Call of Cthulhu has a mechanic known as the Idea Roll, and it’s a great failsafe for if the game is grinding to a halt.

When the the players fail to move the story forward, sometimes it doesn’t move at all. This is especially true of an investigative game like Call of Cthulhu. To prevent this, the Idea Roll exists as a means to move the story along. You make a test against your intelligence score, and if successful, you “get an idea.” Everything clicks together for your character and they piece together clues that you the player miss. In short, the GM gives you the information you need.

A failed Idea Roll will still yield this result, but it will do so in the most inadvantageous way possible. For example, say you failed your Idea Roll to determine who the murderer was for the body you found. Defeated, you return home to look over the evidence and get a good night’s sleep. You do so. If you had passed the Idea Roll, you’d come up with something and return to the party with this info, and the game would move on. But you fail it instead. So rather than that happening, you wake in the morning with the intent of going back to the crime scene. Only instead, you’re attacked by the murderer along the way. He’s masked, and you’re all alone. But you at least see his costume, and some basic physical features… if you survive the encounter with him.

In this way, the Idea Roll acts as a sort of Deus ex Machina to move the story forward. A passed Idea Roll represents a slow and inefficient way of getting information. A failed Idea Roll represents a slow, inefficient, and disadvantageous way of getting information.

It’s great to have something like this in the game, to ensure that things can keep moving and that the story doesn’t stall simply because the players themselves miss something. If your game doesn’t have something like this, and you find it stalling out at some point, consider adding a similar mechanic. It can be a good insurance policy to keep the game going.

What do you think of the Idea Roll?

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