The Forge Archives

General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Chris Geisel on October 13, 2005, 10:21:51 AM



Title: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Chris Geisel on October 13, 2005, 10:21:51 AM
Last night during a very enjoyable (and typical) CoC session, I noticed something about the play that struck me as schizophrenic: the genre requires that characters start out innocent/unsuspecting, until they are confronted with the Awful Truth. At the same time, there's the Sanity mechanic that encourages cautious/paranoid play. Not to mention the apparent goal of protecting the world from the Awful Truth for one more night. So there's this strange push-me-pull-you in play.

For instance, last night I played my character recklessly, like a typical horror movie actor. I wanted to open the thumping box, report crimes to the authorities, uncover and examine corpses--playing him as the blustery, self-important, alcoholic lawyer. Until the big reveal, when the character lost Sanity upon seeing the dead rise, and I played him as the terrified, broken-down, alcoholic lawyer I always wanted him to be.

The characters discovered a number of tentacled corpses that when disinterred from piles of salt, begain to reanimate. I decided to have my character gawk, try to explain what he was seeing, and otherwise not do the smart thing when confronted by a monster. At least one other player had his character avert his eyes and take cover. I wanted to play the horror movie moment when the character finally starts to get it. I get penalized for playing the genre. What's up with that?

And it hit me: if CoC was a game like DitV, instead of having a genre convention for foolish/reckless behavior fighting with the Sanity mechanic, the game would give rewards for investigation and going insane. The game would be driven forward by a constant urge to lose Sanity. Instead, you get this strange situation where you can either play to lose, for the fun of having characters meet horrible fates (I maintain this is the #1 reason to play CoC). Or you can play to win, and essentially do the minimum investigation/discovery needed to still defeat the bad guys.

This has already probably been discussed, but this is insane. And not in a good way.

Can anyone offer insight or links to same? Also, I'm very curious, where does CoC fit into GNS. I suspect there's Sim in there, but it's fighting for airtime with something else. Also, the clue finding way to play that's implicit in the rules--is this Illusionism, Trailblazing (and what, exactly is Trailblazing, I couldn't figure it out from the Glossary), or some other set of techniques?


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: lumpley on October 13, 2005, 10:43:49 AM
I've noticed something similar in some non-rpg games. RoboRally is one; this game Meg picked up at GenCon where you make animal sounds is another, I forget the name ... Snorta! It's Snorta.

In these two games, like in many others, the game's more fun for everybody the faster everybody plays, so the turns whip through like bip bip bip. But in these two, the way to win is to play it slow and careful, take as much time for your turn as you need. Thus an unhappy push-pull similar to the one you describe: the game design rewards the player who contributes least to everyone else's fun.

So now I have to decide whether I want to be that guy or lose to him.

The way I figure it, it's a pitfall of game design, a trap you can stumble into even if your game's otherwise well-designed - and a pretty subtle one at that. No surprise that any given classic rpg fell into it.

-Vincent


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on October 13, 2005, 11:30:32 AM
Last night during a very enjoyable (and typical) CoC session, I noticed something about the play that struck me as schizophrenic: the genre requires that characters start out innocent/unsuspecting, until they are confronted with the Awful Truth. At the same time, there's the Sanity mechanic that encourages cautious/paranoid play. Not to mention the apparent goal of protecting the world from the Awful Truth for one more night. So there's this strange push-me-pull-you in play.


CoC is lame. People display amazing levels of reference to it but Sanity mechanic aside (which as you point out isn't even done that well), the game says it's about one thing but in reality is just D&D where you lose and don't feel bad about it.

I made insanity a goal in UnSpeakable, an InSpectres supplement you can d/l for free at http://bookshelf.indie-rpgs.com/ -- the crazier you get, the better your attributes get (actually, going insane is the only way to get attributes...everyone starts out sharing a finite pool of dice).


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Eric J-D on October 13, 2005, 11:59:49 AM
Hi Chris,

Good thoughts on the schizophrenia of CoC.  I agree in full that what the game needs is a mechanic that rewards play that sends the characters into a downward sanity spiral.  In my opinion what you'd want is a mechanic that gives players control over some other aspect of the story being created if they put their character's sanity at risk and fulfill certain agreed upon genre conventions.

As for where CoC stands with respect to GNS, you're right that it tends to support Sim type play.  I think it is difficult to say CoC requires use of Illusionism (i.e. Force with the Black Curtain) rather than Participationism (no Black Curtain) or any single technique since individual instances of actual play no doubt use a whole variety of techniques.  The clue-finding tendencies of most CoC scenarios is part of a bigger problem, one that I believe involves a misunderstanding of Lovecraft's stories.  Now this is not a defense of Lovecraft's writing in general (I consider some of it to be very effective and other aspects of the writing to border on the self-parodying) but they tend to be very character centered.  Fundamentally the stories' center of interest (and the implied interest of the reader) is not in the threat the Awful Truth poses to the world but in the threat such knowledge poses to a person.

The big moment almost always involves the recognition that the Awful Truth has made living in the same old way (and it is almost always assumed that living on will continue for the character--he will not be reduced to a small red stain on the carpet but [and this is the greater horror] continue to live) a bit of a joke.  As such, the stories aren't interested in saving the world for tomorrow but in how a character responds to the horror of the Awful Truth.  The published scenarios for CoC are almost entirely about unravelling a mystery all the while trying to keep your sanity intact.  In the stories, however, there is usually only one real sanity-threatening experience and we experience its full horror at the end. In the stories we almost always know that some mystery has already been unravelled; what we are waiting for is the revelation of the Awful Truth.  These are very different things I would argue. 

I am not trying to say that the stories don't include elements of unravelling the mystery (i.e detection).  They do.  But they aren't interested in this as much as in the experience of revelation.  They are thus more interested in "what it all means" than in "how the character unravelled the mystery."  Sure there is always some Thing that is awaiting discovery and of course the Thing that sends the character over the edge is usually withheld from us until the very end (Lovecraft stories love to end in some chilling single sentence that reveals what the Thing is but more importantly conveys the full force of the impact the Thing made on the character---"But by God, Eliot,  it was a photograph from life" or "This I have known ever since I stretched out my fingers to the abomination within that great gilded frame; stretched out my fingers and touched a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass").  But I would say the emphasis of the stories tends to be on the harrowing bone-chilling horror the revelation creates for the character and not on the unravelling itself.

A good Lovecraft game (IMO)  would probably have to be more like a storytelling game than a traditional roleplaying game.  I think it would be one in which it is assumed at the outset that the protagonist is going to go over the edge (many of the stories begin with the narrator narrating the horrible events of months or years earlier) and that would involve some mechanic that enabled the players to add bits of color, setting elements, characters and so on and that would be driven towards the moment when one of the players got to deliver that last bone-chilling sentence.   Universalis is probably as good a system as any for that kind of thing. 

Just a few thoughts off the top of my head.

Eric


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on October 13, 2005, 02:22:48 PM
I've played some Cthulhu with the Pool (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16943.0) and was also left wondering how it would work out with Universalis after the last session (no AP for that one).

Most of us play Cthulhu for the reward of playing a character going mad (and our GM is quite generous on that aspect), so the push'n'pull doesn't really happen anyway.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: MetalBard on October 13, 2005, 04:48:32 PM
Has anybody tried Lovecraft with Conspiracy of Shadows?  I was looking into the game earlier and it seemed like it could work for that style.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Ice Cream Emperor on October 13, 2005, 05:02:48 PM
Good thoughts on the schizophrenia of CoC.  I agree in full that what the game needs is a mechanic that rewards play that sends the characters into a downward sanity spiral.  In my opinion what you'd want is a mechanic that gives players control over some other aspect of the story being created if they put their character's sanity at risk and fulfill certain agreed upon genre conventions.

I think what's interesting about this is that CoC tries to do just that with the Mythos skill (or whatever it's called -- it's been awhile.) For those unfamiliar, whenever this skill is raised, it lowers the maximum possible sanity of the character -- and the Mythos skill is also much more relevant/useful than any other single skill. I think it even lets you try and summon demons and such, if memory serves.

The thing is that you don't gain Mythos points by going insane -- you gain it by reading books that also make you insane, but there's lots of other ways to go insane that don't gain you any Mythos points. So the connection only works one way, and even that way rarely has an impact. Almost nobody starts with a high enough sanity, or ever achieves a high enough mythos score, that the mechanic described above actually comes into play.

Perhaps a simple house rule would be to link Mythos skill gain to Sanity loss more directly, therefore creating that incentive/advantage to playing a character who wittingly or unwittingly faces the music. This would also probably require some changes to the function of the Mythos skill in game, but to be honest I don't remember the rules well enough to suggest anything there.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Rustin on October 13, 2005, 07:40:56 PM
I'd love to get your guy's thoughts on my tweak of DitV for CoC
 Hounds on the Moor  (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17170.0)

I make Mythos a 1d4 trait.  You can apply this trait if the stakes are "do I keep my wits?" when confronted by something that causes paradigmatic shock.  This means high mythos gives you a better chance to stay in the scene.  However, it also will lead to loads of Sanity fallout dice.   You gain mythos as a trait through fall out.

When Mythos gets over 7d4, then madness sets in. 

I'd like to see what you think of the adventure template method.  Where the adventure is more about human relationships to the mysterious lurking evil, and less about the evil itself. 



Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Chris Geisel on October 13, 2005, 09:52:02 PM
I'd completely forgotten about the relationship between Sanity and Mythos. But yes, it seems like the reward for insanity was decoupled somewhere along the way from the Mythos skill. Instead of a reward for insanity, it's more like a cosolation prize.

Unfortunately, I'm guessing that even tying together Sanity and Mythos (such that the reward is direct), would have little effect on the play of the game. Too much of the clue-finding is in the hands of the GM. Now, if CoC had conflict resolution, rather than task resolution, that might change things. And if low Sanity/high Mythos allowed players to introduce complications and such, that might change a lot.

I'll have a look at the DitV game mentioned. I'm intrigued.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Eric J-D on October 14, 2005, 01:28:18 PM
Chris,

I have to agree that the Mythos Lore skill in CoC functions more like a compensation for sanity loss than an incentive to put sanity at risk.  Moreover, and as others have already pointed out, increases in Mythos knowledge reduce maximum possible sanity and thus one's ability to withstand psychic trauma.  Now on one level, this is as it should be but the fact of the matter is that CoC assumes that your investigator is part of an ongoing investigation and so there is a real pressure to "play it cautious" as you have said.

But the real issue for me is that Mythos Lore is pretty unfaithful to the source material itself.  In the stories, characters (and in the bulk of Lovecraft stories we are talking about a single character) typically encounter the Awful Truth only once and the results are devastating.  Life as the character once knew it has been altered completely.  The veil has been rent asunder.  By contrast, in most CoC scenarios there is usually a steady stream of horrifying encounters that gradually erode the character's sanity.  This seems very out of keeping with the source material.

I almost hesitate to write this since it will look like a diatribe against CoC rather than reflection on actual play, but it is not.  I played CoC for years.  When the game was first released in 1981, I took part in a playtest tournament at my local game store (the Compleat Strategist in King of Prussia, PA).  I fell in love with the game immediately, bought it with the money I won in the tournament, and fell in love with it immediately, perceiving it to be a rather radical departure from other RPGs of the time.  I don't think I was wrong in this assessment.  In its time, CoC really was a radical break with the direction of RPGs.  Here you were encouraged to play a brainy academic, to place priority on an attribute like Intelligence and Education and to recognize that a skill like Library Use was probably a lot more important than Shotgun.  It was to most RPGs of the time what the Elric stories were to what Sword and Sorcery had become, radically revisionary.  Just as Elric was a brainy weakling who was doomed to fail, your Coc character could pretty much bank on the fact that his intelligence and research skills wouldn't save him in the end.  I still think that the game blew some much needed fresh air and life into the industry at that time.

But my experience of playing CoC proved to be one of those tortured, dysfunctional love-hate relationships, and this was true, I now see, from the very beginning.  I played lots of CoC.  Among my gaming friends, CoC was considered what the smart kids played.  But this was really just self-flattery because in many ways CoC did not effect anything like a truly radical break with those other games.  Sure the character types were supposed to be different and there was a greater emphasis put on investigation over killing things, but CoC was a lot like those other games too.  Admittedly you were encouraged to play with a sense of your character's eventual doom, but there were no real incentives beyond the assumed simulationist agenda that "this is what it is like to be a person in Lovecraft's world, so you should do the same."  Where CoC went wrong, in my opinion, was in its touchingly naive belief that it was enough if a game simply placed characters in the Lovecraftian setting, evoked the sense of malignant evil and sanity blasting knowledge that permeated the world, and then set those characters into confrontation with those forces.  I think the assumption was that play would then faithfully recreate something of the power of Lovecraft's best stories.

But this is what never happened for me.  I couldn't put my finger on it, but our play never quite got that genie in its bottle.  And it wasn't for lack of trying.  We had all read the stories, we faithfully recreated the mood, and we looked askance whenever someone was tempted to play an Indiana Jones style archaeologist who clearly had spent more time in Ass Kicking 101 than in Ancient Mesopotamian Literatures and Languages.  But try as we might, our play always seemed to be nothing more than a slightly scarier version of a Scooby Doo mystery.  We spent tons of time in detection, in careful working out the ever more elaborate mysteries, but something seemed false.  After all, how many of the stories actually conformed to this pattern?

It will no doubt strike some readers as immensely arrogant to call a multiple award-winning game, a classic of the industry, a failure, but I really think that Coc is.  It is a great and noble failure mind you, but a failure nonetheless.  While it represented something of a radical break with the industry for its time, it never went far enough nor did it ever really capture what was truly powerful about a good Lovecraft story.  As I said in an earlier post, the best stories build toward the moment when the narrator conveys the full terror of the Awful Truth, of the way that this revelation has made living life in the conventional way completely impossible.  I can't think of a single thing in the CoC scenario library that  comes anywhere close to this.  It was not Sandy Peterson's fault.  The tools and the understanding needed to achieve this goal simply didn't exist back in 1981.  What was needed was GNS distinctions, a knowledge of the importance of  Stance, some familiarity with ideas like giving metagame rewards and different kinds of distribution mechanics, and so forth.  None of this existed yet, and so Sandy produced a game that was great and apparently revolutionary in its time but that has aged badly (all IMHO).  What was needed was not a larger set of Perception and Knowledge skills so that play would center on detection (the approach Sandy and Co. took with CoC); detection occurs only very seldomly in Lovecraft (and I would argue that it doesn't occur in the best stories at all).  What was needed was some way of creating collaborative storytelling that built towards that moment when the last chilling line was delivered and everyone felt his bowels threaten to loosen.

Today I can't even imagine how one could do a Lovecraftian game outside of a Universalis like system, but perhaps that's just years of frustrated play talking.  But I can tell you that a game like Sorcerer has produced more genuinely disturbing play experiences than CoC ever did.  It achieves this in a very different way, I think, but with the same breathless feeling one gets when one reads one of those devastating last Lovecraftian lines.

Sorry for the long post.  I hope it doesn't deviate too much from the purpose of the forum.

Eric


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Chris Geisel on October 14, 2005, 04:19:05 PM
Eric, I just thought I'd say that I enjoyed your mini-essay. I haven't read HPL exhaustively, and never critically, but what you observe in your first post about how the game misses the mark with regard to the stories does ring true for me.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 15, 2005, 07:10:02 AM
Hello,

Great discussion. Make sure to check out Drifting to R'lyeh:Facing the Problems with Call of Cthulhu (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=8459.0), to see some relevant points. This thread serves as a strong extension of that one.

Chris, you might be interested in my descriptions of two distinct types of CoC play on the second page. For those interested in the distinction between the game and the original fiction, see especially my comments about August Derleth, also on the second page.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Sean on October 15, 2005, 10:54:10 AM
Jared wrote:

"the game says it's about one thing but in reality is just D&D where you lose and don't feel bad about it"

Right, but this is why it was an important game for its time. By killing the 'win conditions' of D&D the game went way farther in supporting Sim play than I think any previous game, certainly any previous game I played, did.

Of course the way we're talking about playing it isn't the only way it can be played, but it's the only one I had fun with.

Chris, I agree with your analysis of the game. The game's real reward system is diametrically at odds with its character improvement mechanics and everything else.

If I were rewriting CoC today I think taking a page from MLwM and having each investigator angle towards an individual outcome by way of manipulating various story resources (eaten by tentacled horror, go insane, survive permanently scarred by the horror, join the cult) would be a better way to support the kind of story that I think older CoC play styles (such as that nailed by Jared) were aiming at. But that would threaten to turn it into a Narrativist sort of game. The real pleasure of CoC was the pleasure of identifying with your character even while you knew you were in the headlights of an oncoming train. Giving the GM all story-force and having death and insanity be the probable outcomes effectively all there is is to lie back and celebrate the experience. So even though the mechanics are mostly irrelevant or inappropriate to this experience (except I guess for the part of the game where you can't do jack shit to the big monsters with anything your characters will ever achieve or gain in play) the game did nail Sim in a way it hadn't been nailed before, IMO.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Rob MacDougall on October 15, 2005, 03:36:55 PM
Chris and Eric et al:

In addition to the thread Ron linked to, check out Bryan B's "Design Notes for a new Lovecraftian RPG (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=15118)" thread, and the other threads he links to in the first post of that one:

Cthulhu's Clues (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?t=8482.15) - this one, on problems with investigation mechanics, is crucial, imho
Hot Lead & Hypocrisy (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?t=10197) - about guns in CoC

Rob


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Chris Geisel on October 16, 2005, 05:25:54 PM
Ron & Rob, thanks for pointing us to those threads. I knew they were around here somewhere. I'm off to do some readin'.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Callan S. on October 17, 2005, 12:13:45 AM
And it hit me: if CoC was a game like DitV, instead of having a genre convention for foolish/reckless behavior fighting with the Sanity mechanic, the game would give rewards for investigation and going insane. The game would be driven forward by a constant urge to lose Sanity. Instead, you get this strange situation where you can either play to lose, for the fun of having characters meet horrible fates (I maintain this is the #1 reason to play CoC). Or you can play to win, and essentially do the minimum investigation/discovery needed to still defeat the bad guys.
I'm interested to know why losing sanity isn't seen as a reward? Plenty of card games give you a hand of cards and instruct you to try and get rid of all of them. CoC is easily driven forward by the urge to lose sanity, if you see losing sanity points as a good thing.

Is it a lack of player/character disjunct? That losing sanity is bad for my character, therefore it is bad for me as a player?

Is it a sim aversion to all things gamism? That avid pursuit of losing all your sanity just seems wrong and not an exploration of insanity at all (seems like hardcore gamism?). 'Winning' by losing all your sanity is just revolting?

And I wonder if that push me - pull you is system pursuit (usually associated soley with gamism) fighting with simulationist exploration priority.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Chris Geisel on October 17, 2005, 10:39:34 AM
That's an interesting question, Callan, because certainly in the game I was describing in my OP, losing Sanity absolutely was one of my goals. I was trying to shove my character in harm's way at all times, because my feeling is that's where the game is: CoC (for me) is about the spectacular destruction of characters at the hands of horrific creatures. It's all about the bragging rights, who got killed most spectacularly, by the coolest elder thing, or got the most royally screwed in the end.

However, I don't think losing Sanity is rewarded, even so. Whether my character loses all his Sanity points, goes insane from losing some fraction thereof, or is gobbled by a tentacled horror--all are equally satisfying, provided they give me bragging rights.

Touching on your card game example, typically in those games getting rid of one's cards results in winning the game or is the path to winning (eg Go Fish or Hearts, respectively). In CoC, once you get rid of all your Sanity, you're not rewarded, you're disempowered. I don't think it's a player/character disjunct. Either you sit the rest of the game out, or you make a new character--and unless you get lucky, not the one you chose to start with.

I think you may have hit the nail on the head with regard to system pursuit fighting with a Sim priority. Exploration is punished with Sanity loss, which tends to curtail exploration by removing the character from play. (Or does it? Even if all the characters are killed, presumably the next batch can pick up where they left off, opening the same tomb, etc...)


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 17, 2005, 12:43:18 PM
Hello,

A good way to look at the issues currently being raised is that you cannot play with your foundation being a conundrum.

Therefore groups will arrive at local solutions. In many cases, CoC players pride themselves on "striving" toward Sanity loss, with a strong emphasis on doing it in-character. In others, they pride themselves on strategizing through the loss and recovery, adventure after adventure. In still others, they pride themselves on being bad-assed (and rules-knowledgeable) enough to minimize the loss per encounter.

There is absolutely no merit to talking about how "the game" solves the problem, because it doesn't. However, to be functional, play must solve the problem, and so we see various solutions.

One of the key points of CoC as a design, worth thinking about very carefully, is that its text leads people to prioritize celebrating a genre, specifically the Mythos (which is not the same as Lovecraft). Therefore, with that Sim-agenda in place, the various solutions at least share a creative, imaginative anchor to hang their various hats on.

Two different groups may not share one another's details of how to arrive at that celebration; one may be more "combat-happy" than another, for instance. But most groups committed to playing CoC will touch ground, if you ask the right questions, at that celebration of genre as their first priority. Even bragging rights tend to be about that rather than about personal strategy and guts.

Please note that I am talking about a strong empirical tendency, not what the game "can" do or what has been done in some cases.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Callan S. on October 17, 2005, 08:44:00 PM
Hi Chris,

In Uno, your supposed to get rid of all your cards. But I noticed you have less and less game power, the fewer cards you have. It's like your penalised more and more and more and then...you've won. It's quite a gauntlet...possibly more of a system engagement than a sim dude would want to make.


Hi Ron,

I can see how that tendency then goes to solve how play is to proceed (in many different ways, for various groups). But there has to be more than celebration of genre to answer the questions above (which these groups are answering). What else, besides the celebration of genre, rises up in them to take control of play?

Side question: How many groups take their own invention as 'how the game plays - were just playing the rules'.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Chris Geisel on October 17, 2005, 09:37:42 PM
I'm rapidly approaching the point at which I have nothing further to say about this, for the time being (possibly after I play CoC again, next week). However, I would like to add two comments.

Callan: very interesting wrt Uno. I'd forgotten about that card game. I may try to play it once or twice prior to my next CoC game, just for the hell of it.

Ron: it's also entirely possible that the 'solutions' to CoC some combo of the above. A player may strive for Sanity loss during one scene, then pull back and play it strategically or tactically for a while, to prolong the experience.

I plan on pushing the hell out of the Sanity envelope at our next session. I'm actually very curious to see how the game functions if a player concentrates on burning Sanity, rather than the push-me-pull-you I mentioned earlier. Does it break? Does the simulation break down?

Should be interesting.

p.s. Does anyone know where the development of Eldritch Tales stands? I'd like to see it.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: carnival on October 18, 2005, 12:00:34 AM
Last night during a very enjoyable (and typical) CoC session, I noticed something about the play that struck me as schizophrenic: the genre requires that characters start out innocent/unsuspecting, until they are confronted with the Awful Truth. At the same time, there's the Sanity mechanic that encourages cautious/paranoid play. Not to mention the apparent goal of protecting the world from the Awful Truth for one more night. So there's this strange push-me-pull-you in play.

...

And it hit me: if CoC was a game like DitV, instead of having a genre convention for foolish/reckless behavior fighting with the Sanity mechanic, the game would give rewards for investigation and going insane. The game would be driven forward by a constant urge to lose Sanity.

Chris,

I agree. IMO Coc was/is an excellent game, but as you point out it has conflicting-concerns inherent in its design.

As an (almost) aside: a small encouragement to lose sanity could be a mechanic such that the sanity of your next character starts at (100 - sanity of the previous one). Those players who enjoyed having their characters sanity plummet have the reward of their next character having a good potential to survive the sanity free-fall for longer. It would obviously not work for one-shots. 
I believe early versions of Bushido, amongst others, had examples of this style of rule (minor mechanical reward based on the style of the previous character's death).

cheers,

Mik   


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Ice Cream Emperor on October 18, 2005, 02:23:23 AM
I plan on pushing the hell out of the Sanity envelope at our next session. I'm actually very curious to see how the game functions if a player concentrates on burning Sanity, rather than the push-me-pull-you I mentioned earlier. Does it break? Does the simulation break down?

My suspicion is that it will break the simulation in the sense that your character will probably go insane long before the dramatically-appropriate point at which the rest of the conservatively-played PCs will go insane. This is going off the idea that the genre demands that characters go insane in some climactic, life-turning way. Because CoC relies so heavily on GM planning, having players who take wildly different approaches to sanity will make it increasingly difficult for the GM to get them to snap at interesting moments. It's kind of like designing a challenging D&D encounter for a party of 5 min-maxing gamists and 1 immersion-happy sim player who is playing a str 12 cha 17 fighter who multiclassed into wizard two levels ago and still wears full plate. Either the ogres smash up the fighter or the rest of the party slaughters the orcs.

If I (a theoretical GM) design a CoC adventure for conservative players, I might have a bunch of encounters with moderately sanity-damaging creatures, expecting my clever players to avoid or mitigate the majority of the sanity loss... only to then encounter some truly unholy scenario that will climactically send them scurrying over the edge. If my group then includes one player who has his character constantly throw himself in the way of zombies, gawping and gibbering all the while... well, that character probably won't make it to the unholy scenario in one piece. Whether or not the GM can account for this and work it into the story arc will probably depend on his/her ability and/or the scenario itself. Of course, if you have a strong enough idea about your own character's mental journey, you may be able to force his ultimate demise into meaningfulness, whether anybody else is helping you or not.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on October 18, 2005, 06:28:43 AM
Jared wrote:

"the game says it's about one thing but in reality is just D&D where you lose and don't feel bad about it"

Right, but this is why it was an important game for its time. By killing the 'win conditions' of D&D the game went way farther in supporting Sim play than I think any previous game, certainly any previous game I played, did.


This of course assumes that Sim play exists and is valid. Hah! Sucker.

Still, I didn't say the point of CoC is to lose -- it's not. The game is written with the intent that even in the midst of insanity, chaos and death, the PC's can win (or at least run away and survive). The play structure remains identical to D&D.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 18, 2005, 08:26:50 AM
Hiya,

Well, Chris has stated that the thread has served its purpose, and yet I really like a lot of points that continue to be made.

Solution: let's start new threads with specific sub-topics from this one, and call this one closed.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Eric J-D on October 18, 2005, 09:02:28 AM
This has been a good discussion, one that has enriched my thinking about my experience with CoC.  Thanks especially to Ron and Rob for directing us to those threads.

Like Chris I don't know how much more I have to add to the discussion, but one thing occurred to me in light of Ron's post.  I think some of the problems of the sanity mechanic (and its impact on play) in CoC become more apparent when one compares it with Humanity in Sorcerer.  On the surface the two things might appear to be very similar, but I would argue that they actually have very different effects on play and are designed to promote very different goals.

Let's start with the surface similarities (and my apologies in advance if this all strikes everyone as obvious):

In CoC Sanity is mobile, increasing and decreasing in response to in-play events (although the latter tends to be they more typical CoC experience).  Humanity in  Sorcerer is similarly mobile.  Both games clearly specify the conditions under which Sanity or Humanity loss might occur, although in  Sorcerer the exact conditions under which Humanity might be threatened depend entirely on the definition of Humanity being used in the game.  In other words, to use two western-inspired examples of  Sorcerer play as examples, a  Sorcerer game modeled along the lines of Unforgiven would call for a Humanity test for almost all forms of gunplay whatsoever (even those enacted for seemingly just reasons) while a Sorcerer game modeled on  Shane would probably not.  Defining Humanity and what constitutes gains or losses to it thus depends a lot on the source material.  Finally, both games specify the conditions under which loss to Sanity or Humanity might result in the character's either temporary or permanent retirement from play.  In CoC where Sanity is a percentile, there are clear thresholds that, once passed, removes the character from play.  This can be through temporary insanity (which renders the character incapable of action for a variable period of time) or permanent insanity (which places the character under GM control until sanity is restored).  In  Sorcerer when the character achieves a zero Humanity he or she is removed from play (although there are suggestions for alternate ways of handling this in  The Sorcerer's Soul.  A major difference between the two games obviously lies in the fact that in  Sorcerer a character is never under serious threat of removal from play until he or she reaches Humanity 0 while in CoC the character is threatened every time he or she crosses a particular tier or threshold. 

But the bigger difference between the two games and their respective mechanics lies in the way they affect the players themselves.  In CoC, Sanity loss is understood to be a feature of the game, but it is a rather peculiar feature on closer inspection.  Generally Sanity loss occurs whenever a character encounters a member of the Mythos or reads a book containing knowledge of the Mythos.  The rules specify exactly the range of loss that accompanies encountering a Deep One versus an encounter with Yog Sothoth.  The problem here is readily apprent.  In CoC Sanity is threatened by the passive encounters of characters with the Awful Truth.  Since these encounters are assumed to be a staple of play (otherwise what is the game about?) they are unavoidable and lead inexorably towards loss of player control of encounter.  The only solution to this is to engage in the kind of strategizing behaviors Ron suggests in his post.  The solution, in other words, is to mix some gamist agenda with the heavy dose of Sim priorities encouraged by the game.

By contrast, in  Sorcerer Humanity loss is threatened by the active decisions of the players to place their character's Humanity at risk in order to achieve some other thing deemed important to the player.  Although it is expected that, since the characters are sorcerers, Humanity checks will be a regular feature of play, players always have the option of refusing to bind or contact that next demon or otherwise jeopardize Humanity.   Sorcerer thus places the power over the character's Humanity squarely in the hands of the player, and play thus becomes making important decisions for the characters that involve heavy player-consideration of the kind of story the player is interested in generating.

The contrast between the two games could not be more apparent.  Whereas CoC mandates Sanity checks for what amounts essentially to character passivity,  Sorcerer requires at every point an active decision by the player to risk a Humanity check.  For Sanity to work in CoC, players must simply accept that this is one of the conventions of the game and to throw themselves into it without receiving any corresponding reward.   Sorcerer on the other hand places all decision making power of Humanity in the player's hands (well, and the hands of the dice ultimately if the player submits to the temptation to risk Humanity) and rewards this play in a variety of ways, whether that be in the form of giving the player an active hand in the creation of his or her character's story or through bonuses (or penalties) to subsequent rolls through the games Currency rules.  It should be obvious that my strong preference is for the latter.

Now, of course it needs to be said that CoC and  Sorcerer are quite different types of games in terms of what they are emulating.  CoC attempts to emulate stories about largely weak and overmastered characters who are ignorant of the malignant forces that lie behind the curtain of what we call reality while  Sorcerer is about creating stories about very powerful characters who must decide when to use their outlaw power to achieve things that are important to them. One might conclude, therefore, that the way Sanity functions in CoC is thus entirely appropriate to its source material just as  Sorcerer's Humanity is appropriate to its sources.  But I would argue that for play to be enjoyable, CoC actually requires a mechanic like Humanity even more as otherwise there is little to curb the feeling that you (the player) are as impotent and ineffectual as your character.  This is why I have argued that CoC really needs to give an even higher dose of rewards to players who adhere to the genre conventions and put Sanity at regular risk.  The player needs to have some corresponding control over something else that is important to play in order to be given an incentive (other than a Sim incentive) to risk Sanity.  Otherwise, your only real options are the ones Ron describes, and I can say (and perhaps this is no more than my long love-hate relationship with the game talking) these are not very satisfying options in the long term.

Eric


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Eric J-D on October 18, 2005, 09:03:51 AM
Oops.  Sorry Ron.  I missed the notice that we should move this to a new thread.  Closing now.

Eric


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Chris Geisel on October 18, 2005, 09:27:58 AM
If anyone does start a sub-thread (Eric, I think your last post is a great starting point), please link to it from here.

Thanks.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Callan S. on October 18, 2005, 08:20:11 PM
A split off thread: Burn sanity for narrativism? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17300.0)


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Chris Geisel on October 21, 2005, 05:00:26 AM
Here's a thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17333.0) in Game Design where I try to describe the HPL-inspired game I have in mind, and a call for mechanics suggestions.


Title: Re: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 21, 2005, 08:53:47 AM
Actually, guys, no. Don't do that.

When you start a new thread, link back from it to this one. Don't post in this one any more.

Best,
Ron