MUP 18- New Keepers & Blob Monsters

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Keeper Dan
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MUP 18- New Keepers & Blob Monsters

Post by Keeper Dan » Sun Nov 11, 2012 9:17 pm

In Episode 18 we have some news from the Campus Crier, an MU History “Field Trip,” a visit to The Bestiary, and this week’s centerpiece: advice for Keepers who are just starting out.

News:

● Time’s running out for our ongoing contest: Celia’s Cilia Giveaway

In honor of Keeper Jon’s new daughter, Keeper Celia, we’re holding a baby Mythos art contest.
But after the first two weeks, we have only received one single entry! Whaat? Does no one seriously want this lovely copy of the Book of Cthulhu II??

Stories by Laird Barron, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Caitlín R. Kiernan, W.H. Pugmire, Molly Tanzer, Fritz Leiber, Livia Llewellyn, Michael Chabon, Ann K. Schwader and Molly Tanzer. Did we mention Neil Gaiman?

To enter, all you have to do is send us your sketch of a baby Mythos creature – Little Cthulhu, Toddler Formless Spawn, Infant Rat Thing – whatever seizes your imagination.
-Or-
Send us your version of a Mythos creature, as drawn by a child. Crayons and scribbling outside the lines encouraged, but not required.
We’ll pick the top three, and post them on our forum for a final vote from fans.

So, send in your entry (scanned copy, cell photo, etc.) to: contest@mu-podcast.com
Deadline is November 12th

● We’re also announcing Miskatonic University Radio, our live streaming and on-demand service. Drop in on our station as it plays a random shuffle of all of our content 24/7, or select specific show segments like the History Lecture Series, the Special Collections, Bestiaries -- and look out for streaming-only bonus material we’ve got in the pipeline.

● Another shout out to Aethercon, a free online gaming convention coming up right around the corner from November 16 to 18. The event uses the Roll20 system to bring gamers together at a virtual table. Poke around for a game to join! The organizers are still looking for help with Call of Cthulhu character tokens, so get in touch with them if you’re able to contribute a little artwork. You can read more in the Ice Cream Parlor on the Campus forum about this.

● Keeper Jon joins us a little late in the podcast (after taking care of something he mysteriously calls “burping time”), and we talk about places to find good mug shots to use in your games, including the archive of Australian mug shots at the Justice and Police Museum, which are curated in an easier format to find here. Keeper Jon mentions the BBC show Coppers, which has a nifty app that will turn your picture into an old-timey mug shot.

● Some clarification about the Non-Disclosure Agreement for the 7th Edition rules and playtest we’ve been doing behind the scenes – we’re allowed to talk about the rules, but we can’t release them. So we’ll start to mention our thoughts on some of the rules changes on a regular basis – starting with this show!

● Jumping right in, we talk about the new 7th Edition mechanic for bonuses and penalties to a skill check – instead of spelling it out here in the notes, listen to the show for details. All three hosts give this particular new mechanic a hearty thumbs-up!

This week’s Miskatonic University Lecture is another Field Trip, this time from MU graduate student H.G. Bukowski, reporing from Texas on the mysterious Saratoga Lights.

This week’s Bestiary covers the amorphous, brutish and deadly shoggoths – the hired thugs of the Mythos world.

Keeper Dan cleverly ties the flavor of licorice to the Mythos, and Keeper Jon posits that “10 percent of a shoggoth is Pine Sol.”

You’ll have to listen to the show to find out why.

We play a mysterious recording of what might be the call of a shoggoth…

Keeper Dan mentions a shoggoth-like creature in the Dean Koontz novel Phantoms.

Keeper Chad mentions the Shoggoth Lords, which are explored in a Michael Shea novelette called Fat Face.

Keeper Jon proposes a Lava Shoggoth, which would be like Horta from Star Trek.

Our main show topic this week was inspired by a forum post by Cthulhugh, who asked for some basic advice for new Keepers who are facing their first sessions from behind the screen.

Keeper Jon suggests that since Call of Cthulhu is a story-based game, new Keepers in particular should make sure that player characters will be a good fit for the adventure at hand.

Keeper Chad suggests asking players who insist on playing unusual character types (tribal fishermen of the world, you know who you are) to define for themselves how their concept fits with the story. Veto if needed.

Keeper Dan suggests providing a framework within the story to unify characters, like an investigative group or a family connection.

We talk about working with your group on how strike the right tone in the game, working with players’ preferences and tastes. Jon says in con games, there’s only so much customizing that can be done, so it’s good to set the tone in a blurb for the conference sign-up site or catalogue, so the players will self-select for according to their interests.

Jon suggests that new Keepers play Call of Cthulhu at conventions with experienced Keepers to get a feel for how to run a game. Keeper Chad mentions a scenario he played in at RinCon in Tucson run by Jason Corley from Pulp Gamer, which helped to re-ignite his interest in running horror scenarios.

The encoded message that Dan mentions has been found and can be seen here.

We would also love to hear your ideas for topics for us to talk about. Send us a note directly, or go to the Campus forum with your ideas!

Here is the discussion thread on the Campus forum, and this is the discussion thread for this podcast posted on the Yog-Sothoth forums.
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Re: MUP 18- New Keepers & Blob Monsters

Post by Cthuhugh » Tue Nov 13, 2012 4:10 am

What a great episode!

Thanks for putting up for discussion my suggestion for a topic-I and I’m sure others got a lot from the podcast.

I haven’t run my first game yet for a couple of reasons, the first reason being my gaming group is a bit big at the moment ,any session would have 6 players and I. The thought of having to ask a couple of them to step away for a few sessions has me balking.

Another reason is my group tends to dick around a lot when we play 4e, that’s not the vibe I want when we play CoC. I guess I’ll have to lay down some ground rules like “put away your f&*^ing mobile phone” and “stop talking about the latest movie you saw during a scene of high terror”. That sort of thing.

I hope I don’t end up coming across as a tyrant. :x
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Re: MUP 18- New Keepers & Blob Monsters

Post by Eibon » Tue Nov 13, 2012 1:34 pm

One of the best things you can do to prepare for a session, is to make yourself a list of names. Get a lined foolscap sheet and divide it vertically into three, then fill each of the "boxes" created with an ordinary name. I used to use a phonebook for this, but they are less useful these days, but you can get names from other sources: film and TV credits (the technicians, not famous actors); magazines and so on. I'm currently using a list derived from a 1937 issue of The Radio Times (a British Radio/TV listings magazine). You can include first names, or initials, that's up to you. Don't feel bound by the original's gender. Once you've filled the page, keep it to hand. Then when your players ask what's the name of the second under-footman, or what the local beat officer's name is, the kind of character that you wouldn't normally worry about, rather than having to think on-the-hop, you just look at your list and pick a name, put a check beside the name so you don't re-use it unknowingly and give the name to the players. It really looks like you named the NPC in advance. Also make a note of the NPC and their name just in case they reoccur in a campaign. Once you've used all the names on the list, just make yourself a new list.

I don't think you do have to plan everything out in advanced for an enjoyable adventure, but what you do need to know is what the villain's goal is and what their plan is to achieve that goal. If the players do nothing, then the villain's plan will run to course, but if the players disrupt the plan, the villain must modify the plan to achieve the goal. This can be as simple as finding a new source for a material or resource needed for the plan, or as extreme as sending people/things to kill the players so they can't interfere any more. This mindset allows the players a great deal of freedom, while the adventure will adjust to their actions because the villain should be modifying their actions accordingly.

I'm not a fan of the suggested 7th Edition rule about getting information at a cost if you fail rolls. It feels like a technical solution to what is largely a non-problem, and one that, in the example given in their talk, feels unrealistic: that thugs appear from nowhere to make life difficult when you fail roles, just feels clumsy. I admit I've not seen this played out in a game, so maybe it does work, but from what I've heard, its not one of the rules that excites me.

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Re: MUP 18- New Keepers & Blob Monsters

Post by Nvision » Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:02 pm

Eibon wrote:One of the best things you can do to prepare for a session, is to make yourself a list of names. Get a lined foolscap sheet and divide it vertically into three, then fill each of the "boxes" created with an ordinary name.
Such a great suggestion, and something easily overlooked. Nothing can break the tension quite like searching for a name for a random character and coming up with something like "John Smith." I still do this from time to time, and I should really know better...

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Re: MUP 18- New Keepers & Blob Monsters

Post by Dr. Gerard » Tue Nov 13, 2012 11:56 pm

Eibon wrote:One of the best things you can do to prepare for a session, is to make yourself a list of names.
Yes, having a name sheet is an excellent tip! I had actually written something about names in my notes, but failed to mention during the show taping.

I like to use this baby name site to gather period-specific first names. I do up three lists, one for young, one for middle-aged, and one for elderly. So if you were doing a classic era game set in 1925, pick ten names from the 1915 list (10 years old but works for teens), ten from the 1895 (for 30 years old but covers the middle), and ten from 1880 for elderly (it only goes back that far). For last names, phone books are great, or you can use genealogy sites for specific areas. Ship registers are great for immigrant names, too.

I also think it's fun to pick a few last names out of Lovecraft's work (Tillinghast, Pickman etc.), or steal names from scenarios that are set in the same era and region. If you're in a campaign, you might be able to tie NPCs from different adventures together that way.
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Re: MUP 18- New Keepers & Blob Monsters

Post by Dr. Gerard » Wed Nov 14, 2012 12:26 am

Cthuhugh wrote:What a great episode!

Thanks for putting up for discussion my suggestion for a topic-I and I’m sure others got a lot from the podcast.

I haven’t run my first game yet for a couple of reasons, the first reason being my gaming group is a bit big at the moment ,any session would have 6 players and I. The thought of having to ask a couple of them to step away for a few sessions has me balking.

Another reason is my group tends to dick around a lot when we play 4e, that’s not the vibe I want when we play CoC. I guess I’ll have to lay down some ground rules like “put away your f&*^ing mobile phone” and “stop talking about the latest movie you saw during a scene of high terror”. That sort of thing.

I hope I don’t end up coming across as a tyrant. :x
Yeah, managing the whole social vibe can be a real challenge. Some groups (or players) just want to hang out, and the game is kind of an afterthought. It's easier to get away with that mood in non-horror games, which require less suspension of disbelief from players. But when you switch the same group from 4E to CoC, it might be harder to keep them on track.

Not that I'm really such an expert, but here are my suggestions:

1. Change venue. Even if it's a matter of switching tables or changing rooms, I think a different setting might help shift the mood.

2. Use creepy music. There's a couple of great threads on YSDC for suggestions -- PM me if you want some help throwing a playlist together. I think a little background music helps create a constant reminder to stay on track.

3. Adjust the lighting. Brightly lit on the table and dark in the background is a great way to keep the focus centered on the game. It's how poker games and pool tables are classically lit, and for good reason.

4. Use props. When you make good paper props, it signals to players that you've put some thought and work into the game. Even A-D-D players will recognize the effort and (maybe) rise to the occasion.

5. Manage the group size. Yeah, I know you've got a lot of players who want to play, but I really suggest keeping it capped at 4 players if at all possible. 4 seems to be a sweet spot for maintaining mood. With 6, you're bound to get side conversations because it feels more like a party, and distracting pop-culture chat will inevitably break out. It's just nerd herd behavior.

6. I think a "no gadgets" rule at the table is perfectly reasonable. It's totally distracting, and people who are tweeting or texting or browsing during sessions just don't know how much they're taking away from the immersion. There's usually one or two that are particularly distract-able with devices in hand. I hate being a dictator at games, too -- but if you announce it at the beginning, hopefully your players will respect that you're just trying to make the game more engaging.

Hope that helps. I doubt very much that your players will think you're a tyrant, anyway.
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Re: MUP 18- New Keepers & Blob Monsters

Post by Dr. Gerard » Wed Nov 14, 2012 7:57 pm

Eibon wrote:I'm not a fan of the suggested 7th Edition rule about getting information at a cost if you fail rolls. It feels like a technical solution to what is largely a non-problem, and one that, in the example given in their talk, feels unrealistic: that thugs appear from nowhere to make life difficult when you fail roles, just feels clumsy. I admit I've not seen this played out in a game, so maybe it does work, but from what I've heard, its not one of the rules that excites me.
Ok, with due respect to a veteran Keeper, I'd like to push back a little here. I obviously can't say I've had tons of experience with this rule yet, but I'd urge you to give it a chance. I've been exploring a similar mechanic in the rules-light system Cthulhu Dark, which calls for players to roll to determine the degree of their success for a given action instead of pass/fail. A low (unfavorable) result means the action is successful, but there are consequences. It's not always easy to render those consequences without distasteful contrivances, but generally I find it to be a fun exercise as a Keeper to imagine a result that has a dark undertone. You escape into the forest, but you leave a trail behind. You speed away in your car, but you run out of gas a mile away. You find what you're looking for at the library, but you realize while you were engrossed in research, the librarians closed up and locked the door for the night. Recently Keeper Jon rolled unfavorably for a tracking roll in a Himalaya adventure. So I decided to double the intensity of a snowstorm. This one ruling has given rise to so much delightful story (for me, anyway) and new hurdles for the characters -- all stuff that wasn't written into my scenario outline.

I don't know about thugs showing up. That seems like it's not the most creative example. And I'm not sure how to make it work with idea rolls. Feeding players a half-baked idea to act upon seems like it might get a bit silly. But I like having a failed result spark interesting consequences. In the standard practice of yore, the result of failure in investigation is that "nothing happens"; if you missed a Spot Hidden, crickets chirp, and characters bumble around the room like bland Inspectors Clouseau. In the new way, you find the hidden diary, but perhaps it's wedged behind a book case and footsteps are coming down the hall. Failure generates more story, not less.

It seems that many Keepers over the years have made this a non-issue by applying some common sense in storytelling. Fair enough. But I can testify that many Keepers in the past have not employed such a workaround for stuck stories. Or perhaps they have been disinclined to do so when running a game on the fly. I also think there's a competing school of thought about the generosity of clue-giving; that one gets what one's dice gives one, that it's up to players to think and role play their way out of a tough investigation. In this way, finding clues and arriving at the correct conclusions could be harder-won and therefore more rewarding.

I actually see the merits of that argument, but have learned that it's not for me.

Very curious to hear more of your thoughts on this, Mr. Eibon. This seems like good stuff for discussion on the show.
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Re: MUP 18- New Keepers & Blob Monsters

Post by Nvision » Wed Nov 14, 2012 9:16 pm

Dr. Gerard wrote: In the standard practice of yore, the result of failure in investigation is that "nothing happens"; if you missed a Spot Hidden, crickets chirp, and characters bumble around the room like bland Inspectors Clouseau.
Awesome and incredibly evocative illustration, there! :lol: Although it not a common occurrence, there are times when players will utterly fail rolls or just blank out and I'll be at a loss for a workaround outside of employing an idea roll. I had my group of hardened investigators searching through the house of a suspected ne'er-do-well and they were thorough in their search...of the main floor and basement. Key clues were placed on the second floor and I had assumed they'd get to them, but they seemed to think they'd garnered enough clues (read "assumptions") already. On their way out of the house I called for listen rolls, planning to have some scrabbling rats (already in evidence elsewhere) raise a ruckus above them. Everyone failed miserably, and I couldn't conceive of another way to guide them up there that didn't feel either contrived or railroad-y. I subsequently found a workaround, but the suggestion that they still might have heard the rats and found the clues, but subsequently been attacked by those same rats, would have been a great way to deal with it.

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Re: MUP 18- New Keepers & Blob Monsters

Post by trevlix » Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:24 pm

Great episode as always. Some random thoughts that came to my mind as I was listening:

- The discussion on the Saratoga Lights brought to mind the novel The Gore by Joseph Citro (another great horror writer that isn't that well known). I won't give away anything, but if you liked the theories behind the lights you'll like this book (and its a good suspense horror novel).

- Shoggoths rule. :) The mimicry of the shoggoths reminded me of the novel The Ruins. (Read the book - from what I understand the movie is nothing like it.)

- I love that you brought up that shoggoths can be made of other material, like lava, etc. I wrote a scenario where a shoggoth is composed of acid. Not a happy day for the investigators.

- Great advice for newbie keepers. I 100% agree on going to cons to play games. Not only does it give you a chance to play the games (which may be the only chance some of us get), you get to see different perspectives on how to run games. Its almost as if you could dedicate an entire segment for advice on how to run con games... :)
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Re: MUP 18- New Keepers & Blob Monsters

Post by trevlix » Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:29 pm

Dr. Gerard wrote:... A low (unfavorable) result means the action is successful, but there are consequences. It's not always easy to render those consequences without distasteful contrivances, but generally I find it to be a fun exercise as a Keeper to imagine a result that has a dark undertone. You escape into the forest, but you leave a trail behind. You speed away in your car, but you run out of gas a mile away. ...
I've recently been reading through the Monster of the Week RPG and they have something similar to this rule as well. If the players flub a roll, the action still happens but there are negative consequences. I can see how it would work well, but I think its something that you don't have to use in all cases. To me, this is a Keepers tool, not a requirement. If you keep throwing negative things at players when they fail the rolls, eventually they'll stop doing things for those rolls.

I should state that I was on the initial 7th Ed beta, but not the most recent revisions. I do have some issues with some of the rules that I read (the chase rules come to mind), but I do not know what has been revised and what has not.
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