Monday, October 4, 2010

Gumshoe / Trail of Cthulhu / Fear Itself

A few posts ago I got fairly excited about Trail of Cthulhu, a new system based on the Cthulhu Mythos, and licensed by Chaosium Games, therefore legit. It looked much much better than CthulhuTech, so was worth a look.
I asked for it for my birthday, and my wife dutifully bought it for me.
It is pretty ace.
The system, The Gumshoe System created by Robin D Laws (who my friend assures me is a genius), is a nice change of pace from most, if not all, other systems i've played. The focus is on investigation, and the piecing together of clues. Most games require you to pass a test to discover a clue, which can really stall play after a few unlucky rolls. The Gumshoe system takes a different approach - If you have a skill that could find the clue, and you state that you are using it, then you get the clue. The focus then falls on what you make of the clue, and where it leads you.
All pretty good.
A story should be set up to deliver one 'core clue' per scene, and a scene ends when the players uncover it. The clues should then add up to lead the players through the plot and to the final (and in the case of a Cthulhu game, maddening) truth.
Combat is simple and straight forward, and fairly lethal. There's no fiddly initiative, or distances, or speed. Mostly just death.
The most effective thing a character can do during combat is flee, which is so important that it has its own stat. At last!

The Cthulhu Mythos makes up the rest of the book, and is dealt with great affection, as can be seen whenever there's a sidebar that discusses the playtest phase and alternate rules. Think your character is too likely to survive? Here's an optional character creation set for creating doomed characters. Want to die when shot, rather than just take 'cinematic' damage? Knock your self out with these optional firearm rules. Want to create an uneasy sense of paranoia and claustrophobia when your Sanity score falls? Here's a way to portray insanity without telling the player what their character is suffering from.
There's the expected different investigator classes, and imaginative and inspirational write ups of monsters, cults and Mythos Beings, plus an introductory adventure. Brilliant. I heartily recommend it to everyone.

I enjoyed it so much, I bought a copy of Fear Itself. This spoilt the illusion somewhat.
Fear Itself is about 80 pages long, and is sold as an ideal vehicle for running one shot slasher movie / thriller games.
On the surface, I was quite excited. It also uses the Gumshoe system, and I like that it was short. Just the basics, no unnecessary fluff for the sake of it. We're all familiar with the genre it supports, so why waste time writing about it. Let's just get on. Oh, and it's a bit cheaper.
The problem is that it's only 53% new material.
The actual game system is word for word identical to Trail... and, I imagine, any other Gumshoe system game.
This means i've spent money on about twenty new pages, including the introductory adventure (more on that later), out of eighty.
Not so hot.
It's a supplement that's been sold as a stand alone product.

The intro adventure at the back deserves special notice, though, for one reason alone. You play LARPers. Really. And it mocks you remorselessly for even knowing what a LARPer is (although it does mock Vampire/Goth Doom Cookie LARPers more).
A little to close to the bone, I thought, although possibly great fun to play if you really hate a certain clique of roleplayers.

I'd still be interested in Mutant City Blues or The Esoterrorists though...