What's this? Two posts in a week? Crazy, man. It's like 2005 all over again up in this joint.
Actually, I was inspired by wordwill's recent post on Gameplaywright to share this story as part of a conversation on "other things you can do with NPCs."
To back up: In 1991 or thereabouts, Keith Herber (pbuh) developed perhaps the most brilliant single scenario in the history of single scenarios: "The Raid on Innsmouth." (It's in the supplement Escape From Innsmouth, which is perversely unavailable from Chaosium at press time. You know, like how Henry V keeps going out of print.) The scenario takes place in -- or, rather, as -- the canonical 1928 raid on Innsmouth by the Federal Government. The structure of "Raid" follows five separate simultaneous operations to the FBI/Navy/Coast Guard/Secret Service raid -- the submarine attack on Y'ha-Nthlei, the Treasury assault on the Marsh warehouses, an attack through the old smuggler's tunnels, a frontal strike on the Marsh Mansion and the EOD, and one I can't remember off the top of my head. It's optimized for five Investigators, one of whom gets detailed to each separate operation. That player plays his Investigator, and the other players play the "cannon fodder" NPCs who theoretically command and bring the heat in each operation, taking up new sailors or G-Men as their previous ones die or go mad. The Keeper cross-cuts between the operations in roughly real time, as (of course) things start going pear-shaped. You wind up with each player falling into "command" of a gang of ablative pals while the rest of the table can glory in the Lustmord of madness and noble death that all Call of Cthulhu players seem to harbor in their heart. In short, it's a port of Ars Magica to Call of Cthulhu (although I don't know whether Herber knew AM at the time) with a rotating cast of "magi" and doomed, tommy-gun-toting "grogs."
So of course, I stole it. In 1999 or thereabouts, I was running Call of Cthulhu set in present-day Los Angeles. The players had very cooperatively played out about two months of separate investigations, so that their meetup would feel natural and organic -- we were used to rotating spotlight, in other words. They had determined that the Tcho-Tcho were opening a Gate to Carcosa deep in their tunnels underneath an few city blocks in the Tibetan neighborhood of Gardena, California. They knew that they would die in any imaginable frontal assault. So they went to the creepy, over-familiar gun store owner where they had been buying all their gear over the last few months of play, who was convinced that the Investigators were actually White Power revolutionaries preparing for the Day of the Rope. (Hence their constant need for military-grade weapons and ammo.) And they asked him if he had any friends, comrades, true believers in the destiny of the white race, who might be interested in a direct action against immigrant mongrels. They decided, in other words, to recruit some cannon fodder to die in the name of Lovecraft's racism.
To this day, I don't remember if I fed the idea to my players, or if they decided on that approach. But I know I seized the opportunity to repurpose "Raid." I explained the general approach of "Raid" -- "Christian, your military background tells you that a multiple assault has a chance of working, but you'll each have to lead one fire team. The rest of you can play pregen NPCs on each assault."
I drew 25 or 30 NPCs on the front of some index cards: lots of guys with short haircuts, tattoos, and trucker caps. On the front of the card, under the sketch, I also gave a one-sentence summary of their story: "Served with mercs in Angola" or "Former LAPD, kicked off the force for brutality during the riots" or whatever. On the back of the card, I wrote up stat blocks, and the true version of their story: "Wannabe, never fired a gun in anger." "BATF agent infiltrating white-power groups." "Homicidal maniac waiting to let loose on anyone." That kind of thing. The players could recruit as many of the NPCs as they wanted, and after some brief marksmanship tests and some interviews, they selected (conveniently) a multiple of 5 (or 4, whichever was the number of players) as the final team. I am proud to say that the players unwittingly selected every single "ringer" I had planted in the deck, from the BATF and FBI infiltrators (neither of whom knew about the other one) to the actual Nyarlathotep cultist who worked with the Karotechia in Paraguay.
In play, it worked great. Each assault went horribly wrong, and because I could unleash complete monstrousness for an 80% party kill without compunction, the whole adventure was realistically dark and dangerous and weird. The players loved getting their disposable pregen racist bastards killed and eaten, really getting into the claustrophobia and xenophobia of the scenario. At the end, the BATF guy sacrificed his life to destroy the Gate (on the Carcosa side; the remote detonators for the C-4 wouldn't work), and the Investigators had genuinely harrowing experiences full of other people's death and madness. I think two or three of the NPCs even survived with their Sanity intact; I forget if the players killed them anyway.
If you get a chance, run "Raid on Innsmouth." If you don't, run it anyway, and just call it something else.