25 January 2014

Trail of Cthulhu RPG session and impressions

Anders at our club had offered to host a Trail of Cthulhu RPG game for quite a while and we finally managed to find a slot in our schedule where everyone interested could play this Saturday.

He said that he preferred Trail of Cthulhu to Call of Cthulhu since "Trail" was more streamlined and didn't focus on rules as much as the RPG experience itself. This sounded to me a bit like Star Wars: Edge of the Empire which is similar in that you focus on the story and less on skill check percentages. Since I like Edge of the Empire I was instantly positive to the Trail of Cthulhu ruleset.

Character creation was fast, but not nearly as deep or broad in what you could pick and tweak as in Call of Cthulhu. This was my only complaint, I wanted to play an Arctic explorer but there were no pure "Explorer" character archetypes so I had to merge the professor type with the drive for adventure - but wasn't overly happy with how the character bonuses worked out, though the skills I have picked (Archeology, Geology, Anthropology and such) did create the character I wanted to play.

The rule system is based on investigative and generic skills, D6 dice and increasing the chance of finding more information by spending skill points. A new thing, for me at least, was that you created your character with a specific number of skill points in your desired slots, such as 5 points in Geology. When you then used the Geology skill to learn something you could spend points from that skill to learn more information about something that you were investigating.

As such the skill point pool is limited, and from a standalone adventure perspective this resource management makes it a lot more interesting to play and reduced the overuse of certain abilities. You will focus your knowledge on what you think is important at key moments in the story.

The game also has two modes, "Purist" and "Pulp". The former is a bit more restricted and creates an atmosphere and hopeless struggle from the original Lovecraft stories, while the latter allows for characters to combat monsters and being slightly more action oriented. We played the Purist mode as that was the preferred mode picked by everyone involved in the session.

Our adventure was completely without combat, and was a really nice Lovecraft mystery with 4 strangers converging in a rural community of northern England in the 1930's where things got weird pretty soon. The characters saw a photo of themselves as children, posing together in a unknown  family photo. Of course my character refuted the possibility of being even remotely related to the other three characters and tried to figure out a logical explanation, most of the investigation of the village and the surrounding area was performed individually and bizarre details about the characters and the community were being revealed as the game progressed.

I won't spoil too much of the story in case this is one of those "beginner" scenarios, but I think we all enjoyed the game. I can tell that my character, towards the late game, got himself killed down in the tunnels of an abandoned mine while performing solitary exploration of said location.

Another thing that I liked about the game was the use of sound effects and ambient music throughout our game as Anders had brought with him a laptop with a complete playlist of location sounds and other things that enhanced the experience.

Anyway, the game is very light on rules during the gameplay and relies heavily on a good GM and people that enjoy storytelling over tweaking stats and complicated special rules for every single situation imaginable. Trail of Cthulhu does share a lot with Star Wars: Edge of the Empire in this regard, though I prefer the special dice in Edge of the Empire over the simple D6 used in Trail and I think the game would benefit from a similar dice system being added. In Edge of the Empire you roll dice with various outcome effects and interpret the results to match the situation you are in. This can mean that a roll can fail or succeed while at the same time also have a positive or negative secondary effect take place, thus you may succeed at picking a lock but at the same time trigger the alarm. I think such a interpretation system would work perfectly in a Cthulhu mythos game. Admittedly, the D6 system of Trail of Cthulhu is a lot faster and offers instant "success/fail" result on any given task without any need to cross check skills or anything else really.

So all in all, I enjoyed our session and can recommend Trail of Cthulhu, especially if you like the open ended system of Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.


  1. Hi Alex,

    Glad you enjoyed your Lovecraft universe immersion :)

    I do agree a 100% for the ambiance of the game supported with music and sound effects. It's great for the players and give the GM that little more spontaneous inspiration while storytelling.

    Really enjoyed the article,


  2. And I'm really happy you guys enjoyed the game. After all, it was something new to introduce to people, not related to the usual games at all. Wasn't sure the music- and sound-effect supported ambience I was trying to create would be enjoyable or simply get in the way of you guys trying to get on with the mystery.
    The scenario itself was also one of the really better ones, as it forces your characters to come to terms with something you cannot ignore... to your great misfortune. Here comes pain; sucks to be you.
    Very Lovecraft ^^


  3. Great review. Think I'll check out the rules. Thank you

  4. Indeed great review!! As well I too am inspired to check out the rules now! Thanks!


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