Sunday, March 18, 2012

We Choose You, Trail of Cthulhu


We're planning to start an episodic Cthulhu game sometime next month, so we discussed choice of system at the end of last week's D&D session, weighing the pros and cons of Call of Cthulhu versus Trail of Cthulhu.  The players are more enthusiastic and familiar with Trail, so that's where we're starting.

Trail of Cthulhu's clue system works really with my proposed campaign setting, a home brew built around a special investigative unit in the NYPD, the Special Crimes Division (the SCD).  I've been re-reading my backlog of Cthulhu books, and I was delighted to see that Arkham Detective Tales has ideas for running a police-heavy Cthulhu game.  Pulling the campaign together will be a cinch.

Trail of Cthulhu shifts much of the action to the players to choose how to push forward and when to spend resources, but it also demands more improvisation by the referee as well - I'm looking forward to the challenge.  It's a perceptual adjustment to stop thinking of the game as a simulation (the way we use D&D to simulate a fantasy world) and instead consider it a recreation of a certain style of fiction, in this case, a blend of pulp detective stories, film noir, and Lovecraft horror.  Kind of a less campy version of the HBO movie Cast A Deadly Spell.  I'll continue to log some notes here as I build out the setting.

Pelgrane Press is an active publisher turning out  a lot of high quality supporting material, so there's no shortage of scenarios to steal.  I'd rather adapt published stuff than create whole cloth, since it lets me put more time towards writing my Black City D&D setting.  I've got a Black City post in the queue next, but will  start doing some regular Pelgrane reviews as I re-read many of the Trail of Cthulhu books for scenarios that play well in The Big Apple.

I'm also scanning the Chaosium backlog for adventures that are a good fit; I found an overlooked gem in the book Fatal Experiments called "The Lurker in the Crypt".  It's exactly the kind of adventure structure I love; it describes a corrupt cemetery and mortuary in the heart of NYC's East Side, managed by a powerful sorcerer and various undead assassins, with ties to a Great Old One and a massive infestation of ghouls in NYC's abandoned sewer sections.  But there's no real plot; the adventure basically describes the myriad forces associated with this extremely powerful conspiracy and their plots and machinations.  I imagine the lack of a linear plot and the huge danger presented by this cult have contributed to it's obscurity, but it'll be spectacular in a 1920's Badges and Guns campaign.  It's a super dangerous situation to plunge into blindly, so this would have to be the capstone to a campaign.  I'm always delighted to encounter a published horror scenario that omits a linear bread crumb of scenes, instead presenting the inhabitants and their motivations sandbox-style for insertion into a campaign.