Trail of Cthulhu

I got my copy of Trail of Cthulhu this week. It’s a new implementation of the Call of Cthulhu game, using Robin D. Laws’s GUMSHOE system, and it was written by Ken Hite.

I like it.

Now, I like the original game, too, a whole lot. But in many ways, I think I might prefer the new one. I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know after I play a session or two.

Let’s talk about why I like the new game, though.

  1. It’s written by Ken Hite. If you aren’t familiar with the name, then you really need to pick up Nightmares of Mine, Suppressed Transmission, and Suppressed Transmission 2. The man knows his weird stuff, and builds it into supremely gameable constructions. He’s been a hero of mine since I started reading his column in Pyramid Magazine, and he achieved godlike status with the coining of the word “speleo-herpetologist.” There’s a pretty short list of folks I’d trust with a new version of a Lovecraft game, and he’s on it. Near the top. At least twice.
  2. No more missed clues. The GUMSHOE system of Robin Laws removes the bane of investigation-based games: you can’t get stuck with no way forward because you missed the roll for the vital clue. In the game, if you’ve got the right ability, and you use it, you get whatever clue it might provide automatically. The game becomes less about finding the clues and more about interpreting them.
  3. The Great Old Ones. Ken’s take on them is great. First of all, he doesn’t give them stats, very reasonably treating them as plot devices. When one of the big boys – Cthulhu, Hastur, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, etc. – show up, it either means that you’ve really got to hurry with the ritual to banish it, or you’ve already lost and should just embrace your new role as mindless servitor or dinner. Beyond that, he gives five or six different interpretations of each of them, some wildly contradictory, that characters may find in their research. Because these beings are essentially unknowable by humans, I think that works very well.
  4. The creatures. Lesser beings are nicely statted up, and include a great little section on what sorts of clues they may leave behind, which is immensely helpful for a GM. They are, all of them, nasty in the extreme. As it should be.
  5. The fun little sanity games. The book includes suggestions to get the other players working with the GM to make the player whose character has gone insane feel confused and disoriented, not just the character.
  6. Tons of good GM advice. Specifically for running this game with this system, but a lot of it is just good, solid advice for any horror or investigation game.
  7. Campaign frameworks. Three ready-to-use setups for ongoing play, talking about who the characters are and why they do what they do, and what they tend to run into. They include one fairly standard Lovecraftian framework, one proto-Delta Green framework, and one very interesting one involving shady rare book dealers in London.

The book also has an introductory scenario, but I haven’t decided how much I like it. On the one hand, it’s a great little mystery that shows Ken’s ability to mix real-world history with mythology and deep weirdness. On the other hand, it doesn’t deal very directly with any specific aspect of the Cthulhu mythos, though it does talk about what may be behind the whole mess. As an adventure, I like it a great deal, but I think I would have preferred a more standard Cthulhoid example.

All in all, I think this is a very interesting, well-done game, and I can’t wait to try it out. I’ll post the results after I have a chance to run it.

Right now, though, I have to get ready for the final Dresden Files playtest session tonight.

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5 Responses to Trail of Cthulhu

  1. Lanval says:

    Sounds cool. Does it cover a specific era?

  2. Rick Neal says:

    It’s set in the 1930’s, but it would be fairly easy to adapt to any era, especially if you have access to other GUMSHOE games, like Esoterrorists. That would show what kind of investigatory skills are available in the modern era.

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