THE key to any good TTRPG is the person overseeing who the whole gaming experience – telling the story, keeping the players on track, providing the NPC roles, and generally acting as referee for the proceedings.
In the Call of Cthulhu RPG, that person is known as the Keeper Of Arcane Lore, or Keeper for short.
Running a Call of Cthulhu game is similar to many other RPGs, but the game’s focus on mystery and horror means it can require a different style to something more combat & hijinks-based like Dungeons & Dragons.
Being a Keeper naturally provides some slightly different challenges and as part of Call of Cthulhu’s 40th anniversary, publisher Chaosium have released a guide designed to help the people in that role bring their game sessions to life in an even more rewarding and enjoyable way for everyone involved.
Entitled Keeper Tips: Collected Wisdom on Running Games, the guide is a leatherette hardcover, 128 page pocket-sized book which (as the name suggests) contains collected wisdom of at least 17 experienced Keepers on all aspects of running games.
The book is divided into 16 different sections including “Ground Rules”, “Inclusivity”, “Players”, “Keepering”, “Horror”, “The Cthulhu Mythos” and “Online Play”.
There really is a lot of information here – some of it common sense (“When prepping a scenario, take a moment to do a little extra reading on that place or historical period”) while some of it is very insightful indeed, particularly around presenting horror themes and monsters.
A good example of this is the advice that “Where possible, hint at the monster before showing it. Let them (players) find signs of it such as hoofprints, slime trails, or mangled victims… you only get to reveal it (the monster) once, so use the build-up to prolong it”. There’s also helpful advice around the importance of not specifically naming the creature (the players might know it’s a Deep One, their investigator characters certainly don’t!)
Another element I liked was the explicit reassurance in the collected wisdom that it is totally OK to leave out the more problematic parts of the real-life 1920s/1930s (which were incredibly racist, sexist, and homophobic by today’s standards) because the whole point of an RPG is everyone enjoying themselves and obviously that’s not going to happen when dealing with Historical Unpleasantness. This has long been convention in the Call of Cthulhu RPG community anyway, but it is always worthwhile seeing it reiterated.
There is also some helpful advice on presenting potentially triggering horror themes and the importance of discussing them with the players beforehand in a “session zero” to make sure everyone is on the same page or comfortable with those elements and adjusting accordingly.
The tone of the book is helpful and relaxed rather than preachy and formal, which added to the appeal for me as well, and it’s well suited for just picking up and leafing through when you need some inspiration or ideas on how to approach something.
While the book is intended for Call of Cthulhu, the general advice in it would work well for most table-top RPGs – the principles are the same, although obviously dragons are intended to be fearsome rather than causing adventurers to go insane from the realisation everything they knew about the world is wrong.
The book’s leatherette hardcover design (including a helpful ribbon-bookmark!) means Keeper Tips: Collected Wisdom on Running Games will look very nice on your RPG bookshelf – or would make an excellent present for the Keeper/GM in your life too.
Even better, the print version from Chaosium (RRP: AUD$24.16) also comes with a .pdf; so you’ve got a physical edition to admire or refer to as well as a digital one which can be accessed on your PC or smart device.
Regardless of your Keeper/GM style, or whether you’re a newcomer or a veteran in the role, there’s some very useful pearls of wisdom in here – and it’s well worth adding to your RPG bookshelf (or that of any Keeper/GM friends you might have) as a result.