Thursday, February 16, 2012

Call of Cthulhu on rails

So, we played another session on CoC last weekend. It was the second of two sessions covering the scenario Blood on the Tracks by J. Todd Kingrea from the Pagan Publishing scenario collection Out of the Vault.

The scenario is basically a train ride on a train hijacked by a monster. The intent is to have a feeling of being locked in, of having someone around hunting you for mysterious reasons. I think it is an interesting set up. I'll do a short summary of events and then talk about what went well and what didn't.

So, our investigators left Boston for New Orleans, following the letter our intrepid reported had gotten from her old friend there. Everyone settled in and talked to the other travellers and had dinner on the train. After dinner and cigars most people retired to their rooms, some for "medical tonics for better sleep". Suddenly the peace was shattered when the priest yelled at the top of his lungs that he had seen the conductor run out from Ms Browns compartment, all bloody. The brave investigators broke down the door to the washroom and found the dead conductor.

They spent the night doing autopsies (good with a MD in the group, eh?), examining the blood trail and searching staterooms. Sooner or later the professor of anthropology they had talked to was missing and they started a search, finding him stuffed in a box in the baggage car. By now they all suspected some vampiric activity, considering the blood was missing. They did find, and open, the big crate in the baggage car. Interestingly enough, this lead to the conclusion that Sir Alexander's wife must be a vampire!

Now they had noticed that the radio was smashed and that communications with the engine was down. Our war hero decided it was time for more pulp hero antics and climbed over to the engine via the coal box! He had his big gun with him and managed to blow the two living corpses away. Then there was a fight in the railroad car with the vampire and his acolyte. They ran down the whole train and the fight ended in the baggage car with a stake through the heart of the vampire. Then they had managed to slow down the train and had a lot of explaining to do when the authorities arrived.

So, how was it? Well. I more than once used the guidelines from Unknown Armies about 30-50% being professional level and had everyone with that level automatically succeed at crucial checks like in Trail of Cthulhu. I never had anyone need to be pushed by their Drive into action. Also, I actually forgot to check if anyone's Pillar of Sanity was threatened when they rolled for SAN. The latter was a failing on my part.

Mood wise I think it worked ok. Having one after another being killed off did heighten the sense of being hunted somewhat. I think the fact that things were moving along a pace determined by the villain was a good thing. It meant that even though the investigation could inform the decisions of the players, nothing had to stop because they didn't figure it all out. In fact, I don't think they ever did. The fact that guns are so deadly in close quarters made any gunfight slightly lopsided. I rolled really bad on my part and every second (no, really!) shot fired was an impale! Maybe you need to have a mix of "gun fodder" and some nasty mythos critters to drive home how useless guns are against those.

One of my house rules that will come to matter is how I handle SAN recovery. The doctor who did the autopsies and with reckless abandon ran after the vampire with his hunting rifle did suffer. He gained a temporary insanity and how have this thing for cleanliness. It will affect his work, I gather. But, more importantly he lost 8 SAN which he will never get back. They ended up with a train filled with bloody murder, corpses and guns had been fired. No chance of plausible denial there, so no SAN recovery even though they defeated the monster. That rule will colour this campaign!

Now they will arrive in New Orleans and there are cults, murders and monsters up ahead. I can't wait.
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