The Future of My Gaming

The weekend before last, I ran three 4E D&D games on three nights in a row. I had fun at all three games, but it really wore me out, and got me thinking about what I want out of gaming currently and in the future.

I’ve been running nothng but D&D 4E for at least a year.

Now, I like the game, I enjoy running it, and I like all the games I’ve run. But I’m not running any of the other games I’m interested in, and I want to change that.

So, after mulling things over, and talking with a couple of my players, I sent out this announcement to all my players:

So, this weekend, I GMed three nights in a row – all D&D 4E – and I came to a realization.

I’m tired.

I like gaming, and I like GMing, and I like 4E, but I’ve been pretty immersed in them for some time, and I think I need to start scaling back. There are other things I’ve been neglecting for the D&D games, and I’d like to make some time for them again. I’m approaching a burn-out point, and I don’t want to reach it.

So. Here’s what’s gonna happen.

  • Post Tenebras Lux is going to wrap up after this adventure – I’m thinking 2-3 more sessions.
  • Development of The Phoenix Covenant is going on hold for a while.
  • The Hunter game is going to the top of the development queue, at least until we get a few sessions played and decide if we like it.
  • I’m going to start looking at other games for short mini-campaigns: runs aimed at 3-6 sessions, possibly using pregens, probably small groups of no more than four players. Things that are different from D&D. First up on this list is something from the Gumshoe line – Trail of Cthulhu, Mutant City Blues, or Esoterrorists. Maybe resurrect the Century Club. Dogs in the Vineyard? Maybe…
  • Storm Point will continue as per usual, unless someone in that game has other ideas.

And there you have it. I want to thank everyone for playing in my games, and I hope you’ll be interested in some of the new things I’m planning on trying. I enjoy gaming with you all.

Responses were very supportive, which just goes to show that I’ve got a great bunch of players.

But now I want to talk in a little more detail about what I’m planning for the next several months:

  1. Post Tenebras Lux. I want to wrap this up before the end of October. The adventure I’m currently running will make a decent stopping point. I’ve learned a lot about running 4E from this game, and have enjoyed it, but it’s served its purpose, and can be honourably retired.
  2. Storm Point. This going to continue; it’s my low-maintenance game, very beer-and-pretzels, and one of the only opportunities I have for seeing some of the people in this game. It’s going to be my only D&D game for the forseeable future.
  3. Hunter: The Vigil. This is first up on the slate for development. I’ve got to finish up a couple of things for some of the characters, and put the last touches on the initial adventure, then it’s ready to run. I want to get one or two sessions done before Christmas. The problem is that I designed and grafted on what I thought at the time was a simple system for supernatural player abilities – it’s turned out to be a lot more complex and difficult implementing from the GM end than I had anticipated.
  4. GUMSHOE. I’ve been wanting to try this system for some time, but just haven’t had a lot of luck scheduling it. Now, I’m going to run an adventure or two, either Trail of Cthulhu or Mutant City Blues. If nothing else, I owe the good folks at Pelgrane Press a play report for the generous act of sending me a preview of Mutant City Blues some time ago. I’d like to get this started before the new year, but after the first Hunter session.
  5. Spirit of the Century. I just love this game to death and want to run more of it. I also want a chance to play, so I’m going to look at resurrecting our pick-up league and getting it running again. Hopefully early in the new year.
  6. Dogs in the Vineyard. I want to give this game a try sometime, but don’t know when I’ll be able to fit it in. Probably not before January or February.
  7. Other Games. There are a lot of other games out there I want to try out – Mouseguard, Starblazer Adventures, Thousand Suns, Don’t Rest Your Head, Cold City… we’ll have to wait and see if and how those can fit in.

Those are my plans. I will, of course, keep people up to date on the various games I run, and occasionally spout off on some idea or concept that gets stuck in my brain.

I hope you stick with it. It should be fun.

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.

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, 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.

Trail of Cthulhu

I got my copy of Trail of Cthulhu this week. It’s a new implementation of the Call of Cthulhu game, using Robin D. Laws’s GUMSHOE system, and it was written by Ken Hite.

I like it.

Now, I like the original game, too, a whole lot. But in many ways, I think I might prefer the new one. I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know after I play a session or two.

Let’s talk about why I like the new game, though.

  1. It’s written by Ken Hite. If you aren’t familiar with the name, then you really need to pick up Nightmares of Mine, Suppressed Transmission, and Suppressed Transmission 2. The man knows his weird stuff, and builds it into supremely gameable constructions. He’s been a hero of mine since I started reading his column in Pyramid Magazine, and he achieved godlike status with the coining of the word “speleo-herpetologist.” There’s a pretty short list of folks I’d trust with a new version of a Lovecraft game, and he’s on it. Near the top. At least twice.
  2. No more missed clues. The GUMSHOE system of Robin Laws removes the bane of investigation-based games: you can’t get stuck with no way forward because you missed the roll for the vital clue. In the game, if you’ve got the right ability, and you use it, you get whatever clue it might provide automatically. The game becomes less about finding the clues and more about interpreting them.
  3. The Great Old Ones. Ken’s take on them is great. First of all, he doesn’t give them stats, very reasonably treating them as plot devices. When one of the big boys – Cthulhu, Hastur, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, etc. – show up, it either means that you’ve really got to hurry with the ritual to banish it, or you’ve already lost and should just embrace your new role as mindless servitor or dinner. Beyond that, he gives five or six different interpretations of each of them, some wildly contradictory, that characters may find in their research. Because these beings are essentially unknowable by humans, I think that works very well.
  4. The creatures. Lesser beings are nicely statted up, and include a great little section on what sorts of clues they may leave behind, which is immensely helpful for a GM. They are, all of them, nasty in the extreme. As it should be.
  5. The fun little sanity games. The book includes suggestions to get the other players working with the GM to make the player whose character has gone insane feel confused and disoriented, not just the character.
  6. Tons of good GM advice. Specifically for running this game with this system, but a lot of it is just good, solid advice for any horror or investigation game.
  7. Campaign frameworks. Three ready-to-use setups for ongoing play, talking about who the characters are and why they do what they do, and what they tend to run into. They include one fairly standard Lovecraftian framework, one proto-Delta Green framework, and one very interesting one involving shady rare book dealers in London.

The book also has an introductory scenario, but I haven’t decided how much I like it. On the one hand, it’s a great little mystery that shows Ken’s ability to mix real-world history with mythology and deep weirdness. On the other hand, it doesn’t deal very directly with any specific aspect of the Cthulhu mythos, though it does talk about what may be behind the whole mess. As an adventure, I like it a great deal, but I think I would have preferred a more standard Cthulhoid example.

All in all, I think this is a very interesting, well-done game, and I can’t wait to try it out. I’ll post the results after I have a chance to run it.

Right now, though, I have to get ready for the final Dresden Files playtest session tonight.