So, two weeks back we gathered again for the second session of the CTHULHU BY GASLIGHT scenario I'm running, FORDYCE HALL. I think it went v. well: it showed me some things I need to make sure get covered in the write-up, and some others I've drafted that can probably be cut. I got a sense of just how far you can go without having a map for the players, and now think the final piece should have a map for the Keeper but not for the players -- or at least that the player's map, if one is provided, should lack a scale, grid, or compass: anything that helps them put what they see into rational, measurable terms cuts against the thrust of the game. The amount of detail to include in the main map(s) is still problematic, though: there's no way to detail, or even list, all the rooms in the manor (since this is a module-length scenario, not a full-fledged campaign), yet it needs to give the Keeper enough information to run the scenario AND also cover the significant spots on the nearby Estate grounds.
So far as the playtest went, I was struck by how greatly a game session is changed just by who shows up. In this case, Steve W. ("Denholm the butler") couldn't make it, which meant that the PC who should have been nominally in charge of the group of his fellow servants, and whose player had actually taken a leading role in the first session, was suddenly absent. Coming up with a good reason for that Investigator to go off on his own and not find his way back was easy enough, and his unexplained non-return even after several days served as an ominous note.
The butler's absence turned those he left behind more a collection of individuals stuck together in the same place than a co-ordinated group. The much-put-upon senior footman manfully attempted to fill in the gap, and the groundskeeper also did his bit at consensus building, while the gameskeeper, junior footman, and new hired hand did a lot of the necessary work to start making the place habitable (as well as making a few discoveries, the significance of which was not necessarily apparent to them, in the process). Overall they did manage to work pretty well simply from a sense of camaraderie, like a bunch of people sharing a lifeboat after their ship had gone down. They not only made a good start on their characters' assigned task of getting the long-abandoned estate up and running again but made progress exploring some of the mysteries of the place. But despite their valiant effort, this stage of the adventure ended with the survivors abandoning the estate en masse and fleeing in terror back toward the village -- a highly effective conclusion to Phase One, I thought!
Oddly enough, they never encountered the main challenge of the first phase -- the general gathering creepiness of the place having been enough to put them on edge so that a sudden horrific event was enough to drive them over the edge. One of the most effective locales turned out to be the abandoned apple-orchard; others that I'd thought would be important, like the huge library and the wine cellar(s), proved to be less significant -- partly because of the absence of the character with Library Research (the butler), and partly because other things took priority in the short term and they just didn't have long enough to explore as thoroughly as they'd have liked. The two NPCs (Mary the maid and Mrs. Puddley the cook) seemed to work well, both to take care of some of the practical concerns of the job at hand so the PCs could concentrate on more interesting things and, so long as they were there, as a Keeper tool to trigger some of the paranormal events (rather than waiting for a PC to stumble across them). I was glad to see their dark suspicions (paranoia?) re. the NPC cook, Mrs. Puddley, since it seemed to me exactly the sort of reaction people in their stressful situation would begin to feel.
In any case, now that the servants have all handed in their notice and fled the spot, we can bring down the curtain on Phase One, and move on in the next session to Phase Two of this two-part adventure. Here the same players generate a new set of characters, no longer servants but now the gentry arriving at the newly refurbished hall to celebrate the holiday season in Sir Charles' new country manor. Not only will the players' new characters get to benefit from the hard work of their last set, but they get to see the same setting from a whole new (privileged) perspective. I'm looking forward to seeing how they take advantage of their new opportunities, and how they face the new challenges that kick in now that the Family is back in residence after all these years.
Today's Teas: Keemun (The Tea Cup), Yunnan (Market Spice), Huckleberry (Market Spice), Canton Red (Vital), & Flowery China Black (Upton).