Trail of Cthulhu: Shanghai Bullets

flower_of_old_shanghai_by_yangtianli-d5ajwcrNews: RPPR B-Sides volume 2 is out! Click here to check it out! We have playtests of Call of Cthulhu scenarios, games of Fiasco, and a whole lot more!

Synopsis: Guns-blazing danger portends and international intrigue unfurls in the city of conspiracy, the licentious, opium-infused Berlin of the East. In the shadow struggle between nations, no weapon is more fiercely coveted than the star mirror. It brings blood-draining death from beyond the stars! A group of investigators meets in Shanghai in order to uncover the mystery behind the death of a priest. They find far more than they could possibly imagine.Β  This scenario is part of Stunning Eldritch Tales, although it was changed to take place in the 1920s, rather than the 1930s.

Edit: Thanks to Matt from the Drunk and Ugly podcast, there is an improved quality version of this episode.

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  1. The audio quality for this episode is atrocious.

  2. you can almost hear the delicious toast the microphone was making while recording! I’m guessing from that and background dog this was somewhere other than the usual recording spot?

    mm, Jackson Elias. I know where this is going.

  3. now I’m wondering if your usual recording tomb is Carcosa honeycombed with strange noise-swallowing geometries World’s Quietest Rooms-style. I get similar “empty space sound” going on making videos for werk and Camtasia’s noise canceling usually just makes everything terrible.

  4. Author

    I think it’s more that my place is relatively new, so no weird creaking sounds and the HVAC system is very quiet or off when I play. Also, my neighborhood is out in the suburbs and very quiet. I don’t have a dog or cat that makes any noise either.

    Also, I have sacrificed many player characters to the old ones so that my place is attuned for better recording levels.

  5. Sacrifice more Payton.

    More seriously, the lower than usual sound quality is preferable to the roar of that background noice πŸ˜‰ so no complaints from me

  6. also everyone should get the bsides immediately, the No Soul Left Behind playtest from Fear the Con alone is worth ittt. it’s that one that got mentioned on the talk podcast where the PCs body control Not Kanye West and hold themselves hostage. glorious.

  7. Eh, sound quality doesn’t bother me. It’s gotta be way up in the worse end of the B-Side con game level to really get to me.

    Speaking of B-Sides, I’ve gotta get to that No Soul Left Behind game.

  8. omg the Gencon NSLB game has the most amazing Tribes of Tokyo crossover going on

  9. John McA-I MEAN… Mac Jafree and his pet? Man that was a fun game! Same goes for the GenCon Transit game, though there’s some weird bumps with that recording.

  10. I agree the audio quality is very poor in the first ten minutes. To the point where it is painful at times to listen to: with radical changes in volume in the middle of a single sentence (as if you are moving towards and away from the recorder very fast), a tinny sound and an echo as if you are underwater.

    However after ten minutes the audio settles down somewhat and the audio quality is listenable, which is good because it is a great episode!

    One small criticism if I may, when you are reading the block text of the preamble, don’t rush it. It was a little difficult to catch but the detail about the conical mummies with tentacles being flammable was important to the plot.

    I really have to give you credit Ross, you ran multiple characters with hidden agendas and willingness to lie to the PC’s brilliantly. I loved it. I really enjoy the social/investigative games where the players have to piece together information from unreliable or possibly unreliable sources to tell who is the culprit of a mystery.

    I would recommend this as a primer to new GM’s who want to know how to execute mystery games well.

  11. Author

    Matt from the Drunk and Ugly gave the raw recording a shot and cleaned up the quality a bit more. I replaced it in the feed.

  12. Yeah, there were definitely some up-and-down audio issues before the fix, but at least it’s not somebody eating popcorn into the mic for thirty minutes.

  13. Author

    Tom fucking loves his popcorn. I have not had to buy popcorn for a year because he buys boxes and leaves them here.

  14. I don’t know if I became more annoyed by it over time or if it was the new recorder you started using a year…ish? ago, but I feel like it amplified background noise more than clarified player audio. This is unrelated to the episode at hand, I’ve just been thinking about it

  15. Author

    I also changed audio settings and used a program called levelator on all episodes now. The core problem is setting the right audio gain – most of the time we have average talking voices, but sometimes players will get excited and yell very loudly. This is really bad when recording so I have to set the gain to a low level. Levelator boosts quiet sounds, so the average voices can be heard at a normal level. It will also boost background noises.

    If I set the gain to a high level or use the automatic gain feature, background noises won’t be as problematic, but the audio will become very distorted whenever someone yells.

    I do care about the audio quality of the APs, so I’ll probably just ban crunchy snacks at the table from now on. It’s the easiest solution to this problem.

  16. I don’t even notice the popcorn! to the point that when people in recordings talk about annoying crunching I often don’t, like, know what they’re talking about.

    my own dysphonia is all verbal. entropics. Aaron’s occasional need to pad sentences with malapropisms and twenty words that don’t need to be there. =P AND IN BOTH FALLS WITHOUT ENDS CALEB SAYS BIOVAC INSTEAD OF BIVOUAC WHICH SOUNDS LIKE SOME EMERGENCY ECLIPSE PHASE SURGICAL PROCEDURE. okay off my chest coping coping

    bullshit nerdy need for things to be RIGHT aside, it’s actually kinda cool hearing the subtler parts of US accents other than my own? before getting into AP podcasts I’d never heard the word “greasy” pronounced with a Z sound, but both you guys are Ragnerdrok (who are near New York) do. it’s an education in dialect.

  17. Mmm, popcorn. I’m gonna eat some now.

  18. Eating crunchy snacks in the audio is something I notice right away, but then it fades into the back of my mind. Not a big deal.

  19. “Whoever has the artifact make a stability roll, you have weird dreams.”
    “We change it so the person who has it isn’t sleeping.”
    “Oh, then everyone make a stability roll.”

    Again, Ross you are my hero.

  20. So…out of curiosity, why the shift to the 20s? It didn’t seem to really come up in play and it seems like making things harder for yourself if there’s not somewhere you’re going with it.

  21. I’m pretty sure he’s going somewhere with it, but I can’t quite figure out where, and I’m dying to find out.

  22. It’s to eventually tie it in with Masks of Nyarlathotep, which is set in the 20s, while Shanghai Bullets and Trail of Cthulhu in general is set in the 30s.

  23. I always enjoy listening to Trail of Cthulhu scenarios. I think I’m going to adapt “He Calls Me by the Thunder” into Trail, and run it at next year’s Fear the Con. And then put together a couple of other Civil War scenarios, and see how they go in Trail.

  24. Now that I’ve finished listening to this episode, I will have to say I am the counter to Ethan’s post above. I honestly *really, really* dislike the whole Trail/Gumshoe system to the point that I have a hard time ignoring the whole “point pool” system during my playback of the Actual Plays. I guess I am in the minority.

    “I put 4 points into my shooting roll, thereby guaranteeing a successful shot!” and “I’ve spent all 3 of my points of sense trouble- so until I wake tomorrow morning, I will be easy to ambush!” are two ideas I just can’t endorse. I can’t handle using 1d6 for every roll, either. Just not enough range of randomness for me. :\

  25. Chados, I can totally understand that. I’m a little bothered by the 1d6 thing myself, since I really like rolling dice. And I know some folks in my gaming circles who would be terrible with point pools, because they’d always hoard everything.

    But personally, I really like the concept of having resources that can make a roll easier for those times that you especially care about success (and since it mirrors the fact that people can take extra effort to succeed in a clutch situation in real life), and I like the way the game uses mechanics to make narrative beats more effective.

    So maybe I should just get CoC 7th Edition, which has a little of that action going on, but with the more classic and swingy mechanics of percentile rolling.

  26. Author

    I think pool mechanics work better for horror and investigative games because people have limits to their focus and endurance. Fatigue is a very real thing and a character fighting cultists and monsters is going to wear out sooner or later. Having a character make spot hidden and sneak checks 24/7 without penalty is as realistic as D&D characters being as active with 1 hit point as they are at 100 hit points.

  27. D&D is it’s own thing, and I don’t mind playing it with it’s quirks(1hp=fine and dandy).

    I can see some of your points about pooled stats, Ross. I’ve listened to almost all of RPPR’s Gumshoe games and I’ve had ups and downs with my opinion on the Gumshoe system. I do like some of the things that they did with refreshing your pool somewhat, after listening to your NBA campaign. Still, I dislike the system a lot.

    I think Eclipse Phase does it right, with some Player Agency(Moxie, and being able to game the dice roll a bit), and it’s Wound/Trauma penalties system. If I can ever get my gaming buddies to gather often enough to get the campaign we’ve been talking about for over a year, I want to introduce -at least- the Moxie system.

  28. The thing that really sells Gumshoe for me, though it’s not necessarily that hard to port to more dice-intensive systems, is the investigative end of things. If you’re looking into the right things and leveraging your characters’ strengths, you shouldn’t be missing out on info just because the dice hate you tonight. You especially shouldn’t when it stops forward progress.

    The general ability side of things does make me a little frustrated sometimes, and I’m using it mostly because settings and themes like Ashen Stars and Night’s Black Agents are only available in the context of Gumshoe rules and I am far too lazy to convert to some other system. Personally I have way more issues with Eclipse Phase’s mechanics, though. I love the setting but I just can’t deal with the system. Maybe if they ever come through with that Fate version.

  29. The only time I really noticed the audio quality in the fixed one was near the end, when the old woman was talking. For whatever reason the fix cut out some of the pauses when Ross spoke, so her words were jumbled together. It was a bit harder to understand but also creepy.

    I really liked how you handled the multiple factions and how their attempts to find the item kept intersecting with the players.

    Anyways, I am really looking forward to the rest of this series. My money is on Father Killjoy being the first casualty of the campaign with his gung-ho attitude…

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