Sunday, February 12, 2017

Play Report: Pulp Cthulhu Campaign Session 1 (Part 2)

In my last post, we left our brave pulp adventurers recovering from an attack by the Nazi Thule Society which ended up with the Sun Fragment, an ancient piece of a larger tablet that could summon Cthugha, stolen. The rest of the pieces were lost to history, but a scroll within the Library of Alexandria might contain clues to their locations. With a "gate" opened up to the hiding place of the Library deep under the Mediterranean, our fearless group strode forward.

They found themselves in a dark cavern, the ceiling too high to see. Water could be heard dripping from the ceiling and the smell of salt water in the air. At the opposite end of the cave they could make out a large, marble building with grand columns, jutting out of the rock. However, what assaulted their senses was the smell of burned paper and flesh, and the numerous charred bodies scattered on the ground and up the steps to the library. Even after all these centuries, the corpses still looked fresh.

The PCs made their way into the library and began searching. Unfortunately, many of the scrolls had been lost to time and humidity, falling apart on their hands. The only clue they had been given was that "the all seeing eye would guide them". This proved useful when they realized that above each door was an Egyptian Hieroglyph - and one of them was the Eye of Horus!

This room was different as, instead of the back being lined with shelves, there was a statue of Horus holding a staff. This room was also noticeably colder than the rest of the library. The staff was pulled and the statue slid to the side, revealing a small room with a raised platform in the middle, a number of blocks on it.

Two PCs strode forward and very quickly they heard an audible *click*! The statue slammed back into place and water started to pour out from underneath the platform.

Completed Eye of Horus Puzzle
This is where I had the most fun as a Keeper. Before the game, I had taken an image of the Eye of Horus, cut it up into 16 squares, and numbered the backs. During the game, I shuffled up the blocks, handed them to the PCs, and told them they had 3 minutes to put it back together. I then started a timer. Every 30-45 seconds, I had one of the PCs make an Idea roll. Depending on how well they succeeded, they could turn over a number of squares to look at their number.

The PCs on the outside weren't totally useless. In another room was a carving of the eye - if they pressed it (which they did), the timer would stop for 30 seconds.

This went amazingly well. The PCs finished the puzzle with 10 seconds to spare! The water immediately receded, the statue opened back up, and a second door in the trap room opened revealing a long passageway - at the end of which was the scroll they were after, hovering in air over a pedestal.

This new room was exceedingly colder - so much so that the PCs were shivering and could see their breath. On either side of the pedestal were two braziers, small fires burning. One PC could have sworn the fires were following their movement as they crept forward. They reached up and felt intense cold surrounding the scroll, which burned their hand as they grabbed it.

Immediately, the cold of the room disappeared. For a second, everything seemed fine - but then three things happened. First, the flames in the braziers shot up to the ceiling and them combined into a huge, fire creature. Second, all of the charred bodies in the Library began to move and animate. Third, the entire cavern began to shake and cave in.

This is where one PC - the same PC who had the scroll, went temporarily insane. He rolled that he went psychoanalytically blind from the fire creature, so another player had to (quickly) guide him out.

The rest was a mad dash out of the library, dodging falling stone, fighting fire zombies, and trying to avoid the huge creature behind them. As they got near the spot where they had to re-open the gate, the earth shook and a crack in the ground opened up...with zombies and the fire creature at their back, they had to get across. Some of them were able to jump, and they threw back a rope for the others, who barely made it across.

The gate was opened and, just as they were all diving in, the fire creature threw a huge fireball at them. Luck rolls were called for. Two of the people failed and I described the fireball heading towards them as they dove into the gate to safety on the other side....when I called the game for the night.

You have to end on a cliffhanger!

Pulp Cthulhu Thoughts

This was my first game of Pulp Cthulhu and, while there are minor changes to the rules, I think overall it fits smoothly into the pulp genre. Since this was our intro game to the campaign, and Pulp Cthulhu, I didn't want to throw in too much of the new, so I didn't use things like insane traits or psychic powers. However, those will definitely be in upcoming games.

The only issue I have, and this is really my own issue, is that I am trying to find a good way to fuse and balance the investigative aspects of a normal Call of Cthulhu game with the pulp action you would expect. I have some ideas, and the scenarios in the back of the book give me some great ideas.

Chaosium did just release the PDF version of their own pulp campaign, The Two-Headed Serpent. However, I'm avoiding this on purpose as I don't want any of the ideas from there to seep into my campaign. It does look amazing though and I look forward to reading it once I'm done with mine.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Play Report: Pulp Cthulhu Campaign Session 1

This past week I ran the first game of a Pulp Cthulhu campaign that I'm running at the Malted Meeple and it went amazingly well. I had advertised the game in multiple places, and it paid off as I had 7 people show up to play in the game - the largest table that I've run in years. Two of the players had never played Call of Cthulhu before, and for one this was their first RPG ever.

This is my play report of the game. Its probably going to be long. :)

Character Creation 

For the first hour we did character creation. The character creation process for Pulp Cthulhu is pretty straightforward and doesn't deviate much from the 7th edition character creation process. Since Pulp Cthulhu is a more action-oriented game, the characters get better stats, higher skills, and more HP.

In Pulp Cthulhu, there are two additional things the PCs get: an archetype and talents. The archetype is different from their occupation, and describes the PC's look on life. Some example archetypes are adventurer, hard boiled, and rogue. The archetype gives them more skill points in specific skills, and a core characteristic in which they get to roll (1d6+13)*5.

Talents are special skills or abilities the Pulp character has. Talents are broken up into four categories: physical, mental, combat, and miscellaneous. These are used to give the PC just a little more of an edge to make them just a little better.

In the end, we had 2 author-explorers, 3 criminals, and 2 detectives. Not super balanced, but as a group they ended up doing well.

Play Report - The Initiation Ceremony

The game started with the PCs being invited to a mansion on the outskirts of Arkham to join a secret society called the Order of the Hawk. Each arrived and were led to a magnificent ballroom where they met a number of the members, including the Order's leader, a gruff British officer named Major Rupert Ellis; his daughter, Marilyn; and the Order's resident "researcher", Professor Arthur Emery.

After being led to a secret ceremonial room encircled by men in robes, Major Ellis explained that the Order was hundreds of years old and worked to prevent evil from succeeding in the world. All of the PCs had exemplified themselves somehow and were being invited to join.

As an example of what they protect, the Major showed them the Sun Fragment, a circular obsidian fragment engraved with the black circle, an ancient occult symbol. The Major explained that this fragment had been entrusted to the Order many years ago to protect it from those who would wish to use it to do evil. As if on cue, explosions, gun fire, and screaming could be heard from the mansion above.

The door was flung open and in walked a Nazi Thule Society officer, Colonel Hariman Muller, followed by a man in occult robes. The men around the room threw off their robes, revealing themselves to be Nazi soldiers holding machine guns. Colonel Mueller, wanted the Sun Fragment. The Major refused, and soon a gunfight ensued.

Unfortunately for the PCs, the man in occult robes began to chant and soon transformed into a Formless Spawn. Unfortunately for the PCs, again, they only had guns which proved ineffective. Fortunately, Prof. Muller was there with his experimental lightening gun that seemed to hurt the creature. As the melee was winding down, the group saw the Colonel leaving with the fragment.

A car chase then occurred, with the PCs tailing the Colonel. It ended with the PCs shooting out the tires of the Colonel's car, it flipping through the air, and landing on the banks of the Miskatonic River. Unfortunately, a boat was waiting on the edge of the river for the Colonel who sped away, victory in hand.

The PCs met up again and - with the help of an ancient Greek paper found in the Colonel's car, and a captured Nazi soldier who mocked them before biting on a suicide-tooth - learned that the Sun Fragment was the center piece of a tablet that was broken up thousands of years ago by unknown ancients. The fragments were scattered around the world, as if they were joined together the tablet could be used to call down Cthugha to rain fire and destruction on any location.

No one knew where the fragments were at. However, a scroll within the Library of Alexandria gave hints as to where the fragments were located at. The paper stated that while most of the Library had been destroyed, ancient protectors had transported a portion of it to a cave beneath the Mediterranean Sea to protect it from Cthugha cultists that wanted the scroll. With the location in the paper, Prof. Emery was convinced he could use his new "gate" technology to transport them there. (It was perfectly safe - all of the monkeys had came back fine, just only losing a little hair.)

To allow them to return, the professor gave them a sphere, which they could throw at the location the gate appeared at to reopen it. However, they could only use it once.

The PCs were reluctant, but Major Ellis begged them to go. They were part of the Order now, and most of the other members were injured or dead. If Col. Mueller were to get his hands on the fragments, the devastation would be immense. The PCs agreed to go, and before they knew it, they were stepping through the gate to the hidden Library of Alexandria.


This was only the first half of our game, but this post is getting long. In my next post, I'll detail their exciting adventure at the Library, and how I freaked two players out by giving them 3 minutes to survive in my trap of watery doom!



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Glancing Back and Looking Forward

The first day of 2017 is upon us, and like many I am glad 2016 is over. There were too many tragedies that occurred during the year, which I would prefer to forget and move on. So with one exception, I will instead focus on the good that happened in 2016 and what I am looking forward to in 2017.

The one exception is the passing of my brother-in-law, Jimmy, which occurred in February. His death was a shock to everyone in the family - many of whom have not yet recovered. He was a gamer and a talented artist, and it saddens me that we only got to game together once. If we are to take anything from this, its that we should not wait and let things sit - enjoy those around you while you can.

So, the good stuff from 2016. Personally, I think I gamed more in 2016 than I have since my middle school days. Much of this is due to The Malted Meeple, where I run a monthly Call of Cthulhu game.

In the last half of 2016, I also ran the first organized campaign I've ever run - A Time to Harvest from Chaosium. This was an amazing experience, much in part from the reoccurring players that I had in each game. These were the type of players that every GM dreams of - they were passionate, exuberant, and completely into their characters. Two of the players - Maggie and Adam - were two of the best players I have ever had the pleasure to GM for. At the end of the campaign, I printed off a special copy of it for them, including an obituary for one of the characters that sacrificed his life.

One last highlight of 2016 was that I got to participate in my oldest daughter's first RPG. We played in a game of Cold Steel Wardens at Origins. After finding out that this was her first RPG, the GM helped her out and made her feel at home at the table. This, if nothing else, has helped spur her interest in gaming more.

I can already see that 2017 will be a busy year gaming-wise. I am starting up a new campaign at The Malted Meeple, this time using the recently released Pulp Cthulhu supplement. I will be involved in at least one RPG kickstarter (which I technically wrote for in 2016, but it won't be KS'ed until 2017 so close enough), and possibly more on the horizon. Coupling this with a number of other non-gaming commitments, I can already see I will be quite occupied.

But that is a good thing! Keeping busy means that I am getting things done. To me, there is nothing worse than having all these ideas in your head and letting them sit. In my experience, that means that eventually someone else will get your idea too and put it into practice.

And I will continue to blog on this site. Aside from being therapeutic, it gives me a chance to talk about one of my passions - gaming. So expect more from this site this year. Granted, I have no illusions that anyone is reading my posts, but then again I'm doing this for myself. In any case, if you are reading it, thank you, and I look forward to hearing what you have to say about what I have to say!

Here's looking forward to a great 2017!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Play Report: Under the Sea

Let me tell you about this amazing Call of Cthulhu game I just ran! I split out the post into two parts: the game I ran, and the way I created the atmosphere.

The Game


I recently finished the A Time to Harvest campaign I was running at The Malted Meeple, and had mentioned to the players that I was thinking about running a one-shot that was a bit more immersive than I normally did. They were all for it. After getting permission from the Meeple, I started to plan for a game that would either fail miserably or succeed spectacularly well. I ran that game the other night.

The scenario I had originally wanted to run was Pagan Publishing's Grace Under Pressure. I wanted to immerse the players into the under the sea submarine horror experience. Its an amazing scenario, but I had different ideas in my head. So I did what any self-respecting Keeper does...I stole ideas from multiple sources. In the end, I ran a scenario that was a mix of Grace Under Pressure, Chaosium's The Derelict, and Event Horizon. Spoilers ahead.

The synopsis of the game (not to spoil it if I run it again) is that the PCs were on a US research vessel in cold war 1980s. They were contacted by the US government to find a sunken Russian ship that had been carrying a secret weapon. Fortunately, the PCs were testing a mini-sub capable of reaching extreme depths. After getting their CIA handler (another PC), the PCs set off to find the ship.

Submerging the sub to depths it had not yet gone, the PCs found the ship. The area surrounding the ship was filled with a forest of black, rotting seaweed. Additionally, oddly, the ship had not been crushed by the extreme depth they were in, when it should have. In fact, they could see power on inside and a few shadows indicating life. When the seaweed started to attack the sub, they had to ram it into a hole in the ship, which allowed them to get out. Somehow, the pressure was not affecting them.

The inside of the ship was explored. Eventually, they found a Russian crew mate still alive but insane and trying to kill them. They also found the secret weapon, but it had opened a gate to another dimension and let through a number of shadow creatures. The PCs barely escaped when all hell started to break loose, and found themselves floating on the ocean surface in their pressurized vessel, waiting for rescue.

In the end, 1 player went crazy and 2 were hurting badly...and they were captured by the Russians.

Malleus Monstrorum 


Before I go on, I want to say that the Malleus Monstrorum is perhaps the greatest resource to a Call of Cthulhu Keeper. It is more than just a monster manual, it is a hotbed of ideas. There has never been a time when I've paged through it and not been inspired.

In this scenario, I was at a loss for which creatures to use. I had to go no farther than the first few pages. There I found the Adumbrali, shadow creatures I used as a basis for my own; and the Dark Sargassum, a seaweed version of the Dark Young. If you don't have this, buy it now.

The Ambiance


So what made this game so awesome? The ambiance I was able to create.

When we started the game, all of the lights were on and the game went as it normally did. However, when the PCs went down into the depths of the ocean things in the room changed.

A view from behind the Keeper's screen.
First, the lights were turned off. Before the game started, I had taped cardboard to all the windows to make sure the light from the outside rooms would be blocked; the shades had also been pulled. Some light still seeped in, but honestly, it was very little and added to things.

The only real light the players had to see by were green glow sticks I had handed to them; this created an eerie glow in the room.


If the glow had been the only thing, the atmosphere would not have been complete. What finished it was a bluetooth radio I had set up near the table to play sounds from ambient-mixer.com.

While on the sub, I played the Steampunk sub mix which added steam engine and other under the sea sounds which echoed through the room.

Once the PCs got onto the ship, I changed it to a ghost ship mix. This played eerie noises, dripping water, and an occasional scream. I knew it was working the first time to scream played - everyone jumped. At one point, the sounds stopped playing (the speaker battery ran out) and everyone tensed up - they weren't sure if something was about to happen!

The combination of the lack of light and the sounds from the speaker elevated the game to a whole new level. All of the players raved about it, and even the staff at the Malted Meeple were jealous (some even threatened to clock out and sit in there just to experience it). This is not something I'll do all the time, but it worked so well that I'll absolutely be doing it again. I already have ideas for the next game I use this in.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Call of Cthulhu Session: A Time to Harvest Chapter 3

Last night I ran my monthly Call of Cthulhu game at The Malted Meeple in Hudson, OH where we are working our way through Chaosium's organized play campaign A Time to Harvest. This month we went through Chapter 3. Some spoilers ahead.

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Still here? Cool.

Play Report

This chapter saw the PCs dealing with the aftermath of the attack on the campus from Chapter 2. I had two players returning from the previous game with their PCs, and a new one that was easy to get involved by retcon'ing some of the activities slightly. They found themselves in the police station, getting berated by the chief of police and MU president who were looking for a scapegoat for everything that had happened. Luckily for them, the lawyer from Federated Oil and Chemical, a business who has been in the background until now, stepped in to save them if they agreed to meet the president of the company, Michael Abelard.

Shortly thereafter, the PCs found themselves in Detroit talking to Mr. Abelard concerning his organization, his life's mission, and how they fit into this. (I'm being somewhat vague here so as not to reveal too much.) The PCs agreed to join on a mission that would take them back to Cobbs Corners, VT to do additional research and fact gathering.

The rest of the scenario involved the players roleplaying talking to the people from F.O.C. that would join them on the trip, and ensuring all their questions were answered. They learned a lot from the people there about their enemy (again being vague on purpose), and by the end felt they knew a lot more than they did before. The players did an amazing job roleplaying and ensuring everything was ready for the trip, including making sure additional supplies and weapons were gone.

The night before the trip was to start, a party was thrown to toast their assured success. Unfortunately, halfway through the power in the building went out. The PCs volunteered to turn it on, heading down into the basement. Almost immediately they knew something was wrong (the screams and gunshots helped this one). However, they continued down into the basement, where they discovered the source of the issues.

So as not to spoil everything, I'll stop there. Suffice to say, one PC ended up within seconds of losing his life, only to be saved by a last minute First Aid roll. All the PCs survived, but were not left unscathed. Time will tell what the next chapter brings and who, if anyone, survives.

Thoughts

I'll admit that I was worried about this chapter. The main part of the scenario is short, and although it comes with an optional mission, I knew I wouldn't be able to run it. Since I am running this once a month, I am attempting to get each chapter done in one session. This usually means cutting out something from the scenario and getting to the meat of it. In this case, that was the optional scenario. This left the main part, which really wasn't that long and was mostly a fact-finding investigation (until the end).


My concern was if it would be enough, and wasn't sure if the players would enjoy a roleplaying session where they were talking for the majority of it. To my delight, at the end the players thoroughly loved it!

They told me that it went perfectly. There was a great balance of investigation, revelations, and in the end, combat. Additionally, they said they were on the edge of their seats during the last part where they didn't know if they'd live or die, and the tension is carrying over to the next chapter.

I have to say that the players really did make this game. They did wonderfully, and one particular player - who is actually new to Call of Cthulhu - is playing a PC who is quickly becoming my favorite to GM. They are a group that makes GM'ing a game like Call of Cthulhu worth it. I only hope they show up to the next game.

One last thing happened last night that defies the odds of it happening - one player rolled in the 90s 11 times in a row. Now think about this, that means that with their percentile 10s die, they rolled 9 11 times in a row. The odds of that are 1 in 10^11, or 1 in 100 billion.

Was it the dice? No. After the 6th or 7th time, he used one of the other player's die and rolled in the 90s again. Then he switched to an app on his phone - same thing happened. It was truly unbelievable. Sadly, none of them were critical failures and none occurred on SAN checks. That would have been too much fun.

The players and I are looking forward to Chapter 4, where they make their return to Cobbs Corners. Fortunately, they have no clue what is about to happen to them!


Monday, June 27, 2016

Origins Recap

Its been almost two weeks after Origins and I'm finally getting around to writing a recap. Overall, it was an awesome con - in fact, probably one of the best in years. I'm only going to hit the highlights, but suffice to say there were many other great times that were had.

The first highlight was my wife and I were able to snag a copy of Imhotep, a board game which sold out almost instantly. To be honest, we had not even heard of the game before the con, but everyone was grabbing it so we grabbed one as well. The best part was when someone in the board room asked why we hadn't been tackled yet since we were carrying it around.

I only played in two RPGs the whole con. The first was a Quantum Black game. I recently got my hardcover copy of the rulebook from the kickstarter and have been itching to play it again. In case you don't know, in Quantum Black you are part of a corporation that researches, captures, and fights the occult and mythos. Unlike an organization like Delta Green, whose goal is to wipe out the mythos, Quantum Black wants to get as much knowledge on it as possible to use it to make money.

In our game we were a clean-up team sent to investigate a research facility that had gone dark. I played a tech guru girl who was callous and more interested in downloading the latest movie torrents. I had so much fun playing her! The game was only two hours, so we had time to get in, find bad things, blow them up, and get out. I highly recommend playing the game when possible.

The second RPG was one of the biggest highlights of the con for me. It was a great game, but it was also my oldest daughter's first RPG. We found a supers game called Cold Steel Wardens, and the GM was amazing. He helped her go through, figure out what to do, and let use her character how she wanted. I know it was a success as she said she wanted to try more RPGs. Now to just find some...

We made a number purchases (probably too many), but one stands out. For a while I've been looking at getting a copy of Dungeon Crawl Classics from Goodman Games. I have a fondness for the OSR clones, and have heard great things about it. When I went over to the booth and saw that they had some copies of the latest softcover printing for sale. The best part, it was only $25.

That price is amazing. If you've never seen it, the DCC rulebook is over 400 pages. For $25, its a steal.

I've been reading through the book and have fallen in love with it. The book itself is incredible. Its well written, and the art is evocative of the old D&D books. The book is worth purchasing for the art itself.

So far I've been loving the system as well. Its very simple, but also allows for that old school feel that I've been looking for. I'll do a better review later on, but its already high on my list.

Overall, Origins was a blast. While the con has had its low points over the last few years, it has started to recover and the gamers can tell. Every year seems to be better than the previous, so I can't wait until next year!


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Origins Game Convention

In a few days I will be heading off to Origins with my family. This is my 13th Origins. As I look back over the last 14 years (I missed one year), it truly amazes me the experiences and friends that I have had and made at this convention.

The first few years I went to Origins I went with my cousin Ryan. I honestly had no idea what to expect from the con, and I suspect he didn't either. The first year, he didn't play any games and just sat in while I did. However, I think we both still had a blast - being introduced to Zombies!!!, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and most importantly, Call of Cthulhu.  (I should still apologize to my uncle for driving all over Columbus looking for Ryan Sunday morning while he was in a game with me.)

The next year Ryan came with my friend Brian. This year Ryan played, and the three of us had some great games. We introduced Brian to Call of Cthulhu and AFMBE, and those are still some of the most memorable games to me. I still remember playing a Marine in a CoC game and almost braining a Deep One that I was trying to knock out, and being Japanese Princess PePe in an AFMBE game.

The next few years are a blur. Our friend Tony replaced Ryan, and the three of us played even more Call of Cthulhu, run by the excellent Rogue Cthulhu group. More importantly was the decision for us start running games there.

Tony and I hooked up with the guys running shoggoth.net, Matt and David, and starting running Call of Cthulhu games at Origins. Our first year we ran the first (out of two) Call of Cthulhu RPG tournament with an amazing success. By the next year we had many more GMs working with us and were running over 80 games at the con. I remember many game sessions starting up with people lined up along the wall to try and get into a Call of Cthulhu game, when we were already overflowing with people in our current games. It was truly amazing.

I met so many great people through running games who I am still friends with - David, Matt, Bill, Michelle, and the late, great, John Addis; there are so many others too. Origins is where I also met, and roomed with, Oscar Rios, one of today's greatest Call of Cthulhu masters.

In the previous few years, my wife and daughters have started to come to the convention with me. It has become a yearly tradition for us. While this does take time away from me playing in games I otherwise might, I don't find that as a problem because I get to experience having new gaming experiences with them. My oldest has even shown an interest in trying some RPGs at this year's con, which I am really looking forward to doing with her. I know of another father/daughter duo that has been playing and running games at Origins for as long as I have been going; I will be ecstatic if I can ever emulate 1% of what they do.

13 Origins is a lot of conventions, with a lot of games. However, despite issues that inevitably happen at every con, each one has had its bright moments. Will I be going to another 13 Origins? Only time will tell. However, despite that, I know that I can look back at the amazing moments I've had and the friends I have made, and know that it has been time well spent.

See you at Origins this year! If you are going, try and find me and we'll play something!