Saturday, August 3, 2013

Game Inspirations: Cthulhu,, and Google Images

We really liked this photo - it gives you a good overview of the
city and we liked the loneliness of the one guy sitting there.
Sean found this at Propnomicon.
I'm sure that's a bit of an odd blog post title, but hopefully it piqued your interest enough to come check out what I was talking about.

As readers of my blog know, I'm currently playing in a Call of Cthulhu campaign that's been running on-and-off for about seven years now. We started with the d20 Version, mainly because that was the rules set everyone was most familiar with at the time. However, we quickly discovered the d20 didn't really "work" for Cthulhu, mainly because we were just so used to playing overly-powerful characters in fantasy-based d20 games. It was very difficult to "get into character" in a Cthulhu game using d20. Power creep slowly kicked in as we kept modifying the rules to add in things from other d20 compatible source books to upgrade our characters.

Finally, a little more than a year ago, the guy running the game, my friend Sean, made the switch to Savage Worlds, and we've never looked back. The rules system seems to work perfectly for Cthulhu and a pulp-era 1920s Earth setting. As players, we've also matured a bit to realize that our first inclination to adversity shouldn't be "shoot first and ask questions later." Again, after decades of playing fantasy D&D where it's expected that you'll just pretty much have your characters kill anything or anyone that doesn't agree with them, it was a bit of adjustment for us to remember that in 1920s London, for example, gun shots on the street would be almost unheard of, and our characters would certainly be brought to justice for any killings they committed.

Our team of investigators consists of the following:

  • The uncurably curious Professor Jackson Mirande (played by Brian as a sort of Indiana Jones manner, but one who can't help trying to read every single mythos text our team comes across). One of my favorite things about Mirande is that he's good at languages and when Jeff Franz and I were updating his character from d20 to Savage Worlds (Brian wasn't there at the time), we ran out of languages to assign to him, so we wrote "Jive" on his character sheet and then just waited to see when Brian would notice.
  • Father Campion (played by Jeff Franz, a Catholic priest with a lot of secrets and an excellent hand-to-hand fighter who eschews guns). It's difficult to describe much about Campion because Jeff plays his very close to the vest (which I've noticed is somewhat common for him in his role-playing). It's clear that Campion knows a lot more about mythos-related activities than he's letting on, but so far he's not sharing anything.
  • Zack [Something - his last name escaped me right now], a Cajun-born Master of Fine Arts (it says this right on his character sheet) and current antiquities dealers from Louisiana, played by Jeff Ferguson. Zack is a fun, interesting character but unfortunately Jeff hasn't been able to attend too much of our more recent sessions, ostensibly turning Zack into an NPC much of the time. 
  • Detective Richard [Something - I also can't remember his last name] is a former police officer turned private investigator (played by Curtis) whose family was slaughtered by some cultists before our game began, so he has a bit of a grudge. Curtis unfortunately doesn't play with us very often, but we continue to utilize his character as an NPC that we've nick-named "Dick Dick" as a combination of his professional and first name. He's basically our muscle and also have some good investigative skills.
  • Julian (he doesn't have a last name), a man raised in a special "monastery" and trained specifically to fight things of the "unknown." This is my character. He was trained to fight things, but he doesn't actually know what he was training to fight, so he doesn't really have any extra information on mythos creatures or lore necessarily. He's been cloistered his whole life and only recently let out of the monastery to join the group of investigators, so he doesn't talk much, and doesn't always fit in. He's good with a gun, though. Recently he destroyed a bunch of mythos text that Mirande had appropriated earlier in the team's adventures just to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. 
 Recently our team of investigators, in the course of playing through the mammoth Masks of Nyarlothotep campaign, made our way to Cairo, circa 1925. And really this was the main point of my post. I've mentioned before that my buddy Sean has always impressed me with his skill at providing props for his Cthulhu games, but he really outdid himself this time. Based on where we had left off from the last session, we had decided as a group that we were going to Cairo, so Sean had ample time to prepare. And, prepare he did.

This photo is actually from 1898 of the Shepheard's Hotel.
Image © Tulipe Noir, via Flickr. Lots of good period
photos here for pulp adventure games in Egypt.

The session started off with a somewhat lengthy (in a good way) slide show that Sean put together utilizing old photographs from 1920s Cairo that he found online on Google Images. We were immediately transported into the time period, with overhead shots of the entire city, samples of period architecture, various shots of typical city streets, photos of both residents and tourists of the time, and even a photo of the actual hotel that our characters chose to procure rooms at. Obviously pictures are worth a thousand words, so being able to see exactly how the city looked back then was immeasurable in terms of helping us get into character and into the mood for playing. I have a life-long fascination with Egypt, dating back to the Tutankhamun exhibit that came to the U.S. back in the mid-1970s. However, I have to admit that I knew nothing about the layout of Cairo and its modern history. Sean's slideshow was perfect to help ground us in the time period. The images I've included here are only drop in the bucket of the number of period photos and Sean put into his slideshow. He must have had 30+ images, and all of them were relevant to our game and helped illustrate a point Sean was trying to make about what life was like at that time in Cairo, both both residents as well as tourists such as our characters.

A typical city-street scene near the Al-Azhar mosque
in Cairo, 1934. I can't actually find the copyright indicia
for this photo.
And, just to take things a step further, Sean grabbed a playlist on Pandora by finding a Middle Eastern music station, which he played softly in the background while the slides show was running and he was explaining the various pictures and maps to us. However, I think Sean must have done a lot of work to "fine-tune" the station before we met, because the music I'm finding on Pandora's Middle Eastern station is mostly modern. I think another choice for this kind of music would be to head over to Songza and try their Middle Eastern Instrumentals station.

This was the start of the session, which we ran through while the food was being delivered. By the time the slide show was over and the food arrived, we were all suitably in character and ready to explore a pulp-era version of Cairo. As I think about it, having this kind of material easily available online is a huge boon to any semi-modern games - the sepia-tone photographs just immediately transported us to the scene and were so much more effective than trying to do something similar with some crude line drawings for a fantasy-based, such as when I used the art supplement pack while running the group through S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

Probably the only other thing Sean could have done would have been to order some Egyptian food for us for dinner, but I think for a Friday night, I'm more of a pizza and beer type of fellow.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Listening: "Giant Steps" by John Coltrane
Drinking: Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA


  1. The value of a good handout or prop is sometimes overlooked I think, in particular with the way a lot of gaming blogs focus on D&D and its variants. One of the things I like about Call of Cthulhu is the way it encourages this type of, er, proppery.

    Are you using Realms of Cthulhu or standard Savage Worlds?

    1. The GM is using Realms along with some other material from various other Savage Worlds campaign settings that he found appropriate for the style of game he wanted to run. To be honest, as a player, I'm not exactly sure which rules are coming from which source. The only SW books I have are the Explorer's Edition and the Fantasy Companion.


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