Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Victorian horror game -- 1st session report

Last night saw the first session of my new mini-campaign, a vaguely H. P. Lovecraft inspired investigative affair set in London in the year 1890.

The PCs are all members of a secret club calling itself "The Society of the Squared Circle", based in private rooms at London's Oriental Club. They have found themselves involved in a murder case, coming to the support of a young doctor who, at first glance, doesn't have a leg to stand on -- he was witnessed killing a woman with his bare hands and then collapsing unconscious by her side until being apprehended by the police. However, all is, of course, not as it seems. The group have begun to uncover some unusual aspects of the case, and have lots more digging planned for the next session.

This was several firsts for me: first time running a campaign set in the real world, first time running a game in a modern(ish) setting with electricity and guns and so on, first time running a proper investigative adventure.

So far I have very much enjoyed the setting -- it's been a real breath of fresh air after running a relatively typical D&D campaign for the last 18 months!

A few points of interest which stood out to me as referee so far:
  • I love the Victorian period! (I knew this already.)
  • I also like the Victorian period on practical RPG grounds. It is close enough to living memory, and has enough modern technology to be not too unfamiliar to players, while not having advanced so far that problematic things like widespread mass communication, the internet, and so on make designing an investigative scenario tricky.
  • One aspect of playing in a historical real world setting which was unusual for me was the balance between making things up and looking things up. I'm used to running completely home-brewed fantasy campaigns, where I, as DM, am free to just make up anything on the spur of the moment and have it become "campaign canon". Not so in a historical setting. We are lucky enough to have a player who is pretty knowledgeable about history, and the Victorian era / the British Empire specifically. This helped a lot when questions came up (and many did!) about "did they have X at that time?", "was Y common knowledge then?", etc. Thanks Steve! Actually this is something I really enjoyed -- that the game felt a bit more collaborative than usual, with players being able to contribute as much to the atmosphere and background as I was.
  • I found it a lot of fun designing and running an investigative adventure. This was something I was very unsure about -- whether I'd be able to come up with an interesting scenario, and create a gradual trail of clues for the players to follow. After one session, it's gone really well so far, I feel. Rather than the usual D&D methodology of drawing a map and detailing what's where, I wrote three lists: a list of locales (and marked them on a city map), a list of people (and their relation to the case / each other), a timeline of events. This seemed to work pretty well, and I didn't have to do too much note flipping. I'd be interested to hear how anyone else deals with writing this kind of adventure...
Oh one final fun thing I'd like to share about the campaign: as we're a group of very mixed nationalities (English, German, German/Russian, Dutch, Italian, Belgian), I suggested that it'd be fun for everyone to play a character of their own nationality. This has worked out very well, adding the players' knowledge of their own countries' history to the pool of background flavour. Thus we have a Dutch electrical inventor, a German doctor / polar explorer, a German industrialist, a Russian noblewoman and occult dabbler, a Belgian diplomat, an Italian mobster (named Michael Corleone!) and an English arabist.


  1. Sounds awesome, I admire your bravery in tackling a real-world setting. I too love the Victorian period. Are Inspector Abbilene and his nemesis, Mr. The Ripper, still about?

    Looking forward to more play reports.

  2. Yes Mr. The Ripper is theoretically still at large, and in 1890 those murders are still fresh in the memory of the populace. The murder which the players are investigating has drawn some comparison, though at the moment it doesn't appear to have been committed by the same perpetrator.

    It's possible one of the players may write a proper play report from their point of view, so I'll be sure to post that if they do! (I don't want to write too much about the story so far, as I don't want the players reading my perspective, you know...)


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