No, I’m not talking about chopping off the big lad’s wings and tentacles to reduce that inopportune wind resistance and tendency to walk or stumble that he has going on. I’m talking about the RPG that bears his name.
The idea of running some Call of Cthulhu has been batted around of late (mostly by me, admittedly, as I’m looking at running some decidedly short-term RPG shenanigans during a week’s holiday, and it’s usually CoC that I reach for when it’s important that the game has a defined and definite end).
Now, I like Chaosium’s game, but…
… I’ve only really run it when I was going through my diceless phase and not wanting anyone’s inability to pass a Library Use check to forestall part of the game, but hadn’t yet learned that the way you avoid doing that is not putting essential information behind Library Use checkpoints in the first place. The way I’d do it now is to have The Information, see what the players do in ref: finding things out, and then seed appropriate bits of information down the pathways that they follow, rather than having some integral information sealed away behind 40% chances and some 60% chances which the players are more likely to go for leading to precisely sod all. It’s a bit quantum ogre, maybe, but I don’t think it’s as bad as that – I haven’t decided that a particular thing is going to happen no matter what no matter where, I’ve let the players decide where they’re going to look and then I’ve made sure there’s something of potential use there once they figure out how it fits in with other somethings, and I’ve probably attached consequences to knowing that information which are assigned depending on how the information was accessed. It’s saying ‘yes, but’. Which is goodrightfun. I think.
Anyway, all this is a sideways observation. What I’m interested in today is the mechanics. As I was saying, I quite like Chaosium’s game but there are aspects of it that don’t entirely appeal to me. There’s the character generation, with its multiply this by that and divide these amongst those and its general fiddlinesswhich is frankly a pain in the arse for someone who’s ultimately a fairly generic figure you may only play once. There’s the “roll low for this and high for that” thing, which isn’t terribly hard to grasp but always feels slightly awkward in practice, unless a system is extremely elegant and consistent, with the whole “you want to roll high for attacks and low for tests” thing applied across the board. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s the issue – that CoC as written is a ‘roll low for attacks’ system and that runs counter to my instincts. There’s also the percentiles. I must confess that I don’t entirely see the value in rolling stats on 3d6 and then using a chart to convert them into percentile die rolls, especially percentile die rolls that go up in increments of 5 and therefore could be done more simply and elegantly with a d20. If you want an opposed roll, there has to be an easier way to do it than this.
And there is. It’s d20, which I have a welter of other issues with, but it is at its heart a consistent and elegant system that’s obfuscated from the word ‘go’ by the style in which it is written. Rolling high is always good, having high numbers is always good. But it’s also… d20. So it has that plethora of things I don’t like about that system; saving throw and attack bonuses as discrete things when we have perfectly serviceable stat modifiers to show how good characters are at doing stuff, skills for characters that could be subbed in for by skills as players or are needlessly granular outgrowths of stat rolls, so many hard rules for things that should be rulings, et hoc genus omne.
But we can fix that. Yes, we can fix that. We can strip this bastard down until it’s as light and airy as Swords and Wizardry or something like that, something that’s written for people who not only don’t need all those rules but don’t want to paw through them all on the off chance that there’s something in there which they DO need. Perhaps ironically, the DM’s screen for d20 Cthulhu does most of that work for us, bar some tinkering with the spell system and maybe sticking something useful over some of the skill tables.
I’ll get back to you on this one.