Cthulhu Dark – GenCon 2012 Edition

Scribblings of a person descending into madness
Cthulhu Dark Session Notes from GenCon 2012

Having wrapped up a Dungeon World session and concurrently facilitating two games of Fiasco for Games on Demand, I was ready for playing a game. Fortunately, Terry Romero was recruiting players to join in a session of Graham Walmsley’s Cthulhu Dark. Stras Acimovic, Ryan Roth, myself, and a native Indianapolis GenCon volunteer with a penchant for 1930s history – her name eludes me.

This was the first Cthulhu RPG that I had played. There was a session or two where a D&D campaign villain had a god of knowledge named Nyarlathotep, but I hardly think that counts.

Bare Metal Cthulhu

Graham Walmsley groks the intersection of Cthulhu and gaming. He even wrote the book on it – Stealing Cthulhu (of which I IndieGoGo-ed). His wonderfully concise Cthulhu Dark distills several important concepts that I believe are integral to a Cthulhu game: Insanity, Investigative success, and you can’t beat the creatures of the Mythos.

The insanity mechanic simultaneously creates an impending sense of doom, a resource you can risk, and a means of abating disaster. But the cold truth is, sanity is fleeting.

The investigative mechanic is simple. If you roll the dice, you will succeed, but the degree of success is uncertain. You can risk your sanity, but that is a precious resource.

And you can’t beat the mythos. No matter the weapons at your disposal, the mythos can kill you if it chooses. But more likely, you will be its play thing.

The game is elegant and simple. A game that so adeptly models the desired play of a Cthulhu scenario.

On to the Con

Our characters were in motion, with common cause. Son, childhood friend, rival, and current friend. Each thrown into a bizarre scenario. Unprepared for what came.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but I will add my observation. Having played several games of Fiasco I found myself ready to embrace catastrophe for my character. In fact, my character made a bee line to Insanity 4 while the others maintained their sanity.

As the scenario played out, I worked hard to determine when my character would be lucid and when his insanity would manifest. Terry kept moving things forward even though I was seeking a bit of self-destruction for my character.

The scenes that stuck out were the paired scenes. First was Stras’ character still technically more sane than my character puffing at pipe on a cliff’s edge. My character approached to calm the doctor down.

Then, as my character slipped further to insanity, I took a cue and had my character puff on a pipe to calm. Stras then reversed our roles from previous scenes, providing succor.

Early on, I decided I was going to write session notes, and use my normal handwriting for moments of lucidity and ever degrading handwriting as the insanity took hold. I now have an artifact that I can keep in memory of a great Cthulhu session in which my character didn’t escape.

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