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I bought Arkham Horror about 2 months ago and have played 2 practice rounds by myself. I'm confident I know all the rules and understand the game well enough to be able to explain them. However, I love the atmosphere in Arkham, and I really want to give my first time players the best possible experience and make the it more than just a game to them, but a role-playing experience.

I've figured out that I'm going to run the game as a sort of dungeon-master. I'm still going to play, but I will take charge of reading the mythos and encounter cards, and will frequently sprinkle in some actual description of what is happening. For example:

As you walk into Ma's Boarding House, the terrible sinking feeling of evil you've been feeling fades away as you see the good friends of yours that have stuck it out thus far. However, you can't help feeling a terrible regret that you will eventually have to leave the shelter of this kind place and go back into the cruel world beyond it's doors.


You tried to evade the fire vampire as it passed by sneaking into an alleyway and lying down next to a dumpster, but it was able to feel the fear beating in your heart and quickly turned to look at you with a gaze that penetrated far deeper than just your eyes and unleashes a blinding ball of fire at you.

I feel like its these bits of flavor text that really make the game 'come alive'. However, I've been considering taking things a bit further and giving the players some choices that they wouldn't have if we were just playing strait Arkham Horror:

(I draw an encounter card to see what would happen if the player decides to have an encounter). As you as you walk up to the door of the Silver Twilight Lodge, you start to feel incredibly insignificant as you stare at the arched doorway and the tall spires atop the roof. Do you go in, or try to gather more information?

(player) I'll try to get some more information.

(Me) Okay, what does your investigator do?

(player) uh...Put my ear to the door and listen?

(Me, narrating) You can discern one voice in the distance, possible conducting a ceremony. However, it is far and distant, and you might be able to use the distraction to snoop around a bit.

(player converses with friends) I think I'll open the door carefully.

etc. etc. etc.

Has anyone here ran a game of AH like this, giving players more options than the game normally would (Perhaps they might get a combat bonus if they were able to use water against the fire vampire in the previous description...)? I've played D&D, but I've never really been the DM before. I'm considering playing a scenario like this one to enhance the experience and give me a bit of structure to build off of.

Any other advice about creating a good role-playing experience in AH, or general advice about introducing people to the game? I'll gladly read and up-vote any suggestions or shared experiences. :D

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Sounds like you are about ready to run a (tabletop roleplaying) game of Call of Cthulhu! I'm sure there must exist essays on how to be a good CoC Keeper that would very much apply to running an Arkham Horror session in this way... I'll keep my eye out. –  thesunneversets Jul 6 '11 at 0:08
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Yes, this might work better over on RPG.stackexchange, but I'm not sure. Maybe folks will have good answers here. –  Pat Ludwig Jul 6 '11 at 0:42
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I think getting Cthulhu to show up in person would be pretty awesome. –  Lance Roberts Jul 6 '11 at 7:59
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I second the notion that what you want to do is play CoC. And I know you just got AH, but my RPG group has really embraced Mansions of Madness as an RPG-in-a-box experience much more than they ever did AH. MoM has the Keeper-vs-Investigators aspect you're trying to inject into AH and is built around creating cohesive narrative in a way that AH just isn't. Still, I'd like to see an edit here post-game that lets us know how it turns out. –  gomad Jul 6 '11 at 16:39

4 Answers 4

I've done something similar for some of the games of AH that I've been in. Not to the extent of adding theme/flavor into the cards and allowing playing input during encounters though; I only read encounters and mythos cards for them.

To start off, I'd be wary about pulling out all the stops to create an involved role-playing AH experience for a group's first game. Even if there is someone present that knows all the rules, there will still be rule misunderstandings, one-off nuances that need consideration, and re-explanations requested, which will break the thematic stride that you're striving to establish. But more importantly, (and this partially depends on how large the group is) games can take a long time. My group has played Arkham at least a hundred times (sounds a bit ridiculous to me, but we've been playing over 4 years), and we still have games that run into the 4+ hour mark. This can be a bit long for new players that don't know what they're getting into, and inundating the game with extra theme (along with this being people's first game) will only make the play time longer. My advice would be to get your friends to enjoy the game and understand gameplay better before going for a fully immersive experience.

That all said, here's what I did when I ran as the 'Keeper'. The first thing that ruins Arkham for new players (besides game length) is how vicious the game has the potential to become. I've found that a nice way to control the difficulty of the game is by drawing two or three mythos cards rather than one every turn, and the pick the one you'll put into play. This helps prevent the same gate from monster surging 4 times in a row and flooding the streets with things the players can't handle, as well as allowing you to give the game a quick boost by throwing the players a curveball if they're doing too well (drawing someone through a gate, destroying some clues on the board, moving some monsters directly in the path someone was planning on taking, etc.) In the future, it could also allow you a little leeway in picking headlines to enact if you're looking for a thematic progression. You can do the same for Arkham or OW encounters as well. For the encounters, one way of working towards the RP experience with going to the full extent that you described (allowing the players to invent their own responses) is to not tell the players what happens should they pass/fail until after they've rolled/spent clue tokens. In my group however, I've noticed that this can irritate some players. After they've played a number of games where they know the entirety of the encounter before making the check, they aren't keen to give up that slight advantage for some extra perceived theme. Anyways... You could even do the same with monsters; pick specific monsters that you want to throw at people. McGlen have a particularly close match against a Shuggoth earlier? Now there's one back for round 2! It's also a good way to make sure the board isn't flooded with particularly weak/strong things and ensure that the Dhole gets his requisite board time.

The scenarios that were released for the Arkham League are good for a continuous campaign of sorts; the 'stories' from one game to the next are loosely tied together, but that's about it for theme. There are some extra gameplay conditions that the scenarios will throw in there, but that may just confuse new players if they expect those rules to be in subsequent games.

In short, make sure your friends enjoy the game for what it is before adding things to it (helping them to realize this if necessary of course...). All of the flavor and theme in the world won't make someone enjoy this game if they just don't like the mechanics in the first place.

Good luck!

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First, there is an amazing condensed rule sheet at http://www.headlesshollow.com/freebies_games.html. Page 2-3 will help you to quickly explain the rules (use the official rulebook for examples and clarification). I printed multiple copies of page 12, so other players could easily reference them. The last couple pages help to simplify game mechanics by putting them on the board.

I've played with a soundtrack off of groveshark while playing. Some of the existing playlists are excellent, and occasionally the music will change as a monster surge occurs, an epic battle, or devastating mythos card. This adds to the sense of urgency, madness, and the overall feeling that the game is malign.

When playing with new players, I usually choose Azathoth. Sure, the instant defeat is daunting, but he has very limited power during gameplay (plus you skip battling the ancient one until people have mastered the check system).

The best thing to do is make sure that you have the check system down perfectly and can quickly determine the number of dice needed, number of sucesses, etc. Tell the player that they need to roll X dice and get Y 5s or 6s (and adjust what you say for curses and blessings). This also helps if you can get other experienced players.

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As a novice player (I've played once with friends, some of whom had no prior experience either), one thing about Arkham Horror that was something of a challenge was figuring out what was possible or advisable (or both). One advantage to running an RPG-ish version of AH is that you can actually take some of that burden off the players, depending on how you want to run the game. Rather than letting newcomers getting bogged down in how-many-spaces-is-X-from-Y, narrating it can help them decide what they actually want to do ... it might be easier to say "That looked like a smallish shape, I'll see if I can track it down" than to say "Which of these is weaker, do you think? And should I try to purchase another item? Or where did you want me to go again? Which gate?"

One thing you'll definitely need is time! If you can book an entire evening, you'll have more time to spend on the atmosphere and the narration. Get them interested in the background as well as the gameplay, and chances are good they will come back for more. (We haven't scheduled another session yet, but that's been more of a time issue than anything else.)

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I would recommend a soundtrack of creepy music, played at lower-than-normal volume, so it lurks just at the threshold of the players' awareness. You don't need to run Arkham Horror as a full-on tabletop roleplaying experience to create an atmosphere (though if you feel up to it, I definitely think you should go for it!)... just a little extra attention to detail and atmospherics can instantly get the players into the right frame of mind to have a memorably sanity-blasting evening.

(I'd say dim the lights too, but Arkham Horror probably has a lot of text that people will need to pore over, I don't want to permanently ruin everyone's eyesight!)

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