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I intend to start a "Trail of Cthulhu" adventure or campaign, but I would like for the players not to initially know what they are going to be up against. So I would like to present it as a normal investigation or action adventure, and the Mythos aspects should only appear gradually.

Taking into account the fact that my players are not stupid and know something about Cthulhu Mythos (at the very least, from such boardgames as "Arkham Horror"), have you any suggestions? I should probably avoid classical New England-ish locations, for instance.

Are there published (or unpublished!) adventures suitable to such a project? Do you have any ides about how to "hide" specific aspects of the game such as Sanity scores (for instance, I could keep them for myself until later in the game)? Any other tips?

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PoV not answer; Personally, I would not. Players can end up creating characters that they really hate if their assumptions about the world are change. I have also found in the past that some players hate Bate and Switch campaigns. Be upfront with hints about what might happen. I the best horror stories make you suspect that there is something to worry about long before telling you what it is. – David Allan Finch Jun 6 '11 at 10:06
We did a Cthulhu adventure in Star Wars once. It was quite fun and the effects of the adventure added something to the rest of the campaign. – Chad Jun 6 '11 at 14:23
When you do something like this, really make sure (for example by knowing them and their loved and hated types of play very well) that you can assume beyond reasonable doubt that they will be up for it. – Anaphory Aug 21 '15 at 19:47
up vote 20 down vote accepted

First of all, start with a different game (system.) Using anything Lovecraftian (CoC, ToC) would be a dead giveaway. Pick a (very) easy, generic system, preferably something your players are not familiar with. You'll want to tell them you read an interesting review about it someplace and would want to give it a few shots, to freshen up your gaming.

Previous to announcing this, watch (or just pick an already seen) movie or TV series (or computer game) that deals with the 1920s era (roughly) and that you're familiar with - and that has no obvious link to the Mythos. (HBO's Boardwalk Empire or LA Noire would be good choices these days.)

Now, tell your players about both the interesting new indie game and the movie/game you're so enthralled with nowadays. Prepare them for a story set in the vein of the movie/game. (Go for crime and investigation, that's an easy one indeed. Do borrow from your source.) Never refer to Lovecraft or Cthulhu. If your players bring them up, try not to confirm their suspicion.

Have your first few stories be really not about the Mythos. On the contrary: use red herrings. Throw a rare few Lovecraftian adjectives and descriptions about NPCs ("smells constantly of fish", "slightly protruding eyes" etc), use a few conspicuous props (strange paintings, a suspicious house) - but always present logical explanations for these. (The fish-smelling guy really does work as a fish-seller, the eyes are a medical condition explained away by a doctor whom the party trusts, the paintings are the works of a poor drug-addict artist, the house is architecturally unstable and is demolished during the story etc.)

Then, after two or three short stories (but still using the new system), start revealing the true nature of your campaign. Switch to ToC only when you've had the first real Mythos encounter/event.

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Might I offer that you could use the CoC system, by using Chaosium's "Basic Roleplaying" and leaving out the sanity track? It's pretty good system on its own, and wouldn't be a dead giveaway, and would allow for easy transition to CoC (adding sanity) later on. – Cthos Jun 5 '11 at 16:57
That's an excellent idea, I think. :) – OpaCitiZen Jun 6 '11 at 5:26
or use Gurps but don't tell them you've got this link printed out: – gbjbaanb Jun 6 '11 at 18:39

Start by changing the period and the location. Classic Cthulhu periods are the 1890s, 1920s and 1930s (for Trail), so avoid those. Try an Edwardian, Regency, Elizabethan or 1950s adventure, for example. And, as you suggest, keep out of New England.

With Trail, you could easily keep Sanity and Cthulhu Mythos to yourself, until the Investigators see something Mythos-related. However, specific skills, such as Library Use, might make the players realise they're playing Cthulhu.

What I'd actually do is: use another GUMSHOE system, then graft Sanity and Cthulhu Mythos onto it when you need them. Try Fear Itself, which is designed for modern horror (it's billed as a slasher horror games, but ignore that: it works well for gritty urban horror). Start with a Fear Itself game, then slide slowly into Cthulhu. (Alternatively, for a military game, start with The Esoterrorists. For a SF game, start with Ashen Stars).

As for published adventures: look at The Final Case, a Fear Itself adventure which appears in The Book Of Unremitting Horror. Or try The Dance In The Blood (which I wrote) or The Black Drop, which are Trail of Cthulhu adventures that gradually induct the players into the horror.

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I am sorry I can "accept" one answer only: this (and other ones) were almost as good. Congratulations on your published adventures, which look very interesting! – DaG Jun 6 '11 at 17:25

I ran a Serenity game with a Cthulhu basis, and I ran it like @OpaCitiZen said. The first four or five adventures had almost nothing to do with the Lovecraft mythos -- only one of them dealt with the Lovecraftian monsters, and only one character actually saw anything odd. Be patient, and have the first few adventures be traditional crime, ghost story, or gang wars.

One thing that works in your favor is once you set up the genre up as a "mystery" or "sci-fi", the players will use that mindset. Call of Cthulhu tends to do the "players are weak", so make sure the players really feel that they are in charge of their destiny.

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Depending on how complex you may want your system, my group has had lots of success with GURPS. There are built-in rules for Fright Checks and the consequences of failure, and the system is adaptable to any setting. Considering how generic it is, there won't be any indication of what is coming.

As for the specific adventures themselves, they'll need to be adapted to the setting, which is the hardest part of this particular option. There are quite a few sites out there, but I don't have any specific recommendations - I'll talk to my GM later and see what we can put together for you.

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Yeah I was thinking gurps can do anything, if my collection of Japanese RPG replay books have anything to say about the subject. – Claytonian Jun 6 '11 at 12:30
It would be a very good idea in itself, and I myself am a GURPS aficionado, but in this occasion I am specifically interested in trying out the Gumshoe system, the basis of Trail of Cthulhu – DaG Jun 6 '11 at 17:22

I remember White Dwarf did a Traveller scenario that... was really Cthulhu. Spacemen meet, erm, some nameless horror (it was a very long time ago). It should work really well if you consider Alien to be the same kind of thing you'd be up against, and the kind of atmospheric setting that you can so easily start off with without the players having any kind of clue.

for example, space-set adventure with your crew getting a distress beacon (standard fare), to a deserted space station (the usual investigation), and before you know it, they're being hunted by nameless horrors. Who end up being escorted back to a planet where they continue to be nameless and horrific. Alternatively, have the players land on a planet and get to know the local 'wildlife'.

Either way, they should imagine themselves to be in control of the situation, laser guns and plasma rifles at the ready.. only to be rudely brought down into a state of helplessness by things that don't really mind being drilled by laser beams, and eat plasma bolts as snacks.

Chthonian Stars is a supplement you might like to keep and hide from view, initially at least.

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I have an idea for starting a cthulhu campaign with no mythos in the beginning but it is more of a detective storyline; think in the base of True Detective from HBO it was plagued with referrences to Carcossa and teh King In Yellow (Hastur) yet my GF and our housemate failed to see the Mythos referrences.

My original idea is having the players meet as neighbourhood watch, missing animals, graveyard disruptions, higher crime rates and have this set in a modern world. So you do have internet and smartphones to speed up investigations, take pictures, etc.

Now it will all start that a new drug is taking the youths of the city by the storm; it is a new type of meth; originally they just need to stop the dealers and have them arrested.

As teh game progress the watch will suddenly have to deal with a kid gone missing and liking the dissapperiance to soemone in high influence circles and dirty rich. As they investigate this kingoin they will start unreveling certain things they did not know about their beloved neighbours and slowly creeps in the mythos.

I just grew tired of endless adventures of roaming around in the dark and investigators metagaming to preserve their SAN.

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