South Park Me

The (Mis)adventures of Lt. Mason A. Schufeldt

Just finished reading The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, about the designer of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and serial killer H.H. Holmes. It was readable but overrated (I wanted more with the "Changed America" and didn't get it), but I was happily struck by a few scant words on the fate of poor Lt. Schufeldt of the US Army:

Time was so short, the Executive Committee began planning exhibits and appointing world's fair commissioners to secure them. In February the committee voted to dispatch a young army officer, Lieutenant Mason A. Schulfedt, to Zanzibar to begin a journey to locate a tribe of Pygmies only recently revealed to exist by explorer Henry Stanley, and to bring to the fair, "a family of twelve or fourteen of the fierce little midgets."

Followed by...
Meanwhile young Lieutenant Schulfedt had reached Zanzibar. On July 20 he telegraphed Exposition President William Baker that he was confident he could acquire as many Pygmies from the Congo as he wished, provided the king of Belgium consented.

Sad news arrived from Zanzibar: There would be no Pygmies. Lieutenant Schufeldt was dead, of unclear causes.

I don't know which fills me with more inspiration, the idea of Lt. Schufeldt meeting his fate in an African jungle as he comes upon a tribe of cannibalistic pygmies worshipping a tongue-faced god, or said pygmies making it to Chicago after all to serve "long pig" to fair-goers in between Tesla's electrical exhibit on one side and Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show on the other side.
South Park Me

Children of Earth and Curse of the Yellow Sign

This is a joint post to my gaming livejournal and my personal blog, due to the cross-topics being discussed.

This week, I saw that latest (last?) Torchwood series, Children of Earth, and read the first act in the Curse of the Yellow Sign series for Call of Cthulhu. I expected one to be marginal and the other to rock, and was surprised on both fronts. MAJOR SPOILER WARNING for those that continue...

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Music for Gaming: 8mm

This would probably make a great soundtrack for a horror game. The heavy use of Middle Eastern-sounding music would also make it good for games set in that area. The more incidental-sounding tracks are generic enough to be used in any modern time period, whether that be the '20s or the 2000s.

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Music for Gaming

In the process of transferring over my MP3's and other music files from an old desktop to a new one, I lost some of the info I'd inputted into the Itunes entries for the files, forcing me to go through them one by one. I've built up a library of music files categorized for game use, mostly instrumental scores from movies, TV shows, and video games broken down by genre (usually Soundtrack), grouping (usually Score), subroupings (definitions added on to grouping based on the geographic origin of the music), scene (what kind of action is going on), setting (what time period the music is good for), and mood (the kind of emotions the music tends to inspire). Right now, these are the fields I've built up:
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So what I'm going to start doing is posting the data I built for each album, one at time, no more than one every day or so. Hopefully, this might be of some use to people who use music to set the scene for their games.
South Park Me

KublaCon 2009

It's saying something that I had such a good experience at this year's KublaCon, because it had no business being anything other than a complete clusterfuck. The con staff scheduled and re-scheduled my two games around so much that I was completely stressed out by the time I ran them and had to deal with players showing up to the wrong room or two hours after the game began. Yet, the games I played in and the players that attended my games were so good that I can honestly say that this was one of the few conventions that was a consistently enjoyable experience.

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Despite what happened with my Sunday game, which I think counted more as a flawed success more or less, I can still say that every game was fun as hell. Somehow, I lucked out in playing with skilled GMs and, most surprisingly, sets of players filled with exceptional role-players who got into their characters as well as being friendly and witty. No one was That Guy at the gaming table, and I was grateful that I never had one of my own That Guy moments. I hope ConQuest turns out the same, with the caveat that it would be nice to play at least one game that wasn't Lovecraft-related.
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Fundable for Keith Herber's Widow

Keith Herber, one of the leading authors that created the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game in its formative years, passed away yesterday. Simply looking over the listing of his work at Pen & Paper RPG Database shows how much he has added to both CoC and this hobby as a whole. What stands out for me from that list are his work on the 1920's Investigator's Companion and Escape From Innsmouth, both of which set the standard of classic Lovecraftian roleplaying gamebooks.

It was a shame that Herber died just as he was getting back into publishing CoC material for his new imprint at Miskatonic River Press. I didn't know Keith beyond a few discussions we shared on the forums, but he always struck me as an intelligent, informed designer, one that got what CoC was all about and why it could be such an satisfying game to share with others. A fundable has been set up for Keith's widow Sharon at - I have contributed some money and would appreciate it if others who have enjoyed Keith's work would donate any small amount, which will go to defraying the costs of any funeral expenses that Mrs. Herber may have to endure.

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Professional Competence and Insane Effort

In my last post, I tried to address the charge that characters are too incompetent in Call of Cthulhu by granting more points to spend in the BRP point-buy character creation system on characteristics and skills. Another way to deal with the problem* might be in using one or both of these house rules:

Professional Competence
To create characters that are more likely to be more competent at their occupational skills than those who studied the same skill as a hobby, each character assigns 8 occupational skills (which must be at a professional level of 60%) that they can flip-flop once per scene. The player can flip-flop as many times per scene as they choose, but only once in a scene on a particular skill. So a doctor with a Medicine of 63% can flip-flop a roll of 85 into 58 once during a scene, and then cannot flip-flop their Medicine skill again, but they can still flip-flop their other occupational skills (First Aid, Pharmacy, etc.) once during that scene. If the occupation has less than eight skills then the player can assign as many hobby skills as needed to bring it up to eight.

This is obviously based on Unknown Armies' obsession skill mechanic, where you can choose one skill to flip-flop. I set the number at 8 skills because that's how many skills are assigned to most of the occupations listed in the 6th edition CoC rulebook. I required that the skill be at 60% or higher so that players still have an incentive to place a proper amount of points into their occupational skills. For the math wonks, at 60% skill flip-flopping increases the chance to succeed to 83%, it increases at 70% skill to 90% chance, at 80% skill to 95% chance, and at 90% to 98% chance; so, it still rewards having a high amount in a professional skill (60-80) but doesn't require characters to be Nobel Prize winners and Olympic athletes with a bunch of 90% skills to be reasonably competent.

Insane Effort
In the spirit of Insane Insight, this rule allows a character to become so obsessed with a task that they lose all focus on reality but become much more likely to succeed at the effort. A player can flip-flop the result of any skill roll in exchange for losing 1 Magic Point and risking 1D6 points of Sanity. If a character goes insane as the result of an Insane Effort roll, they become fixated on succeeding at the task for the duration of the insanity or until brought back to sanity through psychoanalysis, drugs, and other treatments. Insane Effort cannot be used on Sanity checks, and can only be used in situations where the character is likely to develop a fixation on the task.

I don't know how they plan to do Pulp Cthuhu, but this is the mechanic that I'd use to create that setting. It puts it in the hands of the players if they wish to trade high-competence for less Sanity, and seems like it would establish a mood where the characters are both good at what they do but are still falling down the SAN loss death spiral. The big problem I see with this rule are in the Magic Points. I like using MP because, in my experience as a player, they are so rarely used, and because it creates a resource pool to keep the option in check. In truth, it's the SAN loss that would probably keep this rule in check, as anyone who tries to use Insane Effort more than 4 times in a scene will go crazy. I might fiddle with the refresh rate of Magic Points, so that they return at the end of a session or an adventure rather than every 24 hours, but I'm not sure.

* Please note that I don't think this is really a problem of mechanics so much as perspective. A game where characters bumble around and often can't succeed at their skills is in keeping with the way Lovecraft often (but not always) presented his protagonists, and the classic rules fit for the classic game. I just think that CoC is big enough to encompass a greater variety of characters and stories than just the source material itself, and I like these options as house rules when the Keeper wants to try something different.

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Adventures in Character Creation

In between creating characters for my DunDraCon game and another to play in an 1890s campaign, I've been doing a lot of character creation with Call of Cthulhu, and it has not been a happy experience. A common complaint about CoC using their traditional Basic Role-Playing (BRP) system is that characters are almost always incompetent bumblers, constantly failing underskilled rolls with even the most menial of tasks. I think a lot of this comes from a wrongheaded approach to the rules, where Keepers call for skill rolls in situations that should be an automatic success unless the player rolls a 01 for a critical failure, or when, outside of combat, a failed skill roll is interpreted as a complete failure rather than simply less than a full success (i.e. your failed Spot Hidden roll may still give you the clue necessary to get to the next scene, but it doesn't give you all the clues that could have alerted you to the cultist ambush in that next scene). That said, characters created under BRP do end up as poorly-skilled even for an average person, which might be okay if you're trying to play H.P Lovecraft in a Lovecraftian game, but less so when you want to break out of that mold and play an even slightly competent and well-rounded human being, much less a WWII commando. So I am going to try to create a typical Our Darkest Hour character from just the basic CoC rules (the ones in the 6th edition book) and those in the Basic Role-Playing book, and see if I can come up with a system that works. Here is the character I am trying to create:

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The Objective

So you know how I was saying there haven't yet been enough works to build a fictional tradition about our current wars in the Mideast so that inexperienced spuds like me can use it as background with any legitimacy. Well, that's already changing:

I'll admit that if I didn't know it had a slightly better pedigree, I'd think was just another bad Sci-Fi Original Movie based on the trailer. Still, the film looks very Delta Green-ish, especially as I've always been more interested in the military-espionage side of the background, and have been disappointed that Pagan remains focused on the tired X-Files law enforcement material. Maybe Targets of Opportunity will change that.