By Steve Rosenstein
About a year ago, I had purchased a copy of the Call of Cthulhu classic campaign “the Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep;” my original intention being to read through the text and start a game up. See, I had access to two local gaming groups for table-top RPGs, the first being the (still active) d20 Modern group that I had been playing with for about a year and the second being a Call of Cthulhu group that had dissolved about a half a year prior. I had put out feelers and there seemed to be interest from both groups. When crunch-time happened, however, I just couldn’t seem to get everything together. It may have been the sheer time commitment to playing the sprawling campaign itself, it may have been scheduling issues, or it simply may have just been poor timing. Whatever the case, I took to Facebook to see if anybody else in my area wanted to partake in the glory that would be Masks of Nyarlathotep. I was having flashbacks to when I was 10 or 11 and we had just moved from New Haven to the suburbs and I sat on the front steps of our house with a copy of Steve Jackson’s Wizard, asking the local kids if they wanted to play. I got the same response as my past-self, none. Not even a solid, “no;” at least, not from my local friends list.
The people I had met online, playing Call of Cthulhu during the “Golden Age of the Lovecraft eZine YouTube Games” came through. People who lived in such diverse places as Mississippi, Maryland, and California wanted in on this. After a session, word had spread and we added Kansas, Oregon, Indiana, and Ontario to the locales of players. I just wasn’t expecting that. I also wasn’t expecting the amount of work that it takes to keep a huge Call of Cthulhu campaign afloat. Full disclosure, I haven’t GMed in years and never something of this magnitude, and I’ve never had a group of upwards of eight players at a go before, and I’ve certainly never ran a game on-line before; the learning curve is steep. But I’m not here to complain (far from it) or write about how great of a GM I am (I’m not), I’m really here to express my gratitude.
Yes, running Masks of Nyarlathotep is a task, it is roughly 27 years old. Call of Cthulhu has changed over the years and Masks has not. As we, as gamers have become more sophisticated, Masks has technically remained static. I say technically for two reasons, the first being the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion, available through Insmouth House Press, which clocks in 610 pages where the CMoN is only 220. I suppose that I’m not the only Keeper around that wanted to update Masks…others have stepped up to the plate to put the ball in play. The second reason that I say that Masks has not truly remained static is that we, as Keepers are a creative lot and any campaign that has lasted as long as it has is going to allow room for different GMs to put their creative stamp on the game. Originally, I was hell bent on running everything by the book…that is until I had to interact with the players; you know the other part of the story telling process. There were questions, questions that the TAW (text as written) or the Companion didn’t address. Questions of the motivation of investigators, questions of the motivations of NPCs, questions of logistics, questions of plot; see, the story that we are telling is interactive, the text isn’t the law. When I finally caught onto that, I had a much better time, and I believe, so did my players.
I think that I have opened up the world that we inhabit now to the point where the investigators make their choices and interact with the world without feeling constrained by more than the circumstances allow. I’m not saying that I won’t move it along if it’s getting bogged down, I’m saying that if they want to go to Shanghai before the TAW says, that they may not encounter everything that Shanghai has to offer right away due to events that are time sensitive (SPOILERS). I’m saying that if the TAW has a certain “cryptical” text translated and ready to go, but the investigators get to that part too early, well they can go out and fill in the backstory and get that tome themselves and become involved deeper into the story than the TAW allows. I believe that the story and that our game is stronger for it.
Oddly enough, the decision to screw with the TAW wasn’t my decision alone. Well, it was consciously, but most of the credit goes to the people who I am playing with. I just wanted them to have a good game too look forward to every other week. I wanted Monday Night Heroes to be special for them; I wanted it to be special for me. Most of all, I just didn’t want it to be a chore. That is not to say it isn’t work, because it is a lot of work, but it’s not a chore and with the crew we’ve got playing, it shouldn’t ever be. Thank you Rodney, Lillie, Kim, James, Wes, Leah, Nick and Spencer for helping to make this past year great; we are half-way through the campaign, so here’s to another year.