Trail of Nyarlathotep
How to play
How-tos and protips
Mechanically, Trail of Cthulhu is pretty straightforward. There are two basic types of scenes in an adventure: scenes in which the player characters are attempting to find clues or gather information about the nature of the threats confronting them, and scenes in which the player characters are actively confronting those threats. The boundary between the two can be fluid: for instance, breaking into a run-down old manor home starts off as an investigation, but if it is fully of Dagon worshippers it will probably transition to an action scene.
Or vice versa: a scene in which you are ambushed by a formless eldritch entity begins as an action scene, but probably ends as an investigation as you attempt to discover just what in the heck that was.
Since investigation is about narrating your character using an ability rather than rolling dice, resist the temptation to just try all of the abilities in every scene. Instead, try suggesting spends based on an ability you think could or should be relevant, e.g. “So I don’t have an invitation to the club, but Jack Brady knows his way around doormen and goons. Could I spend a Reassurance point to have them let me in the back way if I promise I won’t make a scene?”
Every clue which is necessary to move forward will be available in a number of possible ways. The game is in figuring out how to put all the clues together into a winning plan. Even though your Investigation skills don’t reset very often, don’t shy away from using them!
Action, on the other hand, is risky! Your characters will be robust and resourceful, but the dangers are both unknown to you at the outset and real. Action scenes will drain your abilities fairly quickly if you want to come out unscathed. Fortunately, action pools refresh more often, and I’ve provided Perks and Achievements to help with that process.
Try to gauge the threat level of an action scene before going in. Your characters can handle some cultists, but what about their leader up there with her weird talismans and those creepy writhing sticks she’s holding? Directly wading into a battle against Mythos Monsters, regardless of what Arkham Horror has told you, is probably not a great plan. Come prepared for anything when visiting a sorcerer’s haunted keep! Dynamite, maxim guns, whatever you can get :).
If all else fails, remember to Flee.
In my intro, I provided a super-basic overview of the Trail mechanics. Here is a condensed rulebook for the game, in case you wanted to reference a point.
I’m departing a little bit from their guidelines at the margins, but that should be a solid reference for the aspiring investigator.