Brockford House Postmortem

Yeah, they all died.

**WARNING** This post is contains spoilers for The Brockford House, a scenario that I pulled out of the 4th Edition Call of Cthulhu rulebook.

To fill out the adventure, I created some investigation that the characters could do before heading to the house. This included a couple of notes in books about the superstitions of the area, emphasizing that it was considered bad luck to stay on certain islands overnight, and tracing that back to the legends of the native people of the area. It also included a number of news articles outlining the history of the man who had built the house some 25 years earlier, and the horrible fate that befell him and his family.

The investigators dug up these clues, and decided to go interview folks in the town and some surviving Penobscot tribesmen to see if they could get any more information. What they got led them to believe that there was some sort of evil monster(s) that only came out at night and would kill anyone outside on the specified islands, one of which was the site of the Brockford house.

So, they paid one of the locals to ferry them out to the island, with the plan to stay overnight and sort things out. They brought some things with them for protection: salt, bibles, silver pentacles, etc. Nothing that would actually have any effect on mythos creatures. Strangely, to my mind, no one tried to buy any extra weapons or explosives, despite the fact that at least one of the players kept complaining about the fact that his doctor character only had his scalpel to defend himself with. (The characters were all pregens.)

They explored the island, and found a spot where there were hand- and footholds carved in the side of the rock leading down to a little smugglers’ bay, but the tide was in, so they weren’t able to climb down to check it out. After scouting the exterior, they moved to the interior. They found the room where the sacrifices had been chained up, and spotted the weird deer heads on the walls, and even found the hidden books. They looked at these last briefly, but didn’t want to take the time (or risk the SAN) reading them.

In the basement, they found and smashed open the hidden trap door, and climbed down into the room with the altar. There, they discovered the stairs down into the caves, and proceeded downwards. Once down, they wiggled through the stalactites and stalagmites into the open area, then got cold feet because it was getting near sunset, so they went upstairs and barricaded themselves in one of the guest rooms.

That’s when they took the time to read the books, and became somewhat rattled.

Now, at this point, it was closing in on 1:00 AM in the real world, so I cut to the chase. Rather than roll the random chance to see if the Deep Ones came upstairs to investigate the broken trap door, I just decided that they would. With successful listen checks, the characters heard the boxes they had piled on top of the trap door getting pushed aside, so they decided to set up a barricade and firing position at the top of the stairs. Moving around the furniture let the Deep Ones know that their prey was on the top floor, so up they came.

There followed a nasty battle, as two of the characters tried to hold the barricade while the other two went for more furniture to pile at the top of the stairs. When that didn’t seem to be working well, they ran back to join their companions, in time to help the two badly-wounded characters back into their original room. One of the characters went mad at that point and threw herself out of the window to her death on the rocks below. Another had his head slapped off his shoulders by a Deep One’s claws. The last two, armed only with a sword cane and a scalpel, were quickly overwhelmed and died, leaving one more mystery for the owner of the house.

It wasn’t all one-sided, though. They did manage to put down four of the Deep Ones before they died.

Some observations on the game:

  • Bad rolls gathering information makes for a boring and discouraging game.
  • Too many avenues of investigation, and surprising (to me) decisions by the characters as to what to investigate, led to a much later start at the house, so I wasn’t able to stretch out the on-site stuff as much as I would have liked.
  • As a Cthulhu one-shot, everyone assumed they were doomed from the start. That may have led to the actual doom, as they figured nothing they could do would change that.

When it was over, one of the players made an interesting comment. He said, “It was a fun game, but I was never scared.”

I hadn’t realized that he expected to be, or thought he should be.

I mean, when you play D&D, and your character gets hit by a sword, you don’t expect the player to bleed, right? He just plays his character as if the character were bleeding.

By the same measure, I don’t expect players to be scared during horror games. Tense, yes. Worried for their characters, sure, if it’s not a one-shot. Cautious, you bet. Even creeped out a bit. But scared? Nope.

Their characters, on the other hand, should be played as if they were scared.

And that may be one of the reasons some people don’t like horror games. They like playing heroes, people who overcome their fear and triumph over adversity. It’s why Vampire: The Masquerade morphed into a superheroes-with-fangs game. In horror movies and literature and games, the genre expects a certain type of response from characters: desperate, gibbering, uncontrolled fear.

And if you don’t like playing that kind of character, then horror games aren’t going to cut it for you.

My two cents on the question.

Anyway, everyone had fun, despite the TPK. We’re going to try the Trail of Cthulhu rules in a couple of weeks.