This week, my online game group started planning our next game -- a very film-noir inspired Cthulhu Dark game set in 1920s Los Angeles. I have the excellent Call of Cthulhu sourcebook Secrets of Los Angeles to draw on, which is filled with pretty much everything you could want for a campaign like this. Some of the conversation that led us to this game made me think about some of the changes in underlying assumptions that gamers of various vintages (or perhaps system preferences) carry around with them.
When the group met via Google Hangout, we had already decided that a Cthulhu game would be a good fit. Since I've got a bunch of sourcebooks and adventures on my shelves for CoC and no regular opportunity to play them, I knew I wouldn't be short of material. I had a quick look at my shelves and mentioned some of the "flavours" of game we could play -- I was more interested in playing a game of our own creation than a pre-written adventure, although Chaosium and Pelgrane Press produce astoundingly high quality material.
The first thing my friend Dave said was something like "I think I speak for all of us when I say we're cool with whatever kind of game you want to run."
That's a very kind and humbling thing for a GM to hear -- it's always nice to know that your players trust you, and are willing to follow your lead. On reflection, there was a part of me that was startled to be speaking with players who didn't have an expectation going in that they would be working in more of a collaborative capacity to build the game. For me, this sort of thing happens so often in our games now that I don't think about it much. I assume there will be give and take on what kind of characters and precisely what kind of story we're going to play.
Back in the day, and among more traditional gamers, I think there was more of an attitude of letting the GM make the most important decisions about the game. The GM might buy an adventure, or a sourcebook, and think "Aha! I know just what I'd do with this..." and off you'd go. The players would take that starting point and make characters who fit that mold. I remember running a long-term Forgotten Realms game largely off the City of Raven's Bluff sourcebook.
After some talking back and forth about the merits of doing a traditional Cthulhu game set in Arkham, or one set in New York or Los Angeles, I asked which one of those appealed to the players most. Did someone have an idea for something that could fit into one of those settings? After some chatter, my friend Jeff suggested he thought it might be cool to play a Howard Hughes type aviation guy / zillionaire in 20's L.A.; I agreed that was a great starting point, and could already see the possibilities.
(Notice the difference -- in the Forgotten Realms game, I started with the source material and worked from there, whereas in our current game I went with the material which best served the story ideas we came up with together.)
Dave pitched a corrupt cop character, and Steve said he'd like to play a journalist. These are pretty classic Cthulhu character concepts, and they fit well into the setting; I could see a classic problem coming, however -- CoC is notorious for having character concepts that don't necessarily have a great reason to work together. My next line of questioning was what the connections between the characters were.
Jeff's character is wealthy enough that they could certainly be employees, and that worked well enough, but I was after a deeper connection. These needed to be guys who trusted each other implicitly, who would stick together under fire. Otherwise, they could always walk away from whatever crisis I threw at them. I suggested that maybe they knew each other from the Great War. Always a good hook for the 1920s.
There was general agreement that this would be a cool way to go, and later we discussed them having done a secret mission behind enemy lines where they had already encountered something weird and scary together. (This may have been Dave's idea.) I thought that was a great idea.
Tomorrow, I'll talk about how we came up with deeper character conflicts, and how we collectively developed the idea of the initial murder which will kick off the game.