Wednesday, August 10, 2016

#RPGaDay2016 Day #10: Largest In-Game Surprise

We're just about a third of the way done with this year's RPGaDay, and we hit the second tough question, "The largest in-game surprise you have experienced?"

I had misread the question to include "system" numerous times, and was quite confused why the question essentially duplicates a topic that comes up later this month.    After looking for some clarification over at, I discovered my delusion and the my answer is quite simple:

The reason why our Cthulhu Comes to Springfield TOON game needed an age-limit. 

Twenty-one years ago, I became friends with the man known as "Dr Bob" in my current Call of Cthulhu Campaign.  Back then he was just a graduate student of history, but we were deep within the same gamer social circles and hit it off.

I'm not sure of the circumstances anymore, but somehow I became his #2 on his latest project:  using Toon to run Lovecraftian horror in the world of The Simpsons.  With some artistic direction from our friend Phil, Cthulhu Comes to Springfield was created to be run at our local convention in Easton (Lehicon 5?)

The concept was brilliant:  We would run four one-hour "episodes" each time slot.  Each episode was self-contained and we would allow enough time for quick breaks in between episdoes. We've lost all our original notes but the two time-slots went something like this:

Session 1: A full table, plus one.
S1 E1:  "Homer the Ghoul" The title is a misnomer as his transformation was more akin to a shoggoth... a donut loving shoggoth.
S1 E2:  "Grandpa's Curse"   The family discovers that Grandpa Abe's profile looks a lot like a Deep One. 
S1 E3:  "Mister Smooth"  A strange man arrives in town and seduces all the womenfolk to a secret ritual in the woods.   The orgy of limbs and cartoon negligees was kept to a questionable PG-13, but more people were shocked that the men of Springfield drank the fluid from Homer's brain pan with straws... Homer was still alive and didn't notice a thing.
S1 E4: We discovered that sometimes three episodes is all you need.  Episodes were self-propelled by the players and were running about an hour fifteen.

Session Two:  A full table, plus two, but this time we have kids under twelve.  No worries, we thought, we just won't go into full descriptions and keep it at mid-90's Treehouse of Terror horror/humor.
S2 E1   A repeat of "Homer the Ghoul."  Everyone loved Flanders getting tortured, run over, and resurrected.
S2 E2   "Krutsty the Kultist"  All the kids win a trip to Krusty's new amusement park, on an active volcano in the South Pacific.  Once the parents release something's afoot they assemble a rescue party .  A few descents into madness and some off-screen cannibalism ensue.
S2 E3  "R'lyeh Goes Nuclear" *short version* The Springfield children find out Mr. Burns and Smithers are going to raise Cthulhu from the cooling towers. With mostly insane children in his tenactles, Cthulhu is pacified by... you guessed it, Maggie's pacifier.

That last episode sounds like a hoot, but somewhere in the non-Euclidean geometry of the power plant and the actual summoning of Cthulhu, things went DARK. And the adults weren't the culprits.  The further the kids went down the rabbit hole, the fouler their actions went.   They went from using the dark arts, to murder, to ritual sacrifice of Ralph, to sabotaging one of the only escape routes.  At the time, Bob and I just hand-waved most of the acts and quickly progressed to the next character's action somewhere else. 

But after Maggie stopped the onslaught of Cthulhu, we still had a few things to wrap up.  Groundskeeper Willie had used every special ability to save the wee children (and the rest of humanity), but in the end, he too lost his mind and scrambled off gibbering into the woods.

The correct quote has been banished from my mind, but one of the kids, playing Martin, turned the co-GMs and essentially said, "I follow Groundskeeper Willie into the woods.  I wanna do things to him like he did to me in the Janitor's closet."

We shut the game down immediately.

For either table (with kids or without), the adults were quite content to play with what was given, try to find the boundaries of decency, but only quickly alluded to some dark ennui on reality before reeling it back in... (Oooooh....Donuts.... *nom nom nom*)

The kids had no such tether, and despite our best job to corral them, everyone else was having such a good time that we let it slide.

I'm certain we pushed the envelope of good taste (or any taste) that day, but to have a ten or eleven year old boy utter those words, when we stayed away from those topics the entire con made us realize that the event could never have children again.  We immediately established a 16+ age limit, and in recent years I've moved it up to 18+.  An all-adult TOON game of slapstick horror is a beauty when it operates correctly.  I've also retired the last scenario and replaced it with one involving no kids, a far more despicable Mister Burns, and an awesome appearance by Duffman!

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