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HelplessBystander

How do you write scenarios for Call of Cthulhu?

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HelplessBystander

Hello,

Recently, I've finished writing my very own, very first Call of Cthulhu scenario. It was Mythos-light and barely had any paranormal happenings at all; my scenario remsembles more of a classic Cosy Murder Mystery (Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle was a HUGE source of inspiration for me. Personally) than a Mythos Scenario. I made the scenario like this: [place]>[Groups]>[Murders]>[NPC suspects]>[Clues]

How would you generally write a typical COC scenario? Is there any particular template that you follow? If so, do you mind sharing it? :)

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HelplessBystander

Thanks! :)

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HelplessBystander

Oh wow. That is SO helpful! Thanks, King. I needed an organised template to write scenarios, or else I'm afraid it'll get all over the place. ;)

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andreroy

I usually come up with an idea and put it on paper. I usually add to it notes, possible threads to explore and pregenerated PC (if needed) ideas ...usually a name and 1 sentence description. These notes are often amended and enriched as I write the rest.

 

For writing, I start with Major NPC, new Mythos Tome and Key opposition. Once I have my enemy and my helpers, I work on the PC themselves to finish with the scenario.

 

Maps usually comes last, although I may have a rough sketch early on if neded.

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HelplessBystander

Interesting choice. I usually start with clues/murder(s)/motives first, maps/NPCs/story second, and then I move onto Mythos times and the other stuff. Honestly, I don't know what I'm doing half the time and wing it after a specific point in plot; it usually turns out okay, but its results are often...undesirable for me as a KP.

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Lisa

Whereas I take a scenario or a bunch of scenarios that other people have written, look at my group -- players and PCs -- and then pull the scenarios apart and stick them back together. It's customizing, not writing, but very useful.

 

One thing Gumshoe taught me:

 

1. Diagram scenario -- what are the core clues? Where does each clue lead?

2. What skills are required to find the clues?

3. What skills do the PCs have?

4. Do the skills the PCs have = the skills required to find the core clues? If so, you're done. I mean, okay, I will tweak things and prep, but the point is, the scenario's structure is solid. If not:

5. What needs tweaking? Hopefully, just one or two things. If more than one, okay, you've likely got a flawed scenario, and best to know that now. Alternatively, the scenario might be fine, but you just know the PC with Skill X won't be where the clue requiring Skill X is.

6. Now, tweak as needed. No one has Cop Talk? Will Law work? Can someone be Flattered or Negotiated with? Does the clue have to be in the police station? The clue, after all, is information, not a person or item. Can Preparation work? E.g., "I knew we needed to sort through old idols, so I went to the Metropolitan Museum and crammed -- can I do that as a Preparation roll?"

7. Once you've nailed all that down, you're probably done as far as structure goes. Next, there's meeting the enemy -- er, the players. At that point, you're doing a combination of very group-specific prepwork and furious improvisation.

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skaye

I generally start with an idea for an antagonist or incident and expand from there.

 

I gleefully take NPCs from published adventures and alter them for my own purposes as part of my process. When I ran my own campaigns, I planned on one-three potential fights in a given session.

 

I am one of the 'terrible at maps' crowd, so I tend to again pilfer and modify from published adventures.

 

There's probably a separate thread (I haven't searched) on con games, where you have time constraints, the geographic scope is often limited, etc.

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The_Tatterdemalion_King

Oh wow. That is SO helpful! Thanks, King. I needed an organised template to write scenarios, or else I'm afraid it'll get all over the place. ;)

 

 

I hope it helps. I have another version where the 'notes' section is a grid; I often have a little diagram of scenes/locations I start with. 

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HelplessBystander

Of course. I would be appreciate it if you can give the link to the other version as well that would clearly be very amazing.

 

The people in this thread is SO HELPFUL. Huge thanks to them. Their opinions and methods are described with simple language. I love it! Keep it up! :D

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ReydeAmarillo

Hello,

Recently, I've finished writing my very own, very first Call of Cthulhu scenario. It was Mythos-light and barely had any paranormal happeni8ngs at all; my scenario resembles more of a classic Cosy Murder Mystery (Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle was a HUGE source of inspiration for me. Personally) than a Mythos Scenario. I made the scenario like this: [place]>[Groups]>[Murders]>[NPC suspects]>[Clues]

 

How would you generally write a typical COC scenario? Is there any particular template that you follow? If so, do you mind sharing it? :)

 

Although I think that Holmes is a great starting point for inspiration (especially for Gaslight) I was a bit confused why you didn't mention HPL as a major inspiration? I personally find that reading HPL and other Mythos authors help me to get into the right atmosphere and " vibe" for writing CoC scenarios. Capturing something of the otherness and disgust and horror that is the Mythos and all it's varied incarnations.

 

But as far a method goes I personally find initial inspiration in places, history and folklore. I often find that the initial inspirations then make me ask "what if?" and so prompts the scenario hook from there. As regards actual writing I create a clue-web and test and double test that the links work, regardless of where I start. And I plan in some encounters of true fear and horror. The Investigators may never come across them, but they are there lurking in wait, just in case.

 

As a further thought, if Holmes inspires you then why not borrow and convert some of his stories to a Mythos theme? Musgrave Ritual, Speckled Band, Devils Foot and the obvious Hound of the Baskervilles I think would work quite well.

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HelplessBystander

Although I think that Holmes is a great starting point for inspiration (especially for Gaslight) I was a bit confused why you didn't mention HPL as a major inspiration? I personally find that reading HPL and other Mythos authors help me to get into the right atmosphere and " vibe" for writing CoC scenarios. Capturing something of the otherness and disgust and horror that is the Mythos and all it's varied incarnations.

 

But as far a method goes I personally find initial inspiration in places, history and folklore. I often find that the initial inspirations then make me ask "what if?" and so prompts the scenario hook from there. As regards actual writing I create a clue-web and test and double test that the links work, regardless of where I start. And I plan in some encounters of true fear and horror. The Investigators may never come across them, but they are there lurking in wait, just in case.

 

As a further thought, if Holmes inspires you then why not borrow and convert some of his stories to a Mythos theme? Musgrave Ritual, Speckled Band, Devils Foot and the obvious Hound of the Baskervilles I think would work quite well.

 

Again, my first original scenario was a filler-scenario for a preexisting COC campaign that I was running. I switched up the style a bit to keep the PCs from getting too jaded (after the nth description of 'horrors not meant for men', people tend to see through the gimmick faster) and to give myself and my players a it of a break from the mythos activity. I mean, the Mythos isn't everywhere. A normal murder mystery with no Dread Cthulhu lurking in the background would throw them off a bit. 

 

Sherlock Holmes stories are often very terrible sources of inspiration for scenarios since most people know them (There's literally no one where I live who hasn't at least read 'A study in scarlet'). Furthermore, adding in the mythos to Sherlockian stories actually detracts from the experience as the suspect pool would become too narrow (The Guy Skulking Around The Graveyard, The Fishermen, The Nobility, The man/woman who have an APP of over 18, The Weirdly Religious), while a cosy wold mean they have to deuce a mundane motive for a mundane criminal (Rather than stopping the generic cookie-cutter cultists from summoning Dread Cthulhu; they are stuck investigating a locked-room murder on a train that experienced mechanical difficulties and must find the killers before they disappear into the crowd). 

 

...That's my 2-cents, at least.

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andreroy

Interesting choice. I usually start with clues/murder(s)/motives first, maps/NPCs/story second, and then I move onto Mythos times and the other stuff. Honestly, I don't know what I'm doing half the time and wing it after a specific point in plot; it usually turns out okay, but its results are often...undesirable for me as a KP.

Yeah, I know. Once I have my "seed" for the scenario, I find it easier to figure out who is the opposition (and the key helpers/NPC) and work backward from there...adding elements and clues as I go. That's my way of ensuring there's no loose threads leading nowhere (other than the ones I purposely add as red herrings or diverging points).

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HelplessBystander

Yeah, I know. Once I have my "seed" for the scenario, I find it easier to figure out who is the opposition (and the key helpers/NPC) and work backward from there...adding elements and clues as I go. That's my way of ensuring there's no loose threads leading nowhere (other than the ones I purposely add as red herrings or diverging points).

Agreed. KP should always be as in-control as possible (wth avoiding railroads as the first priority whilst doing that, that is).

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HJ

Well done for writing a scenario.

 

Scenario writing is very personal, so find a style that works for you from the great suggestions above. 

 

An important part of the process is playing devil's advocate with yourself. Why are the PCs here? Why aren't they legging it to the hills? What are the PC team like - full bore action \ investigative? (adapt the scenario appropriately)

 

Write as many scenarios as you can. Some won't work, some only bits will work, but the more you do, the easier it becomes.

 

Anything can be inspirational for scenario seeds, I'm currently finishing off a scenario set in Walmington on Sea and I've plundered a certain u-boat episode shamelessly.

 

HJ

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HelplessBystander

Thanks for the advice, HJ. I needed it. :)

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Gaffer

Take a look at Stealing Cthulhu for ideas about using HPL stories as inspiration. The suggestions can be generally employed for any literary conversions, I think.

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HelplessBystander

Stealing Cthulhu is a great book. Just not really my style.

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carpocratian

I create a sandbox environment for a particular time and area, seed it with different characters, secrets, and things going on, and then improv a lot as the players move around and choose what to do.

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HelplessBystander

I create a sandbox environment for a particular time and area, seed it with different characters, secrets, and things going on, and then improv a lot as the players move around and choose what to do.

This is certainly a method, it's just a method that requires the GM to work more.

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LeonardH

I hope it helps. I have another version where the 'notes' section is a grid; I often have a little diagram of scenes/locations I start with. 

 

That sounds good-- Is there any chance of getting the "grid" version too? Thanks anyway, this is really inspiring!

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HelplessBystander

That sounds good-- Is there any chance of getting the "grid" version too? Thanks anyway, this is really inspiring!

 

Agreed.

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GBSteve

This is certainly a method, it's just a method that requires the GM to work more

 

I'm not sure it does. Making up as you go along means you don't write anything you don't use.

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carpocratian

This is certainly a method, it's just a method that requires the GM to work more.

 

Coming up with your own material always takes more time than using pre-written adventures, but (for me) writing my own stuff is half the fun. 

 

My method doesn't necessarily take any more GM time than other methods used by people who write their own adventures, though.  It requires more upfront work, but less ongoing work as parties go from encounter to encounter, adventure to adventure.  Regardless of the game system, it usually takes a couple of months to build the sandbox.  Then I can run sessions with limited before-game prep for a couple of years. 

 

It plays to my strengths, as well.  I have GMed that way since I was 13 (I'm 50 now), and am a semi-professional storyteller in real life, both as a children's librarian and on a volunteer and paid basis in my free time.  Since I never know what type of audience will show up, I have become really good at learning to improv things to best match the audience at hand.  I also do a lot of interactive storytelling with kids where they come up with certain elements of the stories and I fill things in on the fly.

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