When preparing for a table-top role playing game session, you end up writing a lot. Whether in detail or just in basic outlines, there’s a lot of stuff that comes pouring out of you. You try to write for several possible scenarios, leaving enough options to improvise and adjust to the many varied ways in which your players can approach things, but inevitably they manage to find to hit upon something you didn’t see coming. This is nothing but fun, but sometimes you stumble upon such a cool story concept while you’re meandering through the different options, that you can’t help but fall in love with a particular story you’ve come up with. Now, 80% of what you write you’ll never need, and that’s fine, but when you find that one story that you find superhard to let go of, you have to be extra careful not to start railroading your players. Guess what? I just stumbled upon such a storyline. I’ll be really, really, really disappointed if they don’t come across this.
Yesterday, after a very long hiatus, we started a new Call of Cthulhu campaign. I had planned to take this campaign very seriously and I had been working on it almost non-stop for the last two weeks. It’s a tough game to lead and a tough game to plan so I thought two weeks would be enough to prepare for it properly.
I was wrong.
Because CoC is such an unusual game compared to other games, it always takes a moment adjusting to the setting and the style. Most of us are pretty experienced players and we only had one person in our group this time that had never played the game, but you could feel that everyone had to get back into the swing of things.
Having taken the time to write up some preludes for each of the characters, some of them more than one, or even several, I had already set the stage and put some things on the mind of some of the characters. We have a group of four, with one very experienced character, being the veteran of four scenarios, one being the veteran of two scenarios and two new characters, I had quite a bit of previous material to work with. The veteran history professor had his cache of mythos items stolen in a robbery at the bank he had used to put the items in a safety deposit box. The experienced author had just adopted a child and was dealing with a big change in his family life while simultaneously seeing his career skyrocket.
The new characters, a taciturn police detective and a concierge at a prestigious hotel got a few write ups helping them ease into the coming scenario.
The problem always remains to be the atmosphere. I had decided to try doing something with music. I had bought an iPhone dock recently, one that’s easy to transport, and I had chosen some mood music. I settled on Lustmord, which might not necessarily be the most obvious choice, but when my cousin Mark used to run his scenarios, he always choice kind if atmospheric space music, like The Darklight Conflict soundtrack to accompany his games, which worked surprisingly well. Lustmord is atmospheric and creepy, filling me with a sense of dread and foreboding. Signs and portents. I had some trouble finding the right volume, but I felt it did help the mood at a time or two. I will continue my experiments.
I had also brought my netbook to host some of my notes and books on but I’m not entirely sure that worked out. Sure, I didn’t need a stack of books, but it didn’t quite feel right at a CoC table, a game set in 1924. I will try it out next week and see how I feel about it.
The game started slowly, as I knew it would, but I didn’t waste too much time with fluff and flavour. I wanted to start it off right away and allow for fluff and flavour after I got the ball rolling.
Monday, September 1st, 1924, Labour Day.
Sir Kevin O’Reilly, English-born history professor at Arkham’s own Miskatonic University is enjoying an Indian summer morning preparing classes for the soon starting semester, when he hears a gentle knocking on the wooden door frame of his modest apartment in the staff housing building on campus. He looked up from his paperwork to find the tall, imposing figure of Mr. Blair Monroe standing in his doorway, with Mr. Walter Simons behind him. It wasn’t hard to see that Mr. Simons was there reluctantly.
It had been more than a year since Sir Kevin and Mr. Simons had visited Mr. Monroe in New York City, getting permission to peruse his extensive library for the journal of Pavel Dvorak. It had also been more than six months since Mr. Simons and Sir Kevin had come back from Oswego county, after which they had not stayed in touch. Seeing them together standing in the doorway was quite surprising.
It turned out Mr. Simons had been doing some work for Mr. Monroe and that they had stayed in touch. Mr. Monroe informed Sir Kevin of an upcoming auction to be held in Arkham at the end of the week, organised by the renowned Austrian auction house of Ausperg. The closed-door auction would hold many curious items Mr. Monroe assumed would be of interest to Sir Kevin as they pertained to his particular field of expertise, the occult. Having no interest in the subject himself, Mr. Monroe would only be attending because of certain rare books and manuscripts that would be going under the hammer, the acquisition of which would sate his inner bibliophile. He had hoped to get Sir Kevin, Mr. Simons, Mr. Mason and the lovely Ms. Nannetti to come in order to bid against the other attendees in order to deplete their cash reserves, allowing Mr. Monroe less opposition while bidding his items.
Mr. Monroe turned over a small booklet describing the lots that were to be auctioned. Most of them were quite expensive and Sir Kevin wasn’t sure whether he’d be able to put up much of a fight in the auction room so Mr. Monroe offered a budget of £2,000 in order for the investigators to bid against other attendees. The goal was not to buy the items, but if one of the investigators would win a bid, the items could always be sold off at auction. A small loss was acceptable, as long as the investigators would play the bidding game intelligently, Mr. Monroe didn’t worry.
After a handshake and Mr. Monroe’s departure, Sir Kevin and Mr. Simons spent some time talking. Mr. Simons appeared to be in an even more fragile state of mind than when they had returned from Oswego county and Sir Kevin worried about him. Mr. Mason was contacted and brought in on the plan and seemed to be a willing participant in the matter.
In the meantime, Mr. O’Donnell, concierge at the Miskatonic Hotel was arranging for all the necessary preparations for the arrival of Baron von Ausperg and his entourage as well as the arrangements for the auction that would take place on Thursday evening. The owner of the hotel, Mr. Tillinghouse, had used his considerable influence in local politics to arrange for the police to grant a detective and two officers to help secure the hotel. Detective Quinn was a taciturn man, but Mr. O’Donnell eventually broke the ice and the two came to an understanding, even about the champagne the baron demanded to serve at the dinner prior to the auction.
The actual pick up of the baron turned out to be quite the affair. The baron, his wife, his guard, his assistant and four servants arrived in Arkham carrying more luggage than anticipated and the baron seemed keen on sightseeing before heading to the hotel. The items to be auctioned had not arrived yet, but the energetic baron was already a handful.
In the meantime, Detective Quinn worked the grave robbery case he had been assigned and poked his nose into the robbery of the vaults of First National Bank of earlier that month. Sir Kevin and Mr. Mason both spent some time on the shooting range, considering recent developments, as well as in the library reading up on the House von Ausperg and some of the items on sale.
Of course, Sir Kevin thought seeing the Arabian man was rather fitting, though it filled him with a sense of dread and foreboding.