Questions regarding the Laundry

Started by KevinH, March 13, 2011, 05:48:20 PM

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For those who don't know, the Laundry is Charles Stross' take on the Lovecraft mythos. It is based around a UK government department (code named the Laundry), part of the intelligence community that is dedicated to stopping the up-coming return of Cthulhu et al.

It's an amusing world, and there is an RPG based on the novels. Unfortunately, the RPG is also based on Call of Cthulhu.

I don't want to get into CoC-bashing. However, CoC is a VERY old design and hasn't meaningfully changed from 1st ed to 6th. As far as I can see, there is NO attempt to update the rules to incorporate modern RPG design methods, NO attempt to make the system more coherent (in GNS terms). Mongoose have, in the last 5 years, taken RuneQuest and updated the old d100 system nicely (commonly referred to as MRQ).

I'm unhappy with how CoC/Laundry approach character creation, investigation, play etc and I'm looking for a better system to play in the background.

My first thought was to expand MRQ character creation to fit a modern day, Lovecraftian world but I bump up against several problems. MRQ (and BRP as a whole) do a reasonably good job of taking Sword and Sorcery roleplaying and making it dirty, nasty and brutal. That's great for FRPG and reasonably good for CoC. I just don't feel it really does what I want.

I don't like task-resolution, which is what BRP is focussed on. I prefer conflict resolution, I feel it makes for better (ie more fun) play by focussing on the character and their reactions to their situation.

In Writing a Mystery, and referenced threads, there is discussion of creating investigative games and I think that's a good (and separate) question, one I'll be following in the other thread.

One of the big issues in CoC is sanity. I dislike the CoC system, I dislike the idea that a player can say, "My character is insane" yet not have any real guidance from the rules as to what that means and how it affects the character. OTOH, I like the way that increasing knowledge negatively affects the character, which does seem to be part of the fiction.

So, my question is this, is there a modern system that emulates Lovecraftian investigation, that contains a reasonably believable sanity system that can handle the Catch-22 of CoC (in that you need to increase X to be more effective, but increasing X is also a negative)?

I'm thinking that over the years at the forge, this question has been hashed over several times, so any pointers to answers would be appreciated.

At the moment, I'm thinking HeroQuest, but I'm unsure how to make that system fit CoC.

Ron Edwards

Great thread topic.

Please round it out with a little actual play so we can see exactly what you mean about the old-school rules and the Laundry setting.

Best, Ron


Quote from: Ron Edwards on March 13, 2011, 08:43:36 PM
Great thread topic.

Please round it out with a little actual play so we can see exactly what you mean about the old-school rules and the Laundry setting.

Best, Ron

Hi Ron,

well, I haven't run the Laundry yet so the only AP I can offer is my experience of attempted character creation rather than a report from the table.

First, let me attempt to be more specific about my terms. By d100, I'll refer to any games derived from RuneQuest2 (RQ2). By BRP, I specifically mean Chaosium's derviation of the old RQ2 rules as it is in CoC and the actual BRP book. So, in that light BRP and MRQ are both d100 games.

In RQ2, you roll stats and from those stats you derive bonuses to skills. Those skills start at defined values (eg climbing starts at 15%, riding at 5% and broadsword at 10%), plus your bonuses. The starting values were originally supposed to reflect cultural background (eg barbarians would have grown up using weapons), but that never seemed to be implemented.

BRP carried on with the set number for starting skills but appears to have dropped the stat based bonuses. You start with X points to split among the skills you want you character to have.

MRQ defines starting skills as the sum of two stats (eg sword starts at DEX+STR). THEN you pick a cultural background that gives 50 pts among a set list of skills. THEN you pick a profession which gives you a further 50 pts among a set list of skills.

Straight off, MRQ is giving the character a defnied background. When I first read the MRQ rule book I became eunthused, I loved it and immediately started rolling sample characters because of the ideas thrown up by the many choices for culture and profession.

Looking at the Laundry/CoC, I was not enthused. Here is my big problem. Character creation does not look interesting, a big stumbling block in the way of play.

There are several issues. The character's stats have NO impact on their skills. If two characters gain +50 in a skill, the scrawny professor will turn out to be as effective wielding a sword as the mighty-thewed barbarian. At the very least, that doesn't match genre expectations. Similarly, the dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks barbarian will be just as effective in theology as the academic.

Secondly, just saying I have EDU*20 pts to put in skills and as a (frex) cop, I ought to put those pts in Drive, Unarmed combat, law etc etc doesn't really add to my conception of the character.

My first thought was to use MRQ and draw up a list of modern professions with associated skill bonuses and allow multiple picks of professions, allowing multiple picks of the same profession. In one sense that would be an improvement as there would be more of a feeling of character history.

On the other hand, it's just making a poor system* more complicated without any long-term benefit to the character (in terms of defining characteristics, ie a policeman's use of Persuade is going to feel very different from a journalist's) or the player.

Actually, as character creation is definitely a part of the RPG experience, I think I can argue that this is a relevant AP.

There is a further issue in the Laundry, that CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (UK military intelligence codename for the time when the "stars will be right") is imminent and that the PCs' families and friends will be in the firing line. CoC does nothing to model this.

As discussed in Hot Lead and Hypocrisy, CoC often devolves into gun-play. I'm somewhat OK with that, except that in the Laundry you have 21 Squadron, Special Air Service on call so PC gunplay isn't likely to be too common, which leaves the other stuff. I'd like that other stuff to be the focus.


*I'm not saying that CoC is a bad system, per se. It's obviously popular, as evidenced by its longevity. It just doesn't support the focus I want.