Call of Cthulhu is not D&D

First, I am not attacking people who enjoy Dungeons and Dragons. It is simply an excellent example to illustrate my point.

There are a zillion pencil and paper RPG systems–of various genres and degrees of high and low genre. Personally, I love and prefer low regardless of genre.

That, my love of the Cthulhu Mythos, and my being introduced to it the year it was first published, is why I love Call of Cthulhu.

In my experience, Dungeons and Dragons is the gateway RPG for the vast majority of people. Also, in my experience as someone who has played the game since its inception, it has never been designed nor built as a role playing game. Us old people are familiar with the terms “Hack and Slash,” and “Monty Haul.” Or, as my friend Justin Farrington cleverly calls it, “Kill the goblins and take their golds.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with these play styles, and my friends and I spent many a weekend in our late high school and early post high school years gleefully splattering monster blood everywhere and racking up the XPs. I’ve recently begun playing in a campaign run by a friend from the yonder past, though it’s considerably less hack and slash than some in which I’ve played, and I’m having a blast.

Also, there are DMs who run D&D campaigns with a high emphasis on role play, and many players who write in-depth character backgrounds, make characters with complex personalities, and role play their guts out.

Never the less, I believe both these styles engender an expectation which is dangerous when moving from games like D&D to ones like Call of Cthulhu.

From the outset, a first level D&D character is already significantly powerful. With the exception of hit points, they are far superior to the average person. Level based advancement means they wake up one morning vastly superior in every way than on the previous day. They begin capable of defeating fairly terrible monsters with full party survival and remain so. For GMs and players who enjoy high fantasy, this is great. It’s fun, which after all is the entire point.

However, again speaking only from personal experience, this tends to create two expectations. First, “If the DM puts it in front of us we’re supposed to kill it,” and “Since we’re supposed to fight/kill it, we can take it and walk away relatively unscathed.”

Transferring to Call of Cthulhu can be a bit of a shock and create some cognitive dissonance, not to mention possible annoyance.

As opposed to the powerful adventurer which is a first level D&D character, your beginning character in Call of Cthulhu is likely to be a nerdy accountant or computer programmer, a newspaper reporter, or a university professor whose super power is speaking more than one language.

The first time you encounter so much as a deep one, you’ll discover the ineffectiveness of poking it with a sharp pencil, whacking it with a keyboard, or shouting at it in ancient Greek.

You’re often going to have to have to take some unusual, often extreme, measures. Stocking up on shotguns, attempting to acquire illegal weaponry and dynamite, toting around half a dozen mason jars filled with gasoline, trying to avoid being caught breaking into museums and import/export warehouses, and burning down mansions can be dangerous, difficult, time consuming, and can easily result in jail time. Who’s going to save mankind while you’re locked away in prison, or dead?

Similarly, you can end up held in a mental institution if you volunteer, or are volunteered, to be the one who reads all the ancient, crumbling tomes of horrific knowledge and casts the maddening, mind and spirit destroying spells.

Mankind must be defended from “The Foul, Obscene, Asymmetrical, Beings with the Wrong Numbers of Mouths, Eyes, and Extremities, Which Pound Their Way Through The Veil Into Our Universe From The Unknown Beyond!!!!”

Somebody’s got to do it, and unfortunately it’s the four of you.

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