This is one of the scenario collections that Chaosium released in 1989, a collection of scenarios that could be played separately, but suggestions were given to try to string them into a loose campaign. I have mixed feelings about the book as a whole, but I readily admit there are scenarios in here that I really like.
First Scenario: The Spawn
The book opens with one that I had serious issues with when I first read it, for a few reasons, one my own flaw at the time. Like most people who started playing CoC from a heavy Dungeons and Dragons background had a transition period, where part of the approach was thinking that the monsters should be ‘beatable’ and the scenarios all be ‘winnable’. Not that this one can’t be won, but running in with combat as a goal for victory is a quick way to lose a party.
The scenario deals with a copper mine and its corrupt owners, who have a deal with some of the game’s nastiest monsters, a nest of chthonians that are using the depths of the mine as a breeding ground, and some of the workers as a food source. Using the time specified, you have a subplot involving the IWW during its embattled final years, and a Native American tribe nearby that have the keys to the party’s best chance for survival and victory.
So why did I have such issues with it? I admit the characters are well written, the scenario is engaging, and the threats can be beaten in the game’s context, though not by direct confrontation in at least some senses. But it does have chthonians, a type of monster I have already admitted I have some issues with, and not just with one, we have a nest here, a lot to deal with, and enough that finding the nest in the wrong way is almost certain doom. But my other issue is that the source of the help that comes from the Native American tribe and its history comes more indirectly from Yig. Not my favorite Great Old One, the way he is often used in a ‘play him against the other Mythos threats’ way kind of grates on my nerves. To be fair, he is one of the least hostile of the Mythos entities, and he, as originally written has something of a ‘live and let live’ attitude. But playing him against the others tends to annoy me. I will concede that in this instance it is handled well, and reading it now I find it a lot less troublesome a scenario than I did when I read it in my twenties. I give it a guarded plus now, when before I just tended to avoid even rereading it.
Second Scenario: Still Waters
This scenario is a lot of fun to read, but I found the execution a bit tricky in some points, I’ll explain. The party is sent to collect a book from a bibliophile in a small Louisiana town, and while the man has a bit of a shady reputation, the party has no real reason to suspect any real danger (well, except for the fact they’re playing in a Call of Cthulhu scenario). The small town is an extremely small one, and when the party finally makes it to the residence of the bookworm and his daughter, they find a missing persons case, with the bodies of his servants left behind.
Depending on how in depth the investigators get, secrets are uncovered and we discern the bibliophile was, himself, pretty much a villain, along with his daughter, but they are effectively shadows in this scenario as they died shortly before the action of the scenario at the hands of other book collectors who are worse by any criteria, having shed their humanity and sanity long before.
The two entities, and their servant, are preparing to flee the scene of the crime. To be honest, I think the timeline added into the scenario is an irritant, if the party doesn’t act relatively quickly they will find an abandoned building with nothing but bodies behind, and I think the party would find it a frustrating conclusion leaving more questions than answers.
The two entities are a type of creature called a Thrall of Cthulhu, a process that a worshipper can enter voluntarily with effort over time, and these two had been in the past sisters. In a strange part of the scenario, the conflict with these two has an odd element of comedy added as their personalities belie their action with dialogue reflecting genteel ladies entertaining guests as they attack viciously.
It is the humor I have issue with, not that I don’t find humor in the game, but I find it tends to grow best from the players for the most part. Not that I wouldn’t include it, just that it felt a little artificial.
Overall, a very good scenario, just one you may want to tinker with.
Third Scenario: Tell me Have you Seen the Yellow Sign?
At this point, I am declining to review this particular scenario, for a very good reason. Golden Goblin Press is on the verge of releasing a new compilation of scenarios, Tales of the Crescent City. Included in it will be an updated version of this scenario, the author having agreed to rework it a bit. I am one of the people who contributed to the Kickstarter, and just got the pdf. I will be presenting a totally spoiler free review of that volume as soon as I’ve gobbled it up, and will give a review at that point, and a comparison of improvements (as well as I can do without spoiling anything). I hope it helps some of you who may be on the fence about getting it later (keepers only, please) to make up your mind, it looks awesome so far.
All I can say at this point is that this scenario is set in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and uses that as the backdrop, with a non-spoiler given by the title, Hastur is behind it, with aspects of the King in Yellow as its theme.
Fourth Scenario: One in Darkness
This is a fun scenario. It involves gangsters, a savage monster that is a tough battle, an avatar of Nyarlathotep. With a pulp feel and a major monster as the ‘boss battle’, a group playing it pulp style can solve it one way, a group playing it investigative style can beat it too. it is versatile and variable, with only one caveat, and even that is provided for in the game.
A gang on the run has released said demon when confronted by the police, and while his gang escaped (with casualties), the demon is lurking in the sewers, the law is still closing in. The gang leader had access to the summoning as a gift from his mother, a less-than skilled sorceress who doesn’t know how to dismiss it. The means to dismiss it becomes an object for the party and the mother, and those who currently have it are on limited time.
The major weakness in the scenario is the major strength of the monster, it is only vulnerable to magic weaponry and while the means to create some is in the campaign, taking the time to do so increases the risks. As written a good but tough scenario. With tweaking, you can make it fit into your campaign more smoothly.
To be honest you can avoid the creature being an avatar of Nyarlathotep, it is effectively unintelligent, little more than a mindless marauder, unless you decide to play with it.
Fifth Scenario: The Pale God
With this scenario, we encounter one of the lesser Great Old Ones, a creature from Ramsey Campbell’s writings. In the backstory, a subterranean labyrinth includes a gate to the Severn Valley, so the monster du jour doesn’t need to be translated from its original location. The potential for this to complicate the lives of the players is not overlooked. I have a minor issue with this, though, as there wasn’t a massive reason for the gate to exist as such, or more accurately, wasn’t a reason for the gate to be used by Eihort instead of the players (or perhaps both parts of the labyrinth may connect to a third location here Eihort lurks). It does seem that the relocation of the players may have been a driving force in the scenario however, as it does form a link to the final adventure in this compilation if you’re playing them as a campaign of sorts.
A strange coincidence left me a bit at odds with this scenario when I first read it when it was a fresh release, and it is the name of one of the minor npcs. No reason they shouldn’t have used the name. just that it happens to be the same as an npc’s name from my first Call of Cthulhu campaign back in the earlier 80’s. Bertram Chandler. Just a coincidence, but it unnerved me.
The scenario brings up a wonderful point that I truly loved, and continue to love. I touched on it lightly in my keeper’s blog, and it really warrants a full entry (I’ll check there to make sure I haven’t already done one before I do another)
The scenario begins with the party meeting someone who literally dies at their feet after asking to meet them at a public, though at the time empty place. His death is a bit gruesome and provides a clue as to what the investigators are risking facing if they’ve done all the reading. This is where the part I hinted at in the prior paragraph elevates this particular scenario with what boils down to a fabulous piece of advice for keepers in general, not just in this scenario.
A nice little set of clues deal with a mystery that will lead to a house with a history, a buried maze that, as I’ve said, leads to a gate that extends to more of the maze, and a confrontation with Eihort, or at least his brood. Solving this scenario puts the investigators at risk of finding themselves stranded a quarter way around the world without a good explanation of why and where.
The suggestion hinted at earlier boils down to a core point. Players of the game tend to know the monsters in it, and keepers new to the game sometimes fall into the trap of describing an encounter as ‘you meet a group of deep ones’. This is problem enough without the players, halfway through the description of the monsters encountered nodding and going ‘okay, it’s ghouls.’ So, when possible, and as long as possible, change things up. Describe things, but don’t make the descriptions easy to interpret or predict. In this case it suggested changing color or shape or both to some extent. Obviously this won’t work for everyone…Cthulhu is Cthulhu. And Yog Sothoth is..well there are multiple forms, but some of them will ‘give themselves away’ early. But a lot of things can remain mysterious all the way through the campaign. Starting with this wonderful idea, I’ve had three subsequent campaigns where certain creatures were encountered, but none of the investigators, all seasoned players of the game, recognized some of these monsters during play, even the recurring ones. They had to come up with their own names for them, and only in one case did a player at the end of the campaign ask about a type of creature and correctly identify one of the creatures. Now this won’t work on some of the staples, (ghouls, deep ones, they’re just too well known, but…their first encounters are always a bit more when you introduce them by description)
Sixth Scenario: Bad Moon Rising
This is the scenario that most people who’ve read this book remember first, even if I think you will find that ‘Yellow Sign’ is the most popular of the scenarios. You get a guided tour of impossible things, and if you play it out, the players get to really have their minds messed with over the course of play.
The players stumble across some evidence of a hidden British base, and because let’s face it, at some level, CoC investigators are ‘meddling kids’ without the luck of being able to pull the mask on the monster of the week, they in this scenario find themselves encountering a location that qualifies as highly secret and sensitive information. The tricky part in this scenario is finding a way to get the players involved without simply getting arrested and dragged away from it. This is viable as far as its presented, but when you look at the entire work, this is part that is really just guiding the players to the ‘real scenario’. It is well presented, but not nearly as memorable as what follows, and I could never shake the feeling when reading it that it would be easy for a party of investigators to derail the scenario at this point.
A cave in England leads to a base that has been under some investigation by the authorities, who have determined that the far side is a site on Earth’s moon, near an outpost, more or less abandoned by the Great Race of Yith.
Set in the 20’s, it is interesting to see how the technology of the time was used to address the issues of the airless environment, but it is only suggested as to how the solutions were arrived at. The players become involved in the exploration of the outpost, for the story, and that’s where things get strange.
Less abandoned than on standby, the players have one of the few chances to encounter a member of the Great Race (I can only think of one, maybe two other place this happens in a published scenario offhand), and the member springs a bit of a trap on the players as the one form of physical time travel open to the Yithians, suspended animation, and the players find themselves ‘transported’ into the far future, where the players are the ‘guests’ of the Great Race in the next species they inhabit, the hive mind insectoids.
The scenario crosses into bizarre territory at this point, keeping in mind that the Great Race are not necessarily fully evil but they are extremely alien, and not compassionate towards other races. They have an experiment they plan on using the humans for, after they’ve had a little personal ‘fun’ at the humans’ expense (in other words, minor experimentation with a relatively low mortality rate before the big experiment).
The investigators, the survivors at least, along with something of a stowaway (no, this time I’m not giving this one away), are set in a device to travel even further into the future and into space as well, at an accelerated rate (einstein’s time dilation pushed to the extremes) to test a theory, even though the Great Race know that they will likely never get the data themselves. The investigators get a chance to watch the end of the universe, and the cyclic reformation of it, along with hints at the forces behind all universes. It may play a bit with metaphysics in a way that may not appeal to some keepers, but it is well presented. My only beef with that part of it lies in the improbability of the players being able to find their way back to Earth in a reborn universe, assuming it is completely cyclic in nature, and assuming that even an Earth exists in the next one. There is a bit of an explanation offered for this, though I’m not completely certain about that part, myself. It is enough of a mind trip that even if a keeper doesn’t want to use it, I suggest it as a fun read.