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

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.




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.


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, 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!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Play Report: Special Delivery

Last night I once again had the opportunity to run a Call of Cthulhu game at the Malted Meeple. I've actually been running a number of games in the last few months; this is just my first opportunity to report on one.

I ran a Delta Green game using my 2014 shotgun scenario submission, Special Delivery. Warning: spoilers ahead. If you plan on playing this game (as I plan on running it again), do not read any farther.


Still here? Good!

I knew the game was not going to last 4 hours, so we started by creating characters using the Call of Cthulhu 7th ed quick start method. Things went quickly and within 45 minutes everyone had their character. We had 2 criminals, a lawyer, and a PI. Not your typical DG cell makeup, but still made for a lot of fun.

The game started with the agents being briefed that they needed to retrieve a Russian Icon that was reported contained the spirit of Rasputin (spoiler: it did not). The icon had been sent from an antique shop known to sell mythos and paranormal related artifacts. However, the agents only had a delivery address that was a PO box with an obviously fake name.

They began by visiting a local green box to see if there were any supplies. While they found a number of ... interesting ... items, few would help them out. They left wondering why someone would leave a full length human tongue wrapped in bubblewrap in a fridge. Some things agents are just not meant to know. I have to give my thanks to the Delta Green Green Box Generator - that site is amazing.

The post office was the agent's next stop. While the office was small, they found that it was extremely busy as it was short-handed. Through an amazing persuade roll, two of the agents convinced the person in charge they were from the USPIS and "were here to help". Given such a good roll, they got access to all of the information they wanted and quickly generated two leads.

The first was the person who the package was supposed to be delivered to, Benjamin Hale. The second was a postal worker, Harold, who had not been showing up, and who they found had an unusually high number of missing packages along his route.

While two of the agents cased out Hale's apartment, another called him and found him to be extremely irate that his package was missing. Through some sly investigative techniques, the agents deduced that while Hale was a cultist, he didn't appear to have the icon and that Harold may have taken it. Two agents then went to Harold's house to stake it out.

In the mean time, a plan was set into motion. Hale was telephoned and told that his package had been found and was in his PO box. In the PO box, they placed a fake note from Harold saying that he had the package and gave his address. Their plan was to have the Harold and Benjamin fight it out, and hopefully taking care of their problems on their own.

This was actually a brilliant move and one that I had never anticipated. I was impressed with the group at this point, but had also started to form my plan for what was about to happen.

After finding the note, Benjamin went back to his apartment. Two agents followed him and waited for him to leave. The agents then went up to his apartment and broke in. They botched the locksmith roll, so I still allowed them to open the door, but it was apparent that it had been broken into. This also triggered a neighbor calling the police.

The agents ransacked Hale's apartment and found a number of cultist-related artifacts they grabbed. They also noticed a place on a shelf where a statue had recently been, but was now missing. Had Hale taken it? What was its purpose? (Cue evil Keeper laugh here.)

Police sirens were heard approaching, so the two agents knew they had to leave. To "hide" any evidence, they broke open a gas line and lit a candle, barely making it out of the building before it exploded. At that point they received a text from the other agents that something bad was going down.

The agent at Harold's house (there were originally two, but one player had to leave) saw Hale arrive and proceed to the front door. He heard shouting, and decided to dial 911 to hopefully get either arrested or killed. Seconds later he heard gunfire as Hale started shooting into the house from the front door while Harold exchanged fire with a shotgun blast. Wounded, Hale moved to the driveway where he was shielded from any shotgun blasts, bent over and began to chant.

Soon a creature appeared from a statue that Hale had placed on the ground and burst through the front door. This was a formless spawn Hale had summoned to take care of his problem. Unfortunately for Hale, inside the house the formless spawn was met with something equally formidable and was wounded. Shortly after, Harold burst through the garage door in his truck, running Hale over and killing him.

The poor agent witnessing this then saw the formless spawn exit the house, and seeing the agent as the only person around, proceeded to move toward him. The agent was able to get into his car, but not before the formless spawn shattered the back window and proceeded to attempt to enter the car. As the agent sped through town, swerving to avoid any attacks, he rolled a 02 on his Drive Auto. He slammed on the breaks, did a J-turn, the rear-ended a phone pole, causing the formless spawn to get knocked off the car. The agent then hijacked another car and sped off in pursuit of Harold, leaving a number of dazed and confused cars to deal with the formless spawn on their own.

The agents quickly figured out that Harold was heading back to the post office when they got a call from the manager that Harold was there shooting everyone. By the time they got there, Harold had killed two workers and had begun to turn the shotgun on himself. One agent tried to talk him down while the other went to sneak behind him. Unfortunately, before they could prevent anything from happening, Harold began to vomit swampy water and choked to death.

One agent found a duffel bag with the Icon in it, while the other grabbed Harold's shotgun. The agent with the duffel bag ran out to the car, while the other started to leave. That agent quickly stopped when he saw something rise out of the water that Harold had spewed out. This was the Bolotianyk, a Russian swamp demon that had actually been imprisoned in the Icon.

The demon immediately attacked the agent as began to ran. The other two agents were waiting in the car outside as they saw the other agent running toward them, the demon following close behind. The demon landed a great hit on the agent, wounding him severely and taking him down to 1HP. The agent jumped onto the car and tried to hold on as they sped away, but failed his roll and fell off. Fortunately for him, due to some lucky rolls by his fellow agents, they were able to stop and opened fire on the demon. The demon was obliterated, and they sped off to deposit the Icon in the green box. (A shotgun blast, a glock and a magnum at point blank range (with an extreme success) does alot of damage.)

They later found out that the Icon, which they had never actually looked at, was blank and that due to a number of suspicious drowning deaths in the vicinity of the post office, they had never actually destroyed the demon. But that was for another team to deal with.

Overall, the game was a blast. One player ended up with 1HP, and all three were 1 SAN away from going indefinitely insane. When seeing the demon, one PC lost 8 SAN in one shot, but failed his INT roll (lucky for him).

This was my first time running Special Delivery, and I was really pleased with the results. Based on running it here, I'm not sure a team of more than 4 players would work well without throwing additional things at them. However, for 1-4 PCs, this is perfect. I have a number of ideas that I can throw in, and may expand it later on.

Until next time!!!