The Chaosium Digest

The Chaosium Digest supports the role-playing games produced by Chaosium Inc. and all content is fan submitted. Begun in 1994 by Shannon Appelcline who passed it to myself in 2000 and previously distributed via email, this is the newest incarnation of the Chaosium Digest. Enjoy!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Chaosium Digest Classics: Conducting an Investigation

by Tom Liberman
Originally presented in The Chaosium Digest v30.08 on Sunday, March 5, 2000

Any good Cthulhu scenario starts off with some small amount of initial information. It is up to the group to take this and expand to the point where they have a good understanding of their opponents. There exist three main ways to better inform yourself before taking on the enemy in his lair. Research, Stakeouts and Confrontation. They do not always go in that particular order but it is generally a good idea to do some research before a stakeout and a stakeout before a confrontation. The difficulty often arises in the difference between a confrontation and a fact-finding interview. All this is discussed below in the appropriate category. This area often includes searching the corpse. Many times the group becomes involved when someone drops dead in front of them. Always search the corpses wherever they might be found.

The group has some initial information and is now looking to expand it through research. This takes place at libraries, newspapers, city hall and other places where records of those involved might be lurking. This stage is often returned to each time more information is gathered in the interview stages. Many items of interest are dug up during these sessions some of them valid and others Red Herrings. How you interpret the information gathered here through the interviewing and further research process is essential to solving the problem correctly. Notes are very important during this stage, as it is easy to forget pertinent information during a crisis later.

You will gather many clues during this stage and storing this information is vital. Often times you will reference things that make no sense in the current investigation but down the road will prove invaluable. Often a group will note a clue but then when the time comes to use this clue have forgotten all about it. You must physically write down clues and check your notes each time you get new information. Note taking is essential to good investigating. Not all clues are vital but you will most likely gain necessary information for success during this stage. Note everything.

You’ve gathered what information from your research that seems pertinent to the task at hand and now you’re ready to interview victims, suspects, bystanders and anyone else who might have a clue. The first thing you must have ready is your story. You’re not going to tell them about Mythos material initially so you must have a good cover story. You never know who the real villain is and if you reveal yourself too quickly you and you’re friends are doomed. Always have a good reason to ask questions. During this phase you will be using your skills. See that section for important information.

Some of those involved will give you hints to what is going on. Sometimes you might need to push the interview if this is the case but generally it is good to go back and do more research before pushing your case into dangerous territory. You can always go back and re-interview. Sometimes there is a rush but generally being patient and careful is the proper attitude at this stage.

You’ve done your interviews, gathered clues and gone back and done more research. Now its time to make decisions. Who is the bad guy, who is an innocent bystander? Who needs to be re-interviews with more pressing questions? Who needs to be told about the Mythos? Most importantly you will still have questions about what to do with certain people. If you are in doubt about anyone, the best solution to discovering more is the stakeout. The option after that is the break-in. Information gathered from the stakeout and break-in will help you greatly in determining who is the enemy.

Possibly the most important aspect of the entire investigation. People you talk to will often be lying and the stakeout will determine some reasons for those lies. Who comes to visit, where the suspects go. Not all suspects are the villain but they might well have important information they don’t trust the investigators with. Stakeouts answer many questions and lead the group to new suspects. Stakeouts also generally bring up more questions and often result in a renewed research phase.

When you’re certain that someone has some vital clues and you’ve exhausted legal methods of obtaining that information its time for the break-in. This act is illegal and often holds great danger. If the person is not a cultist then police might be brought in and you could be arrested. If the person is a cultist then there might well be traps and monsters awaiting you inside the forbidden doorway. Take extreme precaution and have a story ready in case you’re caught.

You’ve decided to tell the person about you’re involvement in the Mythos. This is a dangerous tactic often taken too early in an investigation. Players often become frustrated and try to shake up the barrel to see what falls out. This sometimes works. If you take this method with a cultist you’ve revealed your true nature and opened yourself to attack. The more the villain knows about you and your plans the less chance you have of succeeding. This will often lead to the climax of the adventure and if you’re not prepared for the decision-making solution then you are doomed. When you confront someone who is not the villain they might well be willing to aid you if they have knowledge of the Mythos. This is a double-edged tactic and must be used with extreme caution.

You know who the enemy is and now its time to destroy. Many scenarios require a violent solution and this often the proper course. Remember though that cultist will respond in kind. Know what you’re dealing with before attacking if at all possible. Have a plan of attack. Coordinate, organize, set diversions, hit hard and finish the job right the first time. Going back after a botched job is the leading cause of death among investigators. Creatures are smart and will make plans against you. Once you’ve reached this stage plan well and do it right or doom awaits.

Your clues and hints are vital to solving most scenarios. The greater the threat the less likely you are to be able to solve it through shear violence. You will have to use items found to close gates, dispel creatures, and banish nastiness among other things. Often this final solution is only a temporary delay of the inevitable. Accept this. Many times no perfect solution exists and striving for it will only get you killed. Do what it takes to stop this particular manifestation. Remember the world is doomed eventually and so are you. Do what you can and sacrifice yourself if necessary. Be prepared. Don’t start the chain of events leading to the Final Solution unless you have a good idea of what is going on and how to stop it. If you missed vital clues and start this sequence you are doomed.

Involving those not directly associated with the Mythos leads to death for those individuals. Anyone you encounter in a Cthulhu game is living on borrowed time. The more people you involve, the more will die. Avoid this at all costs. Send people away to far off places. Hide them as necessary. Your sanity is at stake. The more people who know who you are and what you do the more people who can betray you.

The law is similar but different than innocents. Most of the time you don’t want to bring in the law but sometimes the case is just too big for you to handle by yourself. The research, stakeout and break-in stages are vital to making this decision. The more you know about you enemy and the greater your evidence of illegal (not immoral) activity the better chance you have of letting the law handle the problem. Often law enforcement officers brought in prematurely will die, be driven insane or worst of all join the cult. Be careful involving anyone but don’t be afraid to have someone help if the situation is bigger than you can deal with.

This is one of the most forgotten aspects of the game. The Keeper isn’t going to tell you to use your skills when appropriate. You must make this decision. Often you try to do things that skills cover without using those skills. The Keeper isn’t going to help you. Familiarize yourself with all your skills and use them early and often. A list of often overlooked skills follows.
1. Accounting: Useful skill when digging through organizational records.
2. Credit Rating: Much overlooked. Opens doors and mouths.
3. Fast Talk: All the time. Role play it but tell the Keeper you’re using it.
4. Mechanical Repair: Opens locks.
5. Psychoanalysis: Anytime you’re dealing with a loony this can be vital.
6. Psychology: During every interview to check for reaction. Tell the Keeper.


Role-playing is everything to Cthulhu. When we sit down you will be asked to become the character in question. You will not be yourself. This is often difficult but is made easier the more you understand the character and his/her motivations. You will probably develop phobias. Role-play your fears. Don’t take a character that is so alien to you that you can’t get into the role. Use your skills and profession as often as possible. If you're a doctor then make sure you're the one who goes to the asylum seeking records. If you're a lawman then you deal with local law. Don’t let others do your job for you. Whatever your characters background keep it in mind during the investigation. Cthulhu often goes beyond the bounds of the written scenario. Surprise the Keeper. Go to areas your character has knowledge about even if they don’t seem involved in the story line. The Keeper will be happy to expand to accommodate your interests. If you speak any language go to a part of town that speaks that and use your knowledge to gain information. Try not to get frustrated.

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