Friday, October 20, 2017

Call of Cthulhu: History and Library Use

I'm going to be running a 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu game tonight which, if all goes well, will be recorded and turned into a podcast for your listening pleasure. However, this gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about two flawed skills that have been with the game since its inception. What skills, you ask? History and Library Use!

I've always had a problem with how both of these skills were handled. The History skill is insanely broad, and the difficulty for someone to recall some historical fact should be dependent on their own field of specialization. For example, with a History 80%, a historian is equally knowledgable about the War of 1812, the Punic Wars, and the exact identity of the settlers of a colonial township. They have an 80% (or, under 7e rules, less if the check is a hard one) chance of knowing the answer to any of those questions. To me, as a trained historian, that seems absurd.

The fix is simple: history must be taken as a specialty. A broad category of history would give the investigator only the most cursory knowledge of historical data. Thus, any question of a specific historical fact might be hard or even nearly impossible for them to answer (1/2 skill, or 1/5th skill). The same would be true of a specialist being asked something outside their own field.

Example: Harvey Walters has a History (early medieval) score of 80%. When being asked about the wars of Charlemagne, he has an 80% chance of knowing the answer. When being asked about Operation Barbarossa, he has a 40% chance of knowing the answer.

Library use suffers from a different problem: as written, a single roll of library use turns up all potential data the Keeper has prepared on that subject. This replicates the real experience of following leads through strands of research about as well as Law and Order replicates the real experience of being in court.

When conducting research, you tend to follow strands that either lead to more research to read, or down dead-end alleyways that turn up nothing. You get new search terms each time you find a book or article, and you tend to chase footnotes in those to find more information.

How, then, can you replicate that experience (something that is as cool and involved as a private eye tailing a quarry to determine the places they visit in the day) with the current rules? I have a handy little alteration that I'm using for this game, but I might try to make it more complex later.

That is: a successful Library Use roll given a search term will take 1 hour of research time. This returns 1 result (ordered by the Keeper in a stack of most easily locatable under that term to least easily locatable). If the skill roll would also qualify as a HARD skill roll (1/2 skill), the search returns 1D3 results from top down. If it would qualify as an EXPERT result (1/5th skill), the search returns 1D3+2 results from the top down.

I'll keep everyone informed as to how this works.

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