Sunday, July 18, 2010

Arkham Horror with the uninitiated

I've come to a conclusion.  Arkham Horror isn't actually that much fun to play.

When I first learned, it was with a group of guys from THQ, who were very keen on the whole Lovecraftian horror aspect, and would cackle maniacally whenever someone else got set upon by a Byakhee.  I must admit I haven't had the patience to read Lovecraft's work, but I've played Delta Green, I quite enjoy Algernon Blackwood and I'm a big fan of Fall of Cthulhu.  But, while watching someone new come into the world of horror that is Delta Green, trying to get someone who doesn't understand Cthulhu to play Arkham Horror is, well... boring.

At first I thought it was the ridiculously complex rule system.  That took us a while to learn, from scratch.  Then I thought it might be the core game simply not living up to the promise of the version I'd played, which had all the expansions, so I ordered them from America.  Having had a discussion with the two people who most often play the game with us yesterday, I've come to conclude that it's the audience.

You see, they don't understand.  That's okay, you might think, the whole point of Lovecraftian horror is not to understand, and you'd be right.  But they don't even know how little they know.  We were fighting Nyarlathotep, and their main comment was, "Only -4 to Fight?  That's not so bad."  Of Nyarlathotep.  The Crawling Chaos.  Oh dear.

I know, I know, none of this is real, and knowledge of the Cthulhu Mythos stands somewhere between being able to recite Pi to 300 digits and singing the Periodic Table song.  It might make you friends, but it also definitely marks you out as someone... different.  And not always in a good way.

Still, when they look at a Star Spawn and consider it only in terms of gunshots required, or decide to fight a Dark Young because "it's only Nightmarish 1", I can't help but feel a little let-down.  Here is a mythos that has so many mind-bending layers of terror, horror, fascination and despair that it's spawned countless offshoots and cults of geek-worshippers worldwide, and they only shrug and make sure they have a tommy gun.

Co-incidentally, I did try to educate them.  At the end of Fall of Cthulhu Vol. 2 (spoilers ahead), Nyarlathotep needs a human host for a dark presence that's part of his evil plan.  The 'sacrifice' decides to go out for one last night of binge drinking, possibly thinking thoughts of escape, and wakes up back in the mansion.  They perform the surgery (while he's lucid, of course), and transplant the dark presence inside his skull.  All seems to have gone off smoothly, until Nyarlathotep reveals the price of betrayal - he drags a mirror over to in front of his unlucky friend, who is now no more than a pair of eyeballs and a brain in a jar, attached to a car battery, and leaves him staring into the mirror, with no way to blink or look away.  Nyarlathotep leaves him by saying :

"We agreed you would be placed back into your body once the gith had returned to the Dreamlands. During the interim, you would remain here in darkness to minimise the distress of your disembodiment.  Putting you back was part of the arrangement. But keeping you in the dark was a courtesy. I wonder if you will have any semblance of sanity when you return. Well, good night, Connor. Sweet dreams."

This is the god who they deemed "not that bad".  When I showed them this section of the comic, one of them looked ill and said, "That's not right.  That's... really not right."  The other of them shrugged.  Somehow, he didn't look like he wanted to play anymore.  Funny, that, but it would be a lot more fun if he did know what was going on, even if the learning cost him a few nights' sleep.  I might leave Midnight Syndicate running quietly in the background next time, just to make sure they're at least as jumpy as they should be.

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