The Thrill of Cthulhu

Tomorrow night, I’m running a Call of Cthulhu one-shot for a group of friends.

It’s going to be interesting; I’ve got four or five people coming to play, and only the tentative fifth player has any deep experience with the game. Two of the others have played a bit, one has played other games but never this one, and one is very new to gaming, her only experience being the Dresden Files RPG playtest. That means I really want to show off what Call of Cthulhu has to offer as a game.

Picking the scenario turned out to be tougher than I thought. I was planning on running The Haunting, which is sort of the default intro scenario that’s been published in (I’m pretty sure) every edition of the rules. Unfortunately, one of the players has just enough memory of it to make that not feasible. So, I was stuck looking through all my Call of Cthulhu books, trying to find something that would work. For it to be a good one-shot intro scenario, I felt it needed the following elements:

  • Research. If the characters don’t have the opportunity to look around libraries and newspaper morgues and interview people, it’s not an archetypal Cthulhu adventure.
  • Investigation. If the characters don’t have a strange place or event to nose around in, then what’s the adventure?
  • Danger. Come on, it’s a one-shot! There’s got to be a real chance of disaster.
  • Mythos elements. There’s got to be some mythos magic, and a mythos threat, to really show that this is Cthulhu, not just a random horror game.
  • One session. We’ve got to be able to wrap it up in a single evening.

So, I dug through all my old books, trying to find something that fit all the criteria, and came up with The House on Stratford Lane, from an old issue of The Unspeakable Oath. It didn’t quite fit all the criteria, not having much in the way of research and having a chance that no mythos threat materializes, but it was pretty good, and all the Pagan Publishing Cthulhu stuff is interesting and well-written.

Which gave me an idea; I should ask Scott Glancy, president of Pagan Publishing, for his suggestion of a scenario. See, I spend GenCon every year working the Pagan Publishing booth with Scott, so I know he knows about good Cthulhu adventures. Last year, I even got to playtest a scenario involving a WWI German airship, and something nasty brought back from an archaeological dig.

He gave me a number of good suggestions, and even pointed me to the relevant message threads on Yog-Sothoth.com, but the one that stuck out was The Brockford House. I had to dig out my old 4th Edition rulebook to find the scenario, but it had everything except the research. That’s the one I picked.

So, for the past few days, I’ve been building a research section for the game, and developing props for the game. Because, as any CoC player knows, it’s all about the handouts. And making neat props for games is just a lot of fun – having a newspaper clipping or page from an ancient tome that looks like a newspaper clipping or page from an ancient tome really increases player immersion in the experience and suspension of disbelief.

I’ve been aided in prop making by the good folks at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, most specifically by their Prop and Font CD. I’ve been using it to put together newspaper clippings and some pages from… other sources.

Here’s a little tip about aging paper for games that I picked up back when I was studying drama at University: soak the paper in cold tea for about 15-20 minutes, then dry it flat. If you want a ragged, distressed sort of edge to the paper, tear it while it’s soaking wet – it gives you a much more worn, interesting looking edge to the page. Do this after writing or printing on it. That’s important.

A lot of you probably already knew that, but maybe it’ll be useful for someone.

Anyway, I’m all excited about the game tomorrow night. I think it’ll be fun. And after we play this one-shot, I’m going to test-drive the Trail of Cthulhu rules with the intro scneario provided.

I’ll let you know how things go.

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2 Responses to The Thrill of Cthulhu

  1. Michael says:

    Man, I´m sorry I´m missing this one! Hope you all have a great time and I hope to hear the gaming stories when I get back!

  2. tbesko says:

    You can’t go wrong with CoC. It’s my game of choice for introducing new players to gaming. The percentile system is simple and makes sense to new players. I generally play in the 1920s which is different enough than present day to be interesting but not too alien for the new player to comprehend. I have run The Haunting, or as I know it The Haunted House, more often than any other published scenario for any game. It was the first CoC scenario we played after cracking open the first edition box set. Good luck with your game, it should be fun.

    I did pick up Trail of Cthulhu while I was in Minneapolis but I haven’t had time to read it. Hopefully soon.

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