Sunday, March 13, 2011

Prodigal Son: Regrouping

Part Three:

    After getting together with my potential players to enjoy a game of Munchkin Cthulhu (quite fun), I found that my original plans would need to be modified.  Situations being what they are, any kind of ongoing game is pretty much a non-option with this crew.  Perhaps a ‘one-shot,’ single evening story would be a better option.  This was already an option I was considering, but it now seems likely to be the only viable one.  One-shots are fine, and can be very enjoyable.  But now that I’m invested in a return to gaming, I know that it won’t be enough.  A start along the path, but not my destination.

    I want to start gaming again.  More than that, I want to get back into roleplaying games, not just board or card games.  However, I’m not around many gamers in my daily life, so finding a group of 3 to 5 people may be something of a challenge.  Most of the people I know who do or have gamed are either in no position to get into something regular, or have incompatible expectations or philosophies.  Yet, all is not lost.  I still have these friends, even if two will be moving away in the next month or so.  We can still play something to tide me over for now.  Something like Once Upon a Time, one of my favorite non-roleplaying tabletop games.  It even deals with storytelling.

    After some discussion, I decided to try my hand at running a one-shot, single player session of Call of Cthulhu for fellow Dork, Brad.  He’s never tried a roleplaying game before, and has always been interested, and I haven’t run anything in a long danged time.  We’re both Lovecraft fans (and as you can read below, we've been getting back into reading him again), and I figure the game is simple, yet structured enough for him to understand and enjoy it.

    With that in mind, I’ve been kicking around some ideas for a possible scenario.  Brad came up with a vague idea for a character already.  So, now it’s mostly a matter of figuring out scheduling so we can create the character and run him through some madness.  I’m not quite sure yet if I want to run one of the pregenerated adventures from the back of the Call of Cthulhu basic book, or come up with something original.  For now, I’m leaning toward a specific story, The Madman, from the back of the book.  Though whenever I do run pregenerated scenarios, I tend to do a lot of work on them to make them my own.

    If things go well, I’ll look at more options for the future.  Brad’s wife has expressed interest in playing as well, though I don’t think horror is her genre of choice.  I’ll have to discuss options with her and Brad and anyone else we might recruit when the time comes.

What do you roll to break the 4th wall?

    In the meantime, I feel I should explain a bit about Call of Cthulhu and my interest in it.  I first became aware of the game through Chaosium Inc’s Worlds of Wonder and The Basic Roleplaying System, which was my first serious game.  Call of Cthulhu used the same game mechanics, with a few modifications, so it was an easy jump.  I was also discovering the original writings of H.P. Lovecraft at this point in my life (junior high), which became hugely important to my future literary interests.

    Lovecraft’s work had inspired many authors in his own time, and countless more on up through the present.  Many of those writers added to the fictional universe created in a loose way by Lovecraft, the so called “Cthulhu Mythos.”  It is this Mythos that serves as the basis for the game.  A limitless universe in which the hopes and dreams of mankind aren’t even a blip on the greater truth, a truth so incomprehensible that people are driven mad from the barest glimpse.  A blind, unwilled, uncaring universe, where beings of incalculable age and terrifying power stride worlds like pebbles of sand.  Worshiped as gods by men who try to tap into some element of their power.  What looks like magic is science beyond our hopes of understanding.

    Taking this vision of a universe with no greater plan, and with no special place for humanity, the game takes players back to the time of Lovecraft himself, the late 1920s (though the game can easily be set in pretty much any time and place).  And it puts players in control of typically Lovecraftian characters; professors, doctors, students, and the like.  People more likely to ask questions and look in those dark corners most try to ignore.  People who fight the good fight against cults trying to bring horrors into the world, against ancient creatures and strange powers.  The last line of defense in an unwinnable war few are even aware of, and fewer still capable of fighting.

    And just to add a little something, the game has rules for dealing with a character’s sanity.  You don’t just have to worry about getting punched, shot, or eaten, you’ve got to worry about seeing something ‘man was not meant to see’ or reading too much and putting 1 and H together.  When the pieces start to fall into place, the realizations are often too much for the human mind to accept, and when this happens, there is permanent damage done to the psyche, not to mention temporary insanity.  I once had a game master tell me, “if, after two or three sessions, characters aren’t dead or insane, you’re not running it right.”  I don’t know that I’m quite that extreme about it, but the game does, or should have a high mortality rate for characters.  That’s why in an ongoing game, the tendency is to have everyone belong to some kind of Gentleman’s Club, or scientific institution, or what have you.  When Professor Albertson goes missing while investigating the strange noises on the hills outside of Prague, his colleague Marianne Watson may just get the assignment to find out what’s become of him from the dean of the Archeology Department of Miskatonic University (Go Pods!).


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