I’ve got news for all the younglings out there who think the only games in town are connected to video screens. None of your uber-realistic video games can hold a candle to what can happen during a good old school paper and pencil role playing game (RPG). What you kids call role playing games are infinitely closed box universes compared to the realms of your own imaginations running wild within the parameters of a good old school role playing scenario. Everybody has heard of Dungeons and Dragons. I played it a couple of times in the early 80s. It just didn’t catch my imagination like Call of Cthulhu, the hyper-creepy RPG based completely on the fictional stories of H.P. Lovecraft.
I came away from playing this game with the horrifying conjecture: what if the universe were really like this? You, dear reader, can see where this madness has led. The first novel in my new series is based in a Lovecraftian story universe. The whole series is.
I’m exploring that very question here. What if Lovecraft is right? And what would a series based on this tagline look like: Rainbow Six meets the Cthulhu Mythos?
Obviously, the answer to that question is Special Task Force: GREEN MAJIK.
Now, let’s tie this all back into the craft of writing. Old school role playing games are absolute bonanzas of plot material for the savvy story engineer. Part of my character creation process is to roll up an investigator sheet from the Call of Cthulhu role playing game for each of my characters. Other writers should look at what constitutes a character within the context of a role playing game and how one plays this character in a game which uses dice and probability tables to determine the outcomes of actions taken by the characters within the boundaries of a story scenario. On a role playing character sheet, the numbers speak volumes. For example, SIZE is a rating of the physical mass of a character. So if somebody has a SIZE of 10 but a DEXTERITY of 4 and a STRENGTH of 4 what can you deduce about this character’s physical form? Big number for size, pathetic number for dexterity and strength. Hum. How about somebody who is hugely overweight and therefore very bad at anything requiring physical prowess?
So a he-man hero like Mack Bolan would have a SIZE of 11 or 12, DEX of 10 and STRENGTH of 9 or 10. This is a huge six foot plus man-mountain of muscle and malice. See how that works? It’s beautiful.
So, when your character gets in a fight, a lot of things come into play. SIZE, DEX, STRENGTH, plus specific combat skill ratings for fighting shooting knifing magically attacking opponents must be added up and compared. It becomes a matter of your character’s numbers versus the opponent’s numbers, a relative ratio established and then roll the damn dice for the outcome!
These aren’t any Las Vegas roulette table dice, no. In paper and pencil RPGs, you need 4, 6, 20, and 100 sided dice. You need special dice to play these games. Six-sided dice only are completely inadequate to the task here.
The thing about CoC that separates it from friggin’ Dungeons and Dragons is the dreaded Sanity Roll. Think about it, puny human. When dealing with the Mythos, your character is going to come into physical contact with beings of an extradimensional nature that is so over the top outside the boundaries of both reason and possibility suddenly confronting your mortal fragile consciousness that the shock of that reality threatens your sanity. And rightly so. No sane being would charge a dragon or Cthulhu. Admit it. The sight of something like Cthulhu would induce instantaneous seizures of mindless fear and insanity. The game factors this reality into its mechanics. So you must make a sanity roll. If you fail your sanity roll, various bad things happen. You go bat shit insane for a time to be determined with a die roll by the Game Master. You usually end up in a sanitarium until you recover a semblance of normalcy. But losses of sanity reduce your Sanity Rating permanently. Certain game events can allow a character to regain sanity points but the drain on points is always faster than you can replace them. CoC investigators don’t live to ripe old ages. If they don’t die horrible deaths, they usually go permanently insane at some point.
This mathematical certainty in the game, that your character WILL go insane the more that the character meddles with the Mythos beautifully and elegantly mimics the tone and outcomes of Lovecraft’s grim, dark, hopeless tales of horror.
If you read the novel, you’ll note that I don’t share Lovecraft’s assessment of humanity’s plight in the face of the Mythos.
I’m not wired like Lovecraft. I’m wired like Wilson or Crowley. I see tremendous hope and potential for the upward spiral of humanity to inherit hir destiny as gods. Humanity’s potential is so huge that Great Cthulhu MUST destroy humanity because if He doesn’t, he’s toast in the long run. That’s where I invert and subvert the Lovecraft prognosis. I acknowledge the Mythos beings. I do not acknowledge that humanity is doomed as a result of that.
Don’t think that means I’m going to water down the horror of the Mythos up close and personal. I just believe that human beings are capable of developing consciousness that can rival Cthulhu. The facts of this would explain the Mythos determination to corrupt and destroy humanity utterly. We’re the gang of little Lucifers to Cthulhu’s Yahweh. That’s how I see things.
Now think about this, writers. Say you’ve got a really big scene you want to write. It must be over the top spectacular. But…nothing is coming out of the muse that stacks up to the requirement. Try this. Sketch out all the necessary locations needed for the piece. Create character sheets for all the characters involved in this action. Get friends together to play the various characters. You, the writer, act as the Game Master. You tell the story and play the NPCs (non-player characters) and monsters – if any are involved. And then, just let the magick happen! I guarantee you things are going to go on spontaneously created by the group mind that manifests during these types of games that you could have never imagined in your wildest dreams. I recommend you have some kind of digital recording device going when you do this.
When that magick happens – no fucking video game can compare to the experience you are going to have playing a paper and pencil RPG. I know. I’ve played both sides of this fence. I know the dopamine addictive thrill of a good video game. But that is NOTHING compared to what I experienced in my own mind playing Call of Cthulhu.
No video game will ever equal what you can do with your own imagination. Period. You video heads that think otherwise need a software upgrade.
So I want to point all you video heads to the center of the cyclone. I dare you. Try it old school. And you can do that, thanks to the publisher of Call of Cthulhu, Chaosium, Inc., completely free of risk. Well, you’ll have to get those special dice. If you don’t blink at spending $70 on a friggin’ video game, I don’t want to hear about spending $20 on some fucking dice. Just DO IT.
Follow this link. You can download a pdf file with all the rules you need to play the included CoC scenario. Oh, you video heads will sing a different tune after that. Then you’ll probably start digging into the Core Rules and all the wonderful campaign books. Then…you’ll start creating your own campaigns. A campaign in CoC is what we writers would call a novel.
Yeah, this isn’t common core math. 2+2 does equal 4.