Monday, January 27, 2014


I have been trying to write this down for some time now. Waiting doesn't help. It just comes down to a slow building rage instead of uncontrolled ranting. So I decided to get it out of my system for good. Not even a fucking safeword could have helped with this one ...

Entering a world of pain

Story time!* When we arrived at the convention (yes, the one I was talking about), we wanted to do one thing: play. It didn't matter that much what we were to play, as long as we weren't ending up with Das Schwarze Auge (The Black Eye) or Shadowrun. Needless to say, those were the go-to systems for the majority of the games offered. Anyway, Cthulhu was a distant third in what was offered and a supported game was about to start soon. I like Cthulhu, but never got to play a lot of it, so that's where we went.

Two guys were already sitting at the assigned table: a small guy and a big guy. I somehow assumed Big Guy was to be the DM. He wasn't. Small Guy was and happened to be one of the worst DMs I've ever had the pleasure to encounter. For the few hours that we were stranded at his table he did behave as stoned by his power as you might expect from a spoiled and very small dog that knows he has backup.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the set up. Somewhere in New England people drove with a bus through a forest and went missing on the way. Our pregens were a taxi driver (Big Guy), a Doctor (a good friend of mine that had decided to join me at the convention, let's call him Mr. B.), a jazz musician (some other guy that joined the game late) and a p. i. (lucky me). We all had lost people on route and took that bus to find out what happened to them, so we incidentally were all in the same bus. There were no other passengers, the only NPC was the bus driver.

Long story (somewhat) short: we drove into a mysterious fog and the bus driver stopped at a fork in the road he had never seen before. He turned the bus to drive back just to arrive at the same fork again. Nice players that we are, we started experimenting with the situation. We altered the scene (leaving cigarette butts, kicking a road sign down, stuff like that ...), turned around, arrived again at the same fork and found it untouched. We explored the surroundings and had to use ropes connected to the bus, because the strange fog kept making us dizzy. Nothing worked. It was frustrating.

I think it was the 10th time we had ended up at that fork when Mr. B. talked about climbing up a tree. He didn't have the skill, though and he kept looking at me, pregnant with meaning. Well, he had seen that my character had freaking 65 (!) % at climbing (for the uninitiated: the base value for the unlearned skill is 40%). I guess I had it coming.

For the use of the skill climbing, the rulebook assumes a flat surface. Furthermore (again, quoting from the rules) is a character with a 50% skill or more able to make a living with that skill. So my character was almost a professional climber in that regard. Trained on flat surfaces. Not trees. Trees are fuckin' easy ... Anyway.

Of course I had to roll for climbing the tree.

Of course I failed the roll (and 3 others that might have saved me ...). Broke a leg while doing so, too.

The best of it? It was a dead end. The DM knew it was a dead end (or had decided so before I had declared my intention to climb a tree). There was no drama in it, no real value for the game. And he did realize the truth of that as he saw me failing big time. Right there is your proof, if you needed any. I'm pretty sure he had to fudge the results of the damage roll, too. It's hard to bullshit a bullshitter. I saw what he did, hiding behind his screen.

So that was that, my character was crippled and, because the doc had some morphine to share, rather stoned. On we went between identical forks. But to mix things up we encounter a bus stop in the middle of nowhere with a guy standing there waiting for the bus. The bus driver didn't know that stop, but wanted to let the guy in nonetheless. We saw that plot point and intervened. Had to outright force the DM/bus driver to not open the door. I was ready to shoot someone, but it didn't come to that. Needless to say that we did encounter that bus stop again some time later. As if we were to change our mind about it ...

More strangeness was about to happen. Still between forks, and yet for the first time, we find an abandoned car in the woods near the road. There are signs of a fight and a blood trail. Sanity loss was unavoidable. We were about to ignore that noise and thought about driving some more around, when our bus driver got killed. Nothing to do about it but listening to Small guy describing it. Saw what did it, too (a small frog, obviously). But we couldn't catch it (although from the positioning of the characters as I remember it, it should have been possible to do something).

In the end we were left with no choice but following that blood trail. We took all the gasoline we could get and did just that. We did it quite cautious, securing our way back to the bus and all that. At the end of the path given, we found a house surrounded by thousands of those frogs. Some gasoline later we had a fine 2 by 2 meter burned path through that. You wouldn't believe how difficult it got to go those two meters. Lost one player while doing so. All the good ideas and preparation aside, the DM wanted to see someone dead. And made it happen.

It was nearing the end. Not much to do but exploring that house a bit. Some candles, a bed, a chest that made some scratching noise, a pedestal with an open book on it and a cellar door. We ignored the chest after checking for sentient life by knocking at it and asking if somebody was in there (with an option to burn it later ...).

Next was the book. We even got a handout. I looked at it and the flavour text in connection with the symbols on it (variations of F and T) let me to believe this was showing the pattern one had to use the forks with (you know, left, left, right, left, right, something like that) to get out of this mess. I said so to the group and the DM dismissed it officially (that is, stating in answer to a direct question from another player what I was talking about), that I was just talking crazy. Well, it turned out later that it had been the way out all along. But at that time it was to late to do anything about it.

We soldiered on.

To the cellar door we went. I positioned myself guarding the door (I was no use for anything else, after all) and Mr. Jazz opened the door to get swarmed by hundreds of rats. Again with the sanity loss. In the cellar we see a pile of corpses and we decide there is nothing to be done here but torching the place and leave. Some gasoline later we had a nice fire in the cellar, going for the slow burn to have enough time to carry my sorry ass out of there. The DM decision was to let the fire spread very fast. Contrary to what we intended to do. Anyway, away we went.

Again with the frogs. We used the bed and blankets. One more dead player and as soon as we are out there, we realize the forest around us is burning, too. So Mr. Jazz had the (rather brilliant) idea that the fire in the cellar and the fire in the woods are connected to the book. He goes back, takes the book from the pedestal it was lying on and ... dies. There was, of course, a death trap beneath it.

I was the last man standing. Admittedly only on one leg, but there I was. I knew I had to die, too. So my character sat down, lid a cigarette and did what he was expected to do ...

The DMs final words where some praise. We did solve the mystery alright, but we had to die nonetheless. All the groups he did this with before had died, too, so there is no shame in it. That's what Cthulhu is supposed to be like, you know.

This is, of course, bullshit.

Never bother with the story behind this. It's negligible. But this had been an official adventure, aimed to introduce new players to the game. I don't know what they were thinking. If there were to be an official entry in a dictionary what railroad means (there isn't, by the way), it would show a summary of this adventure. It's an utter fail and the people who wrote it should give the money back they got for doing it.

But that Dungeon Master was even worse. At times I felt like Walter in The Big Lebowski ...

You know what I mean? This was a supported game. As official as it gets. This guy fed us his bullshit and even went as far as boasting with how deadly his games are. It makes me angry and that really doesn't happen often. A bad adventure does not necessarily ruin a game, but a bad Dungeon Master will do it all the time.

The game can't do nothing about it

What can be done about stuff like this? Nothing, I guess. But sometimes I wonder. A referee in a soccer game will be trained and if he's no good, he won't be in official games (I know that's making it a bit easy ...). And our hobby is so big, it should be possible to avoid stuff like this. Maybe it needs a turing test for DMs. I mean (and i just can't get over it), the guy was representing and if I were to believe his antisocial behaviour was a direct result of how the game is to be played, I'd never touch it again ...

But I don't want to be one of those angry people, talking about elites all the time. Live and let live, I say. Cthulhu is a fine game. The atmosphere was right and the rules, well, the rules leave room for interpretation.

So the two things I could take with me from that abomination of a game were that skill checks should only be used if somehow relevant to the game and loss of sanity should not be a punishment, but the price you pay for willingly facing the dark side.

This hobby of ours leaves room for a lot of bad behaviour and as long as those that publish the games we play try to earn an earnest buck with it, they won't write in their books that it is possible to play this games wrong or that you more than likely will be bad at it, at least in the beginning. They won't tell you that you have to invest into it to get the full benefit of it.

If you take it serious, you will work on your skills, be it as a DM or a player. But the work is yours to do and the freedom to do so by yourself always means you might as well ignore it and do as you please. I'm trying hard here to believe that there is nothing wrong with that and those things sort themselves out easy enough.

I'm glad I could get this poison out of my system. Sorry to bother you all with this.

*Based on events that happened to yours truly. I will be unfair in this and I believe it is well deserved. But see for yourselves ...

1 comment:

  1. I hate being asked to make a skill check when it should be automatic success!

    I ran Death Frost Doom recently, assuming that it would probably end in a TPK, possibly really quickly. Instead the players just kept making their rolls and coming up with great solutions to problems on the fly. Finally did get 1 PC in the final chase though!


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