A testament to the varied menu of games at CottageCon II is the Ravenswood Manor, Call of Cthuhlu adventure. A group of player characters consisting of society types, con men, politicians, artists and war veterans descended on Ravenswood Manor and dark events unfold.
What was fascinating about the session was the attention to detail. The descriptions were short, and to the point, but managed to impart a lot of detail and depth. It helped pull me into a game that I thought wasn’t going to be my thing initially. I think all the characters started coming to the forefront and I actually really started to like my bitter, scared war veteran. It was a really well painted period piece which managed to pull me into something that I was initially hesitant about. I even enjoyed going on a jolly old hunt on the moors!
It was the investigation element that seemed to drag the well executed period drama down as a lot of the classic problems with Call of Cthuhlu came into play. We hadn’t designed investigators, we’d designed interesting period characters (who had been put into a great period piece). This was then compounded by relying on the nefarious Idea, Know and Spot Hidden rolls to locate clues that need to be located. There was also all sorts of NPC characters we could have interacted with, but we didn’t as we spent more time interacting with each other or waiting for the story to be delivered. I actually think this was partly the players letting the game down in retrospect. At the same time, these characters could have been brought to us as one of the main tools in the GM’s toolbox for prosecuting the story and helping player characters develop. The clues didn’t seem to be clues, in that they revealed stuff that didn’t seem to go anywhere. A clue is only a clue if it leads the player character to something else. Then the events in the story isolated the characters, always a great horror staple and I really liked that idea, but before key clues had been discovered. I think a bit of confusion and paralysis then set in.
The session was fun. I know I enjoyed it. I think it was just let down by the system being relied upon too much for finding clues. I also don’t think it works when the investigation is something for the players to solve, instead the clues should just move player characters to different scenes. We could have also been a bit more proactive with the non-player characters. A slight miss-communication of the social contract was also confusing things: investigative or non-investigative? If it is play investigators or at least give every player character a sound dramatic reasons to solve the mystery and stick it out rather than run away and call the police.
The session did present a couple of ideas to steal. I quite liked the use of the marker pen maps that were taped to the wall, both of the Ravenswood grounds and the map of the immediate area. It reminded me of a time when I did something similar running my first role-playing session using Mealstrom. I also liked the presence of a flip chart on the table as this turned a large part of the table into a giant notepad. It wasn’t really used, but it instantly made me think it could be used in some games to instantly sketch things out, such as the inside of the Volcano in the Spirit of Exalted game, or some of the action locations in Thrilling Tales. You could have them pre-prepared and slap them down. The final idea worth stealing was the post-it notes with the chapter of the adventure on, that was totally inspired. It also made me think of Thrilling Tales as they are delivered in serials and each one has numerous episodes. It would be cool to slap down a name for the episode as each one ended and another began.
While the session may not have gone as well as the GM might have hoped, and I know it hits me hard when it happens to me, everyone did enjoy it. I’ve had sessions I’ve not been entirely happy with myself and the player experience is always quite different. I thought the atmosphere and feel of the whole thing before the investigation kicked in was great. I also think a marker of a good role-playing sessions is it gives you one idea, whatever that may be, to steal and subsequently use yourself. I got a couple from this.