Sunday, April 10, 2016

[Achtung Cthulhu] Three Kings

Picking right up where we left off last session, our intrepid heroes make disastrous contact with the Czech underground and hatch plans to infiltrate Castle Karlstein. What secrets does that great old fortress, or the priest known as Codename ANGEL, conceal?

Photo by Lukáš Kalista

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And...Edie the Dog


  1. Truly sorry about the food-crunching at the top of this recording, folks. The guilty parties have been...dealt with.

    1. cursing them with terrible rolling this session?

  2. You guys and German castles... :)

    Mythos grenade! (Martin Whitmore on flickr)

    1. This will likely be the last one for a while. But can you blame us? They're just so cool!

  3. Ah, the Deadlands nostalgia of just deciding to full-on murder a somewhat helpful NPC because

    1) They're acting vaguely suspiciously
    2) They have something you want.

    Good work storming a Nazi castle though! I guess you've defeated the bad guys, rescued the tome and escaped. I guess next session is a hastily-thrown together epilogue?

  4. Finally caught up! Lots of fun.

    Some scattered thoughts:

    - Jen touched on something I always found irritating about CoC. You don't start with Cthulhu Mythos, despite the fact that in the source material every single person who's been within 100 miles of Arkham has leafed through the Necronomicon. My house rule was that a critical on Occult counted as a success on Cthulhu Mythos, which had the added bonus of making Occult valuable to take to high levels when designing a character.

    - Not to make it seem like I have an agenda based on overpowering Jen's character, but an academic of the period who knew Polish and Enochian would almost certainly have reading knowledge of several other languages. Latin at a competent level at a minimum, and also ancient Greek - it would be practically impossible to conduct work on occultism in the age of Dee without these. French and German would be standard accomplishments, too. Plus I suspect a specialist in Polish would have at least a smattering of other Slavic languages (including Czech).

    - Since the lieutenant is British, his rank is pronounced "Leftenant," not "Lootenant." Hey, if you're going to do the accent...

    1. About Occult/Cthulhu Mythos, I was happy to separate the two with the idea that anything that H.P. Lovecraft wrote or derived was automatically completely true, and therefore never published as fiction. Any reference to it from previous explorers was suppressed by a vague yet menacing government agency, so you can't have heard of it.

      Anything else fantasy, sci-fi or horror related was covered by the Occult skill. Since most CoC games are set in the early 20th century I don't have to consider how popular culture evolved too much without Lovecraft, and just excise him neatly from history.

      Also I think that's why people without the language can roll for half to get by with a passable attempt at communication.

    2. You know, the funny thing is that before last session I was wondering to myself, "I wonder if they still spelled (spelt) it 'Leftenant' or had switched to spelling it 'Lieutenant' by this point?" And then completely forgot to pronounce it "properly" anyway! Ah well.

      And yeah, I tend to take Jake's view on the Occult/Mythos split. Occult is the skill dealing with knowledge of man-made systems of forbidden knowledge, while Cthulhu Mythos is the skill of knowing the actual truth. Occult is a piece with Anthropology and Theology, while all three fall under the overall umbrella of Cthulhu Mythos as each is merely a gloss on "how things really are."

      That said, I like your rule about scoring an Extreme success granting some Mythos-y insight. I'm also using the tome rules from the Miskatonic University supplement that allow some crossover between CM and more mundane skills. (For example, reading "Nameless Cults" allows Anthropology to substitute for Cthulhu Mythos under certain conditions.)

      I'll talk to Jen about the languages thing--that makes sense, and I think we're going to need someone with a deep grounding in languages as the campaign moves ahead!

    3. Jake: just to clarify. My problem with it was not based on the idea of Lovecraft's fiction existing within the world - it was based on the fact that within Lovecraft's stories themselves, the protagonists often start the story with some scraps of knowledge of Cthulhuesque stuff. The world is one in which having some knowledge of this is not uncommon among (the small minority, obviously, of) people who are interested in that sort of thing.

      Hence the Occult thing - the principle was that a person who devoted their lives to studying the occult would also pick up some odds and ends of true knowledge around the edges, which is the way it seems to work in Lovecraft.

      There may have been a touch of D&D assumptions in the way it worked in early editions (= the ones I know), where books were presented rather like magic items that give you Cthulhu Mythos and so came across something of a reward system for players. There was a table with Al-Azif at the top as the most valuable.

    4. I was going to say the "leftenant" spelling has never been used in the UK, but I looked it up, and of course this is English so one can never be absolute. That said, I don't think it's ever been the standard spelling here.

      OED: In 1793 Walker gives the actual pronunciations as /lɛv-/ /lɪvˈtɛnənt/ , but expresses the hope that ‘the regular sound, lewtenant’ will in time become current. In England this pronunciation /ljuːˈtɛnənt/ is almost unknown. A newspaper quot. of 1893 in Funk's Standard Dict. Eng. Lang. says that /lɛfˈtɛnənt/ is in the U.S. ‘almost confined to the retired list of the navy’.

      and the only actual example given of the spelling is:

      1526 Bible (Tyndale) Luke ii. f. lxxiiijv, Syrenus was leftenaunt in Siria.

      so I think that the "lef-" pronunciation is pretty certain for your period, while the "lef-" spelling will probably be used only by people being deliberately highly archaic. (It certainly doesn't appear in contemporary records, and it's completely unused now.)

    5. On the languages: one point here is that a binary success/failure skill roll based on a linear progression is particularly bad for reflecting language ability.

      The ability to understand anything at all at first hearing or reading with complete accuracy isn't something that we have even in our native languages - as we discover when we encounter something in a highly technical area with its own jargon with which we are unfamiliar. Not just technical areas, either (subcultures, etc.)

      "Some arguments, like adjuncts, fuse with positions in the CS of a verb" (abbreviated real example, not mine). Relatively few English speakers can understand that at sight, I suspect. That includes me. But I know enough about linguistics to identify that as linguistics (e.g. I know what arguments and adjuncts are). That would save time if I had to discover the meaning, especially in a pre-Internet era.

      Problem 1 is this sort of thing is represented in role-playing games not by having scores in "English" but by having scores in Law, Physics, Streetwise, etc. These encompass linguistic ability in their areas.

      But that doesn't stop being true of foreign languages. A native speaker of English who is an historian with a specialism in 16th-century French intellectual history will actually be more competent to understand a tiny but real proportion of things in French than many native speakers of French.

      Problem 2 is that "what you can understand at first hearing" is a very different question from "what you can read given time and access to a well-equipped library." (Again, presuming pre-Internet days.). A decent command of "tourist's X" (= how do you say Y in X, where Y is something that you have to say a lot) is likely to be better for navigating more common social situations than relatively thorough command of grammar but poor vocabulary. But for reading knowledge, esp. of difficult material from earlier periods, not only would you be better off with decent grammar and access to a comprehensive dictionary, but it would in many ways be more important to know your way around such ancillary materials.

      OK, all RPG mechanisms abstract, and this is only one more case of that. Also, our host has probably been getting increasingly irritated with this comment and thinking "You do realize that I'm a professional librarian and thinking about this sort of thing is what I do for a living, right?"

      But the thing is, it's particularly important in CoC, because in CoC investigation and research are the equivalents of combat in baseline RPGs. For historical reasons of its origins in RQ/BRP plus what we all thought of as normal for RPGs in the '80s, CoC has a less abstract combat system than it does for other things.

      But what it could use is something that on the acquiring-information side that kept the same simulationist assumptions but created drama and reflected complexity in the areas that the game is actually *about*.

      (I say "kept the same simulationist assumptions" to head off the "Well, there's Trail of Cthulhu, isn't there?" objection. I think there's a peculiar rhetorical value to simulationism in representing Lovecraft, because the conceit is that this is the true "reality." Giving Azathoth precise stats is in some ways a bizarre waste of space, but in other ways it's absolutely brilliant.)

      And since our host is a library and information science specialist, I'm really interested to hear how he might go about introducing such complexities into a BRP-based simulationist framework. I'm thinking of a system that would naturally redirect from "Does the character understand this or not?" to "Can the character feel confident that s/he understands this *well enough* or not - and can they afford the time it would take to improve their understanding?"