1d6 – The Great Ones Undercover

You should never judge an RPG by its cover, for that way madness lies. Fail your SAN roll and you can end up spending your hard-earned pocket money on something completely rubbish. I’m still falling into the trap of impulsive purchase due to great cover art (combined with eBay and red wine).

Over the past week, I’ve been sharing tweets of some of the best covers for Call of Cthulhu supplements.

Naturally, I have a fondness for the early Choasium covers that managed to be both evocative of the scenarios that they contained, but also inspiring in their own right. One of the difficulties for early players of CoC was getting our heads around the concept (which was markedly different from other RPGs) and the Lovecraft mythos.

The wibbly, scrunchy and indescribable alien monsters that feature in the game are, by their nature … indescribable. The early covers helped to illuminate embryonic Keepers and players on what the monsters looked like as they slowly went insane.

1 – CRITICAL HIT – The Original Cover of The Masks of Nyarlathotep


There is something about the intensity of this image that is utterly mesmerising. It also features Nyarlathotep in my personal favourite of his many forms: Python-faced Hulk.

2 – Shadows of Yog-Sothoth


The first supplement that I got and I chose it purely on the basis of the cover. I struggled to understand how to run CoC when I first bought the game. I assumed that it was fantasy-horror meets tommy guns and brown derbys; this supplement introduced the idea that the game was about encountering alien strangeness in the distant corners of Earth.

3 – Fungi from Yuggoth


Dubbed “The Poor Man’s Masks …” by Eddy in our group. He originally was the Keeper for the campaign back in the 1980s and I’m very excited at the prospect of returning to it in the coming months. This cover captures the unique sense of adventure and creepiness intrinsic to CoC and has been shamefully redone with a rubbish cover in later editions.

4 – The Second Edition Cover Art


The haunted house. The graveyard. The glow of a lantern. The b-movie sensibility. The subtle curl of a tentacle. I’m sold.

5 – The Sixth Edition Cover Art


This later edition captures the essence that Shadows of Yog-Sothoth does so well … alien strangeness. The blue glow and the foreboding presence towering over a ship gives the sense of the insignificance of the human race.

6 – FUMBLE – Atomic-Age Cthulhu


A decent supplement let down by a lurid cover. The fall-out over shadowed by people falling out with axes. It fails to capitalise on an enticing proposition … genuine Mad Men!

1D6 Adventurers’ Arsenal

Remember when there were supplements that featured pages and pages of new weaponry? It was like a big macho-catalogue for players to pour over and calculate what was needed to kill every melon-farmer in the room… Some rulebooks went to great lengths to fetishise the descriptions of the weapons available; the early editions of Tunnels and Trolls, for example, was notable for the weird and wonderful descriptions, alongside detailed illustrations of exotic armoury.

There never seemed any point to this level of variety as players often settled on a combination of their favourites. We were RUNEQUEST players and the 2nd Edition rules provided slim pickings for the adventurer in search of a set of irons for his caddy. The ancient world setting meant that there were only a handful of equipment staples.

The following list has been compiled in conjunction with @sjamb7 – Blythy The Cautious – the master tactician – and rules lawyer at our table.

1 – CRITICAL HIT – The Sling


Every adventurer should have a sling in his utility belt and get good with it too. They are light-weight, concealable and ammunition is never very far away. The RQ rules mean that they can be lethal in the right hands too. One of the first games we played with an ardent D&D player nearly came to an abrupt end when he went gang-ho towards a crack squad of Trollkin slingers. In seconds, he was on his back with a shattered knee-cap.

This is what Malcolm Gladwell says in his book DAVID AND GOLIATH:

Slinging took and extraordinary amount of skill and practice. But in experienced hands, the sling was a devastating weapon. Paintings from medieval times show slingers hitting birds in midflight. Irish slingers were said to be able to hit a coin from as far away as they could see it, and the Old Testament Book of Judges, slingers are described as being accurate within an ‘hair’s breath’. An experienced slinger could kill or injure a target at a distance of up to two hundred yards. The Romans even had a a special set of tongs made just to remove stones that had been embedded in some poor soldier’s body by a sling…

Also, doubles as an eye-patch or, if you are Purdy from The New Avengers, a bra.

2- Broadsword


Our characters were usually strong and quick enough to carry a Bastard Sword, but often we would go for the Broadsword because … its a classic. With a medium shield combo, you can’t go wrong.

Also, its the name of a great Album by Jethro Tull with a brilliant Iain McCaig cover which was a perfect accompaniment to a role-playing session.

3 – The Composite Bow


The missile-weapon of choice for most discerning adventurers. With good-timing and a multi-missile spell its possible to pepper a broo with arrows before they’ve even had time to fart noxious fumes in your general direction.

What makes the use of a bow interesting is that it can shift the adventurer’s luck if the arrows find their mark. More often, it is a spectacular disaster, but when it goes well, you can’t beat the satisfaction of taking out an opponent from a distance.

4 – Spear


A two-handed spear is awkward looking thing at doesn’t stand up to much parrying. A one-handed spear, on the other hand, is a great way of keeping critters at bay and it looks good too. Many of our characters adopt the legionnaire tactic of chucking a spear before advancing with a sword and shield.

5 – One Handed Axe


Popular with starting characters because there is a low base-chance. Before too long, it’s possible to be adept at cleaving heads. They’re also a useful tool for the adventurer needing a swiss-army knife of equipment without being overly encumbered. They also have the advantage that they can be chucked too.

Our group likes throwing things at an opponent!

6 – FUMBLE – The Flail


I once had a lengthy debate about the merits of the flail with a D&D player (the one that clobbered by a sling) when I was playing a cleric. I went for a mace rather than a flail and he was trying to persuade me to go for the damage advantage of a flail. The aim of a flail is to scatter and scare multiple opponents when faced with a skirmish. Get out of my way!

I refused on the grounds that they look stupid.

1D6 Settings

I’ve been making impulsive RPG purchases over the past few weeks, burning through some Christmas gift cash. There are much more important things I need such as food, clothes and other essentials, but it wouldn’t be in the spirit of gift-giving if that tenner from my Auntie went towards a tank full of diesel for the car. Instead, I’ve been browsing through eBay looking to expand my RPG horizons.

I’ve been drawn towards a couple of games purely on their setting, as they both seem to offer an opportunity to explore imaginative corners of worlds that I find fascinating. I used to have the JUDGE DREDD RPG back in the day, but I’ve lost it along the way, I think we only played it once. What could be more appealing than to patrol Wincey Willis Plaza to apprehend a perp in Rusty Lee Block? Mega-City One is such a rich setting that the scenarios write themselves. I seem to remember being a bit po-faced about it when I was 15, but now I can see the humour would play well with our group.

I didn’t know anything about THE DYING EARTH RPG, produced by Pelgrane Press, until I spotted it on a shelfie. It was released in 2001, long after I’d stopped buying new games, and it’s one of those new-fangled story-based rules that sound interesting, but I can’t imagine actually playing them. The rules are very entertaining to read and worth it for the little quirky ideas and the additional detail around Vance’s Dying Earth.

This is the first of our One-D-Six lists. This is how it works – roll a d6 – 1 is a critical, while 6 is a fumble!

1 – CRITICAL HIT – The Young Kingdoms


The setting of the cyclical history of the Eternal Champion, which was conceived as an antithesis to the anodyne Middle Earth. The world of Elric is by turns exotic, nasty, inventive, diverse and fantastical and a natural setting for a role-playing system. The battle between chaos and law and the mastery of the elements and demons gives a very immersive and convincing magical system.

We were Moorcock fan-boys back in the day, so we would love the sense of being bit-players in the stories that we knew well by occasionally meeting characters from the books. Our Player Characters were Non-Player Characters in the stories of Elric.

2 – Dying Earth DEmap

Recently I’ve been rediscovering Jack Vance’s world set at the end of time, with the sun fading, a world where magic is freely available. Reading the yellowing pages of the paperbacks that I devoured as a teenage is a nostalgic trip, to a place and an author that I adored.  It’s well documented that Gary Gygax took his inspiration for D&D magic from Vance, but other than ‘levels’ and the limits to memorising spells, the Dying Earth is far removed from the generic setting of GreyHawk. Foppish characters with razor-sharp wit, combined with elegant use of language make Dying Earth strange and wonderful.

Although we’ve never set any adventures in Vance’s world, after reading his books over the summer of 1986, my style of GMing was never the same, all of my Runequest Adventures were inflected through the prism of Vance. In 2005, when we had a brief dalliance with D&D, I created Azir Voon, a magician character inspired by the books of Vance. He studied at the Vermillion University and believed that that magic could be comprehended through the physiology of the eye. His motivation for delving through dungeons was to collect more specimens for his collection.

3 – Mega City One


Thanks to the recent publicity around the return of the Dark Judges and the Dredd Mega Collection, I’ve returned to Mega City One after a thirty year break. As a setting it’s sharply satirical, hyper-real and darkly humorous and the judges have a great Player Character motivation to stay ahead of the perps.

4 – Cthulhu (1920s)


Watch a season of BOARDWALK EMPIRE and you can appreciate why the roaring twenties is such a rich setting for role-playing. It has it all – gangsters, conspiracy, the rise of the KKK, republicanism in Ireland, and much, much more. This was a period of analogue globalisation, where it was possible to travel the world, but very slowly.

Cthulhu in the twenties works well because it was the age of exploration and plundering of ancient sites. It is possible to create world-spanning adventures yet create the experience of being isolated. Alone, with nothing but a brown derby… roll SAN.

5 – Glorantha


For much of the eighties, we were in a love/ hate relationship with our parallel existence on the plains of Prax. We loved the character of the place, the other worldly gods and creatures; we hated the fact it was so dense and that there were so many supplements that we couldn’t afford.

Now we are more relaxed and have a more laid-back attitude to the place, as we appreciate that OUR Glorantha can be very different from the published version. We have three versions in play at the moment: one in the corner of Prax, at the end of The River of Cradles in the employ of a Lunar noble; another campaign in the plains of Balazar, carving a living as a mercenary under the wary eye of the Lunars; and finally, a campaign set around Sartar, where barbarian clans are in open rebellion against the Lunar occupation.

6 – FUMBLE! – Gotham 


I’ve never really been a fan of the ‘Supers’ genre of RPGs, preferring grit and jeopardy to sheer fire-power. If I had extending limbs, I don’t think I’d bother leaving the house.

If the recent TV series has told us anything, it that there is nothing intrinsically interesting about the Batman’s stomping ground – it’s New York with 40 watt bulbs – it’s the characters that give the place its colour. Specifically, it’s the bad guys that make the setting interesting, even the Batman is a bit boring. When’s the Penguin coming back on?