Here's my system for roleplaying in the world of HP Lovecraft. It is decidedly New School.
The Character Sheet
Each PC has 10 traits in 3 areas with a minimum of 2 in any area (so split 2,2,6; 2,3,5; 2,4,4 or 3,3,4)
- What you do (Professor of Philosophy, White Van Man, Archaeologist, Hang-glider) - a bit like skills
- What you are (Strong, Agile, Creative, Dextrous, Lucky) - a bit like stats
- How you feel about things (Angry, Sad, Friendly) - emotional descriptors.
Inside each of the three areas, the traits are ranked from 1 to however many there are. For example, Julius, Professor of Philosphy at the University of Southampton has the following in What you do (shortened to Do): Professor of Philosophy (6), Sailing Enthusiast (5), Homeowner (4), Hobnobber(3), Arsenal Fan (2), Driver (1). His Are is: Creative (2), Anonymous(1) and his Feel: Argumentative(2), Romantic (1). There is a blank line under each list of traits to amend entries.
There is a final area on the character sheet, under the Do, Are, Feel sections called Corruption. This starts off blank.
In a scene, trait use is simple. Describe what your PC is doing in terms of two traits from different areas. Add two to the total score. Roll less than this on a d10 for narrative control of the scene. If you win control and narrate some kind of defeat for your character, and the GM thinks that this is significant to the story, then gain 1 drama point (DPs can be used to reduce shocks and change character sheets).
Note that you must use the traits in the scene to get the score. If you don't then the GM is free to reduce your score. This means that you can do things in areas for which you have no traits but the base chance is only 2 in 10 (Optionally the GM may introduce some kind of bar to trying very specialised skills if no previous experience exists, such as Vaulting or Piloting).
At the end of a session you may change your character sheet. This costs 1 DP. You may do any of the following:
- Swap the order of two adjacent traits
- Swap out the rank 1 trait for some new trait at rank 1
- Shift a trait into an empty space (you can lose traits through corruption) - not sure about this rule.
- Reduce the value of a shock trait by 1.
- Some way of changing the initial trait distribution.
So what of it? This is a horror game after all! There are two kinds of horror events in a game, shocks and corruption. A shock is when your character encounters something nasty and has to react to it in some way. Corruption is when your PC encounters the mind, soul and body wrenching otherness that is the Mythos and is unutterably changed in some way.
Shocks: when the PC encounters something shocking, make a shock test against the shock level (GM decides). One of the traits involved must be from Feel. As before, the player must narrate the PCs approach using the traits employed. Success gives 1 shock point to the PC. Failure gives a number of shock points equal to the difference between the roll and the trait total. These shock points may be bought off with DPs. For each shock point, the PC must chose a trait worth that number of shock points. Write a new trait underneath it and transfer the points value to the new trait. Using DPs at the end of sessions, the points can be transferred back to the regular trait, one per session. For example, Julius fails a shock by 4, he could write Amnesia underneath Homeowner and change the points value to Homeowner (0) Amensia(4). At the end of a session he could spend a DP and change this to Homeowner (1) Amnesia (3). After 4 sessions he can reduce Amnesia to 0 and remove it from his character sheet.
Corruption: when the PC encounters the Mythos, there is invariably some shock involved, although this may not always be so. In any case, it is up to the player whether the PC understands something of the Mythos from this encounter. If they chose not to, then all is well and good and just the shock (if any) need be contended with. On the other hand, they may choose to let their PC understand what they have witnessed. This is called corruption. When this happens, the player crosses of a trait from Do, Are or Feel and writes a suitable trait under corruption. For example, Julius reads the Necronomicon, and far from dismissing it as harmless nonsense, he sees some truth in it. He crosses off Hobnobber(3) from Do and writes Necronomicon(3) under Corruption. Traits that are crossed off introduce a gap in that trait area. This gap can be moved around using the experience rules but cannot be swapped out of that area.
Once a PC has been corrupted, he can use the new strait to resolve scenes. In doing so he automatically has to resolve a shock with a rating equal to the total score just used.
If a PC loses all traits in one area, he becomes an NPC cultist and is no longer playable. In effect, a PC can lose at most 5 traits before becoming a cultist.
Options: In such narrative games there are always questions about the scope of a trait, a scene and resolution. I suppose I could write something about this but I'm tempted to leave this area to the players and GM to resolve on an individual basis. There is also the issue of difficulty levels. For example, Julius will always succeed scenes in which he is an argumentative Professor. You might like to introduce the rule that a roll of 10 is always a failure (or requires a reroll to avoid a fumble). You might like to introduce difficulty modifiers to stop PCs doing outrageous things.
My take on this is that I think corruption will always be the undoing of PCs, that players and GM should get together at the start to discuss scope and such matters to create the kind of game that they want to play and that if everyone is playing the same kind of game then there probably won't be any problems. I may revisit this section with optional rules in a bit.