My friend – his name is Adam — is the best Call of Cthulhu game master I ever had. With candles burning low, and a mix tape of various atmospheric horror soundtracks playing in the background, he guided us through a haunted house with the ghosts of small child and its family stalking us.
Honestly, I can’t remember the specifics of the plot – it’s been more than 30 years – but I don’t care. What I do remember was the low flicker of the candles, the creaking of the old house we were playing in, and scaring the hell out of myself when I went to the bathroom and caught sight of my own reflection in a mirror.
Yeah, it was that kind of game. It inspired many of my own games going forward, but I’ve never achieved that level of sublime dread.
The closest I ever came to recreating that sense of strangeness was when I ran The Night Floors [PDF], the classic Call of Cthulhu scenario for Delta Green (at the time, it was a sourcebook for Call of Cthulbhu; it became its own CoC-descended game many years later). The surreal adventure involved exploring the not-quite-real upper floors of an apartment building in New York City. Tinged with elements of the King in Yellow and Lost Carcossa, the adventure excelled at subtle weirdness and ended with two of our agents shooting at each other through a wooden door.
The conspiracy-themed Delta Green remains one of my favorite RPGs and one I hope to run again in the not-too-distant future. Will it lead to another surreal encounter like the Night Floors or a creepy investigation like that college game? I don’t know … but I certainly hope so.