A complete change of pace from the previous scenarios so far, this was (a pretty ambitious) attempt just to shake things up a bit. Call of Cthulhu (and any investigative RPG) runs the risk of following a very set formula: present case, do research, action interlude, more research, final confrontation. Having a law enforcement focus as my campaign has (at least at the start) has reinforced this so to try and keep things fresh I chucked this in.
As you can tell it was designed to fit into a single session and was meant to be fast paced without relying on gunplay or monsters. I also wanted to keep some of the weirdness intact, hence the peculiar nature of the symbols. I had also intended for it to be very closely time monitored, using stop clocks and some spot rules for over and underground travel to slowly chip away at the investigator’s time. I hoped that this would help build tension as the players slowly watched their agents’ time tick away in front of them.
As it was it didn’t quite work out as planned. I debated about whether I should include a rule about sticking together but as I wanted the bad guys to split up (I was fearful that an equal fight would be the end of all the agents) I decided I’d just see how things worked out. Of course, this meant that when the agents split up all of that went out the window so I quickly decided just to run it in “real time”. Initially this worked well and got everyone really energised but after a while the players realised that three hours with all of them working independently was going to be far too much time. Also, deciding who I was with and when turned into a bit of a nightmare and relied on a bit of fudging on my part. In retrospect, what I’d have done would have had individual “clocks” for each player which I’d alter accordingly. I would then keep my focus on the “lowest time” until they caught up and then switch players.
What I also learnt was that there was no need to devise rules for how long it took to get places. One of the coolest parts of this scenario was that everyone got out their smartphones (or borrowed my iPad) and used them just as their agents would. They used various online maps to calculate their journey times, to search for nearby business, to see where they were with street view, even to find out if cabs counted as public transport or not (according to Wikipedia they do which is good enough for me, my players and Stephen Alzis). This also meant that they had an excuse for being able to discuss things around the table even though their characters were geographically apart.
More than any other scenario thus far, this is the one I’d like to run again. As mentioned I got too many things no quite right for it to be perfect but the general consensus from the players was that this was fun. I might look at ways to darken it up a bit (David said it was like “The Amazing Race” which I guess it was but Phil Keoghan is not who I have in mind when I imagine Stephen Alzis) and also think about a soundtrack to try and really keep it pumped. Elements of the “Inception” and “Tron Legacy” soundtracks would both be good picks, I think, suitably orchestral but with the necessary pace. I’d also develop the locations for the symbols a bit more, think how the storage unit might be useful (Agent Paul got a stungun from it and nothing else and he never used that) and also have a bit more of a plan for the opposition. As it was I just picked a couple of spots and asked for Luck rolls to see if the agents got there before, after or at the same time.
There were a few gems in play as well this session. It was quite cool to see how focussed and efficient they’ve become at dealing with forensic trails (and there was me, worrying that they were never going to go off reservation) and also how paranoid they’ve become. The fact that they’re beginning to question exactly what Caleb’s (and the organisation’s) motives are and what they aren’t being told is exactly the kind of tone I’m hoping to develop. What I’m also enjoying is their slow realisation that they’re so far off reservation that they have no option but to continue with their mission, regardless of how they feel about it. This really makes me wish that I’d spent more time at the start of the campaign building up character backgrounds with the players so I’d have more emotional screws to turn at this point.
The competition threw up several brilliant moments from Agent Pascal’s impromptu flamethrower to Agent Peter’s perfect beer toss (woops all round when he threw a critical on base Throw). There was also Agent Patrick’s bizarre ramblings, first at the WTC site and then at the gay bar. His arrest effectively destroys his life as his prints will be online and there’s no way a suspended FBI agent is going to keep his job (and possibly his freedom) when he wanders around with a deceased agents falsified ID muttering about serial killers. However, pride of place has to go to Agent Pascal’s deep fat fryer hand thrust. As a roleplaying virgin until the start of this campaign, the way David has got into it and really embraced the whole tone of this campaign has been really cool to see.
The final thing that this scenario has thrown up is something for me to consider for the future. Both Agents Peter and Patrick gave Alzis their cover names rather than their codenames. Having been warned not to do this by Agent Cyrus, I need to have some sort of penalty for doing so. I do have a bit of time to think about it (as will become clear next week) but I’m considering having Alzis ask them to hurt or betray the other agents in some way. Alzis will dress it up as fair retribution but it’s really just his way of having fun. However, I do need to make sure that this doesn’t turn the players against one another as well. I think treachery within a group can work but only if everyone gets something out of it. If it’s just the Keeper or one player getting one over on everyone else it’s just going to turn into a stupid game of one-upmanship. Therefore, I need to ensure that whatever they have to do adds to the campaign storyline in some way as well as further betraying their morals.