By Lynne Hardy, Call of Cthulhu associate editor and author of The Children of Fear: A 1920s Campaign Across Asia.
So, you’ve taken the plunge and got hold of a copy of The Children of Fear...
Firstly: thank you!
Secondly: it’s quite a hefty campaign, and if you’ve not tackled something this size before, you might be feeling a little bit daunted right now. Or you might not! Either way, the point of this five-part series is to take you through some steps to get yourself ready for diving into this whopping great adventure; steps that can also be applied to any other large campaign you plan to tackle with your players.
What do I mean by “Session Zero”? Well, it’s when you and your players get together to set the ground rules and expectations for your game and create the investigators you’re going to use for the campaign—if you’re not using the pre-generated characters provided.
Session Zeros are very helpful as they make sure everyone is on the same page and knows what they’re letting themselves in for. If you’ve played together as a group for years, you may be well aware of exactly what sort of things your players are comfortable with, but it’s never wise to make assumptions.
The Children of Fear deals with some pretty dark subject matter (Mature Content Warning, page 7), so use your Session Zero to confirm that everyone is okay with that. You don’t need to go into a lot of detail, just a broad overview: death, corpses, colonialism, potential sexual content, etc. Consent is very important in this game (Consent is Everything, page 217), so always make sure you have it.
If there are elements your players would rather avoid, having Session Zero means you now have time to adjust any plot points or encounters you need to to make sure your players (and you!) don’t get any unpleasant out-of-character surprises during the game. It’s much easier to do it beforehand than having to adjust on the fly at the table, although you may still need to do that on occasion.
Tools for a Safe Gaming Table
There are a lot of tools that can help you maintain a safe gaming table. An overview of some of them can be found on the No More Damsels Table Tools page. Given the nature of this campaign, I recommend you have a system in place in case your Session Zero doesn’t pick up on something that could later cause an issue for you or your players.
Besides establishing ground rules, incorporating an investigator creation session into your Session Zero is a really useful thing to do. It allows the players to work together to build a complimentary set of investigators, even if in-character they may not have met yet. It allows you, as Keeper, to guide them in developing strong hooks to bring their investigators into the campaign and, just as importantly, stay there. It can help the players get a firmer picture in their mind’s eye as to the period and the location the campaign is taking place in, and it helps you to identify and correct any misunderstandings before they become set in stone.
Having said that, if someone does create an investigator during Session Zero then decides after the first session or two that it isn’t working for them, let them create a new one now they have a much better understanding of what’s going on. Making someone stick with playing a character who they feel has nothing to contribute isn’t going to encourage them to keep coming back to your table. Be considerate, be helpful, and try to facilitate everyone’s enjoyment of the game however you can.
Have a good read of the Investigator Motivations section (page 17) before Session Zero, as there’s a lot of information in there on appropriate occupations and potential ways of hooking investigators into the plot. Of course, your players will undoubtedly come up with some cool ones of their own! And In the Know (page 18) contains a list a useful skills, in case your players aren’t sure where best to spend their occupational and personal interest skill points.
Next: Getting On With The Campaign
Lynne Hardy's critically acclaimed magnum opus has been described as "a gem and an instant classic... unreservedly recommended." — Paul St John Mackintosh.