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A Cthulhu Dinner Party, Part I

Posted By Walt Ciechanowski On March 23, 2011 @ 9:07 am In GMing Advice | 8 Comments

In two weeks my wife and I are hosting a dinner party that involves Trail of Cthulhu. This is an idea that I’d been kicking around for a few years. I thought it’d be a fun opportunity to “dress up” and play a one-shot while having an elegant dinner (using the table settings and crystal we got for our wedding and have only used once).

I thought I’d lay out the plan here and then report on how the evening went afterwards. I’ve never done anything like this before, so handling the logistics has been a learning experience.

The original plan was to invite several friends over and ask that they dress appropriately for the period (generally suits and dresses). There would be no children around; we’re sending ours to sleep over their grandparents’ house. Guests would be received in our front room with wine and finger foods, after which we’d head to the dining room for dinner, with the game played between courses.

I initially chose Call of Cthulhu as the RPG since I wanted something that could be completed in a one-shot and CoC lends itself well to that. I’d design (or use pregen) PCs that would fit the scenario.

So far, here are the modifications I made along the way.

1. Adjusting the Game/Dinner plan

A number of issues immediately cropped up over dinner and the game. Some of my guests worried that the table would get too cluttered with plates and game materials, not to mention the lack of room for dice rolling.

I’ve adjusted to this by separating the game from dinner. When the players arrive in the front room, we’ll have an impromptu LARP so they can introduce themselves to each other in character. I’ll explain the rules and then we do the following:

  • Dining Room – soup and salad courses
  • Front Room – RPG, Part 1
  • Dining Room – main course
  • Front Room – RPG, Part 2
  • Dining Room – dessert

Breaking things up like this also makes it more fun for players that have been kicked out. In order to keep the tension high, I’m not replacing PCs that are killed, incapacitated, or driven insane. Interspersing the game with dinner means that players still have socializing to look forward to even if they’re stuck observing for an hour. 

2. Dinner

We aren’t hiring caterers, so my wife and I have to do the clean-up and serving between courses. I needed to incorporate that into the plan. Fortunately, we host Thanksgiving at our house and have a variety of hot plates and warmers. We’re in the midst of planning a menu that enables us to quickly serve our guests.

3. Game System

Sharp-eyed readers may have noted that I actually mentioned two RPGs so far. This isn’t an accident. While I initially was going to use CoC, I settled on ToC. There were a number of reasons for this.

  • I really liked a ToC adventure that had 6 pregen PCs (leaving me to only have to create two)
  • The adventure has a strong Pacific theme, giving us a theme for dinner.
  • The rules seemed more conducive to a one-shot, with less of a chance of obviously missed clues (as well as a quicker descent into madness)
  • ToC only uses 1d6 (or a normal die) for rolls. I could use a giant inflatable die that can be kicked across the floor.

3. Handing out Characters in Advance

Originally, I’d planned on handing PCs to people as they arrived. My reasoning was that, although I’d invited 7 people, I’d assume that some of them wouldn’t show. I could then adjust which PCs I handed out accordingly.

Some of my guests, however, requested that I hand out characters in advance. They wanted a chance to conceptualize their PCs before arrival. I decided to concede this point and handed them out early, making sure my bases were adequately covered for no-shows.

4. Fancy Dress

Because PCs were being handed out early, a new question arose. Rather than “suits and dresses,” can the players arrive dressed in character? Also, since they also knew that the game would be set on an ocean-going ship, could they wear something more appropriate for a person-of-leisure on board?

I decided to bend on the “suits and dresses” rule in these cases, stressing that, for atmosphere, I still didn’t want people showing up in t-shirts and jeans, if possible.

5. Time

The final big consideration was to set the time. Most of our guests need babysitters, and some of them, including us, have activities to take our kids to during part of the day. I also wanted to ensure that we’d have enough time to play through an entire adventure without half the group nodding off or being sent home at 3 in the morning.

We settled on 6 o’clock. With a scenario that should take about 4 hours interspersed with dinner I’m hoping that gives us enough time to wrap by midnight.

In any event, that’s where the plan stands now. So what do you think? Are we biting off more than we can chew? Is there something I’m not considering? Does an adult theme night sound like fun or just a hassle?

Walt Ciechanowski

About  Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.




8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "A Cthulhu Dinner Party, Part I"

#1 Comment By Aaronichi On March 23, 2011 @ 9:39 am

What a great idea! I can’t wait to see how this pans out.

I’d love to do something like this in my home, but my wife and most of my friends hate RPGs. :(

#2 Comment By Roxysteve On March 23, 2011 @ 10:20 am

I think I see a couple of potential problems, but on the whole the plan seems interesting as it stands so I’ll keep them to myself and never mention them (even as after-the-fact wisdom) in the hope that I’m being thick.

Luck.

#3 Comment By Roxysteve On March 23, 2011 @ 10:21 am

@Aaronichi – You should try one of those “How to Host a Murder” things. Even RPG haters enjoy them. I think they’re OOP now, so Amazon and eBay are called for.

#4 Comment By Toldain On March 23, 2011 @ 11:40 am

FYI – I am the proud owner of an inflatable, large D20. So there are alternatives.

Sounds like it could be a really good time.

#5 Comment By SavageTheDM On March 23, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

I love this idea it sounds so freaking awesome I think I just might use this Idea for my gaming group sometime.

#6 Comment By BishopOfBattle On March 23, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

I’m not much of a “dress up in costumes” person… or even really a regular “dress up” person… but I love the idea of mixing in dinner or other social activities with games.

To conclude our Shadowrun campaign this last December, we planned a full day gaming session including a potluck style dinner. We starting around one and played untill the end of one mission, broke for dinner where we socialized and (invariably) conversation turned to characters and the last mission and what was coming next from the tension they left off the run on. After dinner, we picked up again at our normal evening gaming session time and played the final mission out.

It was a long day, but lots of fun. Everyone seemed to leave satisfied and full!

#7 Comment By secretoracle On March 24, 2011 @ 6:41 am

I’ve done something like this in the past. I recommend a few things.

1. Take Photos of everyone in their costumes. Have a chair set near a wall with a neutral background, or perhaps hang a framed poster of an ad for a cruise line from the time period. Snap a picture of the guest, either seated in the chair or standing. Have couples pose together (real life couples as well as in character couples if they’re different). We did ours before the digital camera era so we shot the photos on black and white film for effect. Now you can just use your digital camera and do any black and white stuff in your favorite graphics program.

2. Get help. enlist two friends that are not in the game to help with the dinner prep and service. Bribe them with a night out or something, babysitting, give them one of your children, whatever you think will work. You should be at the disposal of the players between courses, and your wife should get a chance to dress up and be hostess-like. You can’t do that if you’re running around clearing dishes and serving. And, it adds to the atmosphere if the guests are served in a fashion that matches the era and setting. Even though the dinner parts of the event sound like they’re out of character it will help with the immersion.

3. Related to #2, when your helpful friends are in the midst of some down time they can snap pics of the game. As unique as this might be for some of your players, you will want some photos to share with them. and also the helpful friends can serve drinks (stay hydrated, being in costume and moving around as this game looks like it might you want to stay hydrated).

4. It will last longer than you think/plan for. You’ll try hard to keep top your time frame, and if you’re very lucky you might pull it off. Assume that the dinner segments will take longer than you planned for.

5. Dessert wrap up, of for TOC I guess you might say Warp Up. When you’re at dessert I get the idea the game should be over. Now is a great time to give the players the story, filling in the gaps they missed because they went mad. And also getting their feed back. It’s a time to let people take bows for best insanity scene, best hat, longest coat, etc. You don’t have to give awards, but it’s nice to point out some of the fun moments that weren’t strictly part of the play of the game.

Looking forward to see how this turns out. Hope it goes well for you guys.

#8 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On March 24, 2011 @ 10:11 am

Thanks for all the comments!

I should point out that my wife is also a player. We’re trying to organize things so that the course changes go smoothly. Currently this is my biggest worry.

@secretoracle – you make several good points. I’m not too worried about the timing because I’ve run convention games before and the adventure lends itself well to adjusting on the fly.


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