So I’m several sessions into an ongoing Call of Cthulhu campaign. I’m aggravated because the last session it became clear that we effectively had no autonomy. I burned through all my luck points to do something awesome, but this isn’t a “go do awesome things” game. It’s more of a “pretend to investigate stuff while the Keeper steadily pushes the predetermined plot along” game.
Now… I must be weird or something because nobody else seems to care about this. My suspicion is that for most people most of the time, this is simply what role-playing games are. But to me, this is pretending to play an rpg. System doesn’t matter. Player choice doesn’t even matter. And as to how much of the rules we actually use… all this time we’ve been playing, we’ve been forgetting the rules for “pushing” failed skill rolls. This is the part of the game where the stakes go up, foreshadowing occurs, and everything gets more like a Lovecraft story. But no, in practice we treat the skill system as if it were GURPS or Palladium. Oops.
Now, at the end of the last session we recovered Luck points and the Keeper gave the other players a chance to pick up a new skill. I opted out and instead said I was focusing on my career as a bootlegger. This session I came in asking if we could revisit that. I explained that I wanted to go further North. My character’s from Alabama… but he keeps finding reasons to go North. My backstory is that I’m looking for this guy named Leroy Brown that had ripped me off. But I’m thinking… me up here in Vermont hanging with a bunch of Cthulhu investigators…? It doesn’t make sense, really.
No, there’s something else. I’ve got this vision in my head of my character trudging through the snow. And there’s this cave or something… and inside… I dunno…. There’s like this LOST CITY in there. I don’t know why I keep thinking about this. But this place…. It’s like I’m drawn to it somehow.
At this point I back off and say I’m not trying to tell him how to run his game, I’m just thinking out loud here. But the Keeper was like, “ah no… I can totally use this stuff.” We played out the business side of the game and I set up a bootlegging run between a hillbilly named Cleetus up in Canada and a crime boss named Nadine in Vermont. On the run while my headlights were out, I see on the road what looked like Leroy Brown. But I brush it off. The chance of him being here like that? It’s too much of a coincidence. Besides, I got business… I even have some goon riding shotgun to keep an eye on me. And a fight in the dark like this… it could easily go sideways.
Back in town I ask the professor type player what he thinks. Why is my character so obsessed with this cave that may or may not even be up in Canada? Well obviously it’s either a memory from a past life or else a vision of the future. The guy goes off on the history of the Vikings, these settlements that mysteriously disappeared, Harry Houdini’s interest in the occult. He finds some information on this in his library… but you know, there’s probably somebody at Miskatonic University that knows more about this.
We turn back to the Keeper and I ask if we could go there and find out more about this. He’s nodding his head. “Oh yeah, you can do that.” But then the other player is like, “hold on… can I go meta for a moment here?” And I’m thinking, man… this was just starting to get interesting, but I didn’t say anything.
The guy is suddenly real concerned that this is going to mess up what the Keeper had planned. Us putting stuff in the game…? It’s making him improvise too much maybe. Also, we have this other player coming back the next session. There’s a bunch of canned adventure modules set at Miskatonic University. Maybe we should plan to play one of those… and then the Keeper can hook back into whatever he actually had planned for the campaign.
Something like that.
Now there was more subtext and interplay here than I’ve described. And the Keeper did say that he liked this sort of collaborative storytelling– his words, there. But we have a player here that actively does not want the play to go off the rails. I didn’t really even know what to say.
Evidently… the scariest thing that can happen in a Call of Cthulhu game is that players might at some point make a meaningful choice that departs from the script!