The mind is like a parachute. If it doesn't open, you're meat.

The Berlin Cthulhu Sessions - Session 1: Haunted

19 Sep 2005

Return to storytelling, first time in over three years, and what a way to do it!

After more than three months of trying to get the books from kalof, where they were hibernating since our days in Leeds, maria finally succeeded in bringing all the Call of Cthulhu books to Berlin. So it was a matter of time before we got back to the playing table. I just didn’t expect it to happen this weekend.

A casual comment while sipping our beers led us all back to dianthos' house for what turned out to be an all nighter.
The team was dianthos, maria, stathis, constantine, filipps and marisim, with me as keeper, but we started character generation (well, copying - see below) at about 1:30 am and stathis fell asleep midway through it, so I was left with the more manageable number of 5 players.

Since we were dealing with complete novices and I didn't have any time to prepare, I just used the pregenerated characters from the handbook (still using my battered 5th Ed). Most problematic of all turned out to be the dice, since I'm the only one who has d10s and they're in Barcelona. We finally solved the problem by cutting 20 pieces of paper, writing the numbers 00-90 and 0-9 on them and putting them in two cups:
Shake cup, pick paper, read number...voila you have dice!
Character sheets were just copied on pieces of paper, which also allowed me to simplify them by giving the players just the stats that we were actually going to use.
Playing with complete novices is a different type of storytelling. I tend to encourage descriptive roleplaying, telling the players what they should roll after they have described/played what they are doing. This frees novice players from the need to learn the whole system at once. It also tends to disrupt the flow of play a lot less than when the players call their actions based on the system.
Call of Cthulhu's theme and roleplaying style helps immensely in this respect but I won't go into game mechanics right now.

I took about 30 minutes to choose and read the scenario while dianthos was explaining the basics of the game to the others. Luckily I have read most of the scenarios in the main handbook more than once and all I needed was to find a short one that dianthos hadn't played. I ended up with The Haunting, the Walter Corbitt story of the haunted house in Boston. It's a short scenario with minimal direct Mythos references (aside from the Books hidden around) and easily completed in one session.

After that it was character picking time. I chose six pregen characters that I could weave together into a team fairly easily and then left it up to the players to choose who wil play whom. In the end we had the following characters:

  • dianthos: Stephen St. John, wealthy solicitor.
  • maria: Rachel Hemingway, reporter.
  • marisim: Johny, the boheme artist.
  • filipps: Artie Gumshoe, two-bit private eye.
  • constantine: Dr. Elliot Jurgens, the doc.

After that came the eternal problem of putting the players together. This is much harder when you have standalone sessions, but is easier with newbies, as they tend to do what you say in the beginning. So this is what I came up with:
The solicitor got a call from a client, a retired colonel, who wanted him to check some wierd rumours about a building he owned.
Who better for the solicitor to turn to when it comes to dirty jobs, than the two-bit private eye he knows from some shady dealings in the past.
On a separate thread, the newspaper boss sends the reporter to get a couple of columns of juicy stories from the neighbourhood and we substitute photographs for sketches...drawn from the boheme who also gets to flirt with miss reporter.
The doctor is commissioned by the mayor's office (department of public health) to check the abandoned building as possible public health risk and obviously he needs to be interviewed by the reporter.

Now this is the part where most Keepers go wrong: You have to play the coming together of the team, it's a lot more fun and makes the scary parts later a lot scarier if the players have spent an hour trying to get to know each other's characters. So we spent about an hour in character interaction which was fun, with most memorable the flirting between the reporter and the boheme.

In the next four hours the group managed to miss or missinterpret most of the clues and blunder in the house completely unprepared.
After a brief struggle with a flying bed and some very bad dice, the solicitor and the private eye managed to fly out the window of a first floor and the rest of the team fled and scattered to be hunted down one by one by the "real" owner of the house.
In the end we had the most satisfactory conclusion of one mad solicitor and four deaths as a dominated reporter killed the boheme and the doc and ended up in the electric chair herself while a very traumatised private eye returned to the haunted house never to be seen again.

Survival rate in Call of Cthulhu is reversely proportional to the amount of fun to be had.

I enjoyed it so much that I bought me a brand new 6th Edition CoC and a new set of adventures.
It's good to be back!

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