I mentioned in an earlier RPGaDay post that I’m currently diving deep in to Trail of Cthulhu. But before that I was head over heals for the Call of Cthulhu game, going all the way back to the first box set. I loved playing it almost as much as I enjoyed running it. The issue was finding people to play it with me. Growing up in Fort McMurray the player pool was already small, and the cross-section of that pool who also loved horror RPGs was not overflowing. Add to that the persistent issue that it is hard to run a long-lasting CoC campaign due to player mortality/insanity, and most folks, even the ones who loved the game, would often opt to play something else. I still managed to sneak in the occasional Halloween or Friday the 13th one-off, but the game mostly gathered dust on my shelf.
Another persistent issue with Call of Cthulhu, and why it isn’t sitting squarely atop my favourite list, was the investigative aspect of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I love games where I have to puzzle things out, especially when the mechanics of the game support that. But CoC, like many games of the time, was a straight ahead dice roller: you have a stat represented as a percentile, you roll percentile dice to see if you succeed, and only if you succeed do you get anywhere. If you don’t succeed (because random dice are random) everything stalls, and either the players have to figure out some other more circuitous avenue or the game master has to just give them the clue. Neither solution is particularly satisfying.
Enter Trail of Cthulhu. As you would expect from a game which uses a system called GUMSHOE, ToC handles clues and clue-finding a little differently. It starts with the premise that, as the characters are investigators of one stripe or another, they will find clues. Finding clues, after all, is not the real important part. Understanding a clue, that’s where the metal hits the bone. So in ToC you will almost always find clues if you are looking for them, and if you as the player can figure out what they mean you’re golden. If you can’t, though, your character can then choose to spend points from an appropriate skill to determine what the clue means, or if there is any extra knowledge to be gleaned from a clue you already understand. The upside is, no more stalled investigations. Your players will always have a way forward, and if they spend their point pools wisely, may gain information which gives them an advantage.
And having solved that issue, Trail of Cthulhu bumps out Call of Cthulhu as my favourite. All of that delicious, madness-inducing Cthulhu Mythos, with a mechanic which lets the players get to the meat quicker? Yes, please!
What’s your favourite horror RPG? Comment and let’s discuss.