Last night I began running Horror on the Orient Express, which is one of the epic campaigns for Call of Cthulhu, recently revised as part of a Kickstarter. If you’re not familiar with the campaign, this is the description from the back of the box:
"Orient Express contains a massive adventure for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. Beginning in 1920s London, the investigators journey to Paris and thence to the ancient city of Constantinople. With luck, they may also return home."
My plan was to use the new campaign, which includes a significant amount of new material, to provide a complete package for my players, and end to end run of the Orient Express including all the new material. The new campaign is now designed for 7th edition of the Call of Cthulhu. However, there were two hurdles – first, the campaign has not actually been published yet (originally scheduled to be published in August 2013). However, Chaoisum were good enough to send out a PDF proof version of the campaign books to backers prior to Christmas, so that was enough to get started with.
Second, the 7th Edition Rules have not yet been released either (the Kickstarter was originally scheduled to be published in October 2013). Once again there is a work around – Chaoisum have published a free quick-start set of 7th edition rules, which, combined with the playtest rules, provide enough to get underway. I am just keeping my fingers crossed that Chaosium soon release the published campaign and, at the very least, PDF versions of the 7th edition rules so I can run the campaign as intended.
As I mentioned earlier, the new material written for this campaign is significant This begins with a Gaslight (1890’s) era prequel. There is a neat idea in the campaign – that this prequel feature during the campaign as a flashback – rather than simply reading a handout which summarises the information, the players take on pre-generated characters and play through several sessions which features a trip on the Orient Express on its pre 1913 route. Although the material is not directly related to the main plot of the campaign there are a couple of intersections.
However, I decided against using this material as a flashback, opting for another of the suggested approaches – to run the Gaslight section in advance of the regular campaign, offering the players the opportunity to use the same characters for both, albeit 30 years older. I did this primarily because I felt that the plot and clues relating to the campaign were complex enough, without distracting the players with (another) unrelated plot during the first chapter – particularly one which spans several sessions and which involves a trip on an earlier incarnation of the Orient Express. This allowed me to start the campaign now, allowing more time for the full campaign and 7th edition rules to be released.
I will confess to having some reservations about the Gaslight prequel. The notion of horror headwear (which is central to the plot) seems more than a little farcical and the plot is fairly linear - a railroad if you will. In addition the author seems to have made little use of the 7th edition rules in setting the difficulty conditions for skill checks etc. On the other side of the coin, the scenario is reasonably well supported, does provide some options and timelines to guide the Keeper, plus it comes with a small non-fiction section detailing the Gaslight era Orient Express which is very helpful in describing the trip.
The first session went well, although the 7th edition combat rules, which allow a combatant the opportunity to damage enemies in hand-to-hand every time they attack, made the initial encounter extremely brutal and left 3 of the characters seriously injured. However, the new rules also ensured that characters were able to gain the upper hand through weight of numbers, something which would not have had a clear mechanical resolution under the 6th edition rules. It remains to be seen whether the rest of the prequel will sustain this momentum.