Sunday, 21 October 2012

Necessity is Somebody's Mum

Now that Sisters of Sorrow is out, I can talk a little bit about how that scenario came to be.

The Great War has always fascinated me, both as a historical period and as a setting for RPG scenarios. It seems uniquely suited to a horror setting, as well as being a conflict that, from a Keeper's perspective, involves so many different potential ideas. You could literally do anything, anywhere; a Great War scenario set in Africa, or the Pacific, is as feasible as one set in the trenches on the Western Front. A Keeper could set the scenario set entirely aboard a zeppelin, or a cruise liner, could have spies infiltrating the New York docks, a conflict in the Italian mountainside, Japanese soldiers in a bayonet charge, or German internees awaiting their fate after the Siege of Tsingtao. Any nation, any setting the Keeper can think of, and the War provides it.

I hadn't intended becoming Pelgrane's go-to for Great War scenarios, but they're a lot of fun to do, and I hope to make more of them. That said, there are times when I run smack against a scenario problem that takes some thinking to solve, and Sisters of Sorrow was one of those times.

I had intended to write a completely different kind of scenario, something more on par with Red October It would have been a haunted house at sea, with the players creeping around the once-familiar corridors of the U-Boat, never entirely sure what they would find around the next corner. I had the rough idea sketched out in my head before I started the research.

If this incident taught me anything, it's to do the research before coming up with any clever ideas. There was a glaring problem with my plan, and that problem was, there isn't enough room aboard a sub of the period to swing a cat. It's difficult to get hold of a comprehensive sketch, but Submarine Warfare of Today and Diary of a U-Boat Commander, both hosted by Project Gutenberg, give pretty reasonable accounts of life on board a submarine. I can't believe even for a moment that the Diary is genuine, bearing in mind how it's written and what happens in it - Polish spies, ye Gods! - but some of the scenes are probably accurate enough, as far as setting goes.Submarine Warfare was much more useful to me, and many of the illustrations in it could prove helpful to a Keeper running Sisters. 

But I had a problem: there was no way the complicated haunted-house story I had in mind could play out on a tiny little thing barely fifty foot long. If every single crewman stood up at once - assuming they could - they'd fill the boat from end to end. The very idea that someone could get lost in one was silly; it'd be simpler to imagine someone not being able to find their way out of a public toilet.

In some ways, scenario writers are crippled by a reliance on historical accuracy; it prevents them taking advantage of an idea, and seeing how it could play out. Yet there's no way a Cthulhu audience would tolerate any significant deviation from historical fact, not when the facts are available to anyone who cares to look. It's odd, when you consider that Lovecraft's U-Boat story featured not just portholes, but also diving suits and the means of deploying them, that players insist on strict accuracy. But then, I suspect there aren't that many who really like The Temple. Incidentally, for those who enjoy coincidences, the real U-29 sank on its first voyage in 1915, thanks to prompt action by HMS Dreadnough.

Meanwhile the real UC-12 had seven patrols to its credit, when it was sunk by its own mines in 1915. All of its crew went down with the boat, most - if not all - probably killed in the explosion.  

However the problem presented me with its own solution. A situation in which people are crammed together in a stifling, small space, helpless in the face of danger; that breeds paranoia and fear. It's not unlike Night of the Living Dead, funnily enough, but the interplay of characters was what made that move really interesting ... and then I realized I had my solution, ready-made.

Of course, I don't intend to discuss that here. Read the scenario, if you're interested in finding out what happens next.

1 comment:

  1. Ahh, historical accuracy. The devil really is in the details for anyone writing for a group as keen on immersing themselves in history as Call of Cthulhu players.

    The trouble is also that the particular fact you wanted to ignore was a pretty big and obvious one, too. Getting lost in a 50ft submarine or declaring the submarine is now a multi-decked 120ft submarine wouldn't get past many people.

    A shame. I love haunted ship adventures.

    Still, I'm pretty keen to see what the U-boat story you did create is all about. I'd be running it in a Demon: the Fallen dystopic futuristic adventure, but it's a weird enough episodic campaign that I could get away with it.