Converting new players to Trail of Cthulhu…and it feels awesome!

The following is a post from the forums by PTiKachu about his experiences running RMS Titanic: The Millionaire’s Special with a group of artists in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Warning: may contain game spoilers, so read at your own risk!


[GUMSHOE] Converting new players to Trail of Cthulhu…and it feels awesome!

So, there is such a thing as new roleplaying gamers in 2013. And now they’re getting hooked onto Trail of Cthulhu.

Left to right: Acap, Zulhilmi, Juan.

Just at the start of this year, I met Zulhilmi and Syafiq, both of whom are animators at Animasia Studio here in Malaysia. Zul and his circle of friends at work had been playing boardgames and cardgames after work for a while now, and after hearing about D&D, they wanted to start it. D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder seemed a bit too complicated, so they settled on 4th Edition. But it’s not always easy to run a game for the first time, even with the newer systems.

Zul contacted me online after hearing about my Malaysian gamer group, Gamers of KL, and expressed interest in D&D. We met up at a friendly local comics shop and I ran a short D&D 4e scenario for Zul and Syafiq. They had a great time, borrowed a couple of my books, and soon they were running 4e games at lunch break in the studio, four times a week.

Four sessions a week. Yeah, these were short sessions, but, oh man, that’s dazzling enthusiasm.

Jump forward to late April. I don’t get much chance to meet Zul in person, as we have different weekend gaming circles. He asks for advice on running a survival horror game for some new players from his studio on May 1 (Labour Day holiday), and asks if I want to try running something as an introduction to roleplaying.

After some discussion, I suggest introducing them to something vastly different from D&D. A type of game that’s been close to my heart of over a decade. Horror and investigation.

* * *

Dear Sir/Madam,

You are cordially invited to a Luncheon with Mr Jefferson Shaw at his Personal Suite on the ‘A’ Deck of the RMS Titanic on 12th April 1912. The Event will feature an Exclusive Unveiling of Rare Artefacts of the Most Stupendous Nature from Egypt, to be delivered to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Delicacies and Beverages to be provided by the Café Parisien.

RSVP. Formal Attire Only. Due to the Macabre Nature of this Unveiling, Small Children and Animals are Not Permitted.

Yrs Truly,
Jefferson Shaw.

Spoilers for the adventure follow.

Here’s a summary of the adventure: All the PCs are first-class passengers on the RMS Titanic on its first (and only) voyage. They are among a group of passengers invited to Jefferson Shaw’s luncheon where he reveals his latest prize, the mummy of an Egyptian priestess, Hettunaway. The mummy, who was a priestess of the Black Pharoah Nephren-Ka, awakens and starts haunting those who gaped at her. Eventually, the ship hits an iceberg and the mummy reanimates fully, walking around in a reanimated body to hunt and kill those she has cursed. All this, while the great ship slowly sinks as the band plays on…

Adam Gauntlett’s written a very straightforward scenario – just one basic mystery (what’s up with that mummy?) and a few NPCs. I did a read-through the night before, printed out some Titanic deck plans and did research on the events of the sinking as well as some key historical figures like Captain Smith, Margaret Brown, John Jacob Astor IV and J. Bruce Ismay.

Trail of Cthulhu is powered by GUMSHOE, which is a pretty simple system to teach new players. Use Investigative Abilities, get clues. Spend Investigative Ability points, get bonus clues. Spend General Abilities and roll a single die to perform other actions like combat and sneaking and swimming (swimming being VERY important!). And that’s it. The Millionaire’s Special adventure came with a bunch of pre-gens, which makes it very convenient for a one-shot with newcomers.

Zul chatted with his friends ahead of time about what kind of pre-gens they would like to play.

Spoiler: Big chat.

I brought all six of the Millionaire’s Special pre-gens and also added Professor Lucas Wright from another scenario, Watchers in the Sky, as one of the new guys, Juan, wanted to play a British gentleman.

* * *

So. It was awesome.

That’s Juan and Syafiq.

I’ve gamed with an awesome RPG artist before, so seeing the events of the session illustrated by a talented artist is not new to me.

Try four artists as players. Zul’s group all drew their portraits onto the character sheets within minutes of the start of the game.

The new players, Acap and Juan, had only played in a single D&D 4e session before. They were enthusiastic and excited and flung themselves into the spirit of their characters right away. Juan in particular was playing the Professor, and decided right away that his wife Gertrude (listed as a source of Stability) should be along for the ride.

That’s Juan’s sketch of Lucas and Gertrude at the top.

The first scene with the unveiling of the mummy set the high-society-dabbling-with-the-supernatural-on-a-doomed-ship tone perfectly. Soon Acap (playing the con man) and Syafiq (playing the adventurous heiress) were having a grand time in the smoking lounge, gambling for Credit Rating points (the 17-year-old heiress won hands down, stealing most of the con man’s money).

We had dinner with high society NPCs like John Jacob Astor and Molly Brown. We had an investigation into third-class decks to find the widow of a previous victim of the mummy. We had ghastly visions of the ship’s fate to come. We had foolhardy spiritualist schemes by Jefferson Shaw, whose electrical seance machine awakened the mummy and led to horrific bloodshed.

At the start of the final tragic two hours of the six-hour session, Zul’s French artist/war veteran and Acap’s con man were locked below decks after being found at the site of Shaw’s murder. Not a good place to be as the iceberg hit and the flares shot into the sky over the ship. They had to break down the door of their cabin and make a desperate deck-by-deck escape as the waters slowly claimed the ship.

The sedate and snail-slow evacuation to the lifeboats gradually turned into a race for survival. The mummy awakened and started appearing all over the ship, killing Shaw’s friends and guests from the luncheon. Syafiq’s heiress secured a place on the first lifeboat thanks to her new friend Molly Brown.

Juan had the most memorable scene of the finale when Professor Lucas Wright, hobbling along at near-zero Stability and Health scores, carried his wife to escape the mummy’s rampage.

Having lost their pursuer (so it seemed), they end up in line for one of the lifeboats. But the mate insists on women and children only. Gertrude is let aboard the boat, but Lucas is pushed back.

Lucas and Gertrude cry out to each other. “Please let him aboard!” “Gertrude!” “Lucas!” The mate interrupts by shouting at the crowd to “let the last woman through…the black haired woman.”

Lucas smells the incense of the mummy Hettunaway. Realisation dawns for all the players simultaneously. A great “oh shit” moment.

Juan wins his “best player of the day” award by urging Gertrude to leave without him. The professor tosses his wedding locket to his wife and falls back into the crowd, never looking away from Gertrude even as the mummy’s arms reach out and pull him away into the shadows…and the lifeboat departs.

Shortly after, we all drew upon our memories of the Titanic film for the imagery of the sinking of the ship. The lights going out…the funnels toppling as the ship snaps in half…and Zul and Acap’s characters make it to the boat deck and start casting the spell to banish Hettunaway just as her lifeboat is about to catch up to the heiress. The mummy returns to dust, and our two heroes are swept into the icy ocean. Despite brave swimming attempts, only Acap’s con man manages to climb onto a wrecked lifeboat and survive.

We had an epilogue scene in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York city, where the professor’s widow, the heiress and the con man decide what to do with the spellbook they found, and our players decide (without my prompting) that their survivors could form the basis of a future Cthulhu campaign…

* * *

A week later, Zul showed me a picture of a work in progress by Juan:

Left to right: Gertrude (NPC), Professor Lucas Wright (Juan), Norton the con man (Acap), Winnifred (Syafiq), Arnaud (Zulhilmi).

And Zul’s going to start running Trail for his group now. Most successful demo session ever!

That, people, is why I love roleplaying games.


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