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Author Topic: Chthonian - Indie Gaming Monday (6/10)  (Read 4542 times)
Zak Arntson
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« on: June 10, 2002, 11:31:31 PM »

Well, spurred mostly by Clinton's evidence that there is a minority of indie play done, and by our group's dissatisfaction with d20 Call of Cthulhu, I went ahead and ran Chthonian Redux last night.

The Players
Two brothers (I'll post about this dynamic in the family thread later, Ron), two friends who've gamed with us before (one expressed a dislike towards our d20 Cthulhu session), and one who doesn't game but figured he'd try it out. It was great to have them all satisfied during and after play.

Before Play
One player was dead tired. We usually do a warm up anyway, so he took a nap while we played Munchkin. We set the win to 5th level (instead of 10th) to make it go by quicker. This was good, because it relaxed everyone and was finished by a reasonable time.

Character Creation
I made some character sheets, and stuck all the information needed, even some charts with rules. This made things much easier for the Players. You can get a peek (if you have the "Chiller" font and a browser that supports the weird CCS/Table garbage I did to quickly whip it up) at http://www.harlekin-maus.com/chthonian/charsheet.html. That URL may break in the future.

We started with me describing the system resolution (dice pool vs. difficulty number, number of successes indicates one of three outcomes: "No, and", "Yes, but", "Yes, and"). I then described each Score/Skill and said "Write down how your character does this" and gave examples. This went smoothly for all but one Player, who quickly picked it up after some help. Next was the points. I wanted to have the "What you do" come before point distribution. Last was Gear. I made it clear to them that they can write down some equipment, but if they just invent something they'd reasonably have during play, that's fine.

Hook
I'm mostly following John Tynes' advice in the d20 Call of Cthulhu book. The game starts with a hook. We decided to start the scenario from the beginning; starts out with players returning to campus at 2am. Window explodes, furry thing and metal and stuff flies out. PCs get all freaked out. This time, they decide to break into the building.

I wasn't prepared for it. Shit. Luckily, I was able to do some quick thinking and quizzed the Players a lot. I did place the game on a college campus, something we're all familiar with, myself included. The setting was vague, "College town, you live on campus." Lets us get away with a lot of improv.

Lesson One: Let the Players assert some control, and keep a flow of dialogue. Example: A Player wanted to pick up a stick of metal from whatever flew out of the metal. I said, "Okay, what do you do with it?" instead of "Well, yeah, that's reasonable to be in there." It kept the game flowing. And the other Players picked up on it. They would improvise details, like roommates and the like.

Investigation
So the PCs are sneaking around in a building, trying to find the room which expunged the fur and metal. I improvise, ask the Players about things (one said, "Is there a map?" instead of "Yes," I go straight into answering the "I look at at the map" statement. Again, keep the game flowing).

Lesson Two: Tension & Release. It's a horror game. The PCs see a room with a light on. They sneak up on it. Scared. It's someone on the phone, talking to security about the breaking glass. Phew, that's a relief. But they're still edgey.

Lesson Three: Pressure. Survival horror. Campus cops get the police involved. They are coming up the stairs, so the PCs are under pressure to escape. They wind up breaking a window and jumping to a tree.

Lesson Three-and-a-half: POV switching. Same scene (I define a gaming scene as a set period of interesting time), PCs in three different places. Switching POVs on mini-cliffhangers kept everyone interested and the pressure was always high.

Lesson Four: Open Ends. A "red shirt" NPC companion refused to jump out the window and was left behind. I didn't have a plan for this, but figured it would tie in nicely to the story. Open ends are good for tying up later. Same with the woman on the phone. Was she in on it? The Players don't know.

Creepy Developments
The PCs watched a bit of videotape they took (one had a video camera), the red shirt who I sacrificed to the police returns and is acting very strange. Some PCs + NPC go down to smoke (10pm, next day), and BOOM! they're attacked by some dog-thing.

Lesson Four-and-a-half: Open-ended weirdness. I have a vague idea where it's going, but I mostly did it for weirdness. The returned Red Shirt is sweating, sickly and keeps touching the PCs. When they ask if that's normal, I emphatically say no. The Red Shirt (Jefry, if you need to know) is also a little vague on explaining his capture and release by the police.

Lesson Five: Tension + Payoff. This same scene happened last time: Two guys out smoking followed by a surprise dog attack. All but one Player knew something was coming. They were all very tense. To clue in the final Player, they all smelled burning hair (same smell from window explosion incident). Then, when they relax a little after nothing happens right away: SMACK! I just tell the Player, "A furred shape, all teeth and a pair of eyes slams into you, and knocks you into the bushes" To the other Players, "You see the thing and your friend disappear into the bushes" (commence with rustling and growling sounds).

Which leads into Lesson Six: Automatic Crapulence. There are just times when you shouldn't give a PC an out. What happens if the dog-thing misses? Much less exciting scene.

Post Game
Well, the game ended with the dog-thing scene. The Players took it out with a skateboard and a knife. It vanishes in smoke and stinky burnt hair while a PC pulls the fire alarm to get everyone outside.

Lesson Seven: Post-game Chat. We talked about what went right and what went wrong. I was very happy and surprised that everyone had a lot of fun. I was worried the pacing was a little slow, but the Players all told me how great it was. So no problems there. We then talked about possible mechanics fixes, etc. etc.

Dysfunctionality?
Two Players had problem-PCs. They were troublemakers and didn't seem to fit with the other PCs. The other Players worked at discouraging this, "[in character] You ran away without us? Puss!" But I also would give them more attention when they worked with the others. Gently marginalizing dysfunctional play seemed to help. One Player even spoke to me after the game about how he wants to roleplay his character becoming a better person. (boom -> Exploration of Character). The other seems to want to redeem his PC, but has also stated that he wants his PC to die. Fair enough, it's survival horror, no dysfunction with that decision.

Things to do Differently
Aside from system tweaks, I'm not too sure. Things went really well. My Players loved the session. I had a problem with the pacing, but I'm not sure if it was my pacing preference or an insecurity of Player dissatisfaction. I'll GM the same way next time and see if the Players are still having a good time.

Mechanics
The mechanics worked really well. The Players were encouraged to DO things. When they Researched, they did what their Player does: One sold drugs and chatted with his customers, two hit the library, a third chatted up his ROTC buddies. These tied in with the PCs' Research Descriptors (granting an extra die to the roll).

Safety is a great Score. It starts at 10 points and keeps getting used up. You don't roll Safety, but if it hits zero, you will most likely die given the slightest chance. Players can burn Safety to get more dice for a roll. They were using this, thus kicking ass while simultaneously feeling the pressure of danger. It's also vague ("Safety") which helps us describe the different ways you can be unsafe. It helped that both myself and some Players would suggest another Player burn Safety, keeping us from forgetting about it.

I (and the Players) had mostly forgotten about the Sanity score. I'm wondering if it's needed. The CoC-veterans want a Sanity score. The others were interested, and seemed disappointed it didn't show up more. The consensus was that there was nothing to DO with it. Safety is in the PCs' faces: Not only is it lost during play (bad die rolls, or even good die rolls), but you can actively burn it. Sanity didn't play a part. I have to fix this, even if it's only to forcibly stick it in the scenario (for example, I totally forgot to have Sanity play a part in the dog-thing attack AND the furry melting thing. Oops).
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