Achtung Cthulhu: Three Kings – A second look

Achtung Cthulhu: Three Kings (Zero Point Part 1)

A second look

After reading through the Three Kings adventure the first and second time, I set out with a plan to try and run this single adventure as a convention game.  It is funny how one can read through an adventure more than once and completely under estimate the potential.  It really goes to show you that you don’t truly know an adventure until you run it.  This is especially true in the case of the Three Kings adventure, as I found out.

My goal was a ambitious one but I thought if I trimmed some of the adventure down I could fit it into a four-hour time slot.  I first set out to run it in Call of Cthulhu as I am more comfortable with that rule set.  But I understand that CoC is geared towards the horror and investigative side of a Lovecraftian adventure.  Three Kings has that, of course, but because of its sheer nature in being set in World War II, it also has its tactical aspects too.  CoC is very abstract with the tactical side of things.

The other option was Savage Worlds: Realms of Cthulhu.  I have nothing against Savage Worlds. I thoroughly enjoy it when I play it.  I was just not comfortable with it at the time, from a  game master perspective.  Savage Worlds, by its nature, is a little more tactical and under the Realms of Chthulhu setting, it also had the horror and investigative side as well.  This presented my first dilemma but by far not the most challenging.

I spoke with one of my friends who is an editor in the industry and was familiar with the adventure.  I asked him what he thought about fitting this adventure into a 4-hour session, and he suggested cutting out a large part of the beginning of the adventure and get them to what I thought would be about half way through the adventure.  That sounded like good advice and in fact it helped with my first dilemma – what system to use.  The first half of the adventure is largely the covert intelligence gathering part, and the second half is far more tactical.  I decided to get over my reservations of running Savage Worlds and run it in Realms of Cthulhu.

I ran the first part of the adventure just to see how it can go.  This is where I discovered what it really meant for the adventure to be a “sandbox.”  There are very few defined encounters, in truth.  A few suggestions and a few required events to move the party along the plot line, but when the players are travelling between villages and the castle, it is completely open.  In order to really make it feel like a tense region under Nazi rule, I felt obligated to at least have a few random encounters that gave the party an opportunity to feel that tension.  At the same time, however, I wanted to make sure each encounter had meaning and applied to the overall story-arch.  The first session I ran of this took just over 3 hours and we did not quite get to where I wanted to get to.

After running the second half twice, both times attempting to trim it down to a 4-hour session without losing any of the essence of the adventure, I have to say that there is so much more to this adventure than initially meets the eye.  Do not let the fact that the meat of the adventure is just 19 pages fool you.  Additionally, if you do a little research and web searching, you can learn enough about the locale to add a little more to the adventure.  I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the layout of the castle from the various sources that are out there.  It can be enlightening.

The “sandbox” nature of this adventure can really create havoc when you are trying to manage the run time of the adventure.  Unmanaged, this adventure can easily take three to four sessions, if the game master wishes it.  The final scene, when done in full detail, can take a full session alone.  Managing the run time means managing the encounters while still allowing the players obtain the information and to reach the necessary goals of the adventure, with little to no deviation from the plot line.  Meanwhile, at the same time, the game master must avoid railroading the players in a particular direction.  The nature of a military mission helps with that, in that it keeps the player party focused on the mission goals, but deviations can happen and will if the game is not managed well.

For a home game, none of this management is necessary.  This adventure is perfect for a home game and has a lot of potential for many nights of fun and hilarity.  However, as I said before, I wanted to shoehorn this adventure into a convention game so that people at a gaming con can get a feel for what Achtung! Cthulhu was all about.  I did not want to short change the player from experiencing the heart of the adventure while at the same time I wanted the players to have a sense of closure in a 4-hour session.

My most recent attempt at trimming it down involves summarizing the mission brief (which contains way more information than needed for a convention game), and summarizing what has happened to the players thus far and include whatever intelligence they have gathered up until that point.  Unfortunately, this still adds up to about a 6 to 7 page bulleted document that the players have to read before the game.  We’ll see how that goes.  I am running it at RavenCon in Richmond, Virgina April 25 -27, if all goes according to plan.  I created a Powerpoint presentation as well, with the same information as the material the players have to read.  So hopefully between those two things, getting the gist of the game will be fairly easy for the players.

Condensing it was my most challenging problem, and one that I admit was self-imposed.  I realize that my desire to make a convention game is the path I chose and has thus far ended in longer sessions than my players would prefer.  However, there were some other minor tweaks I would recommend to anyone that wanted to avoid the somewhat clichéd ending the adventure has in store.  Enough can be done to make it somewhat original without completely changing the essence of the adventure.  Without giving away too much, I would recommend the GM read into the Mythos creature mentioned in adventure and relate the entities at the end to that creature, enhancing their look and feel with the characteristics of that Mythos creature.  This way, these entities will not feel so clichéd.  The GM should understand that cryptic recommendation, I think.

I write this to simply illustrate the depth and potential of this adventure.  My goals to condense it into a convention game made me realize this more than my initial review revealed to me.  As I said, you do not truly know an adventure until you have played it at least once.  The fact that I have had trouble compacting it is not a criticism of the overall adventure as all, but a compliment.  This setting is probably one I am going to delve into deeper now that I have played it a few times.  It touches on two of my favorite subjects – Lovecraftian horror and World War 2 – and I look forward to further adventures in it.