Interview #1 - Jabonko - Keeper: Hurricane Cthulhu

An irregular Forum containing interviews with members who have/are running games on this site.

Interview #1 - Jabonko - Keeper: Hurricane Cthulhu

Postby carnage_lee » Tue Apr 10, 2007 3:04 pm

Play@YSDC: What inspired you to run your game?

Jabonko: Hurricane Katrina. I heard about a hurricane in New Orleans and thought "doesn't 'The Call of Cthulhu' start in New Orleans? What if the hurricane was really some portent of Cthulhu rising again?"

I had been working on a very complicated campaign that had lots of metaphor and literary reference and all that, but hadn't made a lot of progress. I found myself trying to force this New Orleans scenario into the campaign somewhere it didn't make sense. So, to avoid further frustration and SAN loss, I sat down and said "ok, you have an idea, make it a one-shot storyline." I sat down with the idea in mind and in about 10 minutes, I had the whole plot outline written down.

Of course, it took me another two months to finish fleshing it out satisfactorily, but it only took ten minutes to get the idea.

Play@YSDC: Did everything run according to plan?

Jabonko: Not at all. And thank god for that! I actually have a printout of all of my notes from before I ran the game, and it's all marked up with red pen where things changed.

I am really pleased with the way things changed. For one thing, it made the story much more believable than I had it initially. In my mind I saw the whole thing playing out over the course of one night of game-time. After my players decided that their characters were tired, I thought "oh yeah. . . people sleep!"

There were other places where the players explored beyond the scope of my scenario. I hadn't written up anything about Dr. Gabroman's hotel room before they decided to go there. I had a deranged swamp-family in my original notes, but as an obstacle located on a dead end path. Because of one of the character's background, I used the family as a marker to show the players they were on the right path.

Play@YSDC: What do you think are the main strengths of playing by post?

Jabonko: Time is the first one I think of. It's a bit of a double-edged sword, but I think I made use of it as a resource. It allowed me to really describe people and places. Unlike live gaming, when the players threw something unexpected at me, I had as much time as I wanted to think up an appropriate response.

On the other hand, Play by post doesn't really give me a sense of how long a scenario would take to play out in a live gaming setting. It took about two months to play out a story that I thought would have taken about four or five hours if played out live.

Another great thing that I utilized a lot was the Private Message. PMing allowed me to give individual players information that the others wouldn't have. For example: rather than clutter the thread with a lengthy description of the contents of Gabroman's Jouranl, I simply sent a PM to the player whose character was reading it. I think my favorite use of PM was when I was suddenly inspired to inflict the Innsmouth Look on the characters, and I PM'ed each one their customized taint. That was fun.

Play@YSDC: How do you think play by post can be utilized to maximize the fun of a Call of Cthulh game?

Jabonko: Hmmm. I think making full use of time and PM's like I was just talking about can really help. Also, I think the GM needs to pay closer attention to a PBP game than a live game. It may sound counter-intuitive because PBP is so spread out over time it might seem more independent of the Keeper, but that's why the Keeper has to be more attentive.

In PBP there's no face-to-face contact to keep the players focused on the game. There are also a lot more distractions because the game doesn't take place all at once. So the GM needs to make sure the pacing of the game doesn't slow too much.

This really means that when writing up the story, the Keeper needs to edit the plot and make it move. I think the usual lengthy investigative scenes common to CoC games need to be sped up or summarized. I hate to say it, but the story should almost be designed like an episode of a TV show. Maybe a series of episodes.

I really tried to do that with the format of Hurricane Cthulhu, and I feel like everything between when the investigators left Pagnol Elementary and when they arrived at DeFond Manor was slower than what I would have liked in terms of pacing. That was my own fault, not the players.

I hate to say it, but I think a good dose of railroading can help a PBP survive.

Play@YSDC: What other games do you play besides Call of Cthulhu?

Jabonko: I play as many as I can! I started with AD&D 2nd ed., in middle school. In high school I moved on to Werewolf, then Mage: the Ascension. In college there was a big lull in my playing. I remember one day during my junior year I went out and bought two d10's just to carry around with me, because I wanted to at least have some RPG-related something with me, even though I wasn't playing.

Senior year I saw a flyer in my friend's apartment building that read "Do you Cthulhu?" And through that I met Darrick Dishaw and joined my first Call of Cthulhu game: Masks of Nyarlothotep. After we finished that, we played some D&D 3.5, Vampire (as Camarilla), I helped play-test Empire of Satanis (interestingly enough, the sessions we played with Darrick were very different than what one would think the game would be like after reading the rule-book). I also ran a couple games of Wushu for that group.

Now, back in Minnesota, I've played a hybrid of Godlike/Unknown Armies with a spy theme run by my friend Mark. Then I ran some Dogs in the Vineyard, Dread (awesome!), and the Ghostbusters RPG (released in the mid-80's, also designed by Sandy Petersen). We're about to start a Wild Talents game with a Super-hero High School theme. I'm really excited.

I used to play Magic: The Gathering, Star Trek: CCG, Illuminati, and the newer CoC: CCG. I still love all sorts of card games: Flux, Set, Blink, Mag Blast, Lunch Money (creepy photos!), Guillotine, Munchkin, and many others. And lots of board games: Arkham Horror, Frag, Risk, Candy Land (so scary!). . .

And video games. . . but sadly not CoC: Dark Corners of the Earth (it crashes on my PC and I don't have an Xbox).

Play@YSDC: Do you regularly play Call of Cthulhu RPG around the table?

Jabonko: I hate to admit it, but no. The last CoC game I played was actually a game of Dread, but I was running "The Haunting." Speaking of which, I've been meaning to write up a recap of that game for the forums: to give CoC players a way to compare apples to apples when they consider Dread and CoC.

Play@YSDC: What kinds of new products from Chaosium would you like to see?

Jabonko: Hmmm. I've always been intrigued by the "Food" link on Lovecraftiana. Maybe Chaosium should release a line of jerky. Is it beef or Deep One flesh? On second thought, the marketing would just be too difficult.

An atlas would be great, too. GURPS had a book called "Place of Mystery" which was a globe-spanning collection of places . . . of mystery: The Bent Pyramid, Stonehenge, Atlantis, etc. I found my copy of the book, worn and well-used, buried in the bargain box at my local game store. It has brief histories, the pseudo-science and conspiracy theories that accompany a place, and suggestions for plot points, twists, and NPC's that would work well with such a place. I think Chaosium would do well to develop something like that.

Play@YSDC: What are you planning next as a Call of Cthulhu keeper?

Jabonko: I still delude myself into thinking that I'll finally finish writing that disgustingly huge metaphoric allegoric phantasmagoric campaign. I keep thinking maybe I should post about it on YSDC to get some collaborative help, but there's a part of me that's selfish and doesn't want to share.

Play@YSDC: So, would you rather be a keeper or a player?

Jabonko: Right now I'm excited to be a player. After running a series of unrelated one-shots in a different RPG system each night, I'm done being a Keeper for a while. But, we have a new player in our group that our current keeper has described as "the best horror GM I've ever played with" (though I've been told I rank right up there with him). This new player is also big on CoC and so I'd be interested in playing a horror game with him as Keeper.

But being a Keeper has its perks. I think next time I run a game, I'm going to include an NPC that accompanies the players throughout a large portion of the game. Maybe then I can be both at once!

Play@YSDC: Do you engage in various habits or hobbies of an insidiously evil nature?

Jabonko: Yes. I'm not sure which ones I should talk about in public. I like making books, and I've taken to using canvases painted with Cthulhuoid scenes on the cover (

Play@YSDC: Favorite Old One? Outer God?

Jabonko: Hastur! Hastur! Hastur! Though I pronounce is Hass-TOOR, for fear of drawing the wrath of The Unnamable. I'm also a big fan of Cassilda. She's hot.

Play@YSDC: If one night you and Narly got to drinking in a bar, what single question would you most want to ask him?

Jabonko: What's with you and Shub? Come on, grow some balls and ask her out, already! Pansy.

Play@YSDC: Got a favorite Cthulhu monster?

Jabonko: Not really. To be honest, I'm not terribly familiar with all the critters and creatures out there.

Play@YSDC: What other RPGs have you tried or would like to try?

Jabonko: Oh, lots (see above). How about instead I answer this question: "What RPGs would you recommend that others try?" Number one, given the horror-loving audience, would be Dread. I know I've been plugging it a lot on the forums lately, but it's really a great game.

The other that I would highly recommend is Roanoke by Clint Kruase. I played a game of that run by Dan Bayne. The Big Bad thing that destroyed our colony was called Dago-an (yes, purposeful spoof). So to make use of the doom mechanic at the end of the game, I had my character turn into a Deep One and ditch the colony. That was my disappearance.

Play@YSDC: A good creepy place to set a Cthulhu adventure is?

Jabonko: Your players' back yard. Hit 'em at home, where it hurts! Dark forests, abandoned buildings, schools, are all great places too. I'm not a huge fan of asylums, though. They just seem over used. Which means I have to rewrite my huge-o-mongous campaign. Again!

Play@YSDC: Any favorite modern authors you think embody the Lovecraftian tradition?

Jabonko: I haven't read many modern Lovecraftian authors outside of the people writing CoC and Horror RPG scenarios. I have just picked up an anthology of Raymond Chandler stories, though, so I'm really excited to dig into that.

Play@YSDC: Best CoC moment?

Jabonko: I think my top three moments for CoC (in no particular order) are:

The ten minutes it took me to write up the whole outline for Hurricane Cthulhu's plotline.

After finishing Masks of Nyarlothotep in the gaming group with Darrick as Keeper, one of the other players complained because we hadn't thwarted Nyarlothotep. It wasn't the complaining that I enjoyed, but the futility our characters encountered. I was glad Darrick didn't pull any punches.

Running "The Haunting" using Dread as the system. I used the Landlord as a PC instead of an NPC. We had some great moments in that game. Especially with the tower looming overhead.

Play@YSDC: So who are you really - names optional?

Jabonko: My name is Sam Friedman. Jabonko, my YSDC forum handle, is a demon I created long ago for a fantasy story. I just mashed on the keyboard and got something that led me to that name.

I've just started grad school in Library and Information Science. My ideal career would be working in the basement of a museum restoring and preserving ancient/old texts and the like. Or as my friend Mark jokes "You'd take any job that you thought would give you a better chance of finding the Necronomicon."

Play@YSDC: So Lovecraft was (a) dark dreamer, (b) prophetic genius (c) literary hack (d) really needed to get out and live a little more?

Jabonko: I like to think of Lovecraft as a dark dreamer. The prophetic genius thing is fun to tack-on when playing CoC: RPG, but I don't think he was really talking about the future or things he really thought were real.

The greatest thing Lovecraft ever wrote, in my opinion, is the opening of the second paragraph of The Call of Cthulhu. "The most merciful thing . . ." Of course, I find it incredibly frustrating that I can't correlate the contents of my mind, because if I could, I'm certain I would have several best-selling Lovecraftian novels published!

Play@YSDC: So, what really scares you?

Jabonko: I do. Not as a person, but my imagination. When left all alone, without face-to-face human contact, my imagination runs amok. I start thinking things and can't stop. And there's no one around to ground me in reality. It can get very hard to keep writing about the shambling creature, when I'm certain that by writing I'm making it real, that it's right outside my door, right over my shoulder, and there's no one around to prove to me that it's not. Some nights when I'm alone, I still have to hide under the covers to stay safe from the monsters. It's amazing how well the blankets work as a ward. I'm surprised I haven't seen that used in more CoC plots!

Play@YSDC: Sam, thank you very much for taking part in the first Keeper Interview on Play@YSDC.
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Re: Interview #1 - Jabonko - Keeper: Hurricane Cthulhu

Postby carnage_lee » Tue Apr 10, 2007 3:10 pm

Sam also had the following to share on specifics of Hurricane Cthulhu

Jabonko: A few people asked me some questions about Hurricane Cthulhu, so I figured I should answer those, too.

Why did you end it with the tower and not Cthulhu?

Jabonko: I felt like throughout the whole story the investigators were living out someone else's investigation: Dr. Gabroman's. Then, somewhere in the chapter The Terror in the Marsh, I got the inspiration to use the film to make the adventure come full circle at the end. This fit with my original idea of skipping everything after the island erupted into the swamp and having the characters awaken in an asylum, but I thought it provided a better explanation and a more satisfactory ending.

Originally, the investigators were going to explore a cyclopean city of maddening angles. After a while Cthulhu was going to come out of a similar tower and the investigators would focus on the void to avoid witnessing the full horror of the Great Old One. But I felt conflicted, and thought that The Big C was too lethal an entity to just explain away.

One comment suggested that if I had included a creature of some sort, it would have helped explain what grabbed Gabroman off of the roof. I never had any intention of explaining what grabbed Gabroman. Partly because that secret would be uncovered in the sequel.

Innsmouth Look? But how!?

Jabonko: This was definitely the most worrisome question I got. I use the mythos as a starting point: something from which to draw ideas for eldritch horrors. I'm not trying to retell Lovecraft's stories, I'm telling my own. So I have no problem using ideas from the mythos, and changing them to fit my own needs.

The reason that this question worried me wasn't because someone had caught my departure from standard mythos themes, but because I was worried the outside reader (and possibly even my players) didn't understand what I was doing. That would be a failure on my part to show what had happened.

To me, the Innsmouth Look was a taint afflicting those who were connected to Cthulhu: worshippers, followers, scholars, cultists, those crusading against Cthulhu, etc. I thought it would be more horrific if it wasn't limited just to the "bad guys".

Dr. Gabroman had it, because his whole life had been spent researching Cthulhu and searching for R'lyeh. Alejandro was tainted because he was pulled in by Gabroman and began his own search for R'lyeh. The Assassin at Pagnol Elementary was simply a cultist. Monsieur DeFond was a cultist and scholar of Cthulhu, descended from a lineage associated with occult knowledge, who was trying to find and raise R'lyeh.

So the investigators became tainted as well. By attending the symposium they were exposed to it. Their entire investigation from that point forward was, unknown to them, a continuation of Gabroman's research into R'lyeh and Cthulhu. By pursuing DeFond, they were heading ever closer to R'lyeh. So they were unwittingly connected to Cthulhu. Therefore, they were doomed to suffer the same taint as the others.

How did the story as played differ from what I had written?

Jabonko: One of my players asked me about this, and I promised a full write-up. I obviously bit off more than I could chew. My notes are lengthy and involved. So I hate to disappoint, but a very detailed write-up is not in the stars. Suffice it to say, things changed for the better.
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Re: Interview #1 - Jabonko - Keeper: Hurricane Cthulhu

Postby welsh » Wed Apr 11, 2007 10:49 pm

nicely done!

One man's meat may very well be another man's person-
- Anonymous Cannibal
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