Friday, June 7, 2013

The Flexibility of Cthulhu Dark

I just turned in my entry to RPGGeek's 2013 Holiday Adventure Contest, a yearly contest where GMs must write a scenario surrounding a specific holiday. This year's holiday was Midsummer - not an easy thing to write about. Since you should write what you know, I created a horror scenario.

I found out two things from writing this scenario. First, writing a horror scenario that is not Lovecraftian horror was difficult for me. I've been writing Call of Cthulhu scenarios for so long that it was hard to change my mindset, even just slightly. In the end, (I think) I was able to do it.

Cthulhu Dark
The other thing I found out was that the Cthulhu Dark RPG is extremely flexible.
Initially, I wanted the scenario to be generic and without a rules system so GMs could pick it up and run it in any system they desired; Call of Cthulhu, Dread, Chill, FATE, and so on.

However, as I was writing the scenario, there was a nagging feeling I had with one part that I felt needed some type of mechanic; in this scenario it was spirits possessing NPCs. I kept looking at it from the perspective that I was the GM and wanted to run it - this was something missing that needed defined.

I decided I needed a system to put around it. After some soul searching, I chose Cthulhu Dark.

Cthulhu Dark is an RPG system written by Graham Walmsley that simplifies RPG to its essence - storytelling with very minimal mechanics. This fit perfectly into my scenario. I still wanted the players to have the ability to roll to do things, which Cthulhu Dark has. I still wanted some type of sanity system, which Cthulhu Dark has. But I still wanted it to be more story telling and roleplay, which Cthulhu Dark allows.

However, the possession mechanic that I wanted didn't really fit into the Cthulhu Dark rules. Then I found an article written by Graham on how to hack Cthulhu Dark. Following his advice on there, I created a new possession die used in my scenario.

Possession Mechanic
The possession die is a d6 that represents a spirit's attempt to possess an NPC. When this happens, the die is rolled and compared to the group's Possession level. If the die is higher than the current Possession level, the NPC becomes possessed.

The group's Possession level starts at 4 and is decreased to 2 when a second NPC is possessed. In my scenario, this represents the various spirits getting more powerful with each possession.

A PC may help prevent possession of an NPC by risking their insanity to add their Insanity die to the roll. The lower die of the two is used to determine if the NPC becomes possessed, but the insanity rules for rolling the PCs insanity die still apply. Only one PC may help during any possession roll, and that PC must be present when the possession attempt takes place. The PC should role play how they help prevent the possession.

In the end, the addition of the new die fit perfectly into my vision of the scenario and allowed me to do what I wanted. It also showed me the flexibility Cthulhu Dark gives a horror GM. Without something as simple as Cthulhu Dark, I'm not sure I would have been able to create what I wanted to create.

It also allowed me to create a scenario that has rules surrounding it, but can still be easily converted into any other system. Win, win!

Will I use Cthulhu Dark all the time? No. But its another tool in my toolbox that can be pulled out, and modified, to suit whatever needs I have. That is the real power of the system.

Monday, June 3, 2013

POD Review: Monophobia and Kinkos

I hate PDFs. Let me rephrase that - I hate reading PDFs. Maybe its because I use a computer all day for my job, but when I get a book that I want to read, I want the physical thing in front of me. There's nothing like the feel of the paper between your fingers or the smell of the freshly printed ink. This is especially true for RPG books.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that the PDF market has created a huge boom in RPG material - allowing anyone to publish something that in years past might have been difficult. However, when I want to read, or reference, an RPG book I want the physical copy in front of me.

The obvious answer to this is to print out the PDFs. This is possible on my crappy printer at home, but I will be wasting paper and ink, and the quality won't be what I want. Therefore, the only option left is print on demand (POD) services.

Printed Cover
Unfortunately, there are a lot of POD services and not many reviews on them. So, I've decided to review some myself. My goal for reviewing POD services is to give others an impression of the quality of the services and ultimately find one that I can use for all future PDF printing.

For my first review, I had the Call of Cthulhu book Monophobia from Unbound Publishing printed by the FedEx Kinkos online service (now called FedEx Office). I chose this book because its free, its a great supplement, and is a decent size to judge quality and pricing (61 pages including the cover).

The Process

The process for printing out something through FedEx Office online is fairly simple: upload your document, choose how you want it printed, and determine whether you want it delivered or to pick up. Kinkos has hundreds of options to choose from - including the type of paper you want, the type of cover, and if you want color, black & white, or a combination of the two. It costs extra to have the finished product sent to you, but picking it up is free.

For my printing process, I chose 32 lb paper, clear vinyl cover, solid black vinyl back, double-sided pages, spiral bound, and black & white, except for a color front page. In total, the charge was just under $15. Within 4 hours, I received an email that my book had been finished and was ready to be picked up.

It should be noted that the Monophobia PDF size was slightly off from the normal 8.5" x 11" format, but the online site formatted it down to the correct size for me (after asking if it should). I was able to preview online how it looked to ensure that it was what I wanted.

The Finished Product

The vinyl covers of the finished product are very sturdy and do not appear like they will tear easily - either in the main portion or where they are attached to the spiral binding. Within the last week, I've traveled with this in my backpack so it has been subject to wear and tear, and I see no indication on it, or any of the pages, that they are loose or about to tear.

UBB Logo in printed form.
The paper used is of high quality. While this was a choice I made, I'm glad I went with the higher quality paper as it gives the book a better feel and probably led to better printing.

The color cover looks amazing. I don't see any bleeding of ink that I honestly expected coming from a print/copy shop.

Inside, the pages were printed exceptionally well. Lines and corners are sharp, even in the most detailed pictures, such as the logo and the inside handouts. Text is also well-defined and sharp, allowing it to be easily read.


The finished product looks amazing. Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of the book. The book was bound well, and the printing was exceptional and sharp. To put this into perspective, I've seen products from established RPG companies that used other POD services that didn't even come close to this quality.
Closer look at the printed pages and handouts.
Pricing also appears reasonable, especially for larger books. For a test, I uploaded my PDF copy of Perils of the Surface World (120 pages) and set it up with the same options. The cost would have been $22. While this may change for larger sizes, it still appears well in a price range I'd like to keep (plus there are loads of coupons online for the service).

If I had to complain about anything, I would say that I would have liked to see more options to choose from. Kinkos offers laminating for the covers, but I could not find any way to choose the first page of my book to laminate. I would have gladly paid for this. I would have also liked to see an option to have a heavier card stock for the cover with staple-binding.

However, I am nit-picking here. I am very happy with the cost, quality, and speed of the printing service that Kinkos provided. I will gladly use them in the future.

Know of a POD service I should review? Send me a message and let me know!