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uglifruit

Thoughts on running Paper Chase (Starter Set) with more than 1 player.

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I'm new here - so apologies if I'm posting in the wrong place - or not spoilering things I should be.  I've not RPG'd for a long while, but with lockdown upon us it seemed it'd be a good idea to try my an RPG via Zoom with 3 regular boardgame pals.  I decided CoC would be my weapon of choice, having played it waaay back (and I don't really like Orcs, Goblins, etc).  My group are not previously role players at all - but are keen boardgames (preferring quite heavy eurogames), so I knew this would be a little out of their comfort zone.  I rpg'd years ago regularly, but haven't played for ages - but I have bought and read lots of RPG stuff in the interim with the intention of starting up again at some point.  This is that point, it turns out.

I own the CoC 7e Keeper's (core) Book, and the Investigators Book - but the Starter Set seemed cheap enough that my players might enjoy the slimmer rules to possibly read through themselves beforehand (of course none of them did!).  So I wanted to launch into Paper Chase the first scenario - which is written as a one-keeper-one-investigator to keep things relatively easy for the Keeper to control.  I didn't fancy running this scenario three times with each of the players - and as I had hoped that I might be able to keep the investigators for the next scenario (edge of darkness), I thought three investigators having solved the same crime, three times - each in potentially differently ways, would be a bit jarring.

Here's how 'Paper Chase' went (for us) ... I slightly modified the setting to allow, and justify the three investigators.

I first used the full rules (Keeper's Book) to build investigators with the players, rather than using the pregens or 'quick build', of the Starter Set - because I wanted to give the players some agency over who they created and their respective specialisms - plus I reasoned that I could explain a little of what the characteristics and skills meant whilst they were rolling then up.  I think that worked well, and I was surprised how quickly their stats led to them choosing professions.  They had a free choice, and I mapped them to professions in the Investigator's Book.  We ended up with a Cook who used to be in the army,  a British socialite visiting the area and an American born mechanical engineer of Chinese heritage.  These choices led to their skills options which the players enjoyed distributing their specialisms in (even if they barely knew what they meant at this point).  Looking at the skills chosen, the mechanical engineer was an amateur magician, it turns out.

I explained to them that the Arnoldsburg Library hosted the monthly meetings (first Tuesday of the month) for the "Society for the Exploration of the Unexplained" and told them they had turned up to this month's meeting... But immediately asked them to explain why weren't they in attendance last month?  (Encouraging them to think a bit about why their character might not have been there, and gently develop the character a bit - the cook had a special order on at his bakery that he runs, the socialite wasn't even in the country last month, the mechanical engineer wasn't well).  I'd decided that just the three of them were there to this month's meeting, because as they'd not been there last month the weren't aware that this month's meeting was cancelled.  Then I moved into the 'hook' of the scenario - n.p.c. Timothy entering and looking for help from the Society with the mysterious robbery of some of his late/missing uncle's books.

The scenario is quite simple, and not particularly dangerous for the investigators, so I'd gambled on them surviving this one - thus being able to use the same investigators for the next one.  Luckily, they did survive - despite the cook blundering in somewhat recklessly during the sole dangerous vignette.  I also deliberately had them leave the 'verbose' character traits and 'connections' from their investigator sheets free - and I'm going to revisit that before the second scenario.  There was definitely a more gung-ho investigator emerging, and one much more nervous and considered.  We discussed afterwards how the Socialite's ineptitude in rolls during the game, and bout of cowardice seemed entirely in fitting.  I'll let them formalise this next time to make the 'role playing' more explicitly a part of them choosing their investigator's actions.  I was happy to let the player rather than the character guide the actions for this scenario though. (As beginners to RPGs I think baby steps are probably needed).

I'd considered using Roll20, but we chose Zoom (we're already Zooming socially, and one of them is a bit resistant to trying too many new things at once).  We also had a web based dice roller for all the public D100 rolls - which I made them do often.  I also nudged then away from "can I roll?" to describe "what you want to do, and I'll decide if it's a roll".  By the end, they'd got that.

I'd downloaded some extra handouts (diary entries, photo of a character) that I found online as "Paper Chase" as written in the Starter Set actually only had one handout (a map) and I thought that sending them to them via Zoom would 1. Break up the experience for the players and 2. Give me a chance to glance at my notes.  The full Investigator's Book (not the Starter Set or Keeper Book) provided me with a list of typical names from the period.  These were essential when players wanted to quiz other n.p.c.s, and I'm ad-libbing people that the scenario doesn't cover.  If I had one criticism of the Starter Set for keepers (aside if that first scenario being a little handout light) is that it doesn't really warn you that your ability to come up with unscripted n.p.c. stuff can (will) be called upon - and having at least a few names to hand can be the difference between a character being seamlessly integrated or bring blindingly obviously not important.  ("He says his name is ... Erm... Erm... Hang on....er John" being a particularly obvious way to spot an npc as being someone insignificant).

My players (as you'd hope) defied all rational logic, and took surprising decisions in where they went and what they tried - but only on a couple occasions did "Timothy" have to return to nudge them into trying something other than creeping around his house. I don't think they felt railroaded though.

I was also pleased my players encountered temporary madness through sanity loss, physical injury and opposed rolls which came up naturally within the scenario. Combat wasn't required (despite the gung-ho cook's efforts), but that'll come next time I think.

Anyway - the unified skills and characteristics rolls make CoC 7e (my first experience with this iteration of CoC) a doodle for new players to understand how performing a "check" works, and "hard" and "extreme" is also very easy to implement and comprehend. I really like that, and it's very easy to explain to new players as you go.

I ended the session with them rolling to see if their skills they successfully used were improved - which is also intuitive and logical in its operation. 

All in all I'm very impressed with 7e and the Starter Set.  The whole thing - including rolling up and explaining what they were expected to do took the best part of 4 hours* - which I think we all felt was time well spent.  Looking forward to next time (hope my player are too!).

 

*obviously not including my preparatory reading of the rules, keeper book, investigator book, scenario and other people's hints/comments about running this scenario.

Edited by uglifruit
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I am finding CoC much easier to run during Lockdown rather than Pathfinder and it's ilk. We all play over Zoom and unlike Pathfinder you don't have the same issue with maps, figures and the need to know where everyone is at any given moment in order to work out combat and spells. With CoC you can get away with a general description and if people say they were actually somewhere else it's no big deal. I'm running Horror on the Orient Express with 7 Players at the moment and it is proving to be excellent fun. I was going to use Roll20, even looked at it and then decided it really isn't needed. We had a massive fight in a railway carriage with 7 people versus 5 cultists and 2 red ghosty creatures and I just kept a running commnetary of where everyone was and it worked fine "No you can't shoot at the cultists because Ethel is in front of you, you'll need to move a bit" was the most that was needed. 
You're doing the right thing by moving things away fromm dice rolling and combat. Even a single ghoul can take down a PC easily. 
I liked Paper Chase, the way the ghouls were actually not really enemies and Douglas was just after his books. One you may like to try I'm just incorporating another Scenario - "The Auction" into Horror at the moment as a way of getting everyone started (The first chapter of Horror doesn't get the characters involved too well in my opinion). It's an excellent murder mystery with ghouls as it happens and a mad cultist... and if played "wrong" i.e. your cook chap wanting to start a fight he can easily end up on the ghouls dinner table !
This lovely person has revamped the whole thing here up to 7th Ed as a series of downloads

 

 

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Great report! You touch on some key things that make Keeping any system challenging. Chiefest of which is that it always requires hefty improvisation to give everyone a great experience. To some extent improvisation suggestions can be written into adventures, but in a world of attenuation to publication page counts it shouldn't surprise us that not a lot of text is devoted to it. You (re?)learned a key consideration right out of the gate! I also want to commend you for improvising right out of the gate by immediately ignoring the "suggested" player count and doing what you needed to do for your group. Written suggestions don't need to be followed, and YGMV (your game will vary). I see a lot of Keepers who struggle because they can't bring themselves to deviate from the written text because they hold game designers to a godly level of regard. But game designers are humans, and they have flaws, and they are also simply writing to a huge audience. You have already gotten to the "adaptation is necessary" axiom of Keeping. 

Welcome to the Forums and let us know how else we can help!

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Welcome uglifruit! I am impressed with what you accomplished on your first try! You are going to be a master keeper!

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