I hope you've enjoyed the first of my Civil War Cthulhu scenarios! I had a great time running He Calls Me by the Thunder for the Technical Difficulties crew. I've been developing this scenario for quite a while now and this is about the sixth or seventh time that I've run it. You can hear a very early version that I ran about two years ago for Ross and Caleb of RPPR over on their feed. Each run through has been unique and it’s been especially entertaining for me to see how each group makes different choices in their investigation.
As I’ve developed the scenario, I’ve added a lot of elements to help encourage the PCs to progress, including the encircling buzzard swarm, the missing seal for the parole passes, and the objective of discovering the whereabouts of Eveline’s family. Still, it’s up to the players to decide what they feel is important. Aaron, Greg, and Laura were a lot more cautious and deliberate than some of the other folks I've run it for. They almost went straight for the Tobacco Shed without even exploring the big house first, which would have been very interesting. But then they backed off and decided to collect clues. Darn!
But they also had some interesting failed rolls that changed the way the scenario progressed (as a side note, one of the things I like most about Call of Cthulhu is how failures can have a very dramatic effect on the story). They distinguished themselves as the least greedy group (in most other runs, one character has taken the gold and hidden it for themselves), and they're the only group I've had so far that almost tried to brave the deadly buzzard swarm and make a break for it! Private Cubbins has only survived one playthrough, and he bit it again this time. Poor kid!
Overall, we all had a great time with the scenario and it’s encouraging to me to learn that it still works even online and split into two parts. It was pretty tough to wrap up the ending, though, so we went a bit long.
I can't quite identify when I first got the idea to write some cosmic horror tales set amidst the very earthly horror of America's bloodiest war, but I've found it to be a rich combination.
Even since I first began reading Lovecraft and playing and listening to Lovecraftian horror games, I've been interested in the realistic historical aspect of the genre. Even though Lovecraft was writing stories set in his own contemporary era – often with cutting-edge science and technology – the Call of Cthulhu RPG retained the 1920's as its typical setting, which makes it a historical game to us 21st-century players. It's a short leap to set similar tales in other eras, like Adam Scott Glancy's World War I games and Caleb Stokes' No Security was probably the biggest direct influence in prompting me to write my stuff).
In each of my Civil War scenarios, I try to combine the themes of Lovecraftian cosmic horror with the difficult issues of the American Civil War. In this case, I focused on two things: the suffering of wounded soldiers and the legacy of plantation slavery.
The Random Wound Table is a major feature that sets up the scenario. I've found that rolling randomly emphasizes the arbitrary nature of battlefield wounds and it helps the players embrace the fragility of their disabled characters. They can then focus on trying to overcome their physical weaknesses as they play through the story.
Slavery is (to make an understatement) a difficult topic to approach in gaming. The character of Eveline Prentis emphasizes how terribly racial prejudice stifled African Americans' opportunities to express their natural talents and how casually their abilities were exploited by their owners. Eveline was directly inspired by Blind Tom Wiggins, a real life African American musical prodigy from the Reconstruction era, whose talents were constantly exploited by white "managers."
Hikiton Mound Plantation was partially intended as a commentary on so-called "patriarchal slavery," the idea that slavery was actually in the best interests of African Americans. Promoted by major figures such as Benjamin M. Palmer and Jefferson Davis, the idea was that slavery could best balance the relationship between naturally inferior blacks and naturally superior whites, to the benefit of both. As absurd and casuistic as this sounds to our modern ears, many Southerners genuinely believed it and some slaveholders such as Davis tried to run their plantations as "humanely" and "progressively" as they could. I designed Hikiton Mound to appear to be such a place on the surface, but with a horrific cruelty concealed just beneath.