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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Games that are good: the Cthulhus

This is my gaming bookshelf. The highlighted sections are Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu. Oh, and Cthulhu Live.

Welcome to Games That Are Good, an irregular series in which I look at the games on my shelf and explain why you oughta like 'em. As you can see, the shelf is actually pretty small -- over the years, I've moved many times, including back and forth between Britain and the US more than once. As a result, I went through a period of keeping things light. Many of my gaming books were boxed up and left in my family's garage the last time I moved out here. Bit by bit I've begun to reassemble the collection, but I still have a lot of books on PDF. 

Regardless, you can see from the image above that there are some trends observable even in my small collection. The heavy presence of Call of Cthulhu and its descendants Trail of Cthulhu and Cthulhu Live is pretty obvious, for instance. 

I said that this blog was going to be about history, and obvious these games are pretty tied in to that -- playing Call of Cthulhu in high school was one of the things that really made me want to study history. Partly, of course, it's that the game's default setting is the era in which H.P. Lovecraft himself was writing, the 1920s (or the 1930s in the case of Trail). Even Live, which is much more concerned with modern-day play, also talks not only about the 1920s era but has a series of other historical settings, including scenarios set in a sort of Ellroy 1950s and in the Pacific Theatre during WW2. 

There are some people who don't like the historical setting -- they argue that Lovecraft was writing in his "modern day" and that the perceived artificiality of the 20s setting removes some of the impact of the horror. I'm open to that argument, but not persuaded by it, possibly because I don't think the setting is artificial and possibly because I love the game the way I first encountered it. I still prefer the 4th edition rulebook to any other, because that's the one I read through in increasing awe in my cousin's room in Mexico City when I was 12 or 13 or so. 

Regardless, I think that one of the things I really like about CoC is that so many of the scenarios -- and when we say we love the game we're often saying we love its scenarios -- hit the sweet spot of that historian-as-detective bit. I've never been wholly convinced by the exploring-strange-landscapes scenarios, your Pits of Bendal-Dolums and what have you. For me, the archetypal CoC scenario is the one where the investigators have a big pile of letters, diaries and newspaper clippings and gradually come to the realisation that things in this place are very fucked up and have been fucked up for a long time. Bonus points if, as I advocated in my Treadwell's talk, they discover that they themselves are fucked up as a result. 

Not "fucked." I'm taking that one for granted. 

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying here is that I really like this game and, in the amazingly unlikely event that you like history and RPGs but don't already play it, you might too. 

However, if you do like the game already, stay tuned, because our next post is going to be about using palimpsests in your game. Honestly, in any game. 

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