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I've been playing and running Trail of Cthulhu for some time now. In fact, I first ran Cthulhu using the GUMSHOE rules from Esoterrorists before Trail had been written (and using CoC SAN rules), as part of a proof of concept try out. That was the only time I've run someone else's scenario, Artefact Zero from Pagan Publishing's Project Rainbow. It was a good fit. There was a great moment in the car when Paolo used his Physics points and realised that they all been infected. [Edit: I've just remembered that this is not true, I also ran an adventure soon to be published by MRP in More Adventures in Arkham Country. It's called Ghosts of the Florentina, by Brett Kramer, about an old movie theatre in Kingsport. I ran it sandbox style, letting the players find their own solution to the matter at hand. It was good fun.]

Using the actual Trail rules I've run these scenarios:
- Bruisyard, about a party in a manor house and a strange bell.
- London Libraries, the start of a world-spanning campaign that includes a visit to many of the occult libraries in London (run twice)
- Locked up in Rampton, a train journey ends in the characters being held in an asylum from which they must escape, again and again.
- Music of the Spheres, a friend of the characters plays them some very strange music in Indianapolis (run twice).
- Acephalous, the characters are haunted by strange visions on Paris' Left Bank (run four times)
- Bones, the current game in which everyone is haunted by strange dreams and confronted by Nazis.

I've got the makings of about another three scenarios as yet unleashed (a prequel to the Indianapolis story and one set in Birmingham, UK) as well as a couple of short demos that I've run about twenty times at conventions. I've also played in three of spencerpine's excellent purist scenarios as well (in four sessions) as his most enjoyable Cthulhu Apocalypse campaign (about eight sessions?), as well as simonjrogers' second part of the world-spanning campaign. So it's probably fair to say that I'm a pretty experienced with Trail of Cthulhu.

So I thought it would be time to take stock of where I am with Trail of Cthulhu, how I write adventures and how it plays. So first I'm going to look at how I created each of these scenarios. I can usually directly trace the inspiration for each of the scenarios.

Bruisyard is a house in Suffolk where I attended a friend's birthday weekend. I took some photographs of a twisted old clockwork mechanism in the attic for ringing the bell, a priest hole, a depression in the grounds and visited the small local church, finding out later that it had a medieval psalter. I also used the fact that Newton lived nearby at the time the house stopped being a nunnery. I had an initial strange occurrence, to do with the bell chiming at odd intervals. Then I just threw handouts at the players to see what they'd come up with. After the first exploratory session I'd come up with the makings of a scenario, I knew what had happened in the past and how it was a threat. I just needed to make it more directly threatening to the PCs. Then one of the players dropped out so I had to come up with a rationale for his character's disappearance, this dropped everything into place and guided everyone to a ritual and monsterish denouement. I came up with a back-story that fitted all the clues I'd thrown out and gave the PCs something to do.[Some work needs to be done on the issue of the disappearing PC, having an NPC suffer the fate instead but it's also pretty much finished].

London Libraries was based on a talk at Treadwells by morbidfrog in which she presented her master's dissertation on the occult libraries of London. simonjrogers had been discussing a world-spanning scenario so I thought this would be a good place to start, having the PCs investigate all these places. They are handed an occult reading list at the start and come across a deeper mystery. I also included Treadwells for good measure. This scenario was pretty much fully formed before the players encountered it although some tweeks were made after each playing of it. [A bit more needs to be done on making the threat more direct but it's pretty much finished].

Rampton came from two things. One was a direct inspiration from a Mythos classic I'd just read (it's difficult to talk about these things without giving too much away) and another was the idea that I'd like to have the characters locked up in an asylum. I did quite a bit of historical research which gave me a location and some strong folklore links to tie the story in to. When we played it, it suffered from a couple of things. One was that there wasn't quite enough for the players to do. They were hungry for clues and I was trying to run things more slowly to build up the atmosphere. One character just kept trying to escape when it was plainly impossible and saw his failure to do so as some kind of punishment/blocking/railroad from me. I think I should have just explained the premise more directly but that can destroy the atmosphere. That said, it did end very well. I had a good idea of where this was going before I ran it but didn't provide enough clues for the players. [I think I can slow things down by describing the passage of time better, stretching duration between events and making setbacks pretty devastating. I think there's some good mileage in this although I certainly do need to provide some more for the players to go on. There wasn't enough coming from me for them to act].

Music fell out of three things. One was a demo that I ran at Gen Con which introduced a particular set of PCs to each other, another was research I'd been doing on Indianapolis which suggested some locations and some historical circumstances (the Indiana Gas Boom and inevitable bust) and sight of the pre-publication copy of princeofcairo's lovely little supplement Rough Magicks. I felt I had to include the cover somehow in the scenario. This was also the first time I used sound and lights to enhance the atmosphere (which worked better in simonjrogers' kitchen than it did in the trade hall at Gen Con). I had an idea of how the scenario started, and how it would end, but not much idea about the in between. So I ladled out the clues and watched to see what would stick. In the event it went pretty well although it's too short really. [I need to increase the number of scenes, but it's all good]

I wrote Acephalous because I was going to a French convention and wanted to run something based at the convention's location, which was Montreuil. So I looked at old pictures of Montreuil and found an interesting architectural feature. I had a look at publications from Thirties philosophers and one them immediately decided the main threat in the game. Not only that but it included details of a secret society meeting in a wood at midnight. Most of my work at that point was done. I included some Paris landmarks that I wanted to visit, Shakespeare & Co and the catacombs and did some historical research, dragging up as many images as I could that would seem to refer to the Mythos entity. I photoshopped one image, to make it even more apposite and then unleashed it on my regular group. It played in one session but I realised that the threat wasn't quite immediate enough, so I made it more personal to the PCs and then ran it again in Paris, twice. I firmed up some of the clues and ran it once more at a con in Watford and it's now finished. I just need to finish writing it up, including a lot more details of Paris in 1936 for GMs.

Bones was probably the most improvised all the scenarios. I was going to run something at Games Expo in Birmingham last month but didn't get round to it. I did do some prep and came up with the germ of an idea, certainly enough to run a game from, based around (Harry) Grindell Matthews who I'd discovered had done some strange experiments around Birmingham in the 30s. Next we had a new player join our group and express an interest in playing Trail of Cthulhu so I had a few days to prepare. I thought I'd combine my Birmingham material with some from chilledchimp's new Trail sourcebook, The Occult Miscellany of Augustus Darcy. It turned out I didn't need the Birmingham material. One event from the book is a policeman having a horrific encounter with bones in the underground. One of the players was a shrink so I had him treating the policeman. Another thing from the book is a group investigating strange events in March 1925. So I decided that the policeman and the shrink shared a dream (as recorded in the shrink's dream diary) of that period. The hook was that the shrink wanted to find out if this was more widespread. He advertised in the newspaper and the players all had PCs with similar experiences. They met up to discuss what was going on and the game grew out of that.

I think I'd like to analyse this in more detail, to really get behind the creative process for this scenario. I can use the AP I reported to do that in a future post.

So that's it for the creative process for the moment, the next post will be about running Trail of Cthulhu.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 28th, 2010 09:20 am (UTC)
You should cross-post this at Yog-Sothoth, or even submit it to PoC, who I am sure would publish it.
Jul. 28th, 2010 10:09 am (UTC)
Definitely cross-post or link over to YSDC. Thanks for sharing that.
Jul. 28th, 2010 12:27 pm (UTC)
How do you go about putting together the clue trails?

I'm in the process of writing my first ToC game, and I'm kinda stuck. I know what's going on, I know who the main players are and I have a campaign frame, a beginning and an ending.

What I'm struggling with is setting up the clue trail as a bait-and-switch. I don't want the real antagonists to get the blame straight away, but have it as a horrible realisation later on. It's driving me slightly batty, to be honest.
Jul. 28th, 2010 12:57 pm (UTC)
How would you do this if it wasn't Trail of Cthulhu but your regular game?
Jul. 28th, 2010 01:02 pm (UTC)
Good question. I don't think I've tried something this ambitious even in a regular game (not that I've done a whole lot of GMing at all recently...)
Jul. 28th, 2010 01:30 pm (UTC)
The idea with the core clues is that the players always have a lead to follow up. That's it really. It doesn't have to be a good lead. So there's no problem in leading the players on. Say they find a document that gives the location of the McGuffin. You don't have to guarantee that it's there, you're just giving them a lead to follow. You might, if you were feeling particularly scrupulous, allow for a spend of supplementary points to determine that the information is somehow false or that danger awaits but most players are pretty cautious anyway.

If they get a note that says "Meet me at Pier 13 at 10pm for the Necronomicon", they'll certainly go, even if they (and they probably should) smell a rat. Perhaps a point of Streetwise would tell them that some no good dudes hang out there, or Cop Talk that the police have files on several disappearances there, or a Journalist might use his occupation special to dig up some old reports on something squamous.

As such, GUMSHOE is great for bait and switch.

I always like there to be a couple of available leads if possible, so the players have a bit more control over where the game is going but that's not really necessary as long as they have something to do.

Jul. 28th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
You raise some good points here.

I guess the key to really understanding GUMSHOE is realising that the clues don't have to provide a whole picture about what's going on. Just enough to point to the next potential location. Sometimes I forget that and think the clues should be bigger than they need to be.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )