Call of Cthulhu: Shanghaied

shaghaiedPrepare for adventure on the high seas and in distant lands in this special double length episode of Call of Cthulhu! It begins with a group of would-be gold prospectors in 1848 as they arrive in San Francisco. The trio enter the wrong bar and wind up on a merchant ship on its way to Shanghai. First off, the ship will travel to Rook island to load up on spices. The new sailors try to adapt to life on the high seas, but one of them refuses to work on principle. His eventual fate foreshadows the true horror that awaits the survivors when they arrive on the island. Both the plantation owner and the native tribesmen hold dark secrets. Can the hapless sailors survive the upcoming conflict?

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  1. Author

    FYI: Shark fighting starts around 1 hour 19 minutes in.

  2. so you’re saying if there’d been no sharkfighting then the actual scenario would’ve started 30 minutes in?

  3. Author

    Shark fighting is the culmination of Aaron’s multiple attempts to protest being shanghaied by not working.

  4. I’m paraphrasing what was said on the talk podcast, that if Aaron hadn’t refused to buy into the basic conceit of the scenario then the sharkfight 80 minutes in would instead have been ’70 minutes into the actual adventure.’ =P

  5. All I can do is shake my head and wonder how the hell it came to this. Aaron never fails to amaze me.

  6. You know, I really don’t blame Aaron for refusing to work. It’s pretty tough to be flung into a scenario that’s different from the one you were expecting, and then immediately faced with a “keep playing or die” decision. Plus getting shanghaied is such a brutal violation of personal freedom that it’s not a surprise that a player would be willing to sacrifice their character rather than comply (while in real life, almost everybody would knuckle under, since it’s an actual matter of survival and people are much more willing to endure horrible degradation for survival’s sake in real life than in RPGs).

    I’m pretty sure that if I were playing in this scenario, I’d be very likely to spend the whole game working on ways to murder the captain.

    I think the way to make it happen more smoothly would be to simply not have the scenario begin until after they’ve been shanghaied and have been working on the ship for at least a day. If Tom had done that, I think the players would have been much more willing to accept that working on the ship is part of the premise, rather than a decision.

    That said…as a listener, I’m glad he ran it the way he did. It’s Actual Play gold.

  7. dat shark fight. . .

    Man, BRP is BRUTAL when dealing with wild creatures. You don’t need macabre monsters to take down players; you only need some squirrels or a wild pig or a feral Chihuahua.

    Aaron does deserve some credit for managing to keep his character alive as long as he did. This still isn’t quite as legendary as the monk slap because of the build-up towards the inevitable end to this one (the monk slap was spontaneous brilliance), but it was good fun.

  8. This has a crazy start that unfortunately ended up being frustrating for me as a listener as Aaron seemed to cross the line into actual game sabotage with his constant fighting against his characters situation. It just made everything slightly silly and unrealistic ( I know thats a strange thing to say in a game involving giant squid ) I know the players acknowledged it was a crazy sugar fuelled game but didn’t really settle down, So it was an okay listen which was shame as it seemed to be an interesting scenario.

  9. I enjoyed the AP, and rank it among my favorites for all of the madness throughout… but the ending really bothers me. I don’t really see any motivation for the deep ones to act as they did towards the end. There was no apparent need for or desire for what they did. And if they truly considered their actions as portrayed, the coercion would be entirely unnecessary.

    For most mythos encounters I am more than happy to chalk an ending up to the incomprehensible motives of creatures beyond space. Deep Ones on the other hand, and more specifically their hybrid spawn, have a human element to them that should be comprehensible on some level.

    I think it would have been novel for the crew to sail away relatively unmolested, or with a more subtle catch that ties into the unnatural aspects of the gold, and its effect on the viewer. Maybe it is a sort of mythos Basilisk hack that causes biological changes in an observer/those with continual proximity. That or something along the lines of the gold permanently opens up ones minds to to be haunted by the dreams detailed throughout the AP, allowing the “Higher Up’s” to make the hard sell of fishy immortality at leisure.

    All constructive criticism aside, I really did enjoy this AP. Much the same as Ross mentioned at the end, I was fully expecting things to go a different way, and was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. I kind of want to see a followup of a modern day game where the players visit a deep one banana republic.

  10. In addition to the comedy value of the whole “first act,” I really enjoyed the scenario proper. It was cool to see a straight-forward Deep One story, and I thought the players did a pretty good job avoiding too much metagame play. The thing I most like about the Deep Ones’ action in this scenario is that they are so willing to be reasonable and buy the PCs’ help. I think that reflects their style in the original Innsmouth story. It’s actually pretty good business to be in with the fishguys. If you don’t care about the whole rapey thing, it’s all upside.

  11. *flag thrown* Five yard penalty. Aaron. Delay of game.

  12. Yeah, I think if Tom had just kept the cut scene going until they’d all agreed to work it’d have gone faster. But then there wouldn’t have been the tone set for the wonderful first half of the game.

    All said, I loved this game though, it works pretty well and I liked the reasonable deep ones vs the jackasses who kidnapped the investigators.

  13. Aaron shark fight aside, this was a blast to listen too. I think, as a listener, 3 players is the right amount. I’ve always liked having 3 players as a GM as well; it allows enough room for a player to “be” their character while still feeling like a party/troupe.

    Really engaging scenario, with some interesting variety for the players. Also, Deep Ones. Nice job, Tom.

  14. And as much as people might wanna single out Aaron here, it was really Ross who caused the worst of it. Or maybe it was just the Surge and fudge talking.

  15. oh that was totally the surge and fugde. we are lucky Ross didn’t go into a sugar coma.

  16. Under normal circumstances, I’d have told Aaron to cut it out (similar to telling David to calm down with his “acting”), but this is the beauty of playing games with your friends, you can do dumb stuff for laughs and have it not be a problem. I would assume that Tom was not intending some kind of serious run, otherwise people probably would have treated it more seriously. Me and all my friends play CoC with a certain element of black humor, so shark-punching would be perfectly in there. Ross’ encouragement didn’t help, but it made an epic story, and probably turned something which is of the normal quality of RPPR into a legendary story, because it will forever be that time that Aaron dueled a shark.

  17. Liked it, as other people have said it’s nice to hear a classic Deep One CoC plot. I like that it’s the story of why ordinary, sane people would through in with the Mythos, greed and terror. The one suggestion I’d have had would be to make the captain and crew treat the shanghai’es a whole lot worse, but then still have the captain refuse to kidnap the kid. I think the players having the choice between working with inhuman weird cultist for money and revenge or sticking it out with people who are a-holes, but still human a-holes would be interesting.

    Also Aaron, next time you need to kill a shark with a knife, try hypnotizing it first:


  18. “I don’t want to be rich, I just want to make enough money that I don’t have to think twice about whether or not I want extra guacamole” -Ross Payton

  19. In regards to the “acting,” I’d like to point out that this is a CoC one-shot; in these, I always assume I am going to die so whatever pregen I am handed will develop an annoying habit based on the skills/stats on the sheet. Some are more pronounced (like Loud Howard here) but I try to make them all as unlikeable as can. It’s a defense mechanism of a sort; people mourn the random assholes and annoying jerks less.

    After ten minutes, *I* wanted to shoot him in the face. But it’s a role and I committed to it! That, and Aaron makes the most delightful faces when he’s annoyed…

  20. I actually found the loud artillery officer amusing rather than annoying. Less amusing than the shark fight or double gold, but also much less derailing and potentially irritating than the buildup to the shark fight.

    The motivation of the Deep Ones at the end – I think that’s because Tom was using the Deep Ones from Targets of Opportunity, which have slightly different motivations. Maybe sacrificing people to the Greater Deep One was part of a thanksgiving ceremony? They clearly weren’t interested in increasing their own numbers, since they let the artilleryman kill all the other sailors. And they seemed honest and well-intentioned, since they actually left Ross and Aaron alive and with the gold they were promised, rather than doing the easy thing and just eating them or dumping them in the ocean. Maybe they didn’t really understand the possibility of a healthy person wanting to reject the blessing of the Greater Deep One? In modern society, if someone wants to commit suicide, most people have no compunction about using force to stop that person, including drugging and imprisoning the suicidal person. From an immortal’s perspective, someone choosing guaranteed death from aging verse a chance at not dying from the Greater Deep One would be committing suicide. They don’t feel the need to ask permission in the same way we don’t feel the need to ask permission to drag an unconscious body out of a burning building.

    By the way, what was the deal with the gold? What would a successful geology roll have showed?

  21. You know it was a good AP when there have been over 20 comments and not ONE has mentioned the Cave Cows yet.

    Ransom a scenario about Cave Cows, and I will gladly pay. #CaveCows

  22. This was a pretty entertaining AP without the whole “shark punching” episode. The inclusion of the “shark punching” incident catapults it into “Lady Gaga 2.0” territory.

  23. Only about 20 minutes in but I for one welcome more Surge/Fudge fueled games.

  24. This episode is gold(in them thar hills), from shark punching to guac to cave cows. Ross’ Surge and Fudge fueled madness at the start is amazing to listen to.

    Man, I really want to try Ross Cookies and David Fudge now.

  25. Author

    I dont’ even remember the cave cows. When do we talk about cave cows?

  26. I can’t remember the exact spot, but at one point there are clues of cannibalism and stuff being made out of human skin, and your character reacts in denial by saying those are just from cave cows.

  27. @Noah

    David-fudge is ridiculously easy. If *I* can make it, anyone can! I believe this particular batch was a chocolate-mint

  28. The gold the Marsh family owned in the Shadow Over Innsmouth had a white-ish color to it. Never explained. That’s just how the gold from the Deep Ones looks.

  29. What campaign are they talking about where there were no mentions of the mythos until the end? I’m searching my memory but I just can’t place it.

  30. @ Mike
    Tribes of Tokyo. It starts with just vampires… then there are other things.

  31. Instead of debating about Aarons decisions I’d rather focus on the fact that this might be on eof the funniest episodes I’ve listened to in a while, more sugerfueled Ross please.

    I would not be suprised if doublegold shows up in other games down the line.

  32. Yes, it may seem too soon, but I nominate this episode for immediate addition to the Best of RPPR AP page. It’s solid comedy doublegold.

  33. Half a McDuck, at least!

  34. I actually thought the shouty artillery officer was great. admired the commitment to character. and Ross was in high comedic form! there’s nothing wrong with suspending disbelief for a few minutes and accepting the premise of a game, Aaron! it’s okay to do! I noticed you didn’t insist on playing your character to the hilt when you were told you should be racist on that first island!

  35. There were cave cows in the Exile and Avernum series of CRPGs by Spiderweb Software. They were very pale cows kept by the cave dwelling Exiles and Avernites. Mostly, they ate mushrooms and other fungi.

    Some even had dialogue options, mostly variations on “Moo”.

  36. Just finished this game today. Wow. I loved it.

    Tom, really cool concept, I thought the game went well even with all the crazy shenanigans.

    Note to self, bring surge and fudge to GENCON so people can be this silly the whole time we’re there.

    David your character annoyed me in the beginning but you stuck with it and it grew funnier over time. “we talk way over here, far away from everyone else” “We give David’s character paper to write down what he wants to say” The other PCs eventually learned to deal with loud Howard and it was entertaining. =)

    Aaron, shark punching, yep that goes on the list lol. I do agree that future runs it may save time to just start after they’ve already been on the ship for a few days, but you could also get more shark punching gold if you don’t!

    Ross is always a nutcase when he PCs, it’s very entertaining to listen to all his silliness.

    All in all I really enjoyed the game and feel it’s one I’ve enjoyed more than most and rank it with Channel 6 news, Lady Gaga 2.0, and Coronet, but I love the over the top comedy games the most

  37. Thirty-seven comments in and another Ross gem hasn’t been mentioned; I do believe that “Iron Mermaids” needs a mention.

  38. I believe that was actually Aaron’s line.

  39. I enjoyed this one immensely, especially the “oh no way, cave cows” and near the end “No wait, we can’t go to Fiji, it has ACTUAL cannibals during this time period.” The best spot was when Aaron channeled Caleb with the heart-pouch stuff, I wasn’t prepared for a Stokesian double-hamlet style plan in a game w/o Caleb.

    Awesome scenario!

  40. Much respect to the keeper. If my players kept deliberately sabotaging me, holding up the game for everyone with their embittered, “This isn’t going exactly the way I wanted” entitlement or committing to silly, immersion breaking roles totally out of step with the game tone, I would get irritated, then disheartened and would find it hard to go on.

    I’ve only been playing for a couple of years, but the amount of work it takes to buy books, learn rulesets, study or generate scenarios is formidable. When people are that disrespectful it makes me feel like I’m failing, somehow. In this situation, I probably would have pulled the plug, handed out DungeonWorld playbooks and run a one-shot instead. Really impressive forbearance and tenacity from the keeper. I couldn’t even listen to the whole thing.

  41. Jamin, I totally understand that. I might find play like this pretty frustrating in some of my home games, too. Especially since I don’t get to play very regularly, so a screwed up session is more than just a wasted week. But every once in a while, it’s fun to just “let the cameras roll” and see what happens.

    And in the case of RPPR, the gaming social contract can be pretty loose, especially when it makes for an entertaining recording. If you want to hear the worst possible version of this play style, with the best possible results, listen to “The Haunting”.

  42. @Jamin

    I know that our zany, madcap hijinks and derailing behavior were a little distracting, but there was a point to it. Tom is preparing this scenario with an eye to running it at a future date at a convention, and that’s why we were actively trying to break it. We wanted to distract, derail, and detain *just* to help Tom to identify the spots in the scenario that can be better; one can learn more from a session that goes wahoonie-shaped than one can from one that goes smooth and by the numbers.

    We aren’t actively trying to be jackasses here (at least I’M not) but help a friend make a good scenario better. Yes, we broke the feel of CoC by way of sugar high, bad characterization, and “No! Not gonna do it!” in turn, but at a convention there may be even worse characterization. Frankly, if our positions had been reversed and I had been behind the screen, I would have preferred for Tom to respect me enough to throw a zany voice my way; it would help me prepare for the eventual Con game and the possible curveballs therein.

  43. That was a pretty awesome episode, guys. I would like to have been there to witness it in person.

    Tom- way to keep the game together, good classic Deep Ones scenario.
    Aaron- Shark knifing. ‘Nuff said!
    David- nice character quirk concept, and kudos for hanging on to it for the whole episode.
    Ross- you.. you Surge-powered-evil-guys-kool-aid-drinking-magnificent-bastard(monster).

  44. I think that while objecting to being kidnapped, objection would stop once finding some of the easier jobs like pushing brooms or whatnot after a few weeks. How it spiraled to fighting a shark is still a mind boggling effort to figure out.

    Loved the idea of this scenario with all the historical connections to one HPL story (not going to spoil it to those not yet hearing this AP or reading it) & would really enjoy if Tom teamed up with Ross/Caleb to get this & some other RPPR scenarios together to put into a published work (either here or through some friends like Pagan Publishing/Unspeakable Oath). This one is quite a fun concept with it being in a separate time but easy to mold most of this to the 1920s as there’s plenty of isolated islands out there, though think it works best with the time from 1848 to the Victorian time period. So Tom if you do put this scenario into a published piece, I’ll definitely buy it.

  45. I’m curious what the “expected path” for this scenario would be. I’m 90% sure teaming up with the Deep Ones and murdering the islanders (and the rest of the ship’s crew, for that matter) isn’t it. …but only 90%.

  46. @malkav11

    Hey, the Deep Ones were certainly nicer, more sociable, AND they had gold. Double-gold even! The crew were polite enough, but did they offer us double-gold?

  47. Can I just say that Aaron’s attempts to not work on the ship is possibly the greatest thing I’ve ever listened to.

  48. Ten years from now, I will have no real memory of what this scenario was about… But I will *still* remember Aaron’s increasingly ridiculous attempts to derail the game culminating in a whacktastic shark-stabbing duel. I mean, that’s the stuff of internet gaming legend right there. I think this actual play deserves to make the “best of” list just for that one priceless moment.

  49. I have to ask, is the “heart pouch” an original artifact? or is it from one of the books/supplements? Im rather curious.

    Also, I am endeavouring to write a “Cave Cow” scenario now.

  50. @Review Cultist: The heart pouch is something I made up. Still, it seemed like the kind of artifact creatures would use when they need to look human. After all, not every Deep One is a sorcerer.

  51. Gonna be honest, I kinda don’t get everyone’s hate-boner for Aaron on this? The whole time he’s being given “options” but then getting shouted at for actually going with one of them. Not to mention constantly being shit on for pretty good off-the-cuff ideas for getting free food. I get that the whole kidnapped thing is the point, but don’t give the players options when you’re just going to refuse to work with them on one.

  52. I’m with you, Peter R. Except I don’t think anybody’s really hating on Aaron here. If I had been in Tom’s place, I probably would have been more accepting about Aaron’s scemes to avoid work. But in the moment, Tom had not expected that situation to arise, and was just trying to get the PCs to the begining of the actual adventure as quickly as possible. So I don’t realy blame Tom, either. And most of the truly absurd ideas came from Ross, who might have taken the situation more seriously, but instead went for the comedic possibilities. And I can’t blame him either, considering how wonderfully everything turned out. It was just…one of those things that happen.

  53. I agree that Aaron’s plot near the end was right along my lines. I look forward to seeing him enact and successfully complete his own Double Hamlet.

  54. erm, I meant that Aaron’s plot was a highlight of the AP, and was what I was thinking currently

  55. Honestly a genius story, a bit of surreal brutalist Anericana like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and a bit of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
    I love how this scenario humanizes the enemy, forced the PC’s to make horrible choices, and pulled the double fake out that the Deep Ones actually stuck to the deal.

    Also, David’s Gordon Cole civil war vet character was awesome and developed a cool arc. I would’ve killed the captain too!

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