Fezzes are cool…

Fez's are cool...

Here’s the fez I designed for the Call of Cthulhu 7E kick-starter. It’s based on a certain Order that can be encountered in the Shadows of Yog-Sothoth campaign.

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Missed Dues, Part 2: Scenario Construction – Themes and Plotting

My next steps in developing the Missed Dues scenario…

Having decided upon a group of criminal investigators, I favoured using the 1920s setting for two reasons: i) criminals are more easy to put together in that period, and ii) as the scenario was going to be a convention one-shot game, I wanted to reduce any unnecessary complications (mobile telephones, internet, etc).

Criminals in the modern day may work together, however everyone recognises the gangs of 1920s – large organised crime bodies. Whereas in modern times, criminals tend to be recognised as working in smaller groups or working solo. I wanted the player characters (PCs) to be aspiring criminals, eager to please their boss and work their way up the ‘food chain’.

As I was to run the scenario at GenCon, I needed to ensure common understanding with the players. So I resisted using a UK setting, instead opting for 1920s Arkham – which can act as a semi-familiar base for all players. Even if they have no knowledge of Arkham, it should be more even ground that say me setting the scenario in London.

Without the luxuries of cell phones, internet and other modern day contrivances, there was less chance of unexpected side-tracks from the players. Given the limited time slot, I wanted to ensure the game time was focused, making the players work through the plot in order to reach a satisfactory climax (for them). For a normal game, where multiple sessions could be played, these factors need not be considerations of course.

Having decided the PC make-up, setting and place I turned to themes and plotting.

Of course, given that I’m writing this before GenCon, I’m going to be careful not to say too much about the scenario’s content so as not to spoil any of the player’s fun (in case they are reading this in advance!)

Themes – I wanted to ensure a scale of control to loss of control for the PCs. At the start of the game they are in familiar surroundings, know what to do and who to speak to. By the end of the game I wanted a total reverse, putting the PCs in a position where nothing can be counted on or taken for granted.

I also wanted to explore themes of power. Each of the PCs wants more power (be it wealth, control of others or simply the power to reach freedom), the NPCs seek power or wish to hold on to what they have already got.

I didn’t do a lot with these themes, just note them down and let them jiggle about in my head whilst I began plotting the scenario. I would come back to them once I had written the first draft, allowing me to review and write-in or build on these themes during my second draft.

Plotting. This is very difficult to write with any examples (remember, I don’t want to give away any spoilers). So in a nutshell, I sketched out the plot as follows:

1. What events have happened before the PCs become involved.

2. What would be a good climax to the scenario and point to end on.

3. How can the PCs become involved. What needs to happen to allow this, and who or what is the instrument that actually hooks the PCs in.

4. What is the path the players are likely to take to get from point A (introduction) to point X (climax).

5. Make a list of all of the obvious locations (then rethink and add locations not so obvious that awkward players might come up with).

6. Make list of NPCs at those locations, plus add other NPCs who will feature in the scenario.

7. Think about the Mythos – what is the Mythos angle in all of this, and which of the NPCs (if any) have Cthulhu Mythos knowledge and why. Also, what will they do with this knowledge during the game (and make a note about it).

8. List possible handouts/props – add to this as the scenario gets written.

So with that done (I just jot down bullet points) I looked on the bookshelf for HP Lovecraft’s Arkham by Chaosium, figuring that this would work as my location bible for the scenario; ensuring that the game fits with the published knowledge of Arkham and its inhabitants.

From Chaosium Inc.

From Chaosium Inc.

Thus, my next step was to read over the relevant bits in the Arkham book, noting down names and locations that met my scenario needs.

With this all done I could then begin to actually write the scenario…

Missed Dues, Part 1: Scenario Construction – The Initial Spark

Thought I’d muse about how I tend to put Call of Cthulhu scenarios together.

Initially I have a basic idea, this could be a scene, a climatic event, a theme or setting – really it’s the spark that sets the creative process off. Often I think about the player characters as a starting point – the types of people they are, their spheres of knowledge and probably most importantly their usual day. The reason being that I tend to write one-shots as I find the ‘all bets are off’ mindset a useful one for Cthulhu games. I think of one-shots like a horror movie, where essentially every character is potentially expendable and the horror can be freed to run its course – with campaigns there is the requirement of continuation; you can’t necessarily end the world at the end of the scenario, yet with a one-shot you can. The story is focused down to just the events of the player characters concerned and there’s no need to worry about what is happening elsewhere – the scenario’d narrow focus thus helps to accentuate the horror and escalates to a natural climax.

With Missed Dues Id been thinking of a scenario where all the player characters were from criminal backgrounds. I liked the notion that this group of people who have to be self reliant and that they would be extremely unlikely to call the police or anyone else to get them out of trouble. In fact ‘trouble’ was what they could be all about, which for me sounded like a good recipe ingredient for a scenario.

I imagined that such player character’s are likely to mistrust others (even the other player characters in the group), which could add to the tension and creative opportunities for the players to have fun getting in to character whilst they sparked-off one another.

I really hadn’t thought much beyond that initial premise and I let the idea permeate for a few weeks, allowing me to begin to think through what would make these characters ‘work together’ and what could be a hard and horrific situation for them – what would make them scared. After all these guys would be criminals, perhaps familiar to violence, be acquainted with ┬áthe harsh realities of their profession. Thus what would scare them.

These were the basic, initial ideas that I was thinking about before I put finger to keyboard and started writing anything.

All you need is a spark and then give it some air to ignite.

The Colour of Cthulhu

It’s been announced that Call of Cthulhu 7E rulebook and investigator’s handbook will be produce in full colour (if the stretch goal is met on Kickstarter) – it seems highly likely given the daily rate of increase for pledges.

Talking things through with Charlie at Chaosium, we’ve both picked up on many people asking that the books be as cool (if not cooler) than the French and Spanish editions and that they are easy to read without messy and distracting background images (something I think the French version may suffer from).

The French version looks pretty, but personally I find it overdone and I don’t think it would necessarily be easy to use in the middle of a game – there’s too much going on per page. As something on the shelf it’s great, but less so on the gaming table. But as I said, this is just a personal preference. Whereas the Spanish version is just about perfect in my eyes – although the square book format less so – it’s clean with subtle use of colours, well thought through layout and great use of imagery.

I know Charlie and Badger have a lot of ideas regarding the layout so I’m confident it will look great.

In Fear of Fear

I’m currently working on the new Phobia Deck for Call of Cthulhu 7E. The deck was one of the early stretch goals from the kickstarter and consists of 40+ oversized ‘playing’ cards. Each card provides information on one phobia, its effects and possibilities for player investigators. During a game of Call of Cthulhu if (read ‘when’) an investigator goes insane, the Keeper will choose some form of insanity to affect the character temporarily or indefinitely (read permanently, more or less). Normally it takes a moment or two for the Keeper to decide what form the insanity will take, which sometimes can break into the pace of the game, or at least pull attention away from other events currently happening.

Red-kneed tarantula Brachypelma smithii

Red-kneed tarantula
Source: http://www.scn.ucla.edu/alsp.html

The phobia cards allow the Keeper to prepare a card ahead of time or give the player one randomly – as the card explains the insanity effect, the player can read this whilst the Keeper sorts out the other things happening in the current scene. The card should provide enough guidance to the player so that they are able to respond to the current situation in an appropriate manner without the need for a break in the game. Once the immediate scene is dealt with, the Keeper and player can of course discuss the insanity further as required; adding further specific details or clarifying as necessary. All in all the cards should empower both the Keeper and player, allowing them to simply get on with the game without needing to refer back to the rulebook and so on.

The makeup of the deck is shaping up like this –

15-17 phobia cards – each one detailing a specific phobia. e.g. ‘You now have an irrational fear of spiders’.

15-17 mania cards – again detailing a specific mania or compulsion. e.g. ‘You now have an uncontrollable urge to laugh in the most inappropriate situations’.

6-8 Bout of madness cards – each one describes how your investigator responds to a bout of madness (i.e. they have just gone insane – this is the first thing they do…).

6-8 Bout of madness ‘summary’ cards – as above but used when the investigator concerned is alone. Each card summarises the next few hours and how the investigator finds themselves and their surroundings when they eventually come to their senses. e.g. ‘You wake up in a ditch, covered in blood and feathers. You smell of chickens. You have no memory of how you came to be here.’

FEAR

Fear by J. Astra Brinkmann
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/musicpurr/3635373170

Interestingly, Chaosium has said that they will produce a blank pdf version of a phobia card, which will allow Keepers to make up their own text and print out cards specific to their games. This should be very useful and allow Keepers to really personalise cards for the individual player investigators.

Missed Dues, Part 0

Began writing my scenario for GenCon, it’s called ‘Missed Dues’ and is set in 1920s Arkham. The players all work for Mordecai ‘The Hammer’ O’Leary, an up and coming crime lieutenant. With friends like that, what could go wrong?

Those playing the GenCon games will get a copy of this scenario and a set of 5 pre-gren investigators.

Unsure as yet whether Chaosium will want the scenario for anything else, so am planning on it becoming an element within a larger campaign I am currently thinking through.

GenCon 2013…

gen-con-logo

This year I’ll be attending GenCon Indy in support of Chasoium Inc. and the launch of Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. The Kickstarter for CoC 7th is going great guns. One pledge level includes playing in one of my games at GenCon. I’ll be running two games at the show, on Thursday and Friday afternoons, for up to five players apiece.

This will be the second GenCon I’ve attended, the first was back in 2007 when I was managing Black Industries and we had a joint stand with Sabertooth Games. That year we launched the revamped Talisman to great success and won several Ennies for WFRP.

This time around I’ve decided to keep a blog of the trip, including the run-up to the show. I’ll probably talk about other stuff too as it comes to mind.