Epic Fantasy Hack for Cthulhu Dark
Replace Insanity with Corruption.
- Roll for Corruption whenever confronted by temptation or evil’s awesome power.
- Risk Corruption whenever your character is dishonest, cheats, or acts in an otherwise evil fashion.
- Reduce Corruption by forgiving or trusting an evil one.
When Corruption reaches 6, you must either give over your character to the forces of evil or sacrifice him nobly for a just cause.
If you roll a 6 while performing a heroic deed, your success is so resounding that you attract the attention of an evil one or a force of darkness.
Design Notes: Tying System to Setting
The consensus seems to be that pretty much any D&D setting is “post-apocalyptic,” home to ancient ruins, treasures, and wonders of a more advanced civilization from eras past. It’s also worth considering that such a setting doesn’t quite mesh well with Masks’ underlying drive of thwarting a monstrous plan. What exactly is at stake if civilization has already crumbled? The Great Gate opened. Nyarlathotep won. Here we are, five millennia later. It doesn’t bar the cyclical notion found in The Lord of the Rings—civilizations rise and fall—but overall, the world is dying, its greatest time is past.
There’s an interesting dichotomy emerging as I research, one I’ll have to resolve eventually. Cthulhu Dark seems to emulate well the short horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Its Insanity mechanic, with which I’ve been obsessed of late, is particularly good at establishing the character arc supposedly found in Lovecraft’s work. As I’ve been trying to find parallels in the fantasy genre, I’ve been reading about D&D roots in the works of Vance, Howard, and so on. As I note above, many of these works are imbued with a post-apocalyptic theme. Characters inspired by these works would be fatalistic, focused on survival, and unconcerned with global affairs. Despite the presence of elves and dwarves, this is exactly the sort of play you can see from early editions of D&D.
But that’s not the sort of play you want for a world-spanning epic like Masks. If I try to hone in on Conan, then I’m going to end up with a grim OSR game. An epic might evolve, but really the impromptu sandbox survival game that everyone loves is where this sort of game thrives. It’s tempting to explore it just because it’s there, but it’s important to remember my original goals.
As much as I hate to admit it, the closer parallel to Masks is in fact The Lord of the Rings. That doesn’t mean I need to use every cliché I can think of from Tolkien, but I can probably abandon the “Sword & Sorcery” tangent. It’s better this way; at least I’m familiar with Tolkien.
The question now flips a little back onto Cthulhu Dark. Inspired by Lovecraft’s short stories, it’s actually designed for one-shot scenarios. We’ve been using it for an epic campaign, and it has a lot of strengths there. But it’s already a step away from its ideal situation. I guess I think going one step in a different direction—to one-shot fantasy scenarios—might work just as well, but doing an epic fantasy campaign is one step too far.
Unfortunately, there’s not much about what Graham’s been doing for campaign play. He mentions it a couple times as something he’s been working on, but never comes out with any finality about tweaks he’s made. He latched onto another commenter’s idea—something about an “Investigative Journal”—and has experimented with resetting Insanity at the beginning of each session. But that’s about all we see.
Perhaps I don’t really need to concern myself all that much. The PbF format solves many of the issues Cthulhu Dark might have in an ongoing face-to-face campaign. Players can drop in and out depending upon their interest level. Since the game itself hasn’t been designed for that Lovecraftian buildup of horror over one story (session), investigators have accrued Insanity more slowly. (By the way, this might be worth posting as a Design Study.)