Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Tentacle Beckons

I was talking with a coworker and fellow RPG enthusiast recently - I'd introduced both her and her boyfriend to Call of Cthulhu not too long ago, and they had a blast with the game, and that's impressive given that they both come from a background of hack 'n' slash dungeon crawling Pathfinder.  They showed up to the one-shot I ran with characters prepared and ready to go - a war correspondent and a big game hunter, complete with backgrounds and personalities.  She was telling me about how, after that session, her boyfriend (who is a longtime DM and player of D&D himself) couldn't shut up about how blown away he was by Call of Cthulhu.

Call of Cthulhu is really where I've always shined as a GM.  My first real experience behind the screen was running a heavily-modified Shadows of Yog-Sothoth, with several additional scenarios interspersed between each chapter and the Scotland chapter completely replaced with material I wrote set in a Silent Hill-style town.  The campaign ended up lasting something like 16 or 18 4-6 hour sessions, and featured the development of what we termed the "Shotgun Mythos" -- more Investigators died due to being shot with shotguns or having shotguns malfunction catastrophically in their hands then due to Mythos horrors.

After that a ran a short campaign set in Roman-occupied Alexandria, in which the PCs were manipulated by Nyarlathotep into exterminating a cult of Shub-Niggurath worshipers to further his own bid for cosmic supremacy, culiminating in the PCs calling up Shub-Niggurath to smack Nyarlathotep down.

Next campaign, again a fairly short one, only about eight sessions, used modern day Flying Saucer mythology and the Shaver Mystery in place of the Cthulhu Mythos, I think to excellent effect.  The high point of this campaign was the final scene, in which I revealed that everything past the first session was a hallucination shared by the PCs in a sanitarium following a toxic overdose of experimental dream-suppressant medication.

After that, I converted Nigel Kneale's teleplay for "Quatermass and the Pit" into a short campaign, with Nyarlathotep again manipulating the PCs into opening and activating the Martian cylinder, sending out psychic waves activating latent Martian genes in the people of London.  Under this psychic influence, Nyarlathotep revealed, the people of London would mutate into locust-like creatures, which he termed "the Megiddo Swarm," and wipe humanity from the globe at his direction.  The PCs managed to avert this fate using a Gate spell and, through a great deal of psychic effort, sending the cylinder off-planet.

After this, I took a break, as one of my players commented on my tendency to lean on Nyarlathotep as a villain, and I wanted to refresh myself creatively.  Since then I've run some Pathfinder, a couple assorted sessions of various OSR games, and a short (five session) campaign using the BRP mechanics set in the Caribbean at the time of Elizabeth's reign (which I originally started this blog to use as a campaign journal for, which just didn't work out).

Now maybe it's time to pick up the percentile dice and roll for SAN loss again.  Maybe that's why I'm so flighty and indecisive towards fantasy games lately; maybe I need to sink myself back into horror.  I recently got a copy of Dan O'Bannon's excellent adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, THE RESURRECTED, on DVD -- most published Call of Cthulhu campaigns tend to be very sprawling geographically, on the model of The Shadow Out of Time...maybe I should try to do something that sprawls chronologically instead.

Maybe set each player up with three Investigators, one for each of three different eras, with each character being somehow descended from their character in a prior era.  Have the main arc of the campaign take place in the 1920s, say, and one of the Investigators stumbles across an old diary belonging to an ancestor...and when they start to read it, I play a "flashback" sound effect, collect the 1920s character sheets and hand out the players' 1750s (or whatever) character sheets, and have them play out the events of what the character in "the present" is reading.  And later they get access to older documents (such as a ledger maintained by a cult, decade after decade, for hundreds of years) and read about the exploits of their ancestors further back (flashback sound effect again), and I had out character sheets for 1028 AD or whatever, and it's only be piecing together the information they've found in the present with the incomplete information their Colonial ancestors and Dark Age ancestors had that they manage to tie together all the clues and defeat the cult once and for all.

It's a thought!

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