I’m new to the Call of Cthulhu game, but have become borderline obsessed with it over the last couple weeks, and am going to be attempting to run a game later this weekend (the Haunting scenario from the handbook, if it matters). I was just wondering if any of you had any advice for me. My group and I all have experience with other rpgs, mostly DnD, and I think I have a pretty good grasp of the rules, but am still looking for any pointer’s on how to run the game, and have a smooth transition from hack and slash to a horror based game.
First, emphasis the mortality of the characters. I usually do this before the game starts for people to prevent slowing up the game too much but it’s important that they know that their characters will either die, go insane, something worse, or all of the above and not necessarily in the order they expect. If they’re willing to charge in swinging at something they can take out like a ghoul then they probably don’t have the concept down. The game play is about investigating and problem solving (and of course running in terror when you failed to do the first two correctly); players need to know that going in or everyone is going to have a miserable time.
Second, don’t let people power game. This is especially important for The Haunting because it’s a simple scenario. One or two players could easily dominate the scenario. With beginning players I typically make them use their first character as whatever is rolled up straight by the rules and then justify their skills in the context of their job. With more experience you could just feed the power gamer to a demonic force from beyond time that invisibly crunches their bones in front of the other players as an example to what happens when they think they’re on top, but The Haunting doesn’t have a lot of room for that which is why you need to avoid it right from the start.
One thing about Call of Cthulhu is that it lends itself well to some cheap props. I don’t have my book handy (I’m at the wrong location; it’s within reach of my desk at home) but as I recall The Haunting just needs a strange looking box and a few newspaper clippings (it’s been more than ten years since I ran that scenario). Odds are you can pick up something appropriate around the house and print out the articles (perhaps getting the paper wet and drying them in the microwave to age them a bit). It helps the atmosphere if you can just bring out the appropriate thing at the right time.
Have a spare character or two rolled up and standing by for when someone gets into trouble. As I recall The Haunting wasn’t that fatal of a scenario (only one confrontation at the very end) but if someone screws up badly and needs to be hauled off by the police then it helps to have a character waiting in the wings to step in.
Thanks for all the tips, I hadn’t really thought about power gaming, as most of the people in the group aren’t all that bad at, but they do have a tendency to role until they get the pretty much the stats they want, and this scenario does look to be fairly simple. I’ll try the tips on aging the paper - heh, it will be interesting, as I don’t think we’ve ever really used props like that before.
#1. Make sure you know that CoC is a game and don’t try to mimic Lovecraft’s stories with 100% accuracy. What makes a fun game session doesn’t necessarily make for a good story a vice versa.
#2. Don’t let the investigation come to a screeching halt because someone failed their Library Use, Credit, or some other roll. Assume that if they check the appropriate venue for information they will at the very least find enough information that will lead them to the next scene.
Yeah, the biggest thing for people coming into CoC is managing their expectations. This is doubly true when coming from something like D&D where the entire system is about combat. Cthulhu is about atmosphere and being dropped into a horror story.
I was actually confusing The Haunting with another starting scenario in my first post so let me give you a bit more on that particular one. The house itself is a bit dull when played straight so I’d recommend expanding on the concept in the plot slightly. Make on the stipulations on getting paid that they stay the night (“Mrs. Smith who has lived in the house next door her whole life says the strange flickering lights only appear on the night before the new moon.”) Give them some spooky poltergeist activity beyond what’s described in the story (odd noises, cold spots, things rearranging themselves slightly when they’re not looking, insects swarming in odd places when they hadn’t been a few minutes before, oddly shaped stains forming on the walls and floors). That’s the kind of thing that can give people who missed the broader hints in the story a direction to the hidden room in the basement. Remember the rules of a horror story: start slowly with things that can be explained and build to stuff that cannot (“Oh the water from the bathtub is dripping through the floor and making that wet spot that looks like a hungry mouth,” to “Oh god, how did spiders fill this room with webs in the twenty seconds we were checking on the mocking laughter from the hallway!”).
Don’t be afraid to kill characters- especially any character who does something stupid.
In D&D successful characters can become virtual demigods capable of world altering feats. In COC, humans are gnats.
In my first experience actually playing CoC, a few players were killed the first session. We were battling a few ghouls- some of the wimpiest monsters in the bestiary. The situation was essentially, ‘You don’t know what they are and you’ve shot them a few times and they’re not dying.’