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Author Topic: Hot Lead and Hypocrisy: a rant on guns in Call of Cthulhu  (Read 42731 times)
simon_hibbs
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« Reply #30 on: March 16, 2004, 04:22:22 AM »

Quote from: John Kim

Just to review my position:  As far as I can tell, Call of Cthulhu is not trying to claim that it exactly reproduces the genre of Lovecraft stories with its adventures.   The overwhelming difference is having very different protagonists: a group of investigators who are continuous from one horror encounter to the next.


There are a number of examples of recurring characters in Mythos fiction, though not many in Lovecraft's own stories (Randolph Carter). Still, the game draws on more than just Lovecraft.

Quote
This is entirely intentional.  The PCs expect horrors and try to deal with them.  Based on this, the game text expects and indeed encourages a certain level of violence -- including firearms.  


But not just for gamist resons. As has been pointed out, there are many examples even in Lovecraft's own stories, where gunplay is very effective.


Quote
Channeling Ron for a moment, I suspect that there is some degree of synecdoche going on here.  i.e. The name is "Call of Cthulhu", so therefore the game should correctly emulate a particular genre and/or be more literary and/or be Narrativist....  But I don't see this in the actual game.


I do. It's true that the game often isn't run in a way that is pure and true to Lovecraft a his best, but then neither is Lovecraft himself at all times. Look beyond Lovecraft's own stories, as the game does, and there's ample justification for it's take on the genre.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
pete_darby
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« Reply #31 on: March 16, 2004, 05:28:29 AM »

Hmm... I know I'm projecting, but I get the feeling that Chaosium acquired the license, then very lightly altered BRP (essentially with the SAN mechanism, and an attempt to reduce the utility of guns against certain creatures) to attempt to sim 1920's reality with Lovecraft monsters on top, in preference to going back to scratch. Hence the perceived incoherence.

Also, John, I think the available techniques / deisgns comment really was that: was there anyone in commercial RPG design in 1982 thinking in terms of what we would recognise as narrative design, or rule systems that wholesale went for genre emulation above real-world simulation?

(this is, of course, an enormous tease, as I know about one off the top of my head, and he's not entirely unconnected with CoC...)

But there's a whole 'nother thread about to start there, and I'll start it when I'm not grossly extending my lunch...
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Pete Darby
simon_hibbs
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« Reply #32 on: March 16, 2004, 06:16:55 AM »

Quote from: pete_darby
Hmm... I know I'm projecting, but I get the feeling that Chaosium acquired the license, then very lightly altered BRP (essentially with the SAN mechanism, and an attempt to reduce the utility of guns against certain creatures) to attempt to sim 1920's reality with Lovecraft monsters on top, in preference to going back to scratch. Hence the perceived incoherence.


The project wasn't orriginaly given to Sandy. I don't know much about the first draft, but apparently it was a pretty poor effort based more closely on RQ2. It had a 'Graveyard Encounter Table'. Whoever was doing it wasn't realy getting anywhere, and when Sandy found out about it he offered to have a go. At that stage he's done the Gateway Bestiary for RQ and perhaps one or two other little things here and there, so they gave him a shot. That's what he told me, anyway.

Quote
Also, John, I think the available techniques / deisgns comment really was that: was there anyone in commercial RPG design in 1982 thinking in terms of what we would recognise as narrative design, or rule systems that wholesale went for genre emulation above real-world simulation?


I think that's what Sandy thought he was doing. IMHO the point of game such as RQ and CoC was to experience swords and sorcery, and Lovecraftian stories in first person mode through roleplaying. World simulation was simply the best/only tool available to achieve that. I don't think 'narative design' in terms of game rules was realy recognised though. Eric probably had some ideas along these line, which eventualy lead to the creation of the Amber Diceless RPG.

Some games were more specificaly game rather than fiction oriented. D&D came form wargaming, and so has always had a more gamist ethos.

Quote
(this is, of course, an enormous tease, as I know about one off the top of my head, and he's not entirely unconnected with CoC...)


Sorry, don't know who you mean.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
pete_darby
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« Reply #33 on: March 16, 2004, 07:13:44 AM »

Okay, I'll give... Greg Stafford, who put out Prince Valiant, but my research-fu was weak, and it turns out PV was 7 years later... but that kind of re-inforces my point, that AFAIK no-one was thinking in terms of subtracting what wasn't needed for the game, or rethinking the basic form of RPG's in order to better emulate the source material in 1982.

I'm really calling down the lightning here, aren't I? There's bound to be one big exception to this that I've missed...
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Pete Darby
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #34 on: March 16, 2004, 09:56:21 AM »

No, I think you're precisely right, Pete. I think they had a vision that they just couldn't accomplish with the sorts of rules they had at the time. I think it's patent from the text. That's not to say that people don't play the resulting game in ways that they enjoy, just that, typically, it requires some drift like ignoring some of the rules that you point out.

Mike
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John Kim
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« Reply #35 on: March 16, 2004, 11:06:53 AM »

Quote from: pete_darby
Also, John, I think the available techniques / deisgns comment really was that: was there anyone in commercial RPG design in 1982 thinking in terms of what we would recognise as narrative design, or rule systems that wholesale went for genre emulation above real-world simulation?

(this is, of course, an enormous tease, as I know about one off the top of my head, and he's not entirely unconnected with CoC...)

Well, as far as "narrative design" -- I guess you're talking about GNS Narrativism as Ron defines it?  If so, then no, his first example is 1989's Prince Valiant.  For genre emulation, ideas were just starting to appear.  The most notable example was 1981's Champions.  It had player-defined conflicts and relationships (Hunteds and DNPCs), the superheroic equipment rule, and supporting bits like Instant Change and others.  None of that is real-world simulation or even simulation of what-if-there-were-superpowers -- it is genre emulation of the comics.  Soon following were games like James Bond 007 (1983) and Toon (1984) and Pendragon (1985).  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
I think they had a vision that they just couldn't accomplish with the sorts of rules they had at the time. I think it's patent from the text. That's not to say that people don't play the resulting game in ways that they enjoy, just that, typically, it requires some drift like ignoring some of the rules that you point out.

Well, I don't really know anything about the designers directly, but I don't get the impression that they were very disappointed.  The game has gone through quite a few editions with various reorganization and rewriting, but the core rules have changed very little.  Most other long-lived games have had much more major changes with new editions.  If the designers were disappointed and really wanted more "modern" rules that they just hadn't thought of, surely something would appear in later editions -- or at least in articles or supplements.

For the latter part, I guess I missed something.  What rules are you saying people ignore in CoC?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #36 on: March 16, 2004, 02:32:05 PM »

Quote
Quote from: Mike Holmes
I think they had a vision that they just couldn't accomplish with the sorts of rules they had at the time. I think it's patent from the text. That's not to say that people don't play the resulting game in ways that they enjoy, just that, typically, it requires some drift like ignoring some of the rules that you point out.

Well, I don't really know anything about the designers directly, but I don't get the impression that they were very disappointed.  
Neither do I. I never said that. In fact, I'm sure that they were delighted that they got to play out Mythos related adventures.

Like I said, it's a technology issue. How can you miss a cell phone if you've never seen one. Once you've seen one, however, it can become a very in-demand item. They couldn't put die pools in their game because die pools had not yet been invented. Never mind that it might not have been an improvement to the game, it wasn't an option. Like die pools every innovation in gaming that came later wasn't available to these designers.

Quote
The game has gone through quite a few editions with various reorganization and rewriting, but the core rules have changed very little.  Most other long-lived games have had much more major changes with new editions.  If the designers were disappointed and really wanted more "modern" rules that they just hadn't thought of, surely something would appear in later editions -- or at least in articles or supplements.
I disagree. I can't think of a single game that has undergone serious revision between editions, actually. But this is an identity problem. When Tweet was asked why he didn't revise D&D more for the third edition he said that he would have, but he was told that if he changed it more, that it would no longer be recognizable as D&D, and therefore might lose players who were used to the rules.

Which is to say that they specifically avoided improvements because they were afraid of alienating their fan base. Which is a fine decision - these people are all playing happily then why fix what's not broken? Still, that doesn't mean that there weren't improvements that could be made in an objective sense - the designer thinks there were.

Quote
For the latter part, I guess I missed something.  What rules are you saying people ignore in CoC?
Well, to get back to the thread topic, the gun rules for instance. That is, they either try to follow the text which tells them that the game isn't all about carrying arsenals, and ignore the fact that this is the best way to "win." Or they ignore the text. There's a contradiction, and something has to give.

You say that your reading, that it's Mythos with guns, is the "proper" reading, but it seems to me to be a compromise position that's neither supported by the text or the rules. Which is not to say it wouldn't work, just to say that it's a classic example of what I'm talking about, people drifting the game to make it what they need it to be to be functional for how they want to play.

I've played dozens of games of CoC. And there are many different styles that people play in. They're all fun, but all come about by some adjustment of the rules to get functional play.

Mike
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GB Steve
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« Reply #37 on: March 17, 2004, 01:30:56 AM »

With others, I don't think CoC was ever designed to support a particular style of play. Incoherence cannot be applied because design golas were different.

I've played it in many different ways from gamist dungeon bash where SAN replaces HPs (not my favourite way at all) through to intense psycho-drama, all with the same rules.

The rules didn't do anything in particular to support the style of play, although they do perhaps favour the dungeon bash.

I've used other rules for running Mythos games, from diceless funny Over The Edge through to Pulpy d20 and with the right groups they've all worked pretty well. Personally, I don't like BRP but it's easy to use and understand and is no worse than many other systems for running Cthulhu games.
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John Kim
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« Reply #38 on: March 17, 2004, 09:06:50 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
  Like I said, it's a technology issue. How can you miss a cell phone if you've never seen one. Once you've seen one, however, it can become a very in-demand item. They couldn't put die pools in their game because die pools had not yet been invented. Never mind that it might not have been an improvement to the game, it wasn't an option. Like die pools every innovation in gaming that came later wasn't available to these designers.  

Wow.  I consider this totally wrong and in fact destructive to game design.  It's like pitying the makers Casablanca because they didn't have the color film and special effects to properly realize their film's vision.  I'm saying that's crap.  The makers of Casablanca weren't held back by the limitations of their technology -- they made a great film within the bounds of the film technology they had.  

I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from classic game design like Call of Cthulhu -- which consistently holds its own against the latest fashions of RPG design.  It isn't the place to look for the latest ways to roll dice, but within its set of techniques there is a lot of artistry.  But unfortunately, many people ignore this.  They ignore older games because they figure those poor backwards designers didn't know any better.  With no perspective, they design their games based only on the latest fashions -- like using dice pools simply because dice pools are the more "modern" and "advanced" way of doing things.  

But really, there is a simple way to prove this.  Point out or design the game which does what Call of Cthulhu does better.  If they try it, everyone will go to it because it is objectively better and more advanced.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #39 on: March 17, 2004, 09:27:51 AM »

Hello,

That's an interesting point, John. I agree with it halfway and disagree with it halfway.

I agree with it in terms of older games per se. As you know, I think a lot of them were and are brilliant. As I've said before, I'm still a big fan of Champions, especially the 2nd-to-3rd edition phase, and I still think Tunnels & Trolls and Marvel Super Heroes are pinnacles of design and presentation. And these are just some of my faves, not by any means a good representation of pre-1983 diversity of play/design. And I do think that Call of Cthulhu represents some seriously functional and powerful game design, of a particular sort (people have probably noted that I don't jump in with all sorts of critique in this series of threads; that's because I'm not especially seeing flaws in the game given how its parts operate among one another).

On the other hand, I think that you might be asking a bit too much of the market as it stands to expect it to reflect "play quality" of games, at least not solely. I think that such a trend does exist to a great extent, when one steps back far enough (e.g. Marvel Super Heroes is played consistently to date despite its utter absence in the commercial environment) ... but also that games' success can also arise from subcultural identification and product loyalty. White Wolf games seem to me to be excellent examples, and I think that Cthulhu-esque fandom and fanfic are sufficiently linked to Call of Cthulhu the role-playing game as to be nearly identical. So actual play, and success thereof, may not be the single overriding variable involved.

So I'm hopping in to suggest that perhaps what this thread needs is a little focus about just what's being debated. When I start half-agreeing and half-disagreeing with various posts (and John's is just one), it's a sign that I, at least, am getting confused about that.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #40 on: March 17, 2004, 09:34:32 AM »

I don't entirely disagree with your main point above John, but I do think that reality is somewhere in between.  You say that the Casablanca film makers weren't held back because the film wasn't in color...but I'm willing to bet that if color had been an option, they would have leapt at it.  Further we know for a fact that Lucas felt held back by the level of technology he had to work with with Star Wars, because he did go back and rework it once new technology became available.

In fact, I'd say this:
Quote
they made a great film within the bounds of the film technology they had.
is pretty much exactly the same thing Mike just said, and that you're not disagreeing with him at all.


Quote
If they try it, everyone will go to it because it is objectively better and more advanced.


But this is simply an impossible standard.  Its never been true of any product line let alone RPGs.  I reject any attempt to apply it as a yard stick of quality.
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John Kim
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« Reply #41 on: March 17, 2004, 10:36:18 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
You say that the Casablanca film makers weren't held back because the film wasn't in color...but I'm willing to bet that if color had been an option, they would have leapt at it.  Further we know for a fact that Lucas felt held back by the level of technology he had to work with with Star Wars, because he did go back and rework it once new technology became available.

While that's true about the behavior of most film-makers (who have commercial interests) -- I would ask: did the advanced technology make Star Wars a better film?  In my opinion, no, it made it worse.  In fact, I think the changes demonstrate exactly my worry:  that new technology makes things worse because people insist on using it even where it is inappropriate.  

So while one should be aware of new technology, I don't think too much should be made of it.  I wouldn't want to particularly glorify the early 80s.  Most other games from 1981 were quite rightly forgotten, like Crimefighters and Universe and Wild West.  But I think that games like Champions and Call of Cthulhu (both from 1981) have proven themselves, and I think it is a horrible idea to dismiss them as failures caused by designer ignorance.  

Quote from: Valamir
Quote from: John Kim
If they try it, everyone will go to it because it is objectively better and more advanced.

But this is simply an impossible standard.  Its never been true of any product line let alone RPGs.  I reject any attempt to apply it as a yard stick of quality.

Well, OK.  As I phrased it, this was over the top.  However, the lack of an objective yardstick is exactly my point.  Games are not technology, and you are never going to be able to say that one is objectively more "advanced".  Like any other art form, opinions will differ.  There are, of course, real differences in quality -- but there is no objective yardstick.
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ChefKyle
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« Reply #42 on: March 22, 2004, 09:04:29 PM »

Quote from: John Kim

I would ask: did the advanced technology make Star Wars a better film?  In my opinion, no, it made it worse.  In fact, I think the changes demonstrate exactly my worry:  that new technology makes things worse because people insist on using it even where it is inappropriate.


I think that's a profound insight into all media (lumping rpgs in with "media" for the moment). The first "talkies", you go back and watch them and they're a veritable cacophany. "We have sound! Let's use it!" Similarly with colour film. Wizard of Oz is a classic example - so colourful it's garish.

I honestly got the impression with the Matrix movies that they didn't have a story to tell, and then applied the CGI to it, but that they had the CGI, and made up a story for it. "Okay, we can make people do things they enver could in the real world, only in a virtual world. So, what's our excuse for having them do such things? Hey! Maybe the whole world could be a virtual world!"

Each new technology in media has been like that. Rather than have something to say, a story to tell, and using the technology as a tool to tell that story, they shaped the story around the tool, to use the tool as much as they could. It took a decade or two for film-makers using sound to realise the virtue of silence; it took a similar period for film-makers using colour to realise the virtue of drab colours to tell certain stories.

And at times, someone will create something as a reaction against all that. I mean, Saving Private Ryan may as well have been in black and white.

I think it's a similar story with things such as dice pools, or glossy chainmail bikini pictures. Once someone achieves it, everyone else wants to use it, and they go a bit crazy with it. Then someone else reacts against it, and does the opposite. So, about the same time dice pools came about and people were rolling great handfuls of dice, along comes Diceless Gaming. Nowadays, at the same time as we've got the Great Glossy Hundred Dollar Book Chainmail Bikini Pics games, we've also got huge numbers of free games online, and cheapie games in shops, printed on someone's photocopier.

I suspect the anti-gun speech in CoC was a reaction against the dungeon crawling that was so popular at the time. Perhaps it wasn't even intended completely sincerely. It may have been, "the players are going to want to blow everything up. If I tell them they can not blow anything up, they still will, but it'll pull them from their extreme into a sensible middle ground."
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Kyle
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Ole
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« Reply #43 on: March 23, 2004, 02:39:26 AM »

Quote from: ChefKyle
I suspect the anti-gun speech in CoC was a reaction against the dungeon crawling that was so popular at the time. Perhaps it wasn't even intended completely sincerely. It may have been, "the players are going to want to blow everything up. If I tell them they can not blow anything up, they still will, but it'll pull them from their extreme into a sensible middle ground."

Last time I checked CoC was in its fifth edition, and dungeon crawls were going out of fashion around the 2nd. So if it were correct, why would they still cling to this attitude? Why they havent bothered to make any significant changes to a rather poor system is another question.
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Ole Bergesen
ChefKyle
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« Reply #44 on: March 23, 2004, 04:26:38 PM »

Quote from: Ole

Last time I checked CoC was in its fifth edition, and dungeon crawls were going out of fashion around the 2nd. So if it were correct, why would they still cling to this attitude? Why they havent bothered to make any significant changes to a rather poor system is another question.


When, precisely, did dungeon-crawls go out of fashion? D&D and Hackmaster are still selling like mad. Every roleplaying club I know of has at least one dungeon-crawl-type game going on. They have other games, but always there's a bunch of guys playing and counting hit points.

I think there was a brief period in the early 90s when traditional dungeon-crawls got replaced for a summer or two by a bit of Vampire angst, but then the rest of the World of Darkness came along, and if you can't do a dungeon-crawl with Werewolf I don't know what you can do it with.

But this is all perception of game styles. My perceptions, my memories of the sequence of fashionable games and styles may be right out of whack with everyone else's. I don't know. But thinking of why the writer kept the text in, we can always consider his perceptions. Did he think that dungeon-crawls were still a "danger"? Or that they might be a "danger" to CoC sometime in the life of the books going out?

Also remember that when you write a book, it's not just for today - especially a roleplaying book. Someone might still be playing with that copy ten or twenty years from now. So, when you write a roleplaying book, you're thinking not just of people's reactions today, but of their reactions years hence. So the writer might have thought, "okay, dungeon crawls ain't so fashionable today, but they might pop up again in a few years. So better keep that section in."

The other element to consider is, I'm sure the publishing types here have a more common term, I'll call it "reprint inertia." This is the tendency of people when doing a reprint, or new edition, to change as little as possible. This is for reasons of laziness, finance, that sort of thing. So, you get the same illustrations in 2nd Edition as in 1st. The same text, etc. Just one or two changes. Whack out a paragraph, and you have to reformat that page, and maybe a dozen other pages. That's a few hours work, at least. "This paragraph isn't great, but is it worth the work of reformatting the other pages? Do we have another illustration to slot in to fill the space? What? The artist wants another hundred bucks? Naw, leave the paragraph in."

As to their doing the rules, this has already been answered for you. You alter the rules too much, you alienate your fanbase. You might get new fans, but you will definitely piss off the old fans. Given that publishing game systems is a business affair, it's too much of a risk to take just because someone doesn't like hit points or whatever.

A rewrite of the system also entails a rewrite of the supplements already printed for that system. That's a lot of work, which may or may not give you good financial results. It also, as I noted, annoys the current fans, who say, "what, I have to buy all those books again? You money-grabbing swine!"

I'd also note that CoC has sold well all these years. If it's selling well, the owners don't care if people are complaining. Their yardstick of whether to change things, of the level of satisfaction, is sales figures. If it's selling, then it ain't broke, so don't fix it.

If it's not selling, then the writers go broke, and can't fix anything:)
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Kyle
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