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Trail of Cthulhu

Entry updated 10 July 2018. Tagged: Game.

Role Playing Game (2008). Pelgrane Press. Designed by Kenneth Hite, Robin D Laws.

As the Role Playing Game Call of Cthulhu, based on the Cthulhu Mythos, was named after H P Lovecraft's short story "The Call of Cthulhu" (February 1928 Weird Tales), so its descendant Trail of Cthulhu has borrowed its title from August Derleth's "The Trail of Cthulhu" (March 1944 Weird Tales). As its name suggests, the second game has a somewhat different emphasis to its predecessor; where sessions of Call of Cthulhu tend to focus on paranatural adventure and unforgettable horrors, Hite's game is more concerned with the solution of Mythos related mysteries (and the unforgettable horrors which spawn them). In Trail of Cthulhu, there is no need – as there is in the prior work – to determine whether characters' skills and talents have been successfully used while looking for important clues. Instead, evidence is automatically apparent to any suitably gifted character who attempts to find it, meaning that discovering an explanation for the bizarre events with which a typical scenario begins depends solely on the players' wits rather than their luck. Thus, some of the emphasis which Call of Cthulhu places on simulation in the threefold model of RPG design is here transferred to narrative and gameplay (see Role Playing Games). Both games, however, use a combination of character skills and dice rolls to resolve the physical conflicts which often occur at the climaxes of their stories, and both employ mechanics which ensure that players' simulated personas will gradually be driven mad by their increasing knowledge of the terrible secrets which lie behind the façade of everyday reality. The setting of Trail of Cthulhu has also changed from the default 1920s America of the original game to the 1930s, the era of the Great Depression and the rise of totalitarianism. Two main styles of play are suggested: one which attempts to evoke the sense of cosmic doom found in Lovecraft's tales of the Mythos, and one which tries to reproduce the tone of "weird action" typical of Robert E Howard's contributions to this early Shared-World. Whichever mode is chosen, Trail of Cthulhu remains capable of creating a deeply felt ambience of immanent dread. [NT]


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