Gumshoe* Trail of Cthulhu - my first experiences





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    Trail of Cthulhu - my first experiences

    So, I've just run my first game of Trail of Cthulhu tonight - and it went well!

    I've played in just one Gumshoe-based game before (Nights Black Agents) and I own and have read Ashen Stars, but Trail of Cthulhu is the first Gumshoe game I've run.

    Now, given that I was running the adventure from the back of the rulebook (which I don't believe is particularly highly regarded), and only had 30 mins prep, and only one player... it still went really well.

    The single character, a journalist, lost a lot of sanity and bucketloads of stability along the way. One of his pillars of sanity - the essential humanity of man - crumbled away in the process of what he learned, and eventually led to him leading a hobo gang to their death as a deliberate ploy to foil the earth-shaking plot. I think his stability ended up at about -9, but along the way the investigation parts of the adventure, and the gradually increasing supernatural element worked well.

    There was also a nice rhythm between moving around the seedy side of town and research in the library and museums.

    My player got thoroughly involved, and really enjoyed the experience - the investigation, the mounting tension, a real sense of desperate horror and fighting against inevitability.

    I'll certainly run adventures with Trail of Cthulhu again, and I'm starting to get some ideas together for potentials.

    Have you had any experiences of Trail of Cthulhu as Keeper or Player that you'd like to share?
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    I only played once (I think I may have playtested something? an adventure?) and it was a few years back, but I remember that I really felt that "I'm going crazy but I must see what's going on" feeling.
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
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    ° Ignore Mathew_Freeman
    I've not played it but it sounds like an interesting game.

    How does the stability / sanity thing work in game? What are the consequences of losing it?

  • #4
    That sounds great actually. I had not even heard of this.
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    @Mathew_Freeman

    So, sanity is the degree to which you understand and believe the polite fiction of a rational universe. It gets eroded by exposure to Mythos horrors, and as you learn Cthulhu Mythos skills. The journalist PC in this game started with 12 sanity, and thus he had 4 'pillars of sanity' - concepts that he lived his life around. His were

    1. The power of the press
    2. America and apple pie
    3. The basic goodness of human nature
    4. The camera never lies

    Late in the game his sanity started dropping, and one of these pillars of sanity for him crumbled away - in this case it was "the basic goodness of human nature". He lost faith in the goodness of people and in his own goodness - he worked out that six people would have to give their lives to stop the disaster so he knowingly hired a gang of hobos with booze and money to 'help' him, knowing full well that it would lead to their deaths (and damage his stability further!). Losing sanity was a one way trip in the 'purist' game, there are limited recovery options in the 'pulp' game.

    Stability is how close you are to flipping out. This gets eroded by all manner of natural or supernatural events - seeing a corpse? Killing someone? Being attacked murderously by someone? Minor supernatural event? Major supernatural event? The PC was probably quite typical with 12 stability to start with. If you get to 0 stability you are shaken and stuff gets harder. -6 and you are in the land of panicked flight or frenzied attacks. -12 or less and you are incur ably insane. There are also helpful role playing tips for how to react if you lose a certain amount of sanity in one go - 1-2 points, 3-4 points etc.
    Last edited by Plane Sailing; Saturday, 22nd September, 2012 at 01:09 PM.
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    The PCs can also have "sources of stability" - NPCs in their life who they can go to and settle themselves, regaining some of their stability. The journalist in my game last night had officer dibble and his dear old granny. After one particularly awful evening (stability down to about 3!) he went to visit his dear old granny who made him a nice cup of tea and apple pie, which fortified him a little for the horrors of the day to come, but it left him tense with worry that his dear old granny might have got inadvertently sucked into this whole horrible mess...
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    Here's another illustration of the stability vs. sanity mechanic in this game. (I agree it's a bit difficult to explain in this format.) In my old campaign, my PC was an accountant with a sneaky side (technically a Private Investigator by occupation, but in this game classes are mostly skill bundles) who was the grandson of the elderly patron of the group (campaign used the Armitage Files milieu). He was ostensibly brought into the group to "watch the budget". At his introduction he was presented as a straight-down-the-line honest and competent man- his pillars of stability were the certainty of math and logic, his wife and children, and so on. As the campaign wore on he suffered an attack- I can't remember exactly what it was, some sort of gas maybe- and completely lost that math & logic pillar of stability.

    This ended up being a great vehicle for role-playing, because the character was unable to execute those skills any longer- but he wasn't insane at all. He just simply became completely incompetent in that aspect- which led to a lot of "we should take a seaplane to the island!" and "there's plenty in the budget for supplies!" and so on. I figured that in between expeditions he'd merrily keep doing his job- and Enron-style accounting takes a little while to play out.

    Having two mechanics to measure various aspects of your character's psyche really adds something to the game. Given the extreme simplicity of most every other mechanic in the game (not too many games out there that use nothing more than a single d6 and point applications to resolve everything), it isn't too bad to deal with.

    For me, ToC provided a much more enjoyable experience than classic CoC. The 30s are a lot more pulpy and fun than the 20s (Nazis, car chases, the Great Depression), characters can stand up to the baddies a bit more, and it's an incredibly easy game to teach newcomers. The game can also be played "purist" style, which should help satisfy those CoC grognards. The modularity of the Purist vs. Pulp mechanics are really nicely done, and I hope the folks working on D&D Next have taken them into consideration.

    I will say one more thing about ToC, though. Just like CoC, a lot depends on the GM's skill. Because the mechanics are so loose, the game really needs someone with some storytelling and RP ability at the helm. Especially if you're playing Pulp style and aren't doing the character-death-every-five-minutes thing.

  • #8
    I think I will be getting this. After checking it out a bit more and reading here. It sounds awesome.
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  • #9
    There are so many rpgs I wish I had time and money to try. This rather seems like one of them.
    "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose"

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    I can really recommend it. ThE mechanics are very lightweight, but do their job really well.

    Another example is the characters 'Drive'.

    How many times have you watched a horror movie and shouted "no, don't go down into the cellar!" your standard rpg player knows much to much to take those kind of risks, right?

    Trail of Cthulhu characters have a drive - it might be curiosity, revenge, arrogance, duty or others. This is what drives them into the dark and mystery. In fact, there are times when following your drive will help you regain a little stability as you are doing what is fundamental to your character. And not following your drive at a critical moment can cost you stability...

    A great little rule that gives added depth to the character and strongly encourages genre-specific behaviour.

    It's great!
    Plane Sailing
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