View Full Version : Tips on Keeping (Keepering?) a Call of Cthulhu game

2008-10-12, 11:15 PM
Hey guys, I've recently become really interested in call of cthulhu recently, and I just Keeper'd my first session. The only problem is...I only have 2 people playing :smallfrown.

I'm using The Haunting as a scenario to introduce my guys to the CoC flow and rules- does anybody have suggestions to make it more fun/exciting for now and future sessions?

Lycan 01
2008-10-12, 11:20 PM
That's what I did. I started out running the Haunting with 2 players. One week later, I had 4 players. A few weeks later, 6 players. Our last session? 8 Investigators.

So in regards to worrying about your group being too small - don't worry. That will fix itself in due time. :smallamused:

And yes, the Haunting is the best way to introduce players to the game. But whatever you do, don't run Dead Man Stomp. The body count was 23 people by the time that session ended for us...

Read the CoC stories thread for details, and important lessons on how to be a good Keeper, and how to avoid serious mistakes.

Also... good luck, and enjoy your newfound profession. :smallsmile:

2008-10-12, 11:43 PM
Here's what I do:

When Corbitt uses his Dominate spell, don't simply tell the Dominated PC what they do. Tell them something is happening to them, something entirely illusory (though they don't know that), so that they willingly do exactly what you want them to do.

I picked this trick up on a CofC forum that I post on sporadically but mostly just lurk; in the thread it was first described in, the Keeper described a PC seeing a diamond ring on the ground in the corner of a room, or dragged slightly into a rat hole (I forget which). When they go to pick it up, tell them they see and feel a large, black worm appear and burrow into their arm.

I modified it slightly. There actually was a ring there, and when a PC bent to pick it up, another PC saw worms burrow into that PC's arm. PC #2 picked up a knife and made ready to stab PC #1 in the arm, until the rest of the party restrained him. Then the Domination wore off...and PC #2 had no idea why the rest of the party was holding him down or why he had a knife.

The amount of paranoia among the players was glorious to behold.

Lycan 01
2008-10-12, 11:49 PM
Or if they get Dominated... just make them leave the room until the spell wears off, during which time you control their character.

Upon their return, they have no idea what happened, and must resume control of their character.

Or prepare a Eulogy.

Return of Lanky
2008-10-12, 11:50 PM
I think one of the most important things in a Call of Cthulhu game is ambiance. I remember I had a big, hollow steel venting pipe when I lived in this basement apartment. What I did to futz with my PCs was get an RC car and put it inside, on it's back.

The sound of the wheels revving, amplified and distorted, soon became the bane of my group's existence. For the first few times I always had it build up to an encounter. Then I started playing it randomly to mess with them.

These days my technology has advanced to 5.1 surround sound wirelessly connected to my iPod and placed discretely around the table. Combine that with sounds coming out of two speakers randomly, when I choose to play 'em, and it really messes with 'em.

2008-10-13, 12:03 AM
Dead Man's Stomp has the potential to go sideways very badly, very quickly. You really have to read through some of the modules very carefully to understand that the 'good for beginning investigators' sometimes means 'if you them to all die'.

I've somehow never run the Haunting myself. It seems to have a pretty high risk of injury for a small party adventure with some real risk of death. I'd just put some curtains on it, change the names around, and switch things around so your PCs do not realize they're running an adventure from the back of the book.

Lycan 01
2008-10-13, 12:11 AM
I honestly can't see how people fail at The Haunting. If they're really getting schooled, drop the bed's damage by a dice size or two, and remove Corbitt's claw poison ability.

Granted, half my party went insane during their encounter with him - and the Dimensional Shambler one of them summoned didn't help much, either... especially when Walter ripped its heart out.

But seriously, its the PERFECT beginner's session. That, and maybe just hookin' a Deep One during a fishing trip. *shrug*

2008-10-13, 01:04 AM
1. Read Lovecraft. Specifically, read Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Shadow Over Innsmouth, and maybe At the Mountains of Madness. Everything else is optional, and the majority of it is crap. Those 2-3, however, will give you the structure of CoC adventures. (Just be aware that SOI has some of the most god-awful over-revealing and bad pacing ever. It does, however, have the perfect CoC action scene.)

2. Be experienced. Seriously, horror GMing is not for inexperienced GMs. It takes a lot of theoretical and practical knowledge of pacing and storytelling in a RPG environment.

3. Ambience. In my experience, the only way to play is at night, in a room lit only by candles, with a creepy track (preferrably ambient; Blair Witch 2 soundtrack is good, as are Silent Hill and Twin Peaks soundtracks; avoid anything with vocals like the plague).

4. The horror. This is the most difficult thing to evoke, ever.
4a. Your players have to be willing to be scared. Talk to them if necessary. Squash all attempts at stress/tension relief, like joking, chatting, etc. Keep the players focused on the game.
4b. Lack of agency. This is the single most terrifying facet of the human experience - the inability to affect your situation. It's also the key of horror and horror RPGs more specifically. You'll notice it in almost any good piece of horror - the characters are unable to directly act to protect themselves. The threat should be overwhelming or so intangible or discreet as to be invisible. Avoid combat like the plague. It's permissible once or twice per session as a stress release - after you've built up all that tension in the players (and remember, it is the players you want to scare), you should let them release it in some sort of action. But it's never the focus. Combat is almost never scary - it's a manifestation of agency. (A frantic grab at a knife or trying to run away from an armed opponent can work damn well for tension, though. Ideally, keep your PCs unarmed - make them use broken furniture or iron pokers from the scene if they want to arm themselves.)
4c. Commitment to characters. This is why I don't advocate the cliche method of running CoC with per-session PC bodycount higher than the number of players. The more tied the player feels to the character, the more psychologically effective all threats to the character are.
4d. Ambience in-game. Keep hinting at things. A door left open, a wet foot-print, a creaking noise from the other side of the house - such subtle tricks, used at the right time, will unnerve your players. When, after a half-hour of creepy ambience, something finally happens, they'll jump out of their seats (and, if you're really good, you'll find your own heart going thumpa-THUMPA thumpa-THUMPA).

If you want a good starter module, get Arkham (you should get it anyway!), and use the first adventure. It's got just about the perfect structure, and great scenes. The investigations in the core book really just suck. The Lovecraft Country series of sourcebooks is amazing in genreal. The content of Arkham and Dunwich will give you half-a-dozen campaigns, easily, or one gigantic mega-campaign. Add in Kingsport if you want the Dreamlands aspect.