If you read Stu’s article on “Playing the Powerless” he had some ideas on why folks like to play Dis-Empowerment games, I.E. games where your character is more a regular guy, like a librarian, instead a towering warrior. Stu mentioned Call of Cthulhu in his article and what he thought people found enjoyable in the game. As it happens, Call of Cthulhu is one of my favorite RPGs, so I thought I’d list some of the reasons Stu did, but add my thoughts to each. Let’s take them one at a time.
Immersion is king. The thing I like best when playing Call of Cthulhu, whether playing a PC or being the Keeper, it is the one game where when we play, everyone is a little bit hesitant to open a door, read a book, or descend into the cellar without multiple light sources and a minimum of two ways to defend themselves. It’s not a fear of death, it’s the fear of the unknown. And it is their character’s fear, not fear for their characters. When you are fully immersed in a situation and have those worries, even though in reality you’re sitting around a table with a pencil in your hand, that is simply the best.
– Unraveling a Mystery
This is my second favorite thing in Call of Cthulhu. I like the idea of finding clues, reading journals, interviewing people and working information out of them, either by talking or beating it out of them, and then following clues from one to the next until you get that one single piece of information that blows the whole mystery wide open. That feeling you get when you first understand the scope of a plan, whether that is in how large it is, or how detailed, or just the sheer evilness of it…damn. It’s addicting.
– Showing True Bravery
If it fits my character, absolutely. As soon as you start investigating a mystery, odds are someone or something not very nice is going to notice and take steps to stop you. I define bravery as being scared of doing something, but then still doing it anyway, regardless of why you do it. My character may be a greedy asshole who will only fight the monster because he wants the solid gold candelabra behind it, but it still takes bravery to fight the monster in the first place. I’ve never rolled a character that was fearless because I like the emotional payoff of walking into a situation knowing I might die. If I die, hopefully I died well, possibly saving someone or doing some major damage on the way out. If I live, I get the exhilaration of surviving and (hopefully) defeating the Big Bad.
– Knowing What Others Don’t
Also true. Remember that scene in the Shire at the end of The Return of the King when our favorite Hobbits are at the pub? They all share a look that seems to say: “The world can be an evil place, we’ve faced it, but we’ve made it back home. And none of these other people will ever know”. When playing Cthulhu, I feel like our group of characters feel the same way, and, knowing what is at stake, will always be willing to step up and defend humanity from the Mythos and its minions.
– My Other Reason – Plausibility
This ties a bit into immersion, but in my mind, I can relate better to a Sociology Professor from 1923 than I can to a Gnome or an Elf. And even though it is all just make believe, that fact that Call of Cthulhu takes place in a world so similar to our own, even if it is decades, if not a century in the past, for me it just makes it seem all the more plausible. The more I can relate to a world, a character, the more enjoyment I get.