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Semsu

I finally ran BtMoM, 19 years after buying it, and we all stopped worrying and loved the Ice

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Semsu

Hi all, I wanted to share my experiences running BtMoM in the hopes that you’ll find reading yet another BtMoM tale interesting/entertaining and to read your thoughts on it. Plus, its not going as well as I wanted to, so any advice will be very appreciated. 

 

Also, I need more ways to sustain my BtMoM fix between sessions and with the upcoming 4/5 week hiatus due to 2 PCs vacations.

 

This is my first topic here on Yog Sothoth, and I did my due diligence to avoid posting in the incorrect sub-forum. I believe this would be the appropriate place since its the journal + meta commentary from me. My apologies to mods/admin if that is not the case, please move the thread to where it should be placed.

 

I feel I need to include the following disclaimer: I’m unable to be concise and tend to ramble on, even after re-reading and trimming my words, I end up with big chunks of texts so... you´ve been warned!

 

As I write this we are 5 sessions in and the BFE has just arrived to Lake’s Camp and started to settle in.

 

Some quick personal background, I’m from Argentina, which is what explains the botched expression or odd turn of phrase I may use. I played many different tabletop RPGs for most of my teenage years, and GMed mainly CoC. After several years, I mostly just stopped altogether, with a brief revival or two.

 

I bought BtMoM almost as soon as it was released, since AtMoM has always been one of my favourite HPL stories. I eagerly waited out the overseas shipping, started to read it, liked it, not loved it (clearly I hadn’t perfected my tastes yet), and decided that it was too big an undertaking to do it justice, it was something for another day. So, I stashed it. Over the years every now and then I would get the book out and browse it or read it for a bit before leaving it back on its shelf.

 

Fast forward almost two decades and one of my close friends, who coincidentally was always my favorite CoC player to GM and the one of the few fellow HPL enthusiasts on my group of friends, had a nostalgic attack and started GMing Cyberpunk to some people, and this made him want to play, so he came over and started drilling me about running a CoC gaming table.

 

BtMoM was the first thing that came to my mind, and he was onboard. With my wife willing to give this whole “role playing thing” a try, I had two players and location secured. I started googling and finding out about the amazing ways that some GMs had brought BtMoM to life and that was enough to get me really going.

 

I really want to extensively thank everyone that has shared their stories, props, tips and more, especially the ones here on Yog Sothoth like Christian, MK-Cutter, Mvincent, Tiger. Also, the people behind the old Webeyond site, the labcats, the Into the Darkness guys on youtube and so many others that I forget, for what they shared over the years, they are many and probably won’t read this, but it’s so amazing and I can’t thank them enough.

 

I realized right away that I’d need at least a few months of preparation to have a chance to do it right, so I started on that while at the same time looking for more players and doing some sessions to shake off some of the rustiness of not GMing for years. First was a one-shot with my 2 players. My wife ended up saving the day and the life of the supposed CoC expert player that made all the right questions and failed all the right dice rolls (the amazing amount of fails and fumbles that he made that night was hilarious).

 

Later, with the 3rd player on board, we were ready to start. I wanted at least 4 players but I was more than anxious to start, so 3 would have to do.

 

I went as all-in as I could and used stacks of old business cards to print images for all SW/M EXP members, Lexington EXP members, the BFE members that have more prominence, and some other NPCs like Turlow, Cap. Vredenburgh, etc. Obviously I didn’t give them all at once, but waited to introduce each before handing out each player a card. Seeing them personalize their npc decks in different ways has been one of the small details that’s giving me satisfaction.

 

I also created some other props with what I could buy or create myself, like the Pier security passes for each, one copy of the Antartica map for each, a few of the SW/M EXP branded papers for sketches and notes, etc. I think I love the extras a lot more than they do, but they are using them. I keep comfort in the fact that probably several will die by the end, it serves them right for not appreciating the props enough 😜

 

I wanted to add as much flavour and personalization for my players to feel more involved with the story early on, so I created things like a Newspaper article made by a spurned journalist that wanted to take part in the EXP but was rejected by Moore, denouncing the fact that the EXP chose a sketchy journalist that had published some dubious tales with paranormal encounters and such (because that PC was one of the few with previous Mythos experience and had published personal accounts). I then had to adapt the Newspaper article announcing the new Cap. Vredenburgh to include a rebuke by Moore assuring the public that Mr. Cesaroni’s work with the EXP would always stick to the facts and report their findings accurately.

 

I also adapted the “Get me a woman!” scene and corresponding newspaper article due to the fact that my wife played a woman M.D. that got accepted in the exp before Charlene Whitston, and I changed it a bit to reflect that, keeping the essence of it.

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Semsu

-PROLOGUE + SESSION 1

 

Link to the Blog Journal: 

 

Players on Session 1:

-Stefano Cesaroni, 52, Milano, Italy. Journalist that specializes in paranormal matters. AKA The friend with a lot of experience playing CoC and with a lot of infectious enthusiasm to spread around.

 

-Jenna Lewis, 42, Charlotte, NC. M.D. AKA The wife, having survived a few easy one shots and thinking that this Cthulhu guy probably isn’t so tough as they say.

She is acquainted with Cesaroni, although they haven't seen each other in years. She earned his respect when she rescued and saved the life of the supposedly worldly explorer and expert investigator, and won his car on a bet by doing so.

She immediately became interested in the EXP when she read about it in the paper and decided that it was exactly what she was looking for to make her mark in the world, having been rebuffed and left aside constantly in her professional work by a male dominated environment. She wants to be the first woman to step foot in the Antarctic, and even though she doesn’t have much outdoors or field expedition experience, she figures a medic is always useful and welcome.

 

-Phillip Hawk, 43, Indianapolis, IN. Aircraft Pilot. AKA The friend with little RPG experience, having played a few times and years ago, never liked it very much, but who is also the friend that always says yes to any plan with a chance of being a halfway decent way to spend an evening, and happens to live a few minutes away.

Smokes marihuana (It’s the first thing the player wrote on his character sheet so I suppose I have to mention it first. After a few sessions in which it didn’t come into play even as a side-note, I’m getting convinced he wrote it just in case I didn’t allow him smoking during play so he could pass it as roleplaying with a prop).

WWI Veteran, he is a thrill-seeker and has since been looking to replicate the highs he felt flying in a war. He has been retained for different pilot related services, even taking part in an expedition to the North Pole some years back, making him the only PC with previous experience with cold climates and Polar Survival.

He wants to go to the Antarctic as a personal challenge and to be able to say until he dies that he flew on all continents.
 

The prologue / introductory final interview was handled separately when creating the PCs on different nights with each player, so I had a chance to establish SW and Moore’s personalities distinctly and early on as intended. The only one outside the norm was of course the one with Jenna Lewis, M.D., who was accepted due to Moore’s previous extensive reference verification, who convinces SW mentioning her excellent credentials and the fact that another M.D. would certainly come in handy. Of course, SW remains unconvinced until the wealthy Lewis agrees to make a substantial contribution to the EXP.

 

RE: Inventory / Work Lists

-I handed them out lists of inventory and the receipts, printed and manually typed by me. One player chose to check for errors via dice rolls, while the other two went the manual way. My wife loved it, while the other player got fed up with my handwriting and asked for dice rolls halfway.

Maybe I should have used a typewriter font on some, it probably would've been more realistic anyway, but I thought that having some be difficult to read due to poor handwriting was a realistic detail. Or at least a good excuse for my really bad handwriting.

I didn’t spend an obscene amount of time painstakingly recreating ye olde receipts, I basically chose 3 old receipt templates from the web, erased the Company Name and replaced it typing each name using a classic looking font. I did use old logos for Siemens, Ford and a few others, and had to create all the different receipts for each company and leave them ready to print and fill out manually, which I did afterwards. So I did spend some time. And probably didn’t use the most effective method.

My conclusion is: I only recommend taking the effort if you know that most players will actually take the time. Or not offer dice rolls at all, that’s another option. I didn’t want it to feel like homework so I clearly quickly offered the dice to the first player (Hawk) that looked horrified at me saying “I have to manually check inventory?”. Yes, you ungrateful bastard, I lovingly wrote those tuna oil receipts.

 

-Moore entrusts Cesaroni the task of receiving and assisting Douglas on the down low, but he doesn’t act upon it immediately, preferring to finish with his work list first.

-Moore asks Hawk to travel to Trenton, NJ to check on the Boeings. I didn’t dedicate a lot of time and detail to this scene, but used it to at least have some dialogue with Miles and Halperin and introduce their personalities.

 

SESSION END-

 

After the first session we had an extended hiatus of around 4 months, which cut momentum short and forced the first roster change in the table. The intention was to play one weekend on and off, but for various reasons we had to keep postponing it. It definitely was very very far from ideal but it was unavoidable, and having not progressed as much on the 1st session plot-wise ended up being best.

 

When everyone was finally in a good place to pick things up and we could agree on the next session, having also added a 4th player, my friend who had cheered me on from the beginning to start the Campaign and remained the most involved and enthusiastic player, had to drop out indefinitely due to changing jobs, working nights and with a schedule that made it completely impossible for him to continue. It was a blow and he was/is missed, but it made sense and paying rent trumps reaching the ice. Some people have strange priorities.

 

Determined to press on, and 3 PCs once again, the new player addition turned out great!. I allowed some unconventional choices, like being an Argentine Anthropologist (!) that was an athletic individual that knew Acrobatics and even a bit of defensive Martial Arts. But mostly it was the fact that his more loud and pompous roleplaying and personality clashed with the other two, specially with the very analytical minded Jenna Lewis, who got frustrated with his suggestions and actions in more than one occasion.

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PoC

Great topic! We had a lot of fun with BtMoM when we played it and it's always highly interesting to see how other groups approach (and experience) it.

 

The forums are ideal for the “meta” discussion, but for the actual game write-up/journal sections your Yog Blog is better suited (and you can easily link back). :-)

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Semsu

Thanks POC, I´m now taking a look at the Yog Blog to change the format of my summaries/write ups to have the actual game portions there and my comments here. Thanks for replying quickly, I was about to post Session 2 here, so I´ll now take the time to divide it and do it properly as requested.

 

EDIT: I should do that as well for the post dedicated to Prologue + SESSION 1, so I´ll start with that!

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mvincent
5 hours ago, Semsu said:

its not going as well as I wanted to, so any advice will be very appreciated. 

 

Also, I need more ways to sustain my BtMoM fix between sessions

 

1) Here are some pictures from some of my previous BtMoM campaigns (discussions about some of the props are here). 

2) Most of the paper props were found on-line (especially at Geedunk  and Propnomicon)

3) The German version of BtMoM (Berge des Wahnsinns) had some additions (including some more detailed portions of the Gabrielle)

4) The HPLHS radio play is excellent and comes with some additional props

5) I was initially unhappy with BtMoM because the adventure was all about NPC's rather than the PC's. I fixed that by turning those NPC's into PC's.

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Semsu
3 hours ago, mvincent said:

1) Here are some pictures from some of my previous BtMoM campaigns (discussions about some of the props are here). 

2) Most of the paper props were found on-line (especially at Geedunk  and Propnomicon)

3) The German version of BtMoM (Berge des Wahnsinns) had some additions (including some more detailed portions of the Gabrielle)

4) The HPLHS radio play is excellent and comes with some additional props

5) I was initially unhappy with BtMoM because the adventure was all about NPC's rather than the PC's. I fixed that by turning those NPC's into PC's.

 

Thank you for taking the time to provide suggestions and links, Matthew.

 

1- Your facebook album was actually one of the many resources I browsed through in my prep stage, and I loved what you did (loved the pouch of coins from the Wallaroo, for example). Your players were definitely lucky to have such a dedicated Keeper.

2- I also mined Geedunk and Propnomicon.

3- This one I missed, and It would´ve come in handy in the Gabrielle segment, I used the maps from the original campaign book and while in actual play referenced them, enhanced them with descriptions and a tactic most people call: "winging it as best as possible so that the PCs dont notice"

4- I came across the play but since there were several comments criticizing it I decided against purchasing (Unfortunately in Argentina´s economy 20 USD is not a small sum). Do the additional props justifiy it in your opinion? Im interested in the Dyer/Danforth photos and Danforth page of mural sketches, but Im unsure of paying so much only for those. 

 

5- That´s related to some of my comments that I plan to include after posting all the summaries of my campaign up to the point we got, first because I was unable to spotlight many NPCs in the couse of play, but I´m inclined to think that probably happened due to deficiencies on my end because of being a rusty Keeper getting back on the game after many years.

Thinking back, I think that turning several NPCs into PCs makes a lot of railroading and Keeper ´nudges´ go away, but I didnt consider it before and maybe it wouldnt have been a great idea in my specific case, because I play with several RPG neophytes and player composition changed a bit until stabilizing (After starting with Session 3 no one missed any more sessions and committed to going until the end).

 

Thanks again!

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mvincent
1 hour ago, Semsu said:

I decided against purchasing (Unfortunately in Argentina´s economy 20 USD is not a small sum). Do the additional props justifiy it in your opinion?

 

Although I really liked HPLHS's MoM props and radio play, they were inexpensive for me. I couldn't justify them if I was say, overseas.

 

1 hour ago, Semsu said:

 I´m inclined to think that probably happened due to deficiencies on my end because of being a rusty Keeper getting back on the game after many years.

 

fwiw: I've done a *lot* of GM'ing, but BtMoM was hands down the hardest thing I've ever run. It was written as a narrative, and without consideration for the GM's ease. People that enjoy reading might think different (which probably includes you, given the length of your initial post), but from a purely GM'ing perspective: this one was *far* harder than it needed to be.

 

Edit: it's a true credit to you that you are managing this at all, especially so as a Spanish speaker (btw: you English writing is excellent)

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Semsu

Well, I think that the fact that I prepare extensive translated summaries of each chapter helped me in that regard.

 

Like I mentioned before (dont want to get repetitive, I mention it when relevant) Im from Argentina, which means that we all play in spanish. There is a spanish edition of BtMoM, which I had the chance to look at, but thats Spain´s spanish, which is actually very different from Argentina in regards to common expressions, vocabulary for some things, etc, so It wouldnt have been ideal and would take my players out of the game even if they didnt want to, because its not what theyre used to hearing.

 

I have a fairly decent level of english, so I could have avoided myself the work of basically translating 50-60% of the book, but I know that my on the fly translations would have included a lot of humms, ehhs, ahmm, etc, when trying to find a correct word, so to provide the best possible experience for my players, I prepared all descriptions and sections to read aloud in Spanish. That also meant translating and preparing all the handouts for them to read in spanish. And Lake´s Camp. And the City. And oh my god, the metric conversions!! Really, why cant you use the system that the rest of the world uses! sorry, I digress...

 

I mention this not to elicit responses of "Oh you poor overworked Keeper, you", but because I think that the act of having to digest every chapter over and over again into workable scenarios in spanish allowed me to structure sessions in a better way in regards to set pieces and many moments in which the action opens up for Players initiative. 

 

But still, Im not happy with a lot of stuff and how its going down and plan to go over that in detail, but I´m waiting for some help to open up a Journal in the Blog section (which my user apparently doesnt have permission yet, PoC offered to help me with that) and only leave my metacommentary here. 

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mojoman

Like you, I bought BtMoM a long time ago, and I have yet to run it. I brushed it off about a year ago and started to digest chapter-by-chapter with a plan to rewrite it for playability. The narrative approach and railroading is extremely problematic, even for Keepers who speak native English. I put the material down a few months ago to focus on something else, but after reading this post, I've decided to pick it up again. I found you comments and experiences with BtMom inspiring. Thank you!

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Semsu

Hey thanks mojoman! I certainly didn't expect to inspire anyone, but the real inspiration comes from Charles and Janyce Engan and all the great people that brought us this masterpiece :)

 

If the digest you´re putting together is in spanish send me a private message, maybe some of my stuff helps you! I´d be glad to.

 

So... a magical "Create Blog" button appeared, and I´m now working on it, this is the link for Session 2: 

And these are my comments directed to fellow Keepers on this great site (i´m not sucking up, this is a great site!):

 

Our group permanently lost 1 PC - Stefano Cesaroni, but gained another one: -Mariano García, 34, Anthropologist, Argentina. The whole group decided to go to the Hotel on Scammel St. and García bribed the receptionist with $5, which gets them the mention of the german guy and his interest for Douglas, and that he asked for and stayed on the room next to him. The group tries to get Douglas room key but the receptionist refuses, saying that the police have sealed it off and will be back any minute, if they mess it up in any way he’ll pay for it. They insist, he refuses, so García gives him $50, a huge amount, which gets them the mention that they can rent the german room next door, and if the door that connects both rooms opens he can’t control it… which they would have noticed without García paying a fortune.

 

This clearly happened due to the player not realizing the value of money in the era, I did offer a few examples of what he could buy with that money in 1933 to give him proper context and a way out of his innocent mistake, but he insisted that that was what he offered, so… ok.

 

On a different note, I believe that this scene as described on the book has a policeman guarding Douglas room door, but this didn’t make much sense to me when I read it, and it made even less sense as played with the whole group visiting the adjacent room, I didn´t think they could offer up a believable excuse (2 guys and 2 women, well dressed, going all together to one room in a shady hotel?), so I omitted him and just had Douglas room sealed off with police bands (maybe an anachronism, but I wanted to give them some visual cue other than a regular closed door).

 

-They thoroughly check Douglas room, find everything there is to find (the handwritten note with phone numbers and names was an easy prop to create, so I did that manually).

-Police arrives and the PCs fail the initial Listen roll to hear them on the street, but Lewis passes the next Listen roll and hears them talking to the receptionist, so they quickly go back to Sothcott’s room, where they wait for more than an hour for the police to clear out the room and leave.

-After this, due to the handwritten note contents and the receptionist’s mention of hearing Douglas say the Lexington name several times over the phone, they decide to pay her a visit.

 

Regarding the police, they never considered for one second jumping over to the street, not even the acrobat!, and immediately went to the other room.

Regarding Acacia, I mentioned that due to her being a famous NY socialite the location of her mansion was well known and very easy to find out, but maybe I could have had them search for it and suggest/nudge them to search the library for more information on her than that, but I didn’t want to have such an obvious influence.

Also, it ensured that I could go ahead with Roerich’s abduction scene, which I wanted to include without forcing it on them, and having it happen right after Douglas murder and their search of the hotel room seemed like good timing.

 

Roerich´s Abduction + Interrogation:

 

García passed both Climb and Sneak checks to enter the warehouse via the 2nd floor windows and to hide while inside so that they didn´t notice him, but in what I thought was good roleplaying, he decided not to do anything other than listen to what was happening. But then, after the germans leave and they go to help Roerich, Lewis passes First Aid roll to help the man recover a bit before taking him to the hospital. They ask him who he was, what had happened, he tells them his name and that he has no clue why they attacked him, and reiterates his plea to take him to the hospital. García insists with questions about why they had attacked him and what they were saying, but Roerich tells him he is in very bad shape and an old man, to please take him to the hospital. García pressed on with the questions and Roerich faints, after which they take him to the hospital.

 

At this point I got a complaint from the player, who said something like: “Ok ok, I understand, when the GM tells you to stop and continue with the next scene…”. Clearly having Roerich faint wasn’t subtle, but he wasn’t taking a hint, the other PCs didn’t seem to care and I didn’t want him to spoil the next scene with Roerich. His insistence over relief for the poor, battered, old man didn’t go along so well with a ‘thank you’ meeting. Maybe I could have let him continue to see how long it took for him to help Roerich and then later have him invite the others and not him, or have him over and scold him. It would have been a simple solution, but I didn’t think of it at the time.

 

Phillip Douglas:

They decide to pay Phillip Douglas a visit, even though it´s a very long drive and they would see him at his brother funeral the day after.

 

I informed them that it was a long drive, more than 3hs, and they weren´t familiar with the area so they may get lost and have it take even longer, and even if they did´t they wouldn´t be able to do anything else that day. I didn´t insist because there´s enough railroading as is, and their mention of wanting to speak with him alone and not on the funeral context made sense. I did end the day with that, obviously.

 

Some additional notes up to this point:

 

-In the character creation process, I first shared the “What the World knows…” and the “Antarctica or Bust!” newspaper clipping with each Player, along with a brief personal letter from Moore and a briefer one from SW (I omitted this one for Jenna Lewis, female MD, and the last 2 player additions because they came in very late, starting on Session 3).

When asked I suggested that some types of scientists would be useful, or an engineer, mechanic, pilot, survival expert, or related professions. I always mentioned that I would allow choices that wouldn’t be a great fit in usefulness if they came up with a good reason for it and didn’t mind paying extra to get in.

I ended up with a journalist, medic, pilot, biologist, biochemist and anthropologist. I allowed the last two, but made sure they had some other useful skill to offer the EXP, since they didn’t notice the fact that their professions didn’t exactly make much sense in this case, and preferred to come up with reasons to justify it instead of changing.

 

-As soon as the Lexington name came up on the papers they went to see her straight away, triggering Roerich’s abduction, probably due to not being experienced CoC players and not used to thinking of something like a library IRL, they ended up searching for the clippings a day or two after that. I didn´t mind, I wanted to include the Roerich abduction scene without forcing it.

 

Session 3 Blog Journal:

 

Session 3 Keeper notes:

 

After settling in, Lewis speaks to García to tell him that they need to use this last night to go to that Purple Cup and find out what they can about Douglas and those 3 seamen, since she couldn't go there alone or even with him, but García refuses, saying it was a long day and he was too tired, so he was going to sleep right away.

 

I wouldn't have cared about this bit if we were at the end of a very long session, but this was basically at the beginning of the 3rd session, so it rubbed me the wrong way. Neglecting to investigate a clue so that your PC goes to sleep? I was dissapointed. 

Before that, my wife, Lewis, wanted to go by herself to the Purple Cup, and I had to explain to her that a high class, well dressed lady wouldn't even consider going alone to a shady speakeasy filled with all kinds of working class seamen and the like, it just wasn't something her character would consider, and that´s when she decided to ask García to do it. Taking into account García´s reaction maybe I should've let her, realism be damned.

 

Lewis doesn't argue with him too much and accepts the comment from Hawk that they would be able to talk to the 3 seamen at any point in the trip, while on the Gabrielle. They don´t ask Turlow, Moore or anyone else about them, so they don´t find out they quit and never got on the boat.

 

They actually completely forgot about the 3 missing seamen after the scene with García refusing to go to the Purple Cup, and never asked anyone about them. I know it´s not an important detail, but I started to worry that maybe they weren´t getting too involved in the Campaign. 

 

RE: Fier in the Pier - Jerry Polk, Arsonist

The guy with the oil container is oblivious to their presence, so García is able to immobilize him with his martial arts knowledge and they take him to the police that's already at the street. While taking him to the police, Wilson questions him and Polk, still on a huge high due to the beautiful flames he caused, can't stop laughing with delight, happy like a little boy due to the explosions and flames. He tells them that a redhead called O´Doyle paid him to do this, but that the payment was an excuse, he loves starting fires.

 

I rolled a 97 for Polk to see if he noticed he was being followed. Completely oblivious, García then rolled a critical on Martial Arts, so he instantly immobilized him with a choke hold. So... not much drama to be had on that scene and it wrapped up quickly.

Regarding "O´Doyle", that was my mistake, changing "O´Doul" for that inadvertently, so Federico-Wilson instantly looked up to me and said "O´Doyle RULESSS!". I certainly didn´t mean to add a Billy Madison reference to my BtMoM campaign, but well...

 

RE: Ecuator Crossing Ceremony

I didn´t skip it entirely, but briefly narrated the initial scene with Davy Crockett, gave a few more details about what it entailed, filled out and gave the signed certificates from Geedunk to Lewis and Smith (the rest said their PCs had already crossed the Ecuator in the past) and then continued to the after party.

 

RE: Refrigerator/Food Sabotage

Lewis notices the signs of sabotage with acid to break the ammonia tube and render the refrigerator useless, and tells the rest of the group, but for some reason they don´t do anything with that information in the next few days. They knew that it couldn't have been an accident or malfunction, but they don´t tell Turlow, Moore, or anyone else, which raised the first big red flag for me.

I don´t know, maybe it was a very long session, which was true, but they wanted to keep going, so I immediately moved to the dogs scene to shake them up a bit.

 

RE: Dogs Poisoning

Passing several rolls they identify that the dogs were poisoned, they identify it was probably stricnine and that the messboy Coates was the one that gave Pulaski the meal for the dogs. They don´t say a word about this to Turlow, Moore, SW, Captain Vrede, or anyone, and head straight to the kitchen to interrogate Coates, which struck me as a bit much.

I mean, I was glad that they were showing initiative, but I felt the need to remind them that there was a chain of command in the Gabrielle. I felt a bit ambiguous about it, because I didn´t want to freeze them on their tracks and have the matter taken from their hands, so I had them bump into Moore, who gave them permission to investigate but discreetly, stressing the fact that no one other than them should find out, he was now going to talk to the rest that witnessed the scene to tell them to keep shut for the moment.

So... what did they do? they barged in the kitchen, almost shouting, accusing Coates of poisoning the dogs in front of Abraham and Whitney :roll:. I figured something like this could happen and had them cross Henning going to the mess hall to do some chores, before entering the Kitchen so that he wasn´t present. 

 

RE: Finding the Saboteur

It will be clear to anyone that reads my detailed journal that things went down -a lot- different from the book, but I welcomed the need for improvisation on my part, even if I did switch Whitney with Abraham, making the first one the cook and the second the Chief Steward/Pantry Manager. It was very hard for me not to laugh at Wilson, who was so sure that Henning was innocent, I mean, I roleplayed him as a regular down to earth likable bloke, and Coates as pretty irritating, but still.

Maybe it was also the fact that we clocked in a VERY long session, the longest of all, around 10hs, and that´s not including the hour or so dedicated to creating the 2 new PC addition character sheets.

 

General Notes - As if I haven´t written too much already! :D

I believe that my friend playing Mariano García started to clearly detach and drift off very quickly in the session and he also had to leave early. He later apologized to me saying he knew he barely did anything, but didn´t come back the next two sessions, so he´s out. Losing 2 players in 3 sessions wasn´t nice, but the other 4 remain committed to seeing it through the end, so I (clearly) haven´t given up on them or lowered my level of enthusiasm.

 

Maybe 4 players is best anyway for me to handle since the 5th session we finished last sunday is just the 7th time I run a game in years, and 5 active players to keep track of and make sure they are engaged and having fun would probably be too much at this point.

 

On the other hand, as I mentioned a few red flags started to appear, forgetting about the 3 sailors, when they did nothing with the first signs of sabotage, and when they didn´t get into context and think that they should consult any figure of authority when the dog poisoning happened. But well, players forget stuff sometimes, the first one wasn´t really important, and the initiative to investigate after being a bit passive at times was welcome even if I had to struggle not to laugh with the strange definition of "discretion" that Wilson has.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read my big ole chunks of text!

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Semsu

So, I've added Session 4 and 5 write-ups to the Blog, and here is the meat of the matter, since as expected, things ramp up as the PCs progress, and I'm out of material about what already happened and I'm aiming towards what comes next.

 

Session 4 Notes

RE: Henning

I was surprised my players didn’t ask to question Henning. Maybe starting the session with the leaders meeting congratulating them and wrapping up that matter, and Moore ask them at the end of that meeting to check the rest of the inventory for signs of more sabotage, thus giving them clear instructions, had something to do with it. Maybe they wanted to start the session with something different having dedicated the last segment of the previous session to several interrogations. But still, I would've expected at least one try to find out who was out to harm them, specially after they found the explosive device.

 

RE: Inventory

The moment that Hawk heard the word inventory his eyes widened, "I need to check inventory again?! Don´t tell me I need to check inventory again." If there´s one thing I learned from my group so far is that the guy really hates inventory. And that Wilson doesn't have the best detective instincts.

 

Re: Australia

I had no interest to stop in Australia other than with whatever interested the players. If they’d asked to do something in Melbourne I would've gone along with it, but I didn’t prepare the segment as per the book, I don't mean it to come out the wrong way but It simply bored me, and that meant that it would've been impossible for me to get them excited to work at a Cannery to make Pemmican, or oversee the work, or whatever.

Even if my group's iteration of BtMoM ended up moving along a lot faster than I thought it would, I was definitely in for the slow burn, but that segment always struck me as too much. I’m not saying that there aren’t Keepers and groups of players that can't make it work and have fun with it, but It definitely wasn’t a fit for my group.

I was satisfied with them stressing the fact that they inspect and review every equipment replaced and the food, and moved ahead.

 

Re: Engines Scene

Using the cargo net secured with ropes seemed like a fairly believable plan to me, TBH I hadn’t expected it, but Wilson immediately suggested it after I answered their question listing everything that was on the cargo bay, the moment I mentioned cargo nets, and the rest went along with it. My wife later told me she thought it was stupid and she found the scene a bit stupid, but well. It could've been my handling of the scene and not mean the scene itself, it's true that I mostly thought it as a setpiece to have them do something in an otherwise extended period of descriptions and text read aloud by me, and I'm sure I did a better job in regards to ambience with the storm than with the action piece. She did admit that she acted out of character anyway, her character or her would never even think to go out and check in a storm like that, but she didn't want to stay behind bored. 

I still think the scene worked with how I intended it to be, including the context of the fierce storm, the ship jumping up and down several metres at sea, etc, and I made sure that they described their actions when moving with detail in regards to securing themselves as they approached the cargo bay. My intention, and with the engines as well, was to suggest that they weren’t safe and supposedly they could die, fly out to the sea, get crushed, etc, but not really.

I think having a PC death happen at this point would be too anticlimactic, and I don’t mind nursing a false sense of security from them, having so far come out completely unharmed from any dangerous situation. It could mean that the players can pick up on it and start thinking it's veered more towards pulp horror, and them being more heroes than investigators. It's not what I'm going for and certainly not what BtMoM as intended goes for, but I think I don't mind if some of them think that way until they realize that it's nothing like that.

Going back to the players plan, cargo net vs the engine, this kind of stuff isn’t really my forte and while in the moment I calculated that the tensile strenght that the reinforced net had, along with the ropes and the combined strength from the PCs should be able to stop and hold one engine, so when two of them passed the Throw roll and a combined STR vs the engine STR roll (I’m using the old 5.5rules), I had them secure the engine in their first try.

 

Re: The Wallaroo / Hawk vs The Chest

Completely Obsessed with the empty Captain’s chest I had Hawk roll Luck to have him notice in some way that it seemed to be empty, but he failed the roll. So, after the rest of the players finish exploring the rest of the ship and I tell him he broke through the wood and widened the hole enough to notice that it’s empty, he accused me of making it be empty because he failed the Luck roll I had him make (?) Never underestimate the value of the promise of a closed chest, I suppose?

Also, when he heard the name Wallaroo, Wilson shouted: "Really? Wallaby plus Kangaroo? C’mon, They could've thought of a better name". I have to admit that I hadn't even noticed.

 

Re: Unloading / Setting up Camp / Cracks on the Ice Shelf

I planned to give the players more responsibility and to have them roleplay some of the work of the Gabrielle unloading process, and the process of exploring and setting up Camp, but I never could decide on a mechanic for it while preparing the content for play.

By this point I had already realized that my group of players wasn’t inclined to go over the equipment and inventory in a detailed and specific manner, and they were content with my narration of the Starkweather unloading plan, and so on, so I mostly had Hawk make some Pilot rolls for takeoff and landing while flying one of the Boeings in the transportation process, and narrated the beginning and effect of the cracks on the Ice Shelf, telling them the consequences.

Again, when preparing the chapter material I didn’t imagine a system to use to generate an entertaining and dramatic moment with the advancing cracks on the Ice, plus with Hawk being a Pilot and all the rest picking Camp work duty it made sense to them already be away when they do the most damage. I wasn’t sure I could believably create a dramatic moment with that material, and it could be that I didn’t give it a try as well, the events as narrated in the book can easily be used for a dramatic and exciting scene, but I mostly dropped it.

 

Re: Lexington’s Camp

I found it best and more in line with the pace of the Session, to dedicate more to fleshing out the set piece of the Explosions and Fire at Lexington’s Camp.

I had planned to extend Bradbury’s story with the snakes background if the proper rolls went well, which they did and I was glad to be able to add another indication of something strange in these series of sabotages, it felt the appropriate time to add the first twist going that way, specially being minor and not mythos related.

 

In regards to the Jenner-Wilson interaction, due to playing the NPC by memory without reading from the material I forgot to mention they also lost half their food in their trip and the comment about SW almost killing Acacia in Africa, not rescuing her like the newspapers said. Nothing serious I think, the fact that they did suffer sabotage was well established and in regards to Acacia and SW the PCs are completely sure that they had a relationship and it ended very bad.

 

Session 5 Notes

 

RE: Lake's Camp

This being one of the better outlined set pieces I mostly followed the book, changing a few things to suit what I was going for. As I mentioned before, the slow burn on our campaign hasn't been so slow, but I think that it still worked to the intended effect, which is to have their first brushes with the horrible events at Camp and their finding Elder Things, be a big moment for the players.

One of the things I did to try and enhance my performance for their enjoyment was to switch the Elder Thing from M1 to M2, so that they didn't find first the most damaged specimen worked on by Lake, but found an specimen in better shape, and that way I could use the description and words from HPL, the initial description of Lake when he found them from AtMoM. I didn't rehearse the description, but I did strongly visualize the moment and prepare the scene in my head better than previous ones, and I think from their reactions that it showed.

Later, when giving Wilson the information for his initial report, I used Lake's words from his analysis after his dissections, again taking advantage of the fact that none of the players read AtMoM and also obviously that there's nothing best than using HPL's words.

 

I did notice that Wilson got hung up on the bit about them reproducing via spores, which he understood as them having stored spores that could be released by their manipulation of the specimens and maybe have a reproduction cycle start. I was thinking how to have his biology background dissuade him of that possibility, maybe the frozen state of the specimens, or mentioning that they would need to intentionally release them and it didn't seem possible for them to be generated and accidentally released, but the scene and interaction between the PCs quickly moved away from that.

 

Re: Hawk and the Ax

I didn't expect the scene to move away to the intensification of the whole "lets behead the things" , with Hawk remarking that it’s best if they decapitate the things, and then when he was ignored by the rest, the player asked me if there was an ax in the tent (?) and after my negative answer told me he’ll then go find an ax.

I had to tell him that even though there wasn’t an ax sitting around in the Biology Tent, there were several instruments to work on dissections, and he took the hint and told me he then selected the biggest saw he could find.

I probably failed to describe the Biology Tent and everything in it in complete detail, but I wasn’t expecting him to imagine and ask for an ax as his first choice. Then again, I believe he was roleplaying well, being the only non scientist of the group involved in what they were finding, but still, an ax? I suppose I shouldn't get hung up on that, thinking back it amuses me a bit. I suppose his character and/or the player is the one I need to take care that he doesn't derail the realistic tone I'm still mostly going for.

 

Re: BFE Arrival

I forgot to give them the chance to have a hint of the Germans close arrival when Acacia speaks with Meyer over the radio. No one picked German so there wasn't a chance of them understanding anything and I knew that, which maybe contributed to me letting that slide when in this session they were finally showing real excitement and to be very engaged. Also, in this session and all the previous ones I offered them the chance to use the radio, contact someone, hear news, they said no every time, which meant I mostly forgot about radio in general, coming back to it only when the script had a transmission mentioned or something like that.

 

Re: Meyer

Maybe I had a bit too much fun playing Meyer as obviously knowing more than he let on, but I knew they would be suspicious of the germans just from being germans (and due to the whole Roerich abduction thing, although that was long ago and Wilson/Smith weren't on that session) and I decided to play with it. The Hangar and Dyer Manuscript revelation will happen early on on session 6 anyway, and with that the dropping of any pretense that they don’t know everything Dyer knew, and the at times playful interaction and obvious sizing up done by Meyer took their mind of the Elder things coming to life and that systematically decapitating them was the most important thing to be done.

 

THINKING BACK ON THE CAMPAIGN SO FAR

 

RE: Set Pieces

It's not what I was going for when planning or at first and it's obviously one of the things that contributed to having the plot move faster, but after the first few sessions I adapted to structuring the sessions thinking of having at least a few set-pieces per session. I started thinking this way around Session 3 and forward, realizing that my players were more passive than I expected, and waited for the plot to move along. It's not necesarily criticism, it could be influenced by various things. But still, at first I didn't know my players at all and incorrectly projected my analytical step by step approach to mystery solving to them, so I was a bit stumped when they still had a stack of clippings available and ready to be found out about Lexington, P.W. Lexington, Pym and more clues not yet researched, and they looked at me asking what happened next, or if it was the next day, and then for IDEA rolls when I suggested there were quite a few... things to research.

 

Re: Finally, Player Initiative!

I was starting to get worried about this but there was a big change on Session 5 when they reached Lake's Camp and I gave them in-game via Moore full authority on what they wanted to do. I mean, it was still mostly Moore telling them what to do, since they weren't going to then say: "Ok, our first action is to prep a plane and cross the Mountains", but the perceived 'sandbox' and bigger and meatier playground worked wonders.

I suppose their previous pasiveness at several times could have been influenced by the inevitable limits imposed on them by the Campaign inherent structure, and even if they were new to RPGs and CoC they perceived railroading or constrictive circumstances, in regards to being part of an expedition and having leaders to answer to, to receive work orders and direct instructions to do some stuff, and so on.

So in those chapters, the 'let's see what the plot throws at us next' settled in, and even if they were engaged at set pieces after they finished they were comfortable sitting back and looking at me to tell them what came next for them.

On the other hand, I'm glad that having their first brush with real horror woke them up and they started taking control and discussing things in detail between them, having opposing ideas on what to do, etc. I didn't expect to have it happen so late, during the 5th session, but I enjoyed finally being able sit back a bit and enjoy seeing my players get nervous, discuss, interrupt each other, etc. Role play and interact organically, immersing themselves on their characters. Definitely better late than never, and I'm pumped for the city and what comes next.

 

Before I go into that...

 

RE: NPCs / Starkweather-Moore Expedition Composition

I should have eliminated Myers when one player chose a Biologist, and made Giles his assistant. Two biologists didn’t make much sense and overlapped, Myers getting relegated to a few mentions, and Greene would have worked just as well and does actually have more importance as a whole (although what happens to him at the end could happen to any other as needed). Maybe I could've spotlighted him more anyway and try something like building up a rivalry with Wilson, but this player was starting to hog the spotlight a bit and that would only increase his solo interactions.

Same thing with Charlene Whitston, with 2 female PCs on my group I basically didn't use her once and it would've been the same if she wasn't there. I didn't feel inclined to establish her as antagonistic or a friend for either, since I didn't have plans for her later anyway and she didn't cross the mountains.

 

This is related to one of the things in which I know by this point that I've failed, which is to truly breathe life to the various members of the SW-M EXP and have it's numerous cast have its spotlight, interact meaningfully with the PCs, and so on. 

I think it was just... too big, at least for my ability as a Keeper at this point and also it's definitely something my players didn't seek out by themselves. I planned to do it, my cards for each have several notes at the back with their backgrounds, personality, etc, all the information that the campaign book provides to flesh them out, and I memorized it pretty well, but then didn't do much with it.

The players definitely have a relationship with Moore, the only NPC I'm sure they feel fleshed out, and they've had many interactions with several of the others, just.. not so many of them, and I know there are a few that I barely mentioned once or twice, and in the first sessions.

I think that the EXP could be fairly extensively trimmed of NPCs and have it work better, but maybe if I have the chance to run the Campaign again in the future I'll leave it as it is in case I encounter a group that actively seeks to explore them. After all, Dyer does mention on AtMoM that the Starkweather-Moore Expedition is being planned as bigger n' better, so trimming too much wouldn't be faithful to that.

Maybe I’ll also consider offering NPCs as PCs, that could work. Moore would probably be a great NPC to turn into a PC, but I don’t think it should be allowed due to the obvious imbalance of power that he’d have. Starkie should definitely never be a PC, there would then be a chance for him to be toned down even further! I half-joke and don’t think that I over-exaggerated him, he's definitely a fun character for the GM to play.

 

RE: Stereotypes

Related to my previous item, I've also noticed that I've ended up stereotyping more than I initially planned, but I think it ended up working well for our campaign. I don't think I've gone overboard and done caricatures of people like Starkweather, but from the moment I started noticing that most NPCs didn't come into play and probably wouldn't I started to distinguish the ones that did as distinctly as I could.

On one hand I think there's something reassuring about stereotypes and if played well they can be enjoyable, and adding this point of view to my group of players without RPG experience and my own rustiness at Keeping, I'm sure that If I didn't distinctly differentiate the NPCs that were most featured I would've been so subtle as to be subtly invisible on the character traits I wanted to be subtle about, and probably just interpreted several as too similar to each other. This way they're 2 dimensional, but distinct, and I'm also having fun.

 

Re: Acacia

After having Acacia be unapproachable in the beginning at her Mansion, and on her next appearance locked up in a screaming match with SW, and then later in a private meeting with SW and Moore, at least with my group, caused that they haven´t asked to talk to her, not even once. Maybe they are just not very interested in her character, but I think that having the first 3 appearances she makes be basically unapproachable doesn't contribute.

On the other hand having read other write ups of BtMoM like Christian Lehmann´s, in which Acacia is a central character and very much fleshed out, makes me think that I'm probably to blame here, forgetting at times about her and having the first time that she engages the PCs directly is when the BFE arrives and Meyer, Moore and the PCs talk.

Previously I made both Lewis and Wilson notice her entering the tents that they had already cleared out and inspected from Lake´s camp, but neither sought to speak with her, so I think it's clear at this point that if I want her to be an active NPC I need to have her go to them, and I don´t see much reason why she would.

Maybe if my players share the Dyer Manuscript with her when they get it on Session 6, but I highly doubt they will. I could be selling their humane impulses short and they will at least talk to her about it to warn her about the dangers on the other side, but I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't.

 

LOOKING AHEAD!

 

Re: Making sure the PCs pursue the abducted... Starkweather?

Now, I'm thinking several things about the important events that come next. Like I mentioned before, I think my players have a false sense of security and are seeing themselves more as Pulp Horror Heroes than realizing they are really Investigators in an HPL story, with everything that entails.

They've now encountered the Elder Thing specimens and the Horror at Lake's Camp, and are starting to get nervous and scared, but nothing will happen to them there. But, when it happens, I don't want it to go down as it went in one of the other write-ups shared here, in which the PCs realistically turned tail and got the hell out of there as soon as they lost one of their own to a Patrolling Shoggoth.

At the same time I think it's vital to fully allow player agency and not railroad them towards the Tower, and not nurse them through the City so that they're "in danger" but in reality protected by me.

This connects to the, I think, most 'controversial' idea that I'm dancing around with, which is that if they do lose one of the group of PCs to a Shoggoth and they are scared enough to decide to leave the City and the Campaign behind, the NPC that will be abducted by the Elder Things will not be Starkweather, but rather it will be Moore.

 

Re: Moore's Abduction!

The more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to go ahead with this anyway, shoggoth related death or not. I believe it fits better with how our campaign is playing out. The PCs did interact a lot with Starkie, I'd say he's the 2nd one in the ladder after Moore, but the only one that they've really made any kind of bond with is Moore. It's the only NPC of which I was successful in showing a more rounded individual, with relevant and believable motivations, known to the PCs, and they have seen him and interacted through different emotions and situations.

I'm not sure about it yet, and I have to confess that, due to it being still far away in the timetable, I haven't yet prepared and digested the epilogue content and how losing Moore could affect that portion.

But if I think that they are too scared, too shaken by the City and what happens to them, it will be Moore on the Wall, with Starkie having a truly emotional moment upon seeing his friend and partner's head on that monstrous wall, and will take it down.

 

I'm not saying it's best, per se, and I'm not arrogantly suggesting that after so many great iterations of this great campaign I'm the one that struck gold and improved it (and I'm sure I wouldn't be the first to do it, I just don't remember having it happen on any of the campaign accounts I read here and on the net), but I'm thinking It's my best choice if I want my PCs to want to fly out to the rescue. I fear they would leave Starkie behind, and I know they don't care much about his relationship with Acacia, having already decided they are two spurned former lovers and that's that.

 

I'm not sure yet, and I do believe that as played out in the book, with Stark's head on the Wall and Acacia's impassioned reaction, I could make it work, but I'm thinking having it be Moore will have more impact on them, and that's what I'm looking for. The best 2 way punch for the most memorable moments of the Campaign.

I certainly don’t plan to cop out and have an NPC be an option for the sacrifice, It’s one of the moments I’m most looking forward to! Does that sound sadistic? Can’t wait!

 

I don't consider any other option going down, I think it's an incredible moment gifted to Keepers and players by the authors and don't want to lessen the impact in any way. Maybe it doesn't go down as epic as I'm imagining it, maybe I don't perform as well and fail to create the unforgettable gaming moment that I hope to provide my players with, but it's what I'm going for!.

 

Re: Themes

Wrapping it up, even if I'm a bit dissapointed that I wasn't able to provide great moments for my players until Session 5, I'm convinced that the best is what comes now. I'm not saying they didn't enjoy themselves until Lake's Camp, or at least I hope that's not the case! I did have higher hopes for the dramatic turns on the Fier in the Pier and Roerich's Abduction, for e.g, but some choices and rolls drained some of it.

I love AtMoM, read it a lot of times, and a few more times now in preparing and enhancing the Lake's Camp session and the City with as much as I could lift, and that includes the underlying themes along with HPLs literal passages and descriptions. AtMoM, and BtMoM expanding on that, is very special in that regard and I hope to capture it well to be able to transmit it to the players so that the story resonates.

On their first encounter with the Elder Ones, they saw Monsters, terrible creatures that even if they have some degree of intelligence maim and kill and are that... monsters. They expected that, they're playing CoC, I'm the guy that told them 'let's come play this horror game that I'll run', so they expect horror. They wanted to destroy them, decapitate them. But the City subverts that, while at the same time keeps it, and enhances it, and it grows to something colossal, but at the same time relatable in many levels to a human. They can feel some kinship with the Elder Things, as Dyer did, and maybe some of them will, while knowing that at the same time all the understanding they can gather and gain about them can be quickly erased to nothingness if they see one up close and one of their many quick, strong, flexible and agile tentacles rips their throat, and then another one takes his head, again common monsters shedding blood, but not, not really. And in death or in madness they'll know that as much as they can relate, and understand humans can fall the same way they did, and/or never reach the height of their grand civilization, nor ever simply understand the universe as it is for them, completely alien. And so on.

 

I love CoC, at the very least I hope to be able to transmit as much of that vicariously to my players and have them love it and the time they're having as well! The City is still a month or so in the future when we can schedule next session, so I'll keep on refining what's left!

 

Thanks for reading!

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