A good background story

Before the lockdowns started, a friend of ours ran Berlin – The Wicked City from Chaosium. She had been bugging us to play for a while, but schedules have (as usual) been difficult to synch.

That afternoon almost didn’t push through, but we ended up playing all through the afternoon, into the night, into the wee hours of the morning. We finished the first scenario in one sitting.

(Ah, the long-gone times of real-life tabletop RPG games!)

Berlin – The Wicked City is a sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu, containing three scenarios in addition to being an overview of 1920s Berlin to help a Storyteller craft a CoC campaign filled with notable personalities, key locations, and rich culture.

I’m a scaredy cat. I can’t watch horror shows1, I can’t read horror books2. Dan had played the introductory scenario of Masks of Nyarlathotep for me under the Pulp Cthulhu adaptation, but it was decidedly horror-lite.

I was stressed for a good amount of time during the game. There were more than a couple times that I was seriously considering excusing myself from the game because it giving me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. The only reason I didn’t was the thought of walking the short block home–alone–in the middle of the night3.

The saving grace was the almost-cheesy, almost-melodramatic back story I selected that I used “just for fun”. We’re starting the next scenario soon (since the quarantine isn’t easing up), and while I’m dreading playing Call of Cthulhu in a small condominium unit in the dead of night, I’m actually looking forward to it. All because of my cheesy, melodramatic back story that amazingly enabled me to feel fully integrated into the story than I otherwise would have.

Our game

We played the first scenario, The Devil Eats Flies. I had no idea what it was about. We just sat down in my friend’s living room and she told us what sorts of people currently populated the city.

I lit on becoming a woman refugee taking on odd jobs to survive. She was hiding her true identity as a Russian monarchist who was a servant under one of the lesser noble families before everything went to chaos.

Dan urged me to go big or go home–be a servant of the Romanovs directly! Why not? Background flavour was background flavour. So, hell, why not? I became one of the handmaidens of the imperial family who stayed behind as they fled Alexander Palace.

I was trying to scrape enough together, but also day-dreaming of finding my lady, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, amid rumours that she had escaped. Not that I could find anything with my barely-living wage juggling three jobs as a secretary at the University, a waitress at a popular diner, and taking on odd tasks at the police station.

(Of course I’m not going to sell my body. I am a lady’s maid, my good sir! For shame!)

Little did I know. Check out what the scenario is about, from the publisher itself:

In The Devil Eats Flies Germany teeters on the brink of economic ruin and political chaos. The ghost of a madman stalks the city, turning its own citizenry against itself. To stop a demonic spirit and save a Russian princess in exile, the investigators must strike a bargain with other sinister forces and ask themselves: who else are we prepared to see die in order to save the city?

What are the chances? Our Storyteller never made a sound as I planned my poor little Russian immigrant’s sad background.

You know that game where you end up mimicking your character’s actions, kneeling down on the floor as you’re entreating someone to believe you?

Yeah, that finally happened to me after over a year of playing tabletop roleplaying games. I didn’t even realize it until after the game.

That probably says more about the types of games I usually play in, but I generally prefer games where there is minimal emotional bleed. It’s not that I don’t like being challenged emotionally–I’m a girl who cries readily at movies and books. But I’m also conflict-averse and more often than not, emotional conflict in games tend to be between players. I’m a PvE sort of person.

This Berlin game gave me my PvE conflict wishes, heightened by all the emotional connections the storyline had with me.

A super brief review

Sure, the highly charged and horror-peppered story probably added to how visceral the game felt for me, though it comes from a different quarter than what one might expect. If you’ve played this scenario, I’m not even squicked at the inherent level of gore in the story. It was everything else. The creepiness of the people. The paranoia, the confusion, not knowing what to do and not wanting my character to go back to her tiny apartment alone (there’s one thing we have in common!).

I’m not typically a puzzle-solver in the tabletop RPG games we play, and this is no exception. So I can’t speak about how ingenious the plot puzzle was, but it certainly felt really clever. We did not play pulp this time around, so we were rather squishy folk, but we survived. Not unscathed, but alive. Of a sort.

We’re playing again soon, and I’ve petitioned a daytime game when it gets to the squicky parts XD

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. though I’m cool with zombie media and general gore
2. but I love Stephen King’s Dark Tower saga–while never having read the rest of his books. Go figure
3. Dan probably wouldn’t let me do that alone, but neither did I want to be the wet blanket

We Play Too Much – Part 3 (Games I Run)

The past few weeks has been quite crazy here at the Hey Meepling HQ, from attending great local conventions, trying out new games created by local designers 1, and setting up new products for our shop. But things have evened out a bit, and I finally have the time2 to finish this overdue finale to the We Play Too Much series, where we talked about the Games I Play and the Games We Play. So without much further ado, these are the Games I Run 3.

Manila By Night

System: Vampire the Masquerade, 20th Anniversary Edition

The Ruins
The Ruins

Ah, Vampire the Masquerade, the game that has successfully converted me 4 away from Dungeons and Dragons. I am a relatively new tabletop gamer, having been playing and running since 2016 only, and initially most of my gaming experience came from D&D. But on one fateful night, one of our friends introduced me to the World of Darkness. He also ran a short lived campaign, also set in the busy streets of Metro Manila. I was immediately hooked, and was turned into a huge fan of the Vampire the Masquerade series ever since then.

Saddened by the immediate end of our campaign, I contented myself with just reading the various City By Night books and others that I could get by grubby hands on. But alas, the call of the blood was too strong to resist, and eventually I decided to run my very own Vampire the Masquerade campaign using the 20th Anniversary rules, and setting it in the city most familiar to us, Manila 5.

This is currently the longest campaign I am running as a Game Master, or more precisely, as a Storyteller. I have been running it once a month since January 2018, with a few breaks every so often. The entirety of 2018 is what I dub the “first season”, while we are now in our second and last season for this specific chronicle.

Over the months, we have gone through a number of players, originally starting with around 10, but now reduced to four consistent/core players. Namely, these are Veronica (Carlo), the Toreador socialite; Alessa (Che), the Nosferatu informant; Adrian (Nico), the Malkavian teacher; and Lexi (Chester), the Caitiff doctor. I even have a co-storyteller, Kyle, who works in the background helping me run the discord channel and creating plots and NPCs.

The campaign is set in 2014, Metro Manila. Originally, the first season is me trying to find out what works for me and the players, so I ran all sorts of plots: political, mystery, investigation, occult, and others. The players were trying to learn about the society their characters live in, how it is to be a Kindred, and the nightly routines of unlife. They had encountered a kid who was also a werewolf, prowling the walled city of Intramuros; they investigated the disappearance of a ghouls master; they played corporate espionage to uncover blackmail against the grandchilde of the Prince; they stopped the importation of blood-infused drugs; they investigated floating body parts in the Pasig River; and even seeing with their own eyes the horrors of the Battle of Manila as reenacted by spectres; and many more.

Eventually, the first season came to a fiery end, when the Sabbat made their final move, and struck swiftly and brutally, deep in the heart of Elysium during a gathering of important Kindred of the city. Right before their eyes, the coterie saw their world and their friends burn.

The second season deals with the fallout of this attack. Here, the Sabbat now control the city, and the Ivory Tower has crumbled, with most of its elders and leaders now dead. The players try to survive nightly, evading the Sabbat and its packs. They have even joined the Resistance group created by the few remaining elders and the former Sheriff to retake the city. Some of them have chosen to take a page out of the Sabbat playbook by infiltrating the Sword of Caine itself, and try to bring it from within; the others decided that convincing the Anarchs of Quezon City and Marikina to join the Camarilla cause is a more worthwhile endeavour. They even worked with the remaining Tremere to create magically encrypted social media accounts for safer communication.

I am very excited to see how this long running chronicle will end. Will the players retake the city for the Camarilla and be its new leaders? Will the infiltrators betray their allies and join with the Sabbat cause? Or will they meet Final Death for defying the unholy crusade? Whatever the outcome, I am proud to have run this campaign to my current and previous players. I hope they enjoy the ride till the end, I know I will.

The Darkening of Mirkwood

System: The One Ring 1st Edition

The One Ring Roleplaying Game, formerly known as The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild, is, in my opinion, the best tabletop RPG set in the fantastical world of J.R.R. Tolkien. It was designed by Francesco Nepitello and Marco Maggi, and was published by Cubicle 76.

Immediately, upon reading the TOR books, you will get the sense that the creators of this lovely game have a great passion and respect for the characters and the world that Tolkien made. And since both of us are huge fans of Lord of the Rings 7 and The Hobbit 8, it was an easy decision to start a campaign, set in Middle-Earth, using this system.

With this in mind, we decided to round up all of our TRPG friends who are also fans of the works of the Professor. So for the next few months 9, I will be running The Darkening of Mirkwood campaign book for The One Ring, while Angela will be chronicling the fellowship’s many adventures.

The Darkening of Mirkwood is a complete campaign, which spans three decades in-game, and is mostly set within and around the areas near the great forest of Mirkwood. I was told by more veteran players that the campaign seemed to be akin to The Great Pendragon Campaign10 by Chaosium.

The players hail from the free-folk of Middle-Earth, from Elves of Mirkwood, Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the Blue Mountain, even a Hobbit from the Shire, and much farther still, is a Rider of Rohan. The players will deal with the Shadow growing within the forest, and they will try their hardest to push back the darkness as it expands year by year. They do this for various personal reasons, perhaps to protect the people that they care about and their own personal holdings, or as a mission from their liege.

I am quite interested to see how the campaign will unfold, especially since this is the first campaign of its kind that I have run. Additionally, due to the news that the 2nd edition will be released soon, I might convert the current campaign to the newer edition, but we shall see. So stay tuned with us, as the fellowship’s adventures are immortalized here.

Masks of Nyarlathotep

System: Pulp Cthulhu

This is the newest campaign out of the three, and another first for me due to how the game is set-up. Normally, Call of Cthulhu games by Chaosium Inc., are run with a team of investigators, as they try to “stop” the end of the world. But this time I am trying out the Pulp Cthulhu rules for the 7th edition. Here we can have a game akin to Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and other Pulp-inspired media.

This is the perfect system to run, since I am running it as a one-on-one campaign with Angela. Just like the aforementioned pulp heroes, Angela is following tradition and going at it solo and maybe a sidekick or two 11. The reason for this is due to limited time, and a schedule becoming more congested than EDSA 12, so we decided, why not play a campaign with just the two of us. Additionally, Pulp Cthulhu is a great choice since I can keep it more on the side of Action-Adventure than Horror 13.

Perhaps you ask, why Masks of Nyarlathotep? First off, this campaign book is one of the most beloved campaigns for Call of Cthulhu, and having played it once 14, I wanted to try it out again and finish it. Secondly, I believe that the campaign is perfect for an action-adventure, since it involves globe-trotting, fighting an evil cult who is trying to bring the end of the world, and even going toe-to-toe with various eldritch horrors. Also, the 7th edition books are just so gorgeous and it is, in my opinion, one of the better laid-out campaign books in general.

Recently, we have unearthed the journal of a certain Caridad Benitez, M.D., and in her diary, we saw the colorful life she lived back in the 1920s and her multiple brushes with the weird and horrific, as she and her friends try to stop the Black Pharaoh from ushering the end of the world.

This series of articles are finally done, but the gaming does not end. Even as I finish writing this, multiple ideas for a campaign are racing through my mind. There is also the need to try out all of the games that we bought from Session Zero, and eventually make a review of them as well. But with this, I hope you enjoyed reading about the games we play, and I ask you now, do we play too much??

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. stay tuned for the next RPG posts
2. just enough for me to write this article
3. and where Angela is also a player
4. thru dominate and blood bonds
5. more accurately, Metro Manila
6. the 2nd edition will soon be released!!!! GAAAAAH
7. both the books and the movies
8. the book and the 1978 film
9. years most probably
10. 80 year spanning campaign
11. which I play as well, as a quasi-NPC
12. joke’s on you, nothing can beat EDSA congestion
13. Angela is not a big fan of the horror genre in general
14. reaching up to end of London only

[Pulp COC] Masks of Nyarlathotep, Session One

Excerpts from the journal of Caridad Benitez, M.D., found in the year 2019 in an old abandoned house in Tangub, Bacolod, Negros Occidental, Philippines.

17 March, 1921. Lima, Peru.

An afternoon cooler at Hotel Maury (Photo by Angela Sabas)

Perry is late as usual, but I don’t mind. I’m a bit tired from the voyage, so this unexpected respite from the hurrying-about is welcome. We’d been booked into Hotel Maury, though we are meeting the explorer Augustus Larkin later tonight at Bar Cordano. I only hope that Perry won’t be too late for that meeting.

I have to say, this is quite an intriguing proposition, even if it’s meant to be a first foray/trial period for Caduceus. A hidden ancient pyramid here in Peru? Sounds innocuous enough. Although that brings me to–should I have left word of what I was going into, back home in Bacolod? Sure, they know it’s medical assistance on this expedition, but perhaps I should have been a bit more forthcoming with the possible dangers… but then again, what is there to say? I don’t even know what we’re heading into, just that this is supposedly more than just your run-of-the-mill expedition.

Perhaps I should write a letter to my sister. Just in case.

Where is Perry?

18 March, 1921. Lima, Peru, in a prison holding cell.

Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (Photo by Angela Sabas / Silliman University)

Well, what a predicament. I don’t suppose Papa will be thrilled to hear about his eldest daughter being thrown into prison! And I’m doubly glad about writing that letter, though I suppose I should have posted it… I suppose tonight’s one good reason to actually be keeping my journal.

We met Mr. Larkin as planned, along with his bodyguard Luis de Mendoza and a Mr. Jessie Hughes, who introduced himself as a folkorist there to document the expedition. Mr. Larkin looked rather sick, as if from opium withdrawal, but otherwise was very passionate about his expedition plans, even if the documentation and research notes appeared to be rather thin. He showed us two items he obtained from an Ernesto Molo, a farmer near Lake Titicaca: a pendant and a golden cup. They seemed rather incongruous, however; not the same time period, I daresay. He talked about how he burned his research due to people who wanted to get at it, but told us we could get information from the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and the Museo de Arqueologia y Antropologia, which is inside the university.

Larkin and de Mendoza left early, wherein the table’s mood lightened and, over drinks, Jessie Hughes told us that his name was actually Jackson Elias, and he was there researching Peruvian death cults and the “kharisiri”, and that de Mendoza seemed to be connected to these. He was in contact with a Nemesio Sanchez, a professor at the university who also works at the museum, who might have some information about this expedition. He had seemed very keen to contact Larkin, but had been ignored until now. I voiced a worry about his safety, and Mr. Elias suggested we visit him tonight.

Professor Sanchez at first seemed disgruntled at being woken up after retiring, but he understood our concerns for his safety and told us that he had tasked one of his interns, Trinidad Rizzo, with the translation of a document they possessed, and that she was likely working on it as we spoke. We went to the student dormitories and were directed to her room, where the door was ajar… and we saw de Mendoza in the room, but in a form that Mr. Elias refers to as a kharisiri.

It was definitely de Mendoza, but his mouth and jaw–it was elongated and filled with teeth. It is difficult to describe. He had been behind the girl and turned around and attacked us at the sound of the door opening. It was a blur, Ms. Rizzo was screaming, Mr. Elias was shooting–it was quite a disaster. Perry killed it with a blow, I was able to calm Ms. Rizzo down somewhat, and the police came.

We’ve reached out to Larkin, Professor Sanchez promises to help, Ms. Rizzo is still distraught (I told her it was a masked man come to burgle her; I don’t know what the police told her), and we are still here in the holding cell.

Ugh. We’ll find out more tomorrow, I suppose.

18 March, 1921. Lima, Peru, grabbing a quick lunch.

So many things happening, so many questions. We were released from prison, but no one is telling us how or why. De Mendoza’s body isn’t in the morgue, police are pretending ignorance, and Larkin… who is Augustus Larkin? We met him after the prison release but…

Anyway. Professor Sanchez gave us a copy of the survivor account Ms. Rizzo was translating last night, and a gold slab with etched symbols that apparently comes from the temple that the survivor desecrated with four other conquistadors. A name–Luis de Mendoza–comes up in the account.

We’re about to meet with Professor Sanchez again in less than an hour to talk about what to do with all of this new information.

18 March, 1921. Lima, Peru, a run-down motel near the docks.

The dockside (Batam, Indonesia / Photo by Angela Sabas)

What a day.

We left Hotel Maury this afternoon, after calling Larkin and making our excuses. I said Caduceus needed us for an urgent medical mission in San Francisco–I’m not sure he bought it, plus there’s that Spaniard-looking man following us from the university, so I had to buy two tickets to San Francisco to throw him off, and rely on the good graces of the kind man at the ticketing booth who thought Perry and I were runaway lovers.

We did buy tickets to Molendo and we’re leaving tomorrow morning. We plan to head straight out to Puno once we reach–hopefully we won’t be tracked getting on the boat–we need all the lead we can get. From the translated account we received, hopefully returning the gold slab Professor Sanchez entrusted to us is enough to set things right. Jackson has a possible contact in Puno we might be able to get more some more help from, a wise woman of sorts.

That survivor account we read this morning–it was rather chilling. It reads almost as a fantastical story, were it not for the events of last night. A Gaspar Figueroa shares how he and four other fellow conquistadors looted the temple in search of richness, and how the others were overcome with horrifying hunger and he was almost devoured alive “like a human leech”. It is too close to what we saw of de Mendoza last night…and especially that his name comes up in that account? It has to be more than a coincidence.

Anyway. We did also manage to hire a man Professor Sanchez recommended to us as an additional bodyguard of sorts–Mr. Pranit Singh Dillon, who will be heading to the Molendo boat separate from us. We need him, but I fear that we may be leading him to his death, too. We did not tell him to full extent of our expedition, and he did not ask any questions, but I feel horrible about not being forthright…

So many questions that need answering. Where is de Mendoza? Who is that man following us? And Larkin…who is he, truly? He could only say that de Mendoza sometimes does this disappearing act, but couldn’t give an account of where he was, and I daresay he seemed unconcerned his man is being accused of murder. His strong cologne can’t hide the scent of rotting meat wafting around him, he even seems to have a tattoo of sorts on his chest, hidden under this clothing. Is he one of these death cultists Jackson is talking about? Or is de Mendoza using him and controlling him somehow? Are there truly three more like de Mendoza still roaming Peru?

I wish tomorrow brings us some answers…but the chances are very slim. I’ll settle for not getting waylaid or followed further.

About this campaign

Daniel runs a Call of Cthulhu Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign for Angela roughly once a month (when they get the time). She’s a scaredy cat and can only do Call of Cthulhu when it’s Pulp, so, yeah. Catch the next installment of the campaign next month-ish under the tag Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign!