Sense Trouble’s an unusual General Ability – it’s called for by the Keeper, not the players, and it gives information instead of accomplishing a task (even if the only information it gives is “Agh! Run away!”, which, to be fair, is highly useful in a Cthulhu game). It’s hard to know how much Sense Trouble to invest – some Keepers might only call for a test every tenth session, others regularly call for rolls. This article presents some alternate rules and tweaks for the ability.
Dodging The Initial Attack
Many Mythos creatures, especially the big ones, can inflict catastrophic damage with a hit and have huge Scuffling pools – more than enough to overcome an investigator’s paltry Hit Threshold of 3 or 4. However, in horror fiction, when the protagonist’s attacked, the typical scenario is that the monster either narrowly misses, kills off a bystander, or dramatically smashes through the scenery, leaving the protagonist discombobulated but largely unhurt.
To model that in Trail, have the results of the investigator’s Sense Trouble roll determine their Hit Threshold for the first round of combat only. So, when the shoggoth attacks, it’s up against a higher Hit Threshold at first, giving the characters a chance to spend those Fleeing points while still having a genuine mechanical peril.
Are You Sure You Want To Do That?
It’s remarkably easy to utterly doom yourself in a Cthulhu game. Touch the wrong idol, read the wrong book, open the wrong door… and players have a knack for finding their way into cult sanctums and the laboratories of mad scientists. The Keeper can use Sense Trouble to dissuade players from taking especially foolish actions when meddling with things man was not meant to know.
When building a Trail character, especially a relatively mundane professional like a librarian or a nurse, it can be hard to justify putting lots of points into combat abilities like Scuffling and Shooting – but if you don’t, then your character gets stuck on the sidelines when there’s a fight. Use Sense Trouble to model panicked adrenaline and desperate action by letting players spend Sense Trouble in lieu of other physical abilities like Driving, Shooting, Scuffling, or Weapons. Such a substitution can only be made when the investigator’s reacting to an immediate threat, not as part of a planned attack. The first time the player makes such a substitution in a session, it costs 1 Stability; 2 for the second substitution and so on.
Noticing The Unnatural
While it’s suggested in the core rule book, let’s spell it out here – Sense Trouble’s not just for threats, it also works for weirdness – it can help spot that guy whose waxy face doesn’t quite fit right, for smelling that goatish stench in the attic, for noticing that the air in the library is strangely cold. The trick is to only call for Sense Trouble tests when there’s something to be learned in the scene using another Investigative ability. So, if the slime dripping from the ceiling is just a bit of spooky atmosphere, don’t call for a roll. If the investigators could use Chemistry to analyse the slime and learn some useful clue about the monster, but the players haven’t thought of doing so, a Sense Trouble roll can let them know that there’s something worth examining here. (And, obviously, if the clue about the monster is not merely useful but vital, then that’s a core clue and you should skip right to Chemistry…)
Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.