Call of Cthulhu: An Experiment in Pen and Paper Horror Role Play
By Andrew Kennedy
I am a long time fan of pen and paper role play games (Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, Mutants and Masterminds,etc.). A few months ago a friend of mine introduced me to a system that I didn’t even know existed, Call of Cthulhu. The game has rules for the keeper (the person who runs the story and tells the story) to run his story in three different periods–Victorian era, modern era, and the 1920s. If you can’t tell by the title of the game, it is based off the works of H.P. Lovecraft and as such there is a very psychological theme to all the horror in the game.
Over the next few weeks I will be posting about myself being the keeper and my wife (Lois Kennedy) and two of my friends (who want to remain anonymous) playing the game with me. We will be running a module (pre-written story) called Horror on the Orient Express. If there appears to be a desire for more from you guys, I will do more. Horror on the Orient Express will take our characters through a vast amount of European cities in search of an ancient and evil artifact, each step of the way dodging danger and insanity. The adventure is filled with creepy imagery and intriguing characters that can help the players or perhaps hinder the players.
To play the game our players will make characters on sheets and assign abilities based on how their character is developed. When a player attempts to do something, the keeper asks them to make a roll to determine if their character is successful at what they are trying to do. For example our soldier character is trying to find someone who has evaded him, so the keeper asks him to roll a spot hidden check. He refers to his character sheet to find the number of his skill; for this instance it will be a 47. The player then rolls two ten sided dice, and if the total comes up under his score he is successful. However, if it comes up over, then he fails.
In this instance let’s say he rolls a 30 on his percentile dice; he has passed his check as he moves through the train looking for the man who fled from him– he happens to look down in between two seats and finds the man. He yanks him up in rage, and when he is about to pummel the man one of the other players runs up and tries to calm him down. I ask the person to roll a “fast talk.” If their fast talk is 75 points, he or she is almost sure to make it. They roll 76! Uh oh bad luck, they are not able to convince the solder to calm down. He beats the man into a bloody mess. While this may not affect the soldier’s sanity, as he has seen this before, a character like a librarian however has never seen this, so she now needs to make a sanity roll. If her sanity is 30 points, she’s already a bit mad. She rolls a 45, fails, and now goes a little bit more insane from seeing such a gruesome sight.
The great thing about role playing games is that every time you play them, even if it is the same story, it can be completely different based off the characters and the dice rolls and decisions the players make. I hope the next few weeks keep you on the edge of your seat, and you are able to experience the horror and shock along with my players.
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