A New Sources of Stability System for Trail of Cthulhu by Cat Ramen
Trail of Cthulhu makes it clear that the Investigators are not simply pushed by their own need to investigative the Mythos; they also need the support of the people closest to them, their Sources of Stability. This system expands on the basic rules to give players and Keepers more options for using Sources of Stability. While it can work in conjunction with Pillars of Sanity, it can also serve as a replacement for them.
There are two components of this system: a statement for the PCs Drive and each Source of Stability, indicating what the Drive or Source means to him or her; and the use of hard and soft Drivers by the Keeper on the Sources, using the Statements as guides to the form the Drivers will take.
A Value Statement is a brief sentence indicating how the PC views that Source or Drive. A good Statement will provide a hook for the Keeper to introduce negative elements of that Drive or relationship in play.
For example, Joyce Summers is a pilot with long experience of fighting the creatures of the Mythos. Her drive is adventure, so her player writes “Violence is always an option” as her Drive statement. Joyce’s player can expect the Keeper to give her Drivers pushing Joyce towards violent action even when not appropriate.
Janet is an investigative reporter who has been caught up in the fight against the Mythos. One of her Sources of Stability is a private investigator named Jimmy Wright; their relationship is ambiguous, leading her player to write “Whatever else, Jimmy always protects me” as her statement. We can expect her Keeper to give her Drivers about how she feels about Jimmy’s latest rescue mission.
Drivers and Statements
During play, the Keeper can introduce Drivers against Sources of Stability as well as against a PCs Drive. These can be hard or soft Drivers, as per the rules on pp. 72-73 in the Trail of Cthulhu corebook. However, the Keeper should use the Values Statements to guide the form the Driver takes; a PC who has the Statement “I always tell Father Brown my worries” should get Drivers urging him to go to Confession, even if the summoning ritual is happening later that day…
As the player characters adventure, their experiences will change them, causing them to examine their values in a new light. At certain dramatically appropriate moments, doing so may give them a sudden surge of resolve. This process is called Challenging a Statement.
When a player Challenges a Value Statement, she should tell everyone which value she’s Challenging, and explain why what she’s doing or about to do is causing her to change the value. She can then refresh a number of General Ability points equal to her PCs Sanity. She can even use these points to refresh Stability or Health, but not Sanity. For the rest of the session:
- She cannot Challenge that Value.
- She cannot recover Stability from that Source. She can still lose Stability for refusing a Driver against that Value.
At the end of the session, she must rewrite the Value to reflect how it has changed.
Any session in which a player character Challenges a Value earns the PC an extra experience point, to reflect their growth as a person.
For example, Joyce Summers currently has her Drive’s value as “Violence is always an option.” Trying to escape from an insane asylum, one of Joyce’s companions convinces her that attacking a guard will be too noisy and attract too much attention. Joyce’s player decides to Challenge her Drive’s Value, and uses the refresh on her Stealth, enabling her to escape. At the end of the session, Joyce’s player changes the Drive Value to: “Sometimes it’s better to strike unnoticed.”
Sometimes, the Mythos overwhelms a person, forever changing their relationship with the world. This can result in a Value Statement becoming shattered.
This works essentially the same as Shattering a Pillar of Sanity (see pp. 75-6 in the Trail of Cthulhu rules). The player character takes the same penalty–6 Stability and 2 Sanity. Whatever that Source of Stability associated with the Shattered Value is, the PC can never recover Stability from that Source again.
Like an invalidated Drive, player characters are still subject to Soft and Hard Drivers from the Keeper against the Shattered Value.
At the end of the session, players should rewrite any Shattered Values to reflect how their PCs have lost all hope in what they once held dear. Players can change them at the end of any future sessions if they like, but they’ll never be able to Challenge them or utilize that Source of Stability.
For example, Janet has suffered some bad times, but has managed to hold on to her Drive’s value of “The Truth will break the spell.” In a horrific moment she discovers that all along she has been manipulated by Nyarlathotep, and nothing she has done will stop his plans. Her Value shatters, and she changes it to “Plaything of the Immortals.”
Recovering Shattered Values
In some campaign modes, it may be possible to recover lost Sanity. For every two points of Sanity a PC recovers, he or she can rebuild a Shattered Value, and thus regain use of that Source of Stability–although, depending on how the player writes the new Value, it may make more sense to change Sources as well.