19. Favorite Published Adventure. At last, an easy one!
While I’ve read and played many great adventures for various systems, none stands out as vividly as Masks of Nyarlathotep by Larry DiTillio, with development from other contributors who expanded a great story with generous amounts of research, not to mention a large and excellent collection of player handouts. Fans of the adventure have even compiled a companion several times longer than the adventure itself.
Call of Cthulhu enjoys a wealth of great scenarios, but Masks is the most epic and globe-spanning, which for me is a huge appeal. Players start in New York City, but depending on which clues they follow, they can travel to London, Cairo, Nairobi, Darwin, Shanghai, and points between.
Without abandoning the sense of horror key to a great CoC adventure, Masks veers deep into pulp adventure territory, giving the players the (often illusory) feeling that they have more in common with Indiana Jones than with Charles Dexter Ward. Beware, however; those who go in with bullwhip snapping and pistol waving will be fortunate if the only result is a sudden death.
18. Favorite Game System. Unfair! Too hard to answer.
While I have long been a story-over-mechanics guy, there was a time when I admired nothing better than an elegant die mechanic. West End’s Star Wars, FASA’s Shadowrun, Mike Nystul’s Whispering Vault, and lesser-known games like Don’t Look Back: Terror Is Never Far Behind impressed me as much with their rules as with their settings—although in most cases, I liked both. I could make a long list before coming close to a true favorite.
Another stand-out is Call of Cthulhu, which I initially dismissed because of my loathing for d% systems. Once I looked at it, however, the simple beauty of the insanity/mythos mechanic won me over.
Of course, as my first and most-often-played game, D&D has long held a special place in my heart, even for its hoary mechanics. I even liked many of the innovations of the reviled 4th Edition, but I agree with the many who felt they began to fail after the lowest levels of play.
With that in mind, my choice will be the Star Wars Saga edition, which married the virtues of 3rd Edition with a few of the best elements of the then-nascent 4th Edition. I make this choice with a certain amount of practical ignorance, for while I’ve read a great deal of the Saga material, I’ve yet to run a campaign.
6. Favorite RPG Never Get to Play: I’ve been reading this question two ways. In part because of many review copies, and in part because I often buy games just to read them, I have read many RPGs that I’ve never actually played. Instead of one of those, I’m going with the game I have played but would most like to play regularly: Call of Cthulhu. (Check out Chaosium’s much improved website.)
When I was in high school, I walked past some kids playing this game in the community center and overheard them talking about Sanity Points. “Sanity is a stat?” I said. “That’s stupid.”
It took me a few more years to look at the game, and then I came to understand that the SAN mechanic was an elegant way to enforce a feeling of dread. And the 1920s setting that hadn’t appealed to me before became a huge attraction as I became more interested in history.
I have an overflowing CoC shelf in the library, but I seldom get to dust off a tome and run a session. Every year I make a resolution to change that, and sometimes I manage to run a single game, but the group and the stars are not yet right.
Along with some version of D&D (lately Pathfinder) and Star Wars (Saga edition), Call of Cthulhu is always one of the top three games I’d like to run, if only I could make the time. Usually my decision depends on available miniatures, the time of year, and whether I’ve seen a terrific fantasy, space opera, or horror film recently. Picking the right game is only half of the battle. You also need to pick the right players.
Is it better for Call of Cthulhu players to be well-versed in the Mythos? Or is it better for them to be ignorant of the familiar tropes? There is of course a middle ground, say those who’ve played the Arkham Horror board game but aren’t otherwise steeped in lore.
Me, I love the idea of players who know a little about the 20s (my preferred CoC era) and are keen on mysteries and the possibility of the supernatural, but who haven’t read much Mythos literature. The idea that they don’t know what to expect appeals to me so much that I’d certainly throw in some non-supernatural mysteries to keep them guessing.
What’s your preference?