*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
October 22, 2020, 09:21:48 PM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 197 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
Pages: [1] 2
Print
Author Topic: [CoC] and thoughts about the genre  (Read 13537 times)
Chris Geisel
Member

Posts: 55


« on: October 13, 2005, 10:21:51 AM »

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Geisel
lumpley
Administrator
Member
*
Posts: 3453


WWW
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2005, 10:43:49 AM »

I've noticed something similar in some non-rpg games. RoboRally is one; this game Meg picked up at GenCon where you make animal sounds is another, I forget the name ... Snorta! It's Snorta.

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

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

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

-Vincent
Logged
Jared A. Sorensen
Member

Posts: 1463

Darksided


WWW
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2005, 11:30:32 AM »

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


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

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

jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
Eric J-D
Member

Posts: 187


« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2005, 11:59:49 AM »

Hi Chris,

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

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

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

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

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

Just a few thoughts off the top of my head.

Eric
Logged
Christoph Boeckle
Member

Posts: 455

Geneva, Switzerland


WWW
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2005, 02:22:48 PM »

I've played some Cthulhu with the Pool and was also left wondering how it would work out with Universalis after the last session (no AP for that one).

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

Regards,
Christoph
MetalBard
Member

Posts: 40


« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2005, 04:48:32 PM »

Has anybody tried Lovecraft with Conspiracy of Shadows?  I was looking into the game earlier and it seemed like it could work for that style.
Logged

"If you've ever told someone how your day went, you can narrate." - Andrew Norris at the Forge on player narration

My name is also Andrew and I have a  blog
Ice Cream Emperor
Member

Posts: 46


« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2005, 05:02:48 PM »

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

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

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

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

~ Daniel
Rustin
Member

Posts: 91


« Reply #7 on: October 13, 2005, 07:40:56 PM »

I'd love to get your guy's thoughts on my tweak of DitV for CoC
Hounds on the Moor

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

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

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

Logged
Chris Geisel
Member

Posts: 55


« Reply #8 on: October 13, 2005, 09:52:02 PM »

I'd completely forgotten about the relationship between Sanity and Mythos. But yes, it seems like the reward for insanity was decoupled somewhere along the way from the Mythos skill. Instead of a reward for insanity, it's more like a cosolation prize.

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

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

Chris Geisel
Eric J-D
Member

Posts: 187


« Reply #9 on: October 14, 2005, 01:28:18 PM »

Chris,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric
Logged
Chris Geisel
Member

Posts: 55


« Reply #10 on: October 14, 2005, 04:19:05 PM »

Eric, I just thought I'd say that I enjoyed your mini-essay. I haven't read HPL exhaustively, and never critically, but what you observe in your first post about how the game misses the mark with regard to the stories does ring true for me.
Logged

Chris Geisel
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #11 on: October 15, 2005, 07:10:02 AM »

Hello,

Great discussion. Make sure to check out Drifting to R'lyeh:Facing the Problems with Call of Cthulhu, to see some relevant points. This thread serves as a strong extension of that one.

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

Best,
Ron
Logged
Sean
Guest
« Reply #12 on: October 15, 2005, 10:54:10 AM »

Jared wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Posts: 160


« Reply #13 on: October 15, 2005, 03:36:55 PM »

Chris and Eric et al:

In addition to the thread Ron linked to, check out Bryan B's "Design Notes for a new Lovecraftian RPG" thread, and the other threads he links to in the first post of that one:

Cthulhu's Clues - this one, on problems with investigation mechanics, is crucial, imho
Hot Lead & Hypocrisy - about guns in CoC

Rob
Logged

Chris Geisel
Member

Posts: 55


« Reply #14 on: October 16, 2005, 05:25:54 PM »

Ron & Rob, thanks for pointing us to those threads. I knew they were around here somewhere. I'm off to do some readin'.
Logged

Chris Geisel
Pages: [1] 2
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.11 | SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!