In two weeks my wife and I are hosting a dinner party that involves Trail of Cthulhu. This is an idea that I’d been kicking around for a few years. I thought it’d be a fun opportunity to “dress up” and play a one-shot while having an elegant dinner (using the table settings and crystal we got for our wedding and have only used once).

I thought I’d lay out the plan here and then report on how the evening went afterwards. I’ve never done anything like this before, so handling the logistics has been a learning experience.

The original plan was to invite several friends over and ask that they dress appropriately for the period (generally suits and dresses). There would be no children around; we’re sending ours to sleep over their grandparents’ house. Guests would be received in our front room with wine and finger foods, after which we’d head to the dining room for dinner, with the game played between courses.

I initially chose Call of Cthulhu as the RPG since I wanted something that could be completed in a one-shot and CoC lends itself well to that. I’d design (or use pregen) PCs that would fit the scenario.

So far, here are the modifications I made along the way.

1. Adjusting the Game/Dinner plan

A number of issues immediately cropped up over dinner and the game. Some of my guests worried that the table would get too cluttered with plates and game materials, not to mention the lack of room for dice rolling.

I’ve adjusted to this by separating the game from dinner. When the players arrive in the front room, we’ll have an impromptu LARP so they can introduce themselves to each other in character. I’ll explain the rules and then we do the following:

  • Dining Room – soup and salad courses
  • Front Room – RPG, Part 1
  • Dining Room – main course
  • Front Room – RPG, Part 2
  • Dining Room – dessert

Breaking things up like this also makes it more fun for players that have been kicked out. In order to keep the tension high, I’m not replacing PCs that are killed, incapacitated, or driven insane. Interspersing the game with dinner means that players still have socializing to look forward to even if they’re stuck observing for an hour. 

2. Dinner

We aren’t hiring caterers, so my wife and I have to do the clean-up and serving between courses. I needed to incorporate that into the plan. Fortunately, we host Thanksgiving at our house and have a variety of hot plates and warmers. We’re in the midst of planning a menu that enables us to quickly serve our guests.

3. Game System

Sharp-eyed readers may have noted that I actually mentioned two RPGs so far. This isn’t an accident. While I initially was going to use CoC, I settled on ToC. There were a number of reasons for this.

  • I really liked a ToC adventure that had 6 pregen PCs (leaving me to only have to create two)
  • The adventure has a strong Pacific theme, giving us a theme for dinner.
  • The rules seemed more conducive to a one-shot, with less of a chance of obviously missed clues (as well as a quicker descent into madness)
  • ToC only uses 1d6 (or a normal die) for rolls. I could use a giant inflatable die that can be kicked across the floor.

3. Handing out Characters in Advance

Originally, I’d planned on handing PCs to people as they arrived. My reasoning was that, although I’d invited 7 people, I’d assume that some of them wouldn’t show. I could then adjust which PCs I handed out accordingly.

Some of my guests, however, requested that I hand out characters in advance. They wanted a chance to conceptualize their PCs before arrival. I decided to concede this point and handed them out early, making sure my bases were adequately covered for no-shows.

4. Fancy Dress

Because PCs were being handed out early, a new question arose. Rather than “suits and dresses,” can the players arrive dressed in character? Also, since they also knew that the game would be set on an ocean-going ship, could they wear something more appropriate for a person-of-leisure on board?

I decided to bend on the “suits and dresses” rule in these cases, stressing that, for atmosphere, I still didn’t want people showing up in t-shirts and jeans, if possible.

5. Time

The final big consideration was to set the time. Most of our guests need babysitters, and some of them, including us, have activities to take our kids to during part of the day. I also wanted to ensure that we’d have enough time to play through an entire adventure without half the group nodding off or being sent home at 3 in the morning.

We settled on 6 o’clock. With a scenario that should take about 4 hours interspersed with dinner I’m hoping that gives us enough time to wrap by midnight.

In any event, that’s where the plan stands now. So what do you think? Are we biting off more than we can chew? Is there something I’m not considering? Does an adult theme night sound like fun or just a hassle?