So, Monday was Call of Cthulhu night but as I'd started the RuneQuest posts I figured I'd let that go first.
Monday's game got me thinking about Pulp and Purist gaming in CoC. Obviously there is a scale rather than a binary distinction but it is an interesting relationship to explore I think. My games tend heavily up toward the pulpy end of the scale. One of my players has pretty much 0 interest in being scared at all but really enjoys the roleplaying focus and theme of the system so a completely purist approach is out from the start. Coupled with the fact that the last few months have been spent in the Dreamlands, which is pretty much impossible to take seriously (Butterfly Dragons?!) as a fearful place, there have been few scares. In some ways I think a general light-hearted tone is useful as it makes the serious bits show up a bit better.
Case in point: During a scene whereby the investigators were fleeing 'Indiana Jones' style before a horde of Lengites. They had just broken free of captivity and dodged various guards in two separate groups and fortuitously met up by their main escape route. Now the entire reason they had come to this place was to rescue a friend, who also had their means of escaping the Dreamlands and some other important artifacts to their quest. As they were fleeing across the open ground around their prison, he tripped and fell. Now the investigators had a poignant choice to make here: They could either grab try to pull him to his feet (around 50% chance of success) or just tear the backpack containing the artifacts from his back (100% chanceof success), leaving him to be likely trampled under the hooves of the Lengite soldiers. This provoked much tension among them as they deliberated, what admittedly should have been a split second decision became a ten minute debate. This I like because it showed that the party could engage with the story on a level deeper than 'we need those artifacts, drop the NPC'. They eventually opted to save him, and there was much cheering and released breaths as he was dragged forward and they made it to relative safety.
It's not entirely this influence that has me running pulp though. I ran a campaign last summer for a different group and that was very pulpy too so it's obviously it is something inherent in my style of Keeperingas well. I know it's partially a result of my influences, I've read much more Howard, Dunsany and Lumley than the master Lovecraft himself so these set-pieces and heroics appeal. But I think another key factor is laziness. It's just so much easier to maintain a harsh tone for a few minutes while the investigators are negotiating with a potential suicide or something and then revert to jokes and light-heartedness once its over. Its so hard to set and maintain a genuinely creepy atmosphere and I just don't know that I have the patience for it. Although I admit, Ive yet to find a group who would be entirely open to the idea anyway.
This is definitely something I need to work on, and in the future i shall be looking for ways to enhance the atmosphere without becoming a self-parody. And I shall be a better GM for it whether I'm being Pulp or Purist, because I'll have chosen the mood and not just be defaulting on it.