Have you ever tried a role playing game and not been convinced? You tried getting into it, but just felt a little silly? It was okay, but nothing exceptional? As I experienced last night, the solution is clearly going deeper.
So I’ve played a few short D&D campaigns. Inevitably they’ve all fallen to pieces, it becomes too much to schedule regular play and your character falls away into the aether (or explodes into giblets in your first 30 minutes). This is why the concept of a one-shot 5 hour game appealed so strongly. I could get in, do the gaming thing and enjoy the singular experience for what it was? Instant interest, sign me up. My friend was running a one off game in the Call of Cthulhu rules set. All inspired by H.P. Lovecraft mythology, it’s a world of macabre monsters within our society and the insane elder gods that carry doom upon their backs. Primarily set in 1920s Massachusetts, it can really be anywhere, any time. In our case, the game manager took out all the stops to create an immersive environment.
Coming into the room, a series of objects were aligned with an assortment of dice underneath. There was a crystal ball, a hip flask, reading glasses, a bible/holy water, a police badge, a fur hat and a prescription bottle. As I’d arrived first, I had first choice. Given my deeply hungover state and rugged 1920s attire (left over from the work Christmas party one night prior), I opted for the hip flask. It was weightier than I’d imagined. “Oh, it’s certainly not empty” my game manager said “help yourself.” Whiskey, crown royal by the taste of it. I was given my character sheet, an alcoholic private investigator with a mysterious past. Our characters filled out as more players arrived. A clairvoyant lounge singer, a mixed race fur trader (much maligned by the locals in this time period), a pastor and solider. Nobody chose the apothecary, but her bottle was filled with a decadent liquid cocaine mix. We were all given notepads and pencils with which to perform our investigations. It was a pretty rules-light system. With 5 minutes or so of explanation we were into it.
Our scenario revolved about a youth accused of robbing the store he managed in a small, dangerous town. We were to find as many clues as possible from the inhabitants of his home town of Halifax before heading off to Chester’s Cove. Yep, Halifax, not Massachusetts. The game had been ported to somewhere local and our game master had pulled out all the stops. Our characters were personalities given to real people of the time and place he’d found through Google. He passed around relevant photos, a newspaper clipping he’d edited into the front page of a local paper from Halifax 1928. We scoured it with clues to help us track down the answers we sought. The beer our game master supplied in the cooler outside was an East Coast IPA.
So we got to it, split up the group to search for clues around town. We interviewed/interrogated locals (played by our GM. Accents and all) who might be able to shine light on the strange happenings of Chester’s Cove. We chose our targets strategically based on skills. Our clairvoyant and pastor were friendly, agreeable people, persuasive people. My private eye had skills in fast talk, a silver tongue when it came to light fibs. Thing is, we had to all choose our dialogue carefully in order to get the information. It was acting, mixed with a little bit of luck. I had to think about how my character would respond, influence or intimidate. I tried adopting an accent, which fell apart quickly. We all took turns in our scenes, depending on whose characters were present at the location.
An enthralling game that required tact and cunning. Very light on conflict because of the sheer difficulty of it. It was very possible to be killed by a single shot, because we were just normal humans. Facing off against the supernatural was a risky move, so going in guns blazing was insane at best. More than once I failed to get the information I sought because I couldn’t think of how to pry it out of my target. Once we got to Chester’s Cove and started literally running out of time (it was close to 11pm), we kind of went balls to the wall and things got heavy fast. We killed a few cops, stole into the armoury and let out a prisoner. We stormed the head of the cult, murdered cultists on the street, shotgunned open the doors and found ourselves face to face with abhorrent fish monsters. My sanity somehow holding steadfast in the face of living nightmares, I looked towards the demonic altar and shouted “Hey Fishface. We’re about to have an altar-cation!” Then shit got wild, fast. Driven temporarily insane at the sight of these freaks, our fur trader ran off to the wilderness in fear. Our clairvoyant and soldier were ripped to shreds as these fish fiends feasted on their flesh. One of the creatures rushed me and swiped at my chest, guts spilling out. I stood up on the verge of death and fired a few scattershots. Guts in hand, I fled to the to the still running vehicle. Somehow I survived to fight another day with the knowledge and terror of things beyond reason.
I came away from the experience buzzing. If we wanted to play again, I’d have a character still ready to go. Others would find new investigators and we could explore more adventures. It was inseparable from playing through a mystery story and so much more engrossing than my prior D&D adventures. I’m gripped and ready for more. I’m convinced.