Cthulhu by Frostbite – pt.1

I hate the monster of the week. This was one of several things which drove me away from AD&D into the arms of other games, and I believe it was one of the things which contributed to my way of running Call of Cthulhu.

For a successful and ongoing campaign, I believe that character contact with the Mythos needs to be controlled, calculated, layered, and allow for an elegant descent into madness, or a triumphant ascension toward a temporary respite. A key element in this is to choose what sorts of antagonists are going to present themselves over the full course of the campaign, and how these antagonists will be linked together in a manageable campaign world. For me, the great diversity of creatures, races, servitors, and beings in the game serves to enhance its endurance with an established group. It is not fuel for ever-weirder encounters to blast the sanity of another crop of hastily generated characters.

In a few weeks time, I will be running an introductory session of Call of Cthulhu for a group of people responding to an ad I posted via Meetup.com. Knowing very little about these people, but knowing that most of them have little to no experience of the game has given me the opportunity to really return to basics in campaign preparation. Although the session itself will be a one-shot, run with pre-generated characters, I intend to set it up in the same manner as I would the first session of a full-blown campaign… just in case.

The Three Pillars

One of the core principles I like to operate from in situations like this is to have a logical party, related to the scenario and each other on several levels. This could manifest as a team of soldiers or operatives, but works just as well as a group of specialists in other fields, I find. With limited time, specific in and out-of-game goals, and the need to allot time for rules explanation and character discovery, variety is NOT the spice of life.

A core principle I like to employ in any sort of gaming situation, as readers of this blog are well-aware by now, is the use of themes. The theme I would like to explore in this potential campaign is the fire that rages against the onset of darkness. On a surface level, I will have this manifest by linking all the scenarios to cold, deserted places. I will craft my own in the initial stages, and then move on to splicing in some of the classic published ice-bound scenarios if the group works out. One of the challenges I am giving myself is to see how well I can build a sense of the importance of resistance to that which seeks to negate you. I hope to see demonstrations of hard-won determination, and the appearance of altruism as the campaign takes shape.

The final core principle I intend to focus on in this player fishing expedition one-shot is the context of characters. I am hoping that each of the pre-generated characters I have produced for the game comes complete with a sense of motives, fears, and desires, which the players, novice or not, can use to build a nuanced and interesting persona through which they can interact with and explore the scenario. In order to transmit these ideas to the players, I will give them hints about what sorts of things have been on the characters minds for the last few days, their relatives (and as this might become a Generation Game: their potential successors) and ties to the mystery and each other. If successful, that persona and its connections will call them back to the table for subsequent sessions.

The Characters

The characters will be RCMP officers and experts drawn from the indigenous population attached to their district. In keeping with the themes I would like to establish, the initial setting will be far in Canada’s frozen North. Compelled by duty, curiosity, boredom, and the lure of the unknown, the group will uncover impossible things, and hopefully live to keep the tale a terrifying secret.

The Threat

I don’t wish to say too much about that just yet, but suffice it to say it should present a reasonably mundane face at these early stages, while planting seeds in the minds of players which will blossom only in hindsight… when it is too late.

4 Responses to “Cthulhu by Frostbite – pt.1”
  1. Jennifer says:

    Cthulhu is a great system for complex characters and nothing can drive a Cthulhu story as well as a characters background. It’s so easy to die in CoC, but that makes it even better. If your players grow attached to their characters, then you have an excellent chance to really get under their skin.
    I love the setting. The majority of the CoC adventures I played were set in cities, so I’m looking forward to read how this works out.

    • Runeslinger says:

      Mine have been traditionally been set in cities as well, but this time out I am hoping to have the group start with a certain expertise in arctic conditions and survival, then have them be recruited for a difficult expedition like Beyond the Mountains of Madness as a result of the skills they will develop in my homespun and personally tailored scenarios.

      Thanks for stopping by~

  2. Brian says:

    Tony, I appreciate your seriousness when approaching your GM duties. You seem intent to make sure RPG’s live up to their potential, while many players and GM’s are content with leveling up and handing out newer and better weapons. I wish I could participate.

    The Unknown Armies RPG book has a fantastic section on GMing that discusses things like themes, motifs, and narrative development, and running madness in an RPG. I’m sure you would get a lot out of it and can recommend the book highly.

    If it’s of any help, the DElta Green write-up of M-Epic and mythos in Canada has local law-enforcement officials battling Ithaqua and Shub-Niggurath worshiping Skopsti cultists from Ruissia at the start of the century.


    • Runeslinger says:

      Thanks for the kind words, and the reference material, Brian. Ithaqua is an old and dear friend of mine. 😉

      It would be great if you could participate. Perhaps if Google+ starts to operate on mobile devices beyond the bounds of the USA we can add your talking head to the sessions. As an afterthought… have you added Skype to your Galaxy SII?

      When you were still in the land of the morning fruit trucks, the Unknown Armies set-up you started for us seemed pretty interesting.

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