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Tag Archives: Call of Cthulhu

[Call of Cthulhu] The Cubicle 7 London Box and general musings on what we assume is progress

I bought myself the Call of Cthulhu London Box by Cubicle 7 as a slightly belated birthday gift to myself. Have I even mentioned before that I started Masks of Nyarlathotep with my group a while ago?

It might be better that I didn’t, because work and life got between everything again and we are stuck just before the Ju-Ju House, so at the very, very beginning.

Having this box on the other hand fires the idea to play this up again. In fact I am wondering if maybe I should be playing this with the new players I managed to find a while ago. Well, in addition to the ones I already played the first few sessions through with I mean. Actually restarting the whole thing from scratch would be one idea I was floating. It’s not like they remember anything from back then. So we could start the whole thing at the Chelsea Hotel again and I could properly track what stuff exactly they already found and whatnot.

Yeah, I lost a bit of track there. I am not quite sure what exactly happened and which clues they managed to find, and I actually was working through the campaign again and I think I understand much better how to structure the whole thing now. Masks needs to be pulpy and action-packed and deadly.

Why I am thinking this right now?

Well, I did just get the London box, as I mentioned, and I really would like to use that one as well. And Masks does have a rather big part of it set in the London. And at least in this case I would have some printed maps and a guidebook my players can read. In fact my wife was nearly as giddy about the whole thing as me, taking over the box and reading the London guidebook as soon as I went to inspect the other things I bought.

So far it looks rather promising, if a bit cartoony and slightly too glamorous for, well, London. I think it slowly becomes obvious that we are nearly a hundred years away from the time most Call of Cthulhu material is set in. We just don’t have so much of a grasp for these times anymore.

Just yesterday I found an old forum entry on Yog-Sothoth.com wondering why exactly one would send telegrams in the 1920s, when the telephone already existed.

Not that this is a new phenomenon. I am lately reading the first few years of Amazing Stories (from the late 20s), and one reader had the gall to criticize H.G.Wells for not having planes in the War of the Worlds (published in 1897). It had to be pointed out that the story they were reading was written before planes were a thing. But I am going to go into that in some separate entry at one point.

The thing is: I don’t have a clue how my children will react when at one point I will tell that yes, we were alive in a time when not everyone had a mobile phone, internet was a once a week for an hour thing, and people watched whatever was on television for lack of a choice. And that was just my childhood.

[Pictures] Boston, MA, 1920

Horticultural Hall, 300 Massachusetts Avenue and Huntington Avenue, 1920

Horticultural Hall, 300 Massachusetts Avenue and Huntington Avenue, 1920

Boston Court House 1920

 

Dock Square, Exchange Street and Devonshire Street 1920

Dock Square, Exchange Street and Devonshire Street 1920

Y.M.C.A. building, Huntington Avenue, 1920

Copley Square, Copley Plaza, and Trinity Church

Brattle Street, Boston, Massachusetts, ca.1920

Pemberton Sq., Boston

[Call of Cthulhu] Classic Haunting

Accession No.: 08_01_000459 Title: Washington ...

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!

[Call of Cthulhu] Resources

An artist's visual representation of the Elder...

Image via Wikipedia

Newspaper Clipping Generator Because if there is one prop you need for Call of Cthulhu it’s newspaper clippings

Speaking of which: Masthead for the Kingsport Chronicle (fillable with your heart’s content. Text, I mean tex… nevermind)

And from the same: an Art Deco character sheet for the game, fillable pdf. And some Art Noveau for Gaslight era games.

Scooby Doo for Call of Cthulhu Maybe useful as NPCs or for a 1960s one-shot

The Young Twits, Wooster and Jeeves meet Call of Cthulhu

100 pregenerated Call of Cthulhu Characters I was looking for some. The corebook only has a handful, and sometimes one just needs a few pregenned characters for those times when new players show up. Especially as the really new players never know what the hell they want to play anyway. The only thing I wonder about when reading this: why are there so many bakers in there?

Byakhee, for creating new characters, quite the nice program and easy to modify, but a bit dusty (it might be prudent to load it from Yog-Sothoth.com though, there they also have various additional files)

I, Cthulhu and A Study in Emerald, both by Neil Gaiman, because Neil Gaiman knows how to tell that old Boy Eldritch Abomination meets World-story with flair.

Tales of Terror, exactly what it says on the tin. At least if you know that a tale of terror for CoC is a scenario with multiple possible outcomes

Jazz Age Slang

In other news: nothing is happening today

It’s my own fault. Instead of having my first Call of Cthulhu session ever today (after months of having no time for anything) I got roped into doing yet another shift at work.

Note to myself: never answer the phone when your boss is calling on your day off!

I thought I had learned that before, but obviously I didn’t.
I got talked into coming way too easy anyway. I was half-asleep when he reached me and I can’t even remember all the other things we talked about besides me taking over this shift.
It cuts into my gaming though, goddammit!

Which is especailly grating for me as I wanted to do that session of CoC since… well… forever. 
This might not really be as exaggerated as it sounds like. Call of Cthulhu was the second RPG I ever got into contact with, before even reading Lovecraft, before even knowing what RPGs are. I found articles on it in an obscure computer game magazine in 1992 and was intrigued by what was written there (it was mostly a review of the old Dunwich supplement). Especially as back then I did not have a clue how the articles related to the actual game it described. I knew the games were something similar to Das Schwarze Auge just with horror instead of fantasy. But back then I did not even know what that was about.
Funnily enough I have the rulebooks for the game, and had them for about a decade now. In multiple editions even. I just never played it.
Well, seems like I will keep on never having played it even longer.

[Obscure Games] Nephilim

Nephilim (role-playing game)

Image via Wikipedia

So it was another day in the big city for me, and it must have been around 2000. The “big city” it was because it was the next town with Gaming Shops (in this case Bayreuth, where every summer people from all over the world gather to listen to Hitler’s favourite composer and/or show off that they can), and it must have been 2000 because that shop closed down when the Euro came. Not that this had anything to do with each other, but I remember the owner complaining that he had to change all the prices in the store to Euro, even though he only would be open for another month after the currency change.

Anyway, it was that store where I found this game. I hovered a bit between the German version and the English version, but then I took the English one, mostly as they threw in a few more books into the deal. That alone told me back than that the game might already be a lost cause. And it was, in a manner of speaking.

Technically the ‘obscure’ part in the title is rather debatable. Originally a French game with multiple editions, it was published by Chaosium in the Anglo-Saxon world. Going with all the clichees that one expects from the CoC-loving French (get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about Call of Cthulhu here) the game was based on Chaosium’s Basic Role-Playing system.

I never found anyone who ever played this game for real. Myself I thought about using it as a source book for a Call of Cthulhu campaign, but that never materialized, mostly because my tries to play CoC never turned out so successful.

Maybe I should try to find the French version as a reference, but the English version at least was rather heavy handed, and I doubt that style was something not present in the original game.
It was another one of these games which had a high concept but lacked in execution and desirability to play.
It even tried to show this with it’s tagline: Occult Roleplaying.
According to the story presented in the preface the authors were discussing a new game when they were approached by a gentleman who had heard them talking. He talked to them about occult topics, and allowed them to use his library of the occult for further research into these areas.
In other words: this is the game BADD was afraid of when they were talking about Satanism in D&D: a game which actually researched it’s occultism and put in all the real stuff. This is what Jack Chick was warning us about.

So, how does it hold up?

Well, all in all it’s a half-hearted Call of Cthulhu pastiche. And not only because the authors had the great idea to base the rules of their game on BRP. That one was more a stroke of genius/outright luck. CoC has a completely different status in France than in the rest of the world, and most players are at least familiar with the system.
The whole setting is also so close that one might easily use parts of Nephilim for a crossover campaign with Call of Cthulhu. Basically there is only one difference between both games: in Nephilim you play what you would fight in CoC.

I wonder why nobody ever pointed that out, especially with the extra creepy descriptions in Nephilim itself. The Nephilim, to go a bit into the background, are ancient spirits which once had a body but now are disembodied spirits who have to take over human hosts to stay in this world. They take over the bodies of their hosts completely and will try to get out of their own lives as soon as possible to be able to use the body in whatever way they need,  slowly transforming the body of their host into a form that matches their own spirit.

Does that sound creepy to you? It does to me.

What you are playing in this game is basically a psychic rapist, a changeling, a body-snatcher, taking the body of someone else and replacing the original conscious with something else. And that character has been doing that for a long time before.
There is a very interesting character generation system where one has to choose which previous lives one has lived. This is easily one of the coolest things about this game, one can choose multiple past lives and gain background and skills from that, of course against a price (I think it was essence power).

When incarnated into the new body there is an interesting system of different tribes and groups that can keep one interested in an intrigue game similar to the one in all the WoD games, there even are similar evil spirits (more evil than mindraping body-snatchers? Really?) just as in every single WoD game. And there is interesting informations on a magic system that is based on occult teachings (which amount to fancy descriptions for spells that do nothing in particular), there is indepth reearch into different areas of occultism (which of course was inspired either by the Nephilim or their antagonists), and there are lots of interesting conspiracies and mysteries to uncover (which at least in the English version seem to happen only within the United States).

And all the time while I’m reading this thing I have to think to myself: Jesus, this is a game about constant mindrape. Not only that, but there are mechanics in the game that cover how the soul of the host body actually reacts to the intrusion by the Nephilim.Which also keeps in line with the backgrounds of pretty much all the WoD games. Only that this one was more overt than anything Vampire ever signified about rape.

I never got up the will to use this game for real, mostly because I never could get the will up to play. It would make an awesome source for a really huge CoC campaign though. And not only that, it even would have the right stats, well, besides the sanity at least. This is a annoyingly well written game actually. I just wish it was less… rapey.

At least it’s not FATAL.