Campaign Update

One ongoing challenge in any ongoing campaign for Call of Cthulhu is figuring out the most basic logistics.  How do all these people get together?  Why, once they experience soul-wrenching terror together, do they come back together to do it again?  How do they fund the extravagant globe-hopping trips they’re supposed to take to thwart cosmic horror?  How do they find people crazy enough to join them and make up for the inevitable casualties?

Sadly, most published campaigns usually resort to handwaving or ignore the issues here, leading groups to end up playing endless streams of ex-patriates and bellhops from hotels in far-flung hotels who decide to join a plot to save the world for no discernible reason.  Now, that doesn’t mean it’s always done in that manner, or that this isn’t fun in a pulpy sort of way.   Still, at this point, it’s clear that something different needs to be done.

There’s numerous ways to handle it, the easiest of which is to have some sort of patron organization to help the characters along.  This is another difficulty, as there is a fine tradition in Cthulhu games of creating a patron who will screw the characters over if they trust them.  I have nothing against screwing the characters over, but if it’s done often enough, the players won’t trust any patron, which lowers the chance of effectively screwing them over with a patron in the long run.

I’ve been grappling with these issues in the writeup of the campaign, as I’ve decided to give the group a potential patron.  I floated a few characters from previous stories and scenarios who might serve in that role past the Black Seal folks, including one I was sure nobody would go for.  As you can expect, they picked him – and as he’s the most “traditional” possibility, I’m going to accept their decision.  He will be friendly and helpful, but there are certainly lines he won’t cross.  Plus, I’m throwing in some uncertainty to the mix so those who wish to screw over their group will be able to do it.

I hope all this wasn’t too vague.

Word count: 10,543 words.

Published in: on December 3, 2008 at 1:19 am  Comments (3)  

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  1. Yes, this is very much a good question and ongoing struggle. In my most recent campaign I introduced a mysterious DOJ agent who essentially hired the PCs to go on adventures. Ultimately not very satisfying, but at least the players went along for the ride. I would be very interested in your solutions…

  2. Relationships.

    Lots of ‘indie’ games make relationships between the protagonists – the investigators – and the NPCs of note central to the game. It’s what drives play forward. No longer are the investigators ‘going along for the ride’ at the behest of some authority figure/organisation: rather the investigators themselves are _forced_ to delve deeper and deeper into mysteries that No Man Was Ever Meant To Know because a relationship with someone/something is at stake. This makes the game ‘personal’: if an investigator merely is hired or directed by a patron there is a level of disconnect there straightaway; in my opinion horror works best when it’s personalised.

    Once the players have their individual relationships, the Keeper then has a wealth of _player created_ hooks with which to define a compelling motive for the Investigators to be together. Threatening the relationships that the players have put time and energy into creating is a sure way to get scenes kicking off.

    For example, a New England professor fallen on hard times is looking for tenure at Miskatonic. His reputation amongst his peers, his mortgage, the respect of his family, and his sense of self worth are all on the line. (Relationship: status with peers.) He *must* discover some new avenue of metaphysical/occult research. (That’s a straight hook into the campaign right there.) He doesn’t need a patron to drive play forward, and he’s only too eager to work with other seekers of truth – so long as he has exclusive rights on presenting any discoveries in monographs and lectures.

    The patron/Delta Green-style organisation is well worn, so nobody is going to moan if that is the hook. I think that getting the players to make-up their own motivations for play through relationships is much more compelling. It does mean that the Keeper will have to reveal the NPCs of note prior to character creation so that the players can riff away, and some folks might not be comfortable with that level of player/character information mismatch.

  3. Yes, yes, I heartily agree. The only caveat is that it takes a solid relationship with and understanding of the game to get the players to see what is needed.

    For instance, we are wrapping up the aforementioned 20s campaign and want to start a Gaslight game. My party and I just sat down to start building the team, and since we’ve been playing COC for about nine months, everyone knows how the game plays, everyone’s individual styles, and what my expectations as a GM are. With that established, we’ve already created a bunch of relationships between the PCs that did not exist previously. So people already have wants and desires that can lead to all sorts of crazy adventures. Looks to be fun!


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