Thursday, 23 February 2012

Review: Scenarios So Far: EOD, Sanitarium

[Spoilers for EOD and The Sanitarium naturally]
So... evidently the session-blogging thing hasn't worked out exactly as planned. Ah well. Not really surprised. The campaign has been rolling inexorably onwards however so here are my thoughts and reminiscences on the two scenarios we have run to completion Edge Of Darkness and The Sanitarium. At some point a post will detail the Dreaming Stone (two thirds completed at the moment at 7 sessions) which was intended (in a truncated form) as a short intro to the Dreamlands but has blossomed into a full-blown campaign in and of itself.

Edge Of Darkness (6th Ed. CoC Rulebook, Chaosium) 1 Session Play Through:
An 'old friend' contacts the investigators and calls them too his deathbed. He entrusts them with some documents and the keys to an old farmhouse. Upon reading they learn he is the last survivor of a group that unwittingly released an invisible monster into our world and with his death it will be free to roam. For now it is restrained in the farmhouse, but can the investigators stop it from feeding upon the world at large?
While I've been extolling the virtues of this scenario to new players in preference to the Haunting (and this is the last time I'll go on about it, I promise), this was the first time I've actually got round to running it properly. I have to say, I still love it. The initial hook was great, I know it's a cliche start to use a dying mutual friend but it's perfect for this scenario. One thing I have had trouble with before is establishing character motivations for adventuring but with this they are sucked right in and threatened from the get go with an 'unspeakable evil unleashed on the world'. I should also probably mention that my players (5 in all) were mostly new to CoC and RPGs in general (1 had played in my previous group and 1 other had roleplayed before), so the tight introduction was a good thing and gave them plenty of direction for this new freedom once they left the hospital. I ran this completely as written with no modifications and it played through perfectly. One player even demonstrated that it is possible to get almost to the ritual without setting foot inside the haunted house, as she spent much time researching and brewing coffee (which has become somewhat of a running joke among the group as it is her default response to every situation).

The beastie in the attic of the farmhouse is wonderful to run, perfectly hidden unless the investigators find him (resulting in the loss of a nose in the unfortunate case of our explorer). The invisibility is an excellent asset as my investigators were convinced that it was an outside force casting spells on them rather than a direct encounter which led to much wasted searching for a big bad to face down. Once they worked out it was in the attic and found the ritual it was a time of much celebration as they thought through every possible problem, arranging sentry duties, triple checking all runes and pentagrams and taking turns chanting. Which brings me on to the other major adversary: zombies! Obviously zombies give instantaneous cred to any scenario but these are particularly well suited to being the guards of the house. A small escapade in Arkham led to a dead body being disposed by burying in the basement. A gift to GMs, my players! Between these two foes there is room for scaling from purist to pulp and comedic moments as well as horror, which is another thing I always enjoy in scenarios as the contrast makes both elements more poignant in my opinion.

Overall, a fun scenario to run and play, contains all the great aspects of Call of Cthulhu: Ritual magic, reading that is needed and deadly combat with an un-physically-damageable enemy. Recommended.
The Sanitarium (Mansions Of Madness, Chaosium) 3 Sessions Play:
The investigators are invited to visit a professor on his private island asylum. They arrive to find all the staff dead and the inmates wandering free. Unbeknownst to the new arrivals there has also been a violent and dangerous summoning and what lurks in the lighthouse at the other end of the island they will soon discover, assuming the roaming axe-murderer doesn't get to them first, or one of the inmates...

This was great fun for me as Keeper to run, but I think that I'm not really (certainly I wasn't at the time) experienced enough to keep track of everything in it. For those who don't know, there are around a dozen key NPCs to keep track of, all of whom move of their own accord and have distinct personalities. I evidently didn't do a good enough job of making these all sympathetic as with a couple of exceptions (notably Darlene, the multi-personality key to the mystery) they didn't really seem bothered about looking after the inmates of the asylum and an old war veteran died from neglect in his cell because they forgot about him and I didn't make enough of a point of his helplessness. The mythos business very much took a back seat, at least until they had encountered all the inmates, and explored the island. That makes this a very roleplaying heavy scenario, and while this is what most CoC scenarios aspire to, it takes a degree of competency to maintain distinct personalities for each and not just have them as stat blocks to be looked after and fed at intervals.

Once the mythos beastie was introduced things picked up, they had something to drive their behaviour other than just survive and wait for a rescue. As the players are still relatively new to CoC I made sure they encountered the strange withered corpse and the Gateway in the basement of the asylum before the deaths started so that they at least had a notion of a possible supernatural aspect. Despite this and Darlene's information about the 'ones who wait' and various other mythosy clues, including characteristics of the axe-murderer intended to make it clear he was possessed,  they didn't seem to cotton on to the fact they were sharing their home with an other-worldly horror. In fact, one of the players afterwards said he didn't understand where it had come from when it attacked, though they had managed to prepare some Elder Signs under direction from Darlene and the one player who had threaded everything together. Though he did say he wasn't sure if he had just missed a couple of clues, rather than anything else. The final confrontation was rather anticlimactic as they had done their research and quizzed Darlene thoroughly to discover the beast's weaknesses and drive it into the sea. Which I'm not sure how to take really. On one hand it shows that with knowledge comes power, but it almost made it too easy to defeat the monster so I wonder if I should have held back a bit of knowledge to surprise them during the battle...

Overall: A fun and challenging scenario, on both sides of the keeper's screen. I'd like to run this through again in the future when I've more experience under my belt. Not recommended for beginners but I suspect satisfying and memorable to pull off completely (Keeper's also note, there is a lot for the investigators to learn and every bit they miss will frustrate you greatly).

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