Call of Cthulu Parapsychologist’s Handbook

Call of Cthulu is invariably about a search into the unknown. As often as not, the characters get involved in this search purely by accident or are questers who never imagined just how large the unknown world they’re curious about is. Parapsychologists are just the kind of people who delve into this unknown, though they fit into the category of people who have no idea just how dark and dangerous the supernatural world can be. The Parapsychologist’s Handbook explains how these individuals fit into the Call of Cthulu mythos and how such research and characters can add to any game.
Most Call of Cthulu games occur in a world very like our own, simply with another layer on top of (or beneath, or permeating throughout) it. Because of this similarity to the real world, at least the descriptive portions of Call of Cthulu sourcebooks outlining things that exist in the real world can be very detailed and true to the subject matter. This is true of the Parapsychologist’s handbook, as well and it could as easily serve as a real world guide to the world of paranormal investigation as it does to the world of Call of Cthulu. Anyone with even a passing interest in the world of parapsychology would find valuable information in the Parapsychologist’s Handbook.
The descriptions of the methodology of parapsychological field and lab research as well as the different equipment that can prove useful to this research and investigation are quite thorough. There is also an in depth discussion of many of the fields of parapsychological research. This ranges from ghosts and poltergeists to spiritualists, mediums and psychics. Again, there is a great deal of real world research into these areas and the writer, being an actual parapsychologist not only has a firm grasp on the topic, but also possesses an excellent ability to explain it to newcomers to the field.
That’s not to say that there isn’t ample game material in the book as well, though the player’s portion is relatively light on rules. That’s in keeping with the feel of the genre, though. Breaking down something to its pure mechanics takes a great deal of the mystery and potential horror out of any subject and giving the game master the tools but keeping them out of the hands of the players helps add to the feel of the game. Players are free to attempt anything, but without being able to look at the rules, they have no idea whether or not what they’re trying is going to work or the probability of it working. Part of this game material includes equivalent rules for the d20 game system in addition to the rules for Chaosium’s version of the rules.
Call of Cthulu already has one or more mysteries inherent in the world that characters will be researching before, or in addition to the topics that parapsychologists normally look into. There is an extensive Mythos inherent in the setting and it is important to vital for any group to determine how the topics explored in this book fit into this larger world. Rather than simply stating how these two similar but divergent topics fit together, the author gives a number of options that each game master can pick and choose from. Adding to the mystery of the game for the players is the fact that the game master is encouraged to keep the paradigms that drive parapsychological phenomenon in the game world a secret. Players and characters will have their own beliefs about what is causing any particular phenomenon and should behave as though it were true. The game master can shape the results so that those beliefs are reinforced whether it is correct or not. After all, the entities in Call of Cthulu delight in deceiving and destroying foolish mortals and they enjoy it even more when mortals delude themselves.
No matter what paradigm the game master chooses, games that include these rules end as all Call of Cthulu games inevitably end: the characters either go insane or die and each envies the other his fate. Whether the character has his mind torn apart and devoured by a Great Old One, gets dragged to Hell by a demon, or simply ends up insane because he delved into things that were simply not meant for humans to know hardly matters to the character.
One of the other bits of game information in the book includes NPC’s from the early two eras common to Call of Cthulu stories. The 1890’s and 1920’s were two of the strongest times for parapsychological research so there are all too many personalities from history that the player characters can run into. Some of these historical individuals are known only to people interested in this sort of research while others are household names such as Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While these characters are not given game statistics, their general personalities, beliefs about the topics discussed in the book and their history in the time specified are all provided and give plenty of information for a game master to run with.
There is also a discussion of the historic groups that dedicated themselves to this type of research in all the eras of play. Many of the characters given were prominent members of these various societies. These organizations could easily serve as foils, allies or simply sources of information to any group that was interested in parapsychological research and some of the politicking that went on within them could easily add another layer of conflict to any adventure.
In addition to the mechanics provided throughout the book and the historical characters provided, game masters are also given a small group of adventure seeds to serve as inspiration. In addition, a quick history and timeline of each of the fields of research of interest to parapsychologists is provided. Between these two sources, even game masters who are not familiar with the source material should have an easy time creating appropriate adventures.
If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if the TAPS team found themselves in Innsmouth or if Gozer the Gozerian had taken the form of a Thing That Should Not Be instead of the Stay Puffed Marshmallow man, the Parapsychologist’s Handbook is just what you need to find out.

Nights of the Crusades

Who says you need a book thick enough to stop a bullet to have a heavy simulationist game? Nights of the Crusades proves that it can be done in only 106 pages.
As may be inferred by the title, Nights of the Crusades is set in the Middle East during Medieval Times. It is a time of conflict and bigotry of all sorts from racism to sexism to religious intolerance. But the historical crusades are not the only inspiration for Nights of the Crusades. The famous 1001 Nights also plays a role in the game, with the mythical creatures and supernatural dangers from those stories added to the already dark themes of war and conquest. This is not the Disney version of these stories and the djinn in the game are malicious, massively powerful creatures that delight in tricking and tormenting mortals.
Obviously, given these source materials, Nights of the Crusades is a very dark game. Even if a player does not particularly want his character to dislike another character, whether player or game master controlled, there is a system of allegiances which insure that it is much easier to be aggressive against people of opposing allegiances than it is to assist them. Of course, whether or not the character acts on these hatreds is up to the player. The ranks of these allegiances can change so clever players can manipulate their ranks to make it easier or harder to attack or negotiate with a particular group depending on the groups the player wants his character to be allied with.
Another factor that helps make the game very dark and increases the simulationist aspect is the trauma system. After each day that a character engaged in, or observed combat, the player has to roll on a chart to determine if his character is permanently affected by what he has seen. The results of these rolls can be anything from addiction to phobias to an increase in the character’s hatred for a certain type of opponent. It attempts, rather effectively, to mirror the true effects of battle on a person’s mind and resembles post traumatic stress disorder. This is an aspect of battle that is rarely discussed in role-playing games. Most characters either never kill or are homicidal maniacs, depending on genre and in either case the amount of violence is hardly considered by the players. So a game that actually deals with the mental repercussions of fighting and killing other human beings is fairly unique. Additionally, there are a number of situations in which a character can become scarred or otherwise permanently disfigured or injured physically.
Characters do not have attributes in the classic sense. There is no measure of their strength or intelligence. Instead, they have four expertises, or general areas of skill. Each skill is associated with one or more of these expertises and each skill taken in an expertise increases it, making the character more effective in that particular realm of combat or social interaction. There are a lot of skills to take. A whole lot. This is necessary to give enough skills to give significant levels to the expertises. Beyond this purely numerical addition to the character, each skill also provides a specific advantage either in or out of combat. There are plenty of skills for any player to make a character just to his taste and reflecting any number of combat or negotiation styles.
The combat system can be run either abstractly or on a battle mat, but is extremely detailed in either case. There are stances, maneuvers, statuses and ongoing effects that can make a battle exceptionally complex and quite realistic. There is no swinging from the chandeliers here, only the brutal grind of battle and there is often the chance that a character will do nothing more than cower or flee.
The negotiation and social resolution mechanic can be just as complex. There are numerous “maneuvers” that players can engage in during a negotiation to manipulate the final results of the exchange.
Perhaps most influenced by the 1001 Nights source of inspiration, there is also a detailed storytelling mechanic within the game. In addition to inspiring players to creativity, this mechanic provides concrete mechanical rewards to the characters when used. The Pearls of Wisdom earned from these storytelling sessions can be used for anything from re-rolling a die, to adding wealth, to gaining an ability, depending upon how many are spent.
The actual game system comes rather late in the book and while it is not uncommon for the character creation section of a game to come before the mechanics, there are a lot of sets of sub-rules that come before the basic mechanics. These are relatively simple and characters attempting a feat that is equal to their ability need a roll of 5 or below on a d10 to succeed. For each point lower than the ability, the chance of succeeding increases by a point. For each point above, the chance of succeeding decreases by a point.
As simple as this die mechanic is, there is a very long game play example that includes investigation, negotiation, storytelling and combat, everything a group might need, to explain it all. While this is certainly useful and helps ensure all these varying game systems are clear, it does go on for a bit too long.
One of the things that Pearls of Wisdom can buy is a Fief. A symbol of the character’s power, a base of operations and a source of wealth, the fief adds a hint of domain management to the game and helps represent the character’s advancement in society and influence over the world. This system is also relatively simple, but adds a nice touch to the game.
There is an NPC section which provides characters and a handful of animals/monsters for the game master to use to populate his stories. This section is rather short and there is no obvious organization to it, but it requires very little to create an opponent in the game so it would be fairly easy for a game master to create any challenges needed.
The book ends with a short adventure which captures the horrific nature of the game perfectly. It is no cosmic horror or fearsome monster that threatens the characters but a combination of fate, nature and human needs and failings that force the players into horrible decisions.
Nights of the Crusades is an exceptionally gritty, surprisingly detailed game system which explores a dark time in the history of the world. Groups who like high flying action or simple stories of good and evil will be disappointed by the game, but those who prefer investigating the infinite shades of gray of morality in more realistic stories will find just what they want in this game.