June 12th, 2008

Van Helsing No D

Mental Exercise... [gaming geekery]

So, suppose for the sake of discussion you were going to build a mystery/horror game using SWSE's d20 implementation as a basis, albeit a very loose one. What would you do for classes? d20 Modern's "Strong Hero/Fast Hero/Smart Hero (etc.)" method, while flexible, has all the flavor of a cardboard tube, and Cthulhu d20's two class options ("Offensive/Defensive") are even duller.

Forgoing for the moment the exact talent trees associated with the specific classes, here are some archetypes that might work. What do you think?

  • Adventurer: Action-oriented heroes, whether acrobatic and quick-witted, or your big, brawny, bruiser type. Not much use against the Colour From Space, but good for roughing up stoolies and blasting zombies with a shotgun.
  • Scholar: Antiquarians, professors, psychiatrists — the brainy character who knows that the cultists come from the last outpost of Hyperborea and can decipher the runes that will send the gibbering horror back to its home plane.
  • Shadow: Sneaks, rogues, private investigators, secret agents, thieves. Anyone who specializes in operating unseen and undetected, for good or ill.
  • Socialite: Celebrities, wealthy dilettantes, big-name authors. People with connections who can get you into the opening night at the museum, charm the surly steamboat captain into continuing down the forbidden river, or at the very least finance the journey.
  • Visionary: Psychics, bohemian artists with uncanny powers of perception, mysterious fortune-tellers.

Have I missed any likely suspects? Multiclassing would be free and easy, enabling the combination of classes to create other archetypes. A "psychic investigator" would be Shadow/Visionary for instance, while somebody like Indiana Jones would be Adventurer/Scholar.

Or are these too many? I could fold "Scholar" and "Visionary" into a single class, for instance, probably as well as "Adventurer" and "Shadow" without too much difficulty. But the idea is to provide a fairly broad selection of choices.

-The Gneech
Me Barbarian

The Mortality Paradox [more gaming geekery]

One thing that needs to be examined re: mystery/horror gaming, is the relative fragility of player characters. When Cthulhu d20 came out, it was widely praised except for one item that got smacked up one side and down the other, which was that hit points still went up with level, theoretically enabling a 10th level character to get a shotgun blast to the face and still be in the fight. (This is not necessarily the case, BTW. The massive damage threshold in CoC d20 is a low, low 10 points. A shotgun to the face, doing an average of 12 points of damage, would trigger a Fort save vs. DC 15 to avoid dying instantly, no matter what your level or how high your HP. But I digress.) The general perception is that in order to keep suspense, the characters should be both fragile and expendable.

I've never actually played Call of Cthulhu, but I've read accounts of games where there was almost a revolving door of characters coming in one session, getting devoured or going nuts the next session, and a replacement character coming in the third. I've always found this baffling — how can you get any emotional investment in a character who's only going to be around for six hours or less of gameplay? And how can you come up with concept after concept when they get knocked down like so many bowling pins, short of resorting to "This is Agatha Lovejoy's twin brother Arnold Lovejoy..." followed by "This is Agatha and Arnold's cousin, Rupert Lovejoy..."

On the other hand, if the characters aren't threatened by combat, the natural instinct of most gamers will be to shoot first and ask questions later (if at all). Nothing takes care of gibbering cultists quite so efficiently as a Thompson equipped with a 50-round drum — at which point you're playing Doom or something instead.

So, it's a paradox which is going to require some thought. I'm curious, any of you out there in LJ-land who have played CoC (in any incarnation), how deadly was it? And how did it impact your experience? I'm very interested to hear about it.

-The Gneech