Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Review: Tiny Cthulhu


 "We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far." - H.P. Lovecraft

I have been a long time fan of the Mythos and investigative/mystery focused gaming. I have played many different Cthulhu based games but most of them tend to be overly complicated for my tastes. I am really excited to dive into Tiny Cthulhu. It recently had a very successful kickstarter campaign.

Disclaimer: I was given a PDF copy for review purposes. 

Before I dig into it, Tiny Cthulhu has done something that I have not seen in a Mythos game before. At the beginning of the book before you get into the game proper there is a disclaimer that discusses the failings of Lovecraft. These failings include how he was racist and how there is explicit and racist overtones in some of his writing. Alan Bahr goes on to explain that they do not support that ideology and none of those tones will be found in Tiny Cthulhu. A part of me thinks this is unneeded but I also understand it is a shield against those people that would cry foul. 

Presentation: Tiny Cthulhu has a full color hardback cover with 177 pages of single column black and white interior. The interior pages have some clean shading around the edges to give it a stained look. The art matches the theme of the Mythos and is done in black and white. Before you even get into character creation or things like that the book gives you the entire run down of how to play, how combat works, corruption, rest, healing, saves, and so forth. All of the Tiny games do this and I think it makes it easier understand the rest of the book. This is because you already have reference. After this you get the various chapters relating to investigator creation and then the GM section that talks about the Mythos, best practices, rules for more of a Noir or pulpy game, innovations, bestiary, cults, etc. Tiny Cthulhu has an organized table of contents and comes chalk full of micro settings, to be exact there are ten of them. It is really a clean laid out book that is easy to navigate. 

Character Creation: The creation of the investigator follows these steps:

1. Choose your Archetype: The choices are Investigator, Dilletante, Explorer, Mystic, Spiritualist, Inventor, Soldier, Veteran, and Writer. The archetypes determine starting hit points, corruption thresholds, and starting bonus traits. 

2.Select Traits: Choose three traits from a list of 44. These include Acrobat, Alchemist, Armor Master, Barfighter, Beastspeaker, Berserker, Blacksmith, Brawler, Charismatic, Cleave, Dark-Fighter, Defender, Diehard, Drunken Master, Dungeoneer, Educated, Eidetic Memory, Familiar, Fleet of Foot, Healer, Insightful, Inured, Lucky, Marksman, Martial Artist, Nimble Fingers, Opportunist, Perceptive, Quartermaster, Quick Shot, Resolute, Shield Bearer, Shrink, Sneaky, Sound Mind, Tome Reader, Sorcerer, Strong, Survivalist, Tough, Tracker, Trapmaster, Vigilant, and Wealthy.

3.Select a Weapon group to be proficient with: These include Light Melee, Heavy Melee, Light Ranged, and Heavy Melee. 

4.Select a Family Trade: There is not list for family trades but it is the jobs you were exposed to growing up or it can even be used as what you did before you become a Investigator. 

5.Record your Driving Belief: All Investigators have a driving belief that is recorded on their character sheet. This is a very important point about the character. It could be something simple like, "I can always talk my way out anything." 

6. Final Touches: You also get an investigators kit and $50 bucks in your pocket. 

Characters are not defined by classes or anything of the sort. The archetypes provide a worldview and some starting flavor. Then the traits (and the rest of the role play sections) help flesh out your character. 

Resolution: This resolves around making tests the require a 2d6 roll and the test is successful if any of the dice come up a 5 or 6. Some magic, traits, and gaming fiction can give the player advantage to the roll which means 3d6 are rolled. Certain situations can also lead to disadvantage on the roll which means 1d6 is rolled. In a situation where advantage and disadvantage happens at the same the disadvantage mechanics prevail unless magic or some type of powerful alchemy is involved (then the advantage mechanics win because MAGIC!). Tests can be considered normal tests, an obstacle test, or a save test. The resolution is the same but the story that triggers the test is different.

Resolution: Like most Tiny Games, the rules are light but it is still important to mention some of the mechanics. These also include corruption which is Tiny Cthulhu's from of Sanity or Insanity?

  • Corruption: Corruption Saves are a special situational save that results from the degrading of the psyche in dealing with the Mythos, other unknowns, and even magic. Each archetype has a Corruption rating and on a failed save, they lose 1d6 days as madness takes over their mind. It is up to the Referee to decide what happens in those six days and how it can effect the rest of the world or party. This madness can be forgone by spending a corruption point. When all corruption points are gone, the character has lost their mind and mist be committed to a mental hospital. There are ways to recover Corruption points from rest to treatment. There are guidelines for imposing corruption tests but are split into mundane and the supernatural. Mundane things like fining a corpse are only tested for once (so subsequent corpses don;t trigger an additional save) but seeing a great old one will always trigger a save. There is a handle table to reference and the only way to gain advantage on a corruption test is with a trait.
  • Traits: These give the character some type of boon such as advantage in certain situations, a new skill set, or even some background ability such as being Wealthy. They are bought on a 1 for 1 system and have no tiers. Traits also have a movie quote attached to he description which gives them a lot of flavor and for those familiar with other Tiny d6 games, a lot of these traits can be found in the other games.
  • Combat: Combat is broken down to the following steps:
  1.  Initiative: Each participant rolls 2d6 and adds them together. The turn order becomes highest to lowest. If there is a tie between an enemy and a super the super always goes first. If there is a tie between supers, the players re-roll until the tie is broken to see who goes first on the original initiative. 
  2. Actions: Each character has two two actions during their initiative turn. These are usually made up of being able to move and attack. Though a character can move twice or attack twice. There are also two special actions the character can do. The first one is Focus that changes the success rate for the next attack to 4, 5, or 6 (the focus action remains in effect until the character attacks or the combat ends). The second special action is Evade which allows allows the character to passively dodge incoming attacks. Until the beginning of your next turn, you can test 1d6 when successfully hit by an enemy - if the test is successful the attack is dodged. 
  3. Resolving Damage: Each successful attack deals a 1 point of damage unless modified by magic or trait, story circumstances, or if the character is using a heavy weapon (which deals a base of 2 damage but can only be used to attack with once per round).  
  4. Death: When a character reaches zero hit points that are knocked unconscious and are going to perish without help. At the beginning of a combat round you can only test to stabilize yourself. If you pass, you regain consciousness with 1 hp. If you fail, you got one more attempt next round at disadvantage. A failure on the second attempt results in the characters demise. Healing medicine and other ways could also save your character as assistance from another character making a check on their turn could stabilize as well.
  5. Option Rule - Range Bands: There is an optional rule that includes the use of range bands which are (and the actions that can be taken to and for each range band) Close (Light Melee, Heavy Melee, Magic), Near (Heavy Melee, Ranged, Magic), and Far (Ranged, Magic). Close roughly translates as within 5ft, Near roughly translates as 10-15ft, and Far is everything else. During combat the enemies remain stationary and the heroes move around them most of the time. It takes a move action to shift between each range band. 
  • Experience/Advancement: Tiny Cthulhu provides two different options for advancement. The first advancement is the minimalist advancement and characters gain a new trait every 3 sessions but cannot have more then 7 traits. If a trait would be gained after a character has the maximum of 7, the player can switch out a non archetype trait for new one. The second advancement track is where the GM passes out about 1-4 experience points a session and these experience points be spent to permanently increase the characters HP Capacity by 1 (6xp), a new proficient or mastered weapon (8xp), or a new trait (10xp).
  • Everything Else: Well, all other actions that could trigger a test are resolved by role playing and said role playing could cause advantage or disadvantage (or some traits may cause advantage).

Final Thoughts: The tiny d6 system does the Mythos great justice. I have been at many a Cthulhu game table where we got stuck looking up rules or slogging through sanity searing situations, combat, or clue finding. I think these iteration of the Mythos goes a long way in keeping the players immersed in the story. 

There is threw things I really like about the Tiny Cthulhu. The first that characters are not deeply tied to their archetypes like a general class system. You can have a Mystic that is good with a sword or a soldier that has picked up some magic and so forth. The second thing is the corruption mechanics. Instead of it being a mechanical slog or a quick way to lose your character in a single session it enforces the genre in a positive way. Instead of taking away player agency it gives them a choice and there is some built in buffers so you do not have to make roll for each body you find or whatever cult antics you come across. I also like how finding treatment and some of the other methods of regaining the Corruption threshold can become a side quest and a good opportunity for roleplay that does not directly involve the Mythos. Another great aspect regarding Corruption is magic as just knowing magic permanently breaks some of your sanity and your total corruption threshold is reduced on an permanent manner. Knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Speaking of magic, the Healing trait is stated that it is due to medical knowledge and not necessary magic. The last thing I really like are micro settings. That provide some many different ideas then the standard issue 1920s vibe. My two favorite ones are Under a Blood Red Sky (where basically a 1800s western town gets mysterious transported into an alternate world with Mythos horrors and the characters are part of that town. The other setting is Arkham High - a little Goonies vibe with Mythos. Each micro setting has setting information, hooks, and a whats really going on explanation. 

Now, with that being said, I do wish there would have been more setting specific traits, GM advice for running the Mythos, and more information regarding all of the great older ones.  I am hoping some of this information we will see in a supplement down the road. 

You can find Tiny Cthulhu at the following places:

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