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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: b_bankhead on October 27, 2003, 10:00:51 AM



Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: b_bankhead on October 27, 2003, 10:00:51 AM
Failure is not an option

As I stated in my essay 'Drifting to R'lyeh' most skill rolls in CoC don't matter much.  The design of the prototypical CoC scenario makes play grind to a halt if the player's can't make their skill rolls, this forces the Keeper to hand the information out anyway, thus devaluating the whole conept of information gathering skills.

Soon after starting to play CoC it became abundantly obvious that the reason that we did this is that the flow of information in the game is like the flow of the blood in the body.  Stop it and the whole works dies.  Your heart doesn't pump when it makes a 'cardiac skill roll' the thing has to work ALL the time, and for a CoC scenario to stay alive the information HAS to flow all the time.  It's not a bonus for good dice rolling. Which is why you have to give it out whether they roll good or bad.


Quote from: Ian Charvill


For example, the players fail their Library Use rolls and don't know to go looking at the Old Marley House.  But the Inhabitant of the House knows the investigators are on the trail and sends one of its minions to firebomb one of the character's houses and leave a warning to Stay Away From the Old Marley House.  The character's failed roll doesn't deprive them of the information - it puts them in a worse situation.  The cars gone, and Jimmy's got third degree burns all up his left arm is no one's definition of success but the game won't stall out.



I think this is surpassingly poor advice for several reasons, first this approach inherently causes another ratcheting down of player effectiveness in a game which hardly needs this, secondly if you drop an anvil on your players every time they whiff a skill roll, they'll want to stop making them (!), finally the primary reason this is an issue is that whiffing rolls in CoC is very common, play this way and you'll waste half the party before they ahve a chance to meet the 'big bad'!

After all whats the point for punishing them when you do something you are going to have to do anyway?

Since the information must flow, the only issue remaining is doing so in an interesting and entertaining fashion. The bost interesting way is to role play it out. And since the Keeper is dispenser of secrets rather than keeper of secrets (maybe we should call him a dispenser!)  First the Keeper must make a careful list of what information is relevant to the scenario and the skills relevant to iunraveling them. When information is relevant, the keeper announces what skills can be used.  Then the players spend from a pool of points for the right to request a 'revealation' scene in which the discovery of the information is roleplayed out.

In 'forgeish'  this would translate (approxiamately) as 'Karma based scene framing' rather than 'fortune based rewarding' as the model for dispensing information

Some information could be doled out only as the result of effort, that is to say time spent on a particular activity, whether slaving over a stack of newspapers in a library or a cadaver in a morgue.

Every piece of relevant info could be given profile formated like this (effort)(skills) (content) for instance

(2 hours)(fast talk, letter of reference,Library use) ( Unpublished feature story ).

Now this is where it gets tricky.  Lets assume a player doesn't have the requisite skill. He could spend extra points to purchase a scene where a skill that he does have for example , Fast talk or even credit rating.
For example the Doctor player might spend a point to purchase an autopsy scene, while the conman might spend 2 points to purchase a scene where he worms the facts out of a doctor who performed the autopsy.

   This model is not only applicable to Call of Cthulhu.  Any game with strong investigative component that uses a fortune model for information will be beset by the sam inherent problem as Call of Cthulhu. Now as an exercise for the student, consider what a drama mechanic solution for the sam issue would look like.....

....and stay tuned for my next essay 'Chtulhubabe and darkest secret of Call of Cthulhu'.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Ian Charvill on October 27, 2003, 11:39:25 AM
Hey,

I think you may have read to much into my suggestion, in terms of punishing the players, but that's neither here nor there.  I do have a question though:

Where does the adversity come from in the investigation phase: I take it that you're saying that it doesn't.  That is to say that the only function of the investigation phase is to generate colour?  The investigators have to be succesful in their investigation for everyone to have fun, sems to be your starting point.

Hypothetical: no one's using their skills wisely and they've almost run out of investigation points.  The final parts of the investigation will cost more than the points they have left: what the system call in this situation?


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Valamir on October 27, 2003, 11:43:36 AM
Quote
Hypothetical: no one's using their skills wisely and they've almost run out of investigation points. The final parts of the investigation will cost more than the points they have left: what the system call in this situation?


Burn SAN to learn what you need the hard way?

For a non Mythos game this could even be burn Hit Points (or whatever).  I mean how many "detective" shows have the investigator learning what he needs to know as the result of some fist fight (beating it out them, or getting an earful of gloating after being defeated).


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: b_bankhead on October 27, 2003, 12:54:34 PM
Quote from: Ian Charvill
Hey,

Where does the adversity come from in the investigation phase: I take it that you're saying that it doesn't.  That is to say that the only function of the investigation phase is to generate colour?  The investigators have to be succesful in their investigation for everyone to have fun, sems to be your starting point.

Hypothetical: no one's using their skills wisely and they've almost run out of investigation points.  The final parts of the investigation will cost more than the points they have left: what the system call in this situation?


Question 1#: Bingo!  You're right, the only function of the investigative phase   is to generate color.  You could roleplay 'Adversarial' scenes as part of the roleplay of the investigation, but the only actual outcome is to generate more color.

Question2#: This is harder to answer, at first  in my conception the only way the situation you define could crop up was if the players were actually trying to sabotage their own effectiveness since the whole idea was that ALL use of investigation points would generate relevant information.  The purpose of points was not to limit the information gathered by the party but to keep individual players from hogging all the revealation scenes.
But reading the rules for the 'Persona' game with its concept of 'just in time' character definition, makes be think that  the form that the information is given out should be defined in a 'just in time fashion'.
  Put in more detail , you have your situation to be explored and the  form that the information about that situation should be given out should be SOLEY based on what skill is being used at the time and ALL  information gathering skills should be useful.  In this model the nature of the information, (library clipping, autopsies, hanging out in bars buying drinks, whatever) are defined by the kind of scene.  This requires the keeper be good at scene framing, but it has the advantage that all information gathering skills are essentially of equal value.  It also reduces the amouth of preprep the Keeper must make.  All you need to know is what the situation is, let the players determine how the 'horror revealed'(sorry I couldn't resist) actually occurs.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: jdagna on October 27, 2003, 02:44:14 PM
In the original thread, I'd thrown out this suggestion:

Quote
However, there are simple ways around it. For example, a trip to the library might automatically reveal the plot-necessary info (the old Jones Manor is haunted), but useful details can be obtained through successful skill checks (you might learn any of the following: the monster hates sunlight, the monster can be banished with a certain spell and the monster attacks with poison).


It seems to be a better solution to the problem than either of the ideas suggested here (at least for my play styles).  You give out the information necessary to continue, but keep investigation from being mere color by giving the players advantages in the form of more information.   Thus, you're rewarding good investigation instead of punishing bad investigation.

Is there a reason why this isn't satisfactory?


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Ben Lehman on October 27, 2003, 03:03:47 PM
This is a post on investigative games in general, but I think it applies to the thread, as CoC is simply the most common investigative RPG.

Caveat:  I love to run investigative games.  I cannot remember the last game that I ran that was not an investigative game in some variety (that's not actually true, but it was a damn long time ago.)

I do not think that there need be radical, Karma based investigation techniques (although those who enjoy them can do so.)  I think that this problem is entirely one of scenario design, and the illusion that prose fiction is at all like gaming.

In HP Lovecraft, the (lone) protagonist follows a single trail of clues to his doom, possibly saving the world and/or going mad in the process.  It seems that this is the only possible way that the information could have been uncovered, and if it had not been the scenario would have dudded out (the world ends or nothing happens -- either is dull.)

This is doomed as an RPG design, because an RPG is not authored by one person, and often includes fortune-based success/failure mechanics.  The following are very important mystery design scenarios:

1) No single piece of information is vital.
  In other words, no Old Tome in the library that Must Be Found.  Perhaps similar tidbits can be extracted from the Creepy Old Groundskeeper, the Kidnapped Cult Victim, or even the Reclusive Author.  Perhaps it is Inscribed on the Ancient Stone that Can Only Be Seen in Dreams.  This is not necessarily illusionism -- these don't need to be the same pieces of information, they merely need to all be information which can advance the plot.

2) There is never a single path to any piece of information.  This is similar to the previous, and really more of an extrapolation thereon.

3) Even if the scenario is not progressed by the PCs, it continues to progress on its own such that more information is revealed.  In short "make sure things stay interesting."  An example might be a hideous book which tells you how to make zombies..  This has many possibilities
a) If the PCs find the tome and burn it, it becomes "thank heavens no unscrupulous scientist found that."  But what if one did...
b) If the PCs find the scientist and stop him, it is "Thank heavens we stopped that madman before he unleashed Unspeakable Horror Unto the World.  But what if they fail / can't find him...
c)  It become "investigate the creepy claims of dead relatives returning and track them to their source."  But what if the PCs are dense / inept and can't do this.
d)  It becomes "night of the living dead" survival horror, trying to stop the source of all the hordes of dead rising up from their graves.  If they fail here, they probably die.  But it's still been a long strange trip.

All of these are fun games.  Moving from one to another is not a "failure" as a play group or as a GM.

So, in short, I think the whole thing comes down to the wild, screaming differences between plotting a prose story and plotting an RPG.  I do both on a semi-regular basis, so I can at least claim experience on my side.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Comte on October 28, 2003, 12:07:47 AM
You know I bumped into this problem with another game I was running in a similar vein.  Essentialy the players missed a major clue and all the sudden my campain was dead in the water.  Fortunaly it happened towrds the end of the night so I was able to save face and give myself time to think.  First of all I realized a couple of things, there is a whole bloody world circulating around the PCs.  My NPC is this really cool badass and he dose not need the PC's in order to do something.  Thier presense is unessisary for his actions.  So the bad guy wins.  It happens and it just gives the players something more painful to deal with later.  After all more people than just the PC's can possibly have a vested interest in the outcome.  For example other cultists might need a book that is being used...or materials, or even the location.  Someone might of noticed something odd and the police could of been called and the whole group could of been arrested.  In fact all the sudden it can turn into a mad dash by serveal interested forces to get ahold of the book in question.  Then there could be the added problem of a police station gone insane.  

Anyway besides, so the players screw up.  Is it the end of the world?  If so just don't make it instant.  Since the players are gonna go insane and die they can watch the planet go with it.  It could be a new unexplored avenue of play.  Eitherway, world events do not start or stop with the players.  Presumably the earth still turns without their presense so just because they screw up dosn't mean that someone else won't.  Even Indiana Jones needs lucky break sometimes.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: The Benj on October 28, 2003, 05:19:36 AM
Another possibility is to get people to make such rolls, then award the information to whosoever made the best success. Makes that person worthwhile for (presumably) having invested in Library Use (to use a Cthulu example) or Spot (to use a D&D one) and means the game can keep going.

If the rolls are all so crap that you just can't justify this, mitigate it to partial success, meaning they take some extra time or do extra legwork or something.

If you need things to go in a certain direction for things to work, this is a good way to get them to do so.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Rob MacDougall on October 28, 2003, 06:26:47 AM
Hi all:

Let me preface this by saying I love CoC - for many years it was pretty much my only game. But I also loved b_bankhead's essay and thought much of it was spot on. And I think that people's natural desire to stick up for a game they love might be leading some to miss the point of what that first post said.

There is some good advice in this thread for GMs (or Keepers) who want to play CoC better without changing it. But I wonder if people see that the advice being given here in many ways goes directly to prove b_bankhead's original point.

He said that CoC games tend towards Illusionism, in particular because Investigation rolls don't really matter; the need to keep play moving forces the Keeper to dispense all the necessary clues anyway.

Much (not all) of the advice that people have offered to correct this problem has amounted to: various ways for the Keeper to dispense the necessary clues. (!)

"If the players don't get clue a, make sure they get clue b. Or move clue a so they do get it."  -- That's time-honored Illusionism. I believe it's known around here as All Roads Lead to Rome. It works, it's not an invalid way to play, but it is exactly what the original essay and the original post in this thread said: failure in the investigative phase is not really an option.

"Award the clue to the person who rolled best." Another variation on the above, one that makes it even more obvious that the players don't have real power to affect things. So all clues are always given out, and all we're really rolling for is bragging rights.

I'm really intrigued by the idea of letting players trade Sanity for knowledge--a resource-based investigative mechanic--it seems to me like it would be supported by the genre, it would keep attention on what we love about CoC (and the original essay was dead on here, too--it's all that great great mythos color), and I think it would be hella fun to play.

There are probably other ways to breathe new life into the investigative RPG--but to me, honing the Keeper's Illusionism skills is not the way to go. (Your Madness, of course, May Vary.)

Rob


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Ben Lehman on October 28, 2003, 09:47:57 AM
Hi, Rob.  On the whole, a good post.  But I take personal issue with it, because I don't think my advice is particularly illusionist.  Not stopping the game because of problems is not Illusionism, it is the opposite thereof.

Quote from: Rob MacDougall

"If the players don't get clue a, make sure they get clue b. Or move clue a so they do get it."  -- That's time-honored Illusionism. I believe it's known around here as All Roads Lead to Rome. It works, it's not an invalid way to play, but it is exactly what the original essay and the original post in this thread said: failure in the investigative phase is not really an option.


BL>  I never said anything close to All Roads Lead to Rome.  In fact, I tried very specifically to point out the differences between my suggestions and this type of play.

Say, to keep the zombie book example from above, the players miss all the clues about the Dark Tomb in which the Book is Contained.  Do they get thrown any bones?  Nope.  Do they "find it anyway?"  Nope.  Does the book auto-locate to some place that it is easier to find?  Nope.

All that you need to assume is that there is a world outside of the PCs -- a world full of people who might be interested in such a book.  All it needs to do is (quite reasonably) fall into their hands.  Bang.  Adventure starts again.  Is the road still going to "Rome" (a big showdown in the tomb with Unspeakable Horrors.)  Nope.  Now its going to Carthage (a showdown with mad cultists in their secret encampment.)  Perhaps it will even take a right turn to Damascus.

My point was that fiction is inherently railroaded -- there is a predestined state from the beginning of the piece.  Often, it is written "End first, beginning second, middle third" (I write this way a lot, and Lovecraft's writing shows signs of it as well.)  Role-playing games, at least interesting ones, are NOT.

I think that the problems here are ones of construction -- that mystery gaming GMs expect construct their games they way that they read mystery novels, because they don't understand the fundamental difference of medium.

yrs--
--Ben

edit: stretching my metaphors to the breaking point


Title: Failure is STILL not an option
Post by: b_bankhead on October 28, 2003, 11:31:25 AM
Quote from: Ben Lehman

BL>  I never said anything close to All Roads Lead to Rome.  In fact, I tried very specifically to point out the differences between my suggestions and this type of play.

Say, to keep the zombie book example from above, the players miss all the clues about the Dark Tomb in which the Book is Contained.  Do they get thrown any bones?  Nope.  Do they "find it anyway?"  Nope.  Does the book auto-locate to some place that it is easier to find?  Nope.

All that you need to assume is that there is a world outside of the PCs -- a world full of people who might be interested in such a book.  All it needs to do is (quite reasonably) fall into their hands.  Bang.  Adventure starts again.  Is the road still going to "Rome" (a big showdown in the tomb with Unspeakable Horrors.)  Nope.  Now its going to Carthage (a showdown with mad cultists in their secret encampment.)  Perhaps it will even take a right turn to Damascus.

--Ben


Thanx Mr. Dougall for saving me the typing. Yes most of the responses to my idea do seem to be different ways of dispensing information. And most of them do seem to have missed the point.

As for Mr. Lehmans post , I must confess to simply not understanding it. The whole point of dispensing the information is that unless you do so nobody will know that they are supposed to go to Rome, Carthage or anywhere else, or how to get there.

So suppose some other NPC group gets the book. You've just moved the same problem to a different place.  Now they need to find information about this new group, what they are doing and so forth, BANG! back to square one in the investigation.....so you make the book 'fall into their hands' , laboratory reagent grade illusionism at work.

Again failure is not an option. Most of these 'solutions' to the problem essentially turn CoC into a diceless game, or make rolling succcessfully just a bonus onto what is essentially a diceless success model.
Unless of course you want to take Comte's advice which is essentially 'so they missed the roll? ,Screw em!', hardly good advice unless flushing your scenario down the toilet because of a few whiffs (and whiffs are common in CoC) is what you consider a viable option...


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Ian Charvill on October 28, 2003, 12:02:07 PM
I'm going to just sound a brief note of incredulity: of all the solution's suggested the original one - especially with the modification that the skill used doesn't matter - is probably the most illusionist facilitating.

I would suspect the way to avoid this would be to make it out in the open: everybody at the table knows that it they're just contributing colour to a fixed end-result:

That they discover the clue or clues that they are meant to.

Which merely exchanges a participationist technique for an illusionist one.

Now, my guess is what everyone is actually saying is that if you set up an adventure to have a specific clue train that people need to ride to get to the end, then there are a variety of techniques that can be used to make that fun.  Most people have suggested illusionist techniques.  Suggesting participationism instead is not a revolution it's a half-turn at best.

To nail my own colours to the flag: I'd tend much more towards Comte's view.  Cthulhu is a horror game: player failure is not the same as deprotagonization because in the source material failure, madness and death are part of the protagonist's role.


Title: Re: Failure is STILL not an option
Post by: Ben Lehman on October 28, 2003, 01:18:08 PM
Quote

As for Mr. Lehmans post , I must confess to simply not understanding it. The whole point of dispensing the information is that unless you do so nobody will know that they are supposed to go to Rome, Carthage or anywhere else, or how to get there.


BL>  Okay, when one person doesn't understand what I'm talking about, I can take offense.  When too people don't, it's my fault for not explaining things clearly.

What I read in this thread is essentially looks, to me, like this:

"In all mystery stories, the investigator moves along a string of clues until he reaches a final showdown.  Since any success / failure RPG (and, I would say further, any RPG where players have decision making power over most of their character's actions) will clearly fail at generating this exact plotline, we should just admit that the whole thing is a set up, speed through it in some fashion to get to the real meat of the game, which is the final showdown."

But there is a problem here.  While I agree that the standard RPG will fail to produce exactly this plotline, I think that the investigation, the tension, the Not Knowing What Is Going On is the heart of a good mystery story.  So the above solution is unsatisfying to my tastes.  Further, I run investigative stories quite often without running into above mentioned problems in any way.  So what am I doing that's different?

I think that there is a mental disconnect here -- the idea that an RPG can, in any reasonable way, be plotted like a novel is, in my view, fundamentally flawed.  I believe that an RPG, given that it has both a resolution system and a group of participants, is infinitely more chaotic than a novel, and that RPG plotting must take this into account, requiring much a more robust scenario style than a novel.

There are multiple ways to do this.  One of these is "All Roads Lead to Rome."  If the PCs fail to find the clues and take the "proper path," the game's world rearranges itself to match the PCs are still headed the "right way."  This is a perfectly feasible way to play, but it is not one that I like, largely because I am a flaming supporter of both heavy simulationism and player empowerment (by which I mean that player choices and rolls are meaningful) and I believe that it violates both of these goals.

Another way of solving this problem is the one that I am talk about, which might be called "This Road Doesn't Go to Rome, but There's Nice Scenery Anyway."  This is, essentially, to make the plot of the game a dynamic web of people and organizations that can react to each other and the situation at hand.  In this case, a particular missed McGuffin, NPC that the PCs decide not to care about, or "gain a clue roll" botched does not derail the game because the setting itself -- what one might call the "situation as a whole" is interesting, and continues to develop in the absence of PC action.  A particularly useful Horror version of this is what I was talking about above -- a scenario which will "naturally" play itself out in a certain manner, provided that the PCs don't interfere.  If the PCs interfere, they game resolves itself around that interference.  But, if they choose to not interfere or are unable to (through fortune whiffs) the setting continues to change in ways that are continually interesting, and allow them new avenues of exploration.

Quote

So suppose some other NPC group gets the book. You've just moved the same problem to a different place.  Now they need to find information about this new group, what they are doing and so forth, BANG! back to square one in the investigation.....so you make the book 'fall into their hands' , laboratory reagent grade illusionism at work.


BL>  You seem to assume that any investigation roll will, absolutely and completely, fail.  Okay, let's work from that assumption.
  Nonetheless, the game continues to progress interestingly.  In the beginning (Book buried in Tomb), there are whiffs of some ancient Evil, but the PCs can't find out much about it.  Then (Antagonist Evil Cult finds Book), they begin to see evidence of cult activity, but can't track it to its source.  Then (Antagonist Evil Cult Starts Using Book), their dead relatives start to come back, but they can't figure out why.  Finally (Squamous Horror Contained In Book Is Unleashed), all the dead are rising, the sun has gone black, and they are fighting to survive in an post-apocolyptic, zombie filled wasteland.  If they fail to notice that this last part is happening, this is because they are all playing characters who have no sensory perception whatsoever, in which case there isn't much that the GM can do.

This is a scenario in which the PCs, essentially, have failed every avenue of investigation.  It is in no way similar to the "initial scenario," which might have had them tracking the book to its place Sealed Beneath the Earth, but that doesn't matter at all, because it is still interesting.  Failure is plainly, clearly, and completely an option.  Further, the investigatory skills are "meaningful" in that they change the course of the plot and the outcome of the game.  I cannot think of a more "meaningful" sort of character ability.

I'm not trying to say that this is The Only Way To Do Things.  I'm not trying to say that most "investigative" and "horror" scenarios written for RPGs aren't terribly written.  I'm just trying to say that this is a very useful technique for generating good investigative games.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 28, 2003, 02:38:22 PM
Quote from: b_bankhead
As I stated in my essay 'Drifting to R'lyeh' most skill rolls in CoC don't matter much.  The design of the prototypical CoC scenario makes play grind to a halt if the player's can't make their skill rolls, this forces the Keeper to hand the information out anyway, thus devaluating the whole conept of information gathering skills.

Just for the record, I want to pose another sort of CoC play that contradicts this. Really Gamist CoC. In that sort of play, the monsters are just D&D monsters, and if you fail to find the clue, then the scenario is over, you lose. I'm not inventing this style, I've played in such games. That's right, the big bad doesn't ever appear unless you're good enough to look in the right places. This works "best" with a locational scenario, where it's not really up to the luck of the player rolls, but physical investigation.

Mike


Title: From X files to Dawn of the Dead
Post by: b_bankhead on October 28, 2003, 05:00:11 PM
Quote from: Ben Lehman

BL>  Okay, when one person doesn't understand what I'm talking about, I can take offense.  When too people don't, it's my fault for not explaining things clearly.


And why would you take offense at an honest misuderstanding?

Quote
What I read in this thread is essentially looks, to me, like this:

"In all mystery stories, the investigator moves along a string of clues until he reaches a final showdown.  Since any success / failure RPG (and, I would say further, any RPG where players have decision making power over most of their character's actions) will clearly fail at generating this exact plotline, we should just admit that the whole thing is a set up, speed through it in some fashion to get to the real meat of the game, which is the final showdown."


Well actually I think the meat of Call of Cthulhu is the color, everbody playing the game knows the structure of the typical scenario.  I don't think there is very much dramatic tension there.

Quote
But there is a problem here.  While I agree that the standard RPG will fail to produce exactly this plotline, I think that the investigation, the tension, the Not Knowing What Is Going On is the heart of a good mystery story.  So the above solution is unsatisfying to my tastes.  Further, I run investigative stories quite often without running into above mentioned problems in any way.  So what am I doing that's different?


In my karmic model for revealing information the tension of not knowing is not removed.  Until the investigative phase is over they still don't know what's going on.  



Quote
BL>  You seem to assume that any investigation roll will, absolutely and completely, fail.  Okay, let's work from that assumption.
 
Please do, since it wouldn't be an issue if the rolls didn't fail...

Quote
Nonetheless, the game continues to progress interestingly.  In the beginning (Book buried in Tomb), there are whiffs of some ancient Evil, but the PCs can't find out much about it.  Then (Antagonist Evil Cult finds Book), they begin to see evidence of cult activity, but can't track it to its source.  Then (Antagonist Evil Cult Starts Using Book), their dead relatives start to come back, but they can't figure out why.  Finally (Squamous Horror Contained In Book Is Unleashed), all the dead are rising, the sun has gone black, and they are fighting to survive in an post-apocolyptic, zombie filled wasteland.  If they fail to notice that this last part is happening, this is because they are all playing characters who have no sensory perception whatsoever, in which case there isn't much that the GM can do.


Of course this is always an option, just most people don't want to trash their campaign world because of bugs in how the investigation mechanic works.  Indeed my whole feeling is that the progression you describe is not the result of player choices, but bad rolls, which is a different thing. There are still plenty of player choices to be botched in the the final confrontation which need not  necessarily go the way the players want.
Likewise most of us design scenarios so that player mistakes won't be so catastrophic. Most of us don't want to change an investigative game into survival horror....


Title: Failure is an option only when it's entertaining....
Post by: b_bankhead on October 28, 2003, 05:16:49 PM
Quote from: Ian Charvill
I'm going to just sound a brief note of incredulity: of all the solution's suggested the original one - especially with the modification that the skill used doesn't matter - is probably the most illusionist facilitating.

I would suspect the way to avoid this would be to make it out in the open: everybody at the table knows that it they're just contributing colour to a fixed end-result:

That they discover the clue or clues that they are meant to.

Which merely exchanges a participationist technique for an illusionist one.


Actually illusionism is where the fact of player choices being irrelevant is NOT known(otherwise it wouldn't be an illusion...!). Illusionism is exactly when it ISN'T in the open. My proposal is exactly that is doesn't pretend that the scenario's investigative phase is anything but color. This is explicit to all concerned given how the mechanic works.

Quote
To nail my own colours to the flag: I'd tend much more towards Comte's view.  Cthulhu is a horror game: player failure is not the same as deprotagonization because in the source material failure, madness and death are part of the protagonist's role.


Once the investigative phase is complete there is still plenty of opportunity for failure in the confrontational phase. Plenty of occasion there to get your head bitten off. Player failure is not an option in the INVESTIGATIVE  phase because player failure there is boring. Failure IS an option in the confrontation because it's exciting. Failing your library use roll in the Miskatonic U reading room is boring.  Failing your shotgun roll when raiding the cult ceremony in the catacombs isn't.....


Title: Failure is an option only when it's entertaining....Pt.2
Post by: b_bankhead on October 28, 2003, 05:29:52 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Just for the record, I want to pose another sort of CoC play that contradicts this. Really Gamist CoC. In that sort of play, the monsters are just D&D monsters, and if you fail to find the clue, then the scenario is over, you lose. I'm not inventing this style, I've played in such games. That's right, the big bad doesn't ever appear unless you're good enough to look in the right places. This works "best" with a locational scenario, where it's not really up to the luck of the player rolls, but physical investigation.

Mike


This could work but only if the players have a very limited range of places to look ( I once played in a scenario on an ocean liner, this premise would work in that kind of environment)
Hmm Locational scenario sounds like jargon for 'dungeon crawl' to me. The precise reason that dungeon crawls work as gamism is because there really is no investigative phase to botch.  The monsters jump out like the animatromic beasties in a carnival spook house, which is what a scenario like this would resemble(adn would make a good slang term for it).  Most D&D fans would be pretty mad if they had to make search rolls just to find some monsters to beat up, and even madder if they couldn't!

Again failure is an option only if it isn't boring. Losing in this kind of gamism would be.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Daniel Solis on October 28, 2003, 05:41:09 PM
I'll admit right up front that I've never played CoC or read much Lovecraft, but I was considering a slight augmentation to the original post's system suggestion.

If the information being given out is taken as a guarantee, then the protagonization may be able to come in the form of how the information is gathered. One way, if I read the original post correctly, is to simply have a single effort pool, base costs for the most relevant type of info-gathering and higher costs for less-related types of info-gathering.

Another way is to make each skill its own effort pool, so to speak. For example, if you want to gather information by performing an autopsy, spend an "autopsy" point and gather the secrets. If you want to get the information through physical intimidation, spend an "intimidation" point and gather the secrets. If effort points are depleted, or if the character is forced to gather information in a manner for which she has no relevant skills, she must spend SAN in place of effort points.


Title: Re: Failure is an option only when it's entertaining....
Post by: Ian Charvill on October 29, 2003, 03:20:24 AM
Quote from: b_bankhead
Actually illusionism is where the fact of player choices being irrelevant is NOT known(otherwise it wouldn't be an illusion...!). Illusionism is exactly when it ISN'T in the open. My proposal is exactly that is doesn't pretend that the scenario's investigative phase is anything but color. This is explicit to all concerned given how the mechanic works.


Sure, which is what I was saying: it's a participationist - i.e. illusionism without the illusion.  It's similar to certain styles of White Wolf campaign.  What your PC vampires do doesn't matter because the metaplot is going to play out the way the metaplot is going to play out and all the players provide is colour on the way

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Once the investigative phase is complete there is still plenty of opportunity for failure in the confrontational phase. Plenty of occasion there to get your head bitten off. Player failure is not an option in the INVESTIGATIVE  phase because player failure there is boring. Failure IS an option in the confrontation because it's exciting. Failing your library use roll in the Miskatonic U reading room is boring.  Failing your shotgun roll when raiding the cult ceremony in the catacombs isn't.....


It stops Cthulhu being a game about investigating the supernatural and makes it about the final confrontation with the supernatural, which is an absolutely valid design choice, and I look forward to your endgame mechanics.

But... I'm not sure it caters to Cthulhu's missed market - i.e. people who want an investigating the supernatural game but who are put off by Cthulhu's high whiff factor and illusionism.

As an aside w/r/t gamist Cthulhu play - perfectly doable and fun.  Not necessarily representing a drift to D&D style monster killing play.  The step on up issue being can we solve this mystery.


Title: Failure is an option only when it's entertaining....Pt.3
Post by: b_bankhead on October 29, 2003, 05:33:25 AM
Quote from: Ian Charvill

Sure, which is what I was saying: it's a participationist - i.e. illusionism without the illusion.  It's similar to certain styles of White Wolf campaign.  What your PC vampires do doesn't matter because the metaplot is going to play out the way the metaplot is going to play out and all the players provide is colour on the way


   Yes but this is inherent in what call of Cthulhu is really trying to do.
You see CoC is trying to capture the quality of a style of narrative, it is striving to be narrativist.  And one of the less discussed aspects of a truly narrativist game is that it's rules must embody the narrative structure of the type of story it's trying to tell ,which is why the best narrative games are going to be specialized. Different story styles have different structures. And the narrative structure of a Lovecraftian story is pretty rigid. Have you ever read one where it ended with a pile of books in the Miskatonic U reading room?

    On a more practical level , are you so committed a gamist that you would be satisfied to drag your cheetos and mountain dew half way across the county to some guy's house and have your night of Call of Cthulhu end there?

   All narrative structures have built in to them the universal metastructure of increasing-narrative-tension/climax/release.
And in the Lovecraftian story the investigative phase is part of the buildup. Without the climatic confrontation the structure is inherently incomplete and unsatisfying. (Even in the most gamist type of D&D they never fail somehow to find the dungeon....)

   And that goes for all horror stories. They never fail to find the monster.
(and if they do it comes looking for them...). Even Bob Lehman's solution to the issue is essentially a form of metaplotting, 'inflate the situation until it can't possibly be missed by Helen Keller'. Is a recognition that in the end if the confrontation doesn't happen it's no damn fun.

   Look at My Life with Master.  It's structure is even more rigid than CoC.  The game always ends with the death of master. Yet there are SO many changes that can be wrung on that same structure. SO many games that can be played. Its even more rigid than a Lovecraftian game.

    After all the whole Lovecraftian universe is imbedded in it's own metaplot. The machinations of the Like of Azatoth and Cthulhu are even farther above the heroes (and victims) in Lovecraftian story than the Antedeluvians are above the lowest WoD bloodsucker.....

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    It stops Cthulhu being a game about investigating the supernatural and makes it about the final confrontation with the supernatural, which is an absolutely valid design choice, and I look forward to your endgame mechanics.


Well in the end a Lovcraftian story isn't about the investigation of secrets man was not meant to know, IT'S ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DO. If it wasn't Lovecraft could have just written a bunch of reading lists.

The purpose of a narrativist game is to create a coherent story with a theme. A Call of Cthulhu game that ends in a stalled investigation hasn't created a story just a list of locations visited,and it hasn't developed it's theme.  Highly doctrinaire simulationists and gamists that want the game to play this way want a dog to be a cat.  They are the only ones who would play more than once with a keeper who let his games end like that too....and the only keepers who wouldn't be bored out of their minds running a game like that and frankly I'm not so sure they'd like it themselves. Even in Lovecraftian card games and board games the monster always shows up.  And if simulationists are such avid genre emulators, how can they fail to recognize that this structure is a part of the genre?

My endgame ideas aren't quite as radical , for my part participationism ends when the investigative phase does. Although I think somewhere I will be producing a rant 'Hot Lead and Cold Tentacles: Guns in Call of Cthulhu', which will deal the the hypocrisy about combat and particularly about guns that the game has. That hypocrisy, IMHO is why people are resistant to the idea of the primacy of the confrontation phase. Call of Cthulhu has cultivated an image as an 'egghead's' game amd brushes under the rug the fact that all things being equal you should put your money on the investigator with the big gun....

 . My 'Cthulhubabe' article witll take somewhat longer as it is indeed much much more radical and extensive.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: kalyptein on October 29, 2003, 09:56:47 AM
I'd like to suggest a form of play that I don't think I've seen suggested on this thread yet (or else I'm blind).  It's a gamist approach, and a bit odd, but I think its a way to avoid illusionism and maybe even inject a bit of fear, but at the cost of short-circuiting narrative structure.

The point of the investigative phase is to prevent there from ever being a confrontational phase.  If you know where the cultists will meet for their horrid rite, you can rig the place with dynamite and save yourself from having to face whatever they are trying to summon.  In a sense, to win the scenario you either have to win the investigative phase or the confrontational phase, the later being a whole lot harder and with much greater risks of death or madness.  Varying degrees of success in investigation may not remove the need for a confrontation but might give you a better chance of surviving it, but it should be possible to completely avoid it.  This induces some urgency in the players as they are aware of this aweful fate towards which they are being slowly drawn, and their actions to avoid it become quite meaningful.  All the while they are getting hints and whispers of what's to come (brushes with mythos critters, struggles with cultists, etc), sapping them of sanity and hp.  The investigative phase definitely doesn't have to be safe.

And if they fail?  They probably croak, flee (abandoning those they were trying to help), or go mad and the next batch of investigators can try to pry clues from their insane babbling in the asylum.  And unless you've built up the scenario as a Save the World thing, you don't even have to wreck your campaign.  Lots of Lovecraft's stories end poorly for the protagonist without ending the world.  So the cultists summon a shoggoth?  It eats them, ravages the town and the nearby countryside, eliciting bizarre accounts on the news, and then leaves for its own inscrutible reasons, because The Stars Aren't Right Yet.  Failure gives you a dress rehersal for the apocalypse, and maybe someday, when the Keeper's ready to wrap up the campaign, it'll be for real.

And all of this for the low, low price of locking your inner narrativist in the closet while you play (this goes triple for the Keeper, he has to be willing to abandon the fireworks he's got planned for the end).

Alex


Title: Re: Failure is an option only when it's entertaining....Pt.2
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 29, 2003, 10:39:12 AM
Quote from: b_bankhead
This could work but only if the players have a very limited range of places to look ( I once played in a scenario on an ocean liner, this premise would work in that kind of environment)
Hmm Locational scenario sounds like jargon for 'dungeon crawl' to me.
That's precisely it. Following on your ocean liner example, the one I'm thinking of is the standard "Haunted House" scenario, of which there are many published.

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The precise reason that dungeon crawls work as gamism is because there really is no investigative phase to botch.  The monsters jump out like the animatromic beasties in a carnival spook house, which is what a scenario like this would resemble(adn would make a good slang term for it).  Most D&D fans would be pretty mad if they had to make search rolls just to find some monsters to beat up, and even madder if they couldn't!

Again failure is an option only if it isn't boring. Losing in this kind of gamism would be.
In fact, it is quite boring. And there is an investigative phase to these, searching the house. That includes skill rolls. Yes, if you don't find the secret room with your Spot Hidden, then you have to find it by player deduction or induction (we measured all the house's dimensions in one game).

But the fact that it's boring if you "lose" means that you have powerful incentive to win. Often enough in these situations to make it work out. OTOH, I did fail one, and it was miserable. Just made me try harder the next time (though, interestingly, we did lose a mainstream player in that case). Hmmm.

Mike


Title: Re: Failure is an option only when it's entertaining....Pt.3
Post by: Ian Charvill on October 29, 2003, 01:34:03 PM
Quote from: b_bankhead
On a more practical level , are you so committed a gamist that you would be satisfied to drag your cheetos and mountain dew half way across the county to some guy's house and have your night of Call of Cthulhu end there?


I'm guessing I should be offended by this if I knew what cheetos and mountain dew were - some kind of parochial US cliche gamer snack?

Let me know if I should be, I'll try to oblige.

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You see CoC is trying to capture the quality of a style of narrative, it is striving to be narrativist. And one of the less discussed aspects of a truly narrativist game is that <snipped the intersting bit of the paragrpah>


Narrativism is the creative engagement with a play group with a premise.  Capturing the style of a genre narrative is pretty solidly a simulationist goal.  This would make the second line a non sequitur to the first and the remainder of the paragraph - while interesting - irrelevent.

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And that goes for all horror stories. They never fail to find the monster. (and if they do it comes looking for them...).


But strangely advice that a Cthulhu GM introduces this feature - that if they don't find the monster, the monster comes to them - is "surpassingly poor advice".

You're obviously flailing around pretty energetically for something in all of this, but I can't see what it is right now. So simple question:

Do you want a discussion of ways to make Cthulhu more accesible or do you want an argument that proves your way of making Cthulhu more interesting is the right one?


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Comte on October 29, 2003, 08:22:30 PM
You know I was thinking about this thread the other day.  It reminds me of a thread we had awhile ago discussing player deaths and how disruptive they were to game play.  The main problem of the thread is when dose the GM allow the player to re-enter the game.  By and large the main problem wasn't the issue but the inflexablity of the gm's to alter thier story to accomodate player blunders.  I remeber feeling the same sense of "nothing is going to be accomplised here".  I don't know the game seems so set in its way, its almost like there is a formula for doing it.  

Someone suggested bringing the monster to the player.  I also disagree with that.  My sugession was simply altering the events so that the stakes are uped and the investigation phase can be tried again.  This time the danger is slightly scaryer.  However, that dosn't invalidate the game it just gives the players a second or third or fourth chance.  Is that really so bad?  I mean just change the story.  It isn't made of stone.  There is no reason to end the game/world just because of a couple of bad rolls.  I find the idea silly.  I also think that if there is concern over the players not bothering with investigation because the gm will just hand it to them is also silly.  If the players don't enjoy that part of the game to the point where they will cheat/weasle out of doing it then maybe it is time to discuss how to change the game better, not force the players to do things they don't want to.

I don't know I come from a very limited player base.  So I tend to try to make them happy because I can't just swing by the player store and pick up new ones.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Callan S. on October 29, 2003, 10:27:28 PM
I think my 'replace fail/pass with pass/greater pass' must be too simple a fix to discuss.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 30, 2003, 11:45:37 AM
Quote from: Noon
I think my 'replace fail/pass with pass/greater pass' must be too simple a fix to discuss.


I don't think so. :-)

OTOH, I thin characters never failing is a bad thing for tone. There's another way, however....

This is like the "Yes, but. No, and" thing. That is, failure in this case, means that you succeeded, but caused some additional problem to yourself with the "Yes, but" case. In the "No, and" case, they fail, but another problem occurs, which is actually a second chance at the info.

So you have two ways of making "fail" into potential success, without making it so that the characters never fail. Do we need examples, or is it fairly obvious?

Mike


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Callan S. on November 05, 2003, 08:18:12 PM
I've heard it called 'dramatic failure', eg if the group fails to find the secret way into the base, some monsters step out of it (on a hunt) and the players find it that way...after some drama.

But really, what's the point. Most CoC characters are usually quite proffesional or skilled. It seems to actually go against tone for them to go to a library and come away with as much as a child might. Surely they'd come away with more than that?

Personally I only see failure/failed rolls as a dramatic build up, a drum roll before the 'ta da' of a pass.

However, if a fail stops you from moving on and getting to any 'ta da' or anything else for that matter, it's not forfilling its purpose.

I suppose the other purpose of failing skill rolls is to ground players in suspension of disbelief. Failure happens in RL, ergo it should happen in the game. But personally, I've never seen many movies where they concentrate on RL facets like sitting on the toilet, sleeping comfortably or watching TV quietly. But a failed pass here forces you to concentrate on it, as it stops the show. Its a strange story focus that game mechanic causes.

Really, the idea of a CoC character finding out a lot of info at a library but is still missing one important piece, seems to fit the genre to me. More than a CoC character going to a library in a story, then coming out saying 'nup, this really had no bearing on the story since I've got nothing'.

I do like dramatic failure...failure generates more drama (and the drama helps remedy the failure). But the GM will have to insert it every time a failure happens, and may be hard pressed after several times to do it without having a subtle CoC game a little over full with drama/action.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Scripty on November 12, 2003, 10:47:44 AM
Actually, I just finished playing a CoC one-shot over the weekend. Having scanned through this and the Drifting to R'yleh thread ("http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=8459"), I kept many of these points in mind in order to observe how these issues came into play in our group.

Essentially, I found most everything that b_bankhead said turned out to be true for our group.

A couple of failed skill tests early on led to a logjam for the Narrator. She was really stumped. She was running from a scenario and I could tell, from her frantic page-turning, that a logjam had occured. From the players' side of the table, I found many of my fellow gamers were pleased. They had averted the scenario through ignorance and, thus, saved their precious Sanity and Hit Points.

Gaming the mechanics of Cthulhu actually, IMO, resulted in play that ran *counter* to the source material. I'm a fairly big Lovecraft fan, however, and I did not intend for H.P. to go down like a chump.

By acting out the role of a Lovecraftian investigator and doing the things that investigators do in the stories, which we all know run counter to good sense, I (almost single-handedly) got the game back on track. I took the plot-bait and followed the story to its inevitable conclusion, despite the protestations of my fellow gamers. Eventually, I too ran across a failed skill roll at a crucial point in the story. The Narrator politely advised me to ignore that skill roll and proceeded with the story. I got to ignore a couple more skill rolls too that evening.

From the efforts of myself and another player who also jumped on the "Let's Die and Lose Sanity" bandwagon, we played through the entire scenario dragging 5 or so protesting gamers all the way. Those of us who pursued our demise with tenacity were involved in the story and pivotal (somewhat) to it. Those of the group who boarded themselves up in a safe room and spent their time counting bullets and making molotov cocktails were not. The more gamist oriented players later complained that they didn't have enough to do, which was ironic because the spent the entire session avoiding conflict.

At the scenario's conclusion, the Big Bad was brought low not by my investigative skills or by my Cthulhu Mythos but, rather, by a Chain Gun. He took 121 points of damage and died. Thus ended our evening of Cthulhoid horror. It was very Rambo. Stallone would be proud. I think Lovecraft would appreciate the joke.

It's worth noting that, when I ran Call of Cthulhu adventures in the late 80s, early 90s, they were rather spooky affairs but I never EVER used the rules. I kept track of each player's hit points and Sanity. The only stat the players had were their occupation, their wealth and...well... that's about it.

They never rolled. We didn't use dice. If your Occultist was trying to find x, y, z in a Library, it was likely they found it. I narrated the effects of Sanity loss (rather than tell the players outright). The players narrated what their characters did and how they reacted. It was freeform and diceless. It was also infinitely more terrifying than last weekend's session (which had a humorous mood akin to Paranoia).

I'm not sure how one could get CoC to work out with the existing rules. Sure enough, if you stat out Cthulhu someone's going to try and kill him. I suspect some modification of my old diceless approach or some modification of a game like The Pool or My Life With Master might work out. But the rules as written, IME, support the game in the exact same way as b_bankhead describes.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Marco on November 12, 2003, 11:47:41 AM
Quote from: Scripty


I'm not sure how one could get CoC to work out with the existing rules. Sure enough, if you stat out Cthulhu someone's going to try and kill him. I suspect some modification of my old diceless approach or some modification of a game like The Pool or My Life With Master might work out. But the rules as written, IME, support the game in the exact same way as b_bankhead describes.


I sounds like my experiences weren't standard--but the question posed is, IME, pretty simple: don't base the adventure on a roll continuing and don't set up the situation to be arbitrarily terminal early on (i.e. a big fight with a tough monster as an opener)

In the games we played, research was mostly used to get an edge (i.e. you got X and Y just for looking--or saying "I check the old newspapers" but you got Z for making a roll). But we didn't do that much investigation anyway. It was more like "you get the weird book from your cousin's funeral distribution which details fantastic tunnels under the family graveyard."

When we looked, we didn't find the tunnels--but further investigation (talking to the gardner/townspeople) revealed there had been a lot of construction work up there recently and ... (so on).

I mean, it was pretty lovecraftian. It was all player driven. Failure was a lot like it is in GURPS. FWIW, I felt fully supported by the rules save for, IIRC, unarmed combat.

-Marco


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Ian Charvill on November 12, 2003, 12:21:19 PM
Hey Scripty

Couple of questions that would really help orientate a response:

What scenerio was run - a prewritten one or one the GM made up?  If a prewritten one, what was the title?

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From the players' side of the table, I found many of my fellow gamers were pleased. They had averted the scenario through ignorance and, thus, saved their precious Sanity and Hit Points.


How many of the players had played CoC before?  What was the general play experience of the group (mostly mainstream games, indie stuff, naming some systems would be a real help here)?  You mentioned passim turtling behavior from the other players - have they shown similar tendencies in other games?

You said you and one other player got into the Lovecraftian spirit.  Do you and the other player have different gaming backgrounds to the rest of the group, or are you all pretty much the same, gaming-history-wise?

Lastly, how experienced in the GM?  Has she run much Cthulhu before?

Damn, that's more like an interrogation than a couple of questions, but I'd be interested in the answers.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Scripty on November 12, 2003, 02:34:12 PM
Quote from: Ian Charvill
What scenerio was run - a prewritten one or one the GM made up?  If a prewritten one, what was the title?


It was a pre-written campaign. The Narrator had called it "The Haunted" or some such. She had pre-printed maps and all. I'm not sure where she got the scenario from, but it was definitely not her own creation.


Quote from: Ian Charvill
How many of the players had played CoC before?  What was the general play experience of the group (mostly mainstream games, indie stuff, naming some systems would be a real help here)?  You mentioned passim turtling behavior from the other players - have they shown similar tendencies in other games?


All of the players (save one) had played Call of Cthulhu before. Only I had played it outside of this group, however. I had played Call of Cthulhu before in the freeform mini-campaign of which I had mentioned in my previous post and also in a few brief sessions with another group. As far as gaming goes, this group is all over the GS board. They default to 2nd edition D&D and Marvel, but they also tend to play Star Wars d6, RIFTS and Classic Marvel with an uncanny frequency. Any indie games that they've played have come via myself. I'm the indie whore of the group. I'm trying to get them to play HeroQuest, but in the past we've played the Window and that's about it. As far as turtling, yep, that's the M.O. in that group. Hence, I'm trying to get them to play a mythic-level supers game with the HeroQuest system. I figure I'd like to put them in a situation where they'd be silly to turtle. It'd be like if Superman never left his igloo or the Avengers spent the whole comic in a bomb shelter. These guys turtle like fish swim.

Quote from: Ian Charvill
You said you and one other player got into the Lovecraftian spirit.  Do you and the other player have different gaming backgrounds to the rest of the group, or are you all pretty much the same, gaming-history-wise?


I do. But not the other guy. He was just going along for fun. I've played in groups in Georgia, California, Tennessee and several here in Florida. Most of the other players in this group have played with these guys for the entirety of their RPG experience.

Quote from: Ian Charvill
Lastly, how experienced in the GM?  Has she run much Cthulhu before?


She generally runs either Cthulhu or Palladium's Nightbane. I haven't heard her talk of much else. This was the first game that I had played in which she ran, but she has run before.

Quote from: Ian Charvill
Damn, that's more like an interrogation than a couple of questions, but I'd be interested in the answers.


Not a problem.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Scripty on November 12, 2003, 02:40:36 PM
Quote from: Marco

I sounds like my experiences weren't standard--but the question posed is, IME, pretty simple: don't base the adventure on a roll continuing and don't set up the situation to be arbitrarily terminal early on (i.e. a big fight with a tough monster as an opener)

....

-Marco


My experiences, with this group, certainly aren't standard either. I just felt it was eerily coincidental that less than 3 days after I had read b_bankhead's articles I received the opportunity to live them word for word.

Regarding your advice on basing the adventure on a roll, both you and I know better than that. However, she didn't. She was running out of a module and was faced with a situation where (a) no one wanted to do any research, (b) any rolls to drop knowledge in a character's lap had long since failed, and (c) she had run to the end of the advice in the module about "how to get the players involved". I could tell she was uncomfortable with improvising, so I stepped in and helped out. Sure, I was down to 50 SAN by the end of the night, but it was a heck of a lot better than sitting around and staring at these blokes.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: John Kim on November 12, 2003, 03:49:17 PM
Quote from: Scripty
 From the efforts of myself and another player who also jumped on the "Let's Die and Lose Sanity" bandwagon, we played through the entire scenario dragging 5 or so protesting gamers all the way.  Those of us who pursued our demise with tenacity were involved in the story and pivotal (somewhat) to it. Those of the group who boarded themselves up in a safe room and spent their time counting bullets and making molotov cocktails were not.  

While I agree on some points, I'm wary about judging rules by one-off play unless you have seen the group using other systems.  For evaluating the mechanics, the question I would be interested in is not how the game compared to Lovecraft's writing.  The question is how the game compares with the same group using different mechanics.  You mention that this group has played using The Pool, I think.  How does play compare?  Can you extrapolate what this same scenario played with The Pool might come out like?


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Scripty on November 13, 2003, 06:12:39 AM
Quote from: John Kim
The question is how the game compares with the same group using different mechanics.  You mention that this group has played using The Pool, I think.  How does play compare?  Can you extrapolate what this same scenario played with The Pool might come out like?


It wasn't the Pool. It was the Window. I also recall us playing Donjon for about a month. The Window would give a better impression as the game I ran with that was a "Night of the Living Dead" style zombie horror game.

In the Window game, things went pretty much as they go in the Window. We didn't have a Sanity mechanic, but we captured a "horror" feel with description. The characters were also separated out and only one or two of them were armed. The Window game had a much greater sense of desperation to it and there were a couple of moments when there was something really frightening or disturbing. There were also a couple of moments of campy horror.

The players didn't really know what the setting was going to be when we started play. They just knew it was going to be a Modern setting and that's about it. The characters were all pregen. I don't like to run people through a horror game with potentially high lethality using characters that players have spent hours and hours on. The players in this group seem to take that a little personally.

Donjon, on the other hand, turned out to be much higher on the lethality scale than either the Window or Call of Cthulhu session. Fully 1/3 of the party flat-out died, which is saying a lot, IMO, for Donjon. The PCs were really just interested in pushing the setting's buttons ala a game of Paranoia.

In other games, it often seems this group's M.O. it to break the session by turtling. Typical D&D games involve having to yank the players around by the neck most of the time.

Essentially, the players seemed to be turtling because they *knew* what Call of Cthulhu was about, IMO. They interpreted "winning" as making it through the most games with their Health and Sanity. Therefore, they were not curious about anything, left the area at the first sign of wierdness, wished out loud for failed skill checks, and one even rejoiced because he determined his character was illiterate (and thus could not lose Sanity from reading Mythos texts). Where, in the Window game, the group was playing to the genre, I found them to be "gaming the system" in Call of Cthulhu. Presumably, one could speculate that this may have been because there was very little system to game in The Window.

Scott


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: b_bankhead on November 14, 2003, 01:41:08 PM
Quote from: Scripty

In other games, it often seems this group's M.O. it to break the session by turtling. Typical D&D games involve having to yank the players around by the neck most of the time.

Essentially, the players seemed to be turtling because they *knew* what Call of Cthulhu was about, IMO. They interpreted "winning" as making it through the most games with their Health and Sanity. Therefore, they were not curious about anything, left the area at the first sign of wierdness, wished out loud for failed skill checks, and one even rejoiced because he determined his character was illiterate (and thus could not lose Sanity from reading Mythos texts). Where, in the Window game, the group was playing to the genre, I found them to be "gaming the system" in Call of Cthulhu. Presumably, one could speculate that this may have been because there was very little system to game in The Window.

Scott


I find your comments gratifying, the eery coincidence that you experenced is neither uncanny or coincidental, my insights are the direct result of playing and running dozens of CoC games over twenty years.

This 'turtle' behaviour you have noticed is the kissing cousin of what we call 'my guy'(also known as 'bunkering)  behaviour on the Forge.  It has been diagnosed as a dysfunctional attempt to maintain control over the character , and is the result of the inherently unequal relationship between player and gamemaster in standard rpgs.

In Call of Cthulhu it often comes about when people take an essentially gamist approach. to play.  As one respondent to these threads pointed out, it's possibe to take the idea of simply surviving in the game as 'victory'.  The corallary to this is avoiding anything that may threaten the character.  These players have essentially take the view that since they probably can't kill the monster THEY KILL THE SCENARIO INSTEAD BECAUSE IT'S MORE VULNERABLE. It's dysfuntional because the primary reason to play a Lovecraft game is to wallow in color, and this short circuits that.

I'm curious about the whole issue of the concept of character mortalilty in rpgs, and I am interested in what happens when the concept is removed.  I am presently adapting Trollbabe for Lovecraftian gaming and that game has a rule that a player can't be killed without  permission.  Is it possible to do this, run CoC or a Lovecraft game without player mortality? Or Mortality under much more narrowly defined constraints? Or for that matter any other rpg?  I think it would cure many aspects of 'turtle' behaviour.  Try it and let me know.....

As far as your experience with the chain gun, welll I have pointed out that in CoC the ONLY form of player effectiveness that can be accumulated reliably is more and bigger guns. You just carried this to it's logical extreme.


Title: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option
Post by: Ian Charvill on November 14, 2003, 02:17:28 PM
I agree broadly, that there are examples of very bad mystery scenario design in the Call of Cthulhu ouvre.  It's strikes me that it would be interesting to anatomize such a design - to look at a specific scenerio that had lead to the whiff and dead end pattern that's being cited.

I've come to the conclusion that in order to enjoy Cthulhu as it stands you have - the players have - to buy into into a particular style of play which I would guess fall into two specific camps: functional solve-the-mystery gamism and sim, exploration of colour.  These two styles may be helped by specific scenerio design and minor drifting of the rules.

This requirement to buy in either - depending how you look at it - limits the market or defines it.

I don't buy the turtling behaviour as the fault of CoC, though.  Unless someone wants to argue that turtling didn't exist before Cthulhu hit the scene or that turtling became much more common because of Cthulhu I'm not sure there's much mileage there.  Turtling is a desire to play gamist coupled with a refusal to Step-on-Up.