Dungeons and Dagons

Call of Cthulhu is a great game - it gives you a chance to kill really big and powerful monsters. Even the gods have stats, so if you can get your character powerful enough you can have a chance to kill off one of them. But a lot of CoC scenarios are quite lame because they make you jump through a lot of unnecessary hoops before you get to the killing part. Usually these hoops take the form of investigating a mystery or some such.

So here's my recipe for writing a truly playable Call of Cthulhu adventure:

1. The call to arms. The player characters get some kind of message that there's trouble at a certain out-of-the-way location and they need to go there to hack lots of beasties. If you want to follow the 'investigative' tradition of CoC, you could leave this in the form of a simple clue. For example, someone might send the party a message, and then commit suicide before it arrives. The message should contain the exact location of the enemy along with a vague hint of what to expect, for example something like this:

'No! The shapeless piping horrors! The pit of insanity! Aiiieee!!! It was at the old stone circle in Sherwood Forest (take the A6075 from Mansfield to Edwinstowe and turn left on the B6034 in the forest, park at the visitor centre and take the footpath to Hanger Hill)! It is too much - I cannnot live - I must take my own life after passing this knowledge on to those who I know will be able to deal with it!'

2. The Dungeon. The action should take place in some remote place, preferably with underground tunnels. Possibilities include:
- A set of caves carved into the limestone cliffs by the sea.
- An abandoned mine far from anywhere now inhabited.
- A set of hidden and unknown catacombs beneath an ancient, mouldering castle.

The location should be isolated so that the players can't call for help easily (if you are playing in the modern day, going underground will kill off mobile phone signals nicely). A more daring DM might set the adventure in the sub-basements of an abandoned factory right in the heart of an industrial town! The challenge is then to come up with a way of trapping the players inside until they've fought all the monsters.

3. The Treasure. No scenario is complete without rewarding the players for a job well done. CoC doesn't have experience points, so the reward should be given out in the form of treasure. Wealth is usually unimportant in a CoC game (most characters have a day job which provides for their material needs without getting in the way of adventures) so it's best to give them magic items to kill monsters with. Then they'll be able to handle a tougher scenario next time, which will be more fun.

The most basic items will be weapons and spell books, which allow the players to kill or - even more cool - take control of mythos creatures. Weapons in CoC are usually ranged 'energy beam' type devices, but it might be fun to put in some magical close combat weapons so that the players have to get 'up close and personal' with the monsters to kill them.

CoC has its rather annoying Sanity loss rules, which will take a lot of adventurers out of the game before they become really seasoned. A good way around this is to give the party a Sanity-restoring item. Healing is likely to be important too. That old AD&D favourite, the Always-Full Healing Potion Flask, would be a welcome addition to any Cthulhu campaign.

Encounter Tables

One thing that amazes me about CoC is that it's gone through so many editions without anyone ever bothering to write a decent set of random encounter tables. I've decided to put that right here and now.

Roll Forest Sea or coast Desert Mountain Roll
01-10 2D6 Cultists: Average humans armed with knives and clubs. 1D3-1 will also have firearms (roll 1D6: 1-2 revolver, 3-4 automatic pistol, 5-6 shotgun). The party of cultists has a 50% chance of having a spell book. 2D6 Deep Ones 2D6 Sand-Dwellers 2D6 Tcho-Tchos, armed with blowpipes and stone-bladed knives. 01-10
11-20 11-20
21-30 21-30
31-40 2D6 Elder Things 1D10 Serpent People 2D6 Men of Leng 31-40
41-50 1D6 Byakhees 41-50
51-60 1D6 Flying Polyps 51-60
61-70 1D6 Shoggoths 1D6 Shoggoths 1D6 Mi-Go 61-70
71-80 1D3 Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath 1D6 Star-Spawn of Cthulhu 1D3 Cthonians 71-80
81-85 1D3 Dagons 81-85
81-90 1D3 Servitors of the Outer Gods 1D3 Servitors of the Outer Gods 1D3 Servitors of the Outer Gods 1D3 Servitors of the Outer Gods 81-90
91-94 Cyaegha Great Chthulhu Hastur Ithaqua 91-94
95-97 Lesser Outer God Lesser Outer God Lesser Outer God Lesser Outer God 95-97
98 Yog-Sothoth Yog-Sothoth Yog-Sothoth Yog-Sothoth 98
99 Nyarlathotep Nyarlathotep Nyarlathotep Nyarlathotep 99
00 Azathoth Azathoth Azathoth Azathoth 00