No, Virginia . . .

“You can’t fool me. There ain’t no sanity clause!” Chico Marx

Bookmark Cthulhu is now live, just in time for the holidays! And in a break with RPG tradition, it has no sanity rules. What it does have is a system for steadily rising dread. That, and a way to rank Lovecraft’s classic monstrosities and create new ones of your own by using his most common adjectives.

Though madness is a common theme in Lovecraft’s tales, very few of his protagonists actually go mad. They suffer shock, they may feel themselves doomed, they may panic to the verge of madness, but they don’t end up in a sanitarium.

Instead, they suffer one of two maladies: loss, or dread.

In terms of loss, Lovecraft’s earliest tales take their protagonists to lands of dream, where some pass up a chance at happiness, and others find themselves unable to return. Many of his dream tales have no protagonist at all and simply relate a story of destruction. Dreamland tales are generally wistful narratives.

His later stories, however—what we think of as the Cthulhu mythos—occur in the waking world, where beings and forces more powerful and long-lived than humankind are discovered by a select few narrators. Narrators who tell of madmen and death, but who live to tell those tales. These are stories of existential dread.

The granddaddy of all Lovecraftian role-playing games is, of course, Call of Cthulhu. Its Sanity game mechanic is as legendary as it was innovative for the hobby. That steadily eroding Sanity attribute invokes a sense of peril that not infrequently results in death of players’ characters. The mechanic works so effectively, in fact, that most Lovecraftian RPGs since have mimicked it exactly.

But “customary” doesn’t mean “necessary.”

Bookmark Cthulhu replaces “eroding Sanity” with a “growing Dread” in every adventure. This feels truer to Lovecraft, and better suits the unusual mechanics of the Bookmark HP RPG itself. Which gives the sourcebookmark a legitimacy beyond simply mimicking what’s been done in games before.

Call me crazy, but I think it works. ¯\_(°°)_/¯

 

The World Is Your Bookmark

“The world is your bookmark,” Joel Brooks

I’ve no idea what Brooks meant by that statement, but it makes a decent lead-in for this post. And if you’ll allow me to paraphrase, “A bookmark can be a world.” At least in tabletop role-playing game terms.

About a year ago, on a whim, I did a weekend thought experiment in role-playing rules to track damage without the typical “Hit Points.” As of today, the Bookmark HP RPG core rules bookmark has reached Electrum Best Seller status on DriveThruRPG, and the Player’s Handbookmark is now a Silver Best Seller! Four other titles in the line are currently Copper Best Sellers (Bookmark Cyberpunk, Bookmark Supers!, Dracula’s Get, and the Game Host’s Guidebookmark), and several newer bookmark titles are well on their way.

Having worked full-time in a hobby dominated by Dungeons & Dragons, I realize that these bookmark sales are Lilliputian.

But if you browse the thousands of publishers on DriveThruRPG, with hundreds of thousands of products, and note that less than 14% reach Copper status, less than 15% more reach Silver, and barely 7% reach Electrum status, you’ll understand that for this retired, self-promoting, self publishing designer, doing everything alone, it is something of an accomplishment. Add in several other best-selling games outside the bookmark line, from Copper to Gold, with some very flattering reviews, and I still wake up each morning encouraged to create.

And you’ll understand just how much your moral support means to me.

So, thanks! I much appreciate it.

Now I gotta get back to work.

A boxer, an explorer, and a librarian walk into a barn . . .

Click for original (color) illo by Ken E.

Though my original Halloween plans got cancelled, a few Facebook friends joined me in an impromptu Lovecraftian adventure, and it was a hoot. Attending were my old high school buddy Jim Cotton, Barcelonan friend Abraham Limpo Martinez, and veteran role-player Jae Walker.

It was GM-less play using an online GameMaster’s Apprentice simulator as oracle. Game system was my Bookmark HP RPG, with upcoming Bookmark Cthulhu rules. Our video chat was via Facebook Messenger. I’ll mention dice only because Jae used a gorgeous set of Cthulhu-themed ones, Abraham used the Google dice app (as did I for our foes), and I used a CoinSides spinner. (They have a Cthulhu CoinSides Kickstarter underway!)

Our characters—Jim’s librarian, Abe’s ex-boxer, Jae’s archaeologist/explorer, and my petite young counselor—caught wind of plans for a cultic ceremony in a remote barn, snuck in, and while one of us toppled hay bales from the loft, two rousted cows, and the last leapt in to disrupt the ceremony.

That’s when, unexpectedly, a group of occult scientists showed up with arcane rifles blazing.

The ensuing melee of scientists, cultists, and cows was, well, “insane” comes to mind. Jim, Jae, and Abe rolled exceptionally well, their characters benefiting from the experience. I rolled so poorly that my counselor did pretty much nothing but suffer: smacked her head entering the barn, got her foot stepped on by a cow, got pinned between two others, and took a couple of punches.

Jim joked that his legendarily bad luck with dice had transferred to me. As fate would have it, the moment my battered young lady hid behind Jae’s adventurer and I quit rolling, Jim’s next roll was snake eyes, his worst possible result, on d8’s! Jim’s legendary bad dice rolls had come home.

Thanks for a Happy Halloween, gang!

From DC, to D13, D6xD6, and BNHP

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

What with Halloween just 13 days away, I’d like to share a tiny bit of Dark Conspiracy RPG history and of personal pitch.

My goal with DC was, as you may know, to create a setting into which any horror story could be fit. Details I needed to achieve that goal—cyberpunkish urban sprawl, anachronistic rural regions, areas of bleedthrough from hellish dimension, and a rationale for beneficent aliens becoming inimical, for example—slowly amalgamated into a distinct personality of DC’s own.

But not everyone likes the DC mechanics, the inhouse system ported over from Twilight: 2000. Note that the T2K rules did play their own role in shaping DC’s character as a combat-heavy game of meet the monster; get your asses kicked; learn its weakness; come back better armed and kill it.

For GDW it made sense to have a shared system for all of its RPGs. (Well, until Space: 1889 broke ranks.) And the other reason is I wasn’t yet a mechanics guy. My two contributions to the inhouse system were to add experience rules (in Traveller: 2300, which got me hired in the first place) and to push for a change from d10 to d20. Adding an Empathy stat and trimming the T2K weapons list to suit DC were more a matter of developmental editing.

But since that time, my design skills for game mechanics have grown. Even earning an Origins Award! In RPGs, I’ve developed a passion for minimalist precision. For universal mechanics that dependably but unobtrusively support play. Even, say, hmm, I don’t know, maybe Dark Conspiracy adventures?

So here’s the pitch. If you love DC as a setting, but not the mechanics, I have three options to sub in for them. First, D13 is specifically designed for horror, any type, a bit more brutally than DC, but with push-your-luck paranormal abilities rules suitable for DC’s Empathy stat. Second, there’s D6xD6 (d6xd6.com is the core rules), and come to think of it, Chuck McGrew’s use of it in Don’t Look Back 3e could handle the DC setting right out of the gate. Lastly, there’s the Bookmark HP RPG, a deceptively simple system that has been called “an epiphany in game design.”

Each game system has its own unique take on dice mechanics; all three with dependable math under the hood. So, if you love the world of Dark Conspiracy, but aren’t a fan of its mechanics, why not give one of these three a try? Links in the sidebar.