Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cthulhu Nerf - You Won't Need Dice, But You May Need To Increase Your Dodge Skill

Last Friday Chuck ran a Call of Cthulhu game full of paranoia and crazy people. It was a great little one-shot scenario. The four of us were thrown into a room not knowing what our true natures were or why we were in the room. The scenario, appropriately titled In Media Res, made for a really fun night of playing the monsters. We didn't necessarily have to be the bad guys, but it was hard to imagine how we weren't someone's nightmare in the end.

But of course, I'm burying the lead here. While Chuck did a fantastic job of running another Call of Cthulhu session (the system I think he runs better than any other), The reason I'm writing about it would have to be the little experiment he ran in game mechanics. My headline was a tiny bit misleading. You see, we still rolled dice a little bit (although it was pretty much assumed we would succeed as we were largely alone in a big house and had some time to explore), but more than anything we were shooting off our arsenal of nerf guns to test how well we actually shot. Keep reading, and you can see more pictures of how it worked and my thoughts on it at the end.

So, what was the premise of the mechanic? Both the player characters and non-player characters were heavily armed with guns in the story. Our friend Keegan (of The Chasm fame and constantly in charge, it seems, of pimping our games out with props and other awesome things) brought over his large collection of brightly-colored foam-slinging weaponry. We laid out all the guns, and then Chuck pulled all the weapons he would need. The picture below depicts how many weapons we ended up pulling. If there's blank space on the table in the picture, it used to be filled with a gun that a mentally ill person was then given to use.

Alright, so we had our guns, what were we shooting? Chuck had set up a target of sorts on his patio window door using a bunch of sticky notes. He made a rough shape of a human body, marking the different body parts on to the sticky notes.

So we had our target, but now we had to figure out different ranges based on the type of weapon our characters were using in-game. Chuck has a long hallway in his house that basically connects his front door to his patio door in the back of his house. We stood at various distances down this hallway, also marked off by sticky notes with notes on what type of weapon (shotgun, rifle, pistol) and its corresponding range at what you would be at in-game. It's a nice and simple system in that in-game ranges felt very real and harrowing at times out of game. We were less likely to take impossible shots because we had our little stash of Nerf bullets that were precious to us. Below you can see the hallway with the green sticky notes. To put it all together, the second picture shows Chuck (as an NPC) shooting down the hallway at the sticky note target (yes, at one of us players!).

There was a whole lot of flavor and presence at the table as we held our guns plainly in front of us and sat there surrounded in paranoia of each other and the strange house we "woke up" in. It felt really cool to have these things just sitting out there in the open. It's one thing to have your GM tell you that you found a shotgun. You write it down and everyone does their best to remember what everyone else has. It's so much more immediate when they can just point a Nerf gun across the table in a bit of LARPing action.

As you can see above, the game was filled with other props as well. As we found knives and flashlights, Chuck would pull them (prop versions in the case of the knives) and hand them to us. It also added an element of realism to what we wanted to do with our characters. You want a character to hold three rifles and two knives? Show the GM how exactly he's going to do that and still be able to use the shotgun with two hands.

One of the other things to consider when planning the game was to account for the varying levels of power in each of the Nerf guns. You see, we found that the usual tendency for Nerf guns (and especially with their knock-off cousins) to be more powerful and accurate the smaller they got. A tiny pistol could shoot further and straighter than the shotgun we used (ok, so this is true in real life, but tabletop RPG's rarely are able to or care to portray this mechanically). So we had to ask some questions. Is it more important to have a shotgun be physically represented by a shotgun Nerf gun or represented by a gun that will actually cause a shotgun's worth of damage when hitting the target? Should characters with better shooting skills be given the more accurate, smaller guns when they find one? Should we allow characters with better shooting skills or that take an action specifically to aim move up one range increment for their weapon to depict their better skills? How can we use this thing in the story? Because yeah, we gotta use that thing in the story.

We learned a lot on our first attempt, and I'm fairly certain we'll be continuing to use and experiment with Nerf as a conflict resolution system. I can leave you with this. We did use that thing, or rather the GM did, and it was amazing. I apologize for the fact that it's sideways (I have no clue how to rotate a video in blogger), but I still think it gets the point across! For reference you can compare it to the picture just above to orient yourself.



  1. It's definitely different, good idea and game.

  2. Yeah, it was a blast, and it made everything that much more cinematic.


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