Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pulp My Game

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 unknown…”

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.


  1. I have grave doubts if Pulp Cthulhu will ever see the light of day, though I understand what drives you to house rules. I have often thought that Orient Express may work better with a more pulp vibe, like Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes.

    I also remember Matt running Nocturnum with Cthulhu d20, which did really help sell that TV series 'pulp' style.

  2. I share your doubts, although it was dusted off as part of the 7th edition Kickstarter, so I have my fingers crossed that I will get a copy in the new year. I mean, if they can produce something like Atomic Age Cthulhu, I don't see the problem? Many of the BRP Gold Book rules do a fine job of changing CoC up to a more action focussed system.

    The combat rules for 7th ed will help though - I am looking forward to running HoTOE using those...