This past Memorial Day weekend, I went to A Dark Gathering and played a crap-ton of Call of Cthulhu, certainly more than I’ve ever played before in a 48 hour period. A Dark Gathering modeled itself on a troll hoot, a micro-convention of friends who descend upon a conveniently placed hotel to spend the weekend role-playing. In this case, we met about halfway between the furthest flung contingents, putting us just outside Syracuse, New York for a weekend of horror gaming.
All the gaming went down in a pair of suites — really larger sleeping rooms with floorspace for a banquet table and ample chairs each. There was a rough schedule of who would run what when. Nothing before the afternoon, so there was plenty of time for late night socializing and long-running scenarios. This was a welcome change for me, because I usually find myself rushing around in the early morning, particularly when working Carnage. My body wakes up on its own schedule regardless of when I go to sleep the night before, but having the morning to myself each day was most welcome — and even then, I still took Saturday night off. Turns out surviving a weekend of ample socialization without becoming visibly cranky means I need to block out plenty of me time.
I myself played in three Call of Cthulhu scenarios, each with a different GM and style. Friday evening, Andre Kruppa ran “The Burning Stars,” a scenario from Chaosium’s Terrors from Beyond anthology in his super theatrical style with lighting, music cues and props that help set the mood for some grim role-playing. That was the first time I needed a flashlight to check my character sheet or read the dice. Saturday afternoon’s “Any Port in a Storm,” run by Robin Lea, was a palate-cleanser in that it was more of a whimsical set-up with investigators for a paranormal reality show getting caught up in extra-dimensional hijinks — mind you, more than half the group still died, two from in-fighting and one from failure to unplug first, but it was all in good fun. I was completely unsubtle about my character’s secret in this one and enjoyed it immensely. Sunday afternoon I played in Tom Loney‘s “Fever Dream,” where the traditional set-up of being called to your dying uncle’s house ends much as one might expect in the Call of Cthulhu milieu.
While I took notes on all three games I played because it’s become habit by now, I’m on the fence about recapping them in as much detail as I have been the Pathfinder campaigns. That’s a lot of recapping and I find myself being more sensitive to spoiling scenarios that aren’t readily accessible as purchasable products for some reason — and there’s a huge cult of secrecy around Andre’s games, even when they’re published scenarios.
The hoot model has a lot going for it: small, intimate, loosely organized, relatively easy to arrange and potentially more affordable than a typical convention weekend. The flip side of a closed gathering is there’s less opportunity for the serendipity of discovering new games by wandering by a table. The interaction of extended networks can replicate that, though.
A Dark Gathering was a fun, tiring weekend. I got to hang out with friends I don’t normally see, make some more and do way more role-playing than I normally get to.
 And home of the Dinosaur BBQ, a restaurant I adored in my college days. That was a strong motivator, I can’t deny.