Thursday, March 28, 2013

The smartest Investigators in the room.

Colin Powel once said - Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.

It's very true. Good players will make you a better keeper, and if your writing your own scenarios, a better writer. They'll keep you honest, call you on your shit, and make you write outside of your comfort zone. You'll love players like this and you'll want to impress them, because they challenge you as an artist. When you find a player like that, it's an amazing moment. I've been lucky enough to find more than my fair share of such players, but today I am going to talk about one in particular.

Dr. Ryan Roth, the smartest investigator in the room.

Yes, he's a doctor, a physical engineer. I sort of know what he does for a living but it's hard to wrap your head around. He's one of those guys who's going to perfect the artificial intelligence that'll start the robotic rebellion that ends humanity. Yeah, he's one of THOSE guys. He’s a super-nerd, made in a libratory out of the parts of lesser nerds. He's also one of the best friends, who I love like a brother.

We met across the Keeper's screen, playing Call of Cthulhu at a six week gaming event called Gotham Gaming Guild. I was running Tales of the Sleepless City, a campaign set in 1920's New York. He was playing Theodore Caldwell III, a lawyer and political activist. We played, "A Family Way" (a great game which I'll probably NEVER publish due to serious content) and moved onto "The Tenement" (which is now published by Miskatonic River Press, part of their Tales from the Sleepless City book).

I won't give away any spoilers, but let’s just say there comes a time in that scenario where the war between the investigators and the bad guys is getting very heated. Then, the bad guys seem to blink; they invite the investigators for a sit down and a non-violent resolution to the issue. They are willing to give the players what they want, and a way out of the war between them.

In this game all the investigators were by then terrified. They were ready to leap at this offer, end the conflict and save their lives. All but one... Theodore Caldwell. Ryan calmly said, "No, we can't do this" and everyone stopped to listen. He made a dignified, passionate argument that this wasn't about one building, but exposing a slum lord to public scrutiny. He said it was about knocking down his house of cards, dragging all his dirty secrets and dealing into the light of a court of law.

Everyone was silent, including me. The players all took a deep breath and followed his lead. They rejected the meeting and continued the war. They won, but not without casualties. The meeting was a trap, and Theo kept them from walking into it. They finished the war, on their terms, not their enemies.

I'd never seen such a powerful moment at a Call of Cthulhu game, before or after. There wasn't even a monster or combat involved. Theo was fighting against fear, fighting to raise the moral of a group of completely demoralized investigators who just wanted to survive the scenario at that point. But he showed them that survival was less important than doing what was right and making a difference. Not for any reward or recognition, but for the greater good. Theo is a true hero, and I was proud to write him in as an NPC to the published version of the scenario.

Ryan and I have been friends every since. I've probably invited him to every single call of Cthulhu game I've even written since then. He's smart, very smart, and it's often difficult to challenge him in scenarios. But it's something I strive for, because that’s the art, the dance, the relationship between players, keepers and scenario writers.

Countless players across the world owe Dr. Ryan Roth their thanks from the streets of 1920's Arkham to the sewers of Ancient Rome. Good players make better keepers, and better writers.

Thank you Dr. Ryan Roth. Ia Ia



  1. And now, OBVIOUSLY, you HAVE to add "A family way" to the Cthulhu Companion. Or else.

    1. I would love to, really, but I am not sure the world is ready for it. It's bad, seriously bad. I've had investigators kill themselves at the end of the scenario. I can send it to you on the down low and see if you still feel the same way.