Cthulhu, again (and again): The RPG that never let me down

I’ll begin by contradicting the title and admitting there was this one time it did suck. I’ll talk about it for a bit, then move onto all the other ones. Three sessions total. By the time we’re over, between the previous posts and this one I will have reflected on half the times I roleplayed in my life.

(The previous posts being Cold Soldier in La Plata, Cthulhu: My first time roleplaying and Toon: All the times I couldn’t get it to work.)

After my first time at the con, I wanted to play Cthulhu again so much! Especially since the other games at cons had let me down. Bad Paranoia experience, bad WEG Star Wars experience, bad Legend Of The Five Rings experience. Food for another post.

Anyway, I took my mate Conrado and we went to an event an hour away from home, in Buenos Aires’ College of Philosophy and Literature. I think he had a little experience, as did I. We sat at a table of Cthulhu set in the modern day, and we were the only two players. We were, say, 19, and it was 2006.

The guy had us investigate some rural-type occurrence as US federal agents. I can’t bother to remember, but I think we ended up eaten by a giant eagle (that’d be some disturbing American imagery), but it more likely was a sort of giant bat. I do recall we told the GM we hiked up a mountain – only for him to penalize us by saying that a few hours went by, and since we didn’t declare taking off our bulletproof vests and gear, we were extra tired, hurt by the hot sun, and chafed. He also said that what he liked about Cthulhu is that you get to kill all player characters, and if you don’t do it you’re not playing it right. I think, or rather hope, that was after the game. What a jackass.

But some guys invited us to another event, one that was going to take place a few weeks later, at a roleplaying club. And there I went, this time without Conrado because he couldn’t make it, but accompanied by my high school friend Naila, her boyfriend, and this girl I had the hugest crush on, called Cecilia. Naila’s always been into astrology and the ways of the spirit world (and also saving street puppies, which she continues to do to this very day). Cecilia, chatting with her, revealed she saw ghosts and poltergeists a few times a year, since she was little; that she believed in magic, and was afraid of demons. (Nowadays, she performs Reiki – and come to think of it so does Conrado. But I digress: I meant to say I learned she does Reiki from a friends’ Facebook, and it made me feel glad I’m not her boyfriend.) At the moment, her revelations freaked me out a bit, and I thought maybe it was a good thing I had no chance with her. To me, with her 23 years of age she was a full grown woman. She sang at her own band, on which another one of my high school friends played bass; she also composed every one of the songs, all of a dark power metal with scary, gothic imagery. She had named the band Arkham, after the works of H. P. Lovecraft. I couldn’t fathom why a woman like that would hop on a train with me, whom she barely knew, and two complete strangers. I figured it was the prospect of playing Call of Cthulhu. All three of them had never roleplayed before, but had heard about it.

There were beers and chips at the RPG club, plus a chill guy who knew how to play the Kill Bill flute song on quena. He told us his friend was a sick Cthulhu GM, but we had to wait for him to arrive. He couldn’t play with us – he had another table to run at the same time.

Fig 1. Quena.

Finally his friend arrived, he introduced us to him and went away. This GM was a skinny guy, very confident and charming. The four of us were left alone with him in a small room. He put some instrumental music on and I thought I was in the presence of a professional.

We started playing as, I think, a travelling band. He told us we saw something by the side of the road, we stopped. Cecilia said she came out of the car to investigate some bushes. She wasn’t sure whether to narrate what she encountered or not. The GM told her she could say what her character did, but it would be up to him to declare what the character saw or heard. She said “got it” and kept playing.

Nothing came out of the bushes and we arrived at the gig. The GM explained us a bit about racial relations in 1920s America. And as for men-women stuff, he told us it was a rather relaxed culture in comparison to later, more conservative years, like the 1940s. I was in awe and haven’t forgotten the tidbit ever since; it made perfect sense from what I knew of US culture, but I had never thought before that a later decade could be more conservative than a previous one, instead of less.

I don’t remember more of the story, but the four (well, five) of us had a great time. I can’t be as sure for Naila and her boyfriend, because of course most of my attention at the time was centered on Cecilia. I remember her character got hooked into reading an ancient tome, and the GM skipped her on the following, final rounds of the game. She was delighted, and so were the rest of us, to see that her ultimate fate was unknownable.

The last game I’mma tell you about took place a year later, at skinny guy’s house, with quena guy and another one of their friends. This time Naila and her boyfriend couldn’t make it, nor could Conrado, so it was only me and Cecilia going to Buenos Aires. We didn’t care, because now we were dating! Guys, I was so thrilled, you wouldn’t believe. But we still were a bit anxious because the Buenos Aires guys didn’t know it. Maybe they would figure it out? Cecilia was the one they had given their numbers to, last time. She had arranged for the game to take place without telling them we were dating, because she was afraid the deal would fall through if they knew they couldn’t make a pass at her. I was 100% on board with this. We wanted to play Cthulhu so bad.

This time, we created characters before beginning to play. Like the last time, the whole thing took us a full night. I was The Magnificent Zoltar, a stage magician. Can’t remember the others. At one point, our characters were involved in a frantic deliberation over what to do with a mystical medallion. I was coming up with a bunch of theories, but was conflicted over whether it would be cheating to say them out loud. Was it fair that my character benefitted from my out of character genre knowledge? I started talking, interrupted myself, checked with the guys. They were delighted. My character went on and on, “I guess magic is real, those guys must be some sort of demon worshippers. I bet this medallion is cursed”, like it was a Buffy show where characters know story tropes. They loved it, and I couldn’t believe I wasn’t breaking anything. It felt great to be able to give it my best shot.

We wrapped it up without finishing the story, chasing some cultists. I guess the GM hoped we would continue to play an ongoing campaign. We had eaten pizza, they smoked some pot, skinny guy told us about the different generations of ancient Pharaohs. He took Cecilia to his room to show her his musical keyboard – I followed, for a bit, then got back to the living room. She told me later she wasn’t sure whether he had made a pass at her or not. Quena guy, the hottest of the bunch, wasn’t as showy as before either. Maybe they had figured it out?

We all said our goodbyes, hugged each other, and Cecilia and I left to La Plata. We made the promise to play again soon, which in practice could really be a half year or a full year later. We had broken up by that time, so we didn’t do it. And that was the last time I played Cthulhu.

Man, it sure doesn’t feel like eleven years ago.

2 responses to “Cthulhu, again (and again): The RPG that never let me down”

  1. The autobiography is strong in this one

    No reader of my Comics Madness blog would take me seriously if I were to mention TMI regarding anyone else, so … all I can say is that's vivid.

    However, I'm not seeing much about play itself, specifically its content, for the sessions you enjoyed. What you remember is mostly about nothing happening from the bushes, not playing what was happening to Cecilia's character, not concluding anything that was occurring, and not remembering how an apparently enjoyable session turned out. I realize that the passage of time and happening not to think about it in the interim play a role, but that does seem a little thin, all 'round.

    Am I being unfair? Can you reflect a little more and maybe come up with anything that happened? I'm really interested in whether any dice rolls resulted in anything understandable as an event. (Not counting getting eaten by the giant bat-bird.)

    • Not unfair at all! Let me see
      Not unfair at all! Let me see… I don’t remember any particular instance of dice being important in any of those three games. Now that I think about it, this is on contrast with my other Cthulhu experience, in which dice played a role in the conflict between characters over the gun. On these ones, all I can recall is rolling for sanity at some moments, maybe losing a few points.

      The other thing I hadn’t realized is how interwoven is my personal history with Cecilia with my high respect for the game. I considered it “the game that never failed me”, but now that I’ve told the story I realize it might just be “the game that got me laid “! haha. But really I’ve nothing to say about “playing a horror game with women” which isn’t the same thing people say about watching horror movies or whatever.

      I did wonder if there was anything about Cthulhu that made it more “solid” than other games, at cons, as one shots. (Other games from its generation.) I plan to post about my aforementioned experiences with Star Wars, Paranoia, Five Rings and Aquelarre, which all failed me without exception, as a contrast.

      Back to your question, I don’t think dice played a difference even in getting eaten by the bird bat. My memories are about the parsing of information and who’s allowed to say what. GM punishes us for not declaring to take off our “armors”. We players, in all games, debating how to interpret what’s happening, and what to do. In one, fighting over the gun. In another, me asking if I can really “bring it” to the table. But that’s it. I wish I could remember if there were any of those classic “get information” rolls, like getting to know about the medallion from the library, but I hesitate. Can’t say for sure.

      The thing with Cthulhu, for me, is I wish I could be sure my first session was “You guys are trapped in place X with a monster, I the GM am the only one who knows what the deal is, if you figure it out you’ll have the fair chance to survive, if you don’t you’ll die.” I wish I could play that over and over.

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