While scanning twitter tonight, I saw someone talking about a “GMless” Cthulhu roleplaying system called “Lovecraftesque”. Although it is certainly a rather crowded market, with numerous excellent options to chose from with Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu my personal favorites, I was still intrigued. After checking out their kickstarter, I felt there was a really interesting idea and wanted to highlight it on the blog. By far and away what sets this game apart from other Cthulhu based RPGs, is the unique “single character” structure and “GMless” system they have developed. You might wonder how this is supposed to work with a group of people, who are all playing the same character and this is where I think their idea is great.
The game is set up in a way that is uniquely Lovecraftian, especially in one important way other Cthulhu based RPGs actually aren’t: It has only one character, the witness. As fans of Lovecraft’s various works will know, most of his stories tend to focus around a single lone protagonist. This protagonist encounters horrors of the mythos first hand and (usually) becomes highly mentally damaged as a result – often to the point of meeting a terrible end. Most Cthulhu based roleplaying games people are familiar with, are more like August Derleth’s stories, where a group of investigators face the mythos. So Lovecraftesque distinguishes itself with the intriguing premise of only having a single protagonist, but how does a group of players roleplay one character?
In order to accomplish having a group play one single character, the game works on a scene by scene basis. During each scene you have a player who is the narrator, whose role might be closest to the Keeper in a regular Cthulhu roleplaying game. They set up the initial scene, describe a key clue about what the overall mystery might be and prompt the other players for information. Aside from the Narrator, another player takes over “The Witness”, who is the protagonist of the story and the focal points of the terrible events going on. While a player is in control of the witness, they play the game more like a traditional RPG, telling the narrator what they do and how they react. Finally the remaining players are called “Watchers”, but it’s hardly a passive role! They get to add information to the scene, suggest twists and work alongside the narrator/witness to add tension.
After every scene all the players then write down their theories and ideas behind what the horror in the scenario might be. Then after this the narrator and witness roles change to a new player in a new scene. The new narrator and witness then add their own clues, twists and roleplaying to the scenario and so forth. Eventually the terrible truth behind the scenario is revealed, which often ensures a potentially grisly or unpleasant end for the witness – something that is very distinctly Lovecraftian. This is also the set up and method that really got me interested in this particular game, so once I can fetch a copy for myself I will be keen to try it out.
One thing that did catch my eye in the kickstarter, was the stated goal of the authors to write “inclusive” scenarios and their interest in not using the iconic monsters of the mythos (EG Mi-Go). It’s no real secret that Lovecraft’s stories, which are very distinct products of their time, are awfully racist and have few (if any) meaningful female characters as well. So it is good to see a direct stated intent to discuss this in the source material and how to address it in the design of scenarios. Additionally, they’re also intending to have a discussion on portraying mental illnesses in an interesting and respectful manner, which I am eager to read*. Finally, I really love that Lovecraftesque is designed to encourage players to make the horror/mythos in the game their own. Lovecraftesque scenarios are designed to promote a unique and personalized horror through their gameplay, which I hope to see how it works out for myself in future.
Sadly, there isn’t a lot of time left in the kickstarter to back the project as it closes in eight days, but if you think the concept is good it’s not too late! I have to say, I also really approve of their decision to use full page artwork in their PDF/Book, which gives them great opportunities to pack their art full of great details.
*It’s worth noting that (IMO) Call of Cthulhu and also Trail of Cthulhu do exceptionally fantastic jobs in this department as well. Including portraying investigators of wide cultural backgrounds as potential protagonists, while also having decent discussion on how to handle mental illnesses in a non-offensive manner.