View Full Version : CoC Open World Problems

Zeke Blackburn
08-05-2013, 03:58 PM
I run a Call of Cthulhu game every weekend for the past 9 months, and I've come to the conclusion that I just cant have an effective thriller if it's not linear. I've tried presenting my PC's with a mystery, then setting them loose in a city, but they just end up bamboozled for about 45 minutes, completely sapping away the energy from the game, before deciding on the least subtle solution possible.

At least that's been my experience. Is there something I'm doing wrong? Is there a way to kind of Half railroad the PC's? How could I discourage that without flat out telling them what to do?

For example:
The campaign started out with an old friend, Betty Goodman, contacting the group. She used to be professor at the college the investigators studied at/worked at, before she disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Years later, she sent out a letter urging her former colleagues to come to her aid. Evidently, she joined a secret order dedicated to hunting down dark artifacts and keeping back the tide of black magic, and she hunted this one man, Erwin Scholtz, across the globe and finally cornered him at his residence in this secluded community out in the middle of Nebraska somewhere, just a rural area really.

The bad guy, Scholtz, was your stereotypical obvious bad guy, the German doctor with burns covering his body, and legs so mangled they have to be supported by braces and a cane, not to mention this whole dark magic thing. So the PC's get to the mansion and it's booby trapped with all sorts of awesome spell traps and guarded by mysterious creatures. The front room was protected by man-eating flies that explode from these corpses hanging from the ceiling, the coat room has strange teleporting glyphs, good stuff, and the PC's loved it. It came time for the big confrontation, and in the end, Scholtz is on the floor bleeding out when the PC's find out that he was the good guy the whole time, and that he's been stopping the local cult from summoning Shudde M'ell, and with his last breath, he tells the investigators that, in order to stop the ritual, They'd have to either steal or destroy a certain artifact before the end of the month.

Here's where things go awry:
I was expecting the PC's to do one of two things. 1) Sneak into the poor quarters of town, gather information, interrogate head cultists, etc; essentially bide their time and sneak the artifact out of town in the quietest way possible or 2) enact a campaign of terror against the cultists; doing things like burning down an abandoned house to lure them to one side of town, then do a smash and grab on the head quarters to get the artifact, maybe unite the impoverished side of town and incite rebellion to keep them distracted, anything to screw with the ritual itself.

What actually happened is that they had a 45 minute staring contest waiting for somebody to make a suggestion, then they walked out of the mansion, went down the road, barred the doors to the local church and BURNED IT TO THE GROUND...
Because THAT was the ONLY idea they had because ONE TIME in a previous scenario, the church turned out to be evil.

This of course brings every cop, cultist and even civilian down on their head as they dash back up to the mansion and lock themselves back inside.

Let me make this clear: it wasn't the Esoteric Order of Dagon they were burning down, it was a church of Jesus Christ. They didn't get the artifact, they didn't stop the ritual, and they didn't save the day.

The game ended with them cowering in the basement of the mansion as the police raid the place trying to find them, all the while this giant Chthonian is being birthed just down the street.

09-05-2013, 04:54 AM
Sounds like you need new players!

Sometimes campaigns just don't work out. That said, it seems like you question here is "Can I have a non-linear thriller?" To answer your question, I direct you towards White Wolf's SAS Starte Kit at http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/62239/SAS-Support-Kit-%28standard-version%29 (Currently free, but you do have to sign up)

Thier approach is to set up the scenes (Meeting with Betty Goodman, Traveling to the Scholtz Mansion, Inside the Mansion, Hunting for the Cultists, etc) on a flowchart, and if the party becomes bored or confused to offer ways to get them back on the loose rails (An Idea roll may be appropriate in this case). Each event still plays out, but You can set up events on the flowchart that don't have to take place in eact order.

I don't run horror very often, but I think that a truly non-linear horror campaign couldn't work, since pacing and keeping the party scared would be impossible if they can just go back to some safe point and rest, but I haven't honestly explored this myself.


04-26-2014, 02:04 AM
Having lived in Nebraska I see nothing wrong with this scenario. We used to burn down churches all the time, because it is just dreadfully boring there. Them giant chthonian things are as common as prairie dogs so don't sweat it bro.

Problem is that you are being to subtle. Sure players don't want to be railroaded, but this lot needs direction. The key is to be less subtle about where things are going, and at the same time make them think they came up with the plan. Not railroading, but maybe some spoon feeding, and if they wonder to far afield herd them back, or let the towns folk get eaten by giant evil prairie dogs.

04-30-2014, 10:32 PM
I have a veteran CoC GM friend (far more veteran than me) and he also ran Warhammer FRP. You'd think someone like him would know better, and be more "fluid" and helping move an adventure along, but because burning things down IS often the solution in a lot of "evil residue" scenarios, be they CoC or fantasy games, his response in games that I run is also often "I burn it down". Sadly, in a lot of cases, it IS the correct thing to do and it's hard to fault someone, even if that isn't the intended solution given in most games. Yes you could attach consequences and such, but it really DOES cut through a lot of things. And like I said, he very well knew how that sort of short-circuits adventures, since he IS a GM, but is also extremely efficient.

Another example, less drastic but still infuriating: a player took a door off its hinges and found the sacred tome by pure luck that he shouldn't have had any idea was there, and just stole it, effectively kneecapping the other 3/4 of the whole adventure where the evil distant relative performed the evil rite to summon Thingabuggoth. Yes I *could* have ruled it wasn't there or he got caught and such, but I was really pretty impressed with his combination of luck and innovation I would have felt like a heel for "punishing" such a creative solution (though it could be argued ended the game abruptly is more punishment to the players). in short: man, I just don't know.

05-01-2014, 09:49 AM
I have run into the same problem with two different groups using two completely different settings and my conclusion is that is has nothing to do with the GM, it is the players. I have seen even very experienced players go into complete vapor lock when presented a fully open sandbox campaign. Players may howl about being railroaded, but I have yet to find a group that knows what to do if not led around by the nose. I'm sure there are some groups out there that can handle the terrifying freedom of the sandbox, but I haven't met them yet.

It seems to me you had a good idea, a good hook, and a well planned sandbox adventure. However, you players simply weren't prepared to be "Un-railroaded" and thus resorted to the only thing their previous gaming experiences had shown them. It is a well known fact that for soldiers, police, firefighters and other professions that have to face life threatening decisions will perform as trained in those situations, automatically and without thinking. It is a further fact that untrained people in those same situations will almost certainly panic. I believe your players simply found themselves in that life threatening situation, and as they were untrained in sandbox gaming, they panicked.

It is my firm belief that while 100% of gamers will decry being railroaded in RPG adventures, 95% of them wouldn't know what to do in a sandbox adventure but cry. Do not fault yourself, just put down a roadbed over that beautiful sand and start laying the rails your players claim to hate, but like the train that rolls along on them, have no idea how to operate without.

05-02-2014, 04:55 PM
While I agree about the sandbox suggestions and major hints being needed, there is another problem...

The GM.

I'm not saying this as a BAD thing!!! You are doing fine! The problem is that YOU are answering the questions.

"How do we figure out how to get the artifact?" _YOU_ came up with the answer - and then expected the PC's to choose one of your two, carefully scripted options. The problem is that many - if not MOST - players do NOT think like their GM. In a sandbox game, Morpheus asks Neo to take the red or blue pill... expecting Neo to take the red or blue pill. The problem is that in sandbox, there's nothing to stop Neo from smashing his fist into Morpheus' face and ripping apart that pretty red chair and crushing BOTH pills into the dirt.

You have to start over and ask how the PARTY would solve the next problem presented. You can't come up with the "obvious" answers, because they may not think they are so obvious.

Good luck!

05-03-2014, 09:35 PM
I agree with this, and though it seems like one of those no-brainer type answers where the GM says "Sure, *some* players might do that" or in certain situations, but not to that extent, etc. But that GM is wrong because that IS the nature of the player. I love the idea of games as emulating cinematics and movies, and rules lite stuff, but as much as I do try to follow the framework of GM as director and players as actors, that analogy can only work up to a certain point.

The players are NOT actors because they are NOT in on various secrets. The players are also not the audience, because they have more game-specific knowledge and a peek at the directorial side of things, but not as much overall information as the audience does, who gets to see the fadeouts and quick cuts to the villain's lair. That leaves the players in a much different role than the GM or a director or an actor - a role absolutely unique to RPGs - RPG players. The ROLE of "Player" (capital P) is the entity that controls and informs one's character within the game. This is NOT the same role as "player" (lowercase p), who the entire gaming group is made of, including the GM. So just like one of a group's "players" becomes a "GM", the other players become "Players", which are equally essential roles to an RPG and carries with it its own unique dynamics outside the dynamics of a group of people playing a game.

If you are able to grasp the division between player/Player and that characters are controlled by Players, and write not only for the characters in-game but for the Players (not the players), but with the equally important mindset that you must ALSO take account of each player's own needs and desires, you can better predict and write for your group. For example, a player, Ned, wants to have fun. Hopefully all players do. Ned as a player, enjoys deep roleplaying and dialogue, while Susie might excel at puzzle solving or political maneuvering, while Seth might mainly involve himself because he's friends with everyone, he doesn't have anything better to do and enjoys hacking imaginary things into smaller, unmoving imaginary things. The way these players achieve these goals are the essence of what the Players are - the player's general tendencies often govern how they play, but not always, because sometimes a player will surprise oneself and others by choosing an entirely different goal for a session or period of time. The other hard part is that this new goal may be unfamiliar to one, and that player's usual playstyle may have trouble getting the kind of enjoyment usually obtained by playing the traditional way, which makes the Player aspect extremely hard to predict or write for.