My Saturday morning game at Dead of Winter. The game started a little late as we were waiting for players to roll in, but that worked out fine for me, it was a few minutes to see everyone at their tables, socialize and bask in the glory of a 35 people all sitting down to game.
It’s pretty clear just from his set up that Matthew wrote CthulhTech. The table was covered in gamer porn. Beautiful hardbound books, a banner for the game, and Mr. Grau, effusive in his loving explanation of the setting.
Matthew is a brilliant guy for making this game. He took two awesome ideas: Japanese mecha horror and Lovecraft mythos and smashed them together. The game reeks of Shadowrun, if runners were only half as bad ass and the jobs were done to stop the end of the universe.
Matthew conveyed, in a very entertaining performance, the storyline of the game as well as the present day. And when I say storyline, we didn’t get the 4000 years ago, the gods were at war, make my ears bleed kind of intro; he hit right on the compelling elements of the setting (and there are many) and carried those through from their potential roots to the contemporary setting of the game. By the time he was done I immediately had a handful of situations I could imagine rising up out of the setting. Everything from the landscape, the wars (past and present), the various races (as genetic variants of humans), and the socio-economic system lent itself to a killer dark future fantasy horror.
The story so far
It turns out (probably would have been good if I read the game description beyond “Cthuhlu Tech”) that this was part two of an existing storyline. I generally don’t like playing in sequel games, so this was a bit of a disappointment for me. As I expected there was a lot of talk about what happened last time and there was an expectation set that the events of the last game were as important if not more important than the ones taking place in this game. Also, we had two returning players (from last year) who were both more turned into the story (as they played in it) as well as more central to the story. Finally, we had two characters that were created just before the game, and thus weren’t going to be fully integrated into the story. Perhaps foolishly I picked one of the just made characters, as his description (see lush setting above) sounded awesome. Due to this, Ralph and I showed up around the 3rd or 4th combat round after the game started.
All factored in (late game, setting description, last game recap, and being absent from the first few rounds of combat), this meant I sat for about 90 minutes of game time before getting to play. It mostly worked out though, I opted for my character to be something of comic foil and perhaps a source of grim humor (he was a ghoul who ate decayed flesh after all). I named him Baahb (Bob) and decided that not only was he meticulous about hygiene (people who eat decaying flesh really need to be), but he was also a great listener and a gossip (his virtue and flaw). To flavor this a bit more I went back to my room, picked up some floss, some breath mints and my deodorant, which I periodically offered to others throughout the game. I was going to make my own fun.
The game was centered on a universe melting scale MacGuffin. We didn’t know exactly what this scull did, but we knew it was crazy, off the charts powerful, that people who happily kill for it, and that as long as we held it we were going to go crazy. So, in short, we played hot potato. Can’t destroy it, can’t give it away, and can’t keep our shit together while we try and figure out what to do with it. That last bit was a real stroke of genius on Matthew’s part. He made sure that we always had ninjas banging on our doors so we had to keep on moving, keep on trying new things, and keep on going crazy.
Our interplay was fun, each of us suspecting the other was going crazy, but ultimately realizing we were all a bit bonkers. Never to the extent of doing REALLY FUCKED UP SHITTM but definitely losing it.
Once the skull was secured (a difficult and laborious process) we came to the decision that we would try to make all game of “what to do with it?” I really wanted to see some hard core interparty conflict between the guy who always gets the job done (Matt Steele’s character, I believe named Benson) and any of the other investigators who had a bit of moral fiber. Sadly though, I think that discussion had happened in the previous game, so there was no moral dilemma for us, just a Cloverfield-esque run for our lives.
Planning stage of doom.
Sooner or later, the chain gun of GM pressure always runs out of ammo, and like Arnold in Predator, after he had unloaded much hell on us, Matthew had to ask the question “What are you guys going to do now?” It’s not an unreasonable question, I mean we did have the some real dangerous shit on our hands, but whenever the question is asked, no matter how valid, players stop thinking about what would be cool for the story and they start thinking about “how can we win.” This behavior kills me in most games, but it’s especially frustrating in a horror game, because winning in a horror game should never be an option. There is just losing feeling like you did something worthwhile and losing feeling like your utterly powerless. Much as Matthew kept prodding us with the skull making is go crazy, as players we found ways to mitigate even that (playing hot potato with it). Eventually, we had a plan, drop it in a 3 mile deep mining shaft and then follow it up with a bunch of C4 (or whatever the explosives of choice ended up being).
With some minor snags and a bit of down time to regroup, call contacts, put the plan into action, etc, we ended the game watching the mine shaft collapse after the explosion, knowing the world would be safe from the skull… for now.
As mentioned above, the setting is beautiful and Matthew really knows it well. Not only in his intro, but also in description in game as we encountered elements of the world.
Matthew gave us some tough choices early on. There were teenage boys, all hive mind and crazy, but still kids who wanted the skull… and they had knives. Luke I think had the best portrayal of our mindset changing, in the first round of combat his character tried to calm them down verbally, and then shot her gun into the ground as a warning shot. By the last round, she double tapped one to the back of the head after he had already fallen on the ground helpless.
OMG, the hag from Army of Darkness. I’m not sure when she started the fight in an adult high chair but she middled it with crazy bullet dodging wire-fu and ended it splattered against the wall after we three separate characters filled her full of hot iron.
As much as he could, Matthew kept the pressure on us. Skull making us mad, crazy people following us, gunships tearing up the street behind us.
I had a ton of fun, pulling out the hygiene card. During one round when I couldn’t do anything in combat (hiding in a shadow and nothing to jump out at), Matthew asked me what I did and I slowly pulled the floss from my pocket and started flossing at the table. I got some WTF reactions, but as soon as they players realized it was an in character reaction, there was a lot of laughing.
I loved it when Benson cracked Baahb in the nose. Baahb had been acting really freaky after getting the skull and Benson rightly assumed it was influencing him. For his part, Baahb was happy for anyone BUT Benson to hold the skull, worried that his brain was already a little cracked and that he was the most susceptible the skull’s influence.
I loved that we finally got to the point of character mistrust that some real action came out of it.
Basil played the entire first combat (which was quite long) playing Human Target. It was hilarious watching him running from the one last kid with the knife.
Have I mentioned the luscious setting? I mean, really, it was beautiful.
I happen to have this skull that I use occasionally a prop (or fate chip holder as the top comes off) with me. When I got my personal hygiene accoutrements I picked that up as well and gave it to Matthew to use as a prop.
What could have improved
All in all I felt like a bit player in the game. Part of this was my fault. After 20 minutes of hearing about what happened last time, my eyes kind of glazed over and I intentionally pick a character that I thought would be fun to play independent of the story, and that is pretty much what he was. We did have one scene where we escaped into the sewers and Baahb got to show off his underground navigation skills, but that was largely by virtue of the players choosing the sewers as an escape route. By and large though, I felt pretty ancillary.
Because of the point above, I think my antics may have been a detraction to the game at points. In the scene just mentioned, when we got into a sewer, a place of relative safety I had my character call down “Hi H-A-A-R-E-E-E (Hairy)” with the assumption that Baahb probably knew who lived in these parts. It was just done for kicks, but Matthew’s response that I didn’t have time for socializing when soldiers were chasing us down gave me the hint that I might have been taking up too much of the table time with my quirks.
As I alluded to, I’m not a fan of sequel games. I think Matt Steele and Mike Muldoon had a rocking good time. I think the other four players had fun, I think they could have had more.
U-U-G-G-H, planning… makes Baahb’s brain hurt. Nah, I really don’t know what to say about this. This isn’t a game problem or a GM problem. It isn’t even a player problem, really, I mean at some point we need to get on the same page, but I just lose my shit as soon as I see the pattern emerge. I hate sitting around trying to figure out where we are going for lunch, I hate trying to figure out where we’ll bury the skull of doom about a thousand times more.
I don’t think the players were in the mood to fight with each other, so I didn’t push it, but I really wanted to see some serious confrontations of beliefs. I’d like it if someone betrayed the party, or if there was a major factional division on deciding what to do. Eh, I can dream.
This isn’t a system review but I did find one thing that was irksome to me mathematically. Skills seemed to range between one and three, indicating the number of dice you roll when attempting it. If half or more of your dice come up as 1s, you botch. That means that if you have one in a skill you’ve got a 10% chance to botch, but if you have two in the skill you have a 20% chance to botch. Not the end of the world, and possible to mitigate (by spending in game currency for more dice to roll), but kind of made my math brain break.