by Scott Dorward
A Poison Tree, which was announced late last year, is an epic campaign for Trail of Cthulhu. This takes the form of a generational saga that spans the globe and 350 years of history. Matthew Sanderson, Paul Fricker and I have been developing it for the last 18 months, and we are now well into internal playtesting. While this isn’t the first campaign we have co-authored, it is the most ambitious in size, scope and structure.
The campaign is made up of seven chapters and eight vignettes, beginning in rural Wales in the seventeenth century, passing through settings as diverse as revolutionary-era Massachusetts, the Welsh settlement of Patagonia, France at the tail end of World War I and Berkeley in the full psychedelic throes of the 1960s, and culminating in world-changing events in the present day. If our playtesting is any indication, this will take around 50 three-hour sessions to play through.
The varied time periods and the strange abilities of the family whose tainted bloodline drives the story have demanded some minor tailoring of the GUMSHOE mechanics. These new options should provide some entertaining twists, even for experienced Trail of Cthulhu players.
A Poison Tree is the fifth book that Paul, Matt and I have worked on together. The fact that we all live within ten miles of each other helps greatly with our collaborations. This allows us to meet in person for regular planning meetings, usually at Buskers, our favourite café in Wolverton.
We divide the writing between us by each of us taking ownership of individual chapters and vignettes. We brainstorm these chapters at our planning meetings, but the owner of each is ultimately responsible for its content.
We also meet weekly to record our podcast (The Good Friends of Jackson Elias) and use this opportunity to discuss how playtesting is going.
Playtesting is the foundation of our development process. We all run the entire campaign for our own groups, making copious notes. This gives each of us a second chance to shape the content of each others’ chapters, based on what we have learned in play. Some of our best ideas come from moments of improvisation at the gaming table. This proves especially useful when one of us discovers a new way to link parts of the campaign together in an unexpected manner. This process means that every part of the campaign is a collaboration between all three of us.
Based on previous experience, by the time the campaign has been through all this planning, testing and honing, actually writing it up will be straightforward, although time-consuming simply because of the sheer size of the project. Once we have done this, it will be ready for third-party playtesting, followed by rewrites based on this feedback.
Growing this Poison Tree is not a fast process. It will be at least another year before we finish our own playtesting, and then another few months to write it all up. The feedback from our internal playtesters has been encouragingly positive so far, and we believe that we are creating something quite unique. We can’t wait to share the fruits with you.