Ring Side Report-RPG Review of Trail of Cthulhu

Product– Trail of Cthulhu

System- Gumshoe

Producer– Pelgrane Press

Price– $24.99 here https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/55567/Trail-of-Cthulhu?affiliate_id=658618

TL; DR– Do you think Call of Cthulhu has too much Crunch?  88%

Basics– Should the story stop when the players just suck at rolling?  Trail of Cthulhu believes that story trumps mechanics as story should drive the game.  Let’s look at the pieces.

Overview-Trail of Cthulhu is a skill system like Call of Cthulhu, but unlike Call of Cthulhu you have two types of skills: investigative and general.  General covers any contested rolls and investigative covers learning the horrors of the mystery.  Let’s break that down.

Investigative Skills-  You enter a room, ask to search the library for secret books, and you find all secret books.  If you have ranks in the appropriate skills, you find all the books.  That’s it.  If you couldn’t find the books, the story might stop.  Trail of Cthulhu focuses more on you learning the mystery and less on you flubbing rolls to learn the mystery.  You build these skills with points like ranks, but those points are spent to learn more, not just enough.  Characters with even one rank would find all the books, then can spend points to learn more, like find the right places in the hidden books to skip something horrible or learn more secrets beyond the base mystery.

General Skills-  Punch a guy, out run a monster, and hide from the cultists are all opposed rolls where the story isn’t the issue, so they become general skills.  This system uses ONE d6.  That’s it.  You want to to a thing? Roll a d6 and aim for a 4.  Before you roll, you can spend points from the pool to add to the roll.  Some skills give you more damage or more hit points or sanity, but for the most part opposed rolls happen with skills or trying to do a thing that isn’t dependent on the story happening at all.

Honestly, that’s it.  There is sanity and HP, but for the most part the two types of rolls define the system.  Let’s see my thoughts.

Mechanics or Crunch-I like crunch (heck I build point based Shadowrun characters for fun!), but for the most part, this is a quick, light system.  My more roll-happy friends freak out when we play as they NEED to roll to search, but the option to make story happen as the goal is a good one.  If you just want a game that happens fast without a ton of hassle because you didn’t spec into the right build at level 4 to cast the one spell to put the deepone to sleep, but you will want a horror game then this is the crunch for you.    4.5/5

Theme or Fluff– This game is put out by the premier Lovecraft people in the industry.  They know their stuff.  It feels right, but it also feels like Indiana Jones as they build Pulp and straight Lovecraft versions of the rules into it.  If you want to punch the ghoul, then this can be your game, or if you want to go mad at the sight of a corpse, then this can also be your game.  The book builds out a full world in a quick way to help new GMs get running right away.  5/5

Execution–  PDF?  YEP!  Hyperlinked?  YES!  I have the two big things I want, but why am I not happy?  Well… RPG books can be built one of two ways: mechanics first or theme first.  This goes character build first.  I don’t know what ANY of the math means until WAY far into this book.  When I googled it it made perfect sense, and then 20 pages later I saw the explanation.  That is not good.  I like the world that is built with the book, but it’s a pain to read; a three column design isn’t great. This book is modern, but some of the design decisions are just a bit off.  3.75/5

Summary– Slick and simple.  This game is a fun one regardless of the book design.  I like the game this makes.  The solid focus on story first is nice.  I would like a bit more crunch, but  simple is fun sometimes.  The story and theme of the book are top notch.  The execution isn’t.  If you want a game that starts quick and plays quick but still has great Lovecraftian horror, then Trail of Cthulhu is worth checking out. 88%