This week my gaming group returned to the world of 1920’s pulp with ‘TheTimeless Sands of India’ an Age of Cthulhu scenario by Goodman Games. Pulp is an interesting strand of the Cthulhu games pantheon which promises a heady mix of action and adventure. Indeed Goodman Games draw on this idea to describe this series:
“Age of Cthulhu is
first and foremost dedicated to exploring the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos,
and to bringing the excitement of heroic pulp-themed adventure to your gaming
table. So dim the lights, load your trusty sidearm, and prepare to venture into
The problem? Call of
Cthulhu 6th edition, as written, doesn’t really support this style
of play. The system is (deliberately)
lethal to the characters, as a form of promoting helplessness and enforcing a spiral
into madness or death for the character.
To compound the mixed messaging, all but one of the pre-generated
characters in the scenario have no combat skills (a nurse, mathematician,
missionary and student), and the character that does (a retired soldier), has a
well below average sanity score (which is further eroded by the starting
condition of the scenario).
I previously played ‘Death in Luxor’ the first in the Age of
Cthulhu series, using the pre-generated characters, and in the opening scenes
of that game my character (with below average sanity) went permanently insane
during the first scripted scene of the scenario. The experience left me questioning the realism of the character continuing to 'investigate' the situation and ultimately spoilt my fun a little.
Now I think ‘Timeless Sands of india’ as a good pulp
outing. In fact, it reads very much like
an Indian chapter of Masks of Nayrlathotep, with all the same ingredients and
some neat twists on the traditional Masks formula. It has the same potential for epic action,
exotic and atmospheric investigation and a neat backstory. There are some tweaks needed here and there, a few details that don't really make sense - but the overall bones of the scenario are sound.
What it needs, in my opinion, is to reconcile the pulp aspect
with the constraints of 6th Edition Call of Cthulhu.
‘Basic Roleplaying’ the system which underpins
Call of Cthulhu can achieve many of the needed changes. Other minor tweaks, like allowing players limited
opportunities to re-roll skill checks, would also help. The pre-generated characters also need to be updated,
and made appropriate to this style of play.
In short, this scenario is pulp-ready, but not pulp-enabled. House rules are needed, along with new pre-generated
characters, to make this scenario fit for purpose.
Eventually, I hope that the release of the long-promised ‘Pulp Cthulhu’ will
codify the tweaks needed to make Call of Cthulhu suitable for a heroic adventure
style of play. Until then, I’m satisfied
that my house-rules will allow my players to experience the scenario in the style
which scenario author, Jon Hook, intended.