If you like reading old blog entries, you might recall that I described our sales trip to Exeter to promote Faerie Wood, when I ran into an old git who claimed that our faerie-themed roleplaying game was immoral because it involved magic, and would lure people into devil worship.
Just keep that in mind while I tell you about another game project that Garry and I worked upon.
The Call of Cthulhu.
In the woods.
This wasn’t a live roleplay: nobody would be required to wield foam weapons or throw tennis balls as “spells”. None of that frantic activity… we were simply going to use the existing landscape of Petts Wood at a scale of 1:1. Dice would be “rolled” courtesy of a box with a clear plastic lid, to be shaken up and then inspected. Garry would be the Game Master/narrator, and I would keep track of the stats on the various character sheets. Garry had also procured a sound effects tape and portable speakers, to add atmosphere.
There were to be no counters or figures; each player would represent their location simply by being there, while the two of us would stand in for whatever NPCs might be encountered.
The players would be given one paraffin lantern and one torch between them, and they would find ‘clues’ or suffer mishaps as the adventure led them along the forest paths. They would be asked to wear drab clothing, preferably resembling the inter-war period, but above all: wellington boots!
I knew the woods well, and took Garry to see various locations that I thought were exciting, proposing some ideas and listening to others. We planned a series of encounters, and clues… Garry said he had a book on demonology that looked suitably horrific, and would make a good piece of ‘evidence’ to plant in a half-ruined shed. If I remember rightly, we were thinking in terms of a cult that had kidnapped the sister of one of the players, and were intending to sacrifice her as part of a summoning ritual.
Mark wanted no part of it. If you’ve ever seen ‘Mr. T’ refusing to board an aeroplane, that’s pretty much the level of approval we got from him.
No way, sucka.
And of course, Mark was right. It’s one thing to explore the woods by day, and imagine what they’ll be like by night… quite another to actually experience them.
The grand finale that I had in mind for our Cthulhu game involved the players discovering that the cultists have taken their drugged victim into a partially flooded tunnel, and set up a mass of candles and so on, preparatory to killing her. Surprisingly, the otherwise wholesome Petts Wood provides the perfect venue for such a thing, in the form of a broad, shallow stream that runs through a brick-built culvert, right underneath a major railway line.
Hence the requirement that all players who took part in the game brought wellies: not merely to cope with any mud, but so that they could participate in the final chase, right into the belly of the Beast.
Call a “time freeze” where players must stay still and close their eyes, while we go on ahead to set up the scene, perhaps lighting the candles and playing the spooky soundtrack, then tell the players that the person they’ve gone to rescue has almost bled out and a demon is taking shape inside the tunnel. Take up positions as crazed cultists determined not to allow their ceremony to be interrupted… and hope for an express train to thunder by overhead at the right moment to shake everything up. Enjoy the bowel-loosening terror of the moment together: not so much “hatchling dragon” as Hatching Dagon.
Well, we never did it. As games go, this was to be one of our unfinished symphonies. A general reluctance among players was one reason; another was our own experience in those woods. We stayed too long at the tunnel, and it was completely dark by the time we began to retrace our steps. The tiny flashlight I had brought along did very little to light our way. It showed trees and roots and the like, but did nothing to give any sense of direction. I had reasoned that an electric torch from the 1920s shouldn’t be all that great, and I didn’t want the players equipped with a powerful searchlight. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we could have wandered in circles until the moon came up, if it hadn’t been for an obliging owl that kept hooting, providing a point of reference.
Eventually we found our way back to civilisation, and I’m not sure that either of us entirely regret that we didn’t try it again, with the scary soundtrack. Thus, the good folk of Chiselhurst were saved from the demon, who cancelled his “one night only” appearance, and we turned our attention to more wholesome forms of role-playing. Within a year or two, Faerie Wood was born.