View Full Version : Why are there three? Don't they know I can't make decisions....

04-01-2011, 11:35 AM
For some months now I've been reading through a bunch of Cthulhu mythos stories, and the setting is really cool. Naturally being a tabletop gamer I couldn't stop there and had to look if any games were written for it, and sure enough google quickly points me to Chaosium 's 6th edition rules. So I grab a copy and start reading.

Then I went back to google to find out more about the game and get some strange results. A D20 version, Trail of Cthulhu, what? These aren't different editions, but are entirely different games using the same setting?

Not wanting to spend $90 on rulebooks since its seems highly unlikely that I'd be able to actively play that many different game systems, I'm kind of stuck on which direction to go.

From what little I've been able to figure out it seems like the mechanics of the D20 game are almost exactly what is used by D&D 3, which makes learning it much simpler. The Chaosium rules are fairly simple, and impose few mechanical restrictions that would hinder character creation and development thus making role play very important. For example none of the skills are dependent on character attributes, so your high intelligence low strength can still be competent in a fight because his combat skills are high. I have not read any of the Trail of Cthulhu stuff yet, so I've no idea what its angle is.

I'm not really concerned about source books for settings or modules. It seems to me that since they all use the same setting adapting material from one to another shouldn't be too difficult.

I'm just curious how the mechanics are different between them. Personally speaking; I prefer games that are full of role play as opposed to lengthy dungeon crawls. Though the folks I tend to game with seem more interested in interesting combats that are linked by a larger story.

Has anyone played all three? Can you offer any insight to the mechanics in each and what sort of game they work best for?

04-01-2011, 01:49 PM
I've read all three. Call of Cthulhu is the simplest and most player-friendly by far. Rules are easy and realistic. There is a LOT of material out there for it. It's the only game I'd play.

D20 Cthulhu is a gorgeous book but its basically 1920s D&D with Cthulhu. Not my cup of tea.

Trail of Cthulhu takes the tactics and applies them to your skills. You have to pick and choose when to use your skills (or at least the bonus dice for your skills) in each adventure. Not realistic (hey, I'm good at something in the morning but suck at it in the afternoon?). You don't even have attributes - only skills. How strong is your character? Who knows?

My opinion is to stick to the basics. Go for Call of Cthulhu.

04-04-2011, 08:45 AM
From the additional reading I've done seems like I agree with you Max_Writer, Call of Cthulhu from Chaosium looks like the way to go. It does have rules that seem very easy to learn and use, the adventures for it do include a decent amount of combat. I really like how a good portion of the combat can be resolved by role playing through some puzzles either during or before the combat. With a bit of work it sounds like it could please everyone at the table.

D20 Cthulhu seems more of a pulpy game, where there is a lot more combat and less investigation. Doesn't seem like its terrible, but not exactly what I'd prefer to play in a Cthulhu setting. Might be fun to take some of the Cthulhu monsters and drop them into a D&D game just to mess with the players though.

I have yet to read any of the Trail of Cthulhu rules though. From your description they seem a little strange. It could just be how different they appear from everything I've played in the past which isn't very promising.

05-09-2011, 09:27 PM
I haven't played the original Call of Cthulhu, or the D20 version, but I have played a bit of Trail of Cthulhu, so I wanted to post a bit about that. Just in case you haven't made a decision yet.

There's a better, in-depth review here, but following is a bit of fan-boyishness from me on the whole thing.


Trail of Cthulhu is written by Kenneth Hite (of whom I am a big fan), and runs on the Gumshoe system, written by Robin Laws (also of whom I am a big fan). The main goal of Gumshoe is to support an investigational game, and it excels at that. If you're not wanting a heavily investigative game, this probably isn't the system for you. For investigations, it solves all of the problems I've had with running scenarios in other systems.

There are no attributes, like Max_Writer said, only skills, but there are two types of skills - Investigative and General. You don't really have to "pick and choose when to use your skills," though. The brief summary is this:

Investigative skills - these are the skills you'll find clues with. If you have points in Architecture, for example, and there's an architecture clue in the scene, all a player has to do is ask about the architecture. You don't have to roll dice, possibly missing the clue because you rolled a 1, and you don't have to spend points, meaning you can't use Architecture again the rest of the session. You just ask the keeper about the architecture, and she'll give you the clue. This is what I love about Gumshoe. The clues are there - putting them together is where the work is.

(There are rules that let you spend points from your Investigative skills, but the mechanic works smoothly. It doesn't weaken the investigators and not spending the points doesn't stop the game dead.)

General skills - these are the skills you decide when to spend points on. These are skills like Scuffle (melee), Weapons, etc. Whenever you want to hit someone, you roll a Scuffle check. To do that, you roll a D6, and have to hit a target number. To help with that, you can spend points from your Scuffle skill to add to your total. These points are gone until you refresh. This does weaken the investigator, but this is ok. This helps create characters that want to think their way through a situation, not fight their way through it. In the sessions I've played, this has never been a problem. However, in my sessions, there are usually only 2 physical scenes. Usually one in the middle, and then one at the end. Everything else is purely investigative.

One of my players is a long-time Call of Cthulhu player, and had no trouble falling into Trail. If you play it right, and get the players into the right frame of mind, you'll get a fantastic, story and roleplaying heavy game that really feels like you're running a mystery, not just a dungeon crawl with some puzzles.

In closing, I'd say go for Trail of Cthulhu only if you want a very heavy investigative game, with little dice-rolling, and not a ton of combat / physical challenges. Even then, there are suggestions for running a more "Pulp" style game, with the physical challenges taking more of a role. Even if you don't go with it as your main system, it has a _lot_ of advice on how to run an investigative game, and it's worthwhile picking up a PDF copy just for that.

05-10-2011, 07:31 AM
I still haven't read the Trail of Cthulhu book yet. Though the way it handles investigation is interesting. I'm used to D&D games where having the dice cause you to miss a clue wasn't a big deal, but then its not an investigative game. When you're solving a mystery each detail could be crucial.

As I still intend to play some flavor of CoC I may pick up the book just for the tips it has on running an investigative type game. If I'm not mistaken the Chaosium version is also heavy into the investigation angle as well, so having the advice will help regardless of which I play. Thanks for the info!

05-10-2011, 05:53 PM
I played the d20 version which was fun but my favorite would have to be the Chaosium version it just came off to me feeling closest to the Lovecraft books.