I’m still having a bit of culture shock with this game. The other players really want to split the party, for instance. Coming from the old school D&D table, I’m like… you gotta be kidding, eh?! But no, the Call of Cthulhu veterans are completely blasé about it. You don’t win by forming up into some kind of off the wall fantasy phalanx. Heck, the idea of winning goes against the whole premise of the game to begin with.
But there is one commonality between classic D&D and this is that combat is not supposed to be the focus. You avoid it because it’s going to hurt. You also don’t seek it out because there’s no experience system set up to reward it.
I have to say, though, I was quite pleased to see this game produce really vivid combat scenes with very few rules. In the first place, the everything about this game is designed to encourage everyone to move away from the piloting the mech approach to role-playing. Even the combat rules are set up so that the players describe their actions and the Keeper translates them into rules or rulings as he sees fit. This really works. And I’m kicking myself for never thinking to play like this before.
There I was, some demon possessed crazy woman coming at my redneck bootlegger with a kitchen knife. I could “battle back” right then and hope she missed. I opted for a dodge, and my superior dice result meant I was still in one piece. My fellow investigator opted to throw a vase of flowers that I had somehow imagined into the scene at the back of the lady’s head. It missed, so it was back to me.
Now… in the typical D&D game, this is going to be just another routine “roll d20 against armor class” type situation. I put myself in the situation and decided that the most likely thing I would want to do would be… regardless of what any rules or rulings actually are… to grab the lady’s knife hand in order to ensure that I did not end up getting stuck with it. The Keeper made the ruling, dice were rolled, and it worked.
My partner in Mythos investigations found another improvised weapon, moved closer and bashed the lady over the head with it to no effect. (Demons be crazy, yo.) On my turn, I wanted to twist the lady’s arm behind her. Some sort of wrasslin’ type move to neutralize her without hurting her. The Keeper wasn’t sure how it would work, but a real life military guy at the table described how that sort of thing had actually been done to him in real life. I put in how I would totally be hip to anything related to hillbilly style “dirty” fighting. And the other player gave a brief lecture on the awesomeness of Bartitsu and how there were fighting moves that have dropped out of use due to the formalities and rulings of professional sports. The Keeper went with it, the dice concurred… and with a bit more discussion, the demon possessed lady was soon pinned to the floor and tied up with a power cord. (Wait… would there actually be power cords in 1922? Check that!)
I’m fairly certain that we were only using about 20% of the rules of this game. But the parts we were using were designed to both allow and encourage this sort of thing to happen. If you’ve read about “The Way of the Ming Vase” in Matt Finch’s Primer on Old School Gaming and have been aggravated to not actually make it happen at the table, then you’ll want to sit in on a few sessions of this game.
This stuff works. And it’s another testament to the fact that classic games do not necessarily have to “evolve” away from their roots.