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Author Topic: Hot Lead and Hypocrisy: a rant on guns in Call of Cthulhu  (Read 43218 times)
Russell Impagliazzo
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Posts: 13


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« Reply #45 on: March 23, 2004, 04:44:39 PM »

I haven't played all that often, but from the few times I have, it seems to me
that criticism of this game as being incoherrent are based on some false
premises.  

When I have played CoC, always as a one-shot, the game fit the paradigm
of Narrativist/Dramatist pretty well.  One question that's been asked is:
Why does the game claim to reward investigation when violence is more
effective?    Actually, playing CoC made clear to me exactly what a
discrepancy there is in the term `reward''.  The system does NOT
reward characters at all.   The best thing for a character to ACTUALLY
do in any situation is to run  or hide while pretending to themselves it is
all a bad dream.  The system rewards players with the experiences of
(if you're immersive) or opportunity to portray in an unrestrained way
(if you take the actor stance)  a character in a nightmarish situation
beyond comprehension.   The tone of the game can range from
terror and disgust to comedy, depending on how deep you get into
character.  

All seeming success in CoC is either a holding action or driving
your characters further on to greater horrors.  If your gangster
character evades the cops, he'll soon realize that he'd have been
better off in prison.  If your researcher finds clues to where the
kidnap victim was taken, he regrets it when the victim transforms
into a demon-possessed creature.    They're right when they
say you can't win through violence.  It's just that characters
can't win, period.  

The times I played it, all the players thought the point
of the game was to suffer horror in character, and add dramatic
elements to the story.    Some characters react to panic by violence,
others by curling into a fetal position,  still others by espousing the
darkness.  All of these methods are equally valid and effective,
i.e., they all eventually lead to destruction.  The rules were just
about what the system
required.    They made some distinctions between the characters,
giving each character spotlight time,
but didn't slow down the descent into horror.  I think the success
of CoC is that it really is a very rules-light system, where the
rules are easy to learn and don't interfere in the storytelling, with a few
twists that enhanced the mood.
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Ole
Member

Posts: 24


« Reply #46 on: March 24, 2004, 04:39:30 AM »

Quote from: ChefKyle
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.


Well, it was you that said:
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."


When CoC was developed, around 78-80 I imagine, one could assume that a large majority of players came from a dungeon crawling background, and didnt even know there was any alternative. Today I`d estimate that about a quarter of all players do dungeon crawls, or todays equivalent, but most of them know that there are other styles of play.
So why the anti-gun speach, especially when violence plays a crucial role in most scenarios?

Quote

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."


I browsed quickly through the 4th ed. rulebook, but I couldnt find that passage there. The focus on the non-combatitive aspects of the game is still there though.

Quote
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.

It explains it, but it doesnt excuse it.
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Ole Bergesen
John Kim
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« Reply #47 on: March 24, 2004, 08:53:14 AM »

Quote from: Ole
  When CoC was developed, around 78-80 I imagine, one could assume that a large majority of players came from a dungeon crawling background, and didnt even know there was any alternative. Today I`d estimate that about a quarter of all players do dungeon crawls, or todays equivalent, but most of them know that there are other styles of play.
So why the anti-gun speach, especially when violence plays a crucial role in most scenarios?  

While non-dungeon-crawl styles exist, it is still true that virtually all RPGs are about action-adventure -- where the PCs are adventurers who are far beyond normal folk or (more likely) actually superhuman.  Call of Cthulhu remains pretty rare in just how normal and vulnerable the PCs are, particularly compared to their expected opposition.  Even if the players are used to playing popular "horror" RPGs like Vampire or Werewolf, they might be pretty shocked if they play the same way they are used to and their PCs drop like flies.  Given this expected background, I think it makes sense to urge caution and planning to the players.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #48 on: March 24, 2004, 12:33:23 PM »

Quote
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.


Did somebody call them failures? I certainly didn't. I've been talking about how successful they've been despite any problems they may have had. I think that Brian (who I wish would rejoin his thread) is over the top in displaying his dismay at the problems. It's precisely my argument that he's arguing that the game has no cell-phones when it was designed before cell-phones were invented. I'm saying that his arguments about it's problems are problematic themselves because they fail to take the design into historical context. He wants the games to work like games today work when they were invented waybackwhen.

So, while I can understand his complaints in the form of "this game isn't for me" all I think that gives us is his opinion.

And I do think that there have been better adaptations of CoC since then - at the very least ones that don't have the incoherence problems that CoC has. Again, remember that incoherence doesn't make a game unplayable, it just means that all play that's coherent is drifted from what the text suggests. And I'll stand by that statement, having played as much Cthulhu or more than the next guy.

Mike
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John Kim
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« Reply #49 on: March 24, 2004, 12:58:10 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
  And I do think that there have been better adaptations of CoC since then - at the very least ones that don't have the incoherence problems that CoC has. Again, remember that incoherence doesn't make a game unplayable, it just means that all play that's coherent is drifted from what the text suggests. And I'll stand by that statement, having played as much Cthulhu or more than the next guy.  

Maybe a comparison would help.  So what are the better adaptations of CoC, and more specifically, how do they approach the question of violence?
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- John
James Holloway
Member

Posts: 372


« Reply #50 on: March 24, 2004, 02:26:33 PM »

Quote from: Ole

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:)

The only thing I have to add is that I get the distinct impression that CoC does not sell terribly well. I mean, clearly it's sold well enough to stay in print all these years, but new releases are a trickle. The game is definitely very popular among its fans (like me) but I wouldn't say it sells a lot these days.
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JDJarvis
Member

Posts: 4


« Reply #51 on: March 24, 2004, 02:51:53 PM »

Haven't played or GMd CoC in a long time but i can see how folks can think guns are going to let them win all the time even if it really will not work that way in every adventure.

Folks just don't have a lot of hp in CoC compared to the weapon damages, most folks even crazed cultists might think about sneaking and running since they want to live to see another day.

One doesn't have to bust up a ring of cultists with a shotgun, one can use a camera instead and develop the film later to figure out who the cultists were and follow up on the leads that creates, the cultists are just as warned as they would be by a flurry of shotgun fire but the GM and players are left with something to work from afterwards. You can't follow a corpse about for days and keep track of who it talks to and where it goes (not usually).

For the players a lot of fights should be avoidable by getting the heck out of dodge or just never getting noticed. GMs should profit by encouraging/allowing the success of this, a GM has to develop far fewer npcs if they (the npcs) aren't all that  likely to get thier heads blown off.
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DannyK
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« Reply #52 on: March 24, 2004, 07:11:03 PM »

In a way I see Unknown Armies as the heir to CoC -- it's got a greatly improved Sanity mechanic, it's got a rough division between crazy magic-users and tough guys, it's got a greatly improved combat system that keeps some of the same flavor -- combat is a highly effective problem-solving technique, but is also highly lethal.

Has anyone tried running Cthulhu scenarios using UA rules?  One big advantage I can see right off is that you'd get a more flexible Sanity mechanic, and that combat could cause madness just like Mythos encounters can.

Also, chargen would be so much easier!  A few months ago, I had to create a UA and a CoC character simultaneously for two separate games.  For the CoC character, I downloaded the freeware program Byakhee and worked on it for a couple of hours.  

For the UA game, it took about 25 minutes and I had a much better sense of who the character was after figuring out the names of his skills, rage stimuli, etc.  


I've also heard of folks adapting the Adventure! ruleset to really amp up the pulpiness in Masks of Nyarlathotep.

DannyK
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #53 on: March 24, 2004, 10:35:25 PM »

Quote from: Ole
Quote
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.

It explains it, but it doesnt excuse it.

Are you sure?

Any fix they make to CoC is going to be "wrong" for a sizable chunk of their fan base; and their fan base is not all that large as it is.

One of the promises we made in the text of Multiverser is that if there are any future editions, they will be fully compatible with anything that has been published before. Many games publish what they call new "editions" that are really new games that require you to rewrite any setting/scenario material you've already got, redo or discard your old characters, and rethink your entire approach to play.

I own every OAD&D hardcover in print (except Legends & Lore, but I own a couple copies of Deities & Demigods). I own a couple of AD&D2 books and supplements that I have either shoehorned into the OAD&D system or dumped in a drawer somewhere to be forgotten. I own the two core books for 3E because they were given to me, and I find them so completely incompatible with anything I've done with D&D in the past that I'm not even wasting my time reading them all the way through. I had long hoped for an edition of D&D that would bring everything together, not one that would splinter it further apart. Now, a lot of people like 3E; but a lot of the old players, like me, won't drop a dime on it, because too many things have been changed.

I don't think that CoC should rewrite Call of Cthulu to a new, modern, system. I think they should think about how to tweak what they've got in very small ways, to fine tune it without alienating their fan base, or they should stick with the current version, or they should stop publishing it altogether.

It may well be that there's a place for a new Cthulu game, but it should have a new name and clearly be a different game. That way people who like the old game don't feel like their game has been ruined, and people who want something different from their Lovecraftian horror can try the new approach.

--M. J. Young
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Ole
Member

Posts: 24


« Reply #54 on: March 25, 2004, 01:24:07 AM »

Quote from: James Holloway
Quote from: Ole

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:)


I didnt write that.
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Ole Bergesen
komradebob
Member

Posts: 462


« Reply #55 on: March 25, 2004, 06:49:05 AM »

Okay, it has been a while since i played CoC, so I am not as familiar with later editions of the game. In the older edition that i played, I seem to recall that gun usage was encouraged by chargen.

Huh?

Basically, CoC only has 4 types of gun skills: pistol, rifle, shotgun and smg. I recall a similar number of melee type skills.

Inotherwords, to be very good with commonly available weapons, a player need only spend a few points on one or two skills.

By comparison, an investigative oriented character must spread a limited number of points over a wide variety of skills. Usually I've seen this done as a group effort, leading to groups consisting oof things like a smg toting librarian, a pistolero linguist, a shotgun-happy biochemist, and huntsman/tracker type.

As a rules tweak, one might either further differentiate weapon types ( frex, pcs don't bump up their pistol skill, they bump up their .45 automatic skill or their Luger skill) OR, start lumping together investigative type skills ( Instead of Read/write French, R/w Latin, Speak Swahili, the characters get something like R/W ancient languages, Speak Regional Languages: Western European).

Optionally, one might differentiate groups of skills based on character type/profession. I recall that CoC already does this to some extent, but it could go a bit further, perhaps having higher minimum skill scores for profession ( Perhaps allowing PCs to add their EDU score as percentage points to all skills related to their profession at the beginning of play).

Robert
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #56 on: March 25, 2004, 09:12:47 AM »

Quote from: John Kim
Maybe a comparison would help.  So what are the better adaptations of CoC, and more specifically, how do they approach the question of violence?


Cthonian comes to mind:
http://zaknet.tripod.com/hmouse/games/chthonian.html

It handles violence as just another form of conflict. In not priviliging combat, it makes it just another potential means to success. Meaning that players will be influenced by the subject matter, and not by the system in trying to determine how to proceed.

In fact, wasn't it Zak who reported a lot of success with D20 Cthulhu? Also, didn't Jared do something Cthulhu-esque at some point?

In any case, consider this - what makes CoC's system better for play than, say, Hero System? Or GURPs (which does also have some Chthulhu stuff)? Is it just the sanity system? Or is there something about that combat system that makes BRP better for Lovecraftian horror than other systems? Or is it merely "adequate"?

Mike
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James Holloway
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« Reply #57 on: March 25, 2004, 02:19:37 PM »

Quote from: Ole
Quote from: James Holloway
Quote from: Ole

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:)


I didnt write that.

d'oh. Sorry Ole.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #58 on: March 25, 2004, 02:37:05 PM »

Following up on the post above, I've been reminded that indeed, yes, Jared has written two supplements for Cthulhu...one for Inspectres, and one for Squeam. Either of which sound like a hoot.

Mike
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John Kim
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« Reply #59 on: March 25, 2004, 02:46:55 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Quote from: John Kim
Maybe a comparison would help.  So what are the better adaptations of CoC, and more specifically, how do they approach the question of violence?

Cthonian comes to mind:  http://zaknet.tripod.com/hmouse/games/chthonian.html

It handles violence as just another form of conflict. In not priviliging combat, it makes it just another potential means to success. Meaning that players will be influenced by the subject matter, and not by the system in trying to determine how to proceed.

Thanks for the pointer.  I was vaguely aware of Cthonian from putting it on my list, but I'll take a closer look at it.  I disagree about your system comment though.  The system always has an influence.  There is no such thing as the "natural" or "neutral" choice for system which automatically represents any subject matter.  Rather, the system has to be chosen to match the subject matter.  In this case, it's not clear to me that treating non-violent resolution as equal and indeed identical is best for a horror game.  But I should look over Cthonian some more to decide.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
In any case, consider this - what makes CoC's system better for play than, say, Hero System? Or GURPs (which does also have some Chthulhu stuff)? Is it just the sanity system? Or is there something about that combat system that makes BRP better for Lovecraftian horror than other systems? Or is it merely "adequate"?

Well, in my opinion, there are a whole lot of things.

1) BRP character creation emphasizes the mundanity and similarity of characters.  All characters have all skills; and individuals do not have special mechanical distinctions like talents, feats, or advantages.  This is reinforced in flavor by the simple verb skills like "Climb" and "Hide".  

2) Character creation also emphasizes the characters more as products of the real world, by basing skill on "Education" and requiring a normal occupation.  HERO and GURPS tend to produce distinctive heroes or even freaks.  CoC at most produces eccentrics.  

3) The combat system is far more lethal than the HERO combat system, and is also procedurally quicker and simpler.  It does not have flashy maneuver choices like "Haymaker" or "Martial Throw".  This makes the combat more gritty and less cinematic.  There is a big impact from a fast-resolved instant death.  

4) The percentile system is relatively high-variance compared to skill.  So there is usually a fair chance of failure.  Characters are less likely to be sure of themselves with, say, an 75% skill vs a 16- on 3d6 (which is 98.1%).  Uncertainly is good for horror, and not good for confident heroes.
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