Monday, February 17, 2014

He Who Laughs Last: A Playtest

A couple weeks ago I was invited to playtest and review a Cthulhu Dark adventure called He Who Laughs Last. It was an enjoyable and entertaining read with some really interesting takes on police involvement, style of magical power and methods of PC involvement.

Boy is this a hard review. So many potential spoilers!

The characters are pretty solid and well-rounded, giving the first half of the game a police procedural feeling to it with a few NPC interviews that could get pretty colourful pretty quickly. Regrettably my players leapt on the nudges toward social media and technology that were indicated when they got their hands on a certain mobile phone and because their character sheets were decorated in a Facebook style.

They let their fingers do the walking and quickly determined the most important NPCs, identified prior events that were similar in nature to their current investigations, avoided one witness who looked pretty dangerous once you took a look at him (they later executed him in a *knock, knock* "Hello?" *headshot* kinda way), and leapt ahead to the guy who had all the answers. It was pretty amazing watching them use modern technology to quickly move through the scenario though.

Since they were taking a rather streamlined approach, I ran with it. I could've nudged them back on track but there were even chances they'd keep circling the obvious baddies rather then branch out to interview the red herrings and character witnesses. While it meant the game was a little lean, and they missed out on an epic scene by having the right *key* earlier then they were supposed to, it still all worked out and was a fun and interesting game. Not as scary as it could be, especially since they didn't try to engage the police, but still worked out great.

Their shortcuts cut the game down to three hours, though if they had followed the trail correctly I think it would still have only been 4 hour longs, not the 6 - 8 hours advertised. While you could bulk it out depending on individual play styles and the length of time players spend roleplaying their characters, I would advise folks to expect it to generally take 4 - 5 hours. This isn't a bad thing, though, since most folks' sessions are about that long so there's a good chance it can be done in one night.

So in short, my players played the game in a way it wasn't quite supposed to be played, utilising all of the modern world's technological marvels to discover information that is now more readily available. They enjoyed the chance to do that since most games actively work against that style of investigation whereas this one opened the door a little, inadvertently or not.

The adventure, as a whole, was inspiringly creepy to read and though I didn't manage to play it to its full creepy potential, it's still nice to know it can still take a bunch of dedicated and experienced players leaping toward the conclusion without falling apart.

My only real complaint is that there's not enough advice on the ending. I understand they left it open to the Keeper's discretion, but it really needs some advice or anecdotes to get the creative juices running. I've mentioned that to them and as they're still planning on going through the editing and layout phase, that should hopefully be rectified in the finished product.

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