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Author Topic: Hot Lead and Hypocrisy: a rant on guns in Call of Cthulhu  (Read 42430 times)
John Kim
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Posts: 1805


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« Reply #15 on: March 13, 2004, 12:36:57 PM »

Quote from: Ole
  So basically you spend hours reading handouts and piecing together information, blast the cultists to kingdom come, steal a musty old-book, spend 3 months reading it (hopefully staying sane), use the information in the book to save the world.

Hypocrisy about violence? You betcha. The introductory material and rules commonly emphasise that this is a game about investigation, and violence will get you nowhere.
The big problem is when players actually buy into this, and create investigators without combat-skills. I`ve yet to see an adventure where violence isnt a necessity at some crucial point.  

OK, I've re-read the Call of Cthulhu main book.  While I can see where you (and bankhead) get that, I think you are projecting too much into it.  Consider that most gamers are used to the model of D&D and other heroic games where you immediately meet a monster and kill it.  There is an "Expectations & Play" section in the introduction, which says the following:
Quote
Call of Cthulhu differs in feel and motivation from other roleplaying games.  In many such games, player-characters can directly confront and attempt to destroy obstacles and opponents.  This strategy typically leads to disaster in Cthulhu scenarios.  The majority of other-world monstrosities are so terrible and often so invulnerable that choosing open combat almost guarantees a gruesome end for an investigator.
...
Different Investigators
Are any investigators specialists?  One handy sort is the wise old professor who knows foreign languages, reads arcane manuscripts, and pieces together Sanity-blasting spells able to send the Elder Horrors back whence they came.  He or she is typically little use if a fight develops, and generally has low Sanity points, due to intensive study of the Mythos.
   An opposite sort is the tough operator able to fight well with fists or guns.  He or she should leave the eldritch aspects of the Mythos to others and remain a bodyguard and scout.  He or she can be helpful with police and gangsters.
...
Avoid Gunfights
Every group of players has its own feel and customs.  If gangsters and foreign spies are common features in a campaign, all the investigators probably carry concealed weapons for self-defense.  The number of devastating weapons floating about in the 1990s practically demands sidearms.
...
By all means have lots of firearms.  But do not rely on firearms.  

I don't consider this to be hypocritical.  I think it is simply trying to paint exactly the picture you (Ole) paint of adventures: some investigation and some gunplay.  The point of this is to distinguish CoC from games like D&D or Feng Shui.
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- John
Ole
Member

Posts: 24


« Reply #16 on: March 13, 2004, 01:42:51 PM »

komradebob: You are right about the T-gun. It might be that the version in CoC is the 1929-modell, or it might be that I`m confusing it with another gun.

Quote from: John Kim

OK, I've re-read the Call of Cthulhu main book.  While I can see where you (and bankhead) get that, I think you are projecting too much into it.  Consider that most gamers are used to the model of D&D and other heroic games where you immediately meet a monster and kill it.  There is an "Expectations & Play" section in the introduction, which says the following:
Quote
Call of Cthulhu differs in feel and motivation from other roleplaying games.  In many such games, player-characters can directly confront and attempt to destroy obstacles and opponents.  This strategy typically leads to disaster in Cthulhu scenarios.  The majority of other-world monstrosities are so terrible and often so invulnerable that choosing open combat almost guarantees a gruesome end for an investigator.


Actually, what typically leads to disaster is lack of martial skills. For a few, but very important, entities, another approach is needed.

Quote
Different Investigators
Are any investigators specialists?  One handy sort is the wise old professor who knows foreign languages, reads arcane manuscripts, and pieces together Sanity-blasting spells able to send the Elder Horrors back whence they came.  He or she is typically little use if a fight develops, and generally has low Sanity points, due to intensive study of the Mythos.
   An opposite sort is the tough operator able to fight well with fists or guns.  He or she should leave the eldritch aspects of the Mythos to others and remain a bodyguard and scout.  He or she can be helpful with police and gangsters.


...notice how it omits monsters? Such a character would be really helpful against 95% of the monsters encountered. Why dont they tell us that?

Quote
Avoid Gunfights
Every group of players has its own feel and customs.  If gangsters and foreign spies are common features in a campaign, all the investigators probably carry concealed weapons for self-defense.  The number of devastating weapons floating about in the 1990s practically demands sidearms.
...
By all means have lots of firearms.  But do not rely on firearms.


Avoid gunfights? Yet most adventures requires violence, sometimes lots of it. Its more like:

Combat is lethal. Carry and use firearms, but do not rely solely on them (sometimes you need explosives or a musty old book).

Quote
I don't consider this to be hypocritical.  I think it is simply trying to paint exactly the picture you (Ole) paint of adventures: some investigation and some gunplay.  The point of this is to distinguish CoC from games like D&D or Feng Shui.


If the point of all this is to differentiate CoC from DnD, the designers obviously think exaggeration is the best method.
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Ole Bergesen
Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #17 on: March 13, 2004, 02:12:30 PM »

While I can see where people are coming from, I think that the accusations of hypocrisy are unfounded.

The very first scenario in my 5th-edition copy of CoC, entitled "The Edge of Darkness" and being nine pages long, does not require guns or violence at all.

SPOILER WARNING for "The Edge of Darkness"

Instance of violence come down to the following in this 'haunted house' scenario:

(1) A scared hobo tries to flee the cellar when the investigators stumble upon him. He is using an old table leg for a single attack and then tries to escape. He will fight if his escape route is blocked, but there is no harm in letting him go (i.e., he takes no crucial clues with him) and subduing him should be easy even for unarmed bookish types.

(2) The first investigator to take a look into the attic has a fair chance of getting his head torn off. However, the characters can only withdraw as the lurker in the attic cannot be hurt by physical weapons (and the investigators are specifically not assumed to have any spells).

(3) Two animated corpses try to lure the investigators out of the house or eventually threaten to fight their way in. However, the investigators are perfectly safe inside.

SPOILER ENDING

That's it. No need for guns. Not even a single attack roll is required.

Obviously, there are other types of scenarios, but this one fits the CoC stereotype - mythos monsters are invincible, player characters are investigators rather than commandoes - nicely. And as John has pointed out, CoC doesn't really subscribe to the stereotypes about itself.

Regards,

Hal
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komradebob
Member

Posts: 462


« Reply #18 on: March 13, 2004, 02:32:37 PM »

One of the things I've noticed about CoC ( and other Realworldish setting that use firearms) is just how accurate weapons fire is. To be honest, amateurs with guns should not hit as often as they do. Like, put their chance tohit in the single digit percentages excxept under optimal circumstances. And when I say amateur, I mean everyone short of a well seasoned soldier, with both training and hard won experience, plus natural talent.

OTOH single bullets from weapons also seem less deadly than they really should be. It is hard for me to imagine a game designer that doesn't consider that a single bullet should well be capable of killing even an execeedingly strong and healthy human being. Perhaps the chance is small, but it should be there.

As for hypocrisy, well maybe.

Perhaps what is missing is repurcussions for one's actions. I mentioned in an earlier post that guns were readily accessible in the US in the interwar years. Consider, however, that their use has repurcussions. Cops or military personnel acting under orders might well be able to get away with destroying a Deep One horde and infested town.  A bunch of college professors and a couple of low-class PIs wasting a nice old eccentric and his psychic medium friend is just bucking for a visit with Ol' Sparky.  If the pcs are miners that blew up a shaft to "stop a monster", get ready to do a Sacco and Vanzetti sequel. Hey, nobody likes anarchist terrorists anyway, especially not juries loaded with upstanding middle-class citizens.
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Ole
Member

Posts: 24


« Reply #19 on: March 13, 2004, 03:29:36 PM »

Quote from: Halzebier
While I can see where people are coming from, I think that the accusations of hypocrisy are unfounded.

The very first scenario in my 5th-edition copy of CoC, entitled "The Edge of Darkness" and being nine pages long, does not require guns or violence at all.

Obviously, there are other types of scenarios, but this one fits the CoC stereotype - mythos monsters are invincible, player characters are investigators rather than commandoes - nicely. And as John has pointed out, CoC doesn't really subscribe to the stereotypes about itself.


Yes there are other types of scenarios as well, for example there are three other introductory scenarios in 5th ed. CoC. Two of them has violent climatic  endings, the last one has a good probability of it.
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Ole Bergesen
Valamir
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« Reply #20 on: March 14, 2004, 07:49:33 AM »

Geeze louise.

Its amazing the depths that people will go to avoid discussing a topic by nitpicking the appropriateness of a single world to death.

Fine.  There are people, even a sizeable number, who do not consider the situation Chris describes to be hypocritical.  Others do.  Fine, big whoop.

Can we try discussing the actual issue he brought forward regarding the nature of CoC actual play that is encouraged by the BRP rules, and whether that really reflects the nature and mood of Mythos stories as well as it should.  

To me the BRP system doesn't do anything at all to reflect the nature and mood of the Mythos stories.  The game designers expect the players to already be fully aware of the mythos and simply mimick the stories in play regardless of what the rules suggest the best course of action is.

The stories suggest a character in the mythos should investigate occult arcana, willingly searching for the knowledge that man was not meant to know.  The rules, however, make it clear that this is a bad idea.  So, players desireing to mimic the mythos must voluntarily do something which they know the game will punish them for...and to make matters have even less of a mythos feel, they know pretty much exactly how and when they're going to be punished also.

There is very little built into the rules to support mythos play.  And by support I mean someone whose never read a mythos story, heard about them, or even heard the name of Cthulhu before, could sit down, play a couple of games, and after getting over the learning curve of the rules come away from the table with a pretty good idea what a Mythos story looks like.

That's the point of Chris's three threads on the subject.  That is what I would find much more interesting to discuss.
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Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #21 on: March 14, 2004, 08:34:55 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
Geeze louise.

Its amazing the depths that people will go to avoid discussing a topic by nitpicking the appropriateness of a single world to death.


Well, it's a negative term, so some people are bound to take exception to its use.

And might I point out that in my opinion your deliberate or continued use of negative terms (e.g. calling immersive play 'selfish') has sometimes had the same effect, i.e. hindered discussion.

Quote
Can we try discussing the actual issue he brought forward regarding the nature of CoC actual play that is encouraged by the BRP rules, and whether that really reflects the nature and mood of Mythos stories as well as it should.


Okay, first of all we need to distinguish at least two types of mythos stories, I think.

The distinction isn't always clear-cut, but I'll try to start a list of key features:

Type 1: detective work in libraries, starring bookish types
Type 2: detective work in the field, starring hard-boiled types

I'd place "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" in the first category and "The Shadow over Innsmouth" in the second.

As far as I can tell, the CoC-as-written tries to cater to both types, which might be asking for trouble...

*-*-*

Regarding Type 1, there is the introductory scenario "The Edge of Darkness" which requires no violence and is solved by reading the right books.

From a system perspective, the skill "Library Use" suggests to the reader that poring over musty tomes is an important part of play.

(As has been pointed out in a previous thread, detective work may be a red herring, but that's another topic.)

My suggestion for improving CoC for this type of play? Use a very simple, karma-based combat system - or better yet, have no special sub-system at all. This would suggest to the reader that combat is rare and even luck won't help you againt a mythos creature.

*-*-*

Regarding Type 2, there is the famous campaign "The Masks of Nyarlathotep" which has plenty of shoot-outs with mad cultists (or so I've heard).

From a system perspective, detailed rules for firearms seem to suggest to the reader that guns are important.

My suggestion for improving CoC for this type of play? Dunno. Use a pulpish combat system a la Feng Shui, perhaps.

*-*-*

(Note how both examples merely suggest the importance of a certain aspect to the reader. Neither necessarily supports the associated type of play. Detailed rules for firearms do not guarantee satisfying pulp-style play, for instance.)


Regards,

Hal
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Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #22 on: March 14, 2004, 08:46:18 AM »

Quote from: Halzebier
And might I point out that in my opinion your deliberate or continued use of negative terms (e.g. calling immersive play 'selfish') has sometimes had the same effect, i.e. hindered discussion.


I apologize - this comes across as harsher than intended.

My point is this: Provocation and a bit of polemic can be a great, not to mention fun, way of stirring up a lively discussion. But it's the nature of the beast that a discussion thus started will to some extent be emotional, defensive, or polemical - in short, not overly suited for making constructive progress.

Regards,

Hal
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John Kim
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« Reply #23 on: March 14, 2004, 11:07:03 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
There is very little built into the rules to support mythos play.  And by support I mean someone whose never read a mythos story, heard about them, or even heard the name of Cthulhu before, could sit down, play a couple of games, and after getting over the learning curve of the rules come away from the table with a pretty good idea what a Mythos story looks like.

That's the point of Chris's three threads on the subject.  That is what I would find much more interesting to discuss.

Er, OK.  I thought this topic was more specifically about violence and gunplay rather than about genre emulation in general.  (Chris?  Were we going off-topic?)  If the question is about genre emulation: sure, I agree.  The CoC game isn't designed to reproduce Lovecraft stories.  Its adventures form a distinct subgenre from the subgenre of HPL stories, with (for example) amateur but dedicated investigators who are semi-continuous from one adventure to the next.  Violence plays a greater part, which IMO is natural since within a campaign the PCs are soon aware of horrors and actively seeking to stop them.  (i.e. closer to Hal's #2.)
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- John
Ian Charvill
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Posts: 377


« Reply #24 on: March 15, 2004, 12:36:31 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
There is very little built into the rules to support mythos play.  And by support I mean someone whose never read a mythos story, heard about them, or even heard the name of Cthulhu before, could sit down, play a couple of games, and after getting over the learning curve of the rules come away from the table with a pretty good idea what a Mythos story looks like.


To speak from the point of view of someone who had run dozens of sessions of CoC before reading Lovecraft - yes and no.  From the supportive text, yes I'd gotten a fair idea of what a Lovecraft story would read like, in very general terms.  Nothing had prepared me for the prose - but then I'm not sure anything could prepare someone for prose that bad.

But yeah, what John said.  At best they represent a sub-genre of Mythos writing - or explicitely Sandy Peterson's take on a subset of Mythos writing as seen through the filter of Chaosium's house system.

Which brings up one of the things missing from this discussion - time depth.  Call fo Cthulhu was written in the early eighties and based on a system from the 70s (1st ed - if I'm remembering right - had all the percentage modifiers to Agility, Manipulation, Knowledge, etc, skills that you'd see in RQ).

The other thing is people seem to be comparing CoC to some kind of platonic ideal of what a genre-emulative game based on Lovecraft's Mythos stoty might be based on modern roleplaying theory.  I think for the critisism to be meaningful the comparisons have to be to other games of the period.

Chill, for example, good game, similar genre, similar period.  The ad copy used to carry a recommendation from Stephen King.   Why was CoC more successful than Chill?

Ignoring horror - what from the period was emulating genre better?

If the argument re CoC is just genre emulation and you can't point at anything from the period which is doing a better job of emulation - then what is the argument: that Cthulhu's gotten old?
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Ian Charvill
simon_hibbs
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Posts: 678


« Reply #25 on: March 15, 2004, 07:51:24 AM »

I think Hypocrisy is a very strong word, and is a long way from neing justified in this case.

It is true that some of CoC's supporters can be a bit hyperbolic in their praise of the game and the 'ideal' play style, but the actual game itself is very practical and down to earth about these issues. As the poster states Lovecraft's stories contain ample examples of people taking on the Mythos with firepower, often successfuly. Some threats aren't amenable to this kind of attack though, and this too is mentioned in the game and supported in the rules. I think the game matches what you'd expect from a reading of the stories very well in this regard.

Sometimes fireams work, sometimes they don't. There's nothing contradictory in saying that.

I disagree with the way magic is being characterised, and here I will depart a little from the recommendations in the game text. Sometimes magic is either the best, or sometimes even the only solution to a problem. In those cases, the magic you require exacts a terrible price. Again this is very well supported in the rules. Having a character go nuts, or even losing the character through injury or SAN loss is one thing. Actualy choosing to weaken or destroy your character, often in horrible ways, for the greater good is quite another and being put in a possition to have to make those choices and balance those risks IMHO is one of the great experiences roleplaying games have to offer. And all this 20 years ago!


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #26 on: March 15, 2004, 10:57:43 AM »

To agree with Simon, and with Ralph simultaneously, I think that Hypocrisy is just a term that he's using to charge the issue. What he really means is that the game doesn't do well what it's supposed to do, given the game "technology" that exists today. That is, for 20 years ago, they probably did the best that they could, and I laud the attempt to hammer such difficult subject matter into the form of what RPGs were seen to be at the time. Yes it's problematic, but nobody could have done better at the time.

So, saying that CoC doesn't play better is akin to saying that cars in the seventies should have had airbags. Well, sure, but who knew? So, yes, your old car from the seventies isn't as good as an up to date car. So what?

Ralph is right that the overall subject of these threads is how well CoC supports what it intends to support (and in this one how guns affect that). But my question to Brian is why he's bothering to shoot fish in a barrel? Let's postulate that he's correct - then what? You can't even be proscriptive and point out what not to do, because most of what's in the game is outmoded by the intervening 25 years, and isn't used by other systems.

It all comes down to a big fat example of "System Does Matter." Well, not really new news there. And we can debate until the cows come home just how bad or good it is, but I don't think that's going to change anyone's mind on the matter, if they're fans of the game - likely they're not reading the essays. In any case, I think that what the players of CoC like are the subject matter, and the ways in which they've come to cope with the problems of the system. So there's really nothing to "cure" anyhow.

Mike
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John Kim
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« Reply #27 on: March 15, 2004, 11:57:07 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
  So, saying that CoC doesn't play better is akin to saying that cars in the seventies should have had airbags. Well, sure, but who knew? So, yes, your old car from the seventies isn't as good as an up to date car. So what?    

OK, this is something of a rant of mine -- against the idea that later art is "better".  I guess this is because most of my favorite games are 80s games (Champions, James Bond, Ars Magica).  IMO, RPGs are not technology; they are art.  The "advances" you are talking about are changes in fashion or style.  I survey the games of 2003 and I see Orpheus, Red Dwarf, Savage Worlds, Soap, Tri-Stat DX, D&D 3.5, Marvel Universe, and various others.  They look quite different from Call of Cthulhu -- but are they more "advanced"???  I don't mean to disparage these games at all, but I don't think there is anything backwards or reactionary in wanting to play Call of Cthulhu rather than them -- any more than there is something wrong with someone who likes 60's music more than 2000's music.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
It all comes down to a big fat example of "System Does Matter." Well, not really new news there. And we can debate until the cows come home just how bad or good it is, but I don't think that's going to change anyone's mind on the matter, if they're fans of the game - likely they're not reading the essays. In any case, I think that what the players of CoC like are the subject matter, and the ways in which they've come to cope with the problems of the system. So there's really nothing to "cure" anyhow.

I agree that there isn't anything to cure, but I'm not sure I get your point about changing people's minds.  To some degree, I agree with you.  I've played a number of Call of Cthulhu games and had a lot of fun doing so, so I'm naturally skeptical of those who cite it as being broken and problem-ridden.  But I am open to debate on the subject.  I agree 100% with the principle that System Does Matter -- but that doesn't mean "old system is bad" or more specifically "you have to put in meta-game genre emulation rules for a game to be good".
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- John
Andrew Norris
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Posts: 253


« Reply #28 on: March 15, 2004, 12:03:01 PM »

Instead of hypocritical, could we say that it's incoherent? That was my initial reading of this thread, that CoC wants to simulate one thing but the rules encourage a different type of behavior.

I'm not sure if this is exactly the meaning of incoherent in GNS terminology but it seems like less of a loaded term. (Then again, 'hypocritical' in terms of 'says one thing, does another' doesn't really strike me as offensive to begin with when applied to a text rather than a person.)
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John Kim
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Posts: 1805


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« Reply #29 on: March 15, 2004, 12:34:40 PM »

Quote from: Andrew Norris
Instead of hypocritical, could we say that it's incoherent? That was my initial reading of this thread, that CoC wants to simulate one thing but the rules encourage a different type of behavior.

I'm not sure if this is exactly the meaning of incoherent in GNS terminology but it seems like less of a loaded term. (Then again, 'hypocritical' in terms of 'says one thing, does another' doesn't really strike me as offensive to begin with when applied to a text rather than a person.)

I don't think that would help.  I agree with you that "hypocritical" is fine for the behavior described (says one thing, encourages another).  And "incoherent" has a more specific meaning within GNS that wasn't part of the initial point (I think).  

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.  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.  

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.
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- John
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