It was our intention with Eternal Lies, our epic Trail of Cthulhu campaign, to create a book to be brought alive by actual play, not just a handsome shelf-filler. And so it’s proved, with an Eternal Lies Keeper’s Community on Google+, advice and historical props over on the Yog-Sothoth forum, an interactive campaign map and tons of actual play reports such as this by Aviatrix over on Story Games.
Eternal Lies for Call of Cthulhu
Many Call of Cthulhu Keepers, while happy with their own system, are intrigued by our Mythos adventures, and Eternal Lies is the biggest eldritch beast we’ve put out there. Fortunately, Andrew Nicholson has converted Eternal Lies for use with Call of Cthulhu – a free download here – and Paul of Cthulhu and the Innsmouth House Players have experienced the entirety of Eternal Lies, recorded in in 22 audio episodes available to yog-sothoth patrons. The finale was sombre and breathtaking.
Paul has made the first two episodes freely available over on yoggie, and I was impressed by his clever use of an iPad Mini and iPhone built into a Keeper’s Screen to share maps and images of NPCs in an unobtrusive fashion with his players.
A New Ending for Eternal Lies
We want Eternal Lies to stay alive, and so we’ll continue to provide new material for it, and in that spirit, we’ve just released an a new section written by Lauren Roy, which ties all the threads of the campaign together to deliver an entirely different ending.
For Pelgrane Press mail order customers the new ending is available through your order page – check Customer Service if you have problems finding your email. We’ll upload the new ending to Bits and Mortar (for retail customers) and DriveThruRPG soon.
What More Would You Like To See?
We have the book itself, James Semples music and Will Wheaton’s voice over, plus the community-created additions, so what next? In May we’ll release the faux leather limited edition version of Eternal Lies.
What would you like to see for Eternal Lies? Authentic props? New sections? Keeper’s commentaries? Let us know in the comments. Also, if you’ve run or played Eternal Lies, we’d love to hear from you, too.
On the Flames Rising blog, reviewer Steven Dawes says about the epic Eternal Lies campaign:
“Eternal Lies is simply the most well developed and well designed adventure book I’ve ever seen!”
Steven adds, “The campaign storyline is loyal to and very worthy of the Cthulhu Mythos. The rules and organization of the book are easy to follow, and even the artwork and illustrations in the book were perfectly for the settling. Everything you need for an epic mythos adventure is in this outstanding book! But the authors and the maniacs who run Pelgrane Press must have fallen in love with this book just as much as I did…”
Finally, “Eternal Lies really raises the bar for RPG campaign books. Kudos to the authors, Pelgrane Press and everyone who was involved with (or is still involved with) this incredible book.”
You can read the full review on the Flames Rising blog here.
On the Dreams in the Lich House blog, reviewer Beedo says about the epic Eternal Lies campaign:
“After spending the past few weeks reading this 400 page monster, Pelgrane has far exceeded my expectations.”
Beedo continues, “The overarching theme of Eternal Lies is corruption, and the adventure does a fantastic job of grinding stability and sanity from the investigators and threatening them with effects that corrupt their character’s thoughts, souls, and ultimately, their physical bodies.”
Adding that “This is an excellent campaign, highly recommended, which confronts the players with a diverse series of locales and investigation types, while showing off the strengths of the Trail of Cthulhu rules set”, Eternal Lies is top of Beedo’s queue for next games to run.
You can read the full review on the Dreams in the Lich House blog here.
Rickard Gudbrand was so inspired by the image on page 123 in the Eternal Lies book (left) that he decided to do a similar thing himself, to be able to give his players during the game. Then he realised that he’d have to update the map as the investigators travelled to different locations, and possibly in a different order after the initial chapter.
The result is a beautiful interactive PDF map with layers, which the Keeper can use whatever order the players decide to travel in, as each layer can be activated individually and then printed (it’s designed as an A3-handout, so some fudging might be required to print to US letter size).
The PDF-reader must support layers for it to work. As it is very much a spoiler to a big part of the campaign, Rickard has protected it with a password: the first word on page 376 in the Eternal Lies rulebook.
You can download Rickard’s interactive map here.
Rickard Gudbrand has designed another handout for his upcoming Eternal Lies campaign which he’s happy to share with everyone. This is cards for the main NPC’s of the campaign, intended to be printed, cut out and placed in suitable plastic card sleeves.
As not all of the NPCs in the book have pictures, he’s used all the pre-gens in the Eternal Lies book – as well as some NPCs from other Trail of Cthulhu books – to give a unified look to the NPCs.
The results are lovely – you can download them yourself here.
Tell Me Lies, Tell me Sweet Little Lies
Converting Pelgrane’s ‘Eternal Lies’ Campaign to Call of Cthulhu
By Andrew Nicholson
Part One: Fools Rush In
It started as a way to persuade a group of gamers to try Trail of Cthulhu instead of their more usual fare.
“Hey”, I said, “…it turns out Pelgrane are looking for people to playtest a new campaign they’re hoping to publish – wouldn’t it be cool to see it first?”
There were nods and grunts around the table, accompanied by the supping of cola and devouring of curry … and thus it was decided.
I was more than ready for something a little different. I’ve been a keen Cthulhu Keeper ever since picking CoC up in about 1984, and after two years of only getting to run the occasional scenario, I was seriously looking forward to running a dark horror campaign.
A short while later (and a name drop or two) I had in my hands the playtest documents for Act One of Eternal Lies… and that was it, I was hooked.
Fast forward a few years, and Pelgrane announced the campaign was ready for publishing. People all over the internet were asking about it, and playtesters were enthusing about what a great campaign it was… but there was one repeated question:
“Does it have Call of Cthulhu statistics? If not, will there be a Call of Cthulhu conversion?”
Pelgrane’s Trail of Cthulhu range is, without doubt, excellent. The GUMSHOE system has many fans. However, much like many family relationships, there are those who will always prefer its older and better known brother. Some do not like GUMSHOE’s spend system. Others are fond of ToC – but just plain love CoC.
Having enjoyed the first act of the campaign so much, I felt it was a huge shame people might miss out on it. So, looking at the playtest notes for the first act, I did a rough conversion on scrap paper and thought: “I can do this – I know both systems pretty well, I’ve got the experience, and it shouldn’t take long either”
A couple of conversations with Simon at Pelgrane later, and we had it agreed. I would write a conversion of the campaign, and we hoped to have it ready in time for release at the same time as the book.
And then the files of the campaign arrived. I devoured them greedily, and it slowly began to sink in. Act One was only the introductory act. Act Two was big. Very Big. I also realised the way I had originally intended to write the conversion notes just wouldn’t do; it would have been fine for those with a passing familiarity with GUMSHOE, but would not give enough support to those who had never played it.
Also, we only had a few months to do it. My conversions would not only need working out and writing, but some playtesting to make sure they weren’t completely unreasonable.
In a word: Eeek.
But there was no way I was not going to do this. I had given my word, after all – plus, was I going to let an opportunity to do something cool for the Pelgrane slip away? Hell, no.
The First Decision : Keeping the Flavour
I read through the system conversion ideas in the back of the Trail of Cthulhu rulebook.
I sat down with a cup of tea, and gave it some thought.
I decided that Rule number 1 was: Preserve the flavour of the campaign’s encounters where at all possible.
By this I mean that players using either system would get as close to an identical experience playing the narrative of the campaign as could be managed. Tough encounters should remain tough. Easy encounters should remain easy. Some encounters should require sacrifice of irreplaceable resources. Investigative encounters should require the players to think, but not necessarily be dependent on random dice rolls.
Trail of Cthulhu approaches investigations slightly differently from Call of Cthulhu. In particular, there were couple of distinct tenets that I wanted to preserve: “Make the game player focussed”, and “It’s not rolling dice to find core clues that is important – it’s what investigators do with them”.
Player focussed games aim involve the players as much as possible whenever anything happens. The vast majority of the dice rolls are made by the players, and even in situations where they are opposed by NPCs the Keeper rarely rolls a die.
The theory is this keeps the players feeling involved and also means that if something happens they feel they had some input into it. There are few things worse for a player than to feel that something nasty happens “automatically” to them without them getting to at least roll dice. It may be a mainly psychological reaction, but it’s one I’ve seen time and time again.
So, to preserve this, I approached most situations in the conversion in the same way. When potential conflicts arise like an investigator hiding from an NPC, rather than call for opposed rolls (something that Call of Cthulhu doesn’t have the best system for anyway), I would put the onus on the player rolling against their skill, with a negative modifier to account for the skill of their opponent. This was a quick and easy conversion to do, still fits the Call of Cthulhu system – and I could still list the NPCs skills for those Keepers who wanted to go with the opposed roll approach.
The exception was in combat. While it was easy to make non-combat situations player focussed, combat would require far too many spot rules, and would not feel like Call of Cthulhu. Combat, therefore, shouldn’t be messed too much with.
Trail of Cthulhu also uses the concept of core clues - clues that are so vital to the investigation that without them the investigation will stall. Its been a long accepted flaw that in some Call of Cthulhu scenarios, one failed roll can mean the entire adventure stalls to a halt unless the Keeper arranges for some sort of work around.
One of the things I like about Trail of Cthulhu scenarios it clearly identifies these clues, and Eternal Lies is no exception. However, the question becomes – how do we approach this in Call of Cthulhu?
I looked at the suggestions in the main Trail of Cthulhu rulebook. They seemed serviceable… but I thought I could do better.
I had been using a house rule in my Call of Cthulhu games for several years, derived from Trail’s core clue concept. It had been playtested on numerous occasions, and seemed pretty effective. An investigator still has to roll against a skill to find a clue, but failure on the dice doesn’t mean failure to find the clue; it means that extracting or deciphering the clue becomes more difficult – the exact problem being decided by the Keeper based on the circumstances. I find this works very well, and keeps the acquisition of clues interesting for the players while still keeping the investigation on track.
However, while I knew this would be an approach many Keepers would be happy with, I also needed to account for those who are less comfortable with improvising, or prefer either more rules orientated approach. So, we playtested some alternatives solutions, and a couple of them (along with the rulebook’s suggested approach) are discussed in the conversion.
Having dealt with the more general rules issues, now I needed to start looking at specifics…
(end of part one – part 2 will follow next month!)