picture just for setting the mood
So at one point in our first session of Call of Cthulhu my players come across a victim of the haunted house they are investigating, and the poor sod is doing nothing but counting down the rosary, repeating the Ave Maria.
“Does anyone here understand that gibberish?” says the reporter character, but both her companions shake their heads. They, too, they soon determine, were brought up as good protestants. The joke was of course that my players were Polish, in other words: all Catholics.* But they had silently, all for themselves, decided to be Protestant. After all they all were supposed to be upperclass Bostonites.
Yes we were playing The Haunting, the classic introductory adventure that has been included on every version of the game so far. I also had prepared The Edge of Darkness, another of these introductory adventures, because it actually has a much better introduction into the game for the players, and because I was not sure if a small scenario such as The Haunting would carry a whole session.
It did, quite well even. Even though they missed out on the whole endfight with the undead sorceror in the house (true to the spirit of CoC they got scared by some good old poltergeist activity and wanted to get out as soon as possible).
It seems to have been a success. They seemed to like the detective work beforehand, and they seemed to really got scared (at least playwise) when strange things seemed to happen in game, and inbetween there was wonderful roleplay.
Of course there were a few things that went not so well, and let’s look over them rather than over the stuff that went so well. After all I always want to become a better GM:
1. Sometimes players don’t understand a nudging. Sometimes not even if you use a sledgehammer
There was a boarded cupboard in the house. It contained, rather easy to find, the undead sorceror’s old diaries.
They ignored it.
They searched the whole house. Well, there is that storage room that… oh, you want to look up all the neighbours that lived in this area for the last 60 years? Nevermind then.
The fuses in the basement blew. There might be some spare ones in that cupboard in that storage room, nudge nudge… They rather exchange some fusesfrom the fusebox than open that cupboard,
At times I really felt like I was talking to a wall there.
2. Sometimes a bit of background knowledge is already too much
One of the players had read the stories. He tried to keep more or less in character, playing an adventurer archaeologists clearly modelled on Indiana Jones. I don’t mind, I think it might give a good chance to put them into some more exotic locales in later adventures.
The problem was not that he was overplaying his character, he was overplaying knowledge he should not have. He kept on hinting about colleagues from the Miscatonic University saying this, hearing about strange Dutch people in the mountains,bout some weird stories he heard about an FBI raid on some town on the coast… And of course he was hinting about some fungus that might grow in the house and caused all the trouble. (in other words: he had read Lovecraft’s “The Shunned House” and thought he could use the knowledge from there; not completely wrong, but wrong in the wrong aspects).
It was, of course, annoying.
It would have been worse though if I had not read most of HPL’s stories already. Dealing with someone intent on pushing the canon into your game could be really unnerving.
3. My players are easily scared and very, very careful
I really should not give them any exit, even if it means railroading the in inescapable situations. Not because I want them to fail, but the way they played this adventure, and the way they played some Traveller and Das Schwarze Auge before, tells me something about them: they are too sensible for their own good. In my DSA game they managed to bypass most of the dungeon and escaped through a B-Exit. Because what sane person would want to stay in a hostile environment with limited sight and maneuverability?
Uhm… how about your run-off-the-mill hero type?
But of course they were right.
In this case the whole thing was even more pronounced: ok, they cannot really say that the house is really not haunted because they saw things move and blood dripping from the walls. Mission accomplished, not what the landlord wanted, but nobody told them to get rid of the ghosts (and the Keeper goes: “OHHHHHHDammit! I shoulda phrased that better!”)
* yes I know, that is a bit too easy and stereotypical, but the fact remains that about 95% self-identify as Catholics. Of course my group is skewed in that respect anyway, with an agnostic GM and one Jewish player… whohoo…35% off the norm!