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Episode 85: History is Replete With Idiots

April 18th, 2014 | Robin

In Ask Ken and Robin, Kevin Maroney asks us to expand on an earlier Ken comment questioning the suitability of the d20 structure for Cthulhu gaming.

The History Hut flies the Jolly Roger to examine best practices of, and essential conditions for, piracy.

In the Gaming Hut we recount our least favorite setting cliches.

And in spoiler-ready last position, we point the remote at the Television Hut to give our take on True Detective.

It’s yo ho ho and a pocketful of doubloons as Atlas Games surveys the seven seas from the crow’s nest that is our coveted anchor sponsor slot. Parrot on its shoulder, it orders up another special deal for Ken and Robin listeners, this time in the form of their innovative game of piratical nautical warfare, Pieces of Eight.



After ten years delighting the Swedish gaming scene, our pals at Fenix Magazine now bring the Best of Fenix to English-language GMs and players with their now-active Indiegogo campaign. This project so resounds with Hitean goodness that you have surely chipped in already. But if you haven’t, that burning bird of prey is still passing the hat.

13 Responses to “Episode 85: History is Replete With Idiots”

  1. GB Steve says:

    I ran a longish modern day d20 game of Call of Cthulhu. It was on the pulpier side, the PCs were a special forces team involved in Mythos suppression. So I started at 6th level so that the PCs were competent and over the months I think they got a couple more levels, but progression was very slow. I think it worked pretty well, but there was quite a lot of fighting.

  2. Michael Cule says:

    While I understand what Robin’s saying about immense long histories (and I’ve let stuff roll over me quite a number of times) I’m going to say as a GM I do find it useful when it’s done well and it gives flavour and background to the game.

    Tekumel is a case in point. It’s a far, far, far (no, further than that) future where human kind has spread to the stars and on one world something weird has happened and isolated a high tech colony in a pocket universe. The high tech civilisation collapsed a Long, Long (no, longer than that) time ago and then there were several successor civilisations and they fell in their turn and now the world and its people are still going on but with the weight of all those centuries of mostly forgotten history all about them.

    Even as a GM you don’t need to know all this but it does make a difference. Yes, it stretches the survival of the human species and human cultures far beyond what we’ve had so far (the world isn’t even contacted until the 81st century long after the fall of Western Civilisation) but it doesn’t try to track every year or even every century. It’s a thing. I like it.

  3. Scott says:

    As for CoC d20, if you must do it, try running it under Epic 6 and also start all of the PCs at 6th level. No leveling, few gains to skills and feats; no muss, no fuss.

  4. Cambias says:

    My peeve is the freewheeling, anarchic setting . . . which is anything but. Designers seem to have a mania for filling in the map, perhaps because we live in an age of nation-states in which the map is all neatly filled in, so they tend to have a neat tessellation of polities leaving no room for a wide-open frontier. This happens even in games in which exploration is a major element: Traveller is possibly the best example. The Imperium has a whole substantial service devoted to interstellar exploration, even though the Imperium is surrounded by powerful rival states, which in turn are surrounded by another layer of interstellar states, all of which have existed for centuries if not millennia. It’s as if the government of modern Poland maintained an elite corps of rangers to map the uncharted lands of Europe.

    A related issue is the tendency of games to have an overarching “metaplot” which gradually plays out in new supplements and modules, changing the game world. While this is good in the sense that it avoids static and unchanging worlds, it’s bad in that it means gamemasters have to worry about having their own decisions about how the world changes trumped by published “canon.”

  5. Thank you for the comprehensive answer to my question, and my apologies to addressing it solely to Ken.

    The majority of my RPG experience was with early versions of Runequest, upon whose “basic role-playing” framework CoC was built. RQ does have a few points at which there is leveling up: lay–> initiate–>rune progression was so central to RQ1 and RQ2. I hadn’t given much thought to how that structure simply was not present in the later BRP games.

  6. Oh, and a comment about the women in TRUE DETECTIVE:

    The scene in which Maggie Hart most comes across as a full human being with her own motivations, goals, and desires separate from the men whose lives she’s entwined with is also the only scene which cannot be distorted by Marty and Rust’s perspectives: her interview with Gilbough and Papania in 2012.

    *The scene in which she demonstrates the most agency is the scene in Rust’s apartment, but that’s not the same thing.

  7. Cambias says:

    Regarding piracy, I’m surprised Ken didn’t spend more time on the political preconditions necessary for piracy: an environment with at least some safe havens where the pirates can fence their loot — either because the local rulers are in on it (as in old Malay Straits sultanates, the Barbary Coast, or modern Somalia) or because the pirates are proxy warriors in an imperial struggle (as in the Caribbean or post-Alexander Mediterranean).

  8. Melissa says:

    Fun discussion about True Detective! The ending kept me thinking for a long time too. I found it satisfying, but that might be because I saw the show as a modern retelling of the Theseus and the Minotaur myth. In fact, I got so obsessed with the idea that I wrote a four part essay on the topic here:

  9. John F Rauchert says:

    I think Ken Hite just called me a decadent asethete! I demand satisfaction! Rabelais at 20 paces, you choice of weapon (a Gargantua or a Pantagruel).

    Hmm, point taken, carry on.

    My longest Cthulhu campaign was using D20, it WAS a bit on the pulpy side. Great running gun battle on the Orient Express though (done as a Dream/Flashback).

  10. Markus Widmer (@wienna) says:

    Gentlemen, I enjoyed your discussion on True Detective almost as much as the show itself. I shall recommend this episode to everyone who was disappointed by a lack of tentacles. The flashback structure of the show is of course another staple of Film Noir, and I really like what they did with it.
    About the ending, I liked it, but I felt like Robin concerning Rust’s final monologue. It seemed the only sentimental moment in a show that otherwise shied away from that sort of sap.

  11. Tom says:

    Having finally got round to watching the end of True Detective

    I felt it was disappointing because what had been a satisfyingly noir experience turned into a bog-standard post-2000 serial killer flick for its denouement.

    At the moment of truth, when a noirish ending in the vein of Out of the Past was eminently possible – especially with the ongoing investigation into Cohle – True Detective chickened out and gave us an ending with both protagonists alive, successful in their goals and better off than when they started.
    What we got is still OK, but not up to the standard of the preceding episodes.

  12. Jeromy French says:


    Jones, Diana Wynne (1996) – The Tough Guide To Fantasyland.

    Keegan, John (1976) – The Face of Battle. Most likely reference Robin was talking about, but he has of course written many others. All of which are good, regardless if you agree with his analyses or not. Though I had not realized he had passed away. Sad.

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