My experiences with “Trail of Cthulhu”

Trail of Cthulhu coverAs I’ve written in my “Happy New Year” post just a couple of hours ago, we played “Trail of Cthulhu ” tonight. And it was a blast.

We had a lot of fun and even though I never ran any Gumshoe system game before, it went without a hitch. Alas my players didn’t manage to solve the mystery of the "”torso murders” before we decided to call it a day, but they are all eager to find out who killed all that people and what causes these strange phenomena in the slums of Cleveland.

And not having to make any checks on investigative skills really is a godsend. Playing with almost no skill checks all evening felt a little weird in the beginning, but it actually worked quite well. After a few hours into the adventure we really didn’t think much about it, it felt just natural to us.

There even was a short fight when the investigators defended themselves against one of the suspects. The combat rules in the Gumshoe system are very simplistic but serve their purpose well. And because of the simplistic nature of the combat rules, combat didn’t feel detached from the rest of the game at all. I wouldn’t use the Gumshoe system for any combat-heavy game but it works well in the given setting.

The adventure I am running, “Kingsbury Horror”, is from the back of the core rulebook and a perfect introduction to both the setting and the game. It features a lot of weird phenomenon but it’s actually not a full-blown Mythos story, so the GM can use it to ease the players into the setting. What really makes the story of the “Kingsbury Horror” so disturbing is the fact, that the premise of the adventure is based on a true crime.

Ok, it’s after 4am right now, and I really should go to to bed, so I think I will conclude my post about my experiences with ToC now. If you have any questions to ask or thoughts of your own to share, feel free to do so in the comments below.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

8 thoughts on “My experiences with “Trail of Cthulhu””

  1. Good question. There are actually two mechanics: the one for investigative skills and the one for general skills. You have ranks in both skill types.

    When you are looking for clues as a player and if you mention the skill you're using you get the appropiate clue (if the clue is available in that particular scene). You can spend a few of you skill's ranks to get additional information. This information is never vital to solve the mystery but may help to speed up things or add some flavor.

    General skills work a bit differently. You have to make skill checks to see if a general skill use succeeded. You roll 1d6 and you have to beat a certain difficulty to make a successful test. You may spend ranks to raise your roll result.

    Usually investigative skill spends recover between adventures, while general skills may recover more often.

  2. Man, I'd love to try this out if I get a chance. I am currently running CoC as my main game, using the BRP core book for the rules. I've sunk a fair bit of money into that system now, and ToC is not cheap, so I'd like to play it before I buy it so I could see how easy converting the adventures would be and such.
    .-= Canageek´s last blog ..Help me make rules for my games =-.

  3. I love Gumshoe – the system is a very cohesive, sensible approach to investigative type adventures. Fear Itself, the Esoterrorists, and Mutant City Blues are just as cool, although ToC gets all the attention. The Keeper's screen & resource book BTW is worth the money because it contains a lot of useful info and tips on how a keeper can use the various investigative skills in play.

    @Chatty – Stargazer's follow-up explains the mechanics pretty well; they're there, it's just that you don't rely on chance to find core clues, but instead let the characters' specialties determine what they find. How they interpret those clues is up to them which is really where the fun of the game lies IMO.

    @Canageek – Trust me, buy the game. Converting CoC adventures is almost effortless because there are only minimal stat blocks in ToC. Most of the effort involves simply identifying the various clues in the CoC adventure, determining which ones are core and which ones are auxiliary, and determining what investigative skills could be used to find them. The Pelgrane Press website even has some sample conversions on it IIRC. I have a lot of CoC material which I plan on using with ToC once I actually get the opportunity to start running a regular campaign of it (versus the single games I've played with it so far).
    .-= MJ Harnish´s last blog ..RPGNow’s 20 for 10 sale =-.

  4. I've been playing CoC for many years, too, and I was quite happy about the relatively rules-light system it used. But ToC's Gumshoe system is even more rules-light and because the characters automatically succeed at finding clues it's much less frustrating at times.

    I also like ToC's Sanity/Stability system which is much more detailed and "realistic" than CoC's Sanity system.

    In Trail of Cthulhu, Sanity is separate from the GUMSHOE trait Stability. Sanity measures your ability to believe in limited human reality; Stability is a mental health rating. (Dr. Armitage, from"Dunwich Horror," has a very low Sanity, but a fairly high Stability,for example.) Using your Cthulhu Mythos skill helps with an investigation, but such "piecing together of dissociated knowledge"costs Sanity, and potentially Stability as well. (Quote by Kenneth Hite, author of ToC, from an interview posted on See Page XX)

  5. Hard to say. I like the game very much and IMHO even the weak parts are pretty good. How you perceive the game depends much on what you want out of it.

    I love that the rules are almost non-existent and don't get into the way of the roleplaying and story that much. If you like complex, tactical combats, GUMSHOE is not the right game for you.

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