Creating The Saanich Cycle – Part 2 – The High Level View

In case you missed part 1, I’m in the process of creating a Trail of Cthulhu campaign framework using the city creation guidelines from the Dresden Files RPG. Why? Well, basically, I’ve found that I typically don’t do enough prep work for games – in terms of creating NPCs and locations for the PCs to interact with during the game, and I sometimes have trouble coming up with good stuff on the fly.

By having some design work done ahead of time, and knowing how the different NPCs think about a range of issues, it will (hopefully) make my life easier and the game seem a little more real.1 I had thought about developing my own system for doing this until I realised that the guidelines in the DFRPG were pretty good and could be bent a little to create game settings for other systems without too much hassle. So, this series of blog posts is my attempt to create an interesting campaign setting for ToC using those guidelines. Also, by blogging this stuff, it gives me an extra bit of motivation to work on this stuff.

One thing I did neglect to mention last time is when I’m setting this campaign framework. I’ve decided to stick with the default 1930s setting that Trail of Cthulhu uses, rather than do this in the modern day. Hopefully, it will help keep the usual Cthulhuesque feel to the game.

OK, when we left off the other night, I’d come up with the themes and threat for the city of Victoria, B.C. The next phase of the city creation rules are to take a high level view of the city and to come up with the different factions and where they stand on the supernatural status quo.

Of all the sections in the city creation rules, this one is probably the one that doesn’t work overly well for Trail of Cthulhu. In the Dresden Files universe, there are a set of well known groups – the different courts of Vampires and Fae, as well as the White Council of Wizards and all that sort of thing. When you’re creating a city for DFRPG, you start plugging in whichever of those groups takes your fancy, and it’s fairly easy.

DFRPG also runs with the assumption that the PCs are going to be enmeshed in whatever supernatural shenanigans are going on in their city and will have a far better grasp on the truth than the vast majority of the mundane population.

But in Trail of Cthulhu, we don’t have those pre-existing groups to fall back on, and the PCs are part of the mundane population. They do have some knowledge of the supernatural side of things, but it’s a very different viewpoint to the one in the Dresden Files. ToC is also based on the premise that the PCs don’t really know what’s going on and that’s why they’re investigating.

Now, my first thought was to just skip over this section of the guidelines and go on with something else instead. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to have a go at it and come up with some different groups within the city that all have some interest or experience of the supernatural (to different degrees).

Now, this stuff is probably going to be a bit rough in this early stage, because I’m creating these groups from scratch, rather than going on material someone else has already come up with. But, at the same time, I’ll build on this stuff in the later sections to help build a stronger and more interesting framework at the later stages.

The aim of the exercise is to come up with a list of groups that are important to the city and what’s going on there, but are related to the themes and threats that we created in the first part of the process. There’s no point in creating, for example, a gardening society if they’re not going to have anything to do with the ghosts or the paranormal.

So, I started to brainstorm a bit about the sorts of groups of people who are going to be important to the storyline as I currently see it.

The Victorian Paranormal Society
The first group is the Victorian Paranormal Society itself. It was mentioned in the second theme of the city, so I figured that it’s important to start there. But I had also said that they are a house divided, and that there are factions within the society that don’t get along so well. This got me thinking about ways to split the group along ideological lines.

To begin with, I think I’ll split the society into two main factions: the “spiritualists” and the “scientists”.

The “spiritualists” will be the group who believe that the ghosts are the spirits of the dead, who are trying to communicate with the living, particularly those that were left behind. They’ll be most concerned with conducting seances and the like, and trying to find ways to understand what the ghosts want and what the living need to do to help them move on.

The “scientists” are those that aren’t really sure what the ghosts are, but they believe that there’s a logical, rational explanation for their appearances. They’re the group that are more likely to use scientific equipment to figure out where the ghosts are and what effect they have on the “real” world.

Given the differences of approaches between the two groups, there’s going to be a fair bit of antagonism between them. They will share information about various cases, but there’s still going to be friction.

I’ll probably think up further divisions for the Society as I go along, but this will do as a starting point.

The Skeptics
Now, to counterpoint the Paranormal Society, I’m going to include a group of skeptics. They don’t believe in the paranormal in any form and take great delight in debunking whatever theories people have and proving them to be hoaxes. They’re also going to be doing their best to destroy the reputations of the Paranormal Society members, so that people won’t take them seriously. Given that the main threat of the campaign framework is going to be that ghosts are real, I don’t see the skeptics as playing a massive part in the story. However, they may well make good antagonists for a couple of the episodes, throwing spanners in the plans of the PCs at inopportune times.

The Chinese
Victoria had a large Chinese population in the 1930s, with a vibrant Chinatown district in the downtown core. In the earliest part of the Twentieth Century, the district had been filled with underground opium dens and illicit prostitution, which is great fodder for creating restless spirits. The population of Victoria’s Chinatown was falling in the 1930s from the heights it reached in the mid-Twenties. By including elements of Chinese mysticism and their beliefs on spirits and the afterlife, we can provide a counterpoint to the more Western ideas of the Paranormal society.

The Church
The Church – in its various denominations – provides a couple of different approaches to dealing with ghosts. By and large, most of them would consider ghosts to be evil and related to the Devil somehow. Depending on the views and experience of the priest, exorcisms could be provided as an option, but by and large, the church is going to discourage belief and investigation of ghosts as much as possible.

I’m also going to have to divide this section down into the different denominations, as they can have quite different views at times.

The First Nations Bands
Before European Settlement of Vancouver Island and the founding of Victoria in the Eighteenth Century, the region was the home to several bands of First Nations people. The Songhees lived around what is now Victoria’s Inner Harbour and there are burial grounds and other important sites dating back thousands of years all over the lower part of Vancouver Island. The First Nations have their own views on spirits and ghosts and it would be remiss of me to not include some of those ideas into the story.

The Police
The police are going to be in the skeptical camp, but because there are going to be deaths involved in the storyline, they’re going to be getting involved in the investigations. The PCs and other members of the Paranormal Society may well run across the police in the course of their own investigations and the cops could make certain activities much harder, if not impossible. I’m thinking of making it that the investigators won’t get a whole lot of leeway with the law when it comes to breaking and entering, or worse – murder if they go shooting someone – which will add further complications to their investigations.2

I have in mind some other people who probably could be written up in this section, but I’m going to keep these close to my chest for the time being, as a means of building the mystery that underlies this campaign framework. Again, this is really a case of how the needs of ToC don’t like up all that well with the intentions of the DFRPG.

Now, in the DFRPG, there’s a chart divided into four quadrants, which is designed to map out how much people know about the supernatural on one axis (ranging from nothing at the top to everything at the bottom), and how much they want to rock the boat on the other axis (from not at all on the left, through to major revolutions on the right.

I haven’t decided as yet whether I’m going to use this chart at all in this game, as the premise that I’m working on doesn’t really line up with the underlying design principles that the chart was created to capture. So, for the time being, I’m not going to be using it, although I may change my mind on this later on.

I’ll admit that this all still feels a little disjointed at the moment. Some of the groups aren’t really related to each other at this stage, but I’m including them now to create plot elements that can be woven into the storyline later on. But, I’m reasonably confident that by the time I’m done, things will come together nicely.

Next time, I’ll start creating significant locations for the story. Some of them will be related to the main themes and threats of the city, while others will be more related to the factions that I’ve created here.


[1] I refuse to use the word “verisimilitude”, mainly because I can’t stand it. I think it’s a complete load of wank.


[2] I should say “his” investigations, because I’m planning this campaign framework for a game with only one character in it initially.