Running games I like to keep things close to my chest, ideally bamboozling the players over the true identity or motivation of their adversary until the last possible moment. Doing this maintains tension, helps keep the players interested and makes villains memorable, especially when the twist is unexpected.
That said, I think my favourite reveal was by a player, to me, during one of my own games. We were playing the Call of Cthulhu campaign, Tatters of the King, which is, to date, the best Call of Cthulhu campaign I’ve read and certainly the best I’ve run.
WARNING– There will be some spoilers ahead.
Throughout the campaign the investigators had been plagued by visions of the King in Yellow, following witnessing the King in Yellow play and investigating events surrounding it and a cult of Hastur. As the game built to its conclusion the party travelled to India tracking the cult activity and the closer they got to the source of Hastur’s power, the more frequent and intense the visions became. For one particular investigator the visions were particularly intense and began to wear on his sanity.
The campaign culminates high in the mountains of Tibet, in sight of Everest, after the party enter a cave and so proceed to an other worldly location close to the Cyclades. After some exploration they reach a room in which they are approached by a vestige of Hastur who asks them all a single question ‘Will you Guide me?’.
The party have to each make their own decision as to what they want to do. All replying ‘no’ simply delays the inevitable, as Hastur will return again when the stars are right. The correct answer is to reply ‘yes’ and then lead Hastur astray as you guide him to Earth, forever dooming your soul but saving the planet from certain doom. I gave each player a piece of paper and asked them to write their answer, Yes or No, with no conferring between them. I then gathered the paper and secretly read the result.
As expected one wrote ‘yes’ and so I turned to him to describe the scene as it evolved and, much to my surprise, the player didn’t lead Hastur astray, didn’t even try, he guided him straight to Earth and so doomed the planet. Shocked, I asked why, since leading him astray is made clear as an option, and my players answer was that most surprising reveal “After everything that has happened, everything I’ve seen, heard and done, I felt that I was the avatar of Hastur, I was the one destined to bring him to Earth to rule”.
I have to say, I’ve never felt like I have done a more effective job running a game than in that moment, when I realised that I’d managed to coerce a player to end the world through the subtle manipulation of what he experienced throughout the campaign.