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Author Topic: Cthulhu's Clues: Why failure is not an option  (Read 25219 times)
b_bankhead
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Posts: 259


« Reply #15 on: October 28, 2003, 05:16:49 PM »

Quote from: Ian Charvill
I'm going to just sound a brief note of incredulity: of all the solution's suggested the original one - especially with the modification that the skill used doesn't matter - is probably the most illusionist facilitating.

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

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

Which merely exchanges a participationist technique for an illusionist one.


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

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


Once the investigative phase is complete there is still plenty of opportunity for failure in the confrontational phase. Plenty of occasion there to get your head bitten off. Player failure is not an option in the INVESTIGATIVE  phase because player failure there is boring. Failure IS an option in the confrontation because it's exciting. Failing your library use roll in the Miskatonic U reading room is boring.  Failing your shotgun roll when raiding the cult ceremony in the catacombs isn't.....
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b_bankhead
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« Reply #16 on: October 28, 2003, 05:29:52 PM »

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

Mike


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

Again failure is an option only if it isn't boring. Losing in this kind of gamism would be.
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Daniel Solis
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« Reply #17 on: October 28, 2003, 05:41:09 PM »

I'll admit right up front that I've never played CoC or read much Lovecraft, but I was considering a slight augmentation to the original post's system suggestion.

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

Another way is to make each skill its own effort pool, so to speak. For example, if you want to gather information by performing an autopsy, spend an "autopsy" point and gather the secrets. If you want to get the information through physical intimidation, spend an "intimidation" point and gather the secrets. If effort points are depleted, or if the character is forced to gather information in a manner for which she has no relevant skills, she must spend SAN in place of effort points.
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #18 on: October 29, 2003, 03:20:24 AM »

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


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

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


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

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

As an aside w/r/t gamist Cthulhu play - perfectly doable and fun.  Not necessarily representing a drift to D&D style monster killing play.  The step on up issue being can we solve this mystery.
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Ian Charvill
b_bankhead
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Posts: 259


« Reply #19 on: October 29, 2003, 05:33:25 AM »

Quote from: Ian Charvill

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote

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


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

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

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

 . My 'Cthulhubabe' article witll take somewhat longer as it is indeed much much more radical and extensive.
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kalyptein
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« Reply #20 on: October 29, 2003, 09:56:47 AM »

I'd like to suggest a form of play that I don't think I've seen suggested on this thread yet (or else I'm blind).  It's a gamist approach, and a bit odd, but I think its a way to avoid illusionism and maybe even inject a bit of fear, but at the cost of short-circuiting narrative structure.

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

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

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

Alex
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #21 on: October 29, 2003, 10:39:12 AM »

Quote from: b_bankhead
This could work but only if the players have a very limited range of places to look ( I once played in a scenario on an ocean liner, this premise would work in that kind of environment)
Hmm Locational scenario sounds like jargon for 'dungeon crawl' to me.
That's precisely it. Following on your ocean liner example, the one I'm thinking of is the standard "Haunted House" scenario, of which there are many published.

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

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

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

Mike
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #22 on: October 29, 2003, 01:34:03 PM »

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Do you want a discussion of ways to make Cthulhu more accesible or do you want an argument that proves your way of making Cthulhu more interesting is the right one?
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Ian Charvill
Comte
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Posts: 129


« Reply #23 on: October 29, 2003, 08:22:30 PM »

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

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

I don't know I come from a very limited player base.  So I tend to try to make them happy because I can't just swing by the player store and pick up new ones.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #24 on: October 29, 2003, 10:27:28 PM »

I think my 'replace fail/pass with pass/greater pass' must be too simple a fix to discuss.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #25 on: October 30, 2003, 11:45:37 AM »

Quote from: Noon
I think my 'replace fail/pass with pass/greater pass' must be too simple a fix to discuss.


I don't think so. :-)

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

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

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

Mike
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Callan S.
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« Reply #26 on: November 05, 2003, 08:18:12 PM »

I've heard it called 'dramatic failure', eg if the group fails to find the secret way into the base, some monsters step out of it (on a hunt) and the players find it that way...after some drama.

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

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

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

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

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

I do like dramatic failure...failure generates more drama (and the drama helps remedy the failure). But the GM will have to insert it every time a failure happens, and may be hard pressed after several times to do it without having a subtle CoC game a little over full with drama/action.
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Scripty
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« Reply #27 on: November 12, 2003, 10:47:44 AM »

Actually, I just finished playing a CoC one-shot over the weekend. Having scanned through this and the Drifting to R'yleh thread ("http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=8459"), I kept many of these points in mind in order to observe how these issues came into play in our group.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm not sure how one could get CoC to work out with the existing rules. Sure enough, if you stat out Cthulhu someone's going to try and kill him. I suspect some modification of my old diceless approach or some modification of a game like The Pool or My Life With Master might work out. But the rules as written, IME, support the game in the exact same way as b_bankhead describes.
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Marco
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« Reply #28 on: November 12, 2003, 11:47:41 AM »

Quote from: Scripty


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


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

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

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

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

-Marco
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #29 on: November 12, 2003, 12:21:19 PM »

Hey Scripty

Couple of questions that would really help orientate a response:

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

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


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

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

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

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