Who doesn’t love a good cult ritual? There’s something comforting about knowing right where to stand, what to wear, who to stab and when. This game blends the steadfast surety of a Lovecraftian doomsday cult with the madcap shenanigans of a Coen Brothers film. It’s Call of Cthulhu meets Fiasco in Soth, a game by Steve Hickey.
Our party was up for a wild time. By this point in the convention, each of us had played together a time or two, so the “getting to know you” phase of con friendship was well underway. I like to think that contributed to just how absurd most of this ended up…
In Soth, you build the town, PCs, and their connected web of NPCs at the beginning of the first session. This sets into motion the four rituals to summon Soth, the vaguely defined Elder God of the end times. The game starts during the first ritual and we explain how it came to pass (and what we screwed up on the way) to drop us right into the action. Our party in 1980s California was based out of an abandoned foundry and was made up of a well-respected bank manager, the local pharmacist, an up-and-coming doctor, and a lonely hearted librarian (our dear sweet Jane, a blessed innocent in this entire sordid affair). Our first ritual sacrifice was complicated by a local hypochondriac meeting up with the pharmacist on a country road in the opposite direction from the hospital (where he told his wife he was going). This would come back to bite us in hilarious fashion, but also highlights how the GM is supposed to structure the game around NPC Investigators and Suspicion. They privately judge our performance in conversations and our actions and build a pool of Suspicion they can use to complicate our actions later. The system is mostly diceless and is built on the ebb and flow of Suspicion. And we garnered so much suspicion. Just, all of it.
Our first victim dispatched (a friend of the doctor’s we stole from the hospital under the thinnest of pretenses), we all planned for the next ritual and headed back to our respective lives. This was the first time things fell apart, as the mismatched lies our pharmacist told his wife and his hypochondriac customer collapsed in a beautiful fashion, resulting in one of the finest botched lies in my gaming experience: “The hospital’s centrifuge was down, for the, uh, insulin and I had to drive it around, because if you drive in a circle fast enough, it acts… Like a… Centrifuge.” I cried I was laughing so hard, and we were maybe 20 minutes in. The odds of us summoning Soth without significant interference evaporated in the first couple minutes of the game and I couldn’t have been happier.
The rest of the game played out as a collection of nosy neighbors and police officers looking into discrepancies surrounding our increasingly odd behavior (including crushing library patrons under bookshelves, stabbing the doctor’s husband in the neck to get them to drop a church bell in the town square, and burning a building down to conceal our crimes but forgetting to leave bodies behind to end the search for our victims) and our good doctor’s increasingly unhinged bloodlust as her sanity slipped. Cult members have a stat called Clarity, which is our loosening grasp on appropriate speech and behavior in front of others. With each murder and every day you fail to perform your various compulsions, you gain Clarity. The higher your score, the more extreme your actions have to become to satisfy your dark impulses. Our doctor couldn’t go five minutes without mentioning our dark god by name and bragging about our crimes. She was a liability, but none of us witnessed it until our final ritual. By the time we summoned Soth, she had killed a patient of hers, her own nurse, a detective, and one of our own cult members, only about half of whom were necessary to complete our goals.
Meanwhile, I would like to take a moment and appreciate our innocent librarian, Jane Young. A sweet-natured woman who lived with her needy sister and seven cats, who joined the cult seemingly out of a desire to belong to something, Jane’s solution to our problems always involved a casserole and an offer to have us over for dinner to plan our ritual murders. Throughout our game, we killed one of her neighbors, her boss, a long time patron, and burned her beloved library to the ground. She never gained a point of Clarity, never embraced one of our dark missions, and got turned into a freakish monster for her troubles when we used her body to make a demonic servitor for Soth’s will on Earth. At least she belonged to something, in the end. We didn’t deserve our dear, sweet Jane.
For a low-prep game of monstrous intent, I heartily recommend looking into Soth. I have heard that it can be played a lot darker in tone than we did (it was late and we got pretty punchy) but it has a good range for shenanigans and pushback from the GM for getting too bizarre in how you handle yourself. It flips the script on investigators tailing mad cultists and for that alone deserves more attention. That it does it with a system that incentivises increasingly bad behavior makes it enough fun that you can’t feel too bad about what you do in pursuit of the end of the world as we know it.
Next time, the cultists go back to being the bad guys when we mix a little Event Horizon into our Warhammer 40K with an Inquisitor-flavored Dread game.