Moon Killer: A Call of Cthulhu Scenario Inspired by Doctor X (1932) — FREE

An RPG map with characters from the "Moon Killer" scenario

(If you are a Call of Cthulhu player, try not to read this, but instead send it to your game master if your group is looking for a fun and creepy idea for game.)

As I write this, we are approaching a spooky time of year. For those who are looking for ways to entertain their roleplaying game groups around Halloween, there’s a certain synergy between scary RPG scenarios and horror movies. And I have something to give away to make it easier to combine the two, especially for those playing Call of Cthulhu. It’s the notes for my scenario, “Moon Killer,” which I hope will help you run a game that you’ll find fun.

Game mastering is a fun hobby, but it can also be a little weird. Once I understood game mechanics better, I started to see more of the world through the eyes of a game master. When I watched some movies, I would explain in my head what happened with the plot and characters as if it was actually a game. Oh, that sneaky fellow made his stealth role, or the hero made a bad impression with the damsel and that’s a failed social roll, or that guy ran out of luck! I think it can be really irritating to watch a movie with a game master who can’t do this just as an internal monologue. It’s like we are reverse engineering a story as it’s happening, but not as if it’s written by script writers and realized by a director and crew, but instead as if it’s collaborative storytelling and the film’s main characters are players.

And so it was with Doctor X (1932), a classic Warner Bros. horror movie that takes place in the 1920s. That’s the era of many Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game scenarios, so it seemed like a natural conversion. When I watched it, I found myself doing the same kind of picking apart to turn it into a game. It was quite fun to look at the actions of Lee Tracy, intrepid reporter and protagonist, and rationalize them as the successes and failures resulting from skills, chance, or spending Luck points! This is not a new idea. Stealing cool stuff from anywhere and everywhere to run at a private table is a venerable game master tradition.

And so, this is why I have shared notes on how to run Doctor X (1932) as if it’s a roleplaying game using the Call of Cthulhu rules. This scenario takes about three hours to run. The rights for the story belong to Warner Bros. But I think there’s no harm in giving away notes that would help others run the movie as if it were a game.

If you would indulge me in making two other suggestions in addition to running the game using my free notes, they are:

  • If you are playing in-person or remotely, I have a set of maps on DriveThruRPG that I think are pretty useful for running this game. The maps are my interpretation of Cliff Manor, the site in the movie where the main action takes place. Since there are no real life plans of Cliff Manor, I simply looked at the movie, some of the scenes where important conversations or conflicts happened, and figured out how to build a map where I, as a game master, could run the game.
  • If you like this scenario, and your players like it, I recommend a watch party for Doctor X (1932). It was fun for me as a game master to see how my players resolved the scenario, but also fun, I think, for my players to see how the movie plays out from beginning to end without the chance for their own investigator interventions.

The Blu-ray restoration is excellent for any true fans of the film. It is not the greatest of all movies, but it is suitably weird and atmospheric and lends itself well to the intrigue and action of Call of Cthulhu. The Warner Bros. approach to horror is an interesting contrast to the style of the Universal horror films of the same vintage — although I still love those classic monsters, too. Lionel Atwill has a kind of melodramatic and creepy gravitas. Fay Wray is luminous. Lee Tracy has a kind of plucky and confident resolve that makes him a not very serious protagonist, but pleasantly unflappable, even in the face of peril.

If you run or play this scenario, “Moon Killer,” please enjoy!

An RPG map with characters from the "Moon Killer" scenario