Curse of the Chthonians (Spoilers)

This compilation of scenarios was one that I initially found a major mixed bag, though in retrospect, part of my problem with this was a reluctance when I first read it to alter published scenarios from their initial form. Four scenarios fill out this book, with a small article at the end elaborating on a concept that the fourth scenario uses.

Scenario One: Dark Carnival

This scenario involves a circus with a dark secret, a basic concept that has shown up in occasional films and stories, and a few scenarios over the years. Disappearances and a few deaths, one maiming and madness seem vaguely connected to an amusement park near Providence, Rhode Island. Investigation uncovers a more definite connection as they discover a cult whose members are the workers of this carnival, all or nearly all of them. There is a hint at the beginning that one of the “big bad” monsters that I feel constitutes overkill in scenarios is part of the final secrets of this scenario (This hint is a bit misleading, though the monster that will likely form the climax of the scenario is one I tend to consider a bit heavy for a party to face with any hope of survival.

To be honest, though, I suspect that getting to that monster may be a bigger challenge, this carnival is well populated and a party of investigators could find themselves confronting dozens of cultists, each a deadly opponent. To further complicate the situation, some innocents (or relatively innocents, rather) may be working at the park, including some rented space inside the park. There is a cluster of ghouls in subterranean caverns, and a Chthonian to be met as well (with at least hints of more of them lurking nearby). It is well presented, and a good read, but I have always feared that this one is a ‘party killer.’ A Keeper not wanting to put an entire party at risk would have to play this one very loose, or modify it heavily.

Scenario Two: The Curse of Chaugnar Faugn

This scenario is, in my opinion, the best in the book, with at least a few excellent elements for inclusion in a campaign, and one of the best role playing challenges a Keeper can throw at a player in the long run, if one of the options is played out.

It does lead the players more than a little, and keep them from knowing all that is going on around them for much of its duration, and calls for considerable care in running it properly, notably to keep the players from feeling that they are being herded through a course of events. A required story hook is a female NPC who is an ex-girlfriend of one of the investigators, with some tender feelings remaining between the two. Said ex calls in the investigators because of some concerns of hers over dreams she has been having and odd behavior on the part of her father, a noted archaeologist.

As indicated by the name, the Great Old One Chaugnar Faugn is involved in the story, believed by all to be a statue at the local museum. The father indicated above has been driven mad by the Great Old One and a curse placed on him that is tying him inevitably to the entity. While his behavior is erratic, there is little perceived reason to believe the professor has gone mad, and the connection to Chaugnar Faugn may be clear to the players, but should not be to the characters (ironically, in spite of a personal fondness for this Great Old One, it may be necessary to switch for another entity to come up with something less obvious or the Keeper may have to obscure the nature of the entity a bit (this latter is the course I would recommend.)

Death at the museum, the peculiar dreams on the part of the ex and the professor, lead to an apparent conclusion when an attack is made on the household by an apparent cultist riding a summoned flying creature, leading to a rather intense conflict, at the end of which the professor is briefly missing, found dead at the museum at the feet of the ‘statue.’

Another conflict leads to an apparent suspect for the investigators, and the resolution of this last conflict appears to wrap up the scenario. In fact, the scenario as written is really just getting warmed up and its deeper secrets just began to be put into play. The campaign resumes, and this scenario takes a pause of sorts, with the daughter an intermittent npc, but remaining part of the situation.

The spoilers go into high gear at this point.

The professor had been switching bodies with his daughter for a time, for greater and greater lengths of time, which was the source for her odd dreams, and the attack that left the professor dead was a ruse on his part, with the ex-girlfriend dying while in her father’s body, and the professor now in his daughter’s body, planning his final actions, a later body switch with one of the investigators, and his becoming a full thrall of Chaugnar Faugn, warping the stolen body into a barely human form in a certain time frame.

Along with the chance to bring an experimental device (supposedly designed by Tesla) into play as one of the investigators’ best chances of resolving this scenario, the scenario can wrap up with the players trying to get the investigator whose mind is residing in the ex-girlfriend’s body back into his own, of course that body will have ben in the process of being changed into aforementioned barely human form so if the conclusion is not arrived at quickly enough it may be simpler to try to adapt to a new way of life, somewhat literally.

The resolution, much like the course of the scenario, is a bit heavy handed and relies more than I would care for on things outside of the player’s control, but this is still a good ride to slip into a campaign. The device from Tesla’s legacy is a bit of a ‘deux ex machina’ touch, and this is, to me, the biggest weakness in the campaign. To be honest, I have been holding back on putting this into a campaign while I’ve been mulling over a way to make it more of a player controlled action. Otherwise a fabulous scenario.

Scenario Three: Thoth’s Dagger

This scenario is well-written, well-presented, but is also a bit problematic for me in some of its very important elements. At an auction, an antique dagger (An Egyptian magic item) is bid over, and subsequently stolen in the conclusion of the auction. Player characters become involved in the chase for the thief, and end up in possession of the dagger (and inherit its curse).

The possessor of the dagger is haunted by dreamlike visions that grow longer with each successive one, and the curse is revealed through research, the cursed person’s soul at risk, and a ritual needing to be performed in Egypt at a particular location being the only solution.

With a cultist hounding them from hiding if possible, the players are drawn to ruins in Egypt that are either unexplored or underexplored, and the party will find themselves ultimately in subterranean chambers, confronting Nyarlathotep himself in one of his more human guises.

The scenario resolves in a tough combat but the players do have the weapon in hand to make it more workable, even if still tough. Of course, after the combat, the ritual must still be performed, which will effectively destroy the dagger and the party may well have to fight their way out of their location, so it is open to interpretation if they won or not, even after defeating Nyarlathotep.

In spite of my comments about this being a well written scenario and well-paced, about the plusses I may have gone over, the ending is heavy, and that as written it leaves a potentially equally deadly fight ahead of them after the scenario’s written end.

There is another concern about this scenario for me. At least in part because of the ties between Nyarlathotep and ancient Egypt, CoC scenarios set in Egyptian ruins abound. Many of them are pretty much death traps, but not all, this is a tough one, a very tough one, and not the best written among them. It is a far cry from the worst, however, and worth some level of inclusion. I would possibly consider blending it with another scenario, and doing something to give the players some better feeling of hope on getting out of the situation at the end of the scenario.

Scenario Four: The City Without a Name

This scenario leads players on an expedition to the Nameless City, and while there are parts of this scenario I love, the hook and the pivotal portions of the conclusion are not among those parts.

Dreams that persist for investigators, when researched, lead said investigators to a scholar of the Kaballah, who starts the players on a path that leads ultimately to a quest to find the Nameless City itself.

The path to the city has some of the best elements in the scenario including a traitor in their midst, and the scenario built in such a way that said traitor can be any of several npcs the players will be interacting with. Inside the city, the players find themselves confronted by ghosts and the traitor’s plans to use them to feed hatchling chthonians in a vicious nursery.

The key to escaping this trap of a feeding ground lies in telepathic messages asking them for the numeric values of Kabbalah interpretations of the name Cthulhu. The fact that the Kaballah leads into and out of this scenario is problematic for me, and therefore I cannot ‘buy into’ the concept of this scenario at either its beginning or end. If you can, then this scenario may be worth a closer look.

However, even if I take this element out, there is a much better scenario (in my opinion) set in the Nameless City in the Chaosium product “House of R’lyeh” and I would likely use it. I will admit though, that I could enjoy using a large part of the middle of this one in other scenarios.

Final tally: one great one that leads the party around, two very good ones that need adaptation and careful Keeping to avoid being too deadly, and one I just couldn’t get into. It was still worth the money to me.

(Postscript: the addendum article in this is a quick summary of Gemmatria, the numerological component of Kabbalah studies. Again, this is a concept I have issues with, so I cannot personally recommend it in any way.)

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