Call of Cthulhu Hack – PDFs

Lovecraft fan art "The call"

I’ve been working on a hack of Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium that is backward compatible but also simpler and a bit more reasonable than their 7th Edition system. Meaning no offence, there’s just some redundancy there. Then I decided to use a version of the Stress system from Mothership as a more interesting way to handle Sanity damage. A few more tweaks, and there you have it. I have a character sheet, a character creation worksheet, and a rules reference for the reworking of the rules. I’ve run it past one veteran CoC Keeper who liked it, and it’s what I’ll use next time I run Call of Cthulhu. Here you go! Enjoy. As always, comments welcome.

CoC Hack Character Creation Worksheet 0.3

CoC Hack Character Sheet 0.4

CoC Hack Rules Reference Sheet 0.4

These are unfinished, and not near publishable, even if I could publish them, but as notes you could use them to run a Call of Cthulhu game, including a published campaign almost exactly as written.

Sample 10th Level Spells for D&D 5E

A while back I wrote about 10th level spells in theory, and I’ve noticed that that post gets a little bit of steady traffic, so I thought I’d come up with a few examples of what I had in mind in terms of 10th level spells. I’ll put these in basic layout, and of course you can use them in your games. Quick reminder of the principles I came up with for 10th level spells:

  • A 10th level spell can change the setting in some ongoing way.
  • 10th level spells must be found, or researched, or earned as part of a quest.
  • A 10th level spell can be cast only once, and then it is lost.
  • 10th level spells are how you account for magical effects in the setting that aren’t covered by existing spells or magic items.

Cataclysm

10th-level evocation (Cleric, Druid, Wizard); Casting time: 1 hour; Range: 500 feet; Components: VSMgp; Duration: concentration, up to 1 hour.

You summon a catastrophic combination of energies that are more than enough to level a town or small city. This spell creates horrific, lethal conditions within a 1000 foot diameter circle that extends 200 feet above and, where appropriate, below ground.

Lightning: any creature that comes within 10 feet of a large metal object risks being struck by static electricity. The creature must make a Dexterity save or take 5d10 lightning damage, or half damage with a successful save.

Rain of acid and fire: The entire area is pelted with a fiery, acidic rain. Every round a character begins or ends out of cover, they must make a Constitution saving throw to resist 3d10 acid and 3d10 fire damage, taking half damage on a successful save. Each minute, the rain will burn through six inches of wood or an inch of stone, meaning there will be less and less cover as the cataclysm continues.

Tremors: The area is wracked by tremors, making all terrain difficult terrain and causing buildings to collapse. Each minute, a given building has a 10% chance to collapse, dealing 4d10 bludgeoning damage to all inside if a wooden structure and 8d10 bludgeoning damage to all inside if a stone structure.

Create Demi-Plane

10th-level conjuration (Cleric, Wizard); Casting time: 24 hours; Range: 1 mile; Components: VSMgp; Duration: permanent.

This spell consumes a single magical item that creates or interacts with extra-dimensional space, such as a bag of holding, worth at least 10,000gp.

Permanent Polymorph

10th-level transmutation (Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard); Casting time: 1 hour; Range: 30 feet; VSMgp; Duration: permanent.

As polymorph, but the change is permanent until it is dispelled by powerful magic.

Permanent Resistance

10th-level abjuration (Bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard); Casting time: 1 hour; Range: 30 feet; Components: VSMgp; Duration: permanent.

This spell grants a creature resistance against a single damage type from among: acid, cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, poison, radiant; bludgeoning, piercing or slashing from non-magical sources. Casting the spell consumes a single gem representing the damage type (ruby for fire, etc.) worth at least 5,000gp.

Raise Flying Citadel

10th-level transmutation (Cleric, Wizard); Casting time: 24 hours; Range: 1000 feet; Components: VSMgp; Duration: permanent (until brought down)

This spell is cast by a single powerful cleric or wizard with the support of at least a dozen fellow clerics and wizards. The spell requires 24 hours to complete, and at the end, a stone keep is ripped free of the earth and allowed to float above the earth. It can be guided by a powerful spellcaster (of 12th level or higher) from the inside thereafter. It has a flying speed of 60′, and if not being guided simply hovers in place. This spell obviously requires a material component of one citadel which is not consumed in the casting.

Wish

10th-level conjuration (Sorcerer, Wizard); Casting time: 1 action; Range: self; Components: V; Duration: instantaneous.

This change simply makes the wish spell a 10th level spell so that it can only be cast once, must be found via a quest or deep research, and a DM can be more lenient with the various restrictions on the spell.

Erasure

10th-level illusion (Bard, Warlock, Wizard); Casting time: 1 hour; Range: self; Components: VSMgp; Duration: instantaneous.

This spell makes one creature permanently immune to being targeted by divination magic. The spell consumes an ingot of adamantine metal worth at least 5,000gp.

RPG Mechanics Round-Up #14: Fate Core/FAE

Player Ideas as Self-Compels

Many GMs love using the ideas that players come up with during play. Sometimes the thing that players think is going on is more interesting than what you had in mind, so you just steal that idea. I like this as an overt system in Fate Core – the player comes up with an idea, and the GM can hand them a Fate point in order to make it true. “I hope there aren’t ratmen on the other side of that door…”

Tag Aspects to Help

In many versions of Fate Core, you have three Aspects that are for your character alone and two more that connect your character to the others. I like the idea of using those connective Aspects when helping those characters, letting you spend a Fate point to grant them a +2 on their test.

Aspects: Switching Between Worlds

I like the idea of a Fate Core game where the characters are switching between two worlds – maybe alternate realities, or maybe a mundane world and a fantasy world, etc. The fun would be designing Aspects that are beneficial in one world and that are a liability in the other. Another challenge would be in Skill selection, as there should be Skills that are useful in one world and not in the other – not a general Skill like Lore, but maybe Arcana for the magical world and Education for the mundane one.

Fate and Helping Dice

I like making systems more concrete at the table, using fiddly bits where I can. For helping in Fate, I like the idea of passing the player you are helping one of your own dice (especially since Fate Core dice sets tend to be distinctive colors) that they put on a “+” before their roll. So they end up having a total of five dice to combine.

D&D Using Fate Dice

DnD using Fate Core and Fate Dice. Ability score = DC for everything. Advantage is a + and disadvantage is a -. You would have a much worse chance of doing much worse or much better than your score, and obviously would never be more than +/- 4. But it’s an interesting idea, to me at least, and would result in much more reliable/predictable success and failure and far less swinginess in results.

It occurred to me that since D&D ability scores are from 3 to 20 and DCs tend to be in the 10 to 20+ range with 5E’s bounded accuracy, you could actually use Fate dice for D&D. Get rid of the ability score bonuses and just use the straight ability scores, and you can roll Fate dice versus the given DCs. There would need to be some adjustments made, and there would be more rolls that are simply impossible. It may very well be too much of a spread, but it would be interesting to try out I think. Just set the DCs based on a sense of how good someone would have to be to do these things. Proficiencies could let you set one die to a + before you roll. Advantage could let you set another die to a +, and disadvantage make you set one to a -, and if they cancel out you just roll.

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Scaling D&D 5E Spells

My DM and I were talking about how there are D&D 5E spells that should scale but don’t, so I thought I’d lay down some notes on how spells could scale in my games via house rules. These won’t be full spell write-ups, just my initial thoughts that would become house rules if players wanted to use spells in this way.

1st Level Spells

Alarm –> Greater Alarm

3rd level. If you cast Alarm using a 3rd level or higher spell slot, the area that it can cover is extended from a 20′ cube to an area up to a 100′ cube defined by the caster. This area can include any number of portals (windows, doors, etc) and can be limited in the same ways as the original spell.

Animal Friendship –> Charm Monster

This one is already essentially scaled up as charm monster.

Grease –> Wave of Grease

If you cast this spell with a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can create an additional 10′ square area of grease per additional spell level.

Jump –> Group Jump

If you cast this spell using a 2nd level or higher spell slot, you can affect one additional creature per additional spell slot.

Speak with Animals –> Speak with Monsters

4th level. As with speak with animals, but you are able to speak with creatures of any type, whether they normally speak a language or not.

Tenser’s Floating Disk –> Tenser’s Island

3rd level. You create a disk 10′ in diameter that can carry 5,000lbs but otherwise functions like Tenser’s Floating Disk.

Thunderwave –> Thunder Cone

2nd level. As with thunderwave, but the effect is in the shape of a 15′ cone. Thundercone could also be an entirely different spell.

Unseen Servant –> Unseen Staff

3rd level. You summon a staff of unseen servants, and the maximum distance from you extends from 60′ to 120′. The half-dozen servants otherwise function like unseen servants.

2nd Level Spells

Cloud of Daggers –> Storm of Daggers

When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can choose to create one additional 5′ cube of daggers per spell level rather than increase the damage.

Enlarge/Reduce –> Greater Enlarge/Reduce

4th level. Your size is tripled or divided by three, moving from Medium to Huge or Medium to Tiny for example. Weapon damage increases by 2d4 or is reduced by 2d4, with additional effects at the DM’s discretion.

Locate Animals or Plants –> Locate Anything

Locate Object –> Locate Anything

Locate Creature –> Locate Anything

6th level. Name a creature, person, or location. For the duration of the spell (concentration, up to 1 hour) you know the direction to the target of the spell as long as it is on the same plane of existence, regardless of distance.

Misty Step –> Misty Journey

4th level. As misty step, but you are able to affect up to six willing creatures at once if they are within 30′ of you. If creatures are currently engaged in melee, they will provoke attacks of opportunity when they step (but not when they arrive). (That’s the limiting factor for this potentially very powerful effect)

3rd Level Spells

Speak with Dead –> Greater Speak with Dead

5th level. As speak with dead, but the target does not need to have a mouth and can be undead. You can call up any spirit as long as some physical remains exist.

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Playing with Gender in D&D

Playing with Gender

This all started with goblins, but ended up being this little brainstorm I had during Save Against Fear. There are little kernels of this idea in D&D already, but I wanted to play out a view of sex and gender for the major intelligent species of D&D that fit with the lore as it is but was more interesting than just assuming two sexes and two genders in every case (which is ridiculous even with humans alone, not to mention every other intelligent species in D&D).

Note: this is not me wishing we could have lots of discussions and arguments about pronouns, multiplied times all of these intelligent species. That does not sound fun for me. He, she and they should cover it for these options in my opinion.

Goblin Gender

Otherwise this will be alphabetical, but I’m starting here because this was the first thought I had that led me along this path. I’ve always wondered about goblinoids: goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. Where do the drastically different body types come from? Do they intermarry? Can they interbreed? In previous editions they were just an outlier – where most intelligent species are ‘humanoid’ they are over there, the ‘goblinoids’, the other.

I realized, wouldn’t it be fun if all goblinoids are the same species, except they have three sexes, and the three types of goblinoids are their three sexes? So one sex is goblin, and one sex is hobgoblin, and one sex is bugbear, and it takes all three to reproduce. They all are born goblin-ish, and then have a big growth spurt if they are going to grow up to be hobgoblins, and then another growth spurt to become bugbears.

If you ask them how they make babies with three sexes, they of course attack you, because that’s an incredibly rude question.

Dragonborn Gender

Dragonborn (and maybe lizardfolk as well) are hermaphroditic with three genders. A dragonborn self-fertilizes when they are ready and lays a clutch of eggs. This is taxing and difficult, and when the dragonborn hatch they are much more helpless than normal for reptiles and require years of care like human infants and children. So the three genders are the One Who Lays, the One Who Guards, and the One Who Gathers. The first one is obvious. The second gender is taken on by a dragonborn who takes responsibility of guardianship for the layer and for the young. The third gender is for the dragonborn who takes responsibility to go out into the world and accomplish what needs to be done to support all three – hunting, gathering, earning gold, whatever.

Dwarf Gender

Dwarves have two sexes and one gender. Every wonder why all the jokes about dwarf women having beards and looking a lot like dwarf men? That’s because dwarves only have one gender. Though males tend to have thicker body and facial hair than females, they all are performing the same gender for all intents and purposes. Perhaps there are nuances there visible only to fellow dwarves.

Elf Gender

Elves have two sexes but are genderfluid over time. When you meet an elf, you are meeting someone on a 700 year long journey of exploration.

Gnome Gender

Ancient gnomes had a very strict system of two sexes and two genders. Modern gnomes are all transgressive about how they perform gender, and often take on aspects of the genders they see around them among other intelligent species. Intersex gnomes are held in high regard, meaning that they now functionally have three sexes.

Half-Elf Gender

Half-elves are normally born to human and elven parents at some point in the elf’s centuries-long life. What they call their parents could be unique to a particular half-elf, and they might very well be born to a mother who later, when the half-elf meets them as an adult, is now a man, and possibly even a father to new children. So half-elves tend to cling to their human side for stability, or embrace the fluidity of their elven side.

Half-Orc Gender

Half-orcs raised with orcs are given their purpose from the gods. Half-orcs raised with humans tend to choose and perform a human gender, though sometimes they encounter orcs later in life and are given a purpose then.

Halfling Gender

Halflings have two sexes and three genders. The three genders for halflings are male, female, and bachelor, in honor of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. And, as far as we can tell, Merry and Pippin and Gaffer Gamgee and loads of others. Of course, women can be bachelors too. No self-respecting halfling would call her a bachelorette.

Human Gender

Humans have two sexes and three genders. But you don’t need terminology for this. You just describe men and women and intergender/nonbinary people, and then some of the men happen to be trans men and some of the women happen to be trans women. You have a lot less baked in bigotry, which is fun anyway.

Some Other Thoughts

Kenku Gender

Kenku keep their sexes secret from outsiders, though most assume they have two. In a kenku community, there is the gender of the sitter and the gender of the builder. A sitter is the one who primarily sits on the eggs while they develop, though a group might trade off on this activity, one tends to be primarily. The builder is the one who is responsible for building a nest, initially to garner the interest of potential sitters.

Orc Gender

Until adolescence orcs do not acknowledge gender. At adolescence, an orc goes into the wilderness to commune with the gods (this could be a metaphorical urban wilderness). The gods tell them their purpose and place in society, and that is functionally their gender. Some will have the purpose of parenting, but others won’t, and the part in society they perform is more important than what other species tend to think of as gender.

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Altered Backgrounds for D&D Villains

I’m putting together house rules and players guide type information for the Evil campaign I’d like to run again sometime in the future. Maybe it’ll even be the next game our home group plays – get some things out of their system so to speak. Briefly, it is a campaign inspired by Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward, where the BBEG has been defeated by the Heroes of Legend and the world made right. Then 100 years pass, and the PCs are some of the last villains in the world. They have to band together (because no one else will put up with them) and save the world from itself. It’s a lot of satire and is aimed at tongue-in-cheek rather than delving into the heart of darkness.

One of the things that I realized I’d need are altered backgrounds for the player-characters. When I went through the backgrounds in the PhB, I found that most of them would work with some slight alterations. For some background, this setting includes the idea of Rehabilitation Camps where criminals (what few are left) and ‘evil’ creatures are sent to be taught to be good citizens. I just mention that because it comes up in some of these backgrounds. The main thing I felt needed a change was the Feature for each. As a house rule I’m fine with players choosing any proficiencies that makes sense, whether listed or not.

Evil campaign needs subverted backgrounds. Also maybe start level three as well

Cult Initiate (Acolyte)

Feature: as with the Acolyte, but it applies to other members of the secretive cult you have joined. Have fun defining the cult with the DM. Maybe it is dedicated to the corpse of one of the old gods, or to the teachings of a mind flayer.

Rehabilitated Charlatan

Feature: unchanged, but you have a probation officer with whom you need to check in. The officer works for the Ministry of Rehabilitation, and functions a lot like any probation officer – making sure you are gainfully employed, have a place to live, etc.

Rehabilitated Criminal

Feature: as above, you have a probation officer. Maybe the same one if another PC is also recently Rehabilitated.

Questionable Entertainer

Feature: Grudging Patriotism. You can always find a place to perform as long as you play songs approved by the Ministry of Rehabilitation. When you do so, you roll with disadvantage.

Variant: Sports Hero. You can find welcome wherever there are official games, expos, or heroic feast-days being celebrated.

False Hero

Feature: similar to the Folk Hero. You have a reputation in the area, except in your actual hometown, where they know you’re a fraud.

Guild Traitor

Feature: You no longer have the Guild connection – in fact,  you have the enmity of a Guild. In exchange, you begin the game with a stolen masterwork worth a few hundred gold – determine what it is with the DM.

Escaped Quarantine

You spent time in Quarantine, under even higher security than a Rehabilitation Camp. You were seen as a significant threat, and kept in isolation for a long period of time. You were released because you were determined to be harmless to the Empire. In Quarantine, you could have crossed paths with any number of powerful evil creatures, consigned to remain long-term.

Feature: Discovery. You learned something you were not supposed to know while in Quarantine. Determine what it is with the DM.

Disgraced Noble

You have embarrassed your blue-blooded family for the last time with your behavior. You have a stolen signet ring, and might be able to impersonate a member of the family somewhere where they are not known well. You made off with a family heirloom worth a few hundred gold – determine what it was with the DM.

Migrant (Outlander)

You are not from around here, and live on the fringes of society. You and your family are viewed with suspicion, which makes them even more eager to prove their loyalty and patriotism to anyone and everyone.

Feature: Plausible deniability. If you are caught for a minor crime or infraction, you can argue that you didn’t know better, and expect lenience, especially the first time.

Variant: Scavenger (Wanderer). You are able to scrape up food and relatively clean water for you and five other people each day by scrounging, begging, and so on. You won’t starve, but you won’t be happy either.

Refugee (Sailor)

You have come to these shores from a far-off land, though not so far that you haven’t heard of the fall of the Dark Lord and the rise of the Empire. Your family and friends are currently being processed and some have been moved to Rehabilitation camps until they can be reintegrated into society.

Feature: Passage. Because you are a refugee, you aren’t expected to have the same papers and references that others would need to travel from place to place. Just remember to be obsequious.

Deserter (Soldier)

Feature: Military Intel. You have of course lost your military rank, and there are some who would love to have you in for a court martial, but you did learn how the Empire functions, and know more about the military than any others (who aren’t part of it).

Runaway (Urchin)

Your family (or orphanage) is still seeking you, but you have lived on your own for a long time now. Pretty much the same as Urchin, though, otherwise.

 

RPG Mechanics Round-Up #13: Call of Cthulhu

Start With A Bang

A house rule for Call of Cthulhu – at character creation, you can reduce your starting Sanity to increase your starting Cthulhu Mythos rating. Maybe 2 Sanity for 1 Cthulhu Mythos, and definitely for a limited amount. But in listening to APs, I feel like rolling against a 5% Mythos rating is less interesting than, say, 15% or 20%.

You could even have a situation where an investigator thinks of themselves as something of an expert. Of course, this will just invite greater disaster. They might become more likely to seek out elements of the Mythos because it is slightly more likely, though still not very likely, that they will understand what they find. Which, of course, is horrifying.

Brush With the Occult

One thing I liked about character creation in Kult (in a previous edition, anyway) was that part of it was describing a brush with the occult. This is a chance for the player to be evocative, and also a chance to add details or threads to the world that could grow into something greater. Leaving little gifts for the Keeper.

Driven By Need

I has occurred to me, running Call of Cthulhu and playing a bit and listening to APs, that investigators so often lack the motivation to do what they do. Sure, they’re curious to an unhealthy degree, but at a certain point, running away and ditching the case is what almost anyone would do.

So what I thought is that in designing a Call of Cthulhu character, a player should name something that the character desperately needs. Money is an easy one – and Mythos lore and artifacts would of course be incredibly valuable out in the world. Or perhaps the seek a way to resurrect a dead loved one, or get revenge on someone otherwise unreachable. It has to be something  you need so much that continuing on even as you learn of greater horror will seem like a reasonable choice.

OSR Call of Cthulhu

I’ve been thinking about the OSR, and how that design mentality could be applied to games that aren’t D&D. Other older games also had different sensibilities from more modern games, or even more modern incarnations of those games.

That being said, Call of Cthulhu hasn’t changed that much over time. It is still, in some ways, an old school game. I think the design goals of OSR could be applied to Call of Cthulhu, however, as it is a game that would benefit from some simplification, some rulings over rules, and even a clearer focus on player challenge in addition to character challenge.

I have a few thoughts sketched out which I would like to expand later, but here we go:

  • Spend Sanity to push a roll, in contrast to the Pulp Cthulhu mechanic. This should also drive characters to be on track to die or go insane at around the same time. The justification is you do crazy things to avoid dying, pushing yourself closer to the horrors of the Mythos.
  • Combine Strength, Constitution, and Size into something like Body or Fortitude. Then you just need Dexterity, Luck, Psyche (to replace Power), and Education. Leave out Intelligence because you’ll be relying on the player’s intelligence more, while the character can still know things the player doesn’t know, or have skills the player doesn’t have (Education).
    • Magic points, if you are using them, are Psyche/5
  • A shorter and simplified skill list. A problem I see with Call of Cthulhu in every variation I’ve played is that overlap between skills is ignored and the skills given are highly specific, easily leading to characters who should be experts appearing less so because they don’t have one particular skill.
  • Antiquity, Athletics, Charm, Coercion, Credit Rating, Dodge, Fighting, Firearms, Languages, Occult, Physical Sciences, Profession (Art, Drive, Repair, Pilot, Law, Photography…), Psychoanalysis, Social Sciences, Streetsmarts, Weird Science
  • Use a stress system similar to that used in Mothership. Separate insanity and mental illness. In brief, you take Stress, and then make periodic Panic checks instead of Sanity checks. I prefer this, just to avoid the language of sanity/insanity in describing what happens in a CoC game, which tends to overlap mental illness in problematic ways
  • Hit Points are equal to Body/5