Masks of Nyarlathotep
June 20, 2013 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Among tabletop RPG players and in particular among Call of Cthulhu players, Masks of Nyarlathotep is often held to be the gold standard for adventures. A sprawling mystery that begins with a murder in New York City and takes the investigators on a world-spanning chase to London, Cairo, the interior of Kenya, outback Australia and Shanghai, trying to prevent the opening of the Great Gate and the return of the elder gods who will end the world, it does not lack for ambition. Created by Larry DiTillio with editorial assistance from the late Lynn Willis, Masks is rated #1 by a wide margin of the 4,254 adventures reviewed on RPG.net. The Call of Cthulhu website Yog-sothoth.com, to celebrate the site's fifteenth anniversary, is making available a pdf of the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion: 570 pages of behind-the-scenes info for running the campaign.

Masks has been called "the greatest campaign ever" and one which has campaign websites online to this day, decades after its original release, but it came about almost by accident. Larry DiTillio (these days better known as a television screenwriter) had been asked to pitch an adventure for the fledgling Call of Cthulhu game in 1981. He knew Lovecraft's New-England-centric work but felt he had little to add to its tradition of New England haunted houses. However, tantalized by the prospect of a free copy of a new rpg, he began to work on something. He had just read a biography of Jomo Kenyatta, the Kenyan statesman, and felt that a CoC adventure in Africa would be an interesting change of pace. (Kenyatta, decades later the founding father of modern Kenya, appears as an NPC in Masks). Finding a reason to launch the adventure in New York, tying in inspiration from a Lovecraft tale set in Egypt, and adding a few other items let DiTillio crank out a 400-page manuscript in eight months (and this in an age where RPG adventures were typically twenty to thirty pages long). Masks was released as a box set in 1984, and undergoing numerous edition changes since then (including regaining the "lost" Australia chapter for the 1996 publication of The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep, which won the Origins Award for Best RPG that year The adventure is still available from Chaosium. More information on the creation of Masks here.
posted by ricochet biscuit (118 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
 
I never played CoC, I'm going to look through this stuff and see if it grabs me (big Lovecraft fan, moderate tabletop RPG fan).
posted by Mister_A at 1:25 PM on June 20, 2013


SPOILERS: Your character ends up mad or dead.

Good times!
posted by Artw at 1:25 PM on June 20, 2013 [17 favorites]


Just like Shakespeare! Or, you know, Lovecraft. Holy crap someone's getting an idea!

Merchant of Madness!
Twelfth Nyarlathotep!
Hastur V!
MacShub-Niggurath!

Kind of mailed it in on that last one
posted by Mister_A at 1:31 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I never played CoC, I'm going to look through this stuff and see if it grabs me (big Lovecraft fan, moderate tabletop RPG fan).

Convincing arguments have been made for it being the best RPG of all time.
posted by Artw at 1:32 PM on June 20, 2013


Hmm I'm gonna have to check it out, my kids are now contaminated with RPG virus.
posted by Mister_A at 1:34 PM on June 20, 2013


Convincing arguments have been made for it being the best RPG of all time.

Indeed. I mentioned a couple of years ago on the blue just how fantastically out of left field it was thirty years ago. Age has not dimmed its appeal. When just about everything else out there assumes the hypercompetent PCs will win fame and glory through their sword-poking skills, it is bracing to find something that assumes a pitiless universe where we cannot hope to stop the end, just to maybe push it back by a few years or centuries, and where madness and death are the rewards of the heroes.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:38 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is the kind of post that makes me wish I had a reliable gaming crew around me these days. Wow. I had never heard of this campaign, and I've definitely played my fair share of rpgs from a variety of systems.

Awesome post.
posted by voltairemodern at 1:39 PM on June 20, 2013


Slightly tangenty: how do you all pronounce Nyarlathotep? When I was reading the stories I had it in my head as NYE-AR-LAH-THO-TEP, but some years later I heard it pronounced in a stage production as NYAR-LOT-HO-TEP (which made me realize it's supposed to sound Ancient Egyptian).
posted by The Tensor at 1:40 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a THOTEP guy myself.
posted by Artw at 1:48 PM on June 20, 2013


I split the difference with NYAR-LAHTH-OH-TEP. Which is almost certainly wrong, but whatever.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:48 PM on June 20, 2013


One of the things that makes this module such a classic is that grand sweep of the adventure...it really gives you an 'Indiana Jones adventure' kind of feel.

It really was a big inspiration for Pagan Press and later works. Another thing that made it so good was the diversity of the opponents..each chapter brought the PCs into conflict with a different cult of the Crawling Chaos, from decadent aristocrats to yellow peril Chinese pirates.
It also used the trope of 'finding remains from a former adventuring party' to good usage.

Tensor: Ny-Har-Lat-Ho-Tep. According to chaosium fluff in 5th ed it translates to the phrase 'There is no peace at the door' in Egypt. Any Egyptologists willing to say whether HPL got it right, or whether it is just gibberish?
posted by LeRoienJaune at 1:49 PM on June 20, 2013


Ken Hite:
Hands down, the greatest RPG ever designed is Sandy Petersen’s Call of Cthulhu. No other game even comes close. The best campaign frames and scenarios for CoC are a little bit more of a judgment call, but Delta Green, “Raid on Innsmouth,” and Masks of Nyarlathotep have to be in anyone’s top five.
posted by Artw at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's just over a week left on the Kickstarter for Call of Cthulhu's 7th Edition.
posted by rifflesby at 1:51 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is the kind of post that makes me wish I had a reliable gaming crew around me these days. Wow. I had never heard of this campaign, and I've definitely played my fair share of rpgs from a variety of systems.

Oh man, me too. I pretty much gave up tabletop RPGs years ago, but I started listening to the Nerd Poker podcasts when they got linked here and now I really miss them.

I think the CoC rulebook -- whatever edition I had back in 1992 -- would be one of the five books I'd choose to be stranded on a desert island with for the rest of my life. But while I was able to occasionally shanghai my friends into playing D&D or GURPS, I could never seem to get anything going with CoC. But damn, I read the hell out of that rulebook.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:52 PM on June 20, 2013


how do you all pronounce Nyarlathotep?

*pronounce*!?

Are you insane?
posted by weston at 1:53 PM on June 20, 2013 [50 favorites]


(And when I write and this in an age where RPG adventures were typically twenty to thirty pages long, I am being generous: my copy of the AD&D module Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, published in 1981, was all of four double-sided pages of text.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:55 PM on June 20, 2013


Lovecraft got the name "Nyarlathotep" from a dream, and wrote a creepy, poetic, one-page story about his dream. In the story, the titular character comes from Ancient Egypt but is giving lectures and scientific demonstrations in the modern day. So, yes, it's supposed to be one of those -HOTEP names from Ancient Egyptian royalty, but it's just a dream-impression of a word. Thus it should be pronounced "Nyarlat-Hotep"!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:56 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


On-topic: I've never played Masks. I'd love to, but stupid life keeps getting in the way every time I have the urge to find a gaming group around here. I will put in a plug for my favorite CoC campaign, The Great Old Ones, which in addition to being pretty great in general has, as its best possible ending, the crushing discovery that not only are there beings from beyond the stars perfectly willing to consume humanity for a lark, but free will is a fiction and even what victories you were able to scrape together were foreordained and meaningless.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:56 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anyone looking to get into Call of Cthulhu: there's a Kickstarter for the 7th edition with around a week left.
posted by dfan at 1:57 PM on June 20, 2013


how do you all pronounce Nyarlathotep?

*pronounce*!?

Are you insane?


Maybe if you would tell him how to pronounce it he could get on with that! Sheesh!

I don't think I have it in me to play CoC. I want my imaginary action figures to win! I just play roguelikes when I'm looking for challenge.

One of my favorite bits of random RPG trivia is hearing about a CoC-in-Space campaign, where the characters look out the window, see a planet blink at them, and go instantly insane.
posted by curious nu at 1:58 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are there any good/interesting Cthulhu mythos video games?

iPhone autocorrects Cthulhu for me, which is awesome?
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


/Dynamites thread before name can be pronounced.
posted by Artw at 2:00 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


/Thread burrows out again.
posted by The Tensor at 2:03 PM on June 20, 2013


> SPOILERS: Your character ends up mad or dead.

but then in cthulhu-mythos games mine all start out that way. When in Rome...
posted by jfuller at 2:06 PM on June 20, 2013


We're going to need a boat. Or nukes.
posted by Artw at 2:07 PM on June 20, 2013


Oh man, I had such a great time playing Masks.

When we reached Cairo, we didn't go mad. We watched the cultists call up the ancient gods, waiting for the right time, and then exploded them with the dynamite we mined the place with earlier.

Because that was how we rolled.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:09 PM on June 20, 2013


Are there any good/interesting Cthulhu mythos video games?

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was flawed but brilliant, and ended up doing a lot of the stuff that Amnesia did ~8 years later. No hit points, no HUD, no aim reticle, no ammo count, and a solid sanity mechanic ... you spend much of the game running.

Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land is pretty good, but doesn't really replicate the tabletop CoC experience, since it's a tactical game set in the trenches of WW1, shooting cultists and monsters. Still fun, though, and fertile ground for me to mine for my WW1 CoC con game.

Probably the most lauded Call of Cthulhu video game isn't technically a Call of Cthulhu game at all. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, was an old Gamecube game that was supposedly originally conceptualized as a CoC game, but ended up shifting to generic "ancient gods from outside space and time' (Yeah ... yeah ... we'll call them 'Bthluhu' and 'Nyarlathotem'!). Anyway, it took the CoC sanity mechanic and ran with it to wonderful, disturbing, and hilarious places, at one point simulating a Gamecube crash screen with the message "Savegame corrupt. Deleting ..."
posted by Myca at 2:16 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Since it's a room full of experts, can anyone comment on the whole arkham horror boardgame vs. COC RPG experience? Also, how the hell does one find people who'd be into this? None of my mates or colleagues go this far anerd. I'm guessing it's not like people advertise "Group of experienced COC gamers looking for utter newb who has no clue how to play..."
posted by Smegoid at 2:22 PM on June 20, 2013


Oh man, did not know about the Kickstarter! Thank you for this post and the Kickstarter tip. My husband will be very happy to see them.
posted by immlass at 2:23 PM on June 20, 2013


There's a pretty decent Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu game called "Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened". Sort of a 1st-person (or 3rd, if you prefer) point-and-click investigation game. Relatively cheap on Steam.
posted by rifflesby at 2:24 PM on June 20, 2013


Arkham Horror is its own animal. Lots of fun, but also very winnable, which is a direct contrast to CoC.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:25 PM on June 20, 2013


Since it's a room full of experts, can anyone comment on the whole arkham horror boardgame vs. COC RPG experience? Also, how the hell does one find people who'd be into this? None of my mates or colleagues go this far anerd. I'm guessing it's not like people advertise "Group of experienced COC gamers looking for utter newb who has no clue how to play..."

Well Smegoid, you just join Meetup.com's local RPG group for your area, then wait for a campaign for the game you'd like to play to become available.

And wait. And wait. And wait...

sigh
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:28 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I admit through my long RPG history, that I have never played Masks. I've avoiuded even flipping through its various reprints. Because, someday, I want to play with nothing spoiled.

So... who's going to ComiCon? Who has Skype or Google Hangout?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:34 PM on June 20, 2013


Smegoid:

Arkham Horror is tough to pick up but fun to play once you become familiar with the game. Expect your first game to be a shambles if everybody's learning how to play

My friends and I started an 'Arkham Horror: The TV Series' campaign once. Each elder god was the big bad of a different season. We decided to try playing until either all the playable characters were dead, the world was blown up, or all the elder gods were banished. We got through 3 seasons (Yig, Tsathoggua, and Dagon) before schedule conflicts ended the campaign. It was a lot of fun!

Because character creation takes more time, COC RPG can be more frustrating, becuase there are so many means for your characters to die or go insane. Pregenerated characters is the way to go in that. Like all RPGs, it's far more dependant on the quality of your GM.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 2:36 PM on June 20, 2013


Convincing arguments have been made for it being the best RPG of all time.

I disagree. Before I get going, I will say it is maybe the most important RPG adventure of all time. It showed an entirely different way of doing things, it defined the CoC large-format adventure almost completely, and it had a lot of really clever ideas, including introducing many people to the idea of props as play aids ("Shanghai Fun & Friends!"). Also, it kept my weekly gaming group going for a year -- between CoC and Masks, our per-player expenses worked out to about 1.5 cents/hour. That's value!

However:

It's not that well constructed. Each of the parts works well enough, but the "go anywhere" structure doesn't work all that well -- it claims to be a sandbox, but the campaign is set up for London --> Cairo --> Nairobi --> Shanghai, and, while it can be made to work in other orders, it takes some work to do so.

The difficulty level varies a lot, but tends toward the deadly, which, yeah CoC, but keeping the adventure going in the face of loss of large numbers of characters strains the ingenuity of players and Keepers alike. It also decidedly lacks the slow-building tension of some of the later adventures.

Thinking about it years later, it is a bit of a mish-mash of ideas, with the central spine of the story being almost an afterthought. On the other hand, you do get a lot of details for each stage of the adventure, which means that you could keep building adventures in each location if the players wanted to.

The whole "lost Australian chapter" was just kind of silly. It would have been better to write it out.

So, yeah, great, but "the greatest?" Honestly, I recommend reading something like Bookhounds of London and Masks side by side -- they asre obviously different animals, but Bookhounds is a lot more sophisticated. As one would hope, since it's had 30 years of experience on its predecessor.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:39 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wrote a RPG campaign (self promo link here) that blatantly used Masks' central structure - get clues - go to different location where evil cult is up to no good and then stop them. It's such a good format for tabletop RPGs because great gaming involves collaboration between players and the GM. A lot of GMs simply think games are a vehicle to tell stories TO players but they're really about CREATING a story WITH the players. The choice of where to go and what to do should be up to the players.

Incidentally, I run a lot of Call of Cthulhu games but I haven't backed the 7th edition Kickstarter simply because most of my games are not set in the 1920s. I prefer the modern era or obscure historical settings.
posted by clockworkjoe at 2:52 PM on June 20, 2013


Thanks GaP, I was coming here to say that. Mask is astonishing in scope, and very well done, but it's also a meat grinder.

This is at least partly due to the system. In Chaosium's excellent Basic Roleplaying System, which Call of Cthulhu is based on, a character has around 10-15 hit points. When they hit zero the character is dead. A shotgun does 4 six sided dice worth of damage. In Masks each arc ends in rooms full of people with shotguns (or equivalent). Characters die like flies.

So when you're likely to run through 4-5 characters each then the wide screen horror which CoC always aspires to will always tend towards pulp gonzo as the characters load up with dynamite and tommy guns and alien technology and meta-knowledge about the setting and adventure.

Which is definitely loads of fun, but it's not what people necessarily think of when they think of horror.

CoC is still great, but I think it works best in 4-5 episode arcs.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:54 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Welp that's Masks and Bookhounds hardcovers ordered.

Please nobody mention any other books I'll be forced to immediately buy.
posted by rifflesby at 2:56 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Spent two years going through that campaign. Resulted in one of my favorite pieces of in-game dialogue ever:

ELIZABETH: There wasn't anyone in the village ... why wasn't there anyone in the village?
YEVGENY: What's that up ahead?
KATYA: What?
YEVGENY: Rising out of the water!
ELIZABETH: Oh my God!
XIAN: Pull up! Pull up!
KATYA: I'm trying!
ELIZABETH: Look out!
YEVGENY: AAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIEEEE!
KATYA: What's going on back there?
XIAN: Yevgeny's clawing his eyes out!
ELIZABETH: Stop him! For God's sake somebody stop him!
XIAN: How?
KATYA: Hold on!
ELIZABETH: We have to do something! That thing's going to destroy the entire fleet!
KATYA: Do what? The machine guns aren't even bothering it!
XIAN: What's it doing? LOOK OUT!
KATYA: We've lost an engine!
ELIZABETH: OH GOD HERE IT COMES AGAIN!
YEVGENY: AAAAAAA!
KATYA: It clipped the wing - I'm losing control! I'm going to try to ditch in the water!
ELIZABETH: Katya!
KATYA: What?
ELIZABETH: I accept! I'll marry you!
(A few moments of speechless silence.)
KATYA: Really? You mean it?
ELIZABETH: Yes! I mean it! Now!
KATYA: Um, OK, um ... as captain of this vessel, I declare us married!
XIAN: You know, you two, I'm not sure that's entirely -
KATYA: SHUT UP!
posted by kyrademon at 2:58 PM on June 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


My favorite (and much repeated) piec of CoC in-game dialogue is:

Get in the boat!
Get in the boat!!!
GET IN THE BOAT!!!!!!

posted by GenjiandProust at 3:06 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been wrong all this time. I always thought the "ny" was like a nasalized n, making it ÑAR-la-THO-tep.

My friend whom I chided for saying NY-ar-LATH-o-tep was actually pretty close, if not quite on.

I still pronounce Cthulhu differently every time, just for fun.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:23 PM on June 20, 2013


I learned how to pronounce Cthulhu from Carl McCoy.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:28 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Half Life would be my favourite Lovecraftian videogame, in theme and story more than in actual gameplay though.
posted by Artw at 3:34 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great post! (disclaimer: we talked about it a little via MeMail before) BTW, minor spoilers follow....

Our group didn't have a great reaction to Masks. They enjoyed a pulpish, gung-ho approach to play, and in earlier adventures it didn't work so badly for them, but then in the first scenario they ran up against the Chakota right there in New York City, in its awesome malevolence, and fled the scene. Presumably the police handled it somehow.

It was a real shame, because later Masks of Nyarlathotep contains the most kick-ass, pulpish character of any CoC adventure: Jack "Brass" Brady, which should be said in the same tone of voice as BIG JIM SLADE from Kentucky Fried Movie. A former marine, a survivor of the Carlyle Expedition, and possessor of supernatural protection from a brass plate, he is a larger-than-life figure and solidly on the investigator's side. I think he has an Ally card in the base Arkham Horror set.

Some other great Call of Cthulhu campaigns are:
SHADOWS OF YOG-SOTHOTH, creator Sandy Petersen's own campaign, against the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight, ending with one of the most iconic moments in Call of Cthulhu's history.
SPAWN OF AZATHOTH, an attempt to save the world from the twin dangers of cosmic apocalypse and an ancient sorcerer's misguided attempts to save the world.
BEYOND THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, a direct sequel to Lovecraft's classic story At The Mountains Of Madness, where the natural perils of Antarctica and the supernatural horror of the Elder Things double-team the unfortunate adventurers.
ESCAPE FROM INNSMOUTH, actually one of the excellent "Lovecraft Country" sourcebooks, but contains a mini-campaign having the players participate in the government raid on Innsmouth. Features a cameo by J. Edgar Hoover!
posted by JHarris at 3:48 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


All pronunciations of Nyarlathotep are valid. My favorite recent pronunciation is "Slen-der-man".
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:55 PM on June 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


They haven't invited the comparison, but Pelgrane Press is about to release their own epic globetrotting campaign book for Trail of Cthulhu, Eternal Lies. Has an asociated soundtrack. And a trailer.

I put together Cthulhu RPGs sometimes; if you're in range of Berkeley and want in, drop me a line. If I can find a group that can actually meet regularly enough, I'd like to run a ginormous campaign like Masks some time...
posted by Zed at 3:57 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tatters of the King is a campaign that needs work (it is almost unbearably railroady), but it has good atmosphere, and I like the fact that there are hardly any melodramatic villains -- most of the antagonists are sad people whose lives have been utterly ruined by their association with monstrous forces. If you are willing to take some time customizing the campaign, it has a very different feel than a lot of Cthulhu-RPG stuff.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:57 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, I run a lot of Call of Cthulhu games but I haven't backed the 7th edition Kickstarter simply because most of my games are not set in the 1920s. I prefer the modern era or obscure historical settings.

Chaosium is its own worst enemy when it comes to communicating. The 7th edition is written for both the '20's and modern-day; the "Cthulhu Through the Ages" PDF stretch goal, a reward for most of the pledge levels, covers play in "Roman, Dark Ages, Gaslight, Far Future, and the Dreamlands."

"But Zed," you might say, "I can search the whole kickstarter page and not find mention of any of those things." That's because the modern-day thing is some sort of secret you have to have listened to a podcast interview of the writers to learn, and half the text on the page is embedded in images.
posted by Zed at 4:03 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sometimes it seems like half the entries in the Cthulhu Encyclopedia are aspects of Nyarlathotep. Dude has a lot of masks.
posted by Artw at 4:06 PM on June 20, 2013


Also, let's talk Shadows of Yog-Sothoth, which is pretty awful. It's basically a series of deathtraps, but often they are hilarious deathtraps. For example, about halfway through the campaign, a wealthy benefactor contacts the PCs and, in recognition of their efforts to fight the Mythos, offers them sponsorship and invites them up to his estate to hang out and relax for a few days. Unfortunately, the benefactor is a Mi-Go wearing a suit like in "The Whisperer in Darkness", and he sends you into horrible deathtrap after horrible deathtrap. First he tells the players to go investigate an abandoned house which is actually the abode of killer hillbillies. Then he sends the PCs off on a boat ride... where a shoggoth attacks. Go to the hospital? A creature made of the worms that ate a magician's corpse and became sentient comes to kill you. Hilarious.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:21 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


SPAWN OF AZATHOTH, an attempt to save the world from the twin dangers of cosmic apocalypse and an ancient sorcerer's misguided attempts to save the world.

A thousand times yes. Probably my favourite of the campaigns, and perhaps the first time in an RPG that I had seen a campaign that required actual roleplaying on the parts of the GM and players in the climactic act. I wish I still had my old boxed edition with the beautifully creepy Susan Seddon Boulet cover.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:22 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Since it's a room full of experts, can anyone comment on the whole arkham horror boardgame vs. COC RPG experience? Also, how the hell does one find people who'd be into this? None of my mates or colleagues go this far anerd. I'm guessing it's not like people advertise "Group of experienced COC gamers looking for utter newb who has no clue how to play..."

Arkham Horror is great fun, but more 'frantic struggle' than 'horror'. Much of the gameplay consists of running around the city in Monster Bash mode while the specialists of your group try to shut down the gates fast enough and/or handle any of the further disasters that unfurl in the expansions. Definitely a bit of setup going in, but once your group gets accustomed it all goes pretty quick. I like the 'draw three pick one' method for selecting characters, with the caveat that if you pick Mandy, you ALWAYS PLAY MANDY. There is no other option.

Another great one is Mansions of Madness, which is *much* closer to a true CoC / Lovecraftian horror adventure, but *such* a nightmare to set up. The gameplay is a group of 2-4 investigators and one GM again, but the goal is to solve a mystery and avert disaster by finding clues and solving puzzles (and hitting monsters in the face with an axe). The puzzle mechanics are really fun, the splash text and plot developments are deliciously creepy, and the combat mechanic is hair-raisingly unpredictable but still a delight (but not in an unfair manner). The entire thing feels MUCH more like a roleplay session than a boardgame, especially if you've got a theatric GM and players willing to go along. The scenarios are somewhat variable, so even playing on the same mapset may have totally different goals and strategies. However, the scenario design all has to be done by one person, they have to set everything up in a hidden fashion which takes about an hour, and if they screw up one single thing (like, say, putting the key to a door BEHIND the door), the entire scenario can be rendered unfairly unwinnable. There is a lot to love about this game, but it would benefit INCREDIBLY from being translated to PC / Console play, just so the setup is faster and more foolproof.

Not to discourage anyone from picking up Mansions - it's definitely worth it, just make sure your GM a) is well versed in both the rules and the FAQ, b) sets the game up an hour ahead of time, and c) DOUBLE CHECKS HIS SETUP. Woo boy, lemme stress C, because you don't want to feel like such an asshole when players realize they lost because you boned them out of a winnable scenario. It's definitely a lovecraftian situation to have no possible win state, but still.
posted by FatherDagon at 4:26 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wish I still had my old boxed edition with the beautifully creepy Susan Seddon Boulet cover.

There's one used on Amazon for $35 as I write this.
posted by rifflesby at 4:28 PM on June 20, 2013


There's one used on Amazon for $35 as I write this.

Not anymore there ain't. Get. In. My. Mailbox!
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:34 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


If I had money to spare right now, I would so be contributing to that Kickstarter. Of course the question "do I have money to spare" is practically always answered no, goddammit.
posted by JHarris at 4:51 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I had money to spare right now, I would so be contributing to that Kickstarter. Of course the question "do I have money to spare" is practically always answered no, goddammit.

Gets worse. Sandy Petersen's doing a Kickstarter right now for Cthulhu Wars, a boardgame set after Cthulhu rises and the world belongs to the GOOs. Tons of miniatures, and it tops out at $520 for everything.

Fortunately, I have retired from working for other people and now own a toy and game store. Hence, I can write that shit off, brutha.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 5:03 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sandy Petersen's doing a Kickstarter right now for Cthulhu Wars

I cannot believe the amount of money that is being pumped into that game. 2848 backers averaging $240 each. I also cannot believe they've made a "sexy Asenath Waite." wince.
posted by Zed at 5:08 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I also cannot believe they've made a "sexy Asenath Waite." wince.

Well, she's actually her own sexy dad, if that's any consolation.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:41 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Surely being able to work that outfit was Ephraim's goal all along.
posted by Zed at 5:50 PM on June 20, 2013


And he'd have worked it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!

While not entirely CoC-related, I think Eclipse Phase did some interesting stuff regarding character mortality.
posted by mikurski at 6:42 PM on June 20, 2013


... go on.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:47 PM on June 20, 2013


For those who might not be aware, Eclipse Phase is a RPG that is pretty much the meeting point between transhumanism and lovecraftian horror.

This means you have a universe with biotech, cybernetics, space travel, and the AIs who translated themselves into something cruel and unfathomable before vanishing, leaving only the blighted husk of Earth (now under perpetual quarantine).

It's got a lot of the harmful-sensation motif going for it - informational viruses that can drive you nuts if you understand them, etc.

Getting back to mortality:

One of the Big Points in EP is the idea of consciousness. Who you are can be read out of your brain and dumped into another receptacle.

You can make copies of yourself. You can make backups. Apply that to a highly-lethal game session and things can get interesting.
posted by mikurski at 7:07 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hilarious.

Well, *I* think it's funny.
posted by Artw at 7:10 PM on June 20, 2013


You can make copies of yourself. You can make backups. Apply that to a highly-lethal game session and things can get interesting.

The Delta Green folk discussed that a bit on their podcast - boy did they come up with some nasty uses for it that make the concept in no way a reassuring thing.

This is why I love those guys.
posted by Artw at 7:12 PM on June 20, 2013


You can make copies of yourself. You can make backups. Apply that to a highly-lethal game session and things can get interesting.

I love Paranoia!



Well, *I* think it's funny.

Not a hint of sarcasm on my end. :D
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:18 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh man, I don't know how I missed this thread.

I am playing a game of Masks right now! We've been going at this since January, meeting every other week for at least five hours. It is truly an epic campaign that does not go easy on investigators. I've already lost one character to grisly circumstances and my current character has his days numbered (literally – the Hounds of Tindalos is the reason why why you don't cast spells without knowing what they do).

Also, I have now given more than a month's rent to fund Cthulhu-theme tabletop games on Kickstarter in the last month. Thanks a lot, Metafilter.
posted by deathpanels at 7:23 PM on June 20, 2013


I played Masks in my youth.


It has made me the man I am ToDeh he heh heh heh heh HeH HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHLURGFIGHHAAAHAHaaAAAAa A A a a .
posted by vrakatar at 7:26 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it's this one. Note what is at 02:58:34. Aaiiee!
posted by Artw at 7:34 PM on June 20, 2013


Eternal Darkness was a real beauty of a game. The site for it is dead now, but to promote the release they had a film contest. Here's one of the winners - most of the videos aren't on the net anymore, and I managed to track down another winner a few years ago but he never got around to posting his video.

Of course that's to say nothing of the true madness of Nyarlathotep's anime schoolgirl mask. It's not a first-rate show, but it gets a lot of points for putting a gambrel roof on the main character's house.
posted by 23 at 8:03 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Are there any good/interesting Cthulhu mythos video games?

Actually, some nice options on iOS.

The aforementioned WWI tactical shooter The Wasted Land is excellent on iPad.

Elder Signs: Omens is an iOS boardgame that is really solid.

And, of course, Cthulu Saves the World.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:31 PM on June 20, 2013


I wrote a RPG campaign (self promo link here) that blatantly used Masks' central structure

Dude. I so want to play Monsters and Other Childish Things.
posted by Zed at 9:51 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course that's to say nothing of the true madness of Nyarlathotep's anime schoolgirl mask. It's not a first-rate show, but it gets a lot of points for putting a gambrel roof on the main character's house.
The story of Haiyore! Nyaruko-san centers around Nyaruko, a formless Cthulhu-deity of chaos (Nyarlathotep) who can take on the shape of a seemingly ordinary silver-haired girl. Mahiro Yasaka is a normal high school boy who is being chased by a fearsome black alien one night, until Nyaruko saves him. She explains that the creatures from H. P. Lovecraft's works are actually races of aliens, and that she has been sent to Earth to protect him from being kidnapped by an alien trafficker. Eventually, Nyaruko and two other Lovecraft-creatures, Cthugha and Hastur, end up being freeloaders at Mahiro's place.
And I see other characters include... Clark Ashton Smith.

1/D6 SAN loss.
posted by Zed at 9:56 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Are there any good/interesting Cthulhu mythos video games?

Whatever you do, stay away from Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Very promising first hour-ish, straight to shit after that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:46 PM on June 20, 2013


It's well worth watching an LP of it though. Up to and through the big chase, it's excellent. But yeah, after that it peters out into a pretty mediocre FPS.
posted by rifflesby at 11:41 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dark Corners of the Earth appears to have been something that started from genuinely good ideas and managed to execute several of them but ended up falling deep into development hell.
posted by 23 at 12:21 AM on June 21, 2013


I played Masks when I was 12. It tooks us a year to go through it and I personnaly lost 4 characters by the end of it.
Actually only one PC did make it out alive, although very much insane.
It's still one of my best gaming memory.
posted by SageLeVoid at 12:27 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing about that anime thing is that, upon hearing that I'm a fan of and generally know about the Cthulhu Mythos, the first reaction multiple people have had is to ask me if I know about this anime in which Nyarlathotep is a girl in a harem comedy.

It seems like these are people who don't know of the Mythos except from this thing. It seems a dilution, somehow. It makes me want to pose as a serious cultist and issue dire warnings about trivializing that which they cannot comprehend....
posted by JHarris at 2:19 AM on June 21, 2013


Does anyone have a link to that article from a few years ago, which warned that the commodification of Mythos beasties, far from being merely tacky and unimaginative repetition humour*, was actually the way that the Mythos was altering the psychic groundwater of humanity? And prepared us all to accept Cthulhu and his abominable brethren with open arms? ("Lookit the adorable little tentacles!")

*To be honest, by now, I think that's what it has mostly become. But it seems to capture something to say that there might be a disquieting link between neoliberalism's cultural dynamics, cuteness and a meaningless universe populated by indifferent gods.
posted by lucien_reeve at 2:58 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems a dilution, somehow.

There's no question it's a dilution, but that's part of what makes it fascinating to me - this weird New England writer who never did really well in his lifetime and was barely kept in print by a small publishing house for many years has now spawned not one but several cottage industries of people depicting a particular monster from one of his shorter stories with varying levels of seriousness. And it's crossed oceans.

That said the roots of the anime in the fandom are actually quite solid and completely from the RPG front - Call of Cthulhu does very well in Japan for a tabletop RPG, and a GM screen and some dice show up in one of the openings for the anime. There's also a few series of offical CoC licensed replays, though they're pretty normal CoC adventures by comparison to the anime premise, even if there are schoolgirls who are good at karate.
posted by 23 at 3:14 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone have a link to that article from a few years ago, which warned that the commodification of Mythos beasties, far from being merely tacky and unimaginative repetition humour*, was actually the way that the Mythos was altering the psychic groundwater of humanity? And prepared us all to accept Cthulhu and his abominable brethren with open arms? ("Lookit the adorable little tentacles!")

I'm pretty sure this isn't it, but it's something I wrote on LJ years and years ago:

Civilization, it has long been fashionable to say, is at an end. When Handel’s Messiah brought the sacred music to the masses, it was the end of civilization. When Nietzsche declared the death of God, it was the end of civilization. When Kinsey declared that there was a lot more sex going on than most people were willing to admit, the apocalypse was at hand. Today, I speak as the newest harbinger.

Ill-conceived marketing techniques are nothing new- the tale of the Chevy Nova’s spectacular failure in Spanish-speaking countries, while untrue, is legendary. I fear, however, that with its most recent series of Happy Meal promotional toys, McDonald’s has perhaps gone too far. If you’ve been to a Mickey Dee’s lately, you’ve likely seen their Halloween toy promotion- “Mysterious Creatures of the World!” They’ve been releasing one toy per week, each a small, plastic rendering of a different cryptozoological beastie. The series, which made its debut in September, unveiled its final member this week.

As a long-time fan of all things weird and wonderful, this correspondent has made a humiliating weekly pilgrimage to the Temple of the Golden Arches to retrieve a Happy Meal, or more specifically the toy within. Full sets of McDonald’s toys are often valuable years later, and I figured they’d look good on my desk, perhaps lurking near my mousepad. So it was that over the past few weeks, I’ve amassed a collection of creatures. Bigfoot shares the space in front of my monitor with the Jersey Devil and a Gnoph-Keh., while the Chupacabra and Mokole-Mbembe sit on my processor. There’s a flat, even surface atop my monitor, which I had reserved for the fifth and final toy, but it shall remain empty, and all because of what I found upon opening my hamburger Happy Meal this past Sunday.

The rest of the series is instantly recognizable to anyone with an interest in monsters, but the squat little horror which emerged from the tacky-feeling, opaque plastic, baggie is only recognizable to those who’ve spent time in pursuit of knowledge which is perhaps best left unlearnt, especially if one’s security clearance is no longer valid.

The toy in question is about five inches tall, one inch taller than the second-largest toy in the series, the saurian Mokole-Mbembe. It’s cast in a strange, wet-feeling greenish-black rubber, mostly humanoid in shape aside from the batlike wings sprouting from its back. Below its reddish eyes is, instead of a face, a seemingly meticulously sculpted mass of tentacles. In speaking with a contact at the Pentagon, I managed to clear as much information as possible to release to the public, though I fear it is not enough to convey the fear and terror that should be sweeping this nation at a major restaurant chain’s releasing such a product. The toy is an obvious and repugnant likeness of the demon-king “Cthulhu,” whose name historians may recall from the investigative work of muckraking journalist Howard Lovecraft in the 1930’s. Multiple cults devoted to the being depicted by the toy have been broken up by the police, their members charged with murder, rape, arson, and all manner of unspeakable atrocities.

The enormity of this offense against human decency is beyond the pale. Short of Taco Bell offering little plastic suicide bombers and jihadis, nothing could possibly compare to this outrage. The temptation of evil pulls even more strongly when children are taught to treat the occult as a toy or a game. I strongly urge every man, woman, and child to speak out against this atrocity against our children and against humanity. There must be no reward for treating cosmic horrors as a child’s plaything.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:49 AM on June 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


lucien_reeve:
Does anyone have a link to that article from a few years ago, which warned that the commodification of Mythos beasties, far from being merely tacky and unimaginative repetition humour*, was actually the way that the Mythos was altering the psychic groundwater of humanity? And prepared us all to accept Cthulhu and his abominable brethren with open arms? ("Lookit the adorable little tentacles!")
No, but the same idea is used in Tom Smith's Cthulhu Lite FM.

Also, the anime mentioned above is shit but whomever wrote it knew their stuff. I found myself watching anyways just due to the fact that they weren't just tossing random Lovecraftian names out there, they were using the names and characters in precisely the right way to be incredibly wrong. Kind of a perverse inversion of how western religions' symbols are often hilariously misused in anime.
posted by charred husk at 6:02 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re the name, Sandy Petersen sounds like he pronounces it "Nyar-latho-tep" in the video (around the 1:10 mark when discussing the figures) for his Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter project.
posted by gbc at 6:11 AM on June 21, 2013


Is this a campaign setting that I could theoretically run with a group of people who've never played CoC before? Or is it too difficult/high-level/complex to start people off with? Is there a better one to begin with instead?

I've never played CoC but this sounds like a bucket of fun and I'd be down for trying to GM a campaign of it.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:08 AM on June 21, 2013


Is this a campaign setting that I could theoretically run with a group of people who've never played CoC before? Or is it too difficult/high-level/complex to start people off with? Is there a better one to begin with instead?

It was the first one I ran, and we all had the added complication of being high school students at the time. I ran a couple of short adventures (of the investigate the mysterious abandoned house type) ahead of time with one or two of the players to help them and me learn the game. Note that in the 570-page Companion I linked to, there is actually an introductory adventure or two that help set up the Masks campaign, which would be ideal, I should think.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:16 AM on June 21, 2013


As a follow-up to Rory M: Masks starts pretty much in medias res, with the investigators arriving to meet a friend who has requested their aid, but when they arrive they find he has been brutally murdered. There are a number of clues scattered about the room -- the original boxed set had these as physical props (newspaper clippings with parts of other, unrelated stories on the back) -- and I strongly recommend that anyone running it go to the trouble of printing these out with some period newspaper bits on the reverse. It adds greatly to the feel, and home printing was not so much an option in 1984 when the thing first came out.

Anyway, the clues immediately suggest a half-dozen possible avenues of investigation, and newbie players are definitely not a problem. The game does not assume any player knowledge about the mythos. If anything, quite the reverse.

The only downside to starting with Masks is that everything else looks like a bunch of ugly chickens by comparison.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:39 AM on June 21, 2013


There's also a few series of offical CoC licensed replays, though they're pretty normal CoC adventures by comparison to the anime premise, even if there are schoolgirls who are good at karate.

Wait, what is this? What are "licensed replays?" I like normal CoC adventures, but don't read Japanese beyond the infinitesimal bit I got in college.
posted by JHarris at 8:07 AM on June 21, 2013


ricochet biscuit had good experiences with it, but even with a dozen scenarios under my belt, including a couple self-written ones, we still had a false start with Masks, perhaps because of my own failings as a Keeper.

Fortunately, Rory Marinich, the game has several excellent one-off adventures. I ran one myself, with Edogy's help (he provided forum space) for several Metafilter members last year. We did the all-time classic "The Haunting," which has been in every Call of Cthulhu rulebook from the beginning and is iconic enough to be the subject of a page footer joke in Paranoia XP. I enjoy running the "exploration" adventures the best, where the players drive the plot by looking around, Scooby-Doo style, searching for clues to determine the nature of the beast. Besides The Haunting, the collection Mansions Of Madness has a few adventures in this style, including one of my favorites, "The Crack'd And Crook'd Manse."
posted by JHarris at 8:17 AM on June 21, 2013


Crack'd And Crook'd Manse is a perfect one-off.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:19 AM on June 21, 2013


There's another adventure in the rulebook, "Dead Man's Stomp," that's a Jazz Age story heavy on the atmosphere.

The guys behind the H.P Lovecraft Literary Podcast did a series of four flash animations that get across the life of a Cthulhu investigator in semi-humorous fashion, in The Investigators. Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4. Note particularly how they solve the problem at the end of Part 2....
posted by JHarris at 8:22 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


JHarris speaks sooth: it does require some prep work. I am actually a little surprised that at the ripe old age of seventeen, I was able to make the thing work.

I would definitely consider some of the one-offs as an introduction; I haven't looked at the one in the Companion pdf that closely, but it does allow the murder victim at the beginning of Masks to actually have some pre-existing connection to the PCs, instead of just saying "A guy you know and like asks to meet with you."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:04 AM on June 21, 2013


Dennis Detwiller's Masks campaign advice also suggests starting your campaign before the start of Masks so that Jackson Elias can be an established ally of the characters and his death, when it comes, means something.

I haven't read any of the campaign books, but I've read a bunch of published CoC scenarios, and I often consider them unplayable, or, rather, inconsistent with what I want out of a Cthulhu game. I ranted about this here but still haven't gotten around to the second part that blog entry implies.
posted by Zed at 9:32 AM on June 21, 2013


Current Reddit AMA with Paul Fricker and Mike Mason, the designers of the 7th edition Call of Cthulhu. (The new edition involves the most substantial rules changes from the previous edition in CoC's history, and the edition wars that CoC has evaded for thirty years are probably here now. And before anyone points out how easy it is to ignore most of the changes if you want to, yeah, I know, but gamers are crazy. You know that.)
posted by Zed at 9:43 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


My favourite Call of Cthulhu adventure I haven't played is Artifact Zero in one of the Delta Green books.

*SPOILERS*

If the players so much as go near the titular artifact or anything that has touched it they are contaminated by Tillinghast energy which will zap them back to the dawn of time where they die of asphyxiation. They know this because more bodies get found near the artifact... Their own bodies. It's ridiculously unfair instakill bullshit and utterly hilarious.
posted by Artw at 10:00 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I cite Detwiller again because the game design crush I have on him rivals the ones I have on Ken Hite and Greg Stolze:
In all other games, stats are a comparison, in Call of Cthulhu they are a warning. A lot of players don't understand this. For that matter, a lot of Keepers don't understand this. Control in Delta Green is not an option. The spells and creatures and magic and sanity rending books are stacked against you from the first moment of the game. [...] Embrace the fear. It's some of the most fun I've had in gaming: not knowing what's coming next. And Keepers, take the reigns, let the dice make the life and death calls, and bring more of the battle back to the internal struggle of fear.
Or:
Do not protect the characters. You are the mediator of the game, but you should not step in an reprieve a doomed character. It is your job to walk them to the gallows, the dice are the guillotine. Death is not only part of Delta Green, it is the basis of it. It is a game about human frailty and death, about the struggle against the unknown despite the fact that victory is never possible.
As such, it is important to let the game dictate the outcome. Note that the rules are stacked in favor of the creatures from beyond, and that humans, unless they are exceedingly careful and clever, have almost no chance of even a limited victory.

In my mind, he once said something like "The dice themselves are Mythos entities -- without mercy or compassion or comprehensibility" but I can't find that and that may just be my own mental rewriting of the above.

Detwiller's putting the final touches on his Dreamlands campaign book The Sense of the Sleight of Hand Man. Looks hella creepy, and it's the first Dreamlands thing that's made me think: I really want to play that.
posted by Zed at 11:31 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dreamlands and not shit? It cannot be, and yet it MUST BE!
posted by Artw at 11:36 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gets worse. Sandy Petersen's doing a Kickstarter right now for Cthulhu Wars, a boardgame set after Cthulhu rises and the world belongs to the GOOs. Tons of miniatures, and it tops out at $520 for everything.

There is no button on Kickstarter for 'Shut Up And Take My Money' but there does seem to be one for 'start slavering and howling as you dive for your wallet and try to force dirty wads of cash into the CD drive and then you wake up five minutes later with a burst blood vessel in your eye and 200+ bucks poorer.'
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:03 PM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I actually kind of like the Dreamlands, Artw. It is true, it isn't traditional Call of Cthulhu, and verges off more into D&D territory than Lovecraft's trademark horror. But at its best I like to think of it as D&D done right, with vivid, hallucinatory imagery, strange allies, bizarre associations, and magic-like things, when they appear, that tend to be less plain bonuses and much more mixed blessings.

I once had a dreamer escorted to the grand Court Of Cats in Ulthar, where four particular proud felines brought forth clutched in their teeth tiny, shining white plates, on which each was deposited a single dead mouse scratched with a symbol of Bast. Eating the mouse (if they could stomach it) bestowed the dreamer with the ability to understand the language of cats.

In another instance, a dreamer ate a berry that gave her a permanent point of POW -- but removed her ability to ever taste cinnamon again. Even in the waking world.
posted by JHarris at 5:26 PM on June 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sometimes it seems like half the entries in the Cthulhu Encyclopedia are aspects of Nyarlathotep. Dude has a lot of masks.

I thought I was the only one who thought that. YES!
posted by Renoroc at 7:26 PM on June 21, 2013


Wait, what is this? What are "licensed replays?" I like normal CoC adventures, but don't read Japanese beyond the infinitesimal bit I got in college.

"Replays" (リプレイ) are edited play transcripts. I know in English there are D&D novels which are based on actual campaigns, but those are written in an in-universe style, whereas replays are actually written like scripts (Bob: I kick the door. GM: The door was a mimic and it bites you. Bob: Damn it!) based on recordings of sessions. They're pretty popular and are about as old as the RPG community in Japan.

The Cthulhu series I'm familiar with is るるいえアンティーク (R'lyeh Antique), with other titles in the series being R'lyeh Birthday, R'lyeh High School, and R'lyeh Vacation. The most interesting part of it to me was that the first session didn't go very well and then the GM had a frank conversation about it with one of the players afterwards.

I'm actually working on an FPP about replays in general this, so I'll try to finish that up and post soon.
posted by 23 at 11:57 PM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aaaaand there you go.
posted by 23 at 1:18 AM on June 22, 2013


One of the suggestions in Ken Hite's Night's Black Agents was to mix Trail of Cthulhu to change the background from Spies vs. Vampires to Spies vs. The Uncaring Universe. I have absolutely loved running NBA and recently picked up ToC to see whether it would be worth running. I also picked up Ken Hite's recent Dark Osprey offering - The Nazi Occult which is fantastic (at this point I should mention that I partially finance Mr Hite's book collection given the amount of his stuff I end up buying).

I remember the exact comment from Metafilter that gave me the idea to do it* - Numbers stations were basically set up around the globe in specific locations to perform a series of mathematical equations that keep the Earth safe from the horrors out there in the darkness.

Now, someone (or something?) has been listening out and is trying to locate the stations and is shutting them down one by one. It's the players job to seek out obscure mathematical texts and re-create the equation whilst simultaneously working to protect the remaining stations from mad cultists intent on opening the gates.

*I am not stealing it wholesale but it certainly gave me a fantastic jumping off point.
posted by longbaugh at 2:46 AM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Convincing arguments have been made for it being the best RPG of all time.

If we're talking about the supplements and adventures, then that case may be made. However, I am no fan of the rules. The percentile-based skill system was a step up from the mechanics of a lot of other RPGs for its time, but if I was to play CoC now, I'd probably swap in the rules from Over The Edge (which gets my vote for best RPG of all time...setting and rules were amazing, although the supplemental materials couldn't hold a candle to CoC's).

So many old RPGs had just awful rules. Old school AD&D was terrible, and I shudder when I remember the wound tables from Rolemaster. I'd be curious to know what other people consider to be the worst. I'm not sure what I'd pick; there are just too many candidates.
posted by Edgewise at 2:59 PM on June 22, 2013


'd probably swap in the rules from Over The Edge (which gets my vote for best RPG of all time

Eponysterical! If you didn't know, the rules have been released under the Open Game License as the WaRP System. As it happens, I've just recently been contemplating it as a Cthulhu system, but I feel it may be too free-form to achieve the dice-as-Mythos-horrors sense I was discussing above. If so much is implicitly GM fiat, it's hard to achieve the same sense of lack of control. I'm leaning toward the One-Roll Engine game Nemesis (PDF), which isn't nearly as rules-light as Over the Edge, but which achieves a lot of feeling of specificity with a set of rules that feels nicely internally consistent -- complex, not complicated.

(I greatly admire the WaRP System rules; I'm just iffy on whether I'd want to use them for Cthulhu.)
posted by Zed at 6:02 PM on June 22, 2013


Well, I actually like Call of Cthulhu's rules. Because they're simple. 90% of everything is a D100 roll. You succeed on a skill roll and it was an important consequence (as determined by the Keeper), get an experience check. Half or double the skill value to reflect difficulty. At the end of a scenario, make a skill roll for each check but try to FAIL; if you do fail, gain D10 skill points. Then erase checks. Since so many rolls are handled the same way, it greatly opens up the use of the dice as an improvisational tool. Many NPCs and monsters contain non-rulebook skills in their stat blocks, but it's rare that you don't know what they mean; some are even included as jokes.

It's not perfect, but I'm not aware of any meaningful improvements upon it. What do you dislike about the system?
posted by JHarris at 7:26 PM on June 22, 2013


(It helps that things like "fate points" or the like go against CoC's play philosophy. You're just a pitiful organism, why should fate make exceptions for you? If anything, the monsters should be getting the fate points.)
posted by JHarris at 7:28 PM on June 22, 2013


I think CoC's character creation is more complicated than necessary with all of its derived characteristics and such, but the system works out fine in play once you have all your percentages computed. The nice thing about something like WaRP, comparatively, is that you can teach most of the system, including chargen, in a few minutes, and you can stat an NPC about as quickly as you can think up anything about them. But as I noted, the same free-form-ness that makes those things true I see as having downsides for Cthulhu gaming.

But it's pretty straightforward for a newcomer to play CoC with a pre-generated character.

I do like both Trail of Cthulhu's and Nemisis' (i.e., Unknown Armies') sanity systems better than CoC's, though.

But I don't have any beef with CoC; I play in a straight-up CoC game, have a big stack of CoC books, and am backing this Kickstarter...
posted by Zed at 10:59 PM on June 22, 2013


I remember the exact comment from Metafilter that gave me the idea to do it* - Numbers stations were basically set up around the globe in specific locations to perform a series of mathematical equations that keep the Earth safe from the horrors out there in the darkness.

I like the take on numbers stations from the new World of Darkness God Machine Chronicle- the God Machine that created us is trying to speak to us via the electromagnetic spectrum and numbers stations are the efforts of humans who understand enough of what's going on to try to talk back but not enough to understand how to do it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:01 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


*sigh*
And I only have Beyond The Supernatural.
It's like the Hobo version of CoC.
posted by Mezentian at 2:44 AM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, you can get yourself a Cthulhu 5.5 or 5.6 for about $20 -- same content as 6th edition, but with better layout. (Seriously, I played a con game of Cthulhu in which the GM kept passing the white-text-on-black-background tables from the 6th edition to players asking "Can you read that?")
posted by Zed at 2:40 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seconding 6E's annoying presentation. Is that the one with the terrible font in for section headings? UGH.

Fun fact. The guy who wrote Masks also wrote 16 episodes of He-Man, and 18 episodes of She-Ra!
posted by JHarris at 5:56 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've played games with Nemesis where sanity was an issue and it was excellent. The way the rules worked took a little getting used to - the way you can mess around with your dice rolls is novel - but it felt very solid even before everyone was accustomed to it.

Well, I actually like Call of Cthulhu's rules. Because they're simple. ... Since so many rolls are handled the same way, it greatly opens up the use of the dice as an improvisational tool.

This is why I think Risus is great. It took inspiration from Over the Edge but is even more stripped down.
posted by 23 at 8:56 PM on June 23, 2013


(Seriously, I played a con game of Cthulhu in which the GM kept passing the white-text-on-black-background tables from the 6th edition to players asking "Can you read that?")

I will enthusiastically defend white text on black background on video displays, but for some reason white-on-black in print tends to lead to nearly illegible print where large portions of the letters aren't actually printed.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:13 PM on June 23, 2013


It's actually not white on black - it just happens to look that way because 90% of the obscure symbols are redacted to prevent SAN Loss.
posted by longbaugh at 1:43 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


My problem with Risus is that it goes too far in its direction. It's definitely a sliding scale; I think the BRP rules are complex enough to allow for a strong basis while still simple enough to allow for ready improvisation from GM and players.
posted by JHarris at 5:12 AM on June 24, 2013


Hunh. The latest stretch goal for the CoC kickstarter is Pulp Cthulhu, which has been coming soon since 2003. (Call of Cthulhu books have two release dates: Sometime In The Next 20 Years and Surprise! It's Here!)
posted by Zed at 9:57 AM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The 7e Kickstarter concluded at $561,836 making it second most funded RPG kickstarter after Exalted. 4 people paid $2800 and 5 people $3000 for limited edition leather-bound copies of the books (plus all the other gewgaws.) No one took them up on the $7777 pledge that included mint copies of all previous editions. Go figure.
posted by Zed at 11:14 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I had it to spare I would have paid it, but that's more money than I make in a year.
posted by JHarris at 12:32 PM on July 2, 2013


People have until Friday to pledge via PayPal, post-Kickstarter. I was out of town and missed my reminder, but I just upped my Cthulhu Wars pledge to the full $525 "gimme everything" level, so it's going to be hard to justify another $333 for the leatherette editions of the books (the lesser printings are going to be available at retail, so I might as well wait for those, since I can get them at wholesale).

Maybe if I end up selling a couple more boxes of Magic cards on EBay this week (possible). And if I can hide it from the wife (fat chance).
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:15 PM on July 2, 2013


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