Playtest of Cthulhu

Behind the Keeper's screen

Behind the Keeper’s screen of the 2013 play test for the Lausanne scenario.

Playtesting is key for the revised edition of Horror on the Orient Express.

The authors writing the new sections are playtesting their own work before submission. Oscar Rios has a group of New York irregulars he can call on, and afterwards he discusses plot refinements with them via Facebook. Their ideas for the Invictus scenario final draft were particularly gruesome. Geoff Gillan plays with his original gaming group of 20 years, but these days via Skype; he can rely on them to upend any scenario he puts in front of them (I believe one of the Gaslight characters got arrested). They have just finished playing the new Dark Ages scenario, and four of their characters will appear as the pre-gen characters in the final book; a pleasing collaboration.

Meanwhile, I am playing through the entire campaign with four friends who have put aside family obligations to meet weekly. It is an incredibly focused group, we sit down at 8pm and they give the plot their full attention, with no out of character jokes or asides. Having been away from Call of Cthulhu for years except for the occasional Christmas game, I am addicted to it all over again. I am taking a vicarious thrill in cutting apart and using all of the handouts and props for the 1991 edition, exactly as Lynn intended. The hell with the Ebay value, they were printed for use! In the photo above you can see the Sedefkar Scroll. Lynn wrote that a leather tie would give it an authentic air, but as a vegetarian I’ve settled for a piece of string.

The players include a historian, a writer and a photographer, so the extra ideas they bring to the table are remarkable, especially in the area of research ideas. Many of these new avenues and clues will make it into the book. It is clear to me what they find interesting and what they don’t pick up on at all, and I am rewriting the early chapters to provide more motivation. At the end of each session I pour another coffee and write up detailed notes, usually three pages of bullet points per night.

The biggest change is in the way that the information is structured. The 1991 edition assumes in many parts a certain dramatic flow, but any investigator decision can change that. Unfortunately the scenarios are not adequately arranged to allow for such variation, and key locations are not described at all. One chapter assumes the players will meet and talk with an NPC; instead, they decided to lure him out and break into his house, which was not covered in full. This is my first time running the final printed campaign (the version I ran in 1990 was prior to final editorial), so with the intervening 20 years I am able to approach it as an end user.

There is lots to do, but we are having great fun in the process. Actually, fun is the enemy. We are on a tight schedule to get the entire campaign played in time, and I have to curb my instincts. Hence the note on the inside of my Keeper’s screen: GO FASTER. I am perfecting my methods for quick play, which I’ll share in a future post (there are a couple that are not quite working yet, due to my own lack of discipline!).

Meanwhile, we have a group in the UK who are playing through the 1991 campaign, so I am sharing notes with the Keeper. Many of our discoveries are the same, so I hope that you all will find that the new edition is much easier to run. And, you won’t have to do it on a deadline. Go slower!


Filed under Playtesting

3 responses to “Playtest of Cthulhu

  1. Damien

    I can only assume that you enter the room armed and threatening to keep people focussed. The phrases “Did you see that movie X” cause a 10 point SAN loss – 15 for a website. Assignation to the crappiest chair for pulling out a smart phone. That sort of thing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    “The 1991 edition assumes in many parts a certain dramatic flow, but any investigator decision can change that” – this is my major complaint with Masks, along with “key information is not there or skimpy”. Many curses have been uttered about “complete” on the cover. I am glad that the new Orient Express book will not suffer the same frustrations ๐Ÿ™‚

    • hehe, SAN losses all round for attempting to break everyone’s character with movie references as breaches to the fourth wall are like breaches to reality itself.

  2. Like you I am rediscovering the old beast after a long absence. And I’m loving it, though I’m coming up against some structural limitations of CoC’s 1980s genesis. After a few weekend one-offs, a campaign is calling. It might be Orient (or Masks, or a scratch 1945 Australian military expedition to Antarctica). I’m reading this blog with much interest!

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