* factor of BRP: you can't just fail when you're gathering clues that drive the story.
- Combat: I dislike how Cthulhu Dark chucks combat entirely. Sure, shooting a rifle at Great Cthulhu ain't gonna do much, but there are sorcerers and cultists and henchmen and Lesser Servitor Races that can crumple under a sword, right?