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Author Topic: [HPL inspired] Core Concepts, call for Mechanics/Reading  (Read 4035 times)
Chris Geisel

Posts: 55

« on: October 20, 2005, 08:22:32 PM »

Inspired by Drifting to R'lyeh, Bryan B's design notes, Cthulhu's Clues and Hot Lead & Hypocrisy. Also Burn Sanity and thoughts about the genre for the idea of Sanity as resource.

I'm also greatly indebted to Bryan B's game Eldritch Tales for some core concepts that inform the game I'm trying to describe here.

After reading the above threads, I did some thinking about a handful of ideas that for me, really nail the experience that CoC aims at (whether this is a simulation of HPL's stories or not). My starting point was Bryan B's Fundamental Problem of Investigation, followed by Sanity as a resource. Next was Bryan's (frankly brilliant) concept of breaking play into two phases: Revelation (when clues get discovered) and an Endgame (when the Horror is confronted). At that point, I knew I wanted a game where players accumulated Resources during the Revelation phase, and spent them during the Endgame.

Thinking about "successful" CoC games, I decided there are a few things that happen by the end. Sometimes the Horror is defeated, sometimes it's not. Sometimes the PCs are destroyed (killed, rendered insane, etc), sometimes not. This led me to four possible outcomes for the Endgame, all of which are satisfying for the genre. Horror undefeated/PCs defeated, Horror undefeated/PCs undefeated, Horror defeated/PCs undefeated and Horror defeated/PCs defeated (this last one being arguably the most satisfying for the genre).

I started with the idea that during the Revelation phase, the players accumulate Resources for defeating the Horror. Resources determine their effectiveness in the Endgame. So what determines PC defeat/survival? Sanity. Players start the game with Sanity, but risk it during the Revelation phase on conflicts to win Resources. In the Endgame, their Sanity determines whether they survive the conflict with the Horror.

In a typical CoC game, the GM parcels out clues until some climax moment, and then the players must deal with the Horror in their current state of preparedness. To try to capture that same feeling, I came up with the idea that during the Revelation phase, players can call as many scenes as they want, and during each scene, they automatically earn Resources. However, at the end of each scene there is a chance of triggering the Endgame--at which point the players must confront the Horror, armed with whatever Resources they've got. The greater the amount of Resources accumulated, the more likely the trigger. The GM/players set an Obstacle at the start of the game that determines the chance of the trigger. The Ob therefore also determines the length of the game. It should also relate to PC survival in the Endgame.

So a relatively tame Horror requires less Resources to defeat, tends to result in a shorter Revelation phase, and is less likely to defeat the PCs. A very dangerous Horror may take dozens of scenes before the PCs have enough Resources to defeat it, and tends to result in a lot of risked (and lost) Sanity, and be more fatal to PCs. So far so good.

But now we have a situation where there's little tension, because the players can only wait for the Endgame. So instead, players can call for the Endgame at any time during the Revelation phase. If they call for it, they get some advantage. If the Endgame is triggered, they enter it at some disadvantage. Now, hopefully, we get tension between wanting to push for more resources, versus quitting while ahead.

During the Endgame, the players spend their Resources to attack the Horror. The GM attacks the Sanity of the PCs, using the Sanity lost during the Revelations phase. The Endgame lasts as long as the GM has the ability to attack. This seems thematically sound: the Horror has the upper hand in any confrontation. The PCs defeat it only by being prepared, and survive only by being resilient or lucky.

If a PC is defeated, the player gets a Monologue of Defeat and final attack. I haven't decided if Resources are communal; if they are, the player could continue to participate. If the Horror is defeated, the players get a MoV and the GM gets a final attack. If the GM runs out of Sanity (and can't attack), he gets a MoV. If the final PC is defeated, the GM gets a MoV. Then the game ends.

That's the game I want to play. That's the game I need mechanics to support.

Other ideas:
-PC effectiveness during Revelation phase is based on PC abilities
-PC effectiveness during Endgame is based on Resources
-PC creation is a trade off between starting Sanity and abilities
-Horror effectiveness is a function of Obstacle

What happens when?
-Players call for scenes in Revelations, GM creates situations fraught with conflict
-Players call for tests, GM sets Ob of test
-Resource's advantage based on Ob
-Resource's Color narrated by player
-Sanity lost if test succeeds/fails based on Ob
-Players may spend Sanity for increased chance of success (eg bonus dice)
-Number of Resources accumulated (per scene or total) determines chance of triggering Endgame

If I Had Mechanics, I Could Answer These Questions:

What do Resources look like? Maybe this?
Vulnerable to Flame 2D

Relationships, another kind of Resource?
Local Police Believe Me 3D

Gear, another kind of Resource?
Carboy of Carboxylic Acid 1D

Traits instead of PC "abilities"? Bought with Sanity at character creation?
Nerves of Steel 2D

I know this is only one step up from cocktail napkin. Your thoughts are appreciated.

Chris Geisel
Darcy Burgess

Posts: 476

« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2005, 06:14:14 AM »

Chris --

At first blush, this also looks like a game that I'd be interested in playing.  However, I'm less concerned with the nuts and bolts of mechanics (you seem to have the inklings of a mechanical feedback loop, so it's just a matter of filling in the actual process that the flowchart works with) but rather how you would approach the nature of "what the game will be about".

How does the group decide what the horror is?
Is it decided from the outset?
Is there a clue trail of any kind?
If so, is it predetermined or made up by the players as they request scenes?
What tools will you provide the GM and players so that there isn't "Quick, pull something really good out of your ass with no context!" slowing play down at every turn?

Those would be the questions I'd worry about.  What dice to roll can come later, IMHO.

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Posts: 216

« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2005, 02:04:50 AM »

Your mechanical foundation (especially the four endgame outcomes and how they are arrived at, plus the ability/sanity trade-off) look absolutely fabulous to me and is no mean feat, either! I'd love to see this fleshed out and I think you do have the making of an HPL game here that finally gets it right.

I think player creativity will be enough to invent the clues and the monster on the fly, though some guidance (e.g. solid examples) are needed. Given that HPL's monsters are inexplicable anyway, I do not foresee any problems here. However, I'm a bit worried about tone - this could turn into InSpectres easily, I fear...


Chris Geisel

Posts: 55

« Reply #3 on: October 23, 2005, 11:57:04 AM »

Great feedback, guys. I've done some more thinking about this and here's what I've come up with. Incidentally, now I'm even more indebted to Bryan B's Eldritch Tales.

The game has a Prep phase, where everyone sets the Obstacle for the Horror. As mentioned above, the Obstacle determines game length and lethality of the Horror. Players also set the amount of Sanity they start with, ideally this should be related somehow to the Ob of the Horror.

Then players propose Hard Facts and Rumors (thank you, Bryan B). Hard Facts are true statements about the location and setting, and can't contradict each other. Rumors are statements about the location, setting and Horror that may or may not be true. Players call for scenes during the Revelation phase that address Rumors. Rumors are either proven false or become Hard Facts after their scenes. Resources gained during a scene must be related to a Rumor.

Players can suggest Rumors that become clues as they're established as Hard Facts, and the clue trail is made up on the fly as players call for scenes. I'm thinking that when Revelation scenes end (note to Bryan B, I should probably rename this so as not to step on your toes further), they spawn more Rumors.

As I type this up, it occurs to me that I need to read MLwM and DitV. Collaboration on the Horror reminds me of what little I've heard about MLwM's Master creation. Likewise the four, pre-determined outcomes.

It also seems to me that a DitV-style accomplishment scene would really fit this game, only instead of an accomplishment, it details a brush with Horror that started the character down his path toward the Endgame confrontation. (This could be a previous Horror, for an "investigator" type character, or the current Horror.) I have a feeling DitV's town creation might have some ideas for Horror creation, as well.

After reading some stickies, I've come up with this, shorter description of the game:

Premise: How much sanity will you risk to defeat the Horror?

Setting & Character concepts: Regular people confront malevolent cosmic entities at the risk of their own lives and sanity.

Character creation: Group creation of the Horror determines length of game and amount of character Sanity. Players buy PCs Revelation phase effectiveness with Sanity.

Reward mechanic: During Revelation phase, players increase PC ability to defeat the Horror by risking Sanity points. During Endgame phase, low Sanity increases chance of PC destruction.

Idea for Mechanic: The important part of this game for me is the part where players risk Sanity during the Revelation phase to get effectiveness during the Endgame. So here's the general outline of that risk for reward mechanic.

A player has a pool of dice that is the PC's Sanity. He calls a scene to address a Rumor like "the fisherman caught Something Awful in his nets". The GM decides the fisherman is a paranoid, raving lunatic after his brush with Horror. The player wants to calm him down by quoting from his PC's Book of Secrets, so his PC can examine the thing caught.

The player decides to risk six dice from his pool. He rolls and gets three successes. The player describes intoning a chilling dirge from the Book, which cows the fisherman into fearful obeisance. He describes a slimy, viscous tentacle lolling in the net that pulls back and convulses when touched by an ember from the stove. The GM and player decide the Resource is "Vulnerable to Fire".

The Resource is recorded on his character sheet, "Vulnerable to Fire 3D", and the three successful dice go back in his Sanity pool. The failures are removed from his Sanity pool and put into the GM's Horror pool. The player narrates staggering out of the hut, nearly fainting from a suddenly recognized connection between the passage he selected from the Book and the tentacle--almost as if some unseen intelligence guided his mind to that very page.

The scene ends and the GM rolls his entire Horror pool. Successes over the Obstacle of the Horror trigger the Endgame.

Hmm. Writing that little sample of play off the top of my head, it occurs to me that there's very little conflict here. It's basically a game where the players collaborate on describing the Resources available during the Endgame, and roll dice to determine their potency. That hardly requires a scene--players could just brainstorm Resources, roll dice, and then duke it out with the Horror after some number of turns.

Clearly I need to think more on this.

Chris Geisel

Posts: 216

« Reply #4 on: October 23, 2005, 01:02:25 PM »

Hmm. Writing that little sample of play off the top of my head, it occurs to me that there's very little conflict here. It's basically a game where the players collaborate on describing the Resources available during the Endgame, and roll dice to determine their potency. That hardly requires a scene--players could just brainstorm Resources, roll dice, and then duke it out with the Horror after some number of turns.

Clearly I need to think more on this.

Once you add color, taking risks becomes more meaningful. Color may be fluff mechanics-wise, but it is necessary to fire up our imaginations and make us care. DitV and all those other games need it to work, too. "You arrive at the O'Reilly farm and stumble upon a familial conflict." is just not going to cut it (nor is uncovering a more specific issue, e.g. alcoholism, if that does not grab you). I think players will risk dice according to how much the lead-in's color (here: "the fisherman caught something awful in his net") fires up their imagination.

However, the lead-in should perhaps be provided by the GM. The players get to lay out some parameters earlier, as you suggested, e.g. by demanding an adventure set in fisherman village. That already tells the GM that Deep Ones, fishermen's yarns, storms etc. might be the way to go. I certainly enjoyed your example. =)

(But then, I've always liked the aquatic monstrosities better than, say, Shub-Niggurath, though I'd run with the perverted livestock/fertility theme, too.)

Still, the issue bears looking into further.


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