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.

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