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Tome of Answers

The first week of “Ask the Guild” is now here and let’s begin with some a fairly straightforward batch today. Note that in some cases I have abridged questions or only quoted the “question” part of an email or message. Questions are in bold and the answers are below!

Are you ever going to do that promised review of Rise of Tiamat?

Yes, one of these days I will get around to finishing that. Honestly, if you’re wondering why it’s taking it so long it’s basically because I’m no longer running 5E in any substantial fashion. As a result, I’ve been focusing all of my efforts into my other projects and games. Without going into a lot of detail, because I do plan to finish that review in the coming weeks, I highly recommend Rise of Tiamat and think it’s pretty good.

Will you review the other adventures for 5th Edition like Princes of the Apocalypse?

Unfortunately in this case I am probably not going to do so. For one thing, I don’t agree with a review that isn’t based on playing at least some of the material in the book at the table. This is especially true of adventures, where a cursory reading of the book might not immediately pick up an issue that becomes obvious 10 seconds into playing it. A really good example from Princes of the Apocalypse, is how one of the lower level areas has a were-creature (possibly a boar, I can’t remember now) as the boss of the keep. Unfortunately, the adventure doesn’t take many pains to point out its immunity to normal weapons at all during the adventure (you’d need to examine the monsters stat block in advance). This means if you (as the DM) don’t realize this before the encounter, low level players without silver/magic can be in for an immensely difficult fight.

Again, this is a small example but it’s why I am leery of writing a review of something I didn’t run. I didn’t spot this when I read the actual adventure, but it’s cropped up several times when people have actually run the adventure themselves. Essentially, I may not be quick on reviewing things – as Rise of Tiamat shows – but when I do it’s got at least some basis in playing through the adventure in question. I would rather be slow and have an idea how the adventure works, than quick and miss obvious issues worth discussing – if that makes sense.

So to return to the original question, because I’m no longer running 5E and my time is divided between my other games, I don’t have any “fair” way to review these adventures – so I won’t.

Do you prefer Call of Cthulhu or Trail of Cthulhu?

In the end, I prefer Trail of Cthulhu because of three main reasons. The first is that without random dice rolls influencing if critical information is gained or not, you don’t have to worry about the players having enough information to proceed forward in the plot or not. None of my ridiculous multiple different routes to getting the same information nonsense. If I need my players to realize these paint chips only come from one particular factory in the city, then Trail of Cthulhu assumes the investigator with appropriate skills realizes that.

Secondly, I much prefer how Trail of Cthulhu breaks mental states down into Stability (Day to day mental health) and Sanity (specific damage done to the mind through contact with the mythos). This ties neatly into their system of having sources of stability, actual people the investigators rely on for support and who become natural targets for their mythos enemies. Of course, I do acknowledge the 7th Edition of Call of Cthulhu rules have a similar mechanic in place now, but Trails is smartly and simply implemented.

Lastly I prefer the character generation and simplicity inherent in GUMSHOE games for making stat blocks and similar. There aren’t a lot of interacting rules elements in Trail of Cthulhu, with most things being really straightforward. If you do want to spice up your combat and similar, it’s easy to import more options in from another GUMSHOE game like Night’s Black Agents (which is in fact what I did). BRP has its strengths, but it does have a lot of dice rolling in its resolution mechanics (rolling to hit, rolling to parry/dodge etc) compared to how Trail of Cthulhu resolves things.

Of course I still like Call of Cthulhu a lot and think it’s a fantastic system and the 7th Edition is terrific, but after making the switch from Call of Cthulhu to Trail of Cthulhu, I really want to just stick with Trail of Cthulhu. This isn’t me saying Call of Cthulhu is bad, it’s just with the way I run my “Investigative fiction game” GUMSHOE and Trail just meet my expectations more. If you want a game where there is more of a chance of failure to find information from that evil tome (or similar), then Call of Cthulhu is the better option.

Well that’s all for this week I feel, so if you have a question here’s where you can get in touch with the guild:

  1. The about page has an email contact.
  2. Should you like facebook, there is a facebook page for you to like and leave messages on!
  3. Tweet short questions to me directly on twitter as well.
  4. The guild can also be found on tumblr, which is also where I tend to reblog a lot of great art!

Really complicated questions might get elevated into entire features under longer pieces, like Narrative Thoughts or Training Day as well – so don’t fret if I don’t immediately answer!