Actual Play – Tremulus (10/7/2012)

GM: Mike Bogan
Players: Jason Morningstar, J Li, and Sean Nittner
System: Tremulus

Sunday ended up being kind of a slow day for me. In the morning we had some chaos as GMs were running late, players were AWOL, and some games ended up collapsing. I hated it, but we moved on. People found something to do, jumped into other games, or started games of their own.

After the Houses LARP I saw Jason sitting out on the lawn and we agreed that we should play something. J had already talked to him, so we just needed another person or two, and we would be good to go. About 30 seconds Mike Bogan showed up and we started talking about Tremulus. It’s Call of Cuthulhu hacked to Apocalypse World. This seems like a brilliant idea to me, even if I’m not a huge CoC guy, it makes perfect sense.

Mike had offered to run it in open gaming but didn’t have any takers, and was a bit disappointed as he had requested a PDF copy from the designer before it was released just so he could run it at Big Bad Con. Jason was planning to work on the guys with their Frozen North supplement so he had some interest in the game as well. Boom, we were on!

Eerie events in Ebon Eaves

Mike handed out some playbooks for us to sift through, and well as asking us a few questions about Ebon Eaves (the town the game is set in). The questions reminded me of making a planetary survey and colonial report for Durance (I mean, the system is essentially identical). We picked some spooky, messed up aspects about the town and that generated some plot seeds for Mike. He had some flavor text to read us as well as some secret horrific details he could keep all to himself until he was ready to inflict them on us.

A pretty cool thing happened then. Mike needed some time to prep the game, so as we were making out characters, we started tying them together. A LOT.

J was playing Emil Richmond, the heir. He was a sickly child, who’s father had also passed from a wasting illness. His uncle stood to inherit the lion share of the Richmond estate, which seemed wrong to everyone, but that is how the will was written. Emil wanted to see the world but his sickness prevented him, so he lived vicariously through Jessica (see below) and their shared passion for the exotic and foreign was the seed of a tender romance.

Jason played Dr. Winthrop Richmond, Emils much older half brother from another mother. Though the elder, Winthrop because of his mothers questionable status was not part of the will. He was extremely bitter about this and had left Ebon Eaves to make his own fortune. His practice failing in the big city though, he was returning, still full of anger towards his family.

I played Jessica Northrup and antiquarian native to Ebon Eaves. She was never wealthy but made enough hocking her odds and ends (which were always purported to have special qualities) to get by. She traveled quite a bit when she was younger but once had an accident that injured her leg. She had physically recovered, but to endure the pain became addicted to laudanum, which was supplied to her with few questions from Dr. Richmond.

We were seriously having fun just connecting our characters and making all of them part of each other’s lives.

Horror abound

I don’t want to go into the details, because some of these are actual plots in the game itself.  What was wonderful however, was how Mike layered on horrific elements to the mundane, so it was hard to tell which was which. Was there something insidious going on here, or does that guy just not like you.

Towards the end we all decided that we knew too much and tried to undo the damage we had done. But you can’t put the genie (or the old one) back in a bottle. It was too late, we had drawn too much attention to the horror that lurked below, and we had to be silenced. The last scene depicting our final moments was masterful as our characters left behind a few notes and clues, that if found but other people of a curious inclination, would condemn them to our same fate!

Thoughts on this game

I love, love, loved that we never got physical in this game. I think the closed we came was me burning someone with hot coffee to get away.  There as never a point where we said “okay, it’s time to break out the shotguns”. The game was always human, filled with human motivations and reactions… until it wasn’t, and by then it was way to late for all of us.

J and I had this really adorable, if quite awkward romance. It was very nice to see our character recognize their feelings for each other.

Jason was just great playing Winthrop. Despite bitterly hating the way he was treated, he was still Emil’s brother and would not abandon him. Even though we had a chance to run away (or so we thought), Winthrop wouldn’t go without his brother. It was great!

Although I liked the moves, and they seemed very fitting for a Lovecraftian game, I was pretty unhappy with the Health and Sanity track systems. They didn’t reinforce the growing horror of the game. Yes there was a descriptor next to them, and we knew that if the boxes filled up we were done for, but I was never afraid of that, nor did the status indicators really give me much to go on. I was really just responding to the events in the game. I think to make these tracks have some real meat they needed to be turned back into the game. Either by affecting rolls, calling for new moves (maybe the same move you did when you were sane, works much differently when you’re going mad, etc), or some other reinforcing mechanic. As is, they felt just like hit points, which really didn’t thrill me.

Mike is a great horror GM. He really knows how to create an terrible, yet still believable, ever-encroaching doom.