This chapter is split into three areas. The first is what kind of games you might want to run in this hybrid setting. The second is about power levels and how they may (or may not) upset the usual power balance in vanilla CoC (if there is such a thing). The last part is using the resources already at your disposal.
My game was always intended to be CoC-style invesigation, just in a weirder sort of earth. As such it faces the question that all CoC games face: if the investigation is so dangerous, if the secrets come at such a high price, what drives the investigators on? The rewards within the system such as expanding your Cthulhu Mythos skill are a double-edged sword. In a lot of cases the investigators band together for metagame reasons, e.g. if they didn’t work together, there would be no game.
That’s OK; we’ve all had good times playing CoC which characters whose dedication to the investigation is completely implausible. However it’s better practice to give the players a real motivation for getting stuck in.
The Mabelode Commission are a peacekeeping force in Boston around 1923. They exist to keep the peace between the human population and the Melnibonean gated community, and (secretly) to investigate breaches of the Old Ones (“Old Chaos”) into civilisation. As the name hints they are answerable to Mabelode directly.
This is the classic “squad” organisation of play, where the characters have a common goal and are expected to work together as a team. Ron Edwards is critical of this style in his Annotated Sorcerer — certainly it doesn’t work for Sorcerer, but he also opines that it generally produces boring characters and that “imposed team identity isn’t what makes a superhero group”. This may be the case, but we have plenty of examples of an ensemble cast in fiction working together yet establishing their own identities. The main issue will be “why don’t the characters just quit?” which is the problem with all CoC games anyway. In this one you can assume that, as Agents of Mabelode, each character does not have the option of quitting, though this could be something they work towards (e.g. by accumulating enough points of Lawful allegiance that they can annul their ties to Chaos).
This game could be equally investigative and pulp-y; particularly if the characters are loaded up with Demons of Combat and other magical powers that help them do battle with Chaos. “Death by SAN loss” should be even more of an occupational hazard than in normal CoC, as the party are forced to interrogate tomes and face whatever SANity blasting monsters they encounter. The principle enemies will most likely be cultists waging a secret war against the Church and intending to bring about some kind of End when the stars align. No change there, then.
Dreaming Spires is a campaign set in Oxford, whose ancient name is Imyrr. This is a little more traditional with the party made up of academics, professionals and local peacekeeping forces.
Oxford is a place literally half within a dream world; the Dreamlands (CoC) and also the Dream Realms (for Mongoose’s Elric of Melnibone) may become useful sources. With the constant flow of both academics and nobles into the city there’s plenty of opportunity for the characters to interact with various strata of society. The longevity of the Melniboneans allows all sorts of historical characters into the campaign, and perhaps even act as the PCs’ patrons. In addition there are options for explorations into the various corners of the earth. Finally, a seat of learning is a nice setting where PCs can plumb depths of forbidden knowledge, getting themselves into all kinds of trouble with the Church and going insane into the bargain.
Assuming you’re using both Stormbringer and CoC rules “straight”, once demon weapons and armour become commonplace, dispatching Lovecraftian monsters becomes a distinct possibility. Demon melee weapons can easily exceed the damage of a shotgun at point-blank range. This has two effects:
- Characters are more likely to go mad than die
Violence becomes an option.
To put things in perspective, a fairly low-level demon weapon may add 5d6 damage, so a single blow could do more than 20 points. That’s enough to do for a Hound of Tindalos with a lucky roll, and a few blows will start to annoy Shoggoths and Star Spawn.
The early Stormbringer does have a problem with balance between PCs (i.e. there was no balance), but this is mainly thanks to the lottery that is character generation. If the players are working for an Agency that bequeathes them magical (demonic) items, power levels should be easy to control. In any case Demons should be rare and demon weapons rarer still.
The more complex campaigns may require some thought to weave the Moorcockian motifs into the setting, but a lot of printed CoC adventures are fairly neutral in their premise and should be easy to wind into the plot. There’s not much to say about this other than the printed adventures from Chaosium and in particular CoC are high quality with handouts galore.
A lot of the CoC adventures will assume a mixture of professions and will concentrate on technical skills like Psychology, Archaeology and Library Use. These skills, and the professions in CoC should still be relevant in the alternate 1920s. With the exception of various Allegiances and the chance to learn Sorcery, things shouldn’t be that different.