I ran the Trail of Cthulhu scenario Dying of St Margaret’s for the second time the weekend past. This was a one-shot scenario for some fellow members of the Incomparable podcast rather than my normal group. We had a broad range of experience playing tabletop RPGs, from no experience to long time players, though none had played a GUMSHOE game. I was a little nervous at the outset that the purist nature of the scenario might cause it might to crash and burn1. Instead it was (from my perspective at least) a big success, which I can only attribute to a great group of players who committed early to the premise, and really ran with it.
Last time I ran this scenario I struggled with the “directed scenes” mechanic for exploring the player characters’ drives. This time round we stripped that right back and just talked about their drives at the outset, and referenced them again at the workshop scene, and the finale. For my abilities as a GM this worked well, and I don’t think it diminished the impact of the scenario.
We deviated slightly from the strict purist mode in one scene, where the players were dead certain they had accidentally opened a way for an inter-dimensional horror to invade Earth. I’m hardly going to turn down an offer like that so one of the pulp options from the back of the scenario was brought in. It worked too and built up the climax of the middle section of the scenario that is vital to having the final act undercut everything and cement the anagnorisis. It was also great to have the group pull out the classic Cthulhu gaming solution of burning the building down.
As we were a geographically dispersed group2 we ran this on Roll20, using the built in video chat3. Roll20 and Pelgrane Press recently released Trail of Cthulhu specific character sheets which are helpful, although I think we did run into some weird behaviour. Roll20 really impressed me. The interface has some quirks but nothing show stopping, and given how much support it has for the nuts and bolts of RPGs, I’m happy to overlook them.
Finally, I can’t recommend enough the GUMSHOE system, and Trail specifically, for running one-shot games. There is very little that needs to be explained up front leaving everyone to get into the business of playing the game: vital with a time limit.
- Aided, if I’m being honest, by a good helping of imposter syndrome.
- Weirdly, coordinating and scheduling people across four time zones was not that much more work – aside from timezone conversion math – than trying to do the same thing locally.