02 April 2011

Games I Wanna Play, Part 3b: Horror

Continuing from my last "Games I Wanna Play" post...

Call of Cthulhu (Standard)
I want to run a Cthulhu game. I've been chomping at the bit to run one for a few months now, but it's a tough sell for some of my players. One thing about Cthulhu is the overwhelming mortality of the characters. Run in the traditional manner, PCs end up dead, insane, or both in a short amount of time. For players who devote a lot of time and energy to developing their PCs, this can be somewhat dispiriting.

To my mind, Cthulhu doesn't have to destroy characters. Not right away, in any case. In fact, a long-term CoC game could be so much more entertaining, because as players do become invested in their PCs, the fear and trepidation they experience becomes much more tangible when dealing with Lovecraftian horrors.

The nightmares that haunt Lovecraft's stories aren't the typical fodder for horror games. A lot of folks don't understand this immediately upon being exposed to the RPG. If they haven't read Lovecraft or his contemporaries, they may have a completely different idea of what the game is about. It helps if you can get them to read a story or two. I have my own favorites, such as Pickman's Model, The Colour Out of Space, At the Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and The Shadow Out of Time.

Of course, if they know the fiction, they usually have a much better idea of what they're getting themselves into. Conversely, they also have certain expectations that might not jibe with my own plans or insights. So much has been written, insofar as the the RPG and the Mythos are concerned, that I don't like to be beholden to canon. This isn't to say I change things out of hand, but I do like to think I can surprise players without them having an immediate idea of what I've got in mind.

Lovecraft has never been about "cheap" scares for me. I'm not saying that CoC can't be used to tell stories that involve typical horror villains popping out of the woodwork to surprise their victims before chopping them to ribbons. At its heart, CoC is about things that are so terrible, so huge, and so hard to comprehend that they rend at your sanity before they eat you. Many times, the characters in such stories are so far beneath the notice of the creatures they encounter as to make their madness/death purely circumstantial.

All that said, I've never quite run a standard CoC game, though I've played in plenty. I wouldn't mind running a standard, "Vanilla" CoC game at some point. God knows I have access to plenty of books chock full of adventures and plot hooks, if I needed inspiration. Like as not, I'd prefer to do something wholly original to my game, though it's easy enough to adapt an existing scenario.

Though CoC is its own setting, it also has a number of eras available. These are commonly Victorian (1890's), 1920's, and Modern. I'm aware of sourcebooks that have been released that give insight into other eras, but I haven't looked at many of them. Cthulhupunk (CoC meets Cyberpunk) sounds interesting, but I'm not sure it'd be something I'd want to tackle as a GM. When it comes to CoC, I think I'm more interested in 1920's and Modern.

There's a certain awesomeness about 1920's games. You're far enough into the modern era that players have access to some technology, but not so far along that they can run roughshod over you with their cell phones, iPads, and other high-tech tools. The Great Depression adds another level of gloom to things, as does Prohibition and the organized crime associated with it. If I ran a 20's game, I'd want it to be like a cross between Road to Perdition and Of Mice and Men.

As for the Modern era, I wouldn't be able to run such a game without using some aspects of Delta Green...

Delta Green
I tell you, Delta Green did for me what no other CoC product had ever done. It took the Mythos, couched it in modern day conspiracy theory, and breathed fresh life into it. The threads were woven so skillfully, and they ran so deep. I was thoroughly inspired, so I borrowed my wife's CoC books and did some planning of my own. I called in elements of one of my favorite Lovecraft tales, namely Pickman's Model, threw in some crazy Karotechia Nazis, and shook until it was all quite frothy.

The game itself didn't last very long... heck, I was barely getting started. The best part was running the preludes, which is a technique I'd borrowed from the Storyteller system in order to give PCs more depth. The characters played law enforcement folks who'd been approached by Delta Green due to their prior experience with the supernatural. The characters included:

A DEA diver who saw something swimming in the Florida Keys while attempting to recover a load of narcotics that had been thrown overboard by fleeing smugglers;

A Border Patrol agent who was abducted by aliens, waking up three days later, hundreds of miles from his patrol route, with no memory of the lost time;

A Customs Agent whose drug-sniffing dog was inhabited by a strange, jelly-like organism which turned it into a slavering beast (which she had to kill in order to survive);

and

A DEA pilot who, while scouting the US/Mexico border in a plane with his partner, encountered strange UFO phenomenon that knocked out his plane's systems, resulting in a crash (and his co-pilot's death).

The plot that brought them together involved a number of stolen art pieces by C├ęzanne that were cropping up... pieces of art that had been stolen by the Nazis during WWII and never seen since. This led to some investigations of an avant-garde art gallery in Miami that, at the time, was showing a series of paintings by Richard Upton Pickman. The Pickman art didn't have anything to do with the overall plot, it was just set dressing, and 3/4 of the players didn't even know the significance of the paintings... but they still had to make San checks.

It was unfortunate that the game came to an end before we could really get into the meat of the plot. I guess I had a serious case of gamer ADD back in those days. I still do, but the medication seems to be working (just kidding).

If I could start a new Delta Green game, I'd probably use some of the ideas presented in the latest supplement, Targets of Opportunity. It's a particularly meaty book, with a lot of disturbing content. I'd also delve a little deeper into the way the actual Delta Green runs things, just for flavor. This means that the number of actual agents in a cell is limited, but other players would take on the roles of civilian experts and the like.

That's about all I've got to say at the moment. I might touch on this a bit more later, but for now... thanks for reading.

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