Sunday, September 20, 2015

Call of Cthulhu Convention One Shot Report #1: Nightmare on the Slopes

I'm glad to be able to type this rather than try to deliver a con-game report verbally, because I basically don't have a voice today - running two 3 1/2 hour games back to back yesterday, both of which featured NPCs with "funny" voices, have left me raspy and sore.

The first game I ran, from 1 pm to about 4:30, was a modern day adventure I titled "Nightmare on the Slopes," which was based primarily on a 1977 made-for-TV horror movie entitled SNOWBEAST, which was basically JAWS, on a ski resort instead of a beach and with a killer bigfoot instead of a shark.  To this I added elements of two 1950s B-grade classics, THE CRAWLING EYE and THE BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE, as well as elements of Native American mythology.

Additionally, with these games I'm running as part of the Cult of Chaos program, I'm trying to push my own comfort zone a little bit and so I'm denying myself monsters that I tend to use a lot - zombies, Mi-Go, ghouls - and forcing myself to find ways to use other, less-common monsters.  In this case, I brought in the reptilian Lloigor as my "Big Bad" for the session.

I had a full table, with six players - one of whom was my sister, and another her boyfriend who I was meeting for the first time, which was an interesting dynamic for me.  Of the other four, one player had no prior experience with Call of Cthulhu, two had a little bit of limited experience, and one guy had been playing since 1981, which, for those keeping track at home, is six years before I was born.  My sister has played a little bit of Call of Cthulhu in the past, and her boyfriend had a bit more experience prior to yesterday's game.

The investigators were two FBI agents staking out the ski lodge in case a trio of bank robbers tried to hide out there, the local sheriff who wasn't about to let the FBI steal his thunder, the manager of the lodge who wanted things kept quiet as it was the biggest business week of the year for the lodge, an alcoholic former Olympian seeking work, and a fraudulent psychic conning the lodge owner.

The adventure started with a young woman going missing, and the searchers who found her body finding evidence - footprints, a blurry gray shape in a photo on her camera - that she'd been attacked and killed by a Sasquatch.  An attempt to hunt the killer ape-man down resulted in the posse being attacked and separated by a trio of Sasquatches, who were attempting to beat the humans unconscious - not to kill them.  One of the FBI agents got beaned pretty good by a large female sasquatch and carried off into the woods.

Meanwhile, one of the bank robbers - albeit half dead from dehydration and appearing 20 years older than he had a week prior - showed up at the lodge, babbling about a "dragon" and a cabin by the lake before having a seizure and dying.

The FBI agent awoke in a cave by the shore of the nearby lake, guarded by the female sasquatch, surrounded by the desiccated bodies of the other two bank robbers.  Finding a handgun on one of them, he opened fire on the Bigfoot, sending her running, but awakening something large deeper in the cave.  The other agent, the sheriff, and the Olympian arrived in time to grab him and drag him out as an enormous, long-necked reptile emerged briefly from the cave, blinking in the sunlight, then retreating back into the darkness.  One of the FBI agents tried opening fire on the creature, with no effect other than to hear a hissing voice in his head whisper, "You...I will savor..."

They fled the scene after that.

At the lodge owner's request, the "psychic" was holding a seance for the amusement of a dozen or so drunken tourists, when she suddenly experienced a legitimate psychic vision, witnessing an attack on a Native American canoe by something large coming from underwater.  Thrashing on the floor, she screamed "Pita skog! Pita skog!" a few times before coming to.  Between her, the FBI agents and the sheriff, they figure out that "pita skog" is a local variant on the legendary "horned water snake" that appears in native folklore east of the Mississippi, and it dawns on them that this is what they saw in the cave, and what has been awaiting sacrifices for centuries.

That night, almost 70 guests of the lodge rose from their beds, sleepwalking out of the lodge and stumbling through the snow and the trees down towards the lake.  The sheriff manages to avoid being drawn out, and begins trying to wake people, figuring out that slapping them in the face seems to work pretty well.  Soon the psychic, who was experiencing horrifying and depressing dreams in which a bubbling voice tried to draw her into the lake, was awake and helping, followed by the FBI agents.  The lodge manager was among those sleepwalking, until they woke him.

Down at the lake, they see people throwing themselves into the icy waters, and a huge, gray-green shape swimming eel-like, its finned back occasionally breaking the surface, grabbing them as they bob and struggle to swim.

The sheriff, recalling a cabin around the edge of the lake commonly used for ice-fishing, takes off running to investigate, managing to find a bundle of dynamite - and the $25,000 the bank robbers had stolen, which he stashed for later retrieval.  Lighting the fuse and handing the bundle to the Olympian, who tried very hard to throw it into the creature's open mouth as it reared up to grab another floundering human prize.  He missed however, the bundle splashing into the water a yard or two from the creature.  The resulting explosion badly injured the creature, who tried to flee and escape back into its cave - but not getting there before the lodge manager had shown up with a portable generator and some electrical cables, With a hissing crackle and the overpowering stench of ozone and frying flesh, the pita skog sank to the bottom of the lake, along with the handful of tourists they hadn't managed to awaken before they could take the plunge.

The adventure went very well, and everyone had a really great time - I'd purposefully structured this adventure as a series of individual scenes that could be slotted together in different orders and still form a coherent narrative, and I think that worked out really well; there was one scene I'd written that they didn't play through, in which the annual beauty pageant held as part of the big "Winterfest" weeklong event at the lodge was to be interrupted by the sasquatch and the lodge owner's granddaughter carried off to be given to the pita skog.  But given that they'd managed to kill two of the sasquatches and badly injure a third, it made more sense to leave the scene out, especially once they'd caught on to the existence of the creature in the lake.

the crew for this session.  That's my sister on the far left, her boyfriend next to her, and the
gentleman in the Chewbacca shirt was brand new to Call of Cthulhu.
The other thing that went really well was how the investigators were really pursuing two different lines of investigation - the sheriff and the two FBI agents (later joined by the Olympian) went into the woods after bigfoot, while the lodge owner, the psychic, and the Olympian (before heading into the woods) puzzled out the sucked-dry bank robber and the psychic disturbances.  It wasn't really until the final scene that they were all really in one place at the same time and working together, and I managed to juggle that, and keep the focus shifting back and forth (complete with cliffhangers that didn't feel forced) between the two groups - nobody got bored, and nobody felt left out of the action, so I feel really good about that.

I handed out a custom d6 to each of the players (I had Chessex print up a run for me - they're jade-green with gold pips, and instead of a "1" there's an Elder Sign) as a thank-you for signing up for my game.  I also, at the beginning of the session, threw a big bag of mini candy bars - Snickers, Twix and Milky Ways - on the table and urged people to help themselves; my feeling is, regardless of whether I'm running a game at my apartment or at a convention, as Game Master I am hosting for the people at my table, and I like being a good host.  Plus, if word gets around "Hey, next year sign up for Bill Adcock's games! He hands out candy AND dice!" then I can promote the game even more effectively to a wider audience.

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