Tips for a Beginning Keeper (Call of Cthulhu)

So, yeah, it’s been kind of a long time since I posted anything on this thing. In the interim, I’ve got an almost-job (more work experience) at an online clothes-retailer company as a content administrator (ie copying and pasting stuff from a spreadsheet into a holding program to be transferred onto the main website later), I am not going to sit here and lie to you guys it is pretty dull. But it could be a lot worse! And the people are nice so it’s kind of fun overall.

But, also a lot during that time I have been working on the Cthulhu on Parade! podcast! Including helping to create a monstrous christmas song with some friends for a charity album which you can hear and donate for here: http://casttheworld.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/cthulhu-christmas/

However, this post is only marginally about either of those things! For the majority of this modern-day radiogram shall be to inform you of the things that I have learned with regard to hosting a game of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing system that I produce the Cthulhu on Parade! podcast’s content with, or in other words…

Tips for a Beginning Keeper!

See, I brought the heading of the post back into the body of the post for a kind of instant-callback.

One of the great things about the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game is its propensity for diverse settings and play-styles. Since a lot of the surface rules are fairly skeletal and easy to pick up, it’s a great system for beginning players and can be adapted to a wide variety of storytelling techniques ranging from stories of lighthearted pulp adventure to dark, bleak horror and most scenarios tend to land somewhere between the two.

From the position of a player, a game should be fun, exciting and engaging. First, they will come to terms with their character, becoming attached to how they fit into the world around them and interact with other players and non-player characters, and then they shall stumble upon a mishap or mystery that drives chaos into this order, ultimately leading to a story of their personal success or failure.

Good role-playing within a group is brought about by shared character history and interaction. Keepers should strive to nurture a spirit of group co-ordination amongst player characters, either by workshopping character back-stories with the players or building scenes into the story that bring characters closer together.

Essentially, this means that characters should have to (at some point in the story) work together to accomplish their goals. Whether this is by having a large rock in the way that requires multiple people to push aside, or by the ship’s deck needing co-ordination between the captain, navigator, look-out and gunman depends on what the story will allow, but collaboration and a close-knit team breeds good group role-playing.

This doesn’t mean that all interactions in the game should be a shared group experience, of course, as that would not allow for much individual character development. But deployed correctly, putting characters together in a tight spot that they can only get out of by working together will make for a much stronger team, and give characters a reason to keep hanging out together despite all this craziness.

Additional hints and tips for Keepers:

  • Learn and remember the combat rules.

Unstructured combat is chaotic and quickly becomes boring and confusing.
Highest DEX goes first, then second highest etc. If characters lose more than half their current hit-points in one attack, they have to make a CON x5 roll or pass out. Knock-out attacks and immobilizing with Grapple require the resistance table, and so on. Not every rule needs to be applied but you should be conscious of the rules you want to follow.

  • Remember to ask for skill checks and SAN rolls.

This doesn’t mean to constantly ask for skill checks for everything a player does, but if a character is constantly reading books (languages), lying to people (fast talk) and installing high-powered death traps (mechanical/electrical repair) without rolling for them and so without chance of failure, the actions will have less weight. Likewise, the sighting of a bloated-corpse-like, bat-winged amphibian horrorterror from beyond Mars, while scary-sounding enough, won’t actually affect the sanity of a character without calling for the sanity roll.

  • The unknown is scarier.

Players should never fully understand the mentality of cultists or monsters, or ideally ever get a good look at them. Strange rituals, undulating shapes and the suggestion of wings and teeth in the night is more disturbing than a cultist of Nyarlathotep calling up a Byakhee because the shopkeeper didn’t refund his money after he purchased a poorly translated copy of the Necronomicon.

  • Go with the players.

As a Keeper, it’s easy to feel the need to stick to the written rules of the scenario you’ve learned and want to cram in all the cool things you’ve thought of. This never works out. Players will want to throw the ornate headpiece into the ocean, melt down the golden statue that opens the door to the giant winged toads of infinite knowledge and sell it for a few hundred dollars, and they absolutely will not go visit the party of Elaine McPlotPoint and no amount of subtle placements of party invitations in the local newspaper will convince them otherwise (they just won’t read the newspaper).

Instead, your job is to merely present the situation and to know all the facts of all the possible outcomes (or at least be very confident when you make them up). Your scenario is the framework for what is roughly going to happen, but the players are going to decide how that turns out. And if they get too off course, just make them take an IDEA roll and “suggest” that maybe the golden statue might be connected to that statue-shaped hole they saw in the large stone door a few hours ago, and filled up with cement.

Unfortunately, the most important rule to remember is that the game is supposed to be fun for everybody. And your job, as the Keeper, is to make sure that happens. If you can fit in something approximating the actual story somewhere in there, and give some sense of satisfaction at the end that players have actually done something, then you’ve done a great job.

Good luck.

Also, here’s this video:

I also believe that I forgot to mention this.

This is something that I made, unfortunately the jar seen in the video has since been thrown to the glass recycling bin and shattered, otherwise I could have produced my long-awaited remake of the Time Travel video I did ages ago.

I should do another video some time soon, shouldn’t I? I already have a lot on with all this audio editing, but… One little video couldn’t hurt. I’ll see what I can do for you fine people after I’ve finished the podcasts. I still have to cut the interview down to size!

Podcast Update

You know that Call of Cthulhu podcast I was going to start, and those first two episodes I’m sitting on? They go up this weekend, along with at least episode three.

Cthulhu on Parade - Podcast Artwork

EDIT: They went up, but iTunes has yet to accept them into its loving embrace. In the meantime, you can check them out at the blog I set up here.

I promise to you that I shall do my very best to remember to finish editing the rest of the episodes as soon as possible! I’m working my way through re-listening to the first two so that I have a better sense of where things are. I’m really pretty pleased with how they’ve turned out and things can only get better from here, guys!

As a little bonus, here’s something you should have been watching.

Podcast Review: The Lion in Tweed

synopsis:

The Lion in Tweed is a podcast featuring blues/country/folk music and storytelling featuring a well-groomed, well-spoken, well-educated American Lion.

review:

Artwork by Winston Rowntree of the webcomic Subnormality.

I started listening to The Lion in Tweed after hearing about it on the 47th episode of My Brother, My Brother and Me, entitled “Sleeve It”. It sounded like something that I would enjoy, the fictionalized life of a college professor of economics who plays folk music on the side (and is also a lion), and the musical element was something exciting.

Plus, anyone advertising on the Maximum Fun network has to be doing something right.

So, fairly soon after hearing about it, I downloaded the first episode and started listening to it later that night. Straight away, the blend of storytelling and music made sense to me. It wasn’t forced, the songs were real songs, not direct commentary on a situation or character, indeed there was very little in the way of situation or character, just a solitary figure performing music to what appeared to be a largely indifferent crowd of his peers.

But, through the music, through the vocalized thoughts of the character, through the situation itself, a very clear, very relatable figure emerged, standing in the face of the crowd, performing his story and hoping for a response.

It’s a very human moment, a fitting introduction that flutters between the world of the Lion and of his struggles, and the world of creator Andreas “duus” Pape, bringing the Lion and the music to life, to be performed and to hope for a response.

Following episodes generally continue this theme of the performance of songs (by the Lion) combined with the narrative (of the Lion’s life), though presented in different ways and to different degrees. An episode might, for example, tell the story of a journey through the city streets of San Francisco interspersed with musical refrains and Bill Cosby, or it might be as simple as the retelling and the performance of a gig.

The world created is one bound in bright streets and dark, dimly lit auditoriums, romanticized reality and of an almost noir-ish quality. People shuffle in and out, from shadows in the background to a momentary voice, a noticed characteristic or a fleeting shared experience, then return to the abyss.

This is definitely reflected in the music, generally the performance of the Lion alone, with a small tool-kit of acoustic instruments – a guitar, a harmonica. The music definitely has a timeless quality, with deep roots in American culture and traditional aesthetics.

Above: pre-Lion in Tweed performance of “Green Valleys of Tennessee” from the album “The Big Hit” by Andreas Duus Pape

The semi-autobiographical nature is strong, but there is enough fiction in the woodwork that the listener cannot truly call the world Earth, and you really get the feeling that each episode is a slice of a world beyond the corners of our own, of its own time and space.

In this, again, the dual nature of character and creator seems to come through, just as the Lion seems to be an expression of something within Andreas, the world itself seems to come wrenched from an idealized place, a pocket where things are always happening, art is frequently discussed, drama is always evident, and the music is always playing.

Adding to this, several episodes end with information about where ideas brought up in the podcast came from, or commentary on the inspirations and influences behind the episode, or the podcast in general, encapsulating and contextualizing the world as fiction but also bridging a definite link to reality within.

More recently, further characters have begun to be brought into the fold, with Mutton Red’s appearance in the fifth episode. It’s unclear how this shall progress or how a third-person limited perspective will affect the development of other characters in what is every inch the Lion’s story, but I hope it works out, because I have a lot of love for this podcast and I would very much like to see it continue.

Hopefully, you’ll like it too.

The Lion in Tweed is available here and on iTunes, and an interview with creator Andreas “duus” Pape will be available for download soon.

No review today. Maybe tomorrow.

Sorry, last night I ended up running a Call of Cthulhu game session which was recorded and shall be put up on the blog later. In the meantime, go listen to the latest episode of Simon Colt!

And watch this:

Working on some podcast reviews.

This post is mostly a lot of text, so I’m going to liven it up with a little video at the beginning and end.

You remember that time a while back when I said I was going to do some more podcast reviews or discussion? Well, I picked out 21 podcasts, made a cool looking gallery in a draft, and now I figure for the next 21 days I’ll try to write a review for each of them, as best I can. As for where I got this idea, I cannot reveal my sources (it’s Goggleman64).

So, obviously that’s going to provide a flood of content hitherto unknown to this here blog, well, at least for a while, I’ll try posting them separately and see if they hold up as individual posts. I’m not entirely sure whether to start today or tomorrow.

To tide you over until then, here are some more movies hand picked from the free collection at YouTube. I’ve just finished His Girl Friday, and, man, that’s a pretty amazing movie! And directed by Howard Hawks, who, as you should know by that trailer up there, was the producer (and, apparently, uncredited director) of The Thing From Another World.

One thing I’ll say about watching movies on YouTube is that it’s a lot easier to stop and come away from. I’m not entirely sure yet whether that’s a good or bad thing. But getting to watch some of these movies has been nice.

“The Thing from Another World” – Here.
“House on Haunted Hill” – Here.
“The Third Man” – Here.
“The 39 Steps” – Here.

Also, go down to that last post down there and check out Amy’s blog.

Do you have any idea what’s on YouTube?

For starters, this:

But now, let’s just have a quick look through some of the movies that you can watch for free on YouTube. And by you, I mean me, in the future. But also you should check these out.

“M” – Here.
“His Girl Friday” – Here.
“The Boss Of It All” – Here.
“Bad Taste” – Here.

Also, Amy has a blog! She reviews stuff. It’s pretty good. Her opinions on The Princess Bride (which we just watched) are pretty much the same as mine, also we saw Thor and that is pretty great too! I suppose I’d better do a little list of podcasts before too long as well, again. Also, I made another video! This one is another effects type thing, with some more overlay stuff really, I’m not entirely happy with it but it represents the change in weather recently since the last video, more than anything. All got a bit bleak all of a sudden! Thankfully that seems to be turning around.

Hopefully I’ll have another video ready before too long! I’ll try and get down to some different places with the video camera and do some more exploring for locations. Still not entirely sure whether to go live action or LEGO figures with the main video that I’d been working on.

I made a video!

And then promptly forgot all about posting it to this blog. Conclusion: I am a horrible monster. Here it is:

I’ve got it!

We’ll do it with LEGO mini-figures. That should work, right?
Anyway, sorry for not having updated for a while. Video stuff ended up being put on the back-burner for a bit while I did some things for the stables, which now has a new website (well, a blog) and I’ve done a few more canvas paintings.

But, the scanner’s broken and the (non-video) camera’s over at the stables waiting for me to take some photographs, so you’ll have to wait to see those I guess. For now, here’s this music video:

I really like this video, even if it does cut out the fantastic “Witchazel” weirdness at the end. More updates to come later! Going to be running an audio game of Call of Cthulhu tonight on Skype, anyway. Next week is Free Comic Book Day (May 1st, which I guess is Sunday? Not sure how that’ll work).

Got sick.

Got pretty sick over the weekend, lost Sunday. Was asleep all day. Will try and work on things as soon as possible. Sorry for not posting anything!

Here is one of the things that has been cheering me up (old but still):

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