Posts Tagged ‘ horror ’

The Cthulhu Hack: A Read-Through Review

If you don’t own Paul Baldowski’s The Cthulhu Hack, buy it now. You can learn more about this wonderful game by visiting I’ll wait here until your done.

Now that you’re back, take a look at Mr. Baldowski’s work, a clever hack of David Black’s The Black Hack, an inspired role-playing game for dungeon-crawling fantasy adventure. In just a little more than 40 pages, The Cthulhu Hack gives you a complete game that launches its players into deadly conflict with the soul-shrivelling horrors of a Lovecraftian world.

The game’s core mechanic — roll a Save on a d20 that is below a specific value — determines success or failure of everything and everyone, including blood-crazed Cultists and sanity-blasting Shoggoths. Like Dungeon World, another favorite game of mine, the players rather than the GM, make almost all the rolls, including actions related to whether that mad Cultist’s machete painfully slices through muscle or harmlessly through air.

Add to the core mechanic features such as Usage Dice, Advantages, and Disadvantages to this simple, flexible core mechanic, and these simple rules cover everything from clue finding, suspect interrogating, ammo tracking, and sanity losing. It is the latter aspect of The Cthulhu Hack that I’ve been looking for for years, but more on sanity later.

Usage Dice cover resource management. For example, all investigators have a Flashlight Die that represents that investigators resources when he “needs to spot, uncover, trip over, research, stumble [upon], recall or otherwise discover something” (to quote the rules). When this comes up, the player rolls his investigator’s Flashlight Die. If the die comes up a 1 or 2, it decreases in size (from d8 to d6, for example). If a d4 Usage Die comes up a 1 or 2, the investigator is out of that resource. Nota Bene: A 1 or 2 doesn’t mean the investigator fails. It means he succeeds, but at a cost (represented by the Usage Die decreasing in size).

An Advantage means the player rolls 2d20 for a Save and choose whichever die result he prefers. A Disadvantage means the player rolls 2d20 for a Save and the GM chooses whichever die result he prefers. I’ve read this mechanic comes from D&D 5E. Regardless of its origin, it’s a great rule that replaces charts full of situational modifiers. Does your investigator have to sneak across a squeaky, dilapidated floor made of water-damaged boards? No need to consult a chart of stealth modifiers. The GM simply rules that your investigator is at a Disadvantage to do so.

I’ve played horror games before, and most I’ve played use some sort of fear or sanity point mechanic that tends to be both cumbersome and tedious, as well as requiring several pages of text to explain. The Cthulhu Hack handles sanity (or the lack thereof) as a Usage Die detailed by little more than one page of rules. Seriously. I could cut-and-paste the sanity rules into a document, fiddle with font and size and margins, and fit all of the sanity rules on one side of a single page.

The Cthulhu Hack stands severed head and mangled shoulders above every other game of its genre that I’ve read or played. Get some friends together and have them choose from one of five Classes and add one of 30 occupations. Creating an investigator is snap, and the rules for antagonists facilitate making them up more or less on the fly if necessary, which makes it easier for the GM to put more thought into the story rather than the stats behind the story.

Speaking of investigators, a sample character follows this paragraph. Ability scores (which make up the aforementioned Saves) are generated by rolling 3d6. “If a player rolls a Save with a value of 15 or more the next must be rolled with 2d6+2. After that continue with 3d6 until the end or another 15+ is rolled. Once the player rolls all six, she can choose to swap around” (to quote the rules again).

Dr. Horatio Phelps
Occupation: Archaeologist
Class/Level: Adventurer/1

STR 7, DEX 7, CON 9, WIS 15, INT 16, CHA 8

Hit Points: 9
Hit Die: d8
Sanity Die: d8
Armed Damage: 1d6
Improvised Damage: 1d4
Flashlights/Smokes: d8/d6

Special: Roll with Advantage when making a CON Save to avoid damage from poison, drugs, alcohol, or paralysis. Once per game session, apply powers of deduction and reasoning to reach an apposite conclusion.

Postscript: The last Sunday of this month, I’m hosting a dinner-and-gaming night featuring The Cthulhu Hack and a short adventure I’m writing entitled The Strange Case of the Bell Witch Bootleggers. I intend to post a playtest review a day or two later.

July 12th, 2016  in RPG 1 Comment »


I recently rewatched Horror Express. Here’s the monster from that movie imagined as a recurring villain for Amazing Adventures, published by Troll Lord Games.

Chuluurkhag, a nearly immortal alien being, came to our world hundreds of millions of years ago as part of an exploratory mission. Due to circumstances beyond its control, it was left behind when the mission departed. Chuluurkhag used its psychic powers to survive, transferring its consciousness from one primitive life form to another, gradually taking control of more advanced animals until it assumed control of an early hominid, an event that put the alien onto the path toward a human guise. Chuluurkhag’s painfully slow ascent of the evolutionary ladder came to a halt during the last major ice age when it fell into a glacial crevasse. There it remained, trapped in a frozen, dead body in a cave in Manchuria until discovered by Alexander Saxton, a renowned British anthropologist affiliated with the Royal Geological Society.

Chuluurkhag reanimated the thawing body it had been trapped within for centuries. As its strength returned, it used its psychic powers again, transferring its consciousness into a Russian police inspector named Leo Mirov. After this, Chuluurkhag bided its time aboard the Trans-Siberian Express. Still occupying Mirov’s body, Chuluurkhag vanished shortly after arriving in Moscow. Its current whereabouts are unknown, but members of the Brotherhood of William St. John believe that a recent spate of strange murders by dissection in Whitechapel, London, show signs of an alien and malevolent intelligence. Could the Brotherhood have stumbled upon Chuluurkhag?

Chuluurkhag: # Enc 1; SZ as current form; HD as current form; Move as current form; AC as current form; Atk as current form; Special animate dead, drain memory, psychic transfer; Sanity 1/1d4; SV M; Int High; AL LE; Type aberration; XP as current form with one additional Special II ability and two additional Special III abilities.

Animate Dead: Chuluurkhag can animate the corpses of any creature it recently has killed via psychic transfer. This functions as the spell of the same name, except that Chuluurkhag animates one zombie per round it concentrates on the task. Chuluurkhag’s zombies obey its mental commands.

Drain Memory: Chuluurkhag gains the skills of whatever creatures it kills via psychic transfer, and Chuluurkhag has killed many over the millenia. As such, Chuluurkhag can be assumed to have at least a +2 bonus for pretty much any skill check imaginable. At the GM’s discretion, Chuluurkhag’s bonus may be even higher, maybe even as high as +6, especially when it comes to Knowledge skills.

Psychic Transfer: Chuluurkhag properly exists today only as mental energy. As such, it is both limited to the strengths of its current form and nearly impossible to kill. Regardless of form, Chuluurkhag’s main attack is psychic. Any living creature that meets Chuluurkhag’s gaze can be subjected to this attack should Chuluurkhag will it. A saving throw resists the attack, but a new saving throw must be made each time a victim meets Chuluurkhag’s gaze. Failing this saving throw paralyzes the victim as long as Chuluurkhag maintains contact. Each round, the victim loses 1d6 points of Intelligence and Wisdom. If both Intelligence and Wisdom reach 0, the victim dies and Chuluurkhag gains all of the victim’s skills and memories. If it wishes, Chuluurkhag may transfer its consciousness into the victim’s body, animating and using the body as its own.

If Chuluurkhag is reduced to 0 hit points, it abandons its current form and unleashes its full psychic might against the nearest creature within 120 feet. The victim suffers 3d6 points of Intelligence and Wisdom drain. A successful saving throw halves this damage. If this attack reduces the victim’s Intelligence and Wisdom to 0, Chuluurkhag takes control of a new host.

June 21st, 2016  in RPG No Comments »

Nanny Death

For the past several months, about every other Saturday we’ve been playing Fate Accelerated. One of the nifty (if not the niftiest) thing about Fate Accelerated is that one can make up just about anything for use as a character. For example, let’s meet Nanny Death and her hell toddlers.

Nanny Death is an undead monster who disguises itself as a kindly woman, usually somewhat elderly and genteel. She infiltrates some unsuspecting family, taking great care of the children, earning everyone’s trust and even their love. Then, one evening after dinner, Nanny Death reveals her true nature, unleashes a pack of hell toddlers, and revels in a night of terror and bloodshed.

Nanny Death
“Stop screaming and eat your spiders.”

High Concept: Skull-Faced Nanny of the Damned

Trouble: Maternal Instincts

Other Aspects: Excellent References, I’m Already Dead, Necromantic Baked Goods

Approaches:: Careful – Strong (+3), Clever – Average (+1), Flashy – Mediocre (+0), Forceful – Average (+1), Quick – Fair (+2), Sneaky – Fair (+2)

* Face of Fear: Because I Embody Death, I gain a +2 to Flashily create an advantage or overcome an obstacle by invoking feelings of fear.

* No Place Like Home: Because I am Strongest in My Lair, I gain a +2 to Forcefully attack when I am at home.

* Reassuring Presence: Because I can Appear Harmless, I gain a +2 to create an advantage or overcome an obstacle when I Carefully disguise myself.

Pack of Hell Toddlers
Undead Flesh Eaters
Skilled (+2) At: Evading detection, playing horrifying games, tearing through flesh
Bad (-2) At: Acting in the presence of holy objects
Stress: Two boxes (3 hell toddlers per box)

April 22nd, 2016  in RPG No Comments »

Death Shuffles on Two Feet

One of the great things about Swords & Wizardry (and the original fantasy RPGs that inspire it) is the lack of pages and pages of detailed rules about how monsters function and are built. S&W embraces my favorite paradigm, which is that the rules for the players and their characters are not the same rules for Referees and their characters.

This paradigm facilitates introducing new monsters and variations of old monsters to adventures. The players probably know the stats for, say, a zombie. They’re right there in the book and are available on-line. What the players don’t know, however, is that this time the zombies their characters face should be handled with a little bit more care.

The Walking Dead

Zombies are mindless creatures. Their origins are uncertain. Some blame evil magic commanded by necromancers. Others hold a disease responsible. Another theory posits that Hell is full, and the souls of the damned are being released to make room. Whatever the truth, zombies pose a serious threat to any community.

A zombie attacks by grabbing, twisting, and tearing at flesh. If both hands hit a single victim, the zombie grabs hold and attempts to bite, requiring an attack roll with a +2 bonus and inflicting 1d4+1 points of damage if successful. Anyone bit by a zombie must make a saving throw to avoid suffering 2d4 points of damage per round until dead as flesh begins to corrupt, starting at the wound and spreading out from there. One who dies from a zombie’s bite rises as a new zombie 1d6 rounds later.

Zombies are most often unarmored, but they are typically encountered wearing whatever they wore at the moment of death.

Zombie: HD 2; AC 9 [10]; Atk 2 strikes (1d4); Move 6; Save 16; AL N; CL/XP 3/60; Special: deadly bite, grab (open doors check to break grapple), undead.

August 15th, 2015  in RPG No Comments »

Q Is for Querulous

querulous: (adj.) complaining in a petulant or whining manner

Nota Bene: Again a move away from Swords & Wizardry and Stars Without Number to focus briefly on a genuine Old School game. I’m back with Chaosium today for that esteemed company’s greatest game, Call of Cthulhu, using my 3rd edition hardback from 1986 for the first time in too long. The day after tomorrow I’m going to go way back again to TSR’s Top Secret.

Black-eyed children appear as preadolescents, but their eyes are solid black with no differentiation between sclera, pupil, or iris. Often, Black-eyed children can be seen playing games and singing the nursery songs in or near abandoned areas. Other reports claim these entities show up alone or in a pairs at people’s doors, usually at night. They avoid eye contact, looking down to hide their eyes. Black-eyed children tend to whine and sulk, and they have bad tempers.

Black-eyed children often attempt to talk a victim into allowing them entry into the home to use a telephone or to be safe from some unspecified danger. Other times, they approach strangers, asking for a place to stay or for an escort home. Victims cannot always refuse these requests, for black-eyed children seem to possess the power to compel obedience. When a black-eyed child attacks, it does so with savage ferocity and a strength that belies its size. At this time, the entity’s skin changes, becoming pallid and corpse-like.

Black-Eyed Child (Lesser Independent Race)

“Let us in,” came the whisper through mail slot, and despite the fearful chill down my back, I reached for the door’s lock.

Black-eyed children may attempt to compel nonviolent behavior through the semi-hypnotic power of their voices. A successful POW vs. POW roll resists the child’s words. It costs a child 1d4 magic points to use this ability.

Characteristics (Average)
STR 3d6+10 (20-21)
CON 2d6+6 (13)
SIZ 1d6+6 (9-10)
INT 3d6 (10-11)
POW 3d6+3 (13-14)
DEX 3d6+3 (13-14)
APP 3d6 (10-11)
Hit Pts 11-12
Move 8

Weapon (Attk%, Damage)
Fist/Punch (55%, 1d3+1d4)
Kick (45%, 1d6+1d4)
Weapon (30%, by weapon+1d4)

Armor: None
Spells: To determine spells known by a black-eyed child, roll 1d100. If the roll is higher than the child’s INT, it knows no spells. If the roll is equal to or lower than the child’s INT, it knows that many spells.
Skills: Climb 45%, Dodge DEX+10%, Hide 65%, Jump 45%, Listen 80%, Sneak 65%, Spot Hidden 50%
SAN: Meeting a black-eyed child’s gaze costs 1 SAN, but a successful SAN roll indicates no loss. Seeing a black-eyed child’s skin change costs 1d6 points of SAN, or no loss with a successful SAN roll.

April 19th, 2014  in RPG No Comments »