Player Engagement

132: player engagement

We’re back and we’re dangling shiny things in front of our players, making encouraging noises and trying to direct their attention back to the game. This is our discussion of player engagement, specifically what engages us, the things we do to foster it and how we cope when players disengage.

Electric cattle prod to foster player engagement

Not all engagement problems can be solved with a cattle prod. Just most of them.

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In the discussion, we offer some personal insight into what draws us to play a game, which factors keep our enthusiasm fired and what turns us off a game. It’s too often easier to focus on the negative, but we do try to offer lots of positive examples. Our middle-aged inclination to grumble already gets enough outlets.

News

We were delighted to learn that The Two-Headed Serpent won the Judges’ Award for Best Role-Playing Adventure at UK Games Expo. Congratulations also to Paul Baldowski, whose Three Faces of the Wendigo for The Cthulhu Hack won the Popular Choice Award.

The Two-Headed Serpent

We mention that we have recently recorded an interview with Mike Mason and Lynne Hardy of Chaosium about the new edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep. The interview was substantial, so we have split it into two episodes. With the PDF of Masks due out on the 1st of July, we plan to release both of them next month. We hope the discussion will offer some unique insights, given that Paul and Scott worked on the revision with Mike and Lynne.

Masks of Nyarlathotep book covers

Paul shares some brief thoughts about the Lamentations of the Flame Princess supplement, A Red a Pleasant Land. He has been playing a short campaign of it at the Milton Keynes RPG club, run by our good friend, Oli Palmer. We plan to record an episode exploring the book in more detail later this year.

Other Stuff

We have had plenty of engagement on social media. There was some lively discussion on Google+ about our recent episode on cats. Happily, it was all playful and no one walked away with any scratches.

Patreon

And enjoy the peace while you can. There is no singing to new Patreon backers in this episode, but there shall be before the end of the month. The anticipation is often worse than the reality. Not always, however…

Subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu

We’re back and we’re strapping on our headlamps, checking our harnesses and spelunking like our lives depended upon it. This is our look into subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraft. From his work, Lovecraft seemed to be both drawn to and disturbed by deep, dark holes and the mysteries lurking within.

“Verrry interesting…”

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Many of Lovecraft’s stories involve the buried remains of alien cities, caverns best left unexplored or tunnels dug by things that should not be. It’s only natural that many Call of Cthulhu scenarios should build upon this. Or build under. We’re not quite sure how this works.

All right, maybe you can build over and under at the same time.

We try to get to the bottom of the appeal of subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu, but the deeper we dig, the more we find to explore. As well as archetypal dungeon-based scenario designs inherited from D&D, we find connections to mythology, symbolism and Hollow Earth theory. We could so easily get lost down here. Before struggling to the surface, however, we find time to offer a few scenario seeds involving sinister underworlds.

News

UK Games Expo is this weekend (1st-3rd of June). Matt and Scott will be there on Friday, running games in the Cthulhu Masters tournament, signing books and generally milling around. Please say hi if you spot us!

Paul attended another Scream Unseen presentation at the Milton Keynes Odeon and offers a very brief review of The Strangers: Prey at Night. This leads to a discussion of what we thought of the first film. Apparently, we don’t like anything. I blame being old and grumpy.

Speaking of ageing, on the 7th of June, The Good Friends of Jackson Elias turns 5. You could be excused for thinking we’re older, given all the grey hair. Back in those innocent days of 2013, we huddled around a shared microphone in Paul’s shed for the first time. 131 episodes and 8 specials later, it’s hard to imagine life without the podcast. Thank you to everyone who has joined us along the way!

Other Stuff

Down here in the darkness, robbed of daylight, hearing is crucial to survival. Every sound could mean the difference between life and death. Was that water dripping on limestone or claws snickering across the cavern floor? The intrusion of a bellowing cacophony could be fatal at a time like this. Mercifully, perhaps, none of the new Patreon backers we thank this month sponsored us at the $5 level, so you are spared our singing for now.

Although the acoustics down here could have birthed something special.

You might still hear snatches of conversation echoing around you, however. These are comments from our various social media presences. Stay very still and they won’t eat you. You can find most of the discussion of our recent episode about comedy in RPGs over on our Google+ Community, or carved on the walls of the lost city that lies buried deep beneath your cellar floor. Google+ might prove easier to access.

The Ritual

We’re back and we’re lost in the woods. There seem to be some familiar landmarks, however. If we look to the left, there’s The Blair Witch Project. Over there on the right is The Wicker Man. And sneaking up behind us is just about every rural horror film made. What, if anything, makes The Ritual stand out in this landscape?

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The Ritual is a 2017 British horror film, based on the 2011 novel by Adam Nevill. We decided to discuss it because it follows on nicely from our episode about survival horror. The book especially is a great example of the genre, combining isolation, a hostile environment, dwindling resources and an unkillable threat. The dynamic of a group of friends who disagree about everything also appealed to us for some reason.

The Ritual film poster

As ever, we offer an overview of the film, picking it apart as we go, then tear deeper into the remains to see what we can scavenge for our games. We also do something a little different this time, comparing the film to Nevill’s original novel.

The Ritual book cover

We all know people who complain about film adaptations, with their rambling rants about how the book was better. It’s irritating. Any film based on a novel has to change and simplify elements to better fit the new medium. An adaptation does not replace the book and merely offers a fresh perspective. Still, it’s interesting to compare the two, looking at what is different and the impact of these changes. So we do. And we complain a bit because we are flawed and complex human beings. Consistency is for insects.

News

At least some of us will be at the UK Games Expo this year. Expo is the UK’s largest gaming convention, hosted in Birmingham, and runs from the 1st to the 3rd of June. We plan to be there on Friday the 1st, running some games, signing books at the Chaosium stand and generally drifting around like lost souls. Please do say hi if you’re there.

Other Stuff

In our social media catch-up, we pick out a few choice comments on our recent episode about The Last Feast of Harlequin. As usual, most of the discussion can be found on our Google+ community. There are many insightful comments we didn’t have time to spotlight, so we recommend having a look for yourself.

 

After we mentioned how harlequinade sounds like a soft drink made from clowns, William Adcock suggested that this is what such a horror would taste like.

Nighttime in the woods is unnerving. Every crack of a twig or rustle of leaves hints at some unseen horror, stalking under cover of darkness. Silence is even worse, however. Does that mean that there’s nothing out there, or is there a predator too stealthy for human ears to detect? The dread soon becomes unbearable. It’s like an episode of The Good Friends without any songs. Sooner or later, someone will back us at the $5 level on Patreon and the horror will begin anew. In the meantime, cower in your tent and pray for dawn.

Survival Horror

We’re back and we’re counting our shells, holding our breath and searching for somewhere to hide until dawn. This is our look at the subgenre of survival horror. While we might normally associate survival horror with video games, it certainly has a role in Call of Cthulhu. Sometimes you go looking for secrets man was not meant to know, and sometimes they come looking for you.

“He’s behind you!”

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We start out by trying to define what survival horror is, using examples from media. It’s a surprisingly hard thing to pin down. What are the common factors that define the genre and only the genre? Where do slasher movies end and survival horror begin? Who ate the last protein bar, probably condemning the rest of us to death? From there, we talk about how (and if) we would run a survival horror game. Finally, we wrap up the discussion by brainstorming a few survival horror plot hooks.

Some hooks are grabbier than others.

News

We have started playtesting the final chapter of A Poison Tree. This is the massive multi-generational campaign we are writing for Trail of Cthulhu. The first playtest started over 3 1/2 years ago, so this has been a long, strange trip. Given that the campaign takes place over the span of 350 years, this may not be unreasonable. It will still take us a while to finish writing this beast up, so don’t expect to see it before next year at the earliest. We shall keep you posted.

Speaking of epic campaigns we developed, Seth Skorkosky has released the first of a series of video reviews of The Two-Headed Serpent. His first episode covers the opening chapter, set in Bolivia. These reviews are aimed at potential Keepers, offering tips based on Seth’s experience of running the campaign. Unsurprisingly, spoilers abound.

Paul will be joining Mike Mason on the RPG Design subreddit for an AMA (Ask Me Anything — Reddit-speak for a Q&A session) from the 6th of May. Join them there if you have any questions about game design or would simply like to know if Paul would rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck.

If you hold on until the end of this episode, you will also find an interview with Susan O’Brien of Chaosium. She talks to Paul about the ongoing Kickstarter campaign for their new board game, Miskatonic University: The Restricted Collection. The campaign has been chewing through stretch goals like a hungry bookworm, so there are plenty of sanity-blasting goodies on offer. At the time of posting, you have just 7 days left to back the project. Best be quick!

Other Stuff

In our social media catch-up, we pick out a few choice posts from the Google+ thread about our Yog-Sothoth episode. Our discussion of Linus Larsson’s comments sent us off on tangents, namely Flatland and Flat Stanley. To keep things to time, we only pick out a few choice snippets from these threads. If you are interested in the topic, we highly recommend checking out the full discussion on our G+ Community.

Survival horror is all about struggling through situations that would destroy lesser people. The same can be said of any episode in which we sing, such as this one. This assault on your senses and moral fibre is our way of thanking those special people who back us at the $5 tier on Patreon. Just hold tight and wait for dawn.

Cats in Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraft

We’re back and we’re chasing our tails, trying to lick our nether regions and hissing at anyone who looks at us funny. Meow. This is our look into the role of cats in Call of Cthulhu. Lovecraft was famously fond of cats. He kept them as pets throughout his life, and wrote about their exploits in his letters and stories. Inevitably, this means that cats have found their way into Call of Cthulhu. As any cat owner will tell you, cats can turn up in the most unexpected places. I regularly had to rescue one of mine from up the living room chimney.

Although most of them have had the decency to stay out of my skull.

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We kick off by looking at cats in Lovecraft’s work. Along with his fiction, we find inky pawprints in his poetry, essays and correspondence. The main works we discuss are:

When researching this episode, we were surprised to realise that the goddess Bast does not actually appear in Lovecraft’s fiction. He mentions the city of Bubastis in passing, but its patron deity is merely name-checked in Cats and Dogs. Her presence in the Call of Cthulhu rulebook seems to owe more to Robert Bloch than Lovecraft. Even then, Bloch’s version of Bast is a very different creature, especially in The Brood of Bubastis. We discuss these variations and how they might influence our games.

Chaos tries to influence my games, usually by lying on my arms as I’m trying to write them.

Of course, we also look at Cats in Call of Cthulhu and some other Lovecraftian RPGs. There are a surprising number of games in which you can play a cat and fight eldritch horrors. We mention a few of them.

We also offer a few ideas about how you might use cats in your games. Personally, we let our feline friends bat our dice around the table whenever we need to roll. Paul’s cat, Ginnie, takes payment for this by drinking our tea, which seems a fair exchange.

News

All three of us managed to make it to Concrete Cow this time around and we even ran some games. In case you haven’t heard us mention it before, Concrete Cow is Milton Keynes’ own gaming convention, held twice a year in March and September. If you fancy coming along and joining one of our games there, the next one is scheduled for the 15th of September.

Other Stuff

Most of us have suffered cats yowling outside our windows at night. Their screeches can pierce the very soul, driving sleep far away, leaving only frustration and pain. Taking inspiration from these midnight serenades, we offer two new songs in this episode. These are our caterwauling way of saying thank you to those generous people who back us at the $5 level on Patreon. We have almost caught up with our backlog of people to sing to, so if you are still waiting, your torment is closer than you think.