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I recently GM'd my first game where I ran a single session Call of Cthulhu game in which the investigators were travelling from Arkham to Boston. They encountered a few mysterious events on the road and eventually arrived at a petrol station, that due to conditions on the road they had to stop at.

At this point I had set up several hooks for them to investigate and introduced the idea that there might be something in the surrounding woods for them to avoid.

The issue I had was that the players did not seem interested in investigating the mystery, instead focusing on escaping even before encountering the monster of the game. Even when I laid out reasons to keep them in the area (e.g. the game takes place in a storm so travel is slow making travel difficult) they focused more on getting out than investigating what is going on.

To be fair to them, this was in part in-character (e.g. one was playing a taxi driver who wanted to finish his job and get payed).

How can I encourage players to participate in the story more? Or alternatively how can I improve my GMing skills so I can adapt to the characters not fitting aspects of the scenarios?

Thanks

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Start (experienced RPG.SE users will guess what I'm going to say next) by talking to them.

You obviously have a premise in mind: The player characters comes across something weird, and you expect them to investigate.

Your players are obviously on-board with the idea of a Cthulu game, and get that investigating is a thing they're expected to do. They also have a healthy sense of self-preservation, and so are trying to stay safe; There's nothing inherently wrong with that.

Both your premise and the way your players are acting are reasonable; You need to work out what your players aren't reacting to the hooks you're throwing them in a way you expect, and the easiest and best way to do that is to ask them why. Maybe they haven't got enough in-character information to be motivated to investigate; Maybe they don't have enough information to conclude that the Thing in the Woods isn't just a bear; Maybe they all made "reluctant investigator"-type characters and they want to be forced into investigating against their better judgement, or they have specific motivations for potentially investigating things that they hoped you'd pick up on but which you haven't yet noticed.

Whatever the explanation is, the only way to find out is to ask your players reacted the way they did to the plot hook you thought would work. They'll probably give you a completely reasonable answer.

Then, follow up by asking what kind of thing would have inspired them to investigate rather than flee. The answers they give you will grant you insight into both their playstyles and their characters' motivations, which will allow you to design story hooks that suit your players better.

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Good players; keep them.

Let me explain : why on earth should a Taxi driver poke his nose into something that may be dangerous? With no reason, he should not run into danger. And should there be a police station nearby, he should go to them.

For a totally novice investigator, you'll need a hook to get him into the story.

If you need some hook for the taxi here is some example:

  • A client may pay him handsomely to go somewhere, then cut the bridge, have the car go flat, or the client is paying high money to get the problem sorted.
  • someone may want to divert the attention of his fellow townsmen, so keeping the strangers there will divert the suspicions to the said strangers, so he keeps sabotaging the car (empty tank, flat tear, stolen battery, some critical piece of the engine missing...)
  • A gangster may have hired the taxi to pass some illegal stuff (like alcohol in 1920), asking the cops for aid by describing something improbable will make the cops search for illicit substance; or he may also loose his cargo, and need to get it back, or else...
  • the taxi is not only a car, it is THE car, the jewel of his life, given to him by his late father (or grand-father). Don't hesitate to give something to this car to make it unique, (like ONE re-roll per investigation), but also make the cost of maintaining this car a bit high. With this you may have hooks money, vengeance against the one who make a dent on it, getting it back...

When your investigator have successfully terminated some investigations, they may be hired directly. But for the firsts ones, you'll need some hook.

If everything else fail, let the bad things happen. Let it known to the player, have a village wiped off the map, have the PC haunted by the dead who are not happy, and push the PCs to redeem themselves by solving mysteries.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is by far the better answer. If I was playing a game, even if I was expected to investigate, "there's something in the woods" would ring danger bells to me and I'd need a damn good reason to stay, let alone investigate. \$\endgroup\$ – John Hamilton May 18 '17 at 9:46
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This seems like expected (and prudent) player behavior. Some methods that Call of Cthulhu scenarios avoid this include:

  1. At the start of a scenario, have a patron assign the investigators to investigate something
  2. Give the players a backstory reason to investigate. Example: a friend or relative is missing, etc.
  3. Make the situation unavoidable. Example: the car breaks down
  4. Make the next scene even worse. Example: the main monster is soon encountered (perhaps destroying the car), and they do not have the information to defeat it because they didn't investigate during the previous stop. Perhaps they'll backtrack to the petrol station.
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Your PCs passed their SAN checks...

No normal, sane, individual gets out of a perfectly safe taxi in the midst of a storm to go investigating strange noises/lights/etc. in the woods. I certainly wouldn't as a person. Would you?

Published Cthulhu modules often work to present multiple ways to get PCs to the same location/clue/deduction. So if they go West in town, they run into this encounter, but if they go East out of town, they run into this other encounter that has the same end effect plot-wise. This is one of the things I love about their modules; they don't require you to railroad players in dungeons for the stories to work out.

Use that same concept. Provide yourself with more than one way to show the players/PCs what they need to see.

You're at the gas station, in a storm, and they see... something in the woods. That's great. Now, how do you get them out of the car? Flat tire? Out of gas? Okay, so now they're soaking wet, miserable, and busy. Then they see something that might be worth investigating. But what would motivate you as a person to abandon the relative safety of the station, car, etc. to see what that thing is? Curiosity alone will only take you so far.

Did someone cry for help? Did they drop an important thing that the wind snatched and now they have to go retrieve it? Give them a reason to want to abandon the safety net.

Have a backup plan. If they won't get out of the car, have the big bad get them out of the car. It's brute force, but if the monster jumps on the roof of the car, in the dark of night, in the storm, they won't get a clear view of the thing, but they sure as heck will be motivated to be somewhere else. As a GM, come up with ways to say to yourself, "OK, if the players go left when I kind of need them to go right, how do I let that happen but keep the plot moving forward?"

Meta-game with your players before the session starts

In Cthulhu, especially, the players need to come to the game with the idea that their characters are investigators. They are the Scooby Gang of your story. So they, as players, need to be willing to meet you half-way. They have to be willing to push and prod their characters to leave the safety net and investigate. Sure, a normal, sane person would run and never look back. Isn't that what we always scream at actors in horror films (in our heads if not out loud)?

So you need to talk with the players and get them to accept that curiosity and a willingness to investigate is a foundation stone of the genre and the game. So find out if there's some key thing they need to help motivate them as players to motive their characters.

One tool Cthulhu sometimes makes use of is attaching events to people your characters know and care about. Some random petrol station? Who cares if the monster attacks. Grandma's house? Oh yeah, someone cares. Work with your players to build hooks into the PCs that you can tug on. Tug gently, but tug. Don't over use those hooks, but sometimes they are necessary. As I recall, the 3rd edition Cthulhu book comes with a start game that has the players all playing students of a professor who begs the characters to investigate a thing the professor started in his youth but never quite completed. On his deathbed. That's the hook: the characters all know and care about the NPC enough to at least start the story.

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