Saturday, March 31, 2012

Gamemastering Call of Cthullhu - pacing

Today I was once again behind the screen as Keeper of Arcane Lore. I'm collecting experience, and this was my sixth time as a Keeper! While running this session I experienced something I wanted to talk about.

I have been running games now for almost 25 years, and I think I have a pretty good grasp on how to behave in many different situations. Are the players looking excited? Are they laughing? Do that guy over there look like he is getting bored? I think I have those things nailed down when I stomp around in my familiar fantasy grounds. Especially the problem of pacing is something I usually know how to handle.

Today they players sat down trying to continue from having explored a warehouse of a suspected cult and having had to retreat with one member of the party K.O.'d. What now? From my point of view it was pretty obvious what to do in a Call of Cthulhu game. You visit every named NPC and talk to them to track down ever scrap of knowledge, since knowledge is the most important thing in this game. Right?

Naturally, my players did not do that.

After some very intelligent and smart use of backstory, connections and leveraging Credit Rating, one of my players found a masonic brother and started to talk. Since he was the D.A. I thought that this was a guy who knew stuff, and had resources. I had him mention a few things and be friendly. That and some interest from the players in one of the named NPC and they had finally gotten the idea that talking to people was good, and digging around for people in the know was fruitful. Finally.

Now the P.I. in the party decided to go sneak into the posh mansion of one of the key NPCS. In broad daylight. In an area where I specifically mentioned police patrols being regular and observant. Guess who got to spend a night in jail?

So. What would I have done? Well. I don't understand why they didn't start to talk to all the people on the list they had gotten from their main contact? I would have visited each and every NPC, in alphabetical order! After the session some of the players even voiced the opinion that it felt like it was a bit hard to find the clues. I even play with GUMSHOE inspired rules, so they will find core clues, and they know it. At least I have mentioned it. Interesting.

You do know about the three clue rule, right? Go read that essay if you haven't.

Now, if this had been a fantasy game I would have rolled for a random encounter. I love the idea of a random encounter. The random encounter could provide a conveniently dropped clue, to make it an even three, or just something to do so that after the encounter someone had a new idea.

What do you do when there's a lull in the action in an investigative game? You can't really push the players toward the next clue. It would be bad form, and boring. Also, in order to entertain them while waiting for the penny to drop, do you let wandering kobolds show up and pick a fight? I guess not. I think there are, after more than 20 years, still some things this old dog has to learn.
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