Call of Cthulhu is a dark and dangerous game and not the sort of thing you’d associate with humour. However, there is room for levity of a sort within the game. I found two sources; the first was direct, in which I would frequently title e-mails with groan-inducing puns and the second was indirect, in which humorous situations arose out of play. The chief amongst these, and one that is remembered even now was Alessandro Mancini’s attempt to seduce the pretty young librarian in Brattleboro and thereby gain access to the secrets that a locked bookcase might supply. However, his internet dice rolls were so bad that the seduction (complete with impromptu poetry reading) backfired catastrophically, an incident that was memorably chronicled by Dungeonmum on her blog.
Whilst these two types of humour are perfectly acceptable since they do not undermine the general atmosphere of gloom, horror and dread, I don’t think that it’s a good idea for the Keeper to deliberately crowbar in situations or characters that are intended to be either ridiculous or comic relief. Whilst I don’t go as far as James Maliszewski in my dislike of things that vitiate the sense of cosmic horror and eldritch darkness that should permeate a game of CoC (I have a cuddly Cthulhu on my bookshelf) I have referred in previous posts to the efforts a Keeper should make to ensure that the atmosphere of a game is as close to that evoked by Lovecraft as possible. Laurel and Hardy or an attack by Mr Stay Puft just don’t fit into that.
And finally; some weeks ago, it was discussed in the comments section that it would be a good idea for some guidance on the best ways for players to participate in a pbem. I asked my players and Dungeonmum came up with the following sage words of advice.
Dungeonmum's Top Tips:
Talk to as many NPCs as you can, even the boring looking ones. If the information they provide doesn't help your investigation it will enrich your gaming experience, and maybe provide you with allies (plus it will give the keeper some work, as if they don't have enough already!)
Remember that you can do anything - don't worry too much about 'permission' - allow your PC to behave according to their personality, situation and the social constraints of the era and culture in which they are set, but don't be constricted by what you think is the 'correct' (in terms of gaming, rather than morality) thing to do.
Yes you can split the party. In tabletop this is harder to maintain but simply done in pbem. If something a co-player wants to do doesn't grab you or time is of the essence and you need to gather more information on more fronts, follow your nose (but be polite about it).
Remember that you are part of a group, so when you return from your forays and the keeper says to intercommunicate - keep your colleagues abreast of everything that you have learned, and try to do it in character, rather than info-dump (see next point). I made the mistake of forgetting to share something that I had learned (or assuming the others already knew, there are a lot of emails that go chugging back and forth - see other point below), but it turns out they didn't. Information that could have been critical.
Talking in-character is fun, I to like write my emails like fiction to distinguish between me the player and my PC. In pbem I do a lot more role-playing than table top (which frankly I always find rather nerve-wracking). My PC is a troubled alcoholic who is frequently witness to disturbing events so I can easily portray her trembling hands, nervous stares, chain-smoking and even signs of her addiction. Apart from checks and other die rolls most of the pbem exchanges are done in-character.
Pbem involves a lot of emailing of course. Set up a folder for it especially in your inbox, maybe even get the relevant addresses to send directly there. The chances are you will need to search for some vital clue that turned up months ago (another beauty of pbem, you are your own stenographer), and you don't want to go trawling through a choked inbox or even (horror!) delete stuff that could be useful later.
Well, that’s it for my guide to running a Call of Cthulhu pbem. I hope that this series of posts has either inspired you to get involved in an e-mail campaign or at the very least kindled (or rekindled) your interest in what must be one of the very best role playing games of all time.
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