COREthulhu Playtest 2

by | Jul 30, 2021 | GM Notes

We had, what turned out to be, a double playtest last night. Kevin ran our 2nd COREthulhu game and did so using a scenario that he wrote. I had no idea going in, so was really excited when we found out after the fact that he wrote it. The scenario would be great as a Con game, it started with a slow burn that ended with all the crazy Mythos stuff. And his Babe Ruth was the best!

Overall I felt like this session went really well. It felt a lot smoother then our first playtest, I think partially because Kevin is a better GM then I am. The scenario wasn’t overly long so it allowed us to play our normal style of game, which is to just fuck around until something happens. It’s not like we actively avoid plot, in fact just the opposite but it does take us a while to get from point A to point B.

Again, since it was a scenario written for Call of Cthulhu, there were a lot of checks. It’s the nature of the beast. I think because of that, the game it’s going to be a lot less reliant on the heavy psychic content which is where CORE is really driving at. Not that you couldn’t draw that aspect in but by it’s central conceit, you are investigating spooky stuff so by default there’s going to be a lot of rolling.

With that being said I don’t think its a bad thing. The results of those checks are going to help to drive the narrative because of the way the system works. It’s not a simple pass fail like most games, so you fail your spot hidden and don’t find the clue, now what? With CORE there is no simple fail, it’s all Ands and Buts. No you didn’t find the mystical tome the guy is using to summon an avatar of Nyarlathotep But you do see magical sigils scrawled all over his desk blotter. No you didn’t find the clue And someone called the cops because they see your flashlights in the empty office. Either way your driving the narrative.

The Difficulty Level (DL) of the checks also felt kind of same, same like the last game. It’s not a knock per se because I think that’s sort of where the level is. We’re sitting in this zone:

2 = easy

3 = challenging

4 = difficult

5 = hard

6 = very hard

and that’s probably fine honestly. If a character wants to make an Insight roll but lacks the Insight skill the best they can possibly do is roll a 6. If the DL is 4 they’re looking at a 50:50 chance, which is Difficult (mechanically) and I feel like that makes sense. You could futz with those numbers on the GM’s side by increasing or decreasing the DL. Right, so there wouldn’t be a negative associated with the above example but the GM could say since you don’t have the skill your DL is 5 (hard) as opposed to 4 (difficult).

Just to stay with this thought for the moment, if a character lacks the skill of electronic repair and they need to try and fix a radio, the DL for them would be much higher than for someone who has the skill. So there’s no inherent negative to the roll, it’s just harder to do because you’re not skilled at the task. It’s possible you could succeed and more probable that you succeed at a cost, Yes But. Sometimes though you just can’t do it. If the PC has never flown a plane, they’re looking at a DL 10 (insane) when they sit behind the controls. They just don’t have the necessary skill set.

Because Tod does such an amazing job at keeping us in the moment when we play DayTrippers, we rarely have to conceptualize what’s happening mechanically in combat. As we learn how to run CORE as GM’s we’re having to overcome that hurdle. It’s a little bit of a different beast. So not unsurprisingly when we hit combat things bogged down a bit. Which on one hand is good from a playtest perspective because we could examine it and see how the parts fit together and try and learn from that. Some of it came down to timing and interpretation of the rules and part of it just our inexperience. For my part I got caught up in thinking to rigidly about Magic in combat. As designed, Magic in combat is like any other opposed combat roll. That assumes that the caster is casting an offensive spell and in that case makes sense. What we had last night was a caster who was essentially “Doing Something Else” by the mechanics and I failed to comprehend that, even though Kevin pointed it out. I was too locked into my “concept” of how Magic was supposed to work. When Jesse and I were talking about it post, post show it became really clear, so in the end still a good learning experience.

The other issue was timing as the bad guy was able to get in a surprise round where they began casting a spell. The effect was not only to incapacitate the people in the room but also to begin opening a portal. We wound up making Psyche checks that I assumed was for the people passing out not taking into account the portal opening. So we had an order of operations issue on the surface but we could have easily rectified that by pausing and clarifying.

It was getting late and we knew we were close to finishing so we wanted to push through. There was also the excitement of having the final boss battle and wanting to jump into the combat. So I think we all forged ahead with a different idea of what was happening in our minds. In and of itself, an easily rectifiable situation. We should have paused, asked for clarification and reset the scene. Solid advice for any game really. It allows for everyone to be on the same page, establish risks and goals and draws people back into the fiction. Something we sometimes forget in the heat of the moment.

I also need to clarify what happens when there’s a situation where there are multiple PC’s acting in combat against one adversary. If the “bad guy” rolls a 6 on his Magic roll and one PC rolls a 7 on their Firearms, beating the caster and negating the action (casting the spell) but the other PC fails a Fighting roll and rolls say a 2, how is that interpreted? My assumption in that it’s only the PC’s actions that have narrative weight. So Yes (shooting PC) you stop the spell from being cast. Other PC No you don’t land a blow And the caster moves into cover. Something like that. I’ll have to check with Tod and see.

Since I wasn’t GMing, I feel like it was easier for me to have a feel for how the system was working. I mean, we know CORE works, we’ve been playing DayTrippers for years. More specifically does COREthulhu work, does it do the things that i think it should be doing, is it engaging, is it fun, do the part fit together properly? And I think the answer is yes, it is performing as I expected. We’re going to have fun playing almost anything so I have to remove that from the equation when breaking things down. Aside from maybe botching the first Psyche check, not a fault of the system, Shock and Trauma worked. We saw a little bit of everything from keeping it together, freezing in fear, lashing out and having two player each acquire their first Trauma symptom. My mechanical addition to CORE worked and frankly I’m pleased as punch.

I will have to go back and tweak the rules slightly to clarify offensive Magic and “Doing Something Else” Magic in combat but that’s minor. I think I’ll also be adding a section that is just advice for running a game. Nothing major just a paragraph or two. August is shaping up to be pretty quiet activity-wise so we may try to get at least one more play test game in, hope you check it out!

You can find CORE Micro here: