…all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. — H. P. Lovecraft
Today is the 75th anniversary of the death of H.P. Lovecraft, and I can’t help but think that he would be fascinated that his creations still spawn so much interest. And I cannot think of a better way to celebrate his death — it is Lovecraft after all — than losing your mind playing Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land. I have to admit that I was totally addicted to this game for weeks, playing on my morning and evening commutes (don’t worry, I take trains), at night before going to bed and any stray moments I could find in-between.
I was never a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, Advanced or other wise. However, as with many, it was my gateway to the world of RPGs. I quickly graduated to Traveler, Car Wars, GURPS, Paranoia, Shadowrun and others. They were ok, but it wasn’t until I discovered Call of Cthulhu that I became an avid gamer and even began to GM (Game Master) my own stories.
Based on the chilling tales written by H.P. Lovecraft and set in the 1920s and 1930s, Call of Cthulhu, from Chaosium, added the element of sanity to the mix of player stats. While other games required you to remain sound of body to win the day, Call of Cthulhu also requires you to stay sound of mind in the midst of the horror of battle.
Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch; $4.99) from Chaosium and Red Wasp Designs gives you control of a small band of adventures who have to slog across the scarred face of World War I France to save the world. Along the way there are plenty of mad scientists and nasty monsters to thwart, as you unravel a nefarious plot to bring back the good ol’ days of the Great Old Ones. You play this out in mini-campaigns with clear objectives, earning money experience points at the end of each success mission.
Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land combines the excellent gameplay of the original, with the convenience of playing on an iPad. The game captures the feel of the RPG combat I was used to playing back when we moved painted figures around on gridded maps. Admittedly the figures are now pixel rather than lead, but that saves all of the tedium of having to physically move them and roll dice.
Unlike some digital RPGs — where combat is in real time — with Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land, each character has a number of action points per turn, based on the character’s strength and dexterity stats. You then use those points to perform actions in a turn like fire a weapon, use a medical pack, cast a spell, or move. The more action points a character has, the more they can do in a turn. Your party takes its actions, and then NPCs (Non-player Characters) act, allowing both sides to coordinate attacks.
Although all of the characters for the adventure are pre-generated, you do get to spend your earned experience points at the end of each mini-mission to increase their stats and skills. If you want more sanity, increase the character’s power stat. Want them to be a better marksman? There’s a stat for that too. As your adventure continues, you discover that brawn will not always carry the day. You can also buy equipment for your team at the end of act mission, outfitting them for the perils that lay ahead.
The downside to digital RPGs like Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land is that the board has boundaries. You can’t go off in your own direction in the story. When you have a human GM, it may be slower and require more thought, but the players can head off in virtually any direction, and a good GM will adapt the story, or even make up a whole new story to accommodate. Still, the point of this game is less to do with the the “role” part of the equation and more to do with the “playing.”