Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Time To Harvest Session 2: "The Darkest Part of the Woods"

We had the second session of the Call of Cthulhu organized play campaign "A Time To Harvest" this past week, and while it was a short session (I try not to run super long, due to one of my players having anxiety issues that makes it hard for them to spend long periods of time around strangers, plus I've been having wicked insomnia problems lately, meaning my energy levels aren't where I'd like them to be) I feel like a lot was accomplished.  The players divided up and spread across the small town of Cobb's Corners, Vermont to gather information and then came back together to share what they'd learned, piecing together dissociated knowledge in true Cthulhu Investigator fashion.

Once again, our Dramatis Personae:

  •  Darren Gray (played by Mike), engineering major and member of the fencing team 
  • Perry Webster (played by Dan), journalism major, on assignment for the Miskatonic Crier 
  • Rip Steakface (played by Gina), folklore studies major (Gina is my girlfriend, and this is her first RPG campaign, and she's not taking it entirely seriously. She has stated her intention that every character she plays this campaign will have a name taken from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode in which they riff SPACE MUTINY) 
  • Roni (played by Katie), Finnish-born history major and member of the swim team 
  • Randall Vhloche (played by Sean), geography major 
  • Oliver Goss (played by Dave), anthropology major

I'm not sure how we ended up with half the PCs having first names beginning with "R," but here we are.

When we last left our heroes, Perry had just been handed a photograph, seeming to show something flying in front of the moon, by local newspaperman Richard Wendell.  Wendell believed that it was to destroy this photograph that his darkroom was trashed by forces unknown.  Perry asked Wendell to run off a few copies of the photograph, arguing that it would be best to go public with this - whoever tried to suppress the photo can't if there are copies circulating throughout the town.

That night, another round of strange and confusing shared dreams struck the group, afflicting almost all the player characters.  In the morning, on his way to the outhouse, Roni spotted a strange creature, a small humanoid shape about two feet tall with an oversized head, pinkish-gray skin and no facial features save a pair of glowing green-orange eyes.  When he dropped his copy of the Sears Roebuck catalog at the sight of this thing, it glowered at him and took off running into the Sugar Maples behind the property.

Robert Blaine, the expedition leader, sub-divided the folklore students for this day's work, putting the player characters in one group and the NPCs in another (to ease the GM's burden, haha).  Darren was assigned to the "soil" group to assist the archaeologists and geologists, while Perry, a journalist, was left to his own devices.

The folklorists (and Perry, conducting independent research along similar lines), soon came to the realization that there were a few trends showing up in their interviews:

  1. A place called "Broken Hill" was significant - some legends marked it as a Native American burial ground, others as a burial ground for massacred white settlers.  Supposedly guarded by a huge, spectral hound that can be turned away by the sign of the Cross.  
  2. The valley in which Cobb's Corners sits is largely devoid of insects and wildlife - "only man and what man brings with him dwells here."
  3. There is an unusual high death rate among children in Cobb's Corners.  The entire graduating class of 1919 (five students, but still) were dead before the end of that summer.  
  4. Agnes Bellweather, living alone past the edge of town, is a witch.  Allegedly, when she caught her husband with another woman, she cursed his privates off and left him to kill himself.  
A visit to the town physician, Dr. Perry, confirmed that there's a high death rate among children.  Dr. Perry voiced his opinion that, as fantastic and unbelievable as it may seem, he's come to the conclusion that a vampire is at work - the children are often found drained of blood, splashed with pig's blood to disguise the loss.  He speculates that Sarah Maclearan, dead 20 years, is the vampire, as shortly after his arrival in town he got called on an unusual case: her grave had been vandalized, and he was asked to ensure that nothing untoward had been done to her body - only to discover that her casket contained a dead calf.  The whereabouts of Sarah Maclearan's body remains a mystery to this day.  

A visit to Agnes Bellweather revealed her to be an elderly woman, barely 4 feet tall, blessed with an abundance of common sense and humor.  She explained that she'd been the village midwife and apothecary until the sheriff forced her into retirement at Dr. Perry's arrival, though people still come to her for remedies for toothaches, infertility, and less medical maladies such as bad luck or feeling jinxed.  Rip made friends with her cat Beltane.  

Meanwhile, the digging team turned up a single arrowhead (Darren's player Mike, being a wise guy, asked me if it was a Clovis point.  Without missing a beat, I said, "No, Solutrean." He's not the only wise guy at the table) and otherwise labored fruitlessly in the sweltering heat and humidity.  Darren did his best to try and catch the eye of the attractive young botanist Clarissa, but without much luck.  

Dark, heavy storm clouds were beginning to roll in and the PCs reconvened at the Maclearan farmhouse, sharing what they'd learned with each other over spaghetti.  Noting that the dig site was nowhere near Broken Hill, they raised the possibility of digging near there to Blaine, who claimed that last summer, the team he'd been a part of had dug near there and turned up nothing of value, plus the terrain is treacherous and choked with thorn bushes. 

That night, Randall, laying awake in a puddle of sweat as the humidity built and built, heard the door to Blaine's room creak open.  He sat up.  "Where are you going, Blaine?" he asked suspiciously.  

Blaine jumps a little, and swings his flashlight around.  "I just have to pee," he mutters, heading for the door.  

When Blaine doesn't return to the farmhouse after about fifteen minutes, Randall wakes his fellow investigators.  "Blaine went out fifteen minutes ago.  I wanna see where he went."

Stepping outside, Oliver began calling Blaine's name, getting no response.  Knocking on the door of the outhouse likewise got no response.  Pulling open the door revealed it to be unoccupied - where had Blaine gone?


We ended the session on that cliffhanger, leaving the players to kind of simmer on that mystery until our next session, which will be May 31st.  

I do have some exciting news on the Call of Cthulhu front as well - because demand is so high right now at my local game store, I will be adding an extra game day to my schedule and running an open table event one Sunday a month for people who are interested in Call of Cthulhu but have perhaps never played before, and possibly working with the store owner to arrange an extra game master to begin running Cthulhu games as well.  

This is, to be blunt, amazing.  Call of Cthulhu is a long-standing, much beloved game, but not one that seems to get a lot of love in game stores; Just Games Rochester is the only store in the area with Call of Cthulhu events on its calendar at all, and right now those are all full, so we're creating more to keep up with demand.  

Matt, the store owner, pointed out to me as well that I'm starting to become the public face of Cthulhu in Rochester - I'm the guy busting my hump to run great games, I'm the guy going out and talking up the game, I'm the guy people are getting referred to when they have questions about Cthulhu gaming.  It's kind of surreal, but I'm willing to roll with it.  

I would like to get to the point where I'm helping to arrange more events not just through Rochester, but all of Western New York; there's a game store in Buffalo that I'd like to look at starting to run periodic games at as well to increase the visibility of Call of Cthulhu, with an eye towards bringing in other GMs (unfortunately, I can't run all the games) and getting big monthly Cthulhu events on the calendars of a couple stores.  There's a Savage Worlds group here that I'm looking at as a model of how best to achieve this.  

ADDITIONALLY, Matt asked me to help organize a release party to mark the arrival of the 7th edition Call of Cthulhu books in store, and I'm very excited for that.  Todd Gardiner, Chaosium's director of organized play, was kind enough to provide me with a demo adventure, not yet ready for publication, to run at the release party, and we're going to have that running simultaneously at multiple tables throughout the store to maximize visibility and expose as many people as possible to the infectious madness that is Call of Cthulhu.  I'm debating getting a black robe to wear in my role as master of ceremonies for this event, which will be June 5th starting at noon.  

So there is a ton of Cthulhu gaming going on in my life right now and in the weeks to come.  

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Time to Harvest, Session 1: So Nice to Meet You

This past Tuesday, six players and I convened at Just Games Rochester to begin Chaosium's new organized play campaign, "A Time to Harvest." This campaign is being released in monthly installments, which as a member of their Cult of Chaos GM Outreach program, I received in my email.  Once everything is complete and GM feedback on the campaign is sent in, it will be edited and released as a published, for sale on the shelf book.  By running the campaign in the store (and even better, by setting up tables closer to the front door of the store so everybody coming in has to walk right by us), we increase the visibility of the Call of Cthulhu RPG - which is good for the company, yes, but also hopefully helps Matt, the store owner, move a few more units of product (for the same reason, I've instituted a house rule that spending $10 on merchandise in the store earns players one opportunity to reroll a failed sanity check).  We rolled up characters (interestingly, both female players opted to play male characters) and then commenced to play.

Dramatis personae:

  • Darren Gray (played by Mike), engineering major and member of the fencing team
  • Perry Webster (played by Dan), journalism major, on assignment for the Miskatonic Crier
  • Rip Steakface (played by Gina), folklore studies major (Gina is my girlfriend, and this is her first RPG campaign, and she's not taking it entirely seriously.  She has stated her intention that every character she plays this campaign will have a name taken from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode in which they riff SPACE MUTINY)
  • Roni (played by Katie), Finnish-born history major and member of the swim team
  • Randall Vhloche (played by Sean), geography major
  • Oliver Goss (played by Dave), anthropology major
These six, along with a handful of NPC students, are signed up for a field trip from Miskatonic University to Cobb's Corners, Vermont, to take place just before the start of the fall 1930 semester.  The students are divided up between folklore/anthropology students and geology/archaeology/hard sciences students, all under the direction of grad student Robert Blaine.  

Upon arriving in Cobb's Corners, they quickly learned some interesting tidbits:

  • Sheriff Spenser has no time nor patience for college students, believing them all to be fundamentally dishonest, drunkards, and miscreants.  Deputy Cutter, a very young man, however, is more easy-going.
  • the Maclearan farm house, where they're staying for the duration of their time in Cobb's Corners, is allegedly haunted by the ghost of Sarah Maclearan, the sister of Sheriff Spenser who died 20 years ago of tuberculosis.  Her husband, Jimmy, has become the town drunk from grief.  
  • the town newspaper is pure gossip and scandal-mongering.  
  • Jason Haggerty, the 14 year old son of the local diner owners, likes drawing creepy trees.  
After a night of sinister dreams, Rip and Darren got to talking and realized they had had the same dream.  Inspired by their nightmare visions of menacing trees, they decide to forgo school work and go try to find Jason in hopes the boy can provide some clues about the trees.  Blaine throws a conniption fit over the two of them abandoning their course of study for the day, but is helpless to stop them.  They fail to find him, but do talk to a group of children playing some sort of game involving dancing around in a circle and singing about who makes the sun come up and who makes the plants grow.  

Meanwhile, the other students in the folklore group walk the back roads of Cobb's Corners, talking to older locals about the folklore and legends of the region.  From one such individual, Old Man McGoggins, they learned of strange lights and sounds coming from the foothills of the Green Mountains, which he identified as evidence of a gateway to Hell.  He also warned them to stay away from the Maclearan farmhouse, as Sarah Maclearan was a "witch vampire" and would kill them from beyond the grave.  Tiring of this, and using Oliver as a distraction, Perry Webster snuck away from the group and returned to town, eager to interrogate Richard Wendell, the town newspaperman, over anything suspicious or unusual he might have seen, as well as to check his archives for information on the death of Boyd, his former roommate, who died on a previous expedition to Cobb's Corners.  

"Anything unusual, eh?" Wendell said with a chuckle, then closed the blinds, locked the door, and explained very seriously: "A couple weeks ago I was testing a new photographic emulsion, to try and take better photographs at night.  I saw...I'm not sure what, but I snapped a photo of it.  When I got back here, I put the camera under my desk and went to sleep, instead of developing it right away.  When I woke up, my dark room was in flames, everything inside smashed and ruined.  I managed to put the fire out but everything inside was destroyed.  If I had had the camera in there, this picture would have been lost; I can only assume this is what they were after - yes, I think it must have been arson.  And the strangest thing? Deputy Cutter came around to check on things - before I called the police."

He handed Perry a photograph.  It showed the full moon, shining brightly over the town, and a hazy silhouette of something with big, bat-like wings hovering in front of the moon.  

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Modern Prometheus

Here's a Reaper Flesh Golem I recently finished, and as we all know, the Flesh Golems we've become familiar with thanks to decades of fantasy RPGs are literary descendants of the original creation of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, so you'll forgive me for going with that reference instead of the Monster Manual.  I gave him a snowy base to represent the alpine setting of much of the novel, as well as to make him suitable for use in Frostgrave.