Entry 45: Going into books (back after a bit of silence)

Various things had me not posting for a while, apologies to any who were in any way impacted. I will begin my return to posting by going into what should be a fairly obvious concept for Keepers seeking out ideas for scenarios. In a game inspired by the writings of H P Lovecraft and of others who picked up the themes, creating the Cthulhu Mythos, it would be obvious to say that using these writings for inspiration is a given. This does not indicate trying to create scenarios as recreations of the exact works, however.
Momentary comment on that last sentence. There have been scenarios written that do exactly that, with varying degrees of success, though usually such directly referential scenarios are written as sequels to the stories in question. Two have been written as sequels to “the Horror at Red Hook” and the Chaosium scenario collection “the House of R’lyeh” contains four scenarios that are sequels, direct or indirect to stories of Lovecraft’s, with one more a recreation of the story it refers to. And one of my favorite scenarios in ‘Unseen Masters’ is essentially a sequel to two stories of Bloch’s and one of Lovecraft’s. The massive campaign “Beyond the Mountains of Madness” is a clear sequel to the story “At the Mountains of Madness”. And the older volume “Escape from Innsmouth” allows for a re-enactment of the government raid on Innsmouth that is a minor element in the original story “Shadow over Innsmouth”. It can be done, but there are hazards. First, an attempt to recreate the story has the clear problem that unless you are citing a fairly obscure story, the players will know the direction the story reaches for, even if not the only conclusion. Sequels are a better idea for this in that you take the end of the original story as starting point, and you can go in different directions without compromising the original story.
A somewhat better option for this level of recreation comes from the book “Stealing Cthulhu” by Graham Walmlsey, which explores the idea of taking Lovecraftian plots and shifting elements of the story to different environments, different villains, to create a similar story but not the same. It is a fairly clear concept, and his book does go into it at some length, but I do suggest it as good reading for exploring the concept in this particular angle.
Having said this much..if you are going to use stories for inspiration and you aren’t going sequel..if you don’t use Walmsley’s methods, I highly discourage writings of the major Lovecraftian authors because the players are more likely to recognize the source material and will either be annoyed at being thrust into the protagonist role of a story they read or try to take the story in a direction the original story didn’t accommodate, and unless you’re good, they can get you backed into a corner pretty quickly.
Not to say it can’t be done, not to say it shouldn’t be done, but make sure its not recognizable if you do (I take this moment to encourage Walmsley as a resource again). If you read a lot of Lovecraftian fiction by other authors, you will have more sources of things to play with, but short stories in and of themselves are not necessarily good frameworks for scenarios. A story, short story, novella, or novel length, is a linear structure, beginning, middle and end. A scenario is more a set of points, with an intended outcome, but should have more than one possible outcome and definitely should have more than one way for the points to be connected to complete the story. I’ve gone off at great length in earlier posts how I dislike a scenario being too linear. I do think that a well-structured scenario should have at least two potential end points, success and failure, and both should be flexible enough to allow for partial success and partial failure as well. This is, I feel, true of all rpg scenarios, but moreso in horror gaming than anywhere else. In a short story/novel, you read a progression of events as the protagonist goes from point a to point b to point c to the story’s resolution. But it should feel like a natural progression in a story, and while you have room for more than one course and resolution in a scenario, after it is played, it should have the same feel. The players went from the start to point a to point b to point c (or point a to point e to point c to point d to point b), but it should still feel like a complete story.
Always remember rpg gaming is cooperative storytelling, and the story is not complete until played.
When adapting a story to a scenario, you have to take the linear structure of the story and built around it, make allowances for the players to make decisions and actions that were not part of the original structure but still fit in the framework.
I’m not saying you can’t end up in the same place as the original story, but if at all possible you don’t want the players to realize until later (if ever) that they played out a version of ‘Shadow over Innsmouth’. For the most part, this applies to all game genres (how many campaigns were built around a small group being tasked with transporting and destroying a small but important artifact in fantasy gaming?) perhaps a ramble, perhaps a bit obvious, but getting back into the pool, wanted to set up the beginning of my next few entries.

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