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uglifruit

Thoughts on the Starter Set

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Some thoughts and some things I think would improve a new Keeper's experience (based upon my play through). 

The Call Of Cthulhu Starter Set, at just over £20 directly from Chaosium + postage, definitely represents good value.  One could argue that Alone Against The Flames and the Quick Start Rules are available as free pdfs - but having printed versions is definitely a boon.

Within the box you really do have (almost) everything required for many hours of running games - and enough of a flavour of 'how it works' to build your own scenarios if that appeals.

The contents:

Alone against the Flames.  A fine introduction to the world and the basics of the system - and making the link between 'choose your own adventure' style books and tabletop RPGs is a nice gentle unthreatening introduction.

The intro rule book is well formatted and easy to read.  If I wanted anything beyond this, it'd have been a list of pre-prepared n.p.c. names (that's all, just typical names) so that in having to ad-lib a character/headstone/victim I had wasn't pulling a name from my the top of my head.  The 'Investigators Companion' book has such a list, but it's also easy enough to prepare one in advance of running a scenario.   I'd recommend all keepers, new or old, have one to hand.

Five pre-generated character sheets covering a diverse range of backgrounds.

Character sheets to fill in and make custom investigators.  (Along with the rules to make them)

A set of polyhedral dice.

A booklet of handouts.  The first misstep of the set in my opinion - this would have been so much more useful as loose sheets (though it's easy enough to cut the binding off) - but three of the pages in this contain more than one handout per page.  So folding/cutting would be necessary to not give out other handouts too.  Practically this will mean using the PDF (free with purchase of Starter Set from Chaosium) instead, and printing that for most players.  There are a couple of other things I'll say about handouts with respect to scenarios.

The three scenarios: This contains spoilers for the scenarios (perhaps don't read this bit if you're going to be a player, rather than keeper).

Paper Chase - a relatively un-deadly intro scenario written for one investigator and one keeper - though I modified this for three investigators and one keeper without much trouble.  A nice short intro, and some good opportunity to role play.  This scenario highlights the importance of negotiation rather than violence.  The 'map' handout for players utterly telegraphs what is important (the graveyard) and I'd probably advise not giving players this, unless they are stuck (even then, and Idea roll might be better).  I'd also say some other handouts (of which there are some good ones online available.  Having Kimble's Diary prepared as a handout might help a new keeper/player.  Similarly I was surprised that the newspaper articles that are mentioned aren't given as handouts.  Google provided third party ones I used.). In a slightly picky way I'd also point out the (great) artwork that accompanies the scenario isn't useful insofar as the description of Kimble as Ghoul makes him sound far far more through his transformation.  The 'Ghoul' illustration is (perhaps) of help to players in imagining him.  I showed the other Kimble-reading pics afterward the scenario when we discussed what Kimble had been up to over the past year.

Edge Of Darkness - a great blend of investigation and epic climax (fighting off the undead whilst reciting a ritual to banish an evil thing).  It's easy to join this on to the previous investigation, if you want the players to use the same characters.  There are a lot of red-herrings/potential plot hooks for the keeper to manage here.  This is A Good Thing (if you, as keeper can manage them), but can be a sticking point if the players become too focused on those rather than the job at hand.  I very nearly lost my investigators to a trip to New Orleans!  Fortunately I was able to ramp up the action locally to make that the focus of their investigation.  Worth reading other people's experiences of this scenario online before running it, to mitigate against some of the potential sticking points.

Dead Man's Stomp - this scenario, that requires the most of the Keeper, is kept for last.  Set in Harlem, and moving the action away from Lovecraft's Country and into a setting with very real historical context might require the keeper getting their head around that (Charlie Johnson's Band, Louis Armstrong, Eddie Smalls are real people, and Small's Paradise club and Harlem in 1925 are real places - perhaps the keeper might want to make sure they are 'true' to that reality as far as possible).  The criticism that is commonly levelled at Dead Man's Stomp is that it is in danger of feeling railroaded - and that the investigators are watching a story, rather than taking part.  I think that careful keepering can stop this - the very short timescale involved (scene one is the evening, the next major scene is 11am the next day).  The investigators splitting up and investigating different threads means it's far less likely to feel 'on rails' for them.  But requires gauging who's not been in the spotlight for a while, and when to push the drama.  My personal minor criticism of this scenario is not with the scenario at all (just be prepared) but in the handouts.  There are beautiful maps of 1. Harlem 1925, 2. Small's Paradise Club and 3. An Old Garage that give away in their key the name of important n.p.c.s (in the case of 2 and 3) and an important place of interest (in the case of 1) that the investigators don't know about.  It's also particularly annoying that the Keeper version of the Harlem map has a different key to the one in the player handouts and the 'numbers' don't match up.  (Columbia University is 9 on one, and 8 on the other for example).  I'd MUCH prefer the map with no key at all - and I can tell the players what the numbers mean as and when they find/need them.  (I redacted the key from the keeper's version of the Harlem map, and gave them that.).  I also redacted the key to the Small's Map, and gave them the main area they could see, and revealed the backstage area only as they went there.  Similarly The Old Garage - with it's key players didn't match my version of the key players (having introduced an n.p.c.) so I just gave them the main area they could see.  It's a shame because these handouts are beautifully done - they just give too much information in my opinion. 

If handled sensitively Dead Man's Stomp also has something to say about storytelling a very sad story, in a racially sensitive time.  With an epic ending.

 

The three scenarios can be linked (with a little work from the keeper) if desired, and make for a fun trio of stories - although it is slightly disappointing that Zombies feature in two of them.  Given the wealth of horrors available, its a pity that we don't see a bit more variety (although people love Zombies, apparently).

All told though, despite those minor criticisms around handouts (and they are minor) this is an excellent set - a great introduction (or reintroduction, in my case) to Call Of Cthulhu - with the new 7e rules (that work excellently).

 

 

Edited by uglifruit
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I had some of the same map issues (different keys for Keeper's and Players' versions of the same map, plot points needlessly signalled through inclusion on maps) when running Horror on the Orient Express. Like you, I ended up modifying the maps myself in order to run the game without "leaking" information and short-circuiting elements of the mystery.

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12 hours ago, trystero said:

I had some of the same map issues (different keys for Keeper's and Players' versions of the same map, plot points needlessly signalled through inclusion on maps) when running Horror on the Orient Express. Like you, I ended up modifying the maps myself in order to run the game without "leaking" information and short-circuiting elements of the mystery.

I think it is a case of "forewarned is forearmed".  The fact I was running my session via Zoom rather than face to face, (and the fact I'm new to this Keeper role) made me prep A LOT and consider what the players might take away from everything I said/gave them.  Not matching Keys on maps is a bit unforgivable.  As I said, I'd always prefer maps with redacted Keys I can give to the players as I see fit (and certainly not populated with n.p.c.s that I may or may not choose to use).

 

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Interesting comments on the maps. 

Use of maps comes down "when" they might be given to the players. My view is that you do not give players the map until the Keeper has described what they can see, and once the scene moves forward (once the players have the lay of the land), and the map can then be given - revealing what the players already know. Unlike other RPGs, Call of Cthulhu is not really a map based game, the maps are primarily for Keeper use, and may be used with players if desired, but should not replace visual description by the Keeper. But, I understand your concerns and perhaps the use of maps as aids (for encounter/combat scenes, rather than replacing Keeper description) could be better highlighted.

With the Starter Set, my view with the maps was that they were scene aids; thus, the information was provided in the keys to help novice players and Keepers. Whereas, with Masks of Nyarlathotep, the keys were removed from the player maps (or had common information on them). In general, we aim to remove 'scenario' information from player version maps, but a conscious decision was made to keep certain information on the player versions in the Starter Set. I can see why a few people wild prefer otherwise, and will bear that in mind as we go forward.

 

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Thanks Mike. I do understand that reasoning, I just think that a new Keeper needs to be aware of the implication of giving out the handouts/maps that are given.  I'd fear that in helping the Keeper by providing those maps they could hand them out and slightly telegraph important plot.

Hopefully most new Keepers are as nervous as I was/am, and eagerly read other Keeper's reports before running a session.  This was very helpful to me, and I'm hopeful that my reports might be similarly helpful in some small way to other new Keepers.

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For Horror on the Orient Express, my biggest map issue was that the “Routes of the Orient Express” handout map shows red "campaign-relevant" stops for all of the campaign chapters, including several which are not mentioned in the clues the investigators find to trigger the train journey. I coloured these over with regular black city/town markings so I could hand it to my (clever and very suspicious) players without them saying, "Oh, so what happens when we get to <city>?"

Why forewarn them? 🙂

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3 hours ago, trystero said:

For Horror on the Orient Express, my biggest map issue was that the “Routes of the Orient Express” handout map shows red "campaign-relevant" stops for all of the campaign chapters, including several which are not mentioned in the clues the investigators find to trigger the train journey. I coloured these over with regular black city/town markings so I could hand it to my (clever and very suspicious) players without them saying, "Oh, so what happens when we get to <city>?"

Why forewarn them? 🙂

I'm afraid I arrived at Chaosium a few weeks before that campaign was released and I did what I could, but was not the project lead. But, I will be aiming to sort out remaining issues in any new release of that campaign.

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On 6/30/2020 at 10:27 AM, uglifruit said:

I said, I'd always prefer maps with redacted Keys I can give to the players as I see fit (and certainly not populated with n.p.c.s that I may or may not choose to use).

I've run the starter set scenarios a few times now and certainly agree with some of your map key points. I normally go through the pdf and remove the numbers and it's now pretty easy to edit this stuff on a computer / tablet. Then print them out myself. I normally cut them up as well to remove handout numbers - which has caused problems when I've missed them. I also cut maps up so the farmhouse / smalls and the garage don't reveal the hidden / backstage or other areas. Then I layout the added parts when needed. While this adds an extra layer of work for myself, I actually think that this is the job of the GM in preparing a game. I see the starter set maps as resources for me to use as I see fit. While it would be fantastic if Chaosium would produce PDF maps withers that can be turned on and off etc, I'm not sure these would alway meet the needs of my players or myself. In my eyes this is always a balance £20 for a cool boxed set with everything I need or £30 with everything I want for me. This where the Drivethru MU community stuff takes over or the props people.

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14 minutes ago, David Scott said:

While this adds an extra layer of work for myself, I actually think that this is the job of the GM in preparing a game. I see the starter set maps as resources for me to use as I see fit.

Perfectly reasonable.  Perhaps the Starter Set rules/guidance should make this explicit.  I'm certainly not criticising the excellent price point/value of the Starter Set.

Edited by uglifruit
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