“Evil-Eye Fleegle is th’ name, an’ th’ ‘whammy’ is my game. Mudder Nature endowed me wit’ eyes which can putrefy citizens t’ th’ spot!. There is th’ ‘single whammy’! That, friend, is th’ full, pure power o’ one o’ my evil eyes! It’s dynamite, friend, an’ I do not t’row it around lightly!”
Quoted from Lil’ Abner, July 1951
In speaking with some MoN players deep into their campaigns, we have heard that despite how much they love the experience, a sense of rote tedium emerges through the almost mechanical process of collecting clues and interviewing NPCs. You may hear this yourself, particularly when playing a deeply investigative version of MoN.
This does not reflect on the Keeper, but instead the genre, the system, and the epic length of the campaign. We would happily wager that Pulp Cthulhu Keepers get this feedback less often. So instead of starting every new session by sending the PCs off to another scene to collect clues or encounter an investigation-related NPC, you can consider hitting them with what we like to call here at Prospero House a whammy! Simply defined, a whammy* is an unexpected event, which is concise, but evocative. It delivers a bang to your table just like dynamite, as ol’ Evil-Eye Fleegle would say. A quick example:
Situation: The players have retired to bed and intend to rise in the morning to resume their Ju-Ju House stakeout.
Whammy: “You awake abruptly to the sound of breaking glass. A shadow moves in the dark.”
The whammy serves to jolt the players out of their usual routine or current situation and shifts their attention to something potentially more exciting than, say, talking to that a little-too-intense New York Times reporter or taking that long drive to Arkham for a chat with Professor Cowles. The whammy may be used to interrupt an active scene or break the transition between two scenes. Having a collection of several chapter-specific whammies in your back pocket gives you an arsenal of entertaining distractions to launch at your Investigators. While the MoN campaign book does not provide random encounter tables (except Australia, p. 478), it could be quite easy to cook up some for use as inspiration. Some Chapter-specific whammies to drop at the beginning of your session might include:
Peru: “The sunlight filters through the tent opening after a fitful night’s sleep in the Peruvian highlands. You step outside to find one of the pack mules collapsed on the ground and the other gone.”
New York: “You’re feeling ready to tackle the day after breakfast this morning in Arthur’s suite, as you walk out into the hallway you notice a police officer standing in front of Lucia’s room. Delivering insistent, percussive raps to the door.”
London: “The waiter politely interrupts your table’s conversation to deliver you a telegram on a silver platter. With horror, you read an urgent message from Jonah Kensington. ‘Mickey Mahoney murdered STOP Found butchered in his apartment STOP Brit authorities keeping it hush-hush STOP Check notes at Scoop Offices STOP’”
Egypt: “You step once again into the throng of the Cairo market. In the crush of people, you feel a light touch on your side and suddenly a thin man begins moving hastily away from you in the crowd…pocketing your pistol as he slides among bodies.”
Kenya: “Following the young boy’s shortcut to the Mombasa train station, you find yourself immediately lost in a confusing tangle of alleyways and side streets lined by mud-brick houses.”
Australia: “After a long day of dusty driving through the desert, you lie resting on your back, staring up at the unfamiliar night skies, suddenly the constellations begin to shift and bend and you feel yourself falling…”
China: “Returning to the Stumbling Tiger to meet with McChum about Jack Brady, the group orders a round of drinks brought to the table to kill time. An unknown local standing at the bar begins to bring the tray over…”
These whammies will immediately disrupt the expected plans for their day, and call for a swift swing into action to attack the new problem. Many session-start whammies will either allow swift resolution or smooth transition into the Investigators’ and/or Keeper’s pre-arranged plans. Maybe the NYPD officer will be there to escort them down to Precinct 9 for a chat with Lt. Poole. Or perhaps he’s one of Robson’s bruisers coming to threaten the Investigators. Of course, players may take your whammy and run with it. They may want to cancel all plans and turn their entire day over to investigating Mickey Mahoney’s death in London. If you are not prepared to relinquish your prepared plans for the session for dear old Mickey, you can always use another whammy to direct them towards another scene.
The whammy can also be used to place a dramatic exclamation point on a session. Exhausted players returning to their hotel rooms after a long day present ripe targets for cultist harassment in MoN. Consider pilfering a valuable artifact or tome. Suspiciously leave a hotel door or window open. Or even allow them to catch the evil-doer in the act. This session-closing whammy should be brief with lingering implications, which will allow you to pull the curtain closed with something to talk about or act against at the beginning of your next session.
Look for our follow-up post, where we discuss the application of the whammy to conveniently pause a scene.
*- Historical Note: A whammy was originally an evil influence or hex. Its popular usage began in the 1940s and was associated with a variety of American sports. The first print reference appeared in the Syracuse Herald Journal, October 1939: “Nobody would have suspected that the baseball gods had put the whammy on Myers and Ernie when the ninth opened.”