Round Table Discussion – Keeper Tips [Call of Cthulhu]

Keeper Tips

Collected Wisdom on Running Games

Author: Various
Publisher: Chaosium
Page Count: 128
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF – $8.99
Print – $17.99

The people with the best advice are the ones that have learned from their successes and failures. Knowledge gained from past experiences helps shape a brighter future if the lessons are remembered and heeded. Taking advice from others is a leap in faith. Faith that the advice is good and will work in the situation you are trying to avoid or improve. It’s hard to tell whether the advice is good or bad without past personal experience, so it is best to attain advice from a trusted source.

Keeper Tips: Collected Wisdom on Running Games collects the advice and opinions of seasoned roleplaying authors and enthusiasts for new and old players for Chaosum’s Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game. Though the advice centers around Call of Cthulhu RPG, many passages within can easily apply to any roleplaying game. While reading, you’ll notice some advice conflicts with other advice later given but not most. Some advice is given more than once under a different chapter or presented alternatively. One must decide which bit they should choose for themselves and their group.

The book opens with an excellent introduction by Call of Cthulhu’s Creative Director, Mike Mason. Those familiar with the Call of Cthulhu will recognize his name. He has been the face of the game for many years and a great spokesman for Chaosium. His introduction conveys personal responsibility’s importance when accepting and implementing advice. Use what feels right to you and ignore advice that doesn’t fit with you or your group.

The book is separated into 16 categories: Ground rules, Inclusivity, Preparation, Players, Sensitivity, Designing Scenarios, Gameplay, Keepering, Horror, Sanity, The Cthulhu Mythos, Non-Player Characters, Monsters, Online Play, Props & Handouts, Miscellaneous, and ends with a bibliography of the contributors. Some categories are more densely populated than others, and some are in place because society has forgotten how to treat people with respect, and a reminder is needed. At the end of the book is a few pages of online resource for groups to enhance their games.

The book is a pocket-sized, premium leatherette hardcover with a black and white interior with a line art illustration at the end of each section. The shape, size, feel, and outward appearance evoke the feeling of a spiritual tome or bible. A sewn-in ribbon bookmark of burgundy fabric intensifies the pious look. Inside, the advice is presented in short passages. It reads like one is sitting in a roundtable discussion, receiving advice from friends.

It’s not necessarily, a book to sit down and read cover to cover in one sitting, though nothing stops someone from doing so as I did. I personally found after a few sections, it got a little boring. One can only absorb so much advice before the rest becomes white noise. With each unit being brief, shorter, more frequent reading is advisable. Its formatting nature is a good book for those short private moments alone with no distractions where you can ponder the wisdom within.

I’d like to share a sampling of the advice I found compelling. I’ll begin with the advice I found to be useful for myself. These are not excerpts from the book but a sampling of the direction.

  • There is no such thing as a bad character. Less than-ideal statistics or skills facilitate the player to think outside the box and overcome their character‘s deficiencies.
  • New keepers should ease themselves into running a new system. Taking on a world-spanning campaign as their first foray is ill-advised. It is better to run quicker, shorter scenarios until you get a feel of the system and are comfortable with the rules.
  • An ornate typeface on your handmade handout may look great, but it is not helpful if the players can’t read it. Keeping a plain text version for your players to read is always a good idea.
  • It’s hard to keep the momentum of a long-spanning campaign when real-life scheduling gets in the way. Make a pack with your group to continue as long as a minimum of players are available (decided by the group) to participate. If you continually wait until all can be present, it could stall or end your campaign prematurely.

I would agree with most of the advice within, but one stood out to me as unfair. Unfair, in my opinion, because I have violated this advice many times and never experienced its drawbacks.

  • Don’t let a player who has played in a scenario participate. They will spoil the suspense and anticipate climax reveals.

The old adage, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks must not apply to me because even I found a significant bit that I will use in the future.

  • Leave out their personal interest skills on pre-generated characters and have the player fill them in during gameplay. The players can decide during play to reveal their investigator’s hidden talent and use their saved points to increase their chosen skill.

Some of the advice also spoke to me personally, as it may for others. In our hobby, filled with misfits, some struggle with social anxieties. The feeling of disappointing those around us or not meeting our own expectations when running or playing a game.

  • The fear a keeper or player might feel before a game is accurate, and you’re not alone. There were a couple of entries that spoke to this issue. The fear may stem from laziness, unpreparedness, or a real-life problem someone is struggling with. Just know that you are not the only one with this fear. Others feel it too.

The funniest bit of advice and a direct quote from the book.

“Don’t pay attention to any Call of Cthulhu tips in this book. You have your own voice, your own horror. Use those.”

You can rest assured that the advice above and within comes from solid-season hobby veterans. The contributing authors and organization are Scott David Aniolowski, Sean Branney, Allen Carey, Jason Durall, Paul Fricker, Bob Geis, Lynne Hardy, Bridgett Jefferies, Jo Kreil, David Larkins, Keris McDonald, Mike Mason, Mark Morrison, Thom Raley, Matthew Sanderson, Becca Scott, Seth Skorkowsky, H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, Into the Darkness, You Too Can Cthulhu and The Chaosium. If you don’t recognize all the names or organizations, don’t fret. To add weight to their advice, short biographies of each contributor are provided at the end of the book.

When accepting advice, weigh its message to your own compass. Use what feels right and discard what feels wrong. No one can tell you how to run your game, but well-constructed or poorly-given advice can alter your gaming experience. It is up to you to make that determination and implement it to the best of your ability.

Keeper Tips: Collected Wisdom on Running Games may be directed at the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game, but its lessons resonate further. Its wisdom can be applied to other games or life situations. It’s excellent advice for new hobbyists and veterans. There is always more to learn in life. No one has all the answers, but accepting or recognizing good and bad advice makes you a better player, Keeper, and person.

~Stephen Pennisi

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