Posts Tagged ‘ horror ’

Grasping the Ineffable

Lately, I’ve mulled about using Monster of the Week to run a Call of Cthulhu-style game that would be more about investigating unspeakable horrors than confronting monsters and destroying them. One of my thoughts involves replacing Luck with Madness, and treating Madness much like Harm. I’m not quite sure what that means. Regardless, I did fiddle about with a couple of new basic moves. A hunter’s Weird rating would modify that hunter’s Madness. For example, a hunter with Weird +2 would have two fewer Madness boxes.

Grasp the Ineffable
When you attempt to understand the unfathomable nature of cosmic horror, roll + Weird.

On a 10+, hold 2 and 0-madness. On a 7-9, hold 1 and 1-madness.

One hold can be spent to ask the Keeper a question. Use the questions for investigate a mystery or read a bad situation. If you act on the answers, you get +1 ongoing while the information is relevant.

Advanced: On a 12+, you may ask the Keeper any questions you want about the cosmic horror, not just the listed ones.

Maintain Sanity
When you confront sanity-blasting eldritch terror, roll + Cool.

On a 10+, you do not succumb to the terror you feel. You suffer less madness (-1 madness). On a 7-9, choose 1:

* You briefly lose control in the face of the terror. The Keeper will give you a worse outcome, hard choice, or price to pay, but you gain hold 1 as if you attempted to grasp the ineffable. This does not grant +1 ongoing while the information is relevant.
* You maintain composure, but are shaken. You get -1 ongoing until you get a chance to collect yourself.

Advanced: On a 12+, not only do you not succumb to the terror you feel, but you may choose 1:

* You gain hold 1 as if you attempted to grasp the ineffable. This does not grant +1 ongoing while the information is relevant.
* Your courage rallies all hunters involved in the confrontation, giving them +1 forward.
* You suffer no madness at all.
* You recover 1-madness.

June 21st, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Lean and Athirst!

More horrors for The Cthulhu Hack.

Flying Polyp

According to these scraps of information, the basis of the fear was a horrible elder race of half-polypous, utterly alien entities which had come through space from immeasurably distant universes and had dominated the earth and three other solar planets about six hundred million years ago. They were only partly material—as we understand matter—and their type of consciousness and media of perception differed wholly from those of terrestrial organisms. For example, their senses did not include that of sight; their mental world being a strange, non-visual pattern of impressions. They were, however, sufficiently material to use implements of normal matter when in cosmic areas containing it; and they required housing—albeit of a peculiar kind. Though their senses could penetrate all material barriers, their substance could not; and certain forms of electrical energy could wholly destroy them. They had the power of aërial motion despite the absence of wings or any other visible means of levitation. … Such was the fixed mood of horror that the very aspect of the creatures was left unmentioned—at no time was I able to gain a clear hint of what they looked like. There were veiled suggestions of a monstrous plasticity, and of temporary lapses of visibility, while other fragmentary whispers referred to their control and military use of great winds. Singular whistling noises, and colossal footprints made up of five circular toe-marks, seemed also to be associated with them. (The Shadow Out of Time by H. P. Lovecraft)

Hit Dice: 8
Notes: Tentacle (1d10). Windblast (1d6+1 Nearby targets must make DEX Saves to avoid 2d8 points of damage). Sucking wind (1d6+1 Distant target must make STR Saves to avoid being pulled one range category closer). Armor 4, plus invisibility. Takes minimum damage from physical weapons. Casts 1d6-1 spells.

Formless Spawn of Tsathogghua

At any rate, when the men of K’n-yan went down into N’kai’s black abyss with their great atom-power searchlights they found living things—living things that oozed along stone channels and worshipped onyx and basalt images of Tsathoggua. But they were not toads like Tsathoggua himself. Far worse—they were amorphous lumps of viscous black slime that took temporary shapes for various purposes. The explorers of K’n-yan did not pause for detailed observations, and those who escaped alive sealed the passage leading from red-litten Yoth down into the gulfs of nether horror. Then all the images of Tsathoggua in the land of K’n-yan were dissolved into the ether by disintegrating rays, and the cult was abolished forever. (The Mound by H. P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop)

Hit Dice: 4
Notes: 1d3 whips (2d4), or bite (1d4 plus engulf), or tentacle (1d10). Engulf (STR Save at Disadvantage to claw free; otherwise take points of damage equal to the number of Moments engulfed). Immune physical weapons, including magical weapons. Can be harmed by spells, fire, chemicals, et cetera. Casts 1d4-1 spells.


Rubbery flesh encrusted with earth and mold, hooved, wolf-like features, clawed fingers. Speaks in gibbers and meeps.

Hit Dice: 3
Notes: 2 claws (1d4) and a bite (1d6). Firearms do only half damage.

Hound of Tindalos

“They are lean and athirst!” he shrieked. “The Hounds of Tindalos!”

“Chalmers, shall I phone for a physician”

“A physician cannot help me now They are horrors of the soul, and yet”—he hid his face in his hands and groaned—”they are real, Frank. I saw them for a ghastly moment. For a moment I stood on the other side. I stood on the pale gray shores beyond time and space. In an awful light that was not light, in a silence that shrieked, I saw them.

“All the evil in the universe was concentrated in their lean, hungry bodies. Or had they bodies? I saw them only for a moment; I cannot be certain. But I heard them breathe. Indescribably for a moment I felt their breath upon my face. They turned toward me and I fled screaming. In a single moment I fled screaming through time. I fled down quintillions of years.” (The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap Long)

Hit Dice: 5
Notes: Paw (2d4 plus CON Save to avoid 2d4 damage from poison), or tongue (WIS Save to avoid losing 1d3 points of WIS). Armor 2, plus regenerates 4 hit points per Moment unless dead. Can fly, travel through time, and materialize through any corner. Cannot be harmed by non-magical weapons. 1d4 spells.

July 19th, 2016  in RPG 1 Comment »

Horrors for The Cthulhu Hack

One of the first things I do with a game system is write up monsters, villains, et cetera. Hereafter, I try my hand with a few horrors for The Cthulhu Hack.


An enormous squid-like monstrosity at least 20 feet long. Numerous grasping tentacles. Its worm-like body coated with slime. All around, an alien chanting that seems to come from the very air itself.

Hit Dice: 10
Notes: Tentacle (1d6 plus CON Save to avoid additional 1d6 from blood drain). Crush (1d4 nearby targets for 1d8; DEX Save avoids). Armor 5. Powerful telepathy. Regenerates 5 hit points per round until dead. Casts 1d6 spells. Multiple Chthonians working in concert can cause earthquakes.

Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath

An vast mass of writhing, ropy tentacles the color of night. Covered with puckered mouths that drool green goo. Lower tentacles end in ebon hooves upon which the monster walks. The stench of an open grave hangs thick in the air.

Hit Dice: 7
Notes: Tentacle (1d8 plus CON Save to avoid weakness causing a Disadvantage in STR Saves). Firearms do minimum damage. Casts 1d6 spells. Stealthy in forests.

Dimensional Shambler

“Shuffling toward him in the darkness was the gigantic, blasphemous form of a black thing not wholly ape and not wholly insect. Its hide hung loosely upon its frame, and its rugose, dead-eyed rudiment of a head swayed drunkenly from side to side. Its fore paws were extended, with talons spread wide, and its whole body was taut with murderous malignity despite its utter lack of facial expression. After the screams and the final coming of darkness it leaped, and in a moment had Jones pinned to the floor. There was no struggle, for the watcher had fainted.” (The Horror in the Museum by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald)

Hit Dice: 4
Notes: 2 claws (1d4). Travel between planes (INT Save prevents being dragged along when applicable). Armor 3. Casts 1d3 spells.

Fire Vampire

“On the instant that the final guttural sound had left his lips, there began a sequence of events no human eye was ever destined to witness. For suddenly the darkness was gone, giving way to a fearsome amber glow; simultaneously the flute-like music ceased, and in its place rose cries of rage and terror. Then, instantaneously, there appeared thousands of tiny points of light—not only on and among the trees, but on the earth itself, on the lodge and the car standing before it. For still a further moment, we were rooted to the spot, and then it was borne in upon us that the myriad points of light were living entities of flame!” (The Dweller in Darkness by August Derleth)

Hit Dice: 1
Notes: Touch (1d6). Immune to material weapons. Suffers improvised damage from materials that smother flame.

July 14th, 2016  in RPG 1 Comment »

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 »