RPPR Episode 69: Critique of Cthulhu

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Synopsis: Call of Cthulhu is an institution of role playing, but few gamers truly appreciate it for what it is. Tom, Caleb and I break down the game mechanics, meta-game issues and themes of the Cthulhu Mythos in order to explain the good, bad and ugly of this venerable game. Many players dismiss Call of Cthulhu as a very rigid and narrowly focused game, but it offers a far richer gaming experience if you know how to play and more importantly run this game right!.  Tom also has a letter, shout outs and an anecdote!

Shout outs

Music: What A Friend We Have In Cthulhu by the Fump and Cthulhu is my co-pilot by Smart Bomb Radio


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  1. While I don’t agree with all your points, the show was still great. Its strange because the skills you mention as third tier or unused skills, and APP, we use them all the time! There is no demolitions skill so for dynamite usage I’ve been ruling it as Heavy Machinery, to place it accurately, for lighting it automatic success.

    But that’s another great thing about CoC the system is super flexible! And with the BRP book you can add and subtract so much. I totally agree about the poison rules being ridiculously complex. Their even still kinda confusing in Trail of Cthulhu.

    I owe my love of CoC entirely to you RPPR, thanks for that. And Tom’s letter was pretty close to a theme I meditate on late at night…

  2. Great show.
    Though I’m going to be pedantic and nitpick-y and point out that What A Friend We Have In Cthulhu is technically by The Consortium of Genius, with The FuMP being the site they released it on.

  3. I have one thing to say. I know I’ve mentioned it before, though I’m not sure if it was here…

    I have seen exactly one use of Operate Heavy Machinery. It is in the Beyond the Mountains of Madness campaign, near the very beginning. There is a fire and someone needs to operate a crane to move some fuel tanks… And that’s it…

    Anyways, another great episode with completely valid points. Loved the letter, and I really love the fake iPhone text.

  4. I agree with the useless skills. In my opinion, there isn’t much difference between Fast Talk / Persuasion to make them two different skills, maybe even throwing in Bargain on that. I also think that Hide, Sneak and Conceal should be grouped as one skill. And, if I may be bold, I would say that Listen and Spot Hidden should just be “Perception”.

    I also don’t see the use for skills for climb, jump and swim, since normally a DEX x 5 check can encompass all of these.

    Having listened to the most recent Unspeakable! podcast, I agree with Shane Ivey in that there should be some way for your PC to regain sanity other than just killing monsters or entering an asylum. Spending time with your family, pursuing a hobby, and similar activities should provide some respite. Fear Itself does this already, but it would be nice to see the father of horror RPGs implement it too.

    Eclipse Phase also does a wonderful job of providing bonuses and penalties depending on certain choices. For example, if you take your time researching, it’s a +10 bonus, getting the help of someone is another +10, etc. Something like this should be expounded in the core rulebook, I normally do it as a house rule for my CoC games.

    There’s also a minor nit-pick, not to do with the system, but with scenarios written for it. Too many of them attempt to add pulp elements, with gunfights and large confrontations, because pulp was popular back in the 1920’s. I cannot fathom why someone would think that placing a group of five investigators against thirty cultists at the end of the scenario is a great idea. The system just means that it’s extremely dangerous, and can easily become a TPK. Of course, the explanation is always that the players should try to avoid confrontation if possible and find some other ways, but some scenarios force these sorts of end confrontations. It just seems a bit illogical to me.

    Of course, for all these nit-pickings, I still love the system as well as your Actual Plays. Hopefully the next edition of the game will add a few necessary changes, while retaining the spirit of the game.

  5. Well, the Trail of Cthulhu system really does take care of most of the extra skills, and since it is GUMSHOE the cluefinding is already streamlined. And the general skills do what you mention, climb, jump, swim, is all athletics, which also determines your hit threshold.

    I would say that it is the next edition of the game, maintaining the spirit and adding changes.

  6. Ross, I would strongly advice You to look into a Big Golden book “Basic Roleplaying” that Chaosium released in 2008. It has TONS of optional rules that seamlessly integrate into basic CoC ruleset and really resolve all issues in “not standard” situations and provide new fun mechanics (chase rules and attribute skill bonuses and penalties to name a few).

  7. > Well, the Trail of Cthulhu system really does take care of most of the extra skills

    Trail rules state that the GM should basically say what “extra” skills will the group need before running the scenario. My guess is that CoC is the same – those are mostly for 1) providing the examples to generate a more realistic character 2) add something “extra” into the campaign. So I’d just mark the importance of the skill for the player in the rulebook and leave it at that.

  8. so had to respond to these! such wide-rangingly interesting shit. I’ll just write a lot of unrelated sentences in a single paragraph block. the NIMH game sounds hilarious. did it get recorded? I think I agree that individual Cthulhu monsters oughta be come up with unique to each adventure, but I do like the traditional pantheon to be lurking in the background. downloading the Tunnel now. sounds like Trollhunter, which was impossibly amazing. as was the horsebooks comic tumblr. umm…yeah, good episode!

  9. How much would it cost for y’all to get additional microphones? I’ll donate money if it is used to buy new microphones. I love when you have guest hosts (what happened to Cody? Do you not like him anymore?) but the mic shuffling is not so great.

  10. What we’re seeing here is the effects of a 30 year old rule system more or less unchanged. There’s talk about a 7th edition now and many are hopeful it’ll be more toolkited or altered to have more rules/variations.

    At this point, everyone I know uses some to oodles of house rules when they use Cthulhu and often the Big Book o’BRP.

    Also, people use the inter-war period because it’s awesome.

  11. What ever happened with raillery becoming a game reviewing site? I liked the two videos posted for that.

  12. Author

    Lack of mental energy basically. Between podcasting, writing and promoting Zombies of the World, I have little left over for other projects. I intend to get back to it but I have to get ZOTW better distribution first.

  13. Ross,

    I had much the same reaction in the game Hide when I met the flashlight mumblers for the first time :3

  14. Ross,

    i know how much you like the slender man;

    someone has written a pretty neat article aboot the phenomenon http://darklore.dailygrail.com/samples/DL6-IV.pdf

    and someone has done a ‘documentary’ on an investigative team who tried to investigate the slender man…it’s up on youtube…

  15. 1 question and 1 compliment.

    What is the “biaki” software you guys say is good for quickly rolling characters and legally free? You never spell it, and my spelling has proved fruitless on both internets.

    I really enjoy your serious Cthulhu adventures as well as your discussions of the mechanics of making a game. This nerd is really enjoying your podcasts.



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