Jump to content

Shimmin Bloeg

  • entries
    140
  • comments
    194
  • views
    243,172

About this blog

Mostly long-winded articles about design, writing and GMing

Entries in this blog

 

Shimmigration

My daily activities have, of late, been thrown into some confusion by a sudden development. There is, as so often, a young lady in the case - be that as it may, to cut to the quick of the matter, the East calls to me. Within mere weeks, I must gather my humble possessions (or rather, a small and portable selection of them, the remainder hopefully finding refuge in the attic of one relative or another) and depart for the Middle Kingdom - to Chang'An, the immemorial heart of China.   To put it another and less purple way, I am (visas permitting) heading off for a new job in Xi'an, in central China. And oddly enough this is pretty disruptive, so my communicating, writing, posting, gaming and generally everything is getting dropped while I try to sort it all out. Sadly this mean I have not been spending much time on the forums, and none at all writing posts, blogs or even scenarios. It's a bit of a wrench. Still plenty waiting on the back burner... I'll probably be fairly sporadic until late autumn when I've had a chance to settle into my new job, lifestyle and suchlike. After that I'm hoping to leap back into the fray and try to pummel some more of my ideas into shape. Fingers crossed that Yoggie doesn't fall foul of the Great Firewall!   One sad outcome of this is that I won't be able to attend Games Day this year, which is a huge disappointment. Unfortunately I don't have the freedom to take a holiday that soon into my new job, and I'll be tied to university terms anyway. I'll be very sad to miss it, and hope everyone else has a fantastic time and records everything for my vicarious enjoyment! Maybe some sort of virtual YSDCGD can be arranged for those of us unable to attend? No promises, but let me know if that might be interesting.   I'd also be keen to hear from any other Yoggies who might be around those parts - even in a roughly similar timezone would be nice. I fear a dearth of gaming lies ahead.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Off to Germany

I am about to head on a business trip to Germany; alas, unconnected with the scenario I'm writing and not taking me to its intended location T_T   I will keep an eye out for Lovecraftian and related goodies while I'm there, and may try to pick up some gaming swag. I've already made the pleasant discovery that Hiveworld is just round the corner from one of my hotels! And both the others are also nearish gaming shops, which is promising. I'm not sure how much time I'll have to explore historical sites, but hopefully some.   Suggestions for gaming, touristing and otherwise making the best of the trip very welcome. I may be able to grab goodies (smallish games, books etc.) on behalf of fellow UK Yoggies; contact me if interested and we can see if it seems feasible.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Additional Ogham

Quite a long time ago now, I made a Cthulhu statuette for Paul. Early last year, I felt crafty again, and put together another one, and I've just put a description of the process, and the package of plot I assembled for it, on my main blog. It's dated February 2017 as that's when I started drafting the post, but I did in fact just finish it...   I'm considering whether I might be able to make these to order. I still have some suitable materials, and I could definitely use the money (I'm not in financial trouble or anything, though). Anyone got any advice on that sort of thing? I don't know whether there's any interest, just something I'm thinking about - hobby-related things I could do to pick up a bit of extra income.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

New Year, old scenarios

So as 2018 rolls in, let me see how things are looking with writing.   The Perishing of Sir Ashby Phipps - secondary revisions relating to Victorian theories of dreaming
Echoes Will be Found - remembered this exists, need to plan to run it
The Man Who Wasn't There - on hiatus, needs substantial work
The Sprawling Campaign - have recruited friendly archaeologist advisor, need to do some reading and knuckle down to it, also reread the Archaeologist's Handbook
The Neighs Have It - purely skeletal but concept seems good
Upon Their Backs to Bite Em - done, playtested, finished   Various other things - deliberately sidelined for sanity's sake   I've been struggling with reading recently due to some health issues, just finding it difficult to focus on reading for any length of time due to tiredness. This is not helpful! But I do have many supportive friends who encourage me to keep working on these projects.   I'm looking forward to the upcoming publication of a scenario I was lucky enough to offer some input on; it's the closest I've got to authorship so far, so quite exciting for me.   Gamingwise, a lot of my time has ended up with Pathfinder, as the group I'm now in run several campaigns. However, a couple have now gone on hiatus, so I may be able to find time soon to run another scenario or two. Let's hope!

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

YSDC Games Day 2017 audio

The annual Yog-Sothoth.com (YSDC) Games Day took place in October, and I was lucky enough to make it for the third time. As always, it was a great, relaxing weekend full of regrettably short conversations, delicious food, and of course, games!   I managed to get a couple of recordings, and one partial recording, and am posting them on my main gaming blog, but of course I need to flag them up here as well.
Steve Dempsey's The Fallen World     Fearful Symmetries is a campaign for Trail of Cthulhu inspired by William Blake. The characters are caught up in an occult war and must use the double edged sword of magical power to reunite Albion, split asunder by time and the Mythos. The campaign will soon be published by Pelgrane Press, along with The Book of the New Jerusalem, a gazatteer of English folklore locations and people that takes up where The Book of the Smoke left off.
Steve Dempsey, the keeper for this scenario, has been running his Fearful Symmetries campaign since May 2016, achieving 61 sessions so far. This scenario, The Fallen World, was improvised by Steve at the convention. The characters are members of the Ordnance Geology Survey (Section D). Their job is to contain and clean up suspected supernatural events, and provide a suitable mundane explanation. They have been brought in to clear up in Upper and Lower Quinton in Southern Warwickshire where a number of people have suddenly died - possibly something to do with aforementioned Fearful Symmetries campaign.   Episode 1 is now available on my usual spot in the Internet Archive*. More to follow.   *okay, yes, there's a typo in the URL. That's actually there. Due to technical problems at Archive.org, I made four attempts over several days to get this uploaded, and apparently lost the second L in LnL during repeatedly typing in all the same metadata T_T I don't think it's possible to do anything about it though. I may at some point beg an admin to move it for consistency.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Playtesting again

Having just apologised for not really doing anything recently, I can offer this game recording by way of consolation. It's the second playtest of an occult-y, Hammer Horror-y modern day scenario set in Devon, which I wrote last year and have been slowly getting round to running. Link to my generic gaming blog here for downloads: http://librarians-and-leviathans.blogspot.com/2017/10/upon-their-backs-to-bite-em-scenario.html   I should mention that I ran a sort of weird hybrid of 6e and 7e, if anyone's confused by the slapdash rules in play. Basically I used the 3d6 stats (which everyone is familiar with, not least from masses of <i>Pathfinder</i>, but allowed Luck spending.   Comments and thoughts either here or on the other blog are always welcome.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Vague rambling updates for October

I once again haven't been around much on YSDC. To an extent that's because I haven't done very much Cthulhu gaming recently (lots of Pathfinder), and I also haven't had much free time for my usual meandering blogposts on theory and stuff. I do want to come back to Fun-Sizing in the future though, it's been good.   I've also been ill repeatedly, which is a bit frustrating, but one of the hazards of working with the public, alas. They will carry pesky human diseases, and so most of the last week I've once again been off work and slumped on the settee listening to podcasts.   Thankfully I have managed to make a bit of progress on some things I'm working on. I'm just editing a couple of actual play recordings I hope to put out soon, and I managed to put together a short scenario. It inspired me with a bunch of other ideas I hope to flesh out as well, but I really should be trying to finish one of those already underway. And there's another thing for which I have a heap of reference materials to read, and haven't managed to work on at all due to flu making my eyes too sore for reading. Sigh. This would be so much easier from a brain jar...

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Bradford Literature Festival 2017

A couple of months back, I discovered the existence of Bradford Literature Festival. I also found out that an old friend was participating in the brand-new (and therefore apparently completely unadvertised) Comic Con attached to the festival, so of course I went along. It's not far from my own Yorkshire home.   I've written up the first part of my trip on my non-Cthulhu blog. May be of interest to some, and it includes an interview with my friend, a professional comic artist. When I get time I'll check and post up the recordings of two talks I went to about the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, which did touch on Lovecraft at one point, and hopefully will be of interest to some Yoggies.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Writing progress for March

So thanks to a combination of a sanity-restoring cruise (well, holiday), the onset of spring sunshine, the tireless efforts of supportive friends, and potent mind-affecting substances, I've found myself once more reasonably on form and able to resume something approaching my usual productivity. Not being asleep most of the time helps a lot, I find.   I'm still in first draft mode, but today I finally put the finishing structural touches to chapter two of a campaign I've been working on. I've been mostly stuck on that for some time - partly because it turns out I'd set myself quite a tough thing to write in terms of a departure from the usual Call of Cthulhu content. This meant I couldn't rely on filling in the gaps in many of the usual ways, and had to think harder than usual (for me) about the setting and possible events of the chapter. I'm still not of the opinion it's a masterpiece, but I think it'll do, which is all I need. Having conquered that particular dragon I've now been able to loop back, fill in some cracks, and work out some of the potential branching consequences for different chapter outcomes, as well as think of ways to ensure the overall plotline can continue.   Of course, there are four more chapters to go, and two of those have a very similar problem... but let's take the victories as they come!   And now, time for some historical and geographical research, since I made some probably-unwise decisions about the continuation of the plot... it's probably better to place scenarios somewhere you actually know something - anything - about. Like, whether those places are in any way a sensible location for the intended flow of the campaign. But, you know, I can't go changing my mind now, can I?   I'd like to say that if I ever manage to complete this campaign it will be the most frivolous thing I've ever written, but I don't think it even qualifies as the most frivolous roleplaying thing I've ever written. Taking a joke several stages further than necessary is both a blessing and a curse. If I do finish the blighter I must do it up as a proper campaign and make it available to Old Yoggie...

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Playtesting

This Sunday, my regular Pathfinder game was off due to GM commitments. It gave me the opportunity to volunteer to cover with a one-shot. Naturally, rather than attempt Pathfinder, I offered to drag one of my Cthulhu scenarios out of the cupboard, dust it off and try to entertain the folks.   As it turned out, between one thing and another, only one of the group turned up. A tragedy! What were we to do? How could we possibly run an RPG session with only one player?   Oh, wait, this is Call of Cthulhu.   And so I managed the first playtest of a scenario I wrote last year, my first ever present-day scenario and an odd investigative Hammer Horror sort of beast entitled Upon their backs to bite 'em. A few changes were necessary, of course. For one thing a single player just has fewer people working to come up with ideas for how to proceed, so a bit more prompting and a fairly generous approach was called for. Also, my initial plans hadn't covered the possibility of one of the Investigators being a certain NPC's butler... but it was too fine an idea to waste.   Between cunning, resolve, modern communications and a knack with shortcrust pastry, the heroic Alfred bravely tracked down and rescued his employer, baffled a sinister plot and destroyed a potent Mythos artefact without so much as a scratch.   I was interested to see how the investigation unfolded solo. There was a much more cautious playstyle than you often see, and so several possible lines of enquiry were left untapped, but that didn't really cause problems. In fact, the player was able to set things up to entirely foil the Mythos plot by careful (and Keeper-convincing) application of the police, and thus avoid anything particularly horrible. I don't really see this as a problem, and it means that hopefully my next playtest will feel very different.   So, feeling pretty positive there. I got very complimentary feedback and am feeling good about it. Although I'll admit to feeling a little sorry for poor old Mick Narsh.   If I can pull off another successful run or two, I'll look into packing this up for YSDC.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Spring creeps reluctantly in

Spring would finally seem to be beginning hereabouts, and I've been doing very little gaming recently.   One reason is that I was struck down by a mystery illness and spent a week in bed, too tired to do basically anything. The other, more cheerful reason is that I went on holiday for a fortnight. I paid a return visit to both central China and southern Japan to visit a few friends there. Between the lingering aforesaid illness, cripping jetlag and devoted socialising, devising elaborate Cthulhu scenarios was not really on the cards.   Speaking of things on the cards, though, I did (partly) achieve a long-held ambition and play a session in another language. I'd introduced one of my Japanese friends to the concept of both board games and RPGs a few years back; after trying some board games, this time she introduced me to another friend who actually plays the Japanese edition of CoC! Hurrah!   We decided that actually running The Haunting would be a bit too time-intensive for our slot, but Friend 2 had brought along an intriguing hybrid card/RPG called The Fifteen. It's only available in Japanese as best I can tell. Essentially there are four Role cards with slightly different stats in Body, Mind and Will. There are also a number of location cards which have a visible topside and a hidden underside, which define a particular location you're investigating. As you interact with the cards, the GM consults a scenario book which determines what happens when you do certain kinds of interactions, and of course does some improvising on the side. We had fun getting to know the concept and just about escaping before (it turned out) a zombie horde broke into our base.   Sadly, I wasn't able to get my hands on a copy to try running it myself. It looks like it's only really available by mail order. Maybe I can arrange it. And maybe I can now start angling for my friends to try a simple PBEM or Skype RPG..?   I was also able to pick up a cool idea, the Japanese book "R'lyeh Beginners" which talks potential players through the idea of RPGs, the Cthulhu Mythos and playing in a CoC game. It includes a guide to character creation, discussion of how to approach the game and be an Investigator, guidance on what's constructive and unhelpful (with some play examples), a longish play session example, and a substantial appendix. I've not finished it yet but am impressed with it so far.   Despite apathy, lethargy and the social whirl, I'm currently up to 34k words in my pulpy campaign. I have yet to reach the end of the second chapter... much of chapter 2 is devoted to describing a substantial trip through a rather strange place, so that does take up a fair bit of space, and describing possible events and encounters is similarly time-consuming compared to visiting, say, York.   I also managed to watch a number of films on the plane. Doctor Strange was adequate. Seondal: the Man who Sells the River was very entertaining, and I also enjoyed Time Raiders and The Magnificent Nine. Any of the three suggest some ideas for gaming.   Arrival   Others I saw included Arrival, which seemed really promising - I've heard people saying it's Lovecraftian (I can sort of see why) and I was entranced by the idea of a film about heroic linguists. Unfortunately the manipulative mawkishness of the personal plot annoyed me, and fundamentally me and the directors had wildly different ideas about which parts of this were interesting: I wanted a lot more of the contact/puzzle elements and would happily have dispensed with the literary elements, the thrillery subplot, and the pointless romance element. Also, there's just no way you handle the biggest scientific problem ever by sending one specialist: the obvious solution is to get every linguist in the USA and send every one of them to jointly work on cracking this language barrier. Also also, there is a physicist in the room and he does literally no physics whatsoever, why is he even there.   Also also also SPOILER...   Seriously, you want me to believe that in your precious thriller section, the aliens have been taught the complex conceptual word "weapon" (which they use incorrectly most of the time for no apparent reason)* and can throw a string of words out in a fumbled attempt at warning, but are unable to put together a helpful phrase like "behind you"? And that they can essentially see the future, but don't actually take any steps which would prevent the problem arising in the first place or neuter it immediately?   *I actually really want to know how they were taught this word. It's not exactly easy to explain without an awful lot of even more complicated surrounding concepts. More specifically, how could the humans have identified that a specific alien term indicated "weapon" at all, short of some demonstrations?   Sorry, yes, there is a lot wrong with this film unfortunately, in my view.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

British pulp adventure and travelogues

So the scenario currently known as Lincolnshire II is still sat on my hard drive, waiting for the right conflux of me being in the mood, my group being available, time, energy, and possibly some feedback from beta readers, before I subject them to it.   Technically I am working on Lincolnshire III, but my writing tends to have to go where my mind wanders, which means I am so far 25,000 words into a campaign instead. It's going to be pretty railroady, which seems tough to avoid with prewritten campaigns, but I think that's okay if players buy into it. I'm trying to build in bits where what the players do actually makes a difference - plot flags, essentially - so they can actually alter the antagonists' plans, reduce the resources they'll have available in future, and so on.   There are some slight difficulties in the shape of a pulp-ish British campaign. Pulp tends to leave a lot of room for gunning down mooks, but I don't really want that for a couple of reasons.   One, I genuinely think it's a lot less appropriate for British scenarios than American ones, since there's a huge difference in gun culture (even in the 1920s), in attitudes to gun violence, and so on.   Secondly, I feel that it's a bit of a slippery slope: once Investigators start shooting at cultists in a given scenario, it makes pulling out the gun in future increasingly easy. Given how Mythos stuff and stakes tend to ratchet up as well, there's more incentive to take drastic action. I'm concerned this will make people less inclined to try other approaches. More importantly, I think it exacerbates the rocket tag tendencies that CoC has when relatively mortal characters are involved.   To put it bluntly, I'm a bit worried that it could devolve into going to Next Location, identifying the probable local antagonist, and unloading shotguns into them from ambush. It makes a lot of sense, when you think about it... however, I don't think it would be very satisfying on the whole (it would certainly have its moments, of course!) and it naturally encourages antagonists to adopt similarly dramatic tactics. This, too, is non-ideal from my point of view, especially in a campaign!   I've got a couple of ideas for building in sections where direct combat is an option, but I'm aiming to ensure there are always other possibilities. Of course, these might just be other relatively physical challenges. I aim to create differences in atmosphere here to help flag up to players that A is a section where killing off antagonists might be fair game, while B is a section where the forces of human civilisation are at work and Consequences are likely. Otherwise I will probably put in some fairly explicit stuff at the beginning about expectations of play for the campaign, including that if they decide to murder NPCs in cold blood, especially socially-important ones, they can expect the law to descend in force.   It seems like there's going to be a fair number of very weird places in this campaign, so I'm having to ransack Google and my various other RPG sourcebooks in search of inspiration for what those might look like, and how to break them down into relatively specific sections so I can give guidance on letting the players interact with them, as well as work out specific challenges they might present. Which is fun and a nice change from contemplating the responses of a conservative Victorian clergyman to awkward social situations and/or monsters.   It's all working out rather long though! Right now it's because I'm trying to make some travel sections interesting; in context, they need to be. I need to go back over them at some point, though, and try to make sure it's doing something meaningful rather than just filler (although flavourful filler can be fun too of course).

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

On Spells and their Multitudes

The Call of Cthulhu rulebook - which is to say, the 6th edition, because that's the copy I own* - has a lot of spells in it. A lot of really quite specific spells. Things like Attract Fish, and Bring Pestilence, and Detransference, and Become Spectal Hunter, and Enchant Inflatable Dinghy (okay, I made that one up).   *Nothing against 7th edition, mind. I'm not actually running any games at the moment, and if I were one of my players could tell me the necessary rule changes. More importantly, I have neither the space nor the cash to buy things I don't need at the moment!   I know a lot of them have been removed from the 7th edition rulebook, which makes a lot of sense, because they're mostly far too specific to be useful; they can only be cast by a particular individual, or members of a specific cult, or by those of a particular heritage, or in the Dreamlands. Honestly, at that point it often doesn't feel worth making them into spells at all: there are a whole swathe of spells for the Horror on the Orient Express campaign which I'm pretty sure you could just replace with flat narration, not worrying about the precise mechanics by which an unspecified cult do horrible things to NPCs.   At the same time, having started to write scenarios myself, I've started to understand why this happens.   I've written up a few antagonists now. Call of Cthulhu is relatively unusual as an RPG, in that for the most part there's surprisingly limited scope for modifying your NPCs away from the "hapless bystander" position. I can think of several factors here: Unless you are a monster, you are almost certainly an ordinary human, mechanically speaking The variation in raw attributes is limited, and they also have very little impact on your capabilities. Most skills are of a type which can't be used in an adversarial way (History), or which Keepers generally don't use against PCs (Persuade), except for combat skills As a realistic game, there is very little you can do to defend against firearms With the exception of firearms (classically, shotguns) equipment is not usually an important part of any confrontation

Basically, an antagonist is just a person. If the PCs decide to gang up on the antagonist, unless they are an exceptionally skilled melee fighter (highly unusual in most games) the antagonist will generally lose. If the PCs decide to ambush the antagonist when they are off-guard, the antagonist will generally lose. If the PCs decide to shoot the antagonist, the antagonist will generally die.   Antagonists aren't usually protected by level-scaling HP or defences (it's not that sort of universe), nor by potent armour, nor by enormous combat skills. They don't have the Plot Armour that such characters frequently have in pure fiction, because RPGs are an interactive medium where protagonists decide how they feel about things, and where players are normally quick to jump to conclusions. Once the PCs decide another human is their enemy, providing they want to do something about that, there are limits to what the one antagonist can do.   The classic defences for a human antagonist are basically obscurity or minions. Not being recognised as an enemy is one of the best ways to survive, but unfortunately doesn't help at all once you are identified. This means it can be quite hard to pull off in an RPG, where players are usually quite conscious of which NPCs appear onstage, which have names and what they do; tenacious in tracking down these leads; and often prepared to flout social conventions in a highly unrealistic manner out of vague suspicion.   Minions are very useful, providing you can keep them to hand. On the downside, only certain types of antagonist really work well with minions. It's all very well for the gloating necromancer or mob boss to sit in her lair surrounded by mooks, the Man in Black to arrive flanked by bodyguards, and so on. Plenty of other antagonist archetypes are more solitary, and in particular, you often can't combine obscurity with minions. If it was Old Janitor Willie all along, Willie can't really go around with a posse of henchmen.   And so we come to spells. There are many potential reasons for having spells, of course. But when you want a human(ish) antagonist to pose a challenge to the PCs, spells are one of the few options you have for arranging that.   But why new spells?
So that's all well and good, you may think, but there's a fat stack of spells in the rulebook, as I said before. Why would I need new ones?   This boils down to a mixture of flavour, appropriateness and archetype. They don't separate neatly, either.   Archetype is fairly simple. When assigning spells, you want them to fit the kind of antagonist you're designing. Some antagonists should be hard to bring down, some should conjure up unspeakable things to hunt their enemies, some should try to win you over with hypnotic words.   In terms of appropriateness, you often have an idea of roughly how an encounter with the antagonist might go. A powerful sorcerer might be dangerous enough that direct confrontation is taking your life in your hands; the PCs build up to that confrontation over time, getting some idea of who they're dealing with and their capabilities, and choosing the best way to approach (often with alternative options, or opportunities to reduce their power, and so on). Another NPC may try to pick off individual PCs and hypnotise them. A third might be able to unleash a desperate spell, hoping to at least make a break for it. A fourth can perhaps defend herself effectively, but has little aggressive power.   Finally, sometimes you want the choice of spells to fit a theme: a sadistic cult might have pain-themed magic, a Cthugha cult fiery magic, a darkness cult shadowy magic.   Despite the number of available spells, it can turn out that there doesn't seem to be anything quite right for all those factors.   Case studies
I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but here are three antagonists I've written into various things.   A is an intermediate antagonist - important to the plot, but not intended to be a huge physical challenge. There are other things going on when they're likely to confront A. I decided what I wanted A to do was keep that confrontation interesting. Specifically, there's an awkward balance in many Call of Cthulhu scenarios depending on whether the Investigators have firearms and are competent with them. If they do, a physical confrontation that didn't plan for them can become trivial; if they don't, a confrontation that assumed firearms can be fatal. In the end, I gave A some magic that makes firearms less effective, so more of the events I wrote for that section are likely to kick off. Hopefully, this will not feel like railroading (good strategy is still better than bad) but reduces the chances of that section feeling like a complete damp squib.   B is a rather passive antagonist who primarily relies on manipulation and subterfuge, and is protected largely by obscurity. It's not at all appropriate for B to be a powerful and dangerous combatant, even with magic. On the other hand, B is the kind of antagonist I'd like to (have the option to) preserve for future reuse. I decided to allocate B some magic that will hamper whole groups of enemies, and render specific attackers helpless. B is the type to prioritise making a getaway over finishing off enemies (B will always have a fall-back plan) so these spells can be used to enable the escape. The idea is that B can be confident even in the face of threats, while not being particularly dangerous to the Investigators. Dishing out powerful attack spells didn't feel like a good call. I also chose to theme these spells strongly towards B's character and B's occult interests.   C is a moderately dangerous antagonist, but again one who operates in wider society. Whereas a cackling madman hidden in a ruined tower might happily wield destructive spells, C has to function day-to-day and avoid attracting too much attention. C is another obscured antagonist, and I wanted to strike a balance between being dangerous and the Investigators being able to survive a confrontation. There is significantly more to come in this scenario after the point where they're likely to identify C, so killing off or disabling most of the party didn't particularly appeal. I decided I'd devise a spell to make the confrontation less likely, basically a stupefying aura that keeps people from becoming awkward. It's set up as something C uses generally to avoid inconvenient questioning, which means I can use it to make them back down (this time!) without specifically identifying the Investigators as enemies. I'm also allocating a means of escape (very different from B's), and a couple of hostile spells. These are designed to be potent, but not necessarily deadly, and have side-effects that help ensure C doesn't throw them around casually. Essentially, I'm aiming for an antagonist who could if forced to probably take out the Investigators (and is therefore a potent enemy to be feared) but who's in a position where they're very reluctant to do so unless it's absolutely necessary. C may be mad, but the insane have their priorities too.   TANGENT: One of the common difficulties with these kinds of settings is that once you've identified someone as a sorcerer/cultist/alien monstrosity, 99% of the time one of you has to die. The only way to stop [insert fiendish scheme here] in a setting where nobody believes in the supernatural is to kill them, for neither prison nor the asylum will hold them for long. Similarly, once they realise you're onto them, and especially if you've demonstrated that you actually threaten their plans in some way, their best option is to kill you. They're not going to leave you hanging around to thwart them, are they? So if you accuse Lord Fiendishly-Vile of being an undead wizard, he typically will not just beat you up and send you packing, saying "let that be a lesson to you!". This is especially true of NPCs who have a role in society or need to inhabit a particular lair: the wandering lunatic may be willing to cut losses and move on, but Lord Fiendishly-Vile has far too much to lose, while the Priest of Urglunk can't abandon the altar at Dore & Totley Station.   Combat spells
One of the factors here is the attack magic. There are a number of hostile spells in the rulebook, but I often feel they're unsuitable for my antagonists, for mechanical or flavour reasons.   For example, Stop Heart requires the caster to plan a cold-blooded murder 24 hours in advance, involves a lot of preparation, takes 1 round to cast, and then might flub. It's appropriate for an assassin (preferably one directed at an NPC, since I don't really want my PCs getting one-shotted by an attack out of nowhere), but is of very little use against a group of PCs, nor is it useful if a fight simply breaks out. A leader type or lone sorcerer probably wouldn't use this.   Wither Limb can (based on the text, at least) permanently hamper an Investigator's ability to do things, quite aside from the damage inflicted. It's not ideal for long-term play, like a campaign where you're trying to maintain some continuity.   Fist of Yog-Sothoth seems like a useful spell, but it's surprisingly hard to use. One MP translates into 1d6 STR (3.5 on average). There's a distance penalty, although that's fine. You then match this STR against the target's CON+STR, which on average will be 20. This means that to have an even chance of knocking out an average human, you want to be investing 6MP, which for most characters is around half their total MP. You also automatically push them STR-SIZ feet, which means usually STR-13. In other words, to knock someone back far enough that they probably don't get to act in the next round (which seems the minimum useful effect of the spell in most situations, cliffs notwithstanding) you probably need to be investing that 6MP. So you can give up half your MP to shove a person back a few feet once, on average. You probably can't actually cast the spell twice with any reasonable chance of success because you'll pass out. This means the spell is actually of quite limited use even to a powerful sorcerer, because its cost scales far more strongly than its usefulness; if you've got enough MP to invest that it's likely to KO targets, you could throw around a whole load of Wracks or some Shrivellings. It's a bit of a shame there isn't a halfway house between "take out of fight" and "gently push".   Implant Fear sounds like a good spell suitable for a sorcerer to drive away enemies, but it costs 12MP to cast. What it actually does is drain a few SAN and cause the target to lose concentration on something. It's entirely up to the Keeper how long this lasts, what it actually means, and what (if anything) they can do in the meantime. It doesn't, for example, state that the person loses control of their actions, runs away and so on. Of course, as Keeper I can do whatever is necessary for it to feel effective in the hands of my antagonist, but I'd really like a bit more structure than this. At a basic level, does it stop the target doing what they were doing, stop them doing anything, make them lose control of their actions entirely, or essentially render them helpless? That's a very important distinction.   Mindblast is a classic, though incredibly unpredictable because it depends on the insanity rolled. It can end up being essentially useless.   Spectral Razor is characterful, though not particularly powerful. As it costs 2 rounds to cast, it's basically unhelpful in most combat situations, especially for a lone character. It's not clear whether you should be rolling to attack with it, which I feel is important. It costs 2MP per round of effect for 1d6 damage, which makes it reasonably priced but at the same time not something most characters can readily keep up for a lengthy fight. If Investigators have firearms, this is not a strong option. If they're able to get into melee range, it's also not a strong option. It's pretty situational, I think - perhaps best suited to a sorcerer with a nice bodyguard of mooks.   Or, you know, you could just use Shrivelling, which seems to be the classic choice from the scenarios I remember. Again, it takes a couple of rounds, during which most groups of Investigators can probably wrestle a single opponent into breaking their chant if not beat them unconscious outright. It's also really quite difficult to use, because you spend MP and then match remaining MP to take effect - this means if you spend enough MP to seriously injure an Investigator most characters don't have enough left to successfully use it,* and if not, it's an ineffectual use of 2 rounds of chanting.   (* I work here on my personal principle that most antagonists do not in fact have godlike POW scores in the 30+ range with which to lay waste to Investigators; obviously this differs between Keepers. I like to keep mine at the mostly-human scale)   I think Wrack is probably the strongest play. It disables a character for a few rounds and is quite cheap to cast, meaning the average sorcerer can still pass the MP roll and even cast it more than once. At the same time, while very disturbing, it has no permanent effects, so you can take several Investigators out without bringing your campaign to a screeching halt.   So! I can easily see how Keepers designing new scenarios have, over time, ended up creating new spells to match the specific situation they want to use them in: this assassination, that ambush, this evil ritual, that climactic final battle. And similarly, I'm going to end up doing the same to equip my antagonists with spells to fit their needs. It is difficult, because for the most part Mythos magic feels like something that should be slow and ritualistic - but unfortunately that doesn't fit well with Investigators' ability to pull out revolvers and spring instantly upon a vulnerable chanting sorcerer.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Fractal Skills in Call of Cthulhu

I had some thoughts about Mythos skill while listening to some podcast or other - I can't remember which one now. Possibly RPPR. You can read a tome about Hastur and suddenly know about Ithaqqua. Or you can sometimes know about byakhees, and sometimes not. It's weird.

An idea came to me that you could introduce a fractal approach to Mythos skills (and indeed others, but let's stick with Mythos for now). This would be a tweak specifically for games where there's quite a lot of Mythos going on, and particularly suitable for long-term campaigns focused on a subset of the Mythos but including elements from other factions.

Basically, there would be a core Mythos skill, called simply Mythos. This is a generic skill that you can always use which works exactly like Cthulhu Mythos does now.

There would also be branching sub-skills which sit on top of that when they are relevant to the roll. Examples would be: Azathoth Mythos Cthulhu Mythos Gla'aki Mythos Hastur Mythos Ithaqqua Mythos Nyarlathotep Mythos Y'golonac Mythos Yog-Sothoth Mythos

You would gain points in the sub-Mythos skills when you have experiences (including reading tomes) that relate primarily to that faction. So if you read The King in Yellow, you would gain Hastur Mythos rather than Mythos, and those points would help you only on Hastur-related rolls. The Necronomicon on the other hand would continue to grant Mythos skill.

So for example, popular weird fiction author Mick Narsh has read The King in Yellow and also had hair-raising encounters with ghouls. He has 6% in Mythos, and 5% in Hastur Mythos. When confronted with a strange pale woman wearing a peculiar badge, he adds them together and rolls on 11% to identify her as a Hastur cultist.

We could even take things further - once you go fractal, why go back...tal? Certain entities or species are specifically associated with a particular deity. If Deep Ones are heavily tied to Cthulhu, they might form a sub-branch of Cthulhu Mythos. R'lyeh might form another. In a campaign focused heavily on the Cthulhu side of the Mythos, and particularly one where Investigators can learn a great deal, this might provide an interesting way for them to build up considerable knowledge of their antagonists. At the same time, it avoids the head-scratcher where all that Deep One exposure somehow teaches them about the Servants of Gla'aki.

(I can't get nested bullets to work correctly, boo, apologies for formatting)   * Mythos
** Azathoth Mythos
**Cthulhu Mythos
***R'lyeh
***Deep Ones
**Gla'aki Mythos
** Hastur Mythos
*** King in Yellow
*** Carcosa
** Ithaqqua Mythos
** Nyarlathotep Mythos
*** The Bloody Tongue
** Y'golonac Mythos
** Yog-Sothoth Mythos

If you did go to that third tier, I'd probably want to adjust the way X Mythos is obtained. I'd tend to suggest that exposure to Deep Ones grants, say, 5% right off the bat. Listening to old Zadok ranting about them gives you a hefty whack of 15% or so. Listening to the cousin locked away in the asylum tell you about his dreams gives you another 10%. Most conversations would be less infodumpy so you'd pick up substantially less, maybe 1d3%.

Basically, I'd make it relatively easy to learn about the "common", relatively-human races. What those skills are going to let you do is primarily recognise their artefacts, the signs left by their plots, a little bit about their cultures and activities, and the creatures themselves. Useful, but not overwhelmingly so, as it doesn't particularly grant an advantage to dealing with the problem. It makes sense to me that having encountered Deep Ones in one scenario, you'd find it relatively easy to recognise another Deep One colony three scenarios down the line.

Another potentially-interesting application here would be if you wanted to run a slightly broader weird campaign that wasn't focused only on the Lovecraft Mythos, and that didn't take the common tack of folding everything into the Mythos somehow. In this situation, you could actually establish other primary branches to sit alongside Mythos. For example, in a game featuring both the Lovecraft Mythos and a fairly traditional sci-fi element, you might have an Aliens branch, whilst in one with a strong fantasy element you might have a Faerie branch.   What about Sanity?
I suppose I envision this kind of mechanic as one where people would end up with relatively large amounts of skill points in the sub-Mythos skills. As such, we need to think how Sanity is going to work.

I'd honestly rather not have the sub-skills demolish maximum SAN to quite the same extent, because that would make it difficult to build up significant amounts of points in more than one faction without going insane. Since this is supposed to be a more nuanced version of the existing Mythos skill, and those X points in 3 factions correspond closely to X points in the existing Mythos skill, they should probably be weighted.

My inclination is probably to say that maximum Sanity would be affected as normal by Mythos points, but that sub-Mythos only caps Sanity for every five points. So gaining 10% in Hastur Mythos would reduce your maximum sanity by 2. Depending how many branches and sub-branches you want to use, this could be less (if only two factions will feature in the campaign, try half) or much more (if you're using a dozen Great Old Ones, use one-tenth). If you want to use sub-sub-skills like Deep One Mythos, I'd reduce those even further.   Is it worth it?   I'm not sure whether this is something I'd actually use - but then I haven't yet managed to run a single campaign, so it's hard to know whether it would be useful. I feel like for a campaign that's very heavy on Mythos content it might add some flavour and granularity; on the other hand, Call of Cthulhu is all about non-granularity with a simple, if swingy, ruleset.

Tracking skills that might hit three-deep levels of nesting is not simple. For people who enjoy that granularity, great. For other people, less great.

In theory you could use a similar system for other skills. It struck me that it might be nice for those who favour a more detailed approach to firearms, and of course you could apply it to scientific or historical skills in a campaign leaning heavily on those. Perhaps that new Time to Harvest thing I'm hearing about, centred on in Miskatonic University?

The difficulty of using it with other skills would be deciding how points would work. It's simple with Mythos, which you simply get. On the one hand, a more specific skill should be cheaper because it's less useful; on the other, that's easily gamed with some skill types, particularly combat skills. For example, someone who plans to use a specific weapon could put all their points into that rather than generic Rifle, because they will only use the XYZ Rifle anyway. That doesn't really work for most other skill types, which aren't as fungible - you can't really use Modern Persian History to roll Ancient Colombian History, for example.

Does this seem like an interesting idea? Would anyone use something like this?

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

December musings and self-pity

It's a while now since I made did very much Cthulhu-related, the Derelict post being the exception. I've had low-level health problems for the last few months which have just cut my available energy, and also made it hard to focus. Since work demands quite a lot of that focus, there's not a lot left for hobbies.   The following self-indulgent, self-pitying whinge is skippable, but there might be some broader points of interest in here somewhere...   Gaming writing (be that scenarios or blogs) is surprisingly demanding. I shouldn't really be surprised by that any more, but a lot of the time I am able to roll out a tolerable post within just a couple of evenings, mulling over the finer points in quiet moments at work. On the other hand, those evenings I tend to suddenly realise it's 11pm and I've been typing editing blogposts for four hours - which goes to show how much attention is actually involved. When I can't muster that focus, it's slow and painful work.   I suspect my particular style of writing doesn't help either. My blogposts tend to be fairly analytical, which means I need to be able to muster the points and arguments in my head, juggle them around, think up counterpoints. I like to understand how things work, mechanically and psychologically. I like to consider counterfactual cases - what if instead they did this? And I do like to feel they're reasonably comprehensive, at least as far as my own capabilities allow. But that sort of thing, while it falls very short of academic writing (thankfully no longer needed), still requires a certain amount of the same skills and almost as much energy.   Case in point: I'm trying to write a follow-up post for The Derelict discussing the issues involved in single-monster scenarios. I have bits of it floating around my head, but it's so frustratingly vague, and I don't have the energy to force it to coalesce. Oh, I can put down a line or two, but I can't hold the article in my head and write in a coherent way, and I quickly run out of motivation. It's not the article, it's just exhaustion.   END WHINE
So! That aside, the year has been okay in gaming terms (though in few others, I think most of us can agree).   I'm waiting for feedback on Lincolnshire II, and hope to look it over again in January with an eye to playtesting it sometime soonish. If it works out well I'm wondering about trying to combine the non-plot parts of both, giving me essentially a Gaslight Lincolnshire resource with two scenarios associated, and then looking to add the third when I feel ready to tackle it again. At the moment I'm duplicating a lot of background material across the two.   As usual I'm getting ideas vastly faster than I could write them, even if I didn't have a day job. Only yesterday I had what I think is quite a cool idea, though it would need a lot of input from some archaeologists. I feel writing a scenario about archaeologists, substantially based on doing archaeology, probably requires more information than even Helen's Handbook supplies. To be fair, I'm already writing one, but it's... let's say less authentic.   I've started listening to The Curse of Ninevah and am enjoying it so far. It's nice having some longer things to mix with the little BBC programmes for my 45-minute walk to work.   One thing that does strike me, as a biggish listener to actual play podcasts, is how grim a lot of it is. There's a lot of Call of Cthulhu (I think it's one of the better games for the format, being low on mechanics and high on events) and I've sort of struggled to find much else since some of my older podcasts ended, but I find many of them are quite bleak or grim. The players tend to be having fun (YSDC certain do, as do RPPR for example) but the games themselves rarely seem upbeat, even when they aren't Lovecraftian horror. I do repeatedly come back to the idea that I'd like to find some positive and cheerful games to play and listen to. Surely it must be possible? Or does the medium just not really lend itself to the kinds of narratives that work that way?   Anyway! I'm hoping Christmas will give me the time (and the break from work) to recover from whatever mystery illness I've got, and recharge for a thoroughly productive 2017. It'd be nice to bludgeon down that Unwritten Scenarios pile a little, especially as there's now at least three campaigns on there - one of which requires essentially writing a full CoC supplement :S

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Reviewish: The Derelict

This is a first impression of The Derelict based on reading the scenario and listening to the YSDC Actual Play. I should highlight right now that it is chocker with spoilers for absolutely everything in the scenario.   Secondly, I should emphasise as always that this is very much a personal take on the scenario, given my own tastes and Keeping inclinations, and the people I tend to game with.   Introduction   The Derelict has an interesting premise, being set in the frozen north and ship-based.   You know, I can’t help noticing that the Godfather of Call of Cthulhu seems oddly reluctant to include Lovecraftian elements in his scenarios? The grandfather of them all, The Haunting, is a standard creepy house story with tenuous links to a cult and a famous tome. The Derelict, meanwhile, is essentially Predator on Ice. Maybe that’s an unfair picture, but I’m not sure exactly which other scenarios he’s written himself.   The scenario’s been praised elsewhere, but I confess I’m underwhelmed, and I want to explore why that is.   Hooked?   The first thing is that the choice of hook is, in the nicest possible way, bizarre. The setup is that the group are travelling by boat across the Atlantic, and spot a wreck embedded in an iceberg. There are two possibilities presented to explain their presence.   In one, they have been hired as salvage crew to track down and retrieve that specific wreck. This is a straightforward background, easy for players to understand. The characters necessarily want to investigate the wreck and are strongly motivated to persevere in salvaging it, because the setup defines them as precisely those sorts of people.   In the second, one player is the owner of a luxury yacht who, having fallen on hard times in North America, has been forced to sell their yacht to a buyer in England, and is now sailing it across the Atlantic while enjoying a “last hurrah†with a group of wealthy friends. This seems an unnecessarily complicated setup with a lot of moving parts. The characters have no inherent motivation to investigate the wreck, let alone to salvage it; the Geneva Convention and the possibility of a reward can help motivate them, but any time the GM has to step in and say “actually, you feel motivated to do X, because Y†it’s a bit unsatisfactory. In addition, extrinsic motivators like this are weak once people realise bad things are happening – especially for characters used to an easy life.   So naturally, the scenario assumes the “luxury yacht†setup and is written up entirely on that basis.   Were I a dilettante and reluctantly persuaded to attempt to salvage a wrecked ship as an annoying interruption from my luxury yacht cruise, you can bet I would be gone the very second I discovered metal doors ripped open with inhuman force and freaking severed hands.   The scenario tries to alleviate this in the pregens, by including personal reasons to care – specifically, the yacht owner is secretly in search of this boat in the hopes of restoring his fortunes. This does provide a reason for him to insist on the salvage attempt, but I think not a great motivation to do so once they realise it’s a scene of carnage.   I wonder whether this is written up from a scenario Sandy might have run, where the dilettantes were the original party, and the pretext they came up with was turned into the basis of the published scenario? It seems like the sort of thing that’d happen in a film, but for a game scenario I’d prefer a simpler, more robust hook.   While the pregens provided do have some personal motivation to engage with the scenario, imagine how strong those motivations could have been if that had instead been applied to pregens for the salvager premise, which is strong to begin with! You could probably even have given them motivations to deal with the horrific stuff and thoroughly search the ship.   The Sciapod   So basically, there’s a scary merman thing that killed everyone on the wreck and is still lurking there. This is the “sciapodâ€, or basically the Predator.   Look, it kills everyone for no particular reason (of which more later), it’s overwhelmingly powerful, it can turn invisible, it’s the Predator.   I feel like the sciapod was unsatisfactory for me as an antagonist, perhaps partly because it seems to operate on narrative convenience rather than on any particular system. It’s supposedly a moderately intelligent creature, around human level.   We’re told that it attacked the crew of the wreck (and now the Investigators) because it wants to eat them; however, it’s left bodies all over the shop. It’s made some effort to put some of the bodies into a tidy pile, providing it with a plentiful larder, so there’s no particular urgency for it to kill the Investigators as well. Supposedly it prefers fresh meat, but in that case, why has it killed a load of people and then eaten small bits of each of them? That doesn’t really fit with the behaviour of hungry things, especially not sentient hungry things. It doesn’t seem to be out of fear, since there’s no evidence that a full crew of 20 men who managed to prepare barricades and Molotov cocktails were any threat whatsoever.   More irritating for me is the fact that the sciapod knows to board each of the ships and to seek out and destroy the radio and controls. In what possible way could it know this? Even as an intelligent creature – and it’s not very intelligent – we have no reason to believe it knows anything about human technology, or that its species has anything remotely equivalent. This is very blatantly something that happens because it’s convenient for the plot, not because it makes sense given the information presented.   There’s also handwaving around the creature’s weaponry; it supposedly creates arrows whenever it needs to but there are two contradictory options presented for how it does this. It matters! Primarily, it matters because I think it’s really quite important in a survival horror situation for the Keeper to know precisely how many arrows the sciapod has available at any one time, and how quickly it can get more. These will affect its behaviour and the choices available to Investigators. I don't necessarily mind which is the answer, but I do care.   If the sciapod has a total of three arrows, then it can make three shots before running out. It would be cautious about using them, even if they can be retrieved. If the sciapod has five arrows but can synthesise more from a crystalline secretion of its body, it’s less cautious, but once it’s loosed all its arrows it takes time to make more; the Investigators can exploit that time to their advantage. If the sciapod has technology that creates an arrow but it takes a couple of rounds, the Investigators can work this out and can seize the opportunity to act just after it’s let off a shot. If the sciapod has technology that magically creates the arrows in an instant when they’re needed, it can keep shooting forever without pause.   A secondary issue is that given what we know of the sciapod, there’s no reason for it not to immediately kill all of the Investigators as soon as the boat’s disabled. It’s made sure they can’t escape. Now if it were planning to keep them alive as a source of fresh food, and slowly pick them off, that makes sense. But that doesn’t actually seem to be what it does; it doesn’t kill one victim at a time and devour them. The evidence of the wreck shows that clearly. And as an intelligent hunter, under no apparent time pressure, there is a very obvious way for it to behave, which is to hang around being invisible until it sees a target, then shoot them.   From the Keeper’s point of view, and the players’, from what I can see here, you want a monster that will slowly and sadistically (and ineffectually) hunt the Investigators in an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse. The problem is that nothing in the scenario seems to give a reason for it to do so. If the Investigators demonstrate that they can actually defend themselves with firearms, it’ll have even more reason to invisibly headshot them. And while it could have been written up as a sadistic killer, it wasn’t.   Some practical matters   The scenario takes as read that all or most of the Investigators will immediately head to the wreck, perhaps leaving one character (likely an NPC) to watch their own boat. This gives the sciapod an easy chance to disable their boat. I think it’s likely players will prefer this option, but it’s also plausible that they’ll stick with in-character motivations and just send a couple of people to check out the wreck.   On the one hand, they should arguably be searching the place in the hopes of finding surviving crew. On the other hand, all the early signs suggest there’s nobody on board, and even the surprisingly tough pregens don’t particularly seem the type of people who’d relish the prospect of finding the starved corpses of the crew. So it wouldn’t be that surprising to me if several or most of them decided to stay on the yacht to begin with, seeing no reason to visit the wreck given their absence of relevant expertise.   While a Keeper could certainly insist on having the sciapod sneak past all the characters and wreck the yacht regardless, it would definitely bend my suspension of disbelief – especially as several of them have silver. On the other hand, I think it would be difficult to handle this otherwise. If they have a surprise encounter and end up with half the party dead at the start of the scenario, that’s not particularly satisfying. Conversely, it’s plausible several party members could surprise it and blow it away with a few lucky shots – it has 45HP, a gun does about 1d10. The odds are low, but not astronomical, especially given point blank is relatively likely.   Actual mistakes   There are some parts of the scenario that just seem to be flat-out wrong.   The first is minor – the notes explain that a “sciapod†means a “uniped or one-footerâ€, but this is contradicted by the profile at the back, where it’s correctly defined as a “shadow-footâ€. It doesn’t make any difference.   A second point, and potentially an important one, is that the game allocates handgun scores and holsters to several characters, but doesn’t actually specify that they have guns! I think a Keeper will probably draw the intended inference, but it’s equally possible to interpret this as meaning that they are skilled with weapons but don’t have any to hand – unless they can recover some from the wreck…   Thirdly, one pregen’s profile makes a big deal of the safe in the captain’s cabin, but there is no safe in the cabin, nor anything to explain why they’ve included this line. I’m pretty sure it’s just an oversight. It’s possible this will result in that character determinedly searching the whole ship, but it’s also possible it’ll just cause confusion and frustration.   But what do you actually do?   One of my reservations about the scenario is that there doesn’t really seem a huge amount that the Investigators can actively do.
The scenario sets to work early to strip the agency from the characters. First their boat is disabled, preventing them from escaping. The radio is also destroyed, preventing them from contacting anyone or seeking further information. The sciapod is invisible to characters not wearing silver, which deprives them of information about what is going on. They can’t easily hide from it, play cat-and-mouse with it, prepare traps for it, or indeed fight it – though it’s pretty clear that the scenario expects them to physically confront it in some manner.   There are a few silver items scattered through the scenario, but the rule is specifically for skin contact with silver – generally even if they do scavenge an item, they’ll drop it in their pockets. As far as I can tell, the scenario doesn’t ever explicitly tell them about the silver rule? It seems quite possible they’ll never work it out.   The players can investigate the boat to discover what’s happened to the crew – i.e. they’ve all been massacred. There’s a little more to discover: the radio operator went conveniently mad on glimpsing the sciapod and smashed the radio, and one of the crew had a book about a Norse saga which briefly mentions encountering a similar creature but provides no useful information whatsoever.
The crew obviously attempted to defend against it in various logical ways, which failed. This might inspire the Investigators but could equally be interpreted as “this won’t work, don’t try itâ€.   I dunno, what with being superhumanly strong and superhumanly tough and able to kill characters with a single arrow at long range while being completely invisible, there really don’t seem many options for the Investigators to do anything at all about the sciapod.
They can’t radio for help. They can’t run away, because there’s nowhere to run to and they can’t see what they’re running from. They can’t easily hide, because their pursuer is invisible and there’s not many hiding places and it’s strong enough to rip steel doors off their hinges. They can’t wait it out because nobody’s coming.   Oddly enough, one of the few things they can do is just attack it. Two of the team can see the creature due to worn jewellery, and one has a silver-handled knife that might help. With an array of firearms between them they can do considerable damage to it in a relatively short time. Or they might get slaughtered en masse.   However, I suspect their odds are still much better with massed fire than if they attempt anything that might seem clever, sensible or interesting, because they’re incredibly vulnerable otherwise. The sciapod with its bow has a far longer effective range than they do and no ammunition limit. It will readily massacre anyone who gets into close combat with them – although, oddly, Dennis has a higher Fighting roll, so with a series of lucky rolls Dennis might be able to fend it off for several rounds. Matthew has a high Dodge, so might be able to block a corridor while weaving enough to avoid getting hurt, allowing the others to shoot it. Yes, they can shoot it in combat. It’s twice their size, they are not going to hit Matthew by mistake.   Basically, having a very quick look at the odds… okay, point blank is actually quite likely by the time they get to see it, which negates the penalty for multiple shots. There are at least three firearms, which is let’s call it six shots by the time this happens due to party-splitting and deaths, which means roughly three hits, which is about 16 damage on average. If any of those gets an extreme success they’ll do an extra 10 damage, and the odds are about even with six shots. So they can probably drop it to half its HP in one round, and kill it in three rounds if enough of them survive. It might massacre them all, it might also decide discretion is the better part of valour.   So yes, I think the most sensible and effective way to address being hunted by an invisible predator would be to all hunker down somewhere waiting for it, and then unload everything they have in the hope of killing it. Not an especially entertaining playstyle, to be honest.   What is fun?   I think ultimately this one boils down to being a different kind of fun. For me, this seems like the setup for a horror film or book: a series of events and decisions made by very specific characters (finding the wreck, deciding to investigate, the sciapod implausibly destroying the controls) leave them trapped with this creature, and the audience gets to see whether anyone can make it out alive. The decisions are not necessarily sensible, but are made through dramatic necessity and based on drives built into the characters. In a purely narrative medium, the timing of attacks can be planned and explained away, characters can be isolated for reasons that make sense, and you can avoid things falling flat.   As a player, I think I’d just find it frustrating, because I can’t see anything relevant that I can actually do. There’s not a great deal to interact with. I can’t get the satisfaction of piecing together an elaborate mystery despite my inevitable death, because there’s no such thing: the monster has no origin, no explanation, the crew were not engaged on a horrific plan or mystical experiment, there’s no cool revelations about What’s Really Going On or the nature of the universe.   I might be able to attempt a far-fetched plan to destroy the sciapod if I survive long enough to do so, but given the dice mechanics of Call of Cthulhu combined with the deadliness of the monster, I doubt I’d get more than one attempt, so it doesn’t become an intriguing puzzle for me to solve.   Meanwhile, as a Keeper I get a lot of my satisfaction from watching players work it out. Now here there is some scope, because it may take a while for them to understand about the monster, work out the nature of the sciapod and what happened on the ship. This is, I think, the most promising meat of the scenario. On the downside, there isn’t any particular research they can do to cast additional light on the situation, nor does understanding the sciapod business really help them.   The Keeper has to try and find a good balance of sciapod attacks. You can’t play it too cleverly, since as far as I can tell, it would be very easy for the sciapod to wipe out the party in a boring manner. I’ve seen other Keepers describe having it ambush them underwater, tip over boats and so on. While these are clearly narratively effective, I personally dislike having one-strike events that take a player out entirely.   It just seems like this scenario consists of the characters wandering round a ship helplessly, finding a series of horrible things, with the Keeper kindly holding off on attacking them until it seems like a good time to kill the chosen character.   It’s clear that other people don’t feel the same. I’ve seen very favourable feedback, and that does make me question my own take. I wonder whether this is down to other Keepers enjoying the pure horror format significantly more than I do; I’ve never been interested in disempowerment fantasy and I play the game for the weird rather than for the horror. Some of those who’ve reviewed it clearly did find getting their characters picked off one by one entertaining. I felt like I’d be getting to the point of actively seeking to get my character killed, because in some ways that feels more satisfying than doing things I believe to be pointless.   It may well be that this is one of those things that doesn't fit my brain, and maybe another Keeper could spin it to feel rich and fun if I were in their game, despite the potential issues I've noticed. Entirely plausible. All I can do is give my perspective.   Final thoughts   There is a lot of potential in the scenario despite my reservations. The situation feels promising, the ship plans are good and I think the pregens are also interesting.   I think part of my issue with it is actually down to the sciapod itself. I am musing on a theory that lone monsters are structurally problematic in RPGs, especially compared to other media, but now isn’t the time.   If I were to run this, I think I’d probably want to redesign the sciapod in some ways. I’d definitely want to sit down and seriously think about how sciapods work, because I really do not like its arbitrary and plot-convenient knowledge of human vehicle technology; I’d want an explicit idea of what it does understand and what it doesn’t, so as to plan its behaviour and react appropriately and consistently to player choices. Similarly, I’d want to establish exactly how it behaves with relation to human prey, and change some of the evidence accordingly.   I’d also want to look for a way that the players can find out something meaningful. As the scenario’s designed, it really is just a case of “go to wrecked boat, get attacked by inexplicable monster, try to escapeâ€. The one bit of “research†in the scenario only serves to say that someone else encountered it before, providing neither any meaningful background that gives the adventure a new dimension, nor any useful information to inform their actions. At the very least I’d like to have a clue that specifically points them to the importance of silver.   Honestly, I would probably also want to add something more Lovecraftian to the scenario, giving it some greater meaning beyond simply being a monster on a boat.   I’d definitely look to run it with the boat salvage crew. I would probably want to give these motivations that extend beyond simply being hired to do an everyday job, so that they’re keen to investigate the gory wreck itself. This might well mean making one or more of them characters with a better idea of what’s going on. There could be occult motivations, or a desire to retrieve some important object – perhaps something stored in that mysteriously-absent safe. After all, what brought this boat to the iceberg in the first place, and what lured the sciapod to it?   Finally, I think I might want to include more than one monster; but that’s another article for another time.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Winter Writings

So it's been a hell of a year in various ways, but I have made some progress with various bits and pieces.   I'm pleased to have turned out a reasonably functional version of my second major scenario (a second Gaslight Lincolnshire piece) and am waiting to hear back - I've had some nice initial feedback that I need to act on.   I've also managed to do a little fiction writing, which is always nice, and worked on a couple of non-Lovecraftian RPG projects because that's the butterfly-like way I work.   My list of scenario ideas and works in progress grows ever longer. As well as my third Gaslight scenario on the back burner awaiting inspiration, I've got a string of things I'd really like to have the time and energy to attack properly. Alas, employment intervenes... I am trying to work on a rather different, pulpy scenario at present (one of several scenarios I've got a decent chunk of written). I'm actually finding this harder in some ways though.   My previous scenarios have tended to be more about presenting a situation for the characters to explore, mostly built around exploration and piecing together clues. This one is more about events. I want to make it a lighter, pacier scenario (given my last two clocked in around the 100 page mark) with much less in the way of elaborate clue networks, using fewer punchier clues instead.   In theory this should mean considerably less work, which would be great. In practice, I'm not used to it and I suspect it's not my natural style. On the other hand, I could really do with being able to knock out a scenario in less than six months, so I want to keep going. I hit the four-hour completed scenario mark once and I'd really like to get there again...   It is frustrating having so many ideas, but not having the time or focus to work on them all though!

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

"Polaris" and "He": thoughts on handling difficult protagonists

I've been re-listening to the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast archives recently, because it's awesome and I currently need a lot of undemanding familiar distraction.   It's actually an excellent fit for this mood, because it has the advantages of literature (some very skillful prose); talkshows (entertaining banter which doesn't mind if you can't catch every word); and non-fiction, in that although the show has an arc and direction, it's not actually a dramatic narrative, which means no deliberate playing on my emotions.   Anyway, this week I've heard both Polaris and He. Both of these are, to me, interesting concepts and narratives with some strong passages, but hampered by the explicitly racist viewpoints of the protagonists. Given Lovecraft's known attitudes, and the lack of any obvious counternarrative or in-story contradiction of the protagonist's thoughts, there's no way to separate protagonist-racism, author-attitude, and story-reality.   It's unfortunate, because in both cases there are comprehensible reasons why the narrator in question could feel a strong personal prejudice in character, without it reflecting an author's views.   Polaris' narrator believes their entire civilisation was destroyed by what they considered inhuman barbarians (and there's no particular reason to question that description, except that it apparently covers Inuit, Eskimos and other polar cultures).   He's (His???) narrator is lonely and despairing in a city he hates and apportions much of the blame to the poor, oppressed immigrants fighting to get by; partly because they're competitors, partly because his dream of life in an elegant and artistic city in no way matches the harsh reality, and one of the main identifiable differences is the large number of non-whites and poor people he ends up living amongst, so he attributes the shortfall to their presence. I'm sure there's more in-depth analysis you could do there.   The thought which struck me as I was listening to Polaris, and then seemed to apply to He as well, is that I still think you could do an interesting adaptation of both which avoided this uncomfortable aspect. Film, comic, audiobook, doesn't matter. What you would need to do, essentially, is to thoroughly flesh out who these protagonists are and where they're coming from.   In He, I think you could keep it relatively sympathetic. The wilder claims of the narrator - that the immigrants don't have dreams, for example - could be dismissed by an adapted text as the wild hyperbole of temporary emotion, the same kind that has us mentally condemning crowds on the train when we're exhausted and just want to get home. I don't actually hate those people, whatever I might mutter under my breath. His views are clearly not factual anyway, but given the right context it can feel like an indication of the strength of the narrator's alienation, rather than a specific prejudice, and I feel like it could be used to good effect.   Similarly, I think you could present the claims that New York is 'dead' as a reflection of his despair at the shattering of his illusions about the big city and its life, rather than it coming across as a loathing for immigrants who have supposedly devoured it. And the core of He is a demonstration of that - the supposed true, beautiful, historical heart of the city is shown to have always been a lie; the city was stolen from Natives, the one genuine persistance through the centuries is this monstrous murderous sorcerer who he thought was a kindred spirit, and his magic window demonstrates unquestionable that the only true constant in the universe is change.   The horrible future vision, meanwhile, could be certainly eerie and alien, but the actual people should either be genuinely and clearly inhuman, or else carefully presented as merely foreign, so that the narrator's reaction once again clearly marks his own mindset and mental state. His distress, in the latter case, could be ascribed again to the realisation that everything familiar and dear to him will pass away, to be replaced by an unrecognisable culture he would find alien and terrifying.   Polaris' narrator, alas, I don't think can be treated so kindly, because of the Inutos and their real-world parallel.   I think the way to handle this one is to make our narrator clearly unreliable, and show that their beloved culture is not anything like as noble and pure as they claim, nor their opponents (and particularly, the real-life Inuit) so dreadful. The Polarians can be made cold, contemptuous, cruel, arrogant - their city might be filled with mistreated slaves or beasts, they might actually be servants of some Mythos being, they might seem inhuman themselves. In fact, making them abnormally tall and gaunt would help to counter the 'squat...' description of the Inutos. None of this seems to contract anything in the actual text, so I think it's viable.   The Inutos, meanwhile, could be presented as anything from simply ordinary raiders attacking a not-particularly-nice civilisation, to no worse than the Polarians, to actually the heroes of the piece. And of course, in the final section where the real Eskimos are touched on, there is a great opportunity to silently naysay the narrator's attitudes by depicting normal, kindly, loving people going about perfectly reasonable business.   Nothing particularly important here, just some musings I thought I'd share.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Passing realisations on summoning

So I was reading up on monster summoning spells... for no reason (ahem)... and just noticed this in the sidebar:   If a success, one being appears per spell, 2d10 game minutes after the chant concludes.   2d10 game minutes. Not "immediately". I'm pretty sure it's been immediate in most of the games I've heard feature summoning spells, because summoning things in combat seems cool. But no, you can't summon a byakhee during a fight, even by blowing a magic whistle.   Am I unusually dense? Do other Keepers handwave this because they like the idea of rapid monster summoning? Has everyone else also missed this?   More generally: it's much easier to summon a dimensional shambler, dark young or hunting horror (or even a Brother of Chaugnar Faugn) than a nightgaunt, because Elder Signs are super rare, whereas knives and sentient beings are practically ten a penny. I'm sure it's been mentioned before, but I suspect nobody actually checks before ruling whether a byakhee or fire vampire can be summoned. I wonder whether the ones in Orient Express are legit? similarly, I wonder whether anyone checks before having Dark Young appear.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Reviewish: Grave Secrets

This is a spoileriffic review of Grave Secrets, by Brian Courtemanche.   Grave Secrets falls into an common spot for me, but for uncommon reasons. That spot is "scenarios that seems intriguing but I'd find very difficult to actually use". The reasons are that there's an interesting premise with a whole bunch of stuff I don't like behind it.   The scenario begins with a paragraph to set the atmosphere, and a one-page overview for the keeper that thoroughly outlines what's going on, including the major players and the supernatural basis for it all.   There are four pregen characters, and the scenario is somewhat built on the assumption that they're used, although other characters could be used with some care. The difficulty would, as usual, be finding a way to plausibly involve them in the plot, even once getting them to the town is taken care of. Of the four, two have personal connections to the Bell family (the victims) and another is a doctor summoned to help diagnose them. The fourth is a bit of a wild card and it's harder to justify why a pulp writer would be enlisted in the case, even as an "educated man".   Beginning Play   The Investigators are pregens with their own reasons for being in town. They are all expected to take an interest in the misfortunes of the Bell family, who are slowly dying off.   The scenario does a thorough job of introducing the player characters and throwing them some initial bones. There are a few short initial scenes where they're brought together and their accommodation is set up, followed by introducing the hook. Courtemanche also takes care to note how NPCs will react to each of the Investigators, which is potentially useful - another factor that pushes for using the pregens.   There's a considerable amount of written dialogue (well, monologue) to present information to the Investigators, rather than statements of facts. Some Keepers may enjoy this as it offers a chance to get into character; others will prefer to simply have facts to hand to bring up in response to Investigators' questions.   To put matters briefly, the "disease" is actually a death-curse laid on the family by one of its own. Everett Bell was an adulterer, engaged in an incestuous relationship with his sister Mercy. His wife Amy was too paralysed by shame to intervene, but finally took a stand when Mercy became pregnant, and persuaded Everett to end things once and for all by murder.   Mercy laid a curse on the family as she died, and has returned as a wraith through the lingering power of a Native American holy site on which the village was built. She is a spectre of pure malevolence, slowly draining the Bell children of life.   There actually isn't a huge amount of clue-type information here, despite the length of the scenario. A great deal of the space is devoted either to verbatim dialogue, or to quite lengthy descriptions of locations. This may make it somewhat awkward to wing things if Investigators take any approach other than the expected one, since digging out actual facts from the wodges of text isn't quick.   As the Investigators move around the town and ask questions, they encounter the main NPCs: the Bell family, the amiable doctor, a zealous preacher, and eventually Injun Joe. From the doctor they'll learn that the locals plan to do something drastic, though not what.   Somehow or other, they'll probably get the idea that Mercy was pregnant. Whether they act on this, and if so how, is another matter. It's possible to get this information but not pick up on the second issue: that she was murdered. If they visit the graveyard, they'll also probably work out that there's something supernatural happening.   The hints of Native American influence in the area may actually complicate matters here. It's possible players will interpret these hints, including possibly finding an arrowhead near Mercy's grave, as signs that the Bells angered native spirits of some kind - whatever the author might have dreamed up, essentially.   Resolutions   There are basically three ways for the scenario to play out.   The first is to do nothing or give up. Mercy will continue to consume her relatives, then move onto the rest of the town. Investigators will probably have left by this point, and may have no means of solving the mystery anyway.   The second is to do very little. The preacher has set in motion plans to disinter Mercy, who he suspects of being an evil spirit due to her "suicide", and staking her to free the family from her curse. This will actually work. The text says explicitly that the plan doesn't work unless the Investigators participate, which on the one hand is clearly aimed at making sure it's the Investigators who resolve matters, but on the other is mildly irritating to me on some level. Regardless, if they simply go along to the graveyard with the townspeople, it'll all work out. There is no reason they need to participate in any meaningful way.   The third is for them to seek out Injun Joe, obtain a power that will reveal Mercy's wraith, then confront her in a dangerous POW-POW battle that's reasonably likely to permanently cripple the Investigator in question. Mathematically, she has POW 16, and she drains 1d6-1 CON fron a losing Investigator, which is more than 1/3 of everyone's CON. However, these are not really intended for continuing play, so that's fair enough. It's worth bearing in mind, though, that three of the four characters are actually liable to die if they persist in trying to defeat Mercy, just looking at the maths.   If they succeed, they can choose whether to confront Everett, reveal his secret, and so on.   General notes   The scenario is clearly designed to play to a specific sort of genre: the gothic backwoods small-town American morality horror. The fire-and-brimstone preacher, gossipy landlady, well-meaning doctor and shifty farmers are all classic tropes, as is the sexual sin that sparks all the trouble. This also goes some way to explaining the Native American elements.   It also seems to be aimed at encouraging ambient play, with the Investigators taking in their surroundings, chatting to people, eating and drinking and generally immersing themselves in the in-game trappings of the story. Although there is a mystery to investigate, much of the plot seems likely to come as revelation from NPCs rather than part of a systematic line of investigation.   A lot of care has gone into preparation, from the dialogue crafted to evoke each NPC, to the consideration of their attitudes to each of the Investigators. The pregen Investigators are thoroughly tied into the scenario between this and their own backgrounds. There are also a nice selection of creepy episodes available to throw in as necessary, including both generic events, and some more direct ones that occur if the town decides to dig up Mercy's corpse.   Layout and so on   The scenario suffers from the same layout problems as the rest of this book, with sidebars and maps placed erratically rather than where they're of most use to the Keeper. Otherwise, the information seems to be laid out in a useful order.   Unfortunately, as I said above, the information doesn't feel to me as though it's presented in a very gameable way. It is densely written and I found it difficult to extract nuggets of information from the long blocks of text: who knows what? where do the clues lead? and so on. I think the presentation of information here inclines strongly towards it running as quite a linear game, and one in which the Keeper spends a lot of time reading out or paraphrasing descriptions, and reciting prewritten monologues.   Cultural Sensibilities   So one of the reasons why I don't particularly care for this scenario is the whole Native American thing. Now, I appreciate that many people are spectacularly unbothered by old-fashioned portrayals of Native American topics, so they don't need to worry about it here either. For me, though, it's a distinct negative.   We have several elements that come together here. The site of the village is supposedly a holy site abandoned long before the settlers arrived, which is very close to the old cliché of the Old Indian Burying Ground that causes all the problems. And indeed, the text explicitly highlights that the only reason Mercy returns as a wraith is the "Lingering Shamanic Energies" of the place.   I sort of want to question whether there's any reason Native American holy sites should cause a white woman to return in what seems like a rather European manner, but I don't even know enough to do that well.   Secondly, we have Injun Joe. The last of his tribe, Injun Joe is a loner who lives on the edge of town in a primitive shack, which is nevertheless full of meaningful artefacts. Despite the death of his entire tribe, he is a shaman who has inherited most of their knowledge somehow. He's a powerful mystic who sells love potions, but also ekes out a living doing poorly-paid jobs around town. Oh, and he's probably an immortal sorcerer.   I dunno. I mean, I can see an argument that being a marginal loner whose social status is erratic is actually fairly plausible for a surviving Native American around a settler community. On the other hand, everything about this character just feels tired and clichéd and I'd personally expect rolled eyes and disappointed looks if I included him in a game for my players. There couldn't be a small group of Natives, most of them entirely ordinary, only one of whom knows anything? He has to be not only a potion-maker, but also randomly immortal?   It's a bit of a difficult one, because it is something of a genre trope, and when trying to invoke a genre we lean on those. But I feel these are pernicious in a way that the Firebrand Preacher, say, just isn't. You could argue that the Incestuous Yokel has its own issues, and I can't disagree, but it doesn't have quite the same history of oppression and erasure as Native Americans have.   Content warning   The tone of the scenario is pretty grim, and it's not something I'd be comfortable with, on several axes.   To begin with, the focal point of the entire scenario is incest; and the scenario takes care to highlight that if given the opportunity by players, Everett will later progress from an apparently-consensual relationship with his sister to abusing his own daughters, result in suicide and another murder. This is simply not the sort of fare I'm looking for when I sit down to run an RPG, nor play one. Obviously this is a matter of personal taste.   More generally, the scenario is deeply depressing all round. Most of the children are already dead. Even if you could have saved more, Everett's shadow hang's long over them: either they'd be left victims of his future abuse (as the scenario dictates); find out what happened, leave him, and try to eke out a scandal-blighted life in the knowledge of his sins and crimes against them all; or, the only real third option, be left to mourn for a father who either killed himself or went irrevocably mad. Mercy's fate was miserable and tragic. The Reverend's plan involves a grisly and unedifying mutilation and will still leave the community under the shadow of a horrific "suicide" and the knowledge that evil spirits are actually out to get them. Injun Joe's lost tribe are merely a tragic afterthought to the whole miserable business, even though their extinction is probably a much worse tale than this if history is anything to go by.   The issue there isn't simply that it's unremittingly miserable, but that I don't think there is a single uplifting moment to be found. Even any triumph is robbed of its glory by the inevitable ruin of the Bell family, if not the community as a whole. That is very much not something I want from a game. If I want to experience a series of miserable revelations possibly followed by a hollow victory, I have only to open a newspaper. Again, tastes will differ!   It's also worth bearing in mind that some people will be very uncomfortable with harm to children in particular, and things like the ghostly foetus may upset them. It's worth finding this sort of thing out in advance.   Issues with the scenario   My main concern about the scenario from a practical point of view is that there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of need for the Investigators. No, bear with me here. There are at least two or three people who know about the incest. At least one person (the Doctor) knows that Mercy was pregnant and is, as the text highlights, in a position to make the connection. The community has already realised that an evil spirit is at work. They know about Injun Joe more than the Investigators do, so are perfectly capable of getting his help to find and banish Mercy's spirit. If not, the Reverend's little ritual would actually work - it's only author fiat that means it won't if the Investigators aren't involved, and that's down to chance rather than anything actually wrong with the plan.   Essentially, the only thing the Investigators need to do here is have some things revealed to them, possibly make a couple of connections that the locals are entirely capable of making, and then watch the locals deal with the problem. They can get a bit more involved in things if they want, but it's not actually necessary. Because of this, I'm not really sure what Investigators can do to actively engage with the scenario. Sometimes this revelatory style of scenario is what a group is looking for, but I would prefer to have more idea about how they can tackle it proactively.   A secondary problem is that players may well not be expecting ghosts in a Call of Cthulhu game, less still classic morality-based ghosts. Personally, I think I'd be hunting around for mystical texts, wondering what horrific entity could have impregnated Mercy (the whole story has a strong Dunwich Horror note to it) and looking for signs of aliens or ghouls. I appreciate the Investigators wouldn't necessarily want to do that, but as a player that's the grain I'd expect to be running with - and Investigators shouldn't be looking for vengeful incest-ghosts either!   Verdict   This is simply not a scenario I'm going to run, ever. There's a nicely detailed (although not super accessibly-written) community here that might come in for other uses, but neither the tone nor the plot are things I'd want in my game. It's not written for me. And that's fine.   On a slightly different note, I appreciate that sexism was even more of a thing in the 1920s, but the scenarios in this book seem particularly keen to penalise female characters, from the possibility of being randomly murdered as a throwaway event of no relevance to the actual plot in Death by Misadventure, to the smug condescension they'll face in this scenario.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Keeping the ball rolling

So things have descended into a certain amount of inactivity on this blog, basically because my attention is elsewhere. I still plan to write up my experiences running The Perishing of Sir Ashby Phipps more thoroughly, but have been sidetracked.   My main reason is that I've moved almost seamlessly into writing another scenario, also set in Gaslight Lincolnshire. I'm actually trying something a bit different here and at Paul's suggestion I have a thread in the Silver Lodge where I'm posting about the writing process as I do it. On the downside, I'm afraid this does mean it's only visible to Patrons. I'm hoping the interactive nature of the forum will lend itself more to people chipping in or critiquing, and also handle the sheer amount of material better. However, I'll try to put up occasional posts about Incredibly Mysterious Scenario here. I suppose to some extent I'm also a bit loath to put quite that much information about a scenario up for public viewing, as it will be extremely spoilery and writing it is likely to take a good while (Perishing took 2 years). The semi-private nature of the Lodge makes me more comfortable spilling every bean in sight.   I'm still making occasional tweaks to Perishing based on the feedback from my group. I've added a map in one section, so players can piece information together themselves instead of just getting the explanation from the Keeper. I still need to make a timeline.   Otherwise, I'm just generally a bit busy right now. I've got a bunch of non-Cthulhu blogging to catch up on, some translations to finish, and I hope to review The Cthulhu Mythos Megapack here once I've finished the remaining stories (though I'm interspersing them with other stuff to cleanse my palate). There's also some family-related busyness, and sadly my current full-time job doesn't leave slack time for extensive blogging and reviewing the way some previous jobs have.   One other thing that'll show up sooner or later is another Cthulhu prop, but I'm waiting until it's safely reached its destination. The writeup of Perishing is slow because I need to listen back to the recording to make sure I get things right, and to take editing notes as I go.   As my players said, it takes a ... very particular type of person to spend two years writing a scenario, and the butterfly-like nature of my interests is a big part of that.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

The playing of Sir Ashby Phipps

So this weekend I finally managed to run the long-awaited playtest of The Perishing of Sir Ashby Phipps.   (This post is spoiler-free.)   Amongst other benefits, this means I no longer have to try and keep the details of the scenario to myself; I can actually discuss it with the close friends with whom I typically talk about all things gamey.   I was very nervous about running things. First off, in purely practical terms, it’s a really long time since I ran anything, particularly Call of Cthulhu. I think about a year. Even longer since I ran anything for this group. So I was feeling rather rusty.   Also, having spent about two years writing this scenario, obviously I had a lot of expectations and investment in it, so there was a lot of pressure for it to be worth all that effort!   And in general I don’t have a lot of self-confidence, so there’s that too.   Anyway, doubts were put thoroughly to rest by the playtest.   The hurdles   I ran into several early hurdles that gave me cause for concern.   The first one was that the version I’d carefully printed before travelling turned out to inexplicably omit all the text boxes. This wasn’t a huge problem, but I’d used them for a lot of marginal notes and Keeper tips, and was rather frustrated. I ended up running with my laptop instead.   The second, and the most painful, was that it turned out my players had lost their character sheets. I’d planned the scenario as a follow-up to a scenario someone else ran a couple of years ago, but we were unable to use the same characters. Rather than try to recreate them, they opted to make new characters. We kept the same theme and tone, but this meant the various little hooks and easter eggs I’d buried in the scenario were rendered useless. It didn’t really affect the game, but it was a missed opportunity and I was pretty sad about it.   The game   The scenario basically ran very much as I’d hoped. We started fairly slowly, with lots of questioning and detective-like behaviour. They obviously had several notions that they quickly quashed as evidence came to light. To my delight, I was able to drop in bits of foreshadowing without anyone immediately leaping on them and obsessively chasing them down (always a concern), which meant the later realisations and revelations were much sweeter.   The research section was something I was a little concerned about, but it worked out well. They asked specific questions that I had specific answers to, and I was able to reward them with handouts. We realised that I could copy-paste handout text and send it to their various mobiles, which they seemed to really like – in the case of non-English books I sent them only the general description, and only provided the text later once they’d arranged for translation.   After a second round of follow-up questions, something clicked and they began piecing together the evidence. It was a joy and a delight to watch, as they put together exactly the deductions I’d hoped, pulling out recurring themes from their handouts and research, and making the hoped-for leaps of logic to deduce roughly what was going on. The players were clearly revelling in the feeling of being detectives (they said as much later) and for me it was just about perfect.   Interestingly, several entire strands of investigation were not followed up. They didn’t need to do so, and I was again pleased that I’d built the scenario to support multiple viable routes that allowed for a resolution.   By taking a cautious and sensible approach, the group managed to negotiate the final stages of the main scenario without provoking a confrontation. I wasn’t sure how they’d feel about this; a confrontation is a big theme of CoC scenarios, and brings a sense of closure. One of my main motivations for writing Perishing was to create a scenario where you didn’t have an obligatory confrontation as the climax of the scenario. Thankfully, the consensus was that it was satisfying to be able to step in and resolve the mystery using good sense and practical steps, before anything came to a head.   They didn’t choose to follow up leads to the epilogue section of the scenario; it’s hard to tell how much this was down to not really noticing those threads, and how much was simply lack of time. Due to living a long way from my group, running it as a single one-shot proved the most viable option. As a result we were all getting a bit tired, and running up against the six-hour barrier. Food and buses to other towns also become a concern. On the whole though, people stayed very focused and full of energy, which was really gratifying.   I do think it would work better as two or three shorter sessions, but I was very concerned that trying to run sessions weeks apart would just mean nobody remembered anything and all the immersion was broken. As it’s so reliant on investigation and gathering bits of clues, I don’t think it survives fragmentation as well as some other scenarios – it’s a downside of trying to write a subtle and information-heavy scenario.   Feedback and observations   Most of the feedback is relatively general and very positive, which is great. I recorded the session and discussion, though I won’t be making it public as not all of the group are comfortable with that. It’s still very useful to me though!   There were three main, modest points raised by the group.   Firstly, some players suggested that the very detailed setting of the first section was a little problematic. Since the climax of the scenario doesn’t take place there, they found that a little disappointing after investing in the rich setting. It also, I suspect, gave some slightly false expectations. We weren’t sure about this one. There were counter-points from other players, that people do generally tend to invest heavily in whatever they see first, and that reducing the detail might just detract from one of the big selling-points of the scenario. I said I’d consider whether anything can be done to pull some more of that detail into the later stages of the scenario.   Some players also felt I had perhaps too many NPCs in the early stages, most of whom don’t contribute extra detail. It’s a tricky one because it can feel hollow to have a country house with apparently only two occupants and one or two servants. I opted originally for multiple servants who can give slightly different perspectives, and offer different routes to similar information; I feel in some ways this is stronger than having X servants, each of whom has one clue to extract. I’m still mulling this one over.   A third point was a trick I missed with the research stage. There’s a certain pattern that players can deduce by tracking certain events (apologies for coyness!). A player rolled a 01 after asking specifically for that information, so I straight-up explained to her what the pattern was and its implications. The scenario suggests this is a series of two or three rolls or follow-up questions.   She pointed out afterwards that although it rewards the roll, what it also does is remove the opportunity for the player to discover the pattern for themselves and get that feeling of being a real-life detective. Instead, she suggested I provide a map and a list of locations, which the players can use to map it out themselves and draw the correct conclusions. It’s a great idea (wish I’d thought of it!) and I’ll certainly be adding that to the scenario.   It was also suggested that I need to draw out an accurate timeline of events, and that’s true, I probably should.   Next steps   So, I played the game with the group it was written for. It was a huge success and I am made up as anything. What now?   Well, I do want to try and get this beast published. I could self-publish it of course (though Monographs are no more, alas) but that can be hard work, personally expensive, and also will result in a relatively low-quality product. I have no illusions about my ability to provide plans, maps and illustrations of the calibre people generally seem to want. So ideally I’d like to find a publisher who will be able to find artists and cartographers, and provide an awesome layout, and all that sort of thing.   Letting aside the difficulty of actually finding such a person – one playtest by the author isn’t a huge sample. So I’m now looking out for people interested in running the scenario themselves, and prepared to record sessions and get feedback from their players. Do give me a shout if you’re interested.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Professional skills

How skills work is of course a much-chewed-over topic here on Yoggie. The BRP system is inclined to be somewhat swingy, and while usually more or less fine for the rules-light game I want, it sometimes produces results that feel unsatisfying. The most common of these are when characters who are skilled professionals nevertheless fail to do something that's part of everyday routine in their profession.   To be more specific, this usually means the character is attempting something their profession requires them to do regularly and reliably, and there is no active opposition to their efforts.   Let's take a detective for our example. Jane Blunt has been walking the mean streets for ten years after another ten on the force. Asked to investigate SusCo, she walks around the site looking bored and carrying some forms, occasionally peering at guttering. When someone slips out of the fire escape for a fag break, she calmly steps inside. Is this legal, wonders the player?
* Jane rolls Law. Assuming she has a 70% in Law, there is a 30% chance she can't remember the laws applicable to gaining entry to a premises, even though that's pretty fundamental to her job.
Jane wanders into the office of Theo Cashfist, the corrupt director of the firm. Before waiting patiently in his chair with her feet on the table, she examines the paperwork.
* Jane rolls Accounting. Although she spends hours every day discovering people's dirty secrets by reading their paperwork, with a 70% in Accounting, 30% of the time she won't notice that money is being siphoned out of the company into Cashfist's account.   Similarly, we have the expert medic who repeatedly fails First Aid rolls to apply bandages, the professor of art history who can't spot a Van Gogh in a pile of dross, the occultist who mysteriously misses all the satanic references in The Satanist's Little Book of Satan References, and so on and so forth. Of course, all this depends on just when the Keeper chooses to ask for a roll, which is a big question.   I tend to be a bit lenient for the sake of verisimilitude, so generally I just won't ask for a roll if when I think the character concerned shouldn't have a realistic chance of failing at it. If there is an actual doctor in your party, they should be able to splint your leg providing there are no other deleterious circumstances. If a private eye searches an office for handguns without any time pressure, unless the handgun is somewhere truly bizarre, they should find it. If a police officer is challenged on the legality of an arrest, they should know the answer (no matter what answer they actually give).   If you wanted to mechanise this formally, there's a couple of ways you can do it.   The simpler one would be to rule that whenever you roll one of your occupation skills on a routine task, and there are no particular adverse circumstances, you always achieve an ordinary success. This means the doctor can always vaccinate a willing patient, splint a leg in a quiet office, and so on. If they're trying to sedate a violent maniac, or stitch a wound on a storm-tossed ship, that's no longer routine.   The disadvantage of that approach is that the rubbish Doctor Beergut (Medicine & First Aid 10%) will always succeed at these, as will the amazing Doctor Lifesaver (Medicine & First Aid 90%). That might feel unsatisfying for both players - although the rest of the party will surely thank them.   A slightly fiddlier one would rule that whenever you roll one of your occupation skills on a routine task, and there are no particular adverse circumstances, you double your skill. Doctor Beergut will have a meagre 20% success rate with those vaccinations, Dr. Lifesaver will always succeed (depending how you want to treat botches) and Dr. Jobsworthy (50%) will also always succeed. This might be a good way to avoid any strange mechanics where it becomes sensible to take occupation skills and not spend points in them because you always roll them for routine activities.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

On Cults of Chaos

So, Chaosium have the Cult of Chaos going on, and it's a great idea. It's a thing people have done throughout the history of the hobby, and it's just better all round if there's active support for that from Chaosium.   I'm intrigued by the idea, partly because it seems like a way to meet people with compatible tastes. I moved recently, and currently have exactly zero friends within... several counties, and it's really freakin' hard to make friends when you're a working adult. And I mean, I like Call of Cthulhu. I've enjoyed introducing people to roleplaying games - okay, mostly. Almost always. There was that one time.   One of my friends pointed me at the recent announcement of A Time to Harvest, which looks pretty cool from, admittedly, the front cover and very little else. I think I could run it. Self-confidence and me have, shall we say, a rather distant relationship, but evidence is that I have previously run games that people enjoyed.   I'm still on the fence because I see a few downsides.   The big one is the unknown quantity. I imagine you could drop the campaign if it wasn't working out - which is undoubtedly more likely if you're running for new players, strangers, and without the chance to thoroughly evaluate the scenarios beforehand . But most people would be uncomfortable with that, we like to meet our commitments. Based purely on previous campaigns though, there are some I'd be reluctant to try running because I think I'd struggle with them. I don't know if this is one, because I haven't seen it - nobody outside Chaosium has (maybe some playtesters? dunno).   Off the top of my head: Masks of Nyarlathotep is a meatgrinder. To my mind the lethality makes it unsuitable for classic Investigators; it also leads to increasing distance between replacement Investigators and the plot. Most chapters end with a massive set-piece which Investigators are not equipped to handle, a premise which I also find intrinsically confining. Some bits also feel dated in their attitudes and assumptions. Orient Express is literally a railroad. It has some very cool moments, and some that are just odd. I have never been able to come to terms with the fact that the wisest course is for Investigators to decline the mission entirely, and the second is to expend all their energy working out how to break the game mechanics that are included just to force them to do the mission. You can save the odd life here or there, but it seems staggeringly short on player agency. Tatters of the King seems cool and very thematic, but there are several points where sensible behaviour by Investigators should break the scenario entirely, and it doesn't address them at all. These include the rage-inducing classic "I refuse to disclose this information tonight but will get back to you after I've been inevitably murdered, no you can't use your enormous Persuade skill", another murder and kidnapping that investigators could easily prevent, and an assumption that after Investigators have spotted an NPC is a wanted murderer he'll somehow wander away scot-free even if they have just beaten him to a pulp. Walker in the Wastes seems, as the Innsmouth House players found, weirdly disconnected. Mountains of Madness is a big logistics exercise, and I don't particularly care for the treatment of the adversaries.

...in fact, I don't think there's any campaign I'd consider running in its original state, looking at that list. Certainly not for a group of strangers who haven't signed up to the campaign with full knowledge of its particular strengths and weaknesses - which they can't do if I don't know them myself.  
Honestly, my other concern is that whole strangers business. While I've introduced people to roleplaying and to CoC before, it's been existing friends (with occasional plus-ones) in the comfort of someone's house. The idea of running a game for total strangers at some kind of FLGS (which I do actually have) is quite alarming.   I do wonder whether there are some cultural differences between the US and the UK, because I've never known of gaming actually happening in a shop - they always seem to be small spaces crammed to the gills with gaming resources. I've never run across the games-in-progress that seem to distinguish US FLGSs.   On the other hand, I've no idea where else you could run a game, nor how you'd arrange it. Observations of a wide range of other hobbies and social groups are very clear that if you want a space to do something in, you pay for it. I am definitely not up for paying to rent a room where I can run games for some strangers. I could, of course, invite them to my flat, where one of them could sit on the chair, two could sit on the settee, and anyone else could sprawl on the floor like some kind of dog. Also there is no way in heck I am inviting strangers to my flat under any circumstances, especially not if this involves posting my address in an FLGS and seeing who turns up. Gah. I feel paranoid just thinking about it.   I suppose it just feels like a very big commitment when I've no real way of evaluating just how much of a commitment that is.   There's also the issue that the Cult specifies being comfortable with "current editions", and while I have no actual issue with 7e, I also haven't had any reason to switch over to it. So I'd have to buy the rules and study up on the differences. Not a particularly big problem, but another small deterrent.   Probably what this all says is that I am not the sort of person who should sign up to the Cult of Chaos.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

 

Some writing updates

After nearly two years of sporadic work, I feel like I've finally put The Perishing of Sir Ashby Phipps as close to finished as it's going to get pending major sensible editorial suggestions. Hoorah, I suppose?   I'm now waiting for the chance to run a playtest with my group, which looks like it will be sometime in May, as I'll be abroad for a while. If anyone else is interested in playtesting the scenario, do drop me a line!   Following a lot of encouragement from kindly Yoggies, I would like to try and publish it at some point, but Chaosium and several others are closed to submissions at the moment, and 60 pages looks like a tough sell in general. And of course, I do need to test it before offering it any unsuspecting publishers. I'm sure they're not mugs enough to take something that works only in theory.   In the meanwhile, I have several other scenarios in various degrees of incompleteness, because my brain's rather erratic. The more complete (Gaslight) scenarios are currently on hold pending me working out more of what's actually going on, so I planned to switch over to one of the more modern ideas and try to thrash those out. They are, I would say, somewhat weirder than my previous work. But hopefully shorter!   Naturally, what happened instead is I acquired a fever, saw a strange picture posted by Nick Marsh on Twitter, and spent my sick day frantically writing a short schlocky modern-day scenario I hadn't thought of until that second. At some point I may post it here on Yoggie if Nick is amenable. It's slightly worrying that scenario-writing takes me either two years or five hours.   I'm not sure what the point of all this is, other than to demonstrate that my writing process is bizarre and inscrutable, and utterly uncaring of my actual intentions.

Shimmin Beg

Shimmin Beg

×

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.