Friday, 15 January 2016

Running Cthulhu Live

Over on G+, some folks asked about my experiences with running Cthulhu Live, which I have done a few times. I used to be pretty active in that community and even wrote a page or so of one of the books; similarly, there are some photos of one of my games in progress in there somewhere.

Anyway, so here are the games I ran:

Uncle Timothy's Will

No connection to the Blood Brothers scenario of the same name. A motley crew of characters head up to Uncle Timothy's remote ranch for the reading of his will. But is his killer still there?

We played this over a weekend at a friend's ranch in the hills. The venue was excellent because it was already pretty low-tech and old-fasioned in its decoration; no television, for instance. We just took the colour photographs off the walls to help 20s the place up a bit. There was even a player piano. I secreted clues as to the mysterious fate of Uncle Timothy throughout the house. In this game I used the following techniques:

  • Dummy PCs: two of the PCs were in fact NPCs -- one was to die early on day two to scare the other PCs witless and one was secretly the villain. 
  • Set-pieces: driven mad with terror, my utility NPC killed himself at the beginning of the second day, which I staged in a very gory tableau in the tiled shower cubicle. I lay on the lip of that damn shower door for ages with my back aching, waiting for a player to go to the bathroom. 
  • Continual time-in: no breaks in the game, even at night. Characters got up and were sneaking around doing stuff at night. 
  • Monster efficiency: the bad guys could bring dead characters back as zombies, so every PC who died got to come back as a baddie. Since that was ultimately all of them, this was a good choice. 
  • Big open play area: the location was incredibly helpful here. At one point, the traitor character got his hands on a McGuffin and hid it in a pile of hay in the barn; another character hiding there from the zombie spotted him removing it, which is how they knew he was the bad guy. 
I did not attempt a big monster for this scenario. 

The Cybertronic Affair

A modern scenario played in a variety of different locations in my hometown, this one was not as successful as the previous one, maybe because it wasn't continuous; it was more like a series of scenes in different locations, and I think the gaps killed tension. The climax was also not as good as the setup. Stuff we did included:

  • A dream sequence making use of a found location, the then-abandoned children's hospital at Stanford. This monument was the focal point: 

That is a hell of a thing to have on the grounds of a children's hospital. The dream sequence included a giant King in Yellow puppet made from, y'know, a white mask and a shitload of yellow cloth. The players ran like hell when they saw it, so it was a little effective.

  • An IC website created by one of the NPC players, with hidden areas full of weird King-in-Yellow symbolism (this was like 2000 or so, so it wasn't like what you could make today). 
  • A big fancy-pants lab set that was very cool. 

I can't remember the name of this one

Another modern game, in which a group of friends investigate the disappearance of their pal. The main game was only so-so, but the climax, in which they found the guy in a lab where all the lab workers had been poisoned by the presence of an alien being, was superb. This was largely because we had a spooky, atmospheric lab set with lasers and cool signs and a smoke machine, and:

  • Ten Dollar Monster! This little guy was basically a jellyfish puppet made from a wire frame, lots of layers of floaty plastic sheeting and a black handle to move it with. I slathered him with cyalume fluid and controlled him with a black-painted dowel handle that was pretty much invisible in the low-light conditions of the final scene. The player who ran into $10DM turned and fled, throwing himself onto the room's tile floor to slide under a table. 

Dark Continent

My big failure. Good location -- way up in the hills as a camping expedition. A few good set pieces, like an archaeological excavation. Overall plot weak. Techniques: letting the mundane aspects of the camping build tension. Bah, I don't even wanna talk about it.

Some Delta Green game

This was quite a small-scale modern game, and the only thing I really remember about it was that the players tied an NPC to a chair and then completely forgot about him, leaving the guy to roleplay being tied up in my backyard for like an hour and a half. Techniques that worked:

  • Used a cool book I bought at the HPL Film Festival as a McGuffin. 
  • Used a conference room at Stanford to do a briefing from Delta Green superiors. 
  • I guess my document props looked OK. 

The Osiris Club

Kind of a weird hybrid game. Day-long investigative scenario set in 1950s Los Angeles, with characters driving around, interviewing suspects, etc. We had lunch at an old-timey diner, but although everyone had hats we didn't get one of the booths with a hat stand. D'oh! Anyway, what was interesting about this one was that I combined the investigative and party-game formats; at the end, the investigators got invites to an exclusive party full of high-society bastards and went there to find the culprit, so I basically had two sets of characters with their own motivations and so on.

Who Shot Harry Scott? 

Stripped-down game in which player characters got possessed by Yekubian mind-device thingy. Advantages:

  • Good document props. 
  • Very simple gimmick props: a blinky-lights-box and a body under a sheet. 
  • Smart character creation: I said "create any character you want as long as they are the kind of person who would honour a dying man's last request."

In Media Res

The classic Unspeakable Oath scenario, which is much better live than as a tabletop game. I made some changes to the setting to make it fit the venues we were using.


  1. Sounds really ambitious and interesting. My fussing about with little models on a table is rather mundane by comparison.

    1. It was a level of obsessive preparation I would not be able to sustain today.