Have you ever thought to yourself; “Do you know what, there just aren’t enough RPG rules for playing games of Lovecraftian Horror?”. I’ve got to be honest and say no, it has never really crossed my mind. I know that some people find the BRP mechanics behind Chaosiums’ classic Call of Cthulhu a bit too simplistic, but for those guys there is always Trail of Cthulhu with its Fate based system. But of late there seems to have been a spate of new interest in the genre. Two systems in particular have caught our eye here at miskatonic.co.uk
Firsltly, back in March last year someone out there on the Twittersphere, mentioned Macabre Tales, a new RPG of Lovecraftian Horror from Spectrum Games. Which according to designer, Cynthia Miller, strips out the “contributions” of later authors and focuses solely on what Lovecraft himself created. It appealed to my inner roleplayer as it seem to have a rich story led focus, and even goes to far as to abandon dice (!), opting instead to employ the use of dominoes.
The game is really designed for a narrator and one player, which is even more in keeping with many of Lovecrafts tales, his characters didn’t tend to go round in groups like Scooby and the gang, (some exceptions I’ll grant you). That said there are rules for more than one player – just make sure that they bring their own dominoes (two sets per player).
In writing Macabre Tales Cynthia Miller was concious that there isn’t a lot of real combat in Lovecraft’s tales and so this is reflected in the game. However, this doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t have its fair share of dramatic action. There is a great mechanic referred to as Tension Scenes, in which the player can gain and lose Momentum Points that determine how well/badly things are going for them, as the story progresses the Momentum Point goals get higher simulating the building tension and drama. There is also a reward mechanic which allows the narrator to give “genre points” for appropriate actions, these can then be spent to help them in future situations. There is a great design essay from Cynthia Miller about the thoughts behind Macabre Tales posted on Flames Rising (here). You can also download a Macabre Tales sneak peek from DriveThruRPG here.
Macabre Tales is something different, by avoiding all of the tales that came after Lovecraft and sticking to his canon for inspiration this is a very focussed game. The mechanics make it stand apart from others, and in truth I find that I really like them and could see other genres using the domino mechanics nicely. The game is really nice and I’m sure many of you will really enjoy it if you are willing to give it a go.
The Second offering was a more recent discovery, again an RPG based on Lovecraftian horror. When this one came across my desk it caught my eye simply because it was only four pages long, and when I say four pages that’s actually four columns that will print on two sides of one sheet of paper, oh and by the way one of those columns is the title page. Now if you have been reading my blog/website/ramblings for any period of time you will know that I am a huge fan of the simple RPG, something that you can teach novice in minutes, that you can pick up and play in an impromptu fashion between beers at a convention….
Cthulhu Dark from Graham Walmsley certainly, for me anyway, fits this bill. Cthulhu Dark is a rule system, simple and elegant, written with playing Lovecraftian horror games in mind (although you could use it for many/any genre if you wanted). Now I think this really does fill a good gap in the genre the simple, rules light, beer and pretzel games system. You can buy it from DriveThruRPG here for $3, although as Graham says you can also download it for free from his website, I’m not going to provide a link directly to the free game because I think he deserves your $3 for the effort he has put in, but if you are determined to find it 30 seconds with Google will do the trick.