Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Horror on the Orient Express - Episode 13 - A Paladin in Hell Part 3 - Get It Now!


EPISODE 13: A Paladin in Hell Part 3

Reginald awakes with a mysterious claustrophobia and consults Lakeby and Dr. Gaspari. Professor Grekov continues his research in the Paris Library. Father Kane continues his quest to escape the Dreamlands with assistance from Nuggoth-Yug.

Find the podcast here!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Horror on the Orient Express - Episode 12 - A Paladin in Hell Part 2 Now Availible!


EPISODE 12: A Paladin in Hell Part 2

J.J. and Reginald descend into the catacombs under Paris to search for the missing Father Kane. Inspector Thibault searches for more clues into the mysterious Turkish Businessman. Professor Grekov continues his research into the information provided in Beddow's Notes. Father Kane must contend with the giant creatures encountered in the spiral city.

Find the podcast here!

Monday, November 30, 2020

Horror on the Orient Express, Episode 11 is now availible. We are back!


Our Call of Cthulhu podcast is back after a long hiatus! Catch up with the gang for episode 11 - A Paladin in Hell Part 1! J.J. Whipple meets with Father Richeau to discuss the whereabouts of Father Kane while Inspector Thibault investigates a report of a Turkish businessman in the city. Professor Grekov makes his first breakthrough in his research.

Find the podcast here! 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Call of Cthulhu Podcast Episode 9 Now Available!

A new episode of our Call of Cthulhu - Horror on the Orient Express actual play podcast is now available!  Join our investigators on a harrowing mission to uncover a terrible and ancient secret!  Find all our episodes here: https://dungeonsdeeprpgs.simplecast.com/


The Investigators arrive in France with a trail of bodies left in their wake and the Gendarmerie take notice.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Setting The Scene Part 2 - The Mid-Scene Change

In Setting The Scene Part 1, we covered a couple of ways a Gamemaster could introduce a new scene to their players. Today we're going to take a look into the mid-scene change.

Changing things up mid-scene is a great way to create tension and narrative complexity to your game. In order to do this, however, first you need to have the players split up the party. This is more commonly done in investigative games where everyone is tracking down multiple leads and clues. In a more standard fantasy roleplaying game, there may be large sections where the party is all together. (We will be discussing techniques for splitting up the party in a future post)

A WORD ABOUT TIMING. As Gamemasters, we want to take advantage of player involvement and immersion to time our mid-scene change. Do you want to change the scene just before the player announces their action or just after? After a dramatic reveal or halfway through an encounter? When the party is split up, it can be a challenge to keep the spotlight moving and keeping all of the players engaged.

One of the challenges of Gamemastering is keeping players involved when their characters are not directly involved in a scene. Some systems, like Star Trek Adventures, do this by having the players switch to support characters when the main characters are not involved in a scene. But for most other systems, you need to control the flow of the spotlight and this may mean cutting mid-scene at a time you didn't plan on!


There already exists a language for changing scenes, so why not use it? We will discuss scene transitions in Part 3, but the mid-scene change is a bit more complex to pull off and doesn't use every transition technique.

Here are a couple of effective transitions that will work mid-scene. This is by no means an exhaustive list but I hope it will inspire some ideas for your own.

THE SKY WIPE. With a physical camera, a sky wipe is done by panning the camera up to the sky and then it comes down showing a new location. One way to do this mid-scene in a tabletop roleplaying game is to have your split party on either side of a door or other object and you cut between both groups. You can ratchet up the tension by having different complications affecting each group. Another way could be after the party splits up and is entering a location from different vantage points. Ranged combatants will have to exercise caution so as to not get their fellow party members caught by friendly fire!

THE SOUND MARKER. This is a common transition done with physical cameras and can be very effective in tabletop roleplaying games as well: A lone party member in a darkened room lights a torch or match. As you describe the sound of the torch igniting, you then cut away to another scene. Or perhaps the party scout moves ahead of the main group and springs a trap or a wall comes down separating them from the rest of the party. As you describe the sound of the massive stone barrier grinding into place, cut away to a new scene.

As mentioned in Part 1, music is particularly effective in tabletop roleplaying games, especially if you have set themes that you use over and over. In that case, simply playing the theme will indicate to the players that the scene has changed and they will respond with joy! (Or horror!)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Setting The Scene Part 1 - The Introductory Scene

Welcome to Jeepers Keepers! We have a lot of ground to cover, so let's jump right in!

"What do you do?" is probably the most-asked question by anyone running a tabletop roleplaying game. It's also one of the most exciting questions, fraught with potential because the answer can be anything. During a Call of Cthulhu session I was running a few years ago, my then-9 year old daughter (who had been listening peripherally), answered, "I turn into a cat and sneak through the window!"

Of course, as we get older, we tend to interpret that question to infer that the answer will be something possible within the rules of the game we are playing but that still a whole lot of wriggle room on the part of the player.

As a Dungeon Master/ Game Master/ Keeper of Eldritch Lore/ Lore Master/ etc we have a very powerful tool in our GMing box that can help us fine-tune that response to a point where we can seem pre-cognitive: setting the scene.

A GM sets the scene in many ways: by revealing a new section of a map laid out before the players, describing strange runes on an ancient door, what lies in the chamber beyond that very door, or a malevolent smile as a player tells you they are opening the door without checking for traps first. A scene can also be set up by playing music (Music is a great way to set up a mid scene change -- more of that in the next post), or in stopping music that was already playing.

Our imagination will go a long way in helping us come up with colorful descriptions, but we also shouldn't turn our nose up at having a list in front of us with key evocative words or even pre-scripted text if it will help add atmosphere and drama. (Yup, there will be posts about that as well)

Let's listen to a couple of examples from Episode 1 of my of actual play podcast running Horror On The Orient Express for Call of Cthulhu 7th edition.

This scene is set up by means of a verbal "establishing shot", a top-down explanation of the world outside the scene itself. The virtual camera then closes in on a specific location (a music hall), and then a specific person (the Player Character). We learn that London is gearing up for the holidays and is in a festive mood even though there hasn't been any snowfall yet. We know the date and time of day. We also learn that the Player Character is a performer.

Here's another example from the same episode:

This scene is set up a little different. We get just the basic details here: a priest is relaxing in his apartment attached to a London parish, reading the newspaper on a Sunday afternoon, when he receives an unexpected telephone call.

One thing that both of these scenes have in common is the lack of the question, "What do you do?" One reason for that is because I typically reserve that question for when I have set up a dilemma for the players (There will be a post on dilemmas coming soon). Since I don't need specific information, I'm willing to wait and let the player carry the story forward. With less experienced players, you may need to plant a bit of action into your setup so that they know that's their cue to act, but more experienced players will interpret that pause as an invitation to join in the storytelling at that point.

Gamemasters will want to exercise caution in how much detail they put into setting up a scene, there are times when you will want (and need) a longer setup, and times when you will want to keep it short and sweet. Very long stretches of read text can feel like you are railroading the players, however, and that they are not contributing to the world at all, just moving through a maze set up by the GM.

I hope you found this short discussion on setting up a scene helpful! There are several other aspects to setting up scenes that will be covered in future posts.  How about you? How do you like to set up a scene? Does it differ when you are running a pre-written adventure compared to a home brew one? Comment below and keep the conversation going!