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Author Topic: [From Beyond]  (Read 2876 times)
David Hallett
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Posts: 35


« on: March 08, 2011, 01:53:25 PM »

A couple of links, to a basic system draft and a basic char sheet:

http://frombeyondrpg.com.s3.amazonaws.com/Prototype%207.pdf
http://frombeyondrpg.com.s3.amazonaws.com/Print%20Character%20sheet%2020Oct10.pdf

From Beyond is another attempt at that perennial favourite, Cthulhu Done Right (or at least Better). It's not trying to produce a completely different style of play from BRP CoC or indeed ToC, but to reduce some of the load on the scenario designer re pace, balance, writing stat blocks etc. It's also meant to be more streamlined and easier to improvise with, and formalises some GM techniques that might otherwise be described as illusionism.

It hasn't been playtested at all yet, but if no major problems emerge, I'm intending to do so in the near future.

Specific questions: Are the rules as written so far broadly comprehensible, or are clarifications needed? Will this system be easier to run and more streamlined in play than BRP CoC? Will it make life easier for the scenario writer? Will it be broadly acceptable to at least some of the people who currently enjoy this style of play, recognising that this is a pretty broad church? Are the options for customisation helpful?

Thanks for any feedback!

Dave

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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2011, 02:46:58 PM »

Hi Dave,

I'm really excited about this system.  I see a lot of potential for it do exactly what you're hoping for.  I think you and I are in the same "love the Cthulhu color and parts of its traditional play style, unsatisfied with current system options" boat.

As with the earlier drafts I read, I love the way you break down Obstacle types and the GM's options for determining and narrating roll results. 

As a player, dealing with the various Tracks and how they interact with each other and with my choices in play could be fantastic.  I'm not sure if it's 100% there yet, but I see a ton of potential.

I won't rehash any of the feedback I've given before, except to say that I think some pre-game table chat about roleplaying priorities is particularly important to this type of game.  Especially the "portrayal of degradation" aspect -- your system gives rich opportunities for that, and I wouldn't want to play with a group that hand-waved my ranting and foaming in order to "get to the bottom of the mystery" or some such.


Doom track:

I like the way the Doom track advances, and I like its general outcome of "things get worse, tension goes up".  But the specific risk of death seems off, for a few reasons:

1) Is individual character death actually on the table?  Should it be?  I mean, is that a fun option?  Once my character's dead, I have nothing to do but sit and watch, which I hate in a multi-hour game. 

Two ideas:
  • Having ALL the characters die might be fine...  (b)
  • Extra Doom damage goes to Composure, not Health, so you can still add color as your character rants and raves and becomes one more complication for the other characters to contend with.

2) It seems random and metagamey that the same attack which did 2 damage earlier now does 6 just because the story's gotten more tense.  I know you said it's more genre-sim than reality-sim, but I think adding a touch more relaity-sim would actually make the genre-sim BETTER. 

So, two ideas:
  • I simply get hit with 2-pt attacks early and 6-pt attacks late.  Fight people early, fight shoggoths late.
  • The Doom track corresponds to some oppressive pall that falls over the characters, sapping their resilience to damage.  This could be a new Fragility track, or be roped into one of the existing tracks (e.g. gain one Shadow per Doom level + every time you get hit, add Shadow to damage taken).


Mystery and Insight:

This is kinda complicated and the text really needs an example.  I'll try one, to see if I get it:

My Insight is 2.  I come across a nasty monster.  I run to my safe room.  The GM then says, "Its unfathomable alienness was pretty intense!  Mystery 2!"  I say, "That's nothing new to me!  I accept that level of weirdness."

Later, the same thing happens with a different monster.  But this time, the GM says, "Mystery 8!"  I then calculate 8-2=6 and increase my Shadow by 6 points.  My Shadow is 5, so it goes to 10 and the final point brings my Health down from 3 to 2.  Now I could say, "That wasn't really some impossible monster, it was just a mutant and a trick of the light!" (Rationalize) and end the mechanical effects there. 

But instead I opt to say, "Holy shit, things like that do exist!" (Accept) and roll 10 dice (from my 10 Shadow).  5 of my dice come up as successes (4+ on d6).  I reduce my Shadow from 10 to 5, and reduce my Composure from 8 to 3.  I then compare my successes (5) to my Insight (2).  Because 5 is 3 more than 2, I raise my Insight from 2 to 3, lower my Humanity from 8 to 7, and get new info from the GM.  If I'd rolled 4 successes, these wouldn't happen.


I imagine the decision to Rationalize or Accept being heavily influenced by my position on the Energy and Composure tracks.  If I'm at low Energy, but plan to sleep soon, I want to knock down my Shadow first.  If I'm at low Composure, I don't want to go nuts, so I'll just proceed with 10 Shadow for a while.  The idea of "do I open my brain and lose some humanity?" is fun, back takes a back seat in the actual decision-making process.  Is this how you want the incentives and decisions to play out?  It strikes me as functional; just not sure if it's what you were going for.

Here's another scenario:
My Insight-2 character encounters a Mystery-8 monster when my Shadow is already at 10.  Do I take 6 points of Health damage before deciding whether to rationalize or accept?
  • If not, then encountering Mystery is a purely good thing for me, as it allows me two options, one of which is "nothing happens".
  • If so, then wow, running around with high Shadow is friggin' DEADLY, and I'll be doing a whole lot of Accepting (as opposed to Rationalizing) nasty Mythos creatures.


GM guidance
Your 6 rules for the GM (under "running an investigation") all sound fine, but don't provide much support for actual implementation.  Do you intend for GMs to dig through CoC or ToC books for monsters and cults to use?  Do you expect them to read Lovecraft for plot inspirations?

It seems the bulk of your assistance to the GM lies in moment-to-moment arbitration, not pre-play prep.  This might be fine, but I can't tell how much pre-game prep to do.  Do you have any specific thoughts on that?  Have you tried to make an adventure for play in this system yet?

Recovery
The rules about recovering draw a hard line between sleep and aftermath.  I'd enjoy an in-fiction explanation of this, like how your Composure can't return until you've banished the old ones or some such.  Then I'd know whether I could support stuff like "the characters take a week-long break".

Aftermath
In the Aftermath, why would my success on the mission now give me more empathy and raise my Humanity?  Dave, do you have a reason to deviate from the traditional formula that Humanity is something you lose during the horrors of play, and it doesn't come back?

Resolution mechanics - procedural questions
I don't see any guide to setting difficulties as GM.  How should I gauge whether this locked door requires 2 successes or 3?

If one character gets help from 2 characters vs gets help from 3 characters, is it one bonus die either way, or 2 and 3 bonus dice respectively?

Resolution mechanics - context questions
If I roleplay very Reassuring and Subtle character actions, but have low values in those skills, and then later, another player spouts some off-putting dialogue and points to the high Reassuring and Subtle scores on his sheet, what happens?

I think I'd like to see you list the Skills that can be used to resist Fear attacks (and other common occurrences), so expectations can be set before spending points in char-gen.  Leaving it up to the group just seems like a path to extra work and/or confusion.

I have no idea why I'd care about combat maneuvers in this game.  I mean, the mechanics seem good, but using them would feel like a distraction from the point of play, at least to me.

Playtest readiness
I think I could play based on this document, but it isn't ideal as a quick reference. 

If you made a character sheet that included the rules about swapping certain tracks and other spends, that would help. 

Also a GM sheet listing the possible responses to rolls, and the outcomes that increase the Doom track.

Obstacle types might be handy on either of these too.

With just a little more ease of use, I think I'd be ready to pester some friends and try to give this a shot!
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stefoid
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« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2011, 02:51:48 PM »

Hi.

I got really excited when I read the 'gambling with the facts' box, until I realised that the GM established the facts and the player had to guess what the real facts were.  At first I thought the players, in character, could make hypothesis about what the nature of the mystery or parts of it might be, and if the GM decided to take on those hypothesis into the plot, or part of it, the player would get rewarded.  What I  initially thought you were getting at before I read the text carefully was that the GM laid all these various clues around the place, with no fixed idea as to the true nature of the trouble, and the fun was the players 'creating' the monster themselves with their imaginification, from the various clues they managed to find.

Personally I find the 'research' part of these types of games boring and pointless.  Because if the players fail to research successfully, the story doesnt advance, and there is nothing inherently exciting or dramatic about researching.  Ooooh, I read a book!  Or I didnt (not really sure how that can even occur, but that seems to be the concept with these types of games).  In investigative movies and stories, there is never a big deal about research.  If something needs to be researched, the characters do it in the low-drama part of the show, and they allways get the piece of information they need, which advances the story to the next high-drama part.  

Sure, there may be high drama surrounding finding and actually getting their hands on the physical book they need - stealing it, persuading or making deals with people who own it, etc... but once that is done, there is no uncertainty that they get what they need to advance the story.
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stefoid
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« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2011, 02:58:20 PM »

Oh, and I do like the doom counter if it means that stuff happens to advance the story whether the players find clues or not.  Nothing worse in investigative games than being stumped and the GM looking at you with an implicit 'well, until you guess the right thing to do, nothings going to happen'. 
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2011, 09:32:02 PM »

Steve, it's vital to this style of play that players not get to make up what they're investigating.  (At least, that's how I feel, and I'm pretty sure Dave feels likewise.)

Although, if there was some 100% foolproof way to keep the players from knowing the GM was incorporating their theories, I guess that might have some potential.

Dave, I assume that's not what you're going for here, but I mention it in case you're looking for yet more ways to reduce some of the load on the scenario designer.
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stefoid
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« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2011, 10:20:08 PM »

Steve, it's vital to this style of play that players not get to make up what they're investigating.  (At least, that's how I feel, and I'm pretty sure Dave feels likewise.)

Although, if there was some 100% foolproof way to keep the players from knowing the GM was incorporating their theories, I guess that might have some potential.

Dave, I assume that's not what you're going for here, but I mention it in case you're looking for yet more ways to reduce some of the load on the scenario designer.

Maybe its because the games where Ive played CoC have been, dysfunctional, but I am scarred by 'investigative style play'.

Dave or anyone, can you tell me what functional investigative play looks like?

My concerns are that the story basically stalls when the players (NOTE: not the characters) cant think of what to investigate next.

My dysfunctional play looks like this:

1) something relevant to the characters occurs - (a bang in other words)
2) players arrive and investigate the scene looking for clues (invoke task resolution such as 'observe' to notice clues)  potential confrontation/conflict may occur.
3) players may or may not find clues - potential story stall.
4) players that do find clues then research clues (invoke task resolution such as research to understand clue significance)
5) players may or may not research well - potential story stall.
6) assumption: either (2) and/or (4) go well enough to lead to the next investigative scene.  rinse and repeat (2)->(6) until case closed.

Note that (2) and/or (4) often do both go well enough to lead to the next investigative scene, for a couple of reasons.  One is that task based resolution goes badly, leading to insufficient information and the second is that the players (not the characters) are not 'smart' enough to guess what the GM thinks the clues are supposed to mean.

So the above is perhaps just a personal experience, does it ring any bells for anyone else?

But Dave, even if the above was turned into something functional by removing the reliance on task resolution and player guesswork to advance the story...  How would the players helping to define the end result of the clue trail break it?  To my mind it would be more fun, particularly for the GM to riff off during play - "oh, you surmise that the green ectoplasm was actually disgorged by a pregnant XLotalp'ilth after she sublimated the caretaker of the museum?  that cool!....
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contracycle
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Posts: 2984


« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2011, 10:44:53 PM »

The points you make about play (not "story") stalling are valid, but let me offer an alternative point of view.  If I found out that the GM was synthesizing my own guesswork into an "answer", I wouldn't just be disapointed, I'd be enraged.  If thats how it works then as soon as I've made my character I might as well just say "It was Colonel Mustard in the Drawing Room with the Lead Pipe, The End" and go home; the entire exercise of playing a game would have been a pointless fraud.

Yes, the stalling thing is a problem that needs to be addressed somehow, but IMO the cure you propose is worse than the disease.
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stefoid
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« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2011, 12:47:42 AM »

The points you make about play (not "story") stalling are valid, but let me offer an alternative point of view.  If I found out that the GM was synthesizing my own guesswork into an "answer", I wouldn't just be disapointed, I'd be enraged.  If thats how it works then as soon as I've made my character I might as well just say "It was Colonel Mustard in the Drawing Room with the Lead Pipe, The End" and go home; the entire exercise of playing a game would have been a pointless fraud.

Yes, the stalling thing is a problem that needs to be addressed somehow, but IMO the cure you propose is worse than the disease.

Two separate issues actually, but I have to chuckle  at 'enraged'.  Different strokes for diffrent folks
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2011, 12:59:44 PM »

Steve, I agree that there's plenty of whifftastic investigative play out there, and your numbered breakdown might be a good comparison from which to evaluate Dave's game.

Don't throw the baby (actual player discovery from genuine ignorance) out with the bathwater, though.  There's other games for that.

How the GM generates The Truth is certainly an open question, though...
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David Hallett
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Posts: 35


« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2011, 02:06:37 PM »

Lots of rapid responses, thanks all. I will take a little time to respond to Dave's excellent points in full. But a few quickies...

Dave, I think it's essential to keep PC death on the table for exactly the compromise with reality that you mentioned. And heroic deaths over something that really matters are great. I just don't want early deaths over something no-one cares about.

As Doom, the way I think of it is that early in the story, the PCs are lucky. Even if a house collapses on them, they get trapped in a hollow rather than crushed. As the story progresses, however, their luck steadily runs out. Does that work for you? I'm reluctant to have another per-character gauge in the system, esp. as Fraility is probably just the inverse of Health.

Humanity I think of as long-term morale, whereas Energy is short-term morale. So it feels right to me to be able to recover it, though group preferences will govern how much and how often.

I agree I don't have the trade-off between Shadow and Insight right yet. It needs to be a real dilemma. How about if making the attempt to increase Insight in itself costs 1 Humanity? If it succeeds, then the loss becomes permanent, otherwise it's just temporary. That way there's more of an incentive to "save up" Shadow. I'm looking to get an accumulation effect here, as seen in HPL's fiction, where a dozen tiny hints eventually add up to something that blows the protagonist's world view away. Well, sometimes, anyway.

If you have a better suggestion as to how to deal with excess Shadow rather than spilling over into Health, I'd be *most* interested. Nothing I've come up with yet quite satisfies me.
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David Hallett
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2011, 02:15:35 PM »

I got really excited when I read the 'gambling with the facts' box, until I realised that the GM established the facts and the player had to guess what the real facts were.  At first I thought the players, in character, could make hypothesis about what the nature of the mystery or parts of it might be, and if the GM decided to take on those hypothesis into the plot, or part of it, the player would get rewarded.  What I  initially thought you were getting at before I read the text carefully was that the GM laid all these various clues around the place, with no fixed idea as to the true nature of the trouble, and the fun was the players 'creating' the monster themselves with their imaginification, from the various clues they managed to find.

Nothing quite so radical! But it is designed to be slightly driftable in that direction. The idea is that where a group is absolutely wedded to the GM as the sole author of a "fixed" scenario, this is a little bit of Step On Up for those who fancy themselves as amateur Sherlocks. But with a more improvising GM, it also rewards players whose contributions are cool enough to make the GM think "I'm stealing that!"

But for something more player-driven, there's the InSpectres hack Unspeakable. This is not that. I mean, there's actually nothing to stop the GM from running it in the way you suggest, and that could be very cool if done right, although how and when to increment Doom would be an interesting question. But it's not compulsory or standard.
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David Hallett
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #11 on: March 09, 2011, 02:34:35 PM »

Maybe its because the games where Ive played CoC have been, dysfunctional, but I am scarred by 'investigative style play'.

Dave or anyone, can you tell me what functional investigative play looks like?

Well, I think I can identify three major hurdles it must overcome.

1. Failed rolls that must succeed (otherwise known as bad scenario design). From Beyond's use of Doom rules that one out.

2. Poorly motivated PCs. It's essential to match the scenario design to the PCs. Pulpy scenarios where the PCs are supposed to fly to Rio because they heard it mentioned in a bar conversation must have unattached, thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies for PCs. If the players want to play normal folks who want a quiet life, then the horror absolutely must pursue them, not the other way around. I think there is no substitution for the GM and players understanding this point, but I intend to make it very clear in the final text.

3. Clues too easy or too hard. This one can be tricky if your group is focused on the challenge of deciphering the mystery, although I tend to think of the purpose of investigation as primarily one of generating atmosphere, not challenge. The answer IMO is as outlined in Trail of Cthulhu - make the core clues easy enough to be near certain that the PCs will find their way through; make the harder clues offer the information they need to survive or succeed when they get there. This basically works pretty well. It's also easier when you use the "scenario pursues the PCs" option, because you can't miss the plot train when it's headed straight for you. Again, it's hard for a game design to address this head on or enforce it, but I won't be shy about addressing it in the text.

Does that help?
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Mike Sugarbaker
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Posts: 150

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« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2011, 02:57:10 PM »

My dysfunctional play looks like this:

1) something relevant to the characters occurs - (a bang in other words)
2) players arrive and investigate the scene looking for clues (invoke task resolution such as 'observe' to notice clues)  potential confrontation/conflict may occur.
3) players may or may not find clues - potential story stall.
4) players that do find clues then research clues (invoke task resolution such as research to understand clue significance)
5) players may or may not research well - potential story stall.
6) assumption: either (2) and/or (4) go well enough to lead to the next investigative scene.  rinse and repeat (2)->(6) until case closed.

Your problem points 3 and 5 are exactly what Trail of Cthulhu was created to address. And it addresses them successfully, although it's a bit lackluster apart from this IMO.

I mean, ToC isn't that old, granted, but it's been a couple years. I'm surprised not to see it as part of this discussion already.

Uh, as long as I'm contributing solely by pointing at other games and grunting: David, have you had a look at Cthulhu Dark yet?
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David Hallett
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Posts: 35


« Reply #13 on: March 09, 2011, 03:03:23 PM »

Yes, Mike, I've seen it and think it's great. Obviously it has different design goals from this game, but it would be my weapon of choice for rapid-pickup Cthulhoid gaming, especially with folks who "just want to play their character" and are wary of "too much system".

Totally agree that ToC solves some of these problems, though not totally to my liking, as should be obvious from the fact that I feel the need to design something else!
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #14 on: March 09, 2011, 03:38:11 PM »

heroic deaths over something that really matters are great.
I feel this way too, but I'm very picky about the particulars.  Getting killed in the final confrontation of the adventure is fine by me.  Getting killed in the penultimate scene, and having to sit out the final scene, is not fine by me, unless I died doing the thing that got the other players to the final scene.  That's about where the line is for me between frustrating death and fun death.  Where is it for you?

I should also note that I'm much less disappointed to die if I can still play somehow (zombie, wraith, evil NPC, etc.).

As Doom, the way I think of it is that early in the story, the PCs are lucky . . . As the story progresses, however, their luck steadily runs out.
Sorry, I have to stick with "feels metagamey".  I think it risks Gareth and Steve sitting down at the same table with different assumptions about the logic of play.  Or Gareth not sitting down at all.

I take it Composure damage and escalating monster encounters aren't doin' it for ya?

If you'd like to stick with "luck runs out", I'd want an in-fiction explanation of that.  Like, you've been cursed by interacting with Mythos stuff, and we throw in some environmental color to back that up (your stuff breaks or disappears, your pet dies, the power on your block goes down, pigeons crap on you, etc.).

I agree I don't have the trade-off between Shadow and Insight right yet. It needs to be a real dilemma. How about if making the attempt to increase Insight in itself costs 1 Humanity?
Yeah, hitting Humanity harder would help.  Once the risk of turning into an NPC is on the table, then it's much more of a dilemma!  Attempts at gaining Insight might not come around frequently enough to achieve that, though.  Or would they?  Hmm.  I'll ponder some more, but I'm not quite dedicated enough to map out the final rates of exchange between all your currencies.  If you do that, though, I'd definitely look it over!
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