This is a very large game. It positively exudes gravitas. It’s among the most revered and most talked about rpgs of all time. The people with epic stories of awesome game sessions that came out of playing this system are legion. This is not something I’m just going to spontaneously pick up and run with, so I’m going to take it one chapter at a time.
Introductions to role-playing games tend to be largely a bunch of boiler plate, but even here there are things worth commenting on. There’s just something very unique about rpgs, for instance:
When a number of people get together cooperatively, they build a communal fantasy far more interesting and imaginative than a single person can– and the joint effort results in an extremely fun and satisfying experience for all involved. Together you create and develop a story in which each of your investigators plays a leading role.
This quality of tabletop role-playing is precisely why I detest lengthy planning sessions. It’s also why even in short convention games played with strangers I insist on having players create characters rather than using pre-gens. I want the players involved in building the “communal fantasy” from the get go, I want to system to contribute to this happening, and I want this to emerge in actual play rather than being something that hinges on me coming up with some kinds of gaming masterpiece.
The example of play is quite good and features one of my favorite things in gaming: a group of players that are confronted with a situation that causes them to behave as if they have all failed some kind of morale check. The outright panic players have when things start to run away on them is palpable. I don’t know why this happens as often as it does, but the level of immersion and engagement is phenomenal.
I was surprised to see the players making listening rolls and stealth and “spot hidden” rolls in the example, though. How would you know if you failed to notice something? I actually run my fantasy games that way, but I wonder if in horror gaming that this sort of “meta” information could impact immersion. Players checking boxes every time they make a successful roll seems equally intrusive. On the other hand, if it saves the referee from making arbitrary judgement calls with regards to character advancement, I could see it as being a net gain. (Oddly enough, we house-ruled our Car Wars campaign to work more like this and it worked insanely well.)
Easily the most controversial thing in this section is the NOTICE to “keepers”:
It is recommended that anyone hoping to run a game of Call of Cthulhu becomes familiar with the works of H. P. Lovecraft. By reading Lovecraft’s stories, you will not only learn a lot about the Cthulhu Mythos, but you will also begin to understand some of the key horror themes that are used in this game…. A Keeper who reads at least half of the above works, which are mostly novelettes, will be in good shape to run this game. Potential players of the game are encouraged to read at least one story before trying to investigate any of the mysteries of the Mythos.
This is not normal in role-playing games. Often there is a list of “inspirations” in the back or maybe a bibliography. Outside of this volume and Ron Edwards’s Sorcerer & Sword, I have never seen this sort of point blank insistence on the fact that the game master is going to have to read quite a bit in order to run these sorts of games.
Dungeons & Dragons players in particular would resent being told something like this. Some of them would get table-flipping mad if it were insinuated that they do not understand the game just because they are unfamiliar with some old stories that nobody has really heard of. But faithfulness to the source material is of course something that sets Call of Cthulhu apart from other games on the market. It is responsible for no small part of the game’s cachet. Contrariwise, it is D&D’s divorce from its roots that is responsible for its glib and derivative tedium.
You’d have to wonder what D&D would be like today had it not succumbed to this sort of drift. What if it had had a similar directive as Sandy Peterson’s game in order to serve as a bulwark? In fact, it did have something to the same effect in Gary Gygax’s introduction to the original ruleset. Behold:
These rules are strictly fantasy. Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don’t care for Burroughs’ Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard’s Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find DUNGEONS and DRAGONS to their taste.
Right. There it is in plain Gygaxian: If you don’t like the books that inspired the game, you probably won’t get it. In fact… you should really consider getting a different hobby.