Thursday, February 25, 2016

Cult of Chaos: "The Parsonsville Horror"

that's me on the left in the button-down.
Tuesday night I ran my first "Cthuesday Night" game at Just Games Rochester, my new Friendly Local Gaming Store.  When I first visited the store about two weeks ago, Matt, the owner, asked me what I played, and I told him I'm primarily a Call of Cthulhu Keeper, and he immediately asked if I was interested in running games at the store, because they had one guy running Call of Cthulhu already, and demand was greater than he could keep up with.  I immediately accepted, and began making plans to run short, single-session or two-session adventures on the Tuesday nights that the other fellow's campaign - he's running The Horror on the Orient Express - was not taking place.

My event got scheduled kind of last minute, as I was keeping an eye on the scheduling of the other guy's campaign, and while it originally looked like he'd be running on the 23rd, his group switched to March 1st, so I went in and talked to Matt, let him know I wanted the 23rd, and got it scheduled.  I had originally been working on a new adventure on the assumption I'd be running on the 1st, but with the timetable moved up I decided to just put a new coat of paint on an older adventure of mine, revising "The Get of Belial" into "The Parsonsville Horror."

I ended up with three players, none of whom had any experience with Call of Cthulhu; one of them had only had one or two RPG experiences prior to this, and the other two were primarily GMs who were looking to take some time to play for a change, which I totally get.  I also instituted a "Cthuesday Night Special" with Matt, wherein any player who spent $10 or more on merchandise in the store before the game got a token they could spend to reroll one failed sanity check.

The characters selected ended up being the Newspaper Reporter (named Reggie Dade this time), the Union Leader (William Kelvin was decided upon as the character name) and a Pinkerton Agent (Sean Brosnan).

The town of Parsonsville was a small coal mining and lumber town owned by Associated Anthracite Holdings, Ltd., currently entering its third week of a miners' strike demanding better pay and improved safety conditions.  The Pinkertons (there was a second available Pinkerton Agent Investigator) were there to try and break the strike from within, and if that didn't work, the executives at Associated Anthracite were willing to call in the National Guard.  The disappearance of the on-site managing executive, Glenn Maynard, was feared by some to be the spark to set the powder keg off.

The PCs were one of many search parties combing the area for signs of Maynard, and ultimately found first his car, which had careened off the road into a ditch, and his body some thirty yards into the woods, wedged into a forked branch of an oak tree and torn to ribbons with a sharp instrument that the coroner would later declare to have been a pickaxe.

The PCs eventually picked up a trail of clues that connected the death of Maynard, and a couple subsequent gruesome murders in town, with the Rasko family - Henry Sr., a crippled former miner, his two sons Michael and Henry Jr., who were both good union boys, and his wife Sarah, a faith healer.  They piece together that a murder occurs within an hour after Sarah lays on hands for somebody, and arrange for Brosnan to get hurt in a barroom brawl in order to have her lay hands on him.

They soon learn that the killer is the monstrous "Sonny" Rasko, who has been cursed - seemingly by Satan himself - to become more horrible and more violent every time Sarah heals someone; she was told she could have her son back if she stopped healing people.  Believing God gave her the ability to heal, and that God was stronger than the Devil, she refused to give up her gift.  They also learn that any injury inflicted on "Sonny" manifests as stigmata on Sarah - and the Pinkerton promptly slits her throat in the interest of killing the creature, only to learn that the stigmata does not go both ways.

This is the third group I've run this adventure for to assume that the connection goes both ways.  I've
That's a darn nice table.  
been told I "strongly suggest" that this is the case, but I'm not sure I see how; I just describe how, when the creature is shot, Sarah blossoms with bloody wounds that look like she's been peppered with buckshot, I never say one word about it going the other way.  I think players are just trying to come up with an excuse for their murderous ways.

Beaten to death with the butt of a shotgun and a baseball bat weighted with lead, "Sonny" Rasko transformed back into a 15 year old boy upon expiring, leaving the players with a lot of explaining to do when the sheriff arrives...

This was the first time I've ever run a game in a gaming store, and it was definitely a learning experience for me.  We had some thirty people in the background playing either Magic: The Gathering or X-Wing ship combat, and so there was a *lot* of background noise; Matt was gracious enough to offer me the use of the big table front and center in the store by the register, or the back room; I opted for the big table for visibility and to be able to try and entice passerby to join the next session.  I think if I find myself with something resembling a "regular" group at the store, I'll move to the back room, but until then I'll just buy a couple bottles of water from Matt (he sells snacks and drinks at the register) to keep my throat from getting as dry and hoarse as I was by the end of Tuesday's session.

The other issue I ran into was people wanting to come up and talk to my players about other games; one of the guys at my table on Tuesday was one of the big movers and shakers in the local Guild Ball scene, and somebody came up to him wanting to show off the new team he'd just assembled and painted, meaning I basically lost a player for ten minutes.  I was a little shocked at the lack of courtesy - I mean, hello? I'm running a game here; how would you like it if I came up to your Guild Ball table and talked to your opponent about Call of Cthulhu for ten minutes, leaving you to sit there?

But, these are the perils of running a game at a gaming store; us gamers are silly kittens, easily distracted by something shiny, and this is likely to be the reality I'm going to be dealing with.  I have the choice of, effectively, "taking my ball and going home," and then nobody gets Cthulhu, or learning to address it and improve as a Game-Master thereby.

As for my players, they all seemed to have had a good time; one player had announced beforehand that he prefers playing mayhem-causing characters to "make things more fun," and then bypassed the bomb-throwing anarchist pregenerated character entirely, which surprised me.  I think he may have "checked out" a bit from the game when he realized that his actions would have consequences and change the way NPCs reacted to him, not necessarily for the better, but he rallied towards the end of the session and said he would return for future sessions.

The player I'm most hopeful for a return from is the guy who had only ever played one or two RPG sessions before this, period; primarily a Magic: The Gathering player, once he had the reporter character sheet in his hands he was hooked, absolutely spellbound by the scenario, and afterwards he gushed to me about how much he enjoyed the game, and how he felt like he was actually solving a mystery.

That's because you were, my friend.  You gathered clues, pieced them together, drew inferences, followed up on those and resolved the situation.  You solved the mystery of the murders in Parsonsville, and good on you for that.  In fact, he followed one trail of investigation that nobody in either of the previous sessions I ran of this adventure did - he checked newspaper archives and correlated towns the Raskos had lived in with a string of unsolved, gory murders, and in this case at least, correlation did imply causation.

Overall, everything went very well on Tuesday night; I had a good time running the game (even if, by the end of the session, I was losing my voice and starting to develop gaps in my memory of what I'd previously told the players), the players unanimously declared that they had a good time, Matt probably pulled in a few tens of dollars more than he might have otherwise on a Tuesday night (I didn't see the X-Wing players do much shopping, for instance) and at least a few people passed by our table and then asked Matt at the register, "What is that?!?" in reference to us.

Next week I'm going in on Tuesday to talk to the guys in the Horror on the Orient Express campaign and see if I can't Fast Talk a couple of them into joining me on the other Tuesdays, and then March 8th I'm running again - I haven't decided yet if I want the 8th to be a modern day scenario with jaded, cynical TV "ghost hunters" for PCs, or a Classic Era scenario featuring a slow-burn investigation that ramps up hard at the end.


  1. Sounds as if it went well and good fun to boot.

    1. Thanks Michael! The store is starting up a Frostgrave league in the near future as well, which I will be getting in on - imagine, more than a decade after buying my first Warhammer figures, I'll finally be getting a chance to wargame!