This is a very old post that I’ve had sitting in my drafts for months, so apologies for its lack of urgency and relevance. I may write up the Thanksgiving Trail of Cthulhu game I ran in 2016 as well, so I can claim this is a themed series of ‘late posts’.
So, it’s October 30th, and our regular scheduled game is cancelled. We need a pick up one shot, possibly themed to tie in with Halloween.
Sounds like a job for Fear Itself.
Fear Itself is an investigative horror game that lends itself to one shots and short campaigns. It’s powered by Gumshoe, which was originally designed as a pick up and play in 15 minutes system. Our group mostly play Gumshoe as well, so this is a strong candidate for a one shot game.
So what’s the set up? I need something that pulls the characters together, requires little explanation, cuts the characters off from the rest of the world, and exposes them to danger.
A Stag Do.
Dan, a freelance graphic designer, is getting married to his college sweetheart, Alyson, a veterinary nurse.
Dan’s really stoked to be starting this new chapter in his life, and also really stoked to be celebrating with some of his best buds.
These best buds are the player characters.
I gave the players a number of example buds they could be: Best Man, Bride’s Brother, New Boyfriend of the Maid of Honour, Friend from Work, College Roommate, Father of the Bride/Groom etc. The Groom himself was off limits because I felt that the Groom would have too much of a social advantage – everyone knows and likes him, and is invested in keeping him alive.
Fear Itself uses classic horror movie tropes (or Scooby-Doo characters) to define roles and skill sets in character creation.
My players chose:
- Jock Best Man
- Burnout Friend from Work
- Authority Figure New Boyfriend of the Maid of Honour
- Good Girl (gender flipped to boy) Friend That Everyone Knows and Likes
The more attentive amongst you may notice that this last character is in direct contravention of my stated intention to not have a character that knows and is liked by everyone. It wasn’t worth the fight though.
The characters set off to a cabin the best man had booked (clicked on the first affordable place on the first website). They traveled in a VW Camper van that was in no way green or purple and definitely not psychedelic.
On the way, they stopped at a number of back wood gas stations, where the abrasive and creepy old attendant warned them not to go down the old farm road. “That’s ok, my dude, we’re sticking to the main roads all the way. No hitchhikers either!”
The cabin itself is halfway up a mountain in the Rockies. To get to it, they pass a pumpkin patch, with large scarecrow, an old farm, a disused fairground, signs for an abandoned mine, before pulling up to two wood cabins.
One cabin has smoke coming from the chimney, a warm, friendly glow coming from the windows. The second is dark and unwelcoming. The players instantly decide that the one with the lights on is theirs.
As they get out of the van, they’re met by a middle aged couple, who introduce themselves as Colin and Mindy. They are wearing matching knitted pumpkin sweaters. I try, and fail, to do a Minnesotan accent. Oh ya. Fer sher.
The players informally conclude that Colin and Mindy are Satanists, and mentally prepare to be gutted by them.
They get into their cabin, and determine:
- The fire needs wood. Luckily there’s a log pile and axe out back
- There’s a shed, with various tools, and a chainsaw
- There’s a well, and a hand pump for the water
- Oddly, the back of the house is littered with dead animals in various stages of decomposition. Some of the bones have been arranged in runic shapes
- The groom has a bong the size of a baseball bat with him
Fast forward to the following morning, and various stages of hangover. The player characters try to make coffee, and totally fail to notice that Dan, the groom, is missing.
Instead they dick around in the cellar trying to get the generator working again and not touching the necronomicon, music box, conch shell, broken mirror etc that litter the shelves. It’s around this time that I was straight up accused of trying to ‘Cabin in the Woods’ them. I didn’t deny it.
By this time, the session is wearing on. We usually only play for two hours, so I try to speed things up. There’s a sound in the kitchen. The front door is open. There’s a sound in the loft. There’s a loft? Yes, with one of those cord opening balanced unfolding ladder things. We spend five minutes discussing loft ladders.
Finally someone goes up, just as the players decide to split the party.
Now we’re minutes from the end of the session, so I go into overdrive. The party split (always wise in horror scenarios) . One pair investigate the loft, the other pair check out the back of the house.
Something narrowly misses a head as it’s poked up into the loft. There’s a shadowy figure hefting an object out of the window. The two players out the back of the house see a burlap sack full of Dan land heavily on the ground.
It turns out that that the players immediate assessment of Colin and Mindy is 100% on the money. Colin is dressed up like a scarecrow, and drops out of the loft window onto one of the PCs. Mindy chases the other two out the house with an axe.
I was hoping for a struggle and a Total Party Kill, but the players overpowered Mindy, and then turned on Colin with Mindy’s axe.
By the end of the session, we had one severely injured PC, two with cuts and scrapes, a sack of pulverised Dan, and two incapacitated potential Satanists.