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Hooding a Yuan-Ti, Wandering 1930s Shanghai

Not interested in RPGs or specifically in comments on someone’s recent games? Yeah, you’ll want to skip this post. 

Interested in and/or playing Trail of Cthulhu or D&D 5E? Though this post has no spoilers, it links places that has spoilers. This post should be fine, but watch those links. 

(And unlike movie spoilers—which don’t bother me—I think game scenario spoilers can ruin an RPG session or campaign, so… you’ve been warned.) 

The Terrible Temple (A GHOSTBUSTERS oneshot)

So, first off: I’m not running anything at the moment, though I recently finished writing up a scenario for the  1st edition West End Games Ghostbusters RPG. It’s called “The Terrible Temple” and it’s set in the town where I live, though it assumes the Ghostbusters franchise group is located in Daejeon. It also assumes the following:

Oh, and in this universe, the NYC Ghostbusters are the original ones, though they’re older now and (with the exception of Egon Spengler, who’s an R&D nut), spend most of their time on tropical beaches, enjoying their cut of a worldwide chain of franchise operations. Spengler, though, still cranks out the dangerous, hyper-powerful gadgets… and offers the franchise operations certain “incentives” in exchange for serving as field testers. (Shades of Paranoia‘s R&D folks.) 

It’s technically a one-shot, but with some cool stuff in the background that could be used if I wanted to get a longer-running game going. I hope to run that sometime in the new year, and maybe launch some kind of short-term weekly session of LotFP (or something else, maybe, depending whether I have anything needing playtesting) during the holidays. 

Meanwhile I’m playing in two games.

Tomb of Annihilation Log

The first is a D&D 5E campaign of Tomb of Annihilation, run online by my good buddy Jeremy Tolbert

I figured out why my rogue character in that ongoing D&D 5E game often seems to be running at right angles to standard fantasy rogue tropes: despite the limitations of his skillset and culture, I’m basically playing him like he’s a character from a modern espionage film or game or someone out of Reservoir Dogs, except in a high fantasy setting. Cutting out mages’ tongues to stop them spellcasting, and backstabbing big huge antagonists in a barfight? Sounds to me like Jason Bourne tactics: neutralize the threat as quickly and surgically as possible, and get out with a quickness? 

This past weekend, midway through a battle with some Yuan-Ti, heard one of them say the name of an infamous villain amid the gobbledygook of its own language. A few moments later, my guy’s dumping out his backpack as he charges toward that same Yuan-Ti, the last one standing, screaming, “Don’t kill him!”, and by the end of the combat, with the help of the party’s tank (a half-orc warrior) the Yuan-Ti’s had the backpack over its head and cinched at the neck and was tied up for interrogation: 

Under that bag, it’s a snake head. Okay, and our characters aren’t in balaclavas. But still…

I suspect, though, that part of the reason for my approach to running this character is that the Tribes of Tokyo podcast I recently mentioned has rubbed off on me. I dunno: it makes perfect sense to me to hood and interrogate a hostile antagonist, as game strategies go, even he has a snake head and poison fangs and even if, in a swords’n’sorcery setting, the logic of the game dictates that the good guys usually just exterminate the bad guys on the field of battle. Which we may do in the end, but we might as well try get some information out of ’em first, right?  

I’ve been doing the game log for the group’s game (but warning: that log is full of spoilers for the Wizards of the Coast Tomb of Annihilation adventure book!). My accounts are slowly growing less-detailed as I go. They started out more detailed not because each round of combat matters, but out of my desire to highlight contributions by all players, including those made in combat scenes. Now I’m trying to summarize the battles a little more and focus on the ongoing journey and unfolding mysteries.

I find, though, that recording adventure logs in a neutral third-person account is a lot of work, whereas first-person is both easier and more fun. Which brings me to my other game log… 

Trail of Cthulhu Campaign Log #2:

The other log is for the Trail of Cthulhu game I mentioned joining recently. That log is first-person and in-character, as diary notes by my character. Again, the entry itself (a downloadable PDF below) contains spoilers for the “Shanghai Bullets” adventure in Robin D. Laws’ Stunning Eldritch Tales. Consider this a spoiler warning for the PDF: the post itself spoils nothing, though.

We had our second session last Thursday. Now that we’re starting to get more of a feel for the system and to spend our point pools a little more, the game is rolling along. (That’s one thing Tribes of Tokyo drives home: if you want to advance the narrative, spending points while following leads is a good way to do it… just keep in reserve enough points for you to drive your burning jeep to victory in the end.) It was fun looking up some of the old locales in Shanghai that come up in the course of the adventure, like the Shanghai Club—which, if I’m not mistaken, a player introduced:


The Shanghai Club, which contained (even in the 1930s) the longest bar in the world, and where one of our characters got a tantalizing lead. From the Virtual Shanghai website. (Click for source.)

In the last session, I had a good opportunity to use my character’s cop-talk skills to gain access to some information and files, and also to intimidate another character into spilling some beans. Mind you, I’m still trying to unlearn my tendency to look into and investigate any and every little thing that crosses our paths. The other players are helping with that, as is the GM.  

I find the setting, Shanghai in 1935, pretty fascinating, even viewed through a pulp lens—enough so that I plan on getting out my own coffee-table book on the history of Shanghai—Building Shanghai: The Story of China’s Gateway by Edward Denison and Guang Yu Ren—and review a bit before the next session.  

From the Virtual Shanghai website. (Public domain image, click for source site.)

As I noted previously, my character Oliver is somewhat progressive for a man of his time, but he still has a number of attitudes and hangups typical of a British colonial police officer living abroad in the mid-1930s, so if you look at his game log, remember that his attitudes are not my own. 

I’m enjoying both games very much, and… I’ve learned a lot about what it’s like to be a player in an RPG, since most of my experience (aside from a few games in the mid-90s and the games that got me started in the mid-1980s) has been as a GM.

Oh, and all the Shanghai pictures are from Wikimedia Commons or the Virtual Shanghai website, linked above.

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