COREthulhu Update

by | Sep 22, 2023 | Articles

I suppose it’s time for an update on COREthulhu. The long and short of it is that I haven’t done very much in the last little while. There’s a variety of reasons for that but the one that I’ll offer up is my own inherent laziness. That may be an unfair assessment but one that I can assure you is internally consistent. I believe it’s the reason that most of the things I have started remain unfinished. My poor psychological habits not withstanding, let me steer us back on track.

So I haven’t done any work on COREthulhu since the end of July, roughly two months. Now that’s not as long as I thought it was but longer than it probably should be (it’s not like I’m working on something else after all). I have a bunch of stuff blocked out and some of the rewriting has been done. I’m adding a section on Bonds and there’s a new, more “comprehensive” Shock Table. The Trauma section remain relatively unchanged at least currently. The biggest change is making COREthulhu “Powered By” CORE as opposed to “For Use With”. That essentially entails rewriting CORE Micro to to fit the tone of COREthulhu. Once that’s done you can just grab COREthulhu and go.

The Magic section is still largely incomplete. I still haven’t really decided on how to do it. What I don’t want is pages and pages of spells. Players and GM’s might love that but I think I’m leaning more towards give some examples of different kinds of spells and rituals and then leaving it up to y’all to figure it out. Like this is how an attack spell works, this is how a ritual is cast, etc. That probably seems really vague so let me tease this out a little more.

My thought currently is that attack spells all “work the same”. Meaning that just like throwing a punch or shooting a gun, the Difficulty Level (DL) to beat is the opposing die roll. It’s how combat works in CORE already. That way no one has to memorize a bunch of different spells and what their DL’s are. Easy and fast but it does make spells slightly less useful and bit more swingy. Now that could be good or bad I guess depending on your play style and expectations.

One possible way to mitigate that is to give your magic user (read here cultists, eldritch beings etc) a higher skill ranking in Magic. Of course if the PC’s have higher fighting/shooting skills you’re in the same boat. It could be that the PC’s have to make a “resistance” roll when they are hit by spells. This means more dice rolling and slows down combat. Not great in a more narrative system like CORE. You want fast and punchy. That could mean that we circle back around to the beginning and all spells have their own DL that has to be met to be successfully cast. You see my dilemma.

Something like opening a portal/gate or summoning a creature would clearly be “Doing Something Else” and there’s rules for that already. Spells like that would have to have a set or Gradiated DL.

The other thing I want to convey with Magic is that it’s bad. Like it feels dirty using it or even holding some ancient grimoire. It fills the user with dread, it’s oppressive. For the most part your PCs shouldn’t really be fucking with Mythos Magic. Of course they can if they want to but there should be a cost involved. Does that detract from the fun? I don’t know, maybe. That’s up for you and your table to decide.

I like it because the idea behind the game is that the PCs are normal people who are confronted with the weird and horrific. The fun for me is in the story telling. How do you react, what are you willing to risk? There’s a moral ambiguity present. Yes you can learn and cast the spell from the book bound in human skin but that shit is going to fuck you up. It’s a choice and choices have consequences. This is totally a byproduct of our play style or at least how I think about it. That might not work for you and that’s cool. Use what you like and drop the rest. I guess what it comes down to is I like a little more Delta Green in my Mythos gaming.

Another thing I’m looking at is adding Conditions. Breathes heavily in dragon fantasy game…..

Not so much to add mechanical complexity (although it does do that to some degree) but to add to the narrative complexity. My rough comparison would be FATE. So you could be distracted or stunned for a round take a -1 on the roll. If you take 2 damage to Grace maybe you have a severe ankle sprain or a broken hand. Some of this is already present in CORE Micro in talking about taking damage. This will just expand on that line of thinking a bit more and honestly this won’t be for everyone and it’s completely optional.

Non sequitur but my conversations with Jesse about Conditions prompted Jesse into a full blown rewrite of Runner using Tags instead of Skills. It’s a little more free form and more broadly applicable. Instead of having Electronics +2, you’d have a tag of Hacker or Techie +2 but I digress.

I guess circling back around one of the big things for this new edition is the idea of “Bonds”. For COREthulhu a Bond is a significant relationship for the PC. Functionally this gives the player agency in world building, it serves to create some psychic content by telling the GM what kind of relationship is important to the PC and serves as a “source of stability” for the PC. Yes these things are shamelessly ripped from other games. I am a hack and a fraud.

That being said, there are other things that PCs can do to mitigate Stress and Trauma so the idea of Bonds isn’t limiting in that respect. A PC may listen to music, delve deeply into research, use mind altering substances, therapy or whatever. Any of those things can and should be played out in Downtime include spending time with Bonds. Not every player or in fact every table is going to want to use Bonds. That’s fine, it’ll be a Creative Option.

Your Bond is your grounding in the world. If you suffer (mechanical) Trauma then during your Downtime you could potentially spend time with them as your way of trying to mitigate that Trauma. You make a Psyche roll against a DL 4. If you pass, it helps and you can remove that Trauma. If you fail it doesn’t work. Same for any other actions you may take to mitigate Trauma. One day you’re attacked by Deep Ones and you do decide by some twisted logic that this is your kids fault. If they didn’t need that new Xbox you wouldn’t be out here in the middle of the night being exposed to all this weird shit.

People are fucked up generally and it isn’t hard to imagine someone trying to force that stress down by displacing your fear, anger, stress or whatever. That happens all the time and there are no monsters besides capitalism. So you burn a point of that Bond. If you succeed that’s great you don’t suffer Trauma. Now when you engage with your Bond after the Deep One attack, your relationship is different. This is all a roleplaying conceit. It’s up to the player to figure out what this means. Maybe when you see your kid now you can only think of deep ones and that makes your scared so you treat them more poorly. You don’t spend as much time with them. If you spend all of your points then the relationship may become broken. Maybe they leave home. Maybe they tells you to fuck off, etc.

By spending XP to buy points in your Bond it represents you working at the relationship to make it better. It’s still a little fuzzy on how best to implement it. If people have to spend XP during character creation to have a Bond it’s unlikely that a vast majority of people will use them. It makes sense, it’s probably better to have shooting at +2 than a Bond at +2.

The other option that comes to mind are just giving everyone a Bond at +1 during character creation, assuming they want one. Then they can either buy it up or hold it as a “just in case”. Another would be to have a Bond equal to your Psyche score or to split that between 1 or 2 Bonds.

Ultimately this is all just to encourage role playing. If you want to burn a point of your Bond, then you’d play through a vignette with them. How do you strain or break that relationship or conversely build it back up? I feel like there’s definitely some fruitful ground there.

Ideally COREthulhu is less about the adventure and more about what happens to the people who are exposed to the Mythos. What would you do, and what would you become, if you learned all of that was actually real?

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