Call of Cthulhu is a game unlike any other in the realm of tabletop role-playing. It plunges players into a world of cosmic horror, where sanity teeters on the brink, and the unknown lurks at every corner. As a Lore Keeper (aka GM), your role is to craft an unforgettable experience that leaves players both thrilled and terrified. But fear not, for we’ve gathered a collection of Lore Keeper tips and tricks to help you excel in your Call of Cthulhu campaign.
1. Set the Mood:
The atmosphere is everything in a Call of Cthulhu game. Create a dark and eerie ambiance by dimming the lights, playing eerie music, and using props like candles or old books. Engage all the senses of your players to immerse them in the Lovecraftian world. One of our sessions, we used a projector and screened a 1 hr looping video of a stormy cemetery. The large “backdrop” was so immersive and sets the haunting mood right away.
2. Embrace the Unknown:
Lovecraftian horror thrives on the fear of the unknown. Keep players guessing by revealing information slowly, using cryptic clues, and letting their imagination fill in the gaps. Remember, what they can’t see can be far more terrifying. Red herrings can be a useful tool to misdirect players to the actual information OR location. If used properly, at the end of the game… you will be sure to get a satisfied… “SO THAT’S WHAT IT MEANT…”
LK: As you all peered through the window (from the 3rd floor)... you see three silhouettes standing in a straight line... under the lamp post... creating sort of a vignette effect concealing the surrounding. Then the one in the center raise up his "or its" hands pointing towards your general direction. Individually, you make no notice of it... brushing it aside as a taunt. At the end of the game... the players realized that the creature was actually pointing towards one of the players... a silent cuplrit in a plot twist.
3. Sanitize the Sanity:
In Call of Cthulhu, sanity is a precious but fragile resource. Carefully track each character’s sanity and don’t shy away from confronting them with horrifying truths. The descent into madness is a central theme of the game.
But to actually make the players feel the madness is an art! Practice sudden movements of terror or do an Excorist impression. Having a horror movie playing subtlety in another room…only to hear the horrific sounds faintly can subliminally put your players in fear.
4. Character-Driven Storytelling:
Encourage your players to create detailed backstories that tie them to the world and its mysteries. Weave these backstories into the narrative to make their experiences more personal and emotional. CoC is more narrative then its DnD counterpart. While DnD does a lot of action and combat… CoC will have your players doing a lot of listening and picking up clues and hints. Knowing your players background will certainly help you narate encounters which will be more relevant to the players and keep them engaged.
5. Pacing is Key:
Balancing the slow burn of tension with moments of shocking revelation is essential. Be mindful of pacing, and learn to read your players to know when to ratchet up the suspense and when to provide brief respite.
For example, when the session has gone on long enough... and the party is distressed... with some injuries, albeit minor, it could really hinder the progress of the investigation! THE BIG SIGH! They ran into some gangsters! As much as they tried to fend them off... the party can't seem to get out of the rut. THEN, at the precipice of defeat.... the old chap from the diner (whom one of you had paid for his dinner) leapt in front. A seemingly unrelated gesture towards the whole adventure had crept back into relevance! THE BIG PHEW! The gangsters are now allies to call upon in dire situations!
6. Adapt and Improvise:
Players are notorious for throwing Lore Keeper off their planned path. Embrace this unpredictability and practice improvisation. Learn to weave player choices seamlessly into the narrative, maintaining the illusion of a carefully crafted story.
7. Collaborative Storytelling:
Call of Cthulhu shines when players and LKs collaborate on the narrative. Encourage player agency by allowing them to contribute to the story, make meaningful choices, and even shape some aspects of the world.
8. Use the Mythos Wisely:
The Cthulhu Mythos is vast and intricate. Select the elements that best fit your campaign, and introduce them gradually. Too much Mythos too soon can desensitize players. The unknown should remain formidable. It is important not to let the Big Bad come out to early. Keep the players guessing who they are up against until the very end! You can throw hints like the kind of cultist they have encountered or a ring signet they discovered while chasing a prime suspect. And just when they thought they got the guess right… throw in a spanner that changes the paradigm.
9. Death and Consequences:
Character deaths can be frequent in Call of Cthulhu, but they should be meaningful. When a character perishes, use it as an opportunity to deepen the narrative, intensify the horror, and emphasize the insignificance of humanity.
10. Learn from the Masters:
Study the works of H.P. Lovecraft and other renowned writers of cosmic horror. Incorporate their themes, motifs, and storytelling techniques into your campaigns for an authentic Lovecraftian experience.
Running a Call of Cthulhu RPG campaign can be a challenging but immensely rewarding endeavor. As a Lore Keeper, your role is to guide players through a world of eldritch horrors and unraveling sanity. By setting the mood, embracing the unknown, and weaving character-driven narratives, you can deliver a memorable and spine-tingling experience that your players won’t soon forget.
So, light your candles, play that haunting music, and prepare to immerse your players in a world where the line between reality and nightmare blurs. May your adventures be as maddening as they are unforgettable.