Monday, September 9, 2013

Call of Cthulhu: Fate Edition AP Report

Yesterday (Sunday, Sept. 8th), I kicked off a Call of Cthulhu campaign, adapting the venerable RPG to Fate Core. I had three players and ran an adventure I wrote from scratch. 

First of all, here are the links for the stuff I wrote up:

We started a little after 1 P.M. My players were:

Chris Welles: an abrasive Med student who's only real friend was Jennifer Solomon (the missing girl at the heart of the adventure)

Dr. James Wolfson: Erudite professor who was also Jennifer's thesis advisor

Rick Spencer: A hot-headed friend of Jennifer's family.

Observations on character creation

-I am VERY glad I listened to the Fate community and kept Trouble Aspects in the game. They made for some excellent drama during the adventure's climax!

-The "Dramatic Hook" Aspect had some unforeseen ramifications...namely, when I was expecting the investigators to be more assertive and combative with Jennifer, they tried a lot harder to reason with her. I was expecting Jenny to be either arrested or killed. Instead, the investigators agreed to work WITH her to gather the other tomes! I didn't see that one coming. Overall, I do think the Dramatic Hook was a good idea, but I am going to have to keep in mind about how it can affect gameplay next time!

-Instead of leaving the 5th Aspect slot blank for everyone, I should have had each player tie themselves to each other with that 5th Aspect. That could have planted some more seeds for interpersonal conflict and drama. Originally, I had intended the Dramatic Hook Aspect to be all the reason necessary to get the investigators together, and relationships with each other could develop over the course of the investigation. However, as the players discussed, debated, and dissented on what direction they should take, having an Aspect to compel or invoke could have made things a lot more interesting.

-Stunts, as always, are the stickiest part of character creation from my experience with Fate. Chris ended up making too powerful of a stunt: a +2 to Will when resisting fear. This kept him stable as a table throughout the adventure while the other two were very close to taking Consequences early on (more on that below). I am going to change that stunt to an Aspect on Chris' character for the next session, then give him a new stunt to replace it (or give him the chocie to leave it blank for +1 refresh).

Observations on the Call of Cthulhu Fate hack:

-The Horror "attacks" worked beautifully. There were three checks in this adventure (one when the notes in Jennifer's apartment were translated, one when the investigator discovered Kevin and what Jennifer had done to him, and one more when Dr. Wolfson found the actual, authentic tome in Jennifer's bag). All of them were only +1 (I intend on the insanity/horror theme to be a slow burn, so I started small). Still, two of the three investigators had full-up mental stress boxes during the big Conflict at the end. At first I thought it was a little too light, and I could have leaned a little harder with the Terror attacks (or maybe even add an Insanity rating), but in retrospect it was just right for an intro adventure. Like I said before, I didn't want to hit them with the full force of the Mythos in the first adventure; I just wanted to give them a taste, and I think the rules I whipped up to cover sanity worked well enough.

-Dr. Wolfson got +1 Mythos Lore for reading Jennifer's notes. He hasn't gotten a chance to use it yet. I think I am going to expand the rules on Mythos Lore and also include "Mythos Stunts," which are specific applications of Mythos Lore. I already mention this in the hack document, but I want to flesh it out more. Spells are basically going to be Mythos Stunts, using the Mythos Lore skill, and have a mandatory Insanity rating of at least 1. 

-The exclusion of Provoke was, in retrospect, a mistake that I will correct on the next pass of the document. Spencer, as kind of a rough-and-tumble type, used Provoke frequently, and Rapport (at least within the context of this game) was getting over-used for social interactions (of which there were surprisingly many). I am going to re-instate Provoke and have it not only cover "taunting," but any kind of assertive argument to get someone to do or feel something you want them to. That may be how Provoke was supposed to work originally, but I was fixated on the "Taunt/Intimidate" idea of a Provoke skill, and so wanted to strike it from the list as not being very practical for investigators of the Mythos. As befits a Call of Cthulhu game, the Research skill was used heavily, and the new Logic skill I made got used a couple of times, as well.

General Critique of how Fate Core played:

I am getting better and better at Fate Core the more I play it, which in turn makes me like it more, which in turn makes the players like it more. This was by far the best Fate Core adventure I've run yet, head and shoulders above my more awkward attempts with the zombie apocalypse game I ran earlier this year. The system really is brilliant in ways both great and small, and though I've found the learning curve a little high, I welcome the challenge to be a better storyteller and role-playing gamer.
The single biggest lesson I have learned about running Fate Core effectively is this: The mechanics are part of the story. I've said this before, and in the past, it's been a sore spot with me. I'm used to hiding the mechanics "under the hood," sometimes going so far as to do all the rolling myself, just to keep the players immersed in the story and to keep the fiction in the fore-front. But that's not how it works in Fate, and this session, I finally let go of that idea, and the result was fantastic. During the climax, with Jenny holding a knife to Kevin's throat and Josh sticking a gun into the back of Chris' head, the players discussed how they were going to convince Jenny to put the knife down and not have the situation become a blood-bath. On each player's turn, they engaged in social combat with Jenny, creating advantages like "There's a Better Way" or "Put the Knife Down and We'll Help You." Jenny got Consequences like "I'm Listening..." Meanwhile, Jenny was invoking Spencer's "Friend of the Family" Aspect to make him help her torture Kevin. It was an intense, exiciting scene, and all the while, the players are thinking of ways to create advantages, ration their Fate points for when they REALLY needed them, and watching out for compels that could make things worse. It was, in a word, awesome.

So in future adventures, I'm really looking forward to exploring how all the rules work in various situations. Instead of trying to sweep them under a rug, I'm going to put them in the spotlight and let the players work with me to interpret the dice. I'm looking forward to what happens next!

So, overall, I had a great time yesterday, probably one of the best sessions I've had in a long time. I have a few more thoughts on the game that I'll write about later so this post doesn't get too long. In the meantime, I better get crackin' on the next adventure...

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