Call of Cthulhu beckoned me on Saturday morning. It’s one of those games that inspires as many different interpretations as there have been of Lovecraft’s mythos in general. Pulp adventure with tommy guns and dynamite, a gore and splatter fest, psychological horror, or metaphors for a weird Rhode Islander’s views on society, race and class; I’ve seen them all proposed and explained. My own Call of Cthulhu experience is limited to a handful of GMs, however, so I wanted to take a plunge into unknown waters.
As it turned out, this particular Cthulhu GM, Bob, not only had a practice of running daylong campaigns, but also had a dedicated following of players who sign up for all his games. I’ve let myself be put off by that in the past, but I’ve also played some exceptionally awesome games after pushing through that hesitance. After all, if the GM gets repeat players like that, they’re doing something right.
My character was Mark Brodie, former police chief of Jamestown, Rhode Island — and, in another life, Amity Island. And no, he did not go in the water. Right off the bat, Bob explained his character philosophy: he provides the stats and basic character concept, like “retired police chief” and leaves it up to the players to flesh out further the character’s personality, background and relationships with the other characters in the game, as much or as little as they desire. I think this was the first time I’ve been in a game where the GM put it on front street like that. Usually, I’ve found that’s what happens in practice, but without being so explicitly stated in the preamble. I liked it this way. Having it said out loud made me feel more obligated to bring the characterization to the table than I might otherwise have done. Later in the game, I found an antagonism between the police chief and photographer that seemed like it would be fun to grow. Elements like that only appear that organically in play. Writing a relationship web beforehand can create something similar, but it’ll never have the sheen of authenticity to the players, who likely only have the time or attention to skim a rundown of what their character knows or thinks about the others.
It was a slow-moving game, I won’t deny that, for two reasons. One, we had five players at the table. In an investigation scenario, everyone’s got their own questions to ask the GM. Two, I discovered that “Part 1” in the game description actually meant “Part 1,” as in Curse of the Betrothed was a single scenario spanning three slots. And I had already signed up for something else. Whoops.
In the meantime, I determined to make the best of situation and turn up as many leads as possible. I got a couple, but didn’t get to follow them very far. There was a judge whose datebook my character would have liked to get his hands on in particular. I tried to highlight that one as something for the other characters to follow up in the second session, but I never found out what happened after I left. So it goes, I guess.
This session taught me the double-edged nature of laptops as a game aid. They’re great for pulling up pictures and reference material on short notice, but it’s much too easy to fall into the trap of clicking one more link, or showing one more picture. Personally, I like to print off a few pictures that illustrate important locations or characters. That way, I have them and no device is required. But I did appreciate Bob’s efforts to help the players visualize the locations he described, like the Beavertail Lighthouse.