Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #5 - Cthulhu Dark

Cthulhu Dark is without a doubt the briefest game in this list. The rules take up two pages and that includes examples. I'm going to do something a little weird and reproduce the essentials of the first page of the rules. You can see a the full rules of the first incarnation of the rules at http://catchyourhare.com/files/Cthulhu%20Dark.pdf. You can purchase the newest version at RPGNow which includes lots of campaign settings, interpretations of the rules, adventures, etc.

Your Investigator
Choose a name and occupation. Describe your Investigator. Take a green Insight Die.

All dice, including your Insight die, are six-sided.

Your Insight shows how far you can see into the horror behind the universe. It starts at 1.

When you see something disturbing, roll your Insight Die. If you get higher than your Insight,
add 1 to your Insight and roleplay your fear. (This is called an “Insight roll”.)

Is your Insight real? Can you really see a deeper truth? Or is it just insanity? Sometimes, it is hard
to tell.

When you investigate something, roll:

  • One die if what you’re doing is within human capabilities (the “Human Die”).
  • One die if it’s within your occupational expertise (the “Occupation Die”).
  • Your Insight Die, if you will risk your mind to succeed.

If your Insight Die rolls higher than any other die, make an Insight roll, as above.

Then your highest die shows how much information you get. On a 1, you get the bare minimum: if
you need information to proceed, you get it, but that’s all. On a 4, you get everything a competent investigator would discover.

On a 5, you discover everything a competent investigator would discover, plus something more. For example, you might also remember a related folktale, rumour or scientific experiment.

On a 6, you discover all of that, plus, in some way, you glimpse beyond human knowledge. This
probably means you see something horrific and make an Insight Roll.

Doing Other Things
When you do something other than investigating, roll dice as above. If you roll your Insight Die and
it rolls higher than any other die, then, as before, make an Insight Roll.

Again, your highest die shows how well you do. On a 1, you barely succeed. On a 4, you succeed
competently. On a 5, you succeed well and may get something extra. On a 6, you succeed brilliantly and get something extra, but maybe more than you wanted.

Those are the essentials. If you fight supernatural stuff you're pretty much dead. If your Insight hits 6 your character is essentially insane.

What is it about this game that has it ranked in my Top 5? In my experience, it works fantastically well for what it sets out to do. I still love Call of Cthulhu (hmm, it hasn't appeared on the list yet...), but sometimes you want some "pure" Lovecraftian horror. Cthulhu Dark is fantastic at stories designed to do that. When playing it, my players realized their doom and embraced it, reaching a point where they grabbed for that Insight Die, feeling their characters were facing some sanity-blasting horror.

Though there is nothing about the rules that makes this a requirement, Cthulhu Dark also steps away from the genteel, educated investigators that one often finds in Call of Cthulhu. Instead the characters are intended to be at or near the bottom of the social ladder. It's a different feel that I rather enjoyed. I

As I've mentioned a few times, this list only has games I've played. To be honest, based on just reading, I'd've been impressed by Cthulhu Dark but it would never have occurred to me to rank it so highly. It is a great read but I found it to be an even greater play experience.


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