Trail of Cthulhu – What I Like

As promised, here’s a quick post on the new Trail of Cthulhu game from Pelgrane Press.  It won’t be an in-depth review, but it will hit on the high- and not-quite-so-high points of the game.

As a quick health warning to HPL fanatics, the quote on page 84 was written to Farnsworth Wright instead of Harold Farnese, which is the difference between this quote and this one.  Thus, for the space of a line, one experiences the sensation of your plane hitting an air pocket, dropping a few hundred feet, and quickly correcting itself.  Pregnant women and people with heart conditions should avoid this page if they have read all of Selected Letters.

The rest of you should be fine, and should buy and read it without reservation.

Here’s what I like:

Drive Call of Cthulhu is one of a small minority of RPGs in which the characters are ordinary people.  Trouble is, most ordinary people would run screaming at the first sight of Eldritch Horrors from Beyond Space and Time, which always makes character motivation tricky.  In Trail, a difference does exist – the characters have a Drive that compels them to investigate these mysteries.  Drives include loyalty, bad luck, scholarship, curiosity, a tainted bloodline, or any other number of possibilities.  Drive also has effects within the game – at times, a character can be compelled to investigate further or face some steep penalties.   This might or might not meet with your play style, of course.

The Mythos – Hite eschews any attempt to give his own take on individual Great Old Ones.  Instead, he provides several factoids, sometimes contradictory, for each, allowing you to play with any style ranging from pure HPL to all-out Derlethianism to bizarre takes on the old classics, depending upon your choice.  The monster and tome sections don’t portray the same sort of diverse choices, which is a shame.

I’ll add that Hite’s take on the Mythos is incredibly fun.  I kept saying to myself as I was reading it, “That would be great for the Encyclopedia!”, only to realize that the MS. is at the publisher and I can’t go around adding things willy nilly.

The Player and GM Advice – Most people feel after reading several roleplaying games that they can start skipping this section, but I recommend this one highly.  Hite is the author of the best RPG book on horror you’ve never read, Nightmares of Mine, and the advice in this chapter is top-notch.

Insanity – The game has an unusual way of handling insanity.  In Call of Cthulhu, the Keeper typically takes the player aside and they decide what sort of insanity they will experience.  In Trail, the GM sends the player out of the room and everyone else decides on their particular madness.  Perhaps you’ll find out you stole the Crown Jewels and blanked it later, or people really do start plotting against you.  To his credit, Hite realizes that this might not be everyone’s cup of liquid nitrogen, and he advises the Keeper to use either – or both at the same time…

Next time, things I don’t like quite as much!

Published in: on March 29, 2008 at 11:37 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. In re Farn-quotes — I can’t believe I let that through. Goodness, how embarrassing.

    I should also note, while I’m owning up to things, that I merely added a few minarets to Robin’s existing structure in the Drives section, Insanity, and the Player and GM Advice. People who own Fear Itself will be able to specifically limn the depth of Robin’s original design work.

    The Mythos section is all mine, and I agree that it would have been fun to keep presenting uncertainty in the monsters and tomes, but at some point, sheer word-count collapsed the wave function. If I’d turned in a book that was 50,000 words longer still, Simon would have killed himself, and the writing would have killed me.

  2. Your main entries always hold such interesting side tangents. Case in point: there’s a Dying Earth RPG?


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