Co-Designer of Owl Hoot Trail Clinton runs a game of the finished Owl Hoot Trail on google hangout with Jason Morningstar, Andy Kakowski and Bert Isola.
Co-Designer of Owl Hoot Trail Clinton runs a game of the finished Owl Hoot Trail on google hangout with Jason Morningstar, Andy Kakowski and Bert Isola.
So, there is such a thing as new roleplaying gamers in 2013. And now they’re getting hooked onto Trail of Cthulhu.
Left to right: Acap, Zulhilmi, Juan.
Just at the start of this year, I met Zulhilmi and Syafiq, both of whom are animators at Animasia Studio here in Malaysia. Zul and his circle of friends at work had been playing boardgames and cardgames after work for a while now, and after hearing about D&D, they wanted to start it. D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder seemed a bit too complicated, so they settled on 4th Edition. But it’s not always easy to run a game for the first time, even with the newer systems.
Zul contacted me online after hearing about my Malaysian gamer group, Gamers of KL, and expressed interest in D&D. We met up at a friendly local comics shop and I ran a short D&D 4e scenario for Zul and Syafiq. They had a great time, borrowed a couple of my books, and soon they were running 4e games at lunch break in the studio, four times a week.
Four sessions a week. Yeah, these were short sessions, but, oh man, that’s dazzling enthusiasm.
Jump forward to late April. I don’t get much chance to meet Zul in person, as we have different weekend gaming circles. He asks for advice on running a survival horror game for some new players from his studio on May 1 (Labour Day holiday), and asks if I want to try running something as an introduction to roleplaying.
After some discussion, I suggest introducing them to something vastly different from D&D. A type of game that’s been close to my heart of over a decade. Horror and investigation.
* * *
You are cordially invited to a Luncheon with Mr Jefferson Shaw at his Personal Suite on the ‘A’ Deck of the RMS Titanic on 12th April 1912. The Event will feature an Exclusive Unveiling of Rare Artefacts of the Most Stupendous Nature from Egypt, to be delivered to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Delicacies and Beverages to be provided by the Café Parisien.
RSVP. Formal Attire Only. Due to the Macabre Nature of this Unveiling, Small Children and Animals are Not Permitted.
Spoilers for the adventure follow.
Here’s a summary of the adventure: All the PCs are first-class passengers on the RMS Titanic on its first (and only) voyage. They are among a group of passengers invited to Jefferson Shaw’s luncheon where he reveals his latest prize, the mummy of an Egyptian priestess, Hettunaway. The mummy, who was a priestess of the Black Pharoah Nephren-Ka, awakens and starts haunting those who gaped at her. Eventually, the ship hits an iceberg and the mummy reanimates fully, walking around in a reanimated body to hunt and kill those she has cursed. All this, while the great ship slowly sinks as the band plays on…
Adam Gauntlett’s written a very straightforward scenario – just one basic mystery (what’s up with that mummy?) and a few NPCs. I did a read-through the night before, printed out some Titanic deck plans and did research on the events of the sinking as well as some key historical figures like Captain Smith, Margaret Brown, John Jacob Astor IV and J. Bruce Ismay.
Trail of Cthulhu is powered by GUMSHOE, which is a pretty simple system to teach new players. Use Investigative Abilities, get clues. Spend Investigative Ability points, get bonus clues. Spend General Abilities and roll a single die to perform other actions like combat and sneaking and swimming (swimming being VERY important!). And that’s it. The Millionaire’s Special adventure came with a bunch of pre-gens, which makes it very convenient for a one-shot with newcomers.
Zul chatted with his friends ahead of time about what kind of pre-gens they would like to play.
I brought all six of the Millionaire’s Special pre-gens and also added Professor Lucas Wright from another scenario, Watchers in the Sky, as one of the new guys, Juan, wanted to play a British gentleman.
* * *
So. It was awesome.
That’s Juan and Syafiq.
I’ve gamed with an awesome RPG artist before, so seeing the events of the session illustrated by a talented artist is not new to me.
Try four artists as players. Zul’s group all drew their portraits onto the character sheets within minutes of the start of the game.
The new players, Acap and Juan, had only played in a single D&D 4e session before. They were enthusiastic and excited and flung themselves into the spirit of their characters right away. Juan in particular was playing the Professor, and decided right away that his wife Gertrude (listed as a source of Stability) should be along for the ride.
That’s Juan’s sketch of Lucas and Gertrude at the top.
The first scene with the unveiling of the mummy set the high-society-dabbling-with-the-supernatural-on-a-doomed-ship tone perfectly. Soon Acap (playing the con man) and Syafiq (playing the adventurous heiress) were having a grand time in the smoking lounge, gambling for Credit Rating points (the 17-year-old heiress won hands down, stealing most of the con man’s money).
We had dinner with high society NPCs like John Jacob Astor and Molly Brown. We had an investigation into third-class decks to find the widow of a previous victim of the mummy. We had ghastly visions of the ship’s fate to come. We had foolhardy spiritualist schemes by Jefferson Shaw, whose electrical seance machine awakened the mummy and led to horrific bloodshed.
At the start of the final tragic two hours of the six-hour session, Zul’s French artist/war veteran and Acap’s con man were locked below decks after being found at the site of Shaw’s murder. Not a good place to be as the iceberg hit and the flares shot into the sky over the ship. They had to break down the door of their cabin and make a desperate deck-by-deck escape as the waters slowly claimed the ship.
The sedate and snail-slow evacuation to the lifeboats gradually turned into a race for survival. The mummy awakened and started appearing all over the ship, killing Shaw’s friends and guests from the luncheon. Syafiq’s heiress secured a place on the first lifeboat thanks to her new friend Molly Brown.
Juan had the most memorable scene of the finale when Professor Lucas Wright, hobbling along at near-zero Stability and Health scores, carried his wife to escape the mummy’s rampage.
Having lost their pursuer (so it seemed), they end up in line for one of the lifeboats. But the mate insists on women and children only. Gertrude is let aboard the boat, but Lucas is pushed back.
Lucas and Gertrude cry out to each other. “Please let him aboard!” “Gertrude!” “Lucas!” The mate interrupts by shouting at the crowd to “let the last woman through…the black haired woman.”
Lucas smells the incense of the mummy Hettunaway. Realisation dawns for all the players simultaneously. A great “oh shit” moment.
Juan wins his “best player of the day” award by urging Gertrude to leave without him. The professor tosses his wedding locket to his wife and falls back into the crowd, never looking away from Gertrude even as the mummy’s arms reach out and pull him away into the shadows…and the lifeboat departs.
Shortly after, we all drew upon our memories of the Titanic film for the imagery of the sinking of the ship. The lights going out…the funnels toppling as the ship snaps in half…and Zul and Acap’s characters make it to the boat deck and start casting the spell to banish Hettunaway just as her lifeboat is about to catch up to the heiress. The mummy returns to dust, and our two heroes are swept into the icy ocean. Despite brave swimming attempts, only Acap’s con man manages to climb onto a wrecked lifeboat and survive.
We had an epilogue scene in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York city, where the professor’s widow, the heiress and the con man decide what to do with the spellbook they found, and our players decide (without my prompting) that their survivors could form the basis of a future Cthulhu campaign…
* * *
A week later, Zul showed me a picture of a work in progress by Juan:
Left to right: Gertrude (NPC), Professor Lucas Wright (Juan), Norton the con man (Acap), Winnifred (Syafiq), Arnaud (Zulhilmi).
And Zul’s going to start running Trail for his group now. Most successful demo session ever!
That, people, is why I love roleplaying games.
The Naperville Freaks, Geeks and Weirdos meetup group hosted a One-Shot RPG gathering at Fair Game in Downers Grove, IL. Ben Roby ran a modified version of the Blood & Lightning adventure from 13th Age and sent us the following play report.
Ben and his co-GM Sarah are running 13th Age again in March. Register for 13th Age: Quest for the Twilight Lotus.
The adventure was planned to fit into six hours with a short amount of character development in the beginning. Basically I had all the crunchy bits completed and let the players develop their own unique thing, backgrounds, and icon relationships. The adventure was a heavily modified and abbreviated version of Blood and Lightning. Basically I made the adventure adapt to whatever icons the characters chose to associate with.
As we sat down for the session I got a feel for everyone’s roleplaying experience. I explained that there would be a lot of familiar stuff but three big features characterized 13th Age: Unique Things, Icons, and Backgrounds.
The one unique thing got them excited to have a personalized touch to their character. Since I had been play testing 13th Age for several months, I used examples from our regular game to give them ideas of what to invent. The party consisted of a bard version of Indiana Jones, a paladin who was the beloved of the Elf King, a ranger raised by wolves, the last scion of a Demon Touched Drow noble house of sorcerers, and a Halfling who was fathered by the Prince of Shadows after stealing her from a God’s mind.
When we moved to Icon Relationships I jotted down everyone’s connections. It became apparent that the Elf Queen was the common thread and only one evil icon was present – The Lich King, who had a complicated relationship with the Bard in her exploration of tombs for magical artifacts. I jotted down some notes and circled the appropriate alterations in my adventure to make the villain the Lich King, and their patrons the Elf Queen and High Druid.
I explained the difference of backgrounds from a skill list and let the players define them using their unique thing and icon relationship as inspiration. The players wrote down ideas and allocated their points. I encouraged a few players to crank up the flavor in their backgrounds (Thieves Guild became “Brotherhood of 1,000 blades”, etc.)
Once all the characters were ready, we began the adventure. The Dark Elf sorcerer was given a chance to redeem his house in the Elven Court by retrieving an ancient artifact from Boltstrike Spire: Glazentorg, a gauntlet able to wield vast amounts of energy. The gauntlet was being used to charge one of the last remaining Grey Towers along the Iron Sea. Once fully charged, the tower would maintain the wards keeping the horrors of the sea at bay. The Elf queen had hired an expert in magical artifacts (The Bard), a military commander (Paladin), as well as two emissaries from the High Druid (Ranger and Rogue). The sorcerer eagerly agreed to regain some favor for his house.
A High Elf accompanied them as a guide and gave me the opportunity to casually inquire about their characters. As they did so, I occasionally interjected and described how the terrain was changing. It gave the players a chance to get into character and tell some stories relating to their backgrounds. Their travel was suddenly interrupted by the High Elf getting taken down by a crossbow bolt and screams coming out of the forest.
A raiding party of Goblins bore down on them while they were stuck in a Ravine. I was using a grid map and mini’s in the loosest way I could – Just to give players a visual representation of what was going on, not to limit or codify how they moved. The paladin quickly threw himself into the fray and got the first opportunity to see how great the Mook mechanic works: With a well placed smite he set three goblins flying in pieces. Our rogue hustled up the Ravine wall with a use of his Swashbuckle talent to hurl some archers down to his allies. The sorcerer and Ranger traded shot for shot with a pair of decaying shamans. The bard kept fumbling rolls and soon had a goblin on his back trying to shiv him with a dagger.
Every player quickly found something fun on their character sheet. The only amount of confusion came with how the Wood Elf’s Elven Grace ability played out. The escalation die steadily turned the tide of battle in the player’s favor. The battle eventually started winding down but not before the lifeless corpses of the goblins raised up for one last attack before crumpling. It became clear that Necromancy was afoot and the Bard was able to use his backgrounds to fill in the party on what to expect. Cautiously, the party journeyed on.
When the adventuring party reached Boltstrike Spire, they were greeted by Zanj, a high elf fighter. He led the party on to the grounds and explained the purpose of Boltstrike Spire: It channeled energy from the sea to help empower the surrounding wilderness and the wards. The Artifact, Glazentorg, was being used to help direct those energies and would need to finish its ritual before being disengaged from the spire. Zanj handed the party off to the commander, Quellis, a Druid who maintained the watch. Zanj departed, escorting mages up the spire to help with the ritual. When the party mentioned Goblins in the woods with necromantic energies, she was alarmed. They had beaten back a small nest of them lately and they would not return without help.
When Quellis took them to the cliff face that Boltstrike rested upon, all hell broke loose. With a deafening shockwave, the top of Bolstrike exploded raining down debris. The Bard and Paladin immediately ran up the tower followed by Quellis. The three remaining characters unexpectedly stayed on the ground (The rogue stating the money wasn’t worth the risk). Improvising, I narrated that giant arcs of lightning were streaking down from the tower, carving huge scars into the ground. The sorcerer, rogue, and Ranger had to try and find cover and shepherd several guards to safety. The rogue ended up getting hit pretty bad by a tree exploding in front of him.
When the Paladin and Bard reached the tower they had just enough time to see a great Dracolich take flight with Zanj on his back. Zanj raised Glazentorg and fired off a lethal bolt of lightning at Quellis, taking her down. With her last breath she commanded the adventurers to recover Glazentorg, no matter the cost.
Recovering from the chaos the party set about trying to figure out just where the dragon would have fled to. The rogue used his relationship with the Prince of Shadows to claim he had a contact in the tower who could help them out. The paladin and ranger combined their military and area knowledge to pinpoint a cave lying underneath a nearby Ruin, Greenstand. The bard and sorcerer discovered that the ruin had been booby trapped by Zanj when he was second in command and that the correct key word could disable its defenses.
The party set out once again, determined to punish Zanj and recover the glove. They got the drop on a horde of zombies and necromancers outside the fortress and hatched a plan. The paladin and sorcerer drew the mindless zombies out while the bard, ranger, and rogue swept around and decimated the casters. The rogue was especially happy to use his swashbuckle talent to handspring off a zombie’s head and get a lucky critical strike on one of the necromancers. The sorcerer blew apart the zombies with a nasty series of empowered Breath spells. And the Paladin loved being swarmed by seven zombies at once.
Once inside the ruins they found Zanj in a large chamber with stained glassed windows overlooking the ocean. When the rogue tried to fling a dagger into his back, it stopped in midair revealing a protective shell around him. At once the party was attacked by twisted abominations of magic gone wrong. Monstrosities who had been warped into scale-covered bodies with great claws for hands. Zanj continued to hurl lightning bolts out at the party, but with each abomination that died, his shell became weaker.
When the shell eventually shattered, he charged the bard and got a powerful critical strike, wrapping the gaunlet around his throat and electrocuting him. He eventually succumbed to a lethal pummeling in large part to the sorcerers Arc Lightning. When Zanj went to one knee, the Dracolich crashed through the stained glass windows. Zanj begged Glazentorg for aid and the gauntlet moved on its own to point toward the Dracolich. A stream of energy drained the undead dragon of its remaining power and Zanj mutated before the party’s eyes.
Zanj, now a horrific abomination, leaped into the party, viciously ripping into each member in turn. The Sorceror and Paladin went down, inspiring their allies with their sacrifice. The Bard managed to pry Glazentorg off of Zanj, and turn its power against him. As Glazentorg disintegrated Zanj into dust, the party was happy to have triumphed and saved the realm.
All in all, it was a fantastic session, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the parties figure out he character creation process. The combats were quick and highly cinematic. Three of the players were very eager to know when they could purchase the game.
Photo credit: Josh Stein
Halloween is drawing near, and you might be looking for appropriately spooky games to run for your players. Here’s a quick roundup of seven Pelgrane Press games and adventures that might fit the bill:
Have fun rolling the bones…
Here are some actual playtest reports for Night’s Black Agents
For those that do not know, Night’s Black Agents is Pelgrane Press’ newest game, a combination spy thriller, eldritch horror, vampire suspense tale.
I adore this game and would bear it’s RP-babies if it would let me. Mechanically, GUMSHOE is pretty clean and easy for new and experienced hands alike to pick up, allowing for the focus to be on the particular story.
For those that do not know me, I’m John. I…do stuff. One of those things is gaming. And this is my game, a slightly hacked version of a Mirror-version of Night’s Black Agents called “Tinker Tailor Vampire Die”.
The Virtual Play podcast has been busy with Pelgrane products. First is a actual play report of Bill White’s Trail of Cthulhu scenario, Castle Bravo, you can listen here. The second is Skulduggery, Robin D Laws’ game of backstabbing and verbal fireworks. You can listen to the full report here.
Here is actual play of the Esoterrorists adventure Profane Miracles, with a home-designed follow up adventure using Fear Itself here, from the excellent Role Playing Public Radio. There is a bit of banter at the beginning, but they get into it pretty quickly and get on with the game.
Here is an actual play recording at Fear the Con of the purist adventure Dance in the Blood. It takes a while to get going.
Bill White, Big Hoodoo writer has recorded a session he ran at the PAX East game convention. He says:
If you’ve read “The Big Hoodoo” and want to run it, but are wondering about all its moving parts, there’s an audio recording of me running the game at PAX East for the nice folks at the Nerdbound podcast. We all had an excellent time!
It’s here at Nerdbound.
There’s a little bit of background noise because of the convention center space, but you can hear us okay.