This time around, I’m reviewing two Monographs, both set in the Soviet Union, set in a country and era that most of us only know indirectly at best. These monographs both tried to capture at least the perception of the Soviet Republic, and in my opinion, both succeeded admirably, and used that setting as part of the horror roleplaying opportunities.
First, The Terror, (the volume itself only titles itself Terror, but it is catalogued as “the Terror”) is available in pdf format both from Chaosium and DriveThruRPG.com. It is a one shot, set in Stalin’s Moscow in 1932. The player characters are coerced into trying to resolve a mysterious murder, and clear evidence that the crime is being covered up. A mystery that links back to the 1908 Tunguska explosion and gives a wonderfully wicked story, with the culture almost as big a threat as the monsters lurking in the background. This is very much a one shot scenario, with its ending a grim reminder of the realities of Soviet life at that time, but still potentially a surprise. Worth recommending, but not a campaign scenario by any means.
Second, Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37, available in print and pdf from Chaosium, and in pdf from DriveThruRPG.com, is another scenario set in March of 1933. Also presented as a one shot, this scenario has, while part of the same cultural chaos as its starting point, less of a feeling of the Soviet culture in its overall structure (though it does creep in as the story progresses). The investigators are Soviet military, sent to investigate the silence from the title location, a farming collective, after some relatively unusual developments. In a slight spoiler, we are looking at a variation on Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” on a larger scale, and the party finds themselves the prey of a truly alien menace. The fact that they are all acting under orders that are somewhat contradictory and secret orders that play them against each other complicates the thing in a truly Soviet twist. This scenario can take a long time to play out if you want, it definitely shouldn’t be overly rushed for full impact.
Two wonderful scenarios, nearly impossible to fit into campaign play without some phenomenal reworking, even if you leave them in the era and locations. I also find that you can make them fit into campaign play if you are willing to do a lot of rewriting, though you will be either losing a lot of the ‘Soviet paranoia’ that makes these two scenarios work as well as they do (unless you’re willing to play an extremely cynical interpretation of modern life with governments a lot more totalitarian in hidden levels than we perceive)