I finally got to play Call of Cthulhu. 7th edition. Six players. I dropped in on the second session of a continuing adventure. And if I caught it right, the Keeper was brand new at running games. I was surprised at how well it worked. There were moments where everyone was struggling, but the strength of the system and the adventure premise more than made up for it. Everyone seemed to be into each new development even in the context of a really noisy game store.
I’ve made some many rpg characters over the years and I’ve noticed that somehow, it is a completely different thing when you’re doing it for an actual game with an actual group sitting right there. Here’s how this one played out:
1) I open up by saying I want to play a “redneck” bootlegger.
2) Another player says they could actually use somebody that can drive, but points out that this all takes place in rural Vermont.
3) I say I could be Willie McCoy– the “South Alabama Country Boy” that got ripped off by Leroy Brown. I’ve come North looking for him.
4) Keeper says he could use that sort of backstory… and there’s nother new character that could fit with that theme.
5) I insist on rolling the dice for attributes. I end up with 17 for Strength and really low score for Constitution. This is both awesome and funny at once– the character starts to take on a life of his own!
While the Keeper was recounting the events of the last session, I was painstakingly allocating my skill points. I felt bad about it because I didn’t want to drag things down. The other new guy had a pre-gen and was role-playing stuff out while I was sitting there crunching numbers. But here’s the thing. The guy did not like his pregen. He’d changed the character’s sex from female to male, so there was friction with that from the beginning. Midway through the session both he and the Keeper realized that the skill point allocations absolutely did not make any sense. So they paused the game and swapped things around. Even after doing that, the character still did not “feel” right. Whatever time we “saved” from using a pregen was not worth it because of this frustration.
Meanwhile, another guy at the table is playing a guy named Shaggy. With a dog named Scoopy that the Keeper worked up for him. Every scene this guy was involved in was fun, everything he did made sense and rang true. Me? Not so much. I had this idea to be sort of a Cool Hand Luke or something. Not book smart, but an extremely good judge of character. Perceptive. Charming. Not something I could roleplay because in the sorts of situations we were playing, I had no idea what a savvy “smooth operator” type would do. And my Psychology skill of 90 just wasn’t doing a whole lot for me.
Now… as a game master, I’m really big on players describing their actions. And here I was playing the game… not able to describe what I wanted to happen. There was a real temptation to come up with something that the Keeper would automatically translate into a psychology skill check, but I knew that was not in keeping with the spirit of the game.
How do you deal with something like that? Easy. Talk to people. You tell the game master, “I put all these points into psychology and I’m not really getting any mileage out of it. Is some way I could get more play with this…?” When the players are planning something out just say, “hey… I’m supposed to be the Face Man here. Do y’all have any ideas of how I could work my character concept in this situation? I’m clueless!”
Role-playing games are extremely fungible. If people signal what they want from the game consistently enough, they’re liable to get it eventually. The mass mind of the collective player consciousness is just as amenable as the gamemaster. And that’s another reason why it’s a good idea to go ahead and work through character creation even when you don’t feel like you have time to do so. A lot of the conversations about what everyone wants and how they can fit it together get sorted out there without being burdened by a sense that everyone has to stay in character while pushing the story forward.