Thursday, February 20, 2014

Prodigal Son: Roots

                                                                  Part Twenty Three

    Cue long, exaggerated sigh, followed by a nostalgic musing while I stare off into the distance.  Yes.  It is done.  Or, to use a phrase I think should never be used in another film in the history of ever, “It has begun.”  After all the talk, all the wishful thinking, all the day dreaming, and yes, all the many false starts, the first night of actual roleplaying has been accomplished.  The first full session I’ve run in more than six years (other than that one on one thing with Brad a couple years ago when I was first trying to get serious about this).  I think that’s the longest continuous gap in gaming I’ve had since I started with the hobby as a young lad (pretty sure Reagan was still in office).  It feels good to slay that dragon.  Starting a game is always difficult.  Starting a game with people new to the hobby is a challenge (a very worthy one).  But starting a game after six years was very, very hard to do.  I’m using mental muscles that have atrophied, digging into parts of my brain that haven’t seen the light of day for far too long.  But, it all worked out pretty well.  All the stress and apprehension melted away fairly quickly, and I began to feel the old rhythms.

    Call of Cthulhu always has always felt a bit like coming home.  It uses the Basic Roleplaying system, the game mechanic I got started on.  And it didn’t take me long to fall for it’s 1920s/1930s setting.  After all, Indiana Jones was my hero.  Over the years, it’s meant a lot of different things to me.  I’ve played in several very different games, and I’ve run a bunch myself.  It’s always challenging, but usually rewarding.  This time around, I’m trying something a little more ambitious than normal.  In the past, I’ve almost always done one of three things.  Early on, my games were always set in very cinematic versions of exotic countries.  Then I graduated to The Thing style of relatable, but hopelessly remote locations, with characters from different walks of life thrust together through circumstance (survivors of a plane crash, for example).  Later, in an attempt to get things more grounded and relatable, my games were set in and around Bangor, Maine, my home town and a place I had a good deal of practical knowledge of.  Not this time.  This time the game is set in Arkham, the city is wide open, and I’m juggling more than one story.  In the past, I’ve tended to take just one idea, one creature, one item, and build a story around it.  When that story was over, perhaps I’d do a follow-up, likely connected to the first in some way.  This time, I wanted to do something new.  So, I’ve got a whole bunch of storylines, some fully developed, some only briefly sketched out, all waiting to be uncovered by the group.  And I’m going to let them explore those stories in whatever way they see fit.  Sure, I’ll be dropping hints and hooks, but already they’ve gone off in unexpected directions, and it’s great.  Of course, not ever story will pan out.  Not every clue will lead to something important.  And these story threads aren’t all linked.  They’re not all about the same thing, and they’re not all building to something, like I’d normally do.  Though they may be laced together by the characters (that’s already started to happen), I’m letting the chips fall where they may.

    Going way back, I always knew that Call of Cthulhu shouldn’t be Dungeons & Dragons.  I don’t just mean the system and all its nonsense.  I mean, it shouldn’t be about walking around fighting monsters all the time.  It shouldn’t be opening doors and finding random creatures and artifacts.  It shouldn’t be a video game.  I think that might be part of why I always focused stories on only one core idea or creature.  If the story was about Ghouls, then dang it, Ghouls would be what you got.  Maybe, just maybe, they’d have something extra special and nasty working with them, but 99% of what the game would be about Ghouls and Ghouls only.  This time around I wanted to do things differently, so I conceived two major and unrelated stories, and multiple lesser stories.  I still don’t want this to degrade into some 20s themed dungeon crawl, with rooms full of Deep Ones or legions of Nightgaunts flapping around.  But it’s going to be more monster/thing heavy than I’d normally do.  In fact, in the very first session, a monster was spotted (briefly), an artifact was found, and a bunch of other crazy stuff happened.  Normally, I’d take a lot longer to reveal that much.  And of course, like in all Call of Cthulhu games I run, I need to make sure that the possibility of the complete ending of the world is always an option.  I feel like any given session of the game should be able to result in an apocalypse of some form, be it a plague, open war with the Deep Ones, causing Yog-Sothoth to open the Gates, a visit from Ghroth, whatever.

    So, now that I’ve got my head around the game, now that the first session has happened, I feel more focused, and more like I know what I’m doing again.  Now, I need to target each player and his/her character with some particular excitement and horror, as well as provide opportunities for each to be a valued member of a team.

    I don’t imagine this game will go on for more than 3 or 4 sessions, especially as I’m trying to keep things moving quickly, and will probably be throwing a lot more, and more deadly things at the characters than normal.  So, I’m still thinking about what other games might be good for the group.  I would certainly like to do something more long form, something open ended, where character development can get more play, where stories can take their time to build, and where actions have far reaching consequences.  One especially nice thing about games like Call of Cthulhu is that, assuming characters reach a good ending point still sane and alive, there’s always the option of picking things up again later, even if there are new players in the group.  If folks enjoy this roleplaying thing and want to do more, we’ll talk about options again then.  I hope I can keep this ball rolling.  It’s tough, with everyone having kids and jobs and social lives.  But I think we can do it.

I still love Cyberpunk 2020.


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