Sunday 23 June 2013

DM vs Keeper

Billy (Goes to Mordor) has written recently about a fun, but unsatisfying, play through of Shadows Over Bogenhafen. I commented, saying that our group's experience - when I ran the adventure - was similar; the players were 'pushed' through the investigation, which allowed them to arrive at the climactic event (and foil the bad guys) without really understanding what was going on. This experience of playing Shadows Over Bogenhafen doesn't seem to be that unusual.

I recently dug out my Call of Cthulhu stuff, for some light bedtime reading (with some distant idea that I might run Masks of Nyarlothotep) and that started me thinking; would I have run Shadows Over Bogenhafen 'better' if I had more experience of being a Keeper? What are the differences between Game Masters who have learned their trade as 'Dungeon Masters' (or equivalent) and those who learned their trade as Keepers? What experiences do people have of DMs running Call of Cthulhu, or Keepers running D&D? 


  1. I'm new to Call of Cthulhu, but I'm very interested in what others might have to say on this topic since my desire for a more narrative, plot-driven style of gaming is what led me to Cthulhu in the first place.

  2. I've never run Shadows Over Bogenhafen although I did play it once and I don't recall it being too railroady, but then it was a long time ago.

  3. Kelvin - it isn't that I think So is railroady, it is that I wonder why I ran it in a way that was at least a little railroady.

    I wonder if, being 'trained' on dungeons where players have to 'work' to find the treasure, or secret doors, and if they don't find them, well, tough, but they've still had an adventure in the underdark, didn't leave me having the players 'work' for clues, rather than giving out clues - having the game revolve around choices of what to do with clues, rather than the acquisition of clues. I realise the two are related, but... And then, because the players miss the clues, I had to rely Basil Exposition to take the party out for dinner...

    In other words, as a DM, I focused the game (player agency / risk of failure) on the wrong areas for an investigation game.

    Does that make any sense?

    1. It does indeed. My original group never played D&D so it's quite possible that we were better suited to the type of adventure that Bogenhafen is.

    2. Hey, you made a post on this--cool.

      "having the game revolve around choices of what to do with clues, rather than the acquisition of clues"

      That's an interesting approach. Because finding clues can be pretty tedious(I go to place X--no clues, I go to place Y--also no clues) while what you do with them can be more interesting(I try to blackmail a cultist, I try to assassinate the cult leader, I break-in, I stake out a location...)

      But again, SoB expects the DM to really nudge the PC's in the direction of the final warehouse battle. That's where it gets railroady. Is that the only way to defeat the cultists? Can't we persuade some of them it's a bad idea? Can't we kidnap their leader? Heck, once our party learned the identity of 3 of their leaders, we planned to straight-up assassinate them in a series of stealthy capers, hopefully throwing them into chaos. But ultimately, the DM felt the need to push us in the direction of the scripted ending because that's how the adventure is written.

  4. OK Doc. I'll see your post and raise you an excessively long post!

  5. I think the crux of the problem is what you're striving for in a "good" or memorable game. In any setting, you want players to experience that "aha" moment where all your scheming is revealed and it comes together in their mind. That pleasurable moment when they solve the mental problem instead of just killing everything, when they actually work to solve the "puzzle" of the adventure. When this balancing act doesn't work, I think it's just a bit more apparent in such games then it is in less "scripted" games like D&D.