Yes, it’s not a D&D game. Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay. We still found a classic, the Chaosium flagship and the biggest name in leaning heavily on public domain stuff Call of Cthulhu. And hey, you might just be in need right now of people dumping on the febrile racism of a cowardly germophobe (Lovecraft. I meant Lovecraft.) so here’s that, just for you all.
One of the things you guys sort of brushed up against in your “Worst Things” discussion of the mythos that I wanted to elaborate on: One of the other big things that makes the Cthulhu Mythos a weird fit for tabletop is that one of the central themes of Lovecraft’s stuff was the idea that the universe is inherently strange and unknowable, and trying to stat out coherent and concrete details of a setting as presented in the source books kind of runs counter to that philosophy. The Terror Beyond Space and Time stops being a terrifying entity of the unknown when its history, society and stats have all been concretely laid out in the bestiary.
You see this sort of disconnect even in the attempts to bring Lovecraft’s work together into a connected mythos: While there were recurring names and items that showed up across his various stories, Lovecraft himself never really intended them to fit together into a coherent whole. A few of his stories even directly contradict stuff he’d established in earlier stories, and it didn’t matter because that served the central themes he was trying to build up: That there is a larger, coherent framework to the universe and the horror that dwells within it, but it’s something man will never be able to get the whole picture of.
It really takes away from the mystery if your book just straight-up explains the unexplainable. Attaching any amount of Hit Points to an Elder God just tells the players how much dynamite they need to blow it up.
Some editions of D&D make similar mistakes when they hand out statblocks for actual gods, though my favorite example is from the German tabletop RPG The Dark Eye where they used to give stats to what are essentially demonic gods. Not that these stats even mattered considering they were essentially Neutronium Golems compared to anything else the game can throw at you.
You pretty much nailed everything I don’t like about Call of Cthulhu in this. I somehow internalised the idea of a perfect session of Call of Cthulhu having never played it, and I’ve been chasing it ever since. I’ve run Masks of Nyarlathotep four times in the last ten years and every time it goes the same way.
I want to run a measured, noir investigation. My players want a pulp action game. Can you do a pulp action game with Call of Cthulhu rules? I mean sure, if you hate yourself. You can run a romance game using D&D rules, but why the fuck would you when the Romance Trilogy exists.
Anyway, the last time I tried to run Masks it went like this, spoiler warning for anyone who made it to the end of the podcast and still wants to play Masks. The players skipped three chapters and went right to the end, ignoring all the warnings. They sweet-talked some communist insurgents into pointing their guerilla army at the weird island base and stormed it with machetes and submachine guns. They met some resistance in the shape of a demented psychopath wizard and his army of deep ones but it might have gone either way had one of the PCs not cast a spell that summoned one of those flute playing frog monsters and fumbled the binding spell.
The frog thing pushed him into a lava pit and ate the two remaining characters and after that we put away our character sheets and drank in silence.