I love the 80’s and 90’s Part Three: At Your Door (Intermittent Spoilers)

To preface this one, this campaign for Call of Cthulhu is currently out of print and only available from collectors through the various means, Amazon, ebay, and any shops where gaming collectables may have a copy or two tucked away.

I wrap up the current ‘nostalgia’ riff with this full campaign for the game that was released in 1990. This campaign has a bit of a tarnished reputation and I have to concede that at least some of it is deserved. I will, however, also state that there are gems to be found here, and I will break down the good, the bad, the mixed, and I will go over what I feel can be brought out of this campaign.

Like the other ‘modern’ scenarios from this time frame, it feels strangely dated in a way that the scenarios set in the ‘Classic Lovecraft’ decades doesn’t. Also like the other ‘modern’ scenarios, it can be updated with some effort, and in my opinion, there is quite a bit that can be brought forward, though I will concede large parts of this campaign would end up unrecognizable with the work I would tend to perform on it at this time.

Quick overview, the scenario is brought into a conflict between a rabid conservation organization, and a biotechnical company that is gaining access to secrets that are purely from the Mythos. As the story progresses, the party finds themselves digging deeply into secrets on both sides, and eventually find themselves caught in a crossfire as the two organizations that have resolved their differences to a point, and the party has become largely superfluous. En route, they find themselves at odds with a few nasty predatorial monsters, a victim of inhuman experimentation who is rapidly becoming a monster as well, and a natural disaster that proves to not be so natural. The scenario is largely set in the fictitious city of Samson, California, which connects it to the scenario “Nemo Solus Sapit” from “The Stars are Right”

Opening Scenario: Full Wilderness

A missing scientist who was turning whistleblower is one of the things that pulls the investigators into the campaign, hired by an organization devoted to ecological awareness, named Full Wilderness. The fact that this organization has a deeper agenda is something that may not come out in the course of play, but it is present to be uncovered, and the simple fact that from the beginning, the player’s employer is not a simple heroic force forms part of the backdrop, even if this only comes as a shocking revelation further down the road.

In the process of the initial assignments for Full Wildernes, the party gains clues on the missing man, and a bizarre creature, believed to be the result of unethical (if not illegal) experimentation by a biotechnical/chemical firm is to be escorted from one location to another. This transportation is interfered with by a biker gang (who may or may not be discovered to be the gang “God’s Lost Children”, a callback to the rock band of the same name from “the Evil Stars” scenario in Cthulhu Now. What the creature turns out to be may not be uncovered by the investigators, though experienced players may decipher its nature and origin.

Assorted clues in the scenario lead the players on the trail of the missing scientist, and one of the first logical steps is a farm that the scientist rented briefly. This leads directly to the next scenario.

This scenario is not in and of itself bad, but it is setting the stage, and to be honest a Keeper can use most of this information to go in a lot of other directions,

Second Scenario: Landscrapes.

A scenario that was imported into the campaign, tweaked to fit into it, and based in part of the writings of T. E. D. Klein, this is the most self-contained of the campaign and also my favorite single scenario in it. Tracking down the rented farm leads the party first to the owner, a rather unsavory sort with secrets of his own, and a bit of madness about him. We have a ‘mad scientist on a budget’ who has a current project, and left a project behind him, which proved a major problem to our missing scientist target.

How much of the landowner’s present situation the players get involved in is open for the Keeper to play with or not, and is to me fairly irrelevant to the rest of the scenario, let alone the campaign, but could be amusing to bring in or at least to leave a taunting unknown.

The farm leaves us a few more clues for our missing scientist’s trail, but presents a mystery of its own. The landowner’s abandoned project is a monster that has infested the farm itself, the local flora and fauna, as well as at least one human victim, become an ongoing concern and threat for the party to deal with.

The monster here is creative, creepy, and the players find themselves quickly involved in a struggle for survival and containment of this potential threat. As I’ve said, I like this scenario a lot, and frankly have very little trouble with the idea of minimal tweaking it and incorporating it into any campaign.

There is one minor element I find a bit annoying, but this is hardly the first place it’s happened, and to be honest, I don’t always have a problem with it. Acting as a background character, one of our favorite ‘Big nasty guys’, Nyarlathotep (one of the ones most likely to act on human affairs in an indirect but still actively interested role), has coordinated the now missing scientist to rent this particular property, using an alias and basically being unreachable. He also used an anagram of Nyarlathotep for this appearance. I tend to find the anagrams a bit annoying with one exception, the saxophonist “the Royal Pant”, who actually does show up later in this campaign. The Royal Pant is the one anagram manifestation I find okay, I find it being done more often makes it not only less effective, but a bit irritating, and predictable (“oh, a mysterious person whose name is a bit nonsensical with an n, a y, and two t’s?’ I hear the players mutter. “wonder who that could be?’)

Third Scenario: Dawn Biozyme

The mysterious biotech company that the whistleblower was gathering information on is the focus of this scenario, and this scenario covers the party’s investigation of the company and its secrets. The primary villain of the piece is a man named Dr. Finley, who has no idea of the dark nature of the secret he is working with. Summoning Shub Niggurath, but only perceiving it as an extradimensional entity that has excretions with properties he sees as having immense value and potential.

Leaving the magic vs. physics discussion aside, Finley has no real belief in the magic side of it, and the fact that they may be related in a way is of no interest to him. His wife, however, has become quite enthralled with the Tcho Tcho culture, which brings up a point I will cover shortly.

This scenario is something of a framework, with a tough security, a vague set of goals, but it does cover the bulk of the likely range of player actions, with high risks in most of them, but considerable information uncovered.

I have to admit I’m somewhat indifferent to most of this scenario, though if you wish to play the campaign as written, it is a major point to deal with and a logical source of information and action.

This is the first part of the Tcho Tcho involvement in this campaign, and has been criticized by some for making a somewhat racist presentation, comparing the Tcho Tchos as refugees to the Vietnamese and Cambodian refugee influx of the Seventies and Eighties. While at first glance, this is a valid comparison, this actually forms a good foundation for the Tcho Tchos in ‘western civilization’ as a campaign element.

The Tcho Tcho are not fully human, this is established, and their culture lessens that connection. While there is in the “Lovecraft canon” a placement of the Tcho Tchos in the Plateau of Leng, which is presumed by most to be located in the Dreamlands, there are also places where the Tcho Tcho have made incursions into various locations, and taking on some of the characteristics of the humans of the regions they are expanding into (Spawn of Azathoth as a prime example). So, having extrapolated that, is it unreasonable to postulate that the Tcho Tcho, seeing the way that refugees from the Southeastern Asian region were welcomed (even if not wholeheartedly) in the West, opted to present themselves in the same manner, and while knowing they would not find any warmer welcome if they were honest about what they were, using their insular culture to try to protect their secrets while they spread their presence among an unsuspecting populace? (Apologies for the convoluted sentence). If you cannot accept this postulate, then the politically incorrect accusation stands with some merit.

Scenario Four: No Pain, No Gain.

Usually, when people deride this campaign, this becomes the focal point of the criticism, and justly so, for the most part. Can it be salvaged? Possibly, but to be honest, I am unsure if it is worth the trouble for the most part, though we do have an interesting ‘creature’ in this one.

Clues from the missing scientist and from Dawn Biozyme can lead to another person who has dropped off the map, so to speak, another person who worked at Dawn Biozyme, then vanished. Researching into this woman’s story reveals an interest in bodybuilding, and her changing into something other than human gradually, first playing into her avocation of bodybuilding, until she changed to a point where she was unable to continue competing as a bodybuilder. The fact that she was trying a substance that makes steroids seem like caffeine supplements (and its ultimate source), brings us into CoC territory, particularly when the party finds her, sequestered in a cave where she has grown into a full scale giantess, with additional limbs on the verge of sprouting.

As written the party becomes captives of her and her similarly altered pet, a dog that is now larger than a dog and capable of speech, and the time scale of the campaign goes askew as the party has to endure prolonged captivity with this entity, something that is herself equal parts victim and monster, and who in her madness will try to keep the players her captives in accord with her conflicting emotions and thoughts.

The idea of the players being kept for a prolonged period has an appeal, forcing players to drop the mentality of ‘hit and run’ scenario play. Jenny (the giantess) is an interesting creature, and a complex character, but I am, even now, unsure if this is the best presentation for her as a villain/victim. The dog seriously doesn’t help matters, and the scenario creeps into territory where it is hard to take seriously if not impossible.

The lead in to finding her was good, Jenny is an interesting monster, but in the end, this scenario is more of a ‘pass’ than ‘play’ in my book.

Scenario Five: Where a God Shall Tread

There are a few ways for players to end up in this campaign, but most of them are a bit tenuous, and this scenario, while pivotal, is hard to tie in directly if left as written. Set in Toronto, the party finds themselves caught between a serial killer who is a shape shifting Mythos monster, and the enigmatic Mr. Shiny (who is himself inspired by the wonderful Michael Shea story ‘Fat Face’), the players find themselves in a deadly game of corporate sabotage, a ‘frozen’ Great Old One (RhanTegoth) in a museum as a bit of a backdrop,, and the recurrence of the Tcho Tcho elements. This scenario has many places and means for the party to trip themselves up, but also means to start putting the pieces together of the campaign’s themse.

Having said that, the scenario is still a bit disjointed, and some of it seems unnecessary to the campaign as such. The addition of the serial killer, and his secret is at least a bit unneeded, however well it is put into the campaign. The relocation to Toronto seems equally arbitrary, there is no solid reason for the campaign to have relocated to another city, except to distance the players from the support network they may have established up to this point, and to allow for the players’ employer (Full Wilderness) to have made its bizarre peace with Dawn Biozyme, and the forces behind it.

Toronto as the specific location seems equally arbitrary but is acceptable.

Up to this point, I have avoided mentioning one of the other critiques thrown at this campaign, in part because it seems rare for any campaign not to have this to a point, usually referred to as ‘creature of the week’. The addition of monsters, and seeking to add new and different monsters each time the setting changes. Now, almost every campaign will do this, and sometimes it is hard to not make the transition feel or look arbitrary. It takes work to avoid this feeling, and At Your Door is not as good at this work as many campaigns. Part of the reason I bring this up at this point is that the critique has some validity, and this scenario intensified the feeling. The scenarios often link together tenuously, leaving a disjointed feeling to the campaign, and in this scenario it starts to come to a head. But it goes over the top with the conclusion, which is a problem, because the last scenario also has a lot of the best potential in the campaign.

Scenario Six: After the Big One

What can you say about a scenario that begins with a massive earthquake, and throws the party into trying to cope with the aftermath, particularly when the scenario’s developments brings all the other matters of the campaign to a head?

Returning to Samson just in time to be caught up in the quake, the party finds themselves trying to simply survive among the less than adequate emergency responses and communicate with their employers, most likely unknowing that their employers are no longer allies. Gradually learning that the earthquake was no accident, and caused by entities far removed from humanity, finding surviving villains from various parts of the campaign up to this point, and uncovering a conspiracy to use the survivors of the quake and the wreckage left behind as a refuge for Rhan Tegoth (they have plans to fully revive that entity by this point), the players have to try to head off a climactic meeting that boils down to a huge battleground if the meeting is allowed to happen, and preventing it from happening is at best problematic.

I have commented, in this blog and the Keeper’s blog, that certain monsters kind of put me at arm’s length when they show up in a scenario because of their extreme difficulty in being beaten, that they should almost never be presented in a combat situation. This scenario has three different types of this kind of creature, notably Chthonians, shoggoths, and Dark Young. Two (and a half) of these kind showing up in that climactic meeting, along with human cultists. This is, to me, overkill, flat out, and a party has to be almost preternaturally ahead of the ‘game’ to be able to get through this intact.

The intermittent presence of The Royal Pant in this section I find intriguing, as his presence here is less as a foil than as Lear’s Fool to the villains of the piece, content to let the players act as a fly in the ointment, accentuating his known tendency to be contemptuous of his Masters’ goals and schemes, even as he advances them.

The final battle is a bit much however it is played out, to my taste, and is at best problematic.

However, there are aspects of the ‘life in the ruined city’ section of the campaign that I find quite good.

The missing scientist from the beginning of the campaign is finally found, but ultimately the trail that led to him proves far more significant than he himself, by this point. Some of the potential allies for the players are a mixed bag, and at least one organization strikes me as bit nonsensical, but not in a way that I have to cite as useless, just something I would tweak if I were to try to run this one again.

I ran this campaign pretty much as written back in the early 90’s, and I did everything in my power to get the players informed enough to try to circumvent the final conflict. While there were survivors, I can’t say that they won that final scenario, though.

So…ultimately, there are some great elements to pull out of the campaign, and incorporate into your own, at least one scenario viable on its own, a few very nice villains, a good idea setting or two… I can’t say this was the high point of Chaosium’s run, and I often have suspected that the reaction to this one was one of the reasons that Chaosium didn’t do more with modern scenarios at that point in their history.

I love the 80’s and 90’s Part Two: The Stars are Right (some Spoilers)

This scenario compilation from 1992 was re-released in 2004 with a little new content, and I will be reviewing the current version. I will say a few things upfront. First, some of the scenarios have dated a little bit in the time since their initial publication, but they can be updated with minimal work. Second, while a few of these scenarios I am a bit indifferent to, this compilation has a few of my favorite scenarios of the entire game.

First Scenario: Love’s Lonely Children

This is a grim scenario, and while it is a good scenario to play through, it’s hard to say you’ve won at any given point. The players, and one npc are the ones at risk. We learn about the scenario after the death of a teenage girl, and her sad life was only complicated by the Mythos, which led to her death. This is sobering when you realize that this scenario is built from concepts that border on depressing clichés. Heroin addiction, prostitution, child abuse, the punk rock scene of the eighties and nineties all form the backdrop to this (and a sobering moment when, somewhat like the characters in Spider Robinson’s stories, you have to ask yourself ‘when did we let these things become clichés?’) The girl’s father has found Y’golonac, and the girl paid the price. There is a mystery to solve, there is a foe to fight, but as written, there is one npc at risk, and the party, unless the party ‘brings in help’. The level of overall threat is low, and the challenge high. But if you do beat the villain, you have a feeling that you’ve left the world a brighter place, even in a bleak world. I put this one as a plus, but it is a bleak one, and not to everyone’s tastes.

Second scenario: Nemo Solus Sapit

This scenario is good for all that it is. It brings up a recurring theme in Call of Cthulhu scenarios, specifically psychiatrists who have uncovered some level of dark and forbidden knowledge and ultimately become a new evil themselves. In this case, a patient who succumbed to madness while researching the Mythos taught his doctor things that led to the doctor becoming powerful, mad, and evil. Azathoth makes a brief appearance in the backstory, and if the party doesn’t solve and beat this one before the scenario reaches its conclusion, can reappear during the course of play, and the consequences should be avoided (naturally). Missing people, spells that confuse identities to a point, and abuse of power form the backdrop to this story. Not one of my favorites but very playable, and my issues with it are more just personal taste than anything else. A minor comment at this point. This scenario is largely set just outside the fictional city of Samson, California, the city which is largely the setting for the At Your Door campaign, which will be the third part of the ‘I love the 80’s and 90’s’ sequence.

Third Scenario: This Fire Shall Kill

This is one of my all-time favorites, and one of the few scenarios that deal with a cult to Cthugha that feels fresh and frightening. We do have another ‘abuse of power’ issue here, but the novelty of a team of firemen as cultists to a fire entity makes for a complicated and intense scenario. The scenario is set in San Francisco with a climax in the Bank of America building. A strong scenario, I can’t cite any weaknesses in this scenario, I enjoy it, and how it plays out.

Fourth Scenario: The Professionals

In spite of a pretty nice monster, this is not one of the high points of this compilation, the players get involved in an investigation into secrets surrounding a political campaign. One of the candidates hires the investigators to look into the background of the other. The fact that the other candidate is a shapeshifting monster wearing the form of a B-movie actress makes it strange. The scene is complicated by both candidates’ dark pasts, a group of terrorists with a peculiar agenda, and a rogue scientist with stolen technology and an obsession with the actress and a need to find her secrets. To be honest, this scenario is very linear, and this is one of its biggest flaws. Ultimately, there is little for the players to do other than be a witness to most of the action in the scenario, and they have little impact on what happens. Ironically it still has a sweet climax, and as I said a pretty nice monster, so I see this less as a scenario than a mine, a source to grab things to import into other circumstances.

Fifth Scenario: Fractal Gods

A good, albeit bizarre scenario (okay, I realize in Call of Cthulhu calling a scenario bizarre is a bit redundant, but bear with me). This scenario is more than a bit dated, dealing with fractal art, and with some computer technology and file distribution methods that are a bit ‘behind the times’, but a good scenario regardless. A computer user reading ancient journals learns of concepts that when he converts them to computer structures, uses fractal concepts to open a gateway, and allowing an entity access to our world, to our detriment. Using means of spreading files under misleading presentation, others are tricked into starting the program on their own computers, giving more power to the entity in question, who seeks to return home, but also is spreading its own kind on our world.

This scenario gets a bit convoluted in some senses, and I’m not too sure I completely buy into the fractal entities, but I can’t cite it as significantly more improbable than many other things that have manifested in the game. I leave this one in the plus column, but if I were to try to run it nowadays I may tweak it a lot, in addition to updating it.

Sixth Scenario: The Gates of Delirium

Here we have another psychiatrist gone crazy scenario, using his patients as guinea pigs, as he seeks to summon Daoloth, using chemical therapies that are pushing patients further into madness, and altering the reality around them. This is a good and weird scenario, and by the end of it the players have a good chance of questioning reality. Not my favorite, but given a choice between this one and Nemo Solus Sapit, I would pick this one.

Seventh Scenario: The Music of the Spheres

This one uses radio telescopes and a spread of madness to bring a very intense scenario involving insanity raging across a small town, destruction of object, and altering the wildlife. Even though communication is a problem, but ultimately the players’ best allies may not be humans in solving this one. A tough scenario, and quite possibly a campaign ender if things don’t go well, and very likely a campaign altering one if you put it into campaign play. The price of listening to some of the entities of the Mythos is high, and this town risks paying it if the players can’t stop it. I like this one and recommend it, but the stakes are high.

Eighth Scenario: Darkest Calling

This scenario is the first of two new scenarios for the 2004 edition, and is one of my favorites of all time. A bizarre death in the desert, and the realization that it is the second in what seems to be a sequence of deaths, the investigators are drawn into a dark story. We aren’t dealing with a Great Old One, or the end of the world, but we are dealing with a nasty type of monster, and an incredible storyline, as we are confronted with moral ambiguity on a level that we rarely see in a scenario. When murder is your best option, the more the players know, the more they have to make a difficult choice.

Ninth Scenario: The Source and the End

A small town in Colorado becomes the setting for this scenario, a place where evil runs rampant as spawn of Ubbo-Sathla are called forth and run rampant. A retired FBI agent, tracking down one last case, finds more than he bargained for, and the players are called in just a little too late to stop things from starting to go to a figurative hell. The players are the vanguard of an attempt to contain the evil, and another tough scenario wraps up this collection. A good one, but another one that is going to leave the campaign shaken if not broken by the end of it. A good time to roll up new characters.

Available in hard copy from Chaosium, and in pdf from Chaosium and DriveThruRpg.com

An Apology, new rules, and I love the 80 (and 90’s)’s part i (Cthulhu Now, some spoilers)

First the apology.  I have had a few messages indicating some displeasure that i reviewed a scenario that is not at this time readily available without resorting to torrents, which is something I do not endorse.  I wish to apologize for that, though i did get it in good faith when i acquired it, and would hope others could do the same.  SO i will from this point forward to this set of rules.  For free scenarios, that have been released for no purchase to own, i will double check that they are, at the time i review them, available somewhere online and indicate where.  For scenarios that were for purchase and available only in pdf, i will make sure that they are currently available in pdf in some location.  For scenarios that were available for purchase in print i will announce if they are available in print or pdf to the best of my knowledge at the time of the review.  For items that were available only in print and never available in pdf (to my ability to determine). I will indicate as much, whether or not they are currently in print.  The reason i will review non pdf print items that are not in print is simple, there are collectors wiling to sell through collectable venues, including ebay.  While i would always hope to find a way to assure the original author and/or rightsholder to get their appropriate royalties, if the book is no longer in print, this is not an option.  i do hope to only review items that are legitimately available (taking the buying from collectors option as a legitimate option)

In 1987, Cthulhu Now was released, giving updated setting and rules to play the game in a contemporary setting.  this concept has been extrapolated on with subsequent editions of the game and other supplements but this was one of the early developments into reaching out into other eras for the game.  Included in the game were four scenarios set in the time frame, the late eighties, and so the modern era Call of Cthulhu was ‘born’.

First Scenario: The City in the Sea

This scenario owes most of its existence to Lovecraft’s story “the Temple” than anything else, expanding some of the concepts there as the mysterious statuette from that story makes a repeat performance, and we are given more information.  the statuette as lure, the submerged temple and the surrounding ruins all return, the dolphin escort, this is familiar territory, but we do get a bit more, and unlike the arrogant narrator of the story, the players do have a chance to survive and even win in this scenario.

The entity behind the statuette is given a name here, and the players risk becoming snared by the entity’s pull through the statuette.  an expedition takes the investigators to a submerged city and a test of theories about the existence of the lost nation of Atlantis.

To be honest, this scenario never did much for me, though i can’t really fault it.  For what it is, it is a viable scenario, just one that didn’t appeal to me personally.  the level of risk seems more removed, except for the statue’s pull drawing the investigators in, and while there is some level of threat from it, it doesn’t seem to be an earth shaking scenario in any sense, nor a particularly significant event in the player characters’ lives, so i tend to give this one a pass.

Second Scenario: Dreams Dark and Deadly

This is a scenario i like, a challenge, and deadly, involving dream research, a deep one hybrid in  Colorado, and more monsters than you can shake a stick at (and given Colorado forests, no shortage of sticks).  We have one of the aspects of big C himself, Cthulhu, working with the dreaming minds of some of the patients at this research facility, and through the advanced technology in the research, the staff itself.  Manifestations of an assortment of mythos oriented creatures can complicate the picture as needed, and people keeping secrets, in some cases even from themselves keep things going as the agenda of the hybrid and Cthulhu push things towards a potentially catastrophic conclusion.

the risks grow as the scenario progresses, and if the party can’t solve it in time, a somewhat corporeal incarnation of Cthulhu arrives, ruining everyone’s fun.  This is one of the few places where Cthulhu can show up and not be a complete game imbalancer, let alone a campaign ender.  but if the players haven’t stopped the scenario by that point, the player characters are in dire straits.

With some very unlikely allies, and a very difficult path to get all the clues, this scenario has a good chance of being played out without everything being uncovered, but still chances of making a good game out of it.

Scenario Three: The Killer Out of Space

I have to admit this is my favorite scenario of the four, and while it is a bit dated, can be worked with to make it even more contemporary. hitching a ride on the space shuttle, the infamous Colour Out of Space forces a detour, a crash landing in Kansas, and slips into the shadows before authorities can reach the landing/crash site.

the side effects of the Colour’s presence quickly lead to a martial law quarantine of the area, and exactly where the players fit into it is well written and presented.  There are chances for the players to survive and win this scenario, but they will have to struggle against the military almost as much as against the Colour.

A need to update the scenario to match the current limitations of the space program is a small hurdle in this scenario, which is ultimately very playable and very intense.

Scenario Four: The Evil Stars

This is a good scenario, but a bit ‘easy’ in its setup.  The threats are viable, the scenario challenging, but a rock band being evil cultists plays a bit into anxieties that gamers have been struggling against as far back as the parental anxieties over Dungeons and Dragons.

An interesting extrapolation on the summoning spell for Hastur makes this one a bit tougher to solve, but not unworkably so.  the band and their servants are a reasonable challenge, and the threat, as i said, is vialbe, and grows as the scenario continues.

a minor side note; i did comment at one point in the Keeper’s blog about the ‘Chaosium Canon’, and this brings up that, as the band, ‘God’s Lost Children’ are referenced in the “At Your Door’ campaign, and have shown up, indirectly, in at least one later scenario that i found online.

Ultimately, this isn’t a scenario i would highly recommend, but one i would have no problem endorsing as viable.

So, final tally, out of four scenarios, two i like a lot, and two that i may not really want to play, but won’t speak ill of, so a positive.

and in keeping with the stated rules, this book is available for purchase at DriveThruRpg, though out of print for hard copy.

 

He Who Laughs Last (Spoilers Light)

This is a scenario for a recently released single scenario for Cthulhu Dark by Dave Sokolowski. The Kickstarter was a success, and the pdf has just become available for sale. Print copies are pending availability in the near future and I wanted to give my overview of it.

Admittedly I still have to convert to Call of Cthulhu, that is my game of choice, but it converts readily, and an official conversion is in the works, as I’ve been given to understand.

The scenario can challenge a party, both in danger and in roleplaying challenges. A villain that is unique and sets up a great role playing challenge is the backdrop on this, with the party having to go through a lot to find out who…and what…this entity is. The antagonist they face first is not the final villain, though the party will have to find that out on the way.

The scenario starts with the party being called on to investigate a death, a story hook very familiar to players of the game. The party finds a dark side to show business, specifically comedians, but to go into much in the way of detail would risk spoilers.

Dark magic underlies the threat, and allies will be hard to find, but not impossible. Most of the people the party will interact with feel real, well developed npcs, most with some level of moral ambiguity, defining good guys and bad guys isn’t always easy in this scenario. In addition, one of the npcs present an image, a concept that I always appreciate when it shows up in a scenario, particularly if well written-the potential future of investigators after retirement.

Well presented, well laid out, well written, I put this one in the heavy yes column. My only quibble with this scenario is a mild disagreement with part of how the spell that underlies most of the scenario manifests and warps its caster. Unfortunately, I can’t go into detail without risking going into spoilers, but that is something I can tweak fairly easily, so it doesn’t lessen this scenario in my eyes.

You may also find yourself with flashbacks to Monty Python and a certain Batman villain’s more well known toys, but in this case, it is both less and more depending on how it’s applied in the course of play. But handled right, even those flashbacks won’t be a detraction.

King of Scabs (some spoilers)

Here we go into another free scenario, this one by Matt Sanborn, and if you can find it and have the right group for it, it’s a fabulous adventure. I will admit I’ve tweaked it a lot myself, and I’ll go into where and how and why as we go.

To be honest, I don’t remember where I got this one from. Several of the pages I used to go to are defunct, and when I google search, I’m only finding it listed in torrents, which I do not recommend using for reasons concerning my feelings about piracy, and the security risks inherent in using them. The format of the file I have of it implies that I got it by copying it from a web page.

This scenario works best with a very specific group of players as a first scenario, or one of the first in a campaign. Certainly no more than the fifth scenario, best as the first to third. So a new game, but the best group for this scenario are people familiar with Call of Cthulhu, and all good roleplayers.

Because this game works best with characters who, having no advance knowledge of the mythos, have no logical reason not to undertake the actions of the first section of this scenario. Players who have played a bit will know all of those logical reasons not to…but along for the ride, they will be cringing and loving every moment.

One of the tricky parts is at the start. One of the characters should be a low ranking lawyer in a firm, or a lawyer working as a public defender. Failing that, the player characters should be for some reason motivated to assist a lawyer taking on what he knows to be a tough case.

Said attorney is representing a man who is facing a rough case, being the only survivor of the suspects in a shoot-out with police in a wooded area near his home. As a cop killer, the case is not looking good, he and his group got involved in a shootout with a search party composed primarily of police officers looking for a missing child. The child was not found, shots were fired, and even the police admit, however reluctantly, that whoever fired first is a bit unclear.

As an aside, the police were in the area on the night in question as they were looking for a missing child, who has not to date been recovered. Two members of the group the defendant belonged to were being sought as suspects in the kidnapping of the missing child.

The defendant is claiming religious persecution, that he and his friends were practicing their own religion in the woods, preparing for a ritual when the police stumbled upon them and opened fire. He states that the police did not identify themselves as officers (which the police admit is possible) and opened fire on his group. He states that the parties the police were seeking were former members of his group, and concedes that they may have led the police to them in hopes of causing the confusion of a confrontation between the two groups. He declines to describe his religion, citing it as a private matter and a matter of religious freedom, and of less importance now that he is the only remaining practitioner. He does request that his books be recovered from his residence so he can study his beliefs in his prison cell.

Pretty much everyone can see at least some of where this is going, and the players are going to be squirming, trying to find their way around the progression of events, most likely. Player characters, having no really good reason not to assist this person in his legal defense, find themselves becoming embroiled in the darkness and danger of the ritual that the lawmen had interrupted.

The players, unlike the characters, have a good idea what is coming up, and will try to find legitimate ways to derail the figurative advancing train. This is where this scenario shines, in the hands of the right group of players. The balance of foreknowledge and potentially inevitable conflict leaves the players conflicted, but hopefully enjoying the ride.

The spoilers and my personal modifications begins at this point.

The ritual was partially interrupted, but was still successful in that the entity they were summoning did end up coming, but not at the exact site of the clash with the lawmen. The altar for the rite was nearby and one of their number was there performing the sacrifice that completed the summoning. (the missing child was the sacrifice)

If the player characters are thorough in their investigation, they will uncover evidence that the defendant is not as innocent as he claims (naturally), but regardless, the defendant, in prison, manages to get himself into deeper trouble, though ultimately, this too is by his design, as getting put into solitary gives him the privacy to cast a Gate spell and effect his escape.

Depending on where the players are in the investigation, and geographically, they can find themselves caught up in the chase for the fleeing felon. This is in a swamp, and the party will find themselves trying to find the defendant, but also confronting the monstrous result of their summoning, one of the many manifestations of Nyarlathotep.

Now, having said all this, and having admitted to liking this scenario, I do have some issues. First, there is no particular reason that this entity summoned had to be an avatar of Nyarlathotep, it could as readily have been a previously unknown entity, and can easily be substituted as any moderate to heavy creature type instead of a unique creature as well. As written, this entity is extremely hard to beat, with very few weaknesses, and the environment in the confrontation reducing the effectiveness of most of the better weapons against it, and the remaining being weapon types that the players would not normally be expected to be carrying in this confrontation. Additionally, there is no real way for the players to be able to research the entity’s weaknesses, and their meeting with it is almost certainly going to be a single meeting, the scenario pretty much indicates the players won’t have an easy time finding the creature again, if they can find it at all.

Therefore, I am inclined to replace the creature, with something that’s going to be a tough challenge but not an unworkable one. If you do change it, the exact nature of the villain’s books and the backstory should be tweaked accordingly.

Aside from this, I tweaked the backstory in my own campaign, with a few more members in the group surviving the attack (and a few more total members before the clash), with some of them at large, forming complications, and I put more kidnapping victims at risk, but gave at least some chance for some of them to survive.

You can make this a tough but workable scenario without too much trouble, if you can find it, it is easily worth the trouble of playing with a bit. A little obscure, but a good one, and worth the time and effort if you can dig it up.

This old Haunted House One, Too, and the Big Book of Cults (with a nod to Casting Call of Cthulhu) (not sure if I can call it spoilers, but…)

This time around, going to do a quick breakdown on four monographs, some Keeper’s resources that I think deserve a mention. They are very handy for a Keeper to have on hand, some for a quick grab, some for a more involved backstory job.

First, a confession of sorts. I am a map fiend, which makes my fondness for Call of Cthulhu borderline ironic, given that it is an rpg with less need for maps than most. When they are needed, they are very much in demand, and can always be handy, but you could easily run most scenarios without a single map. I have a huge collection of maps gathered from all sorts of sources, historical, rpg, and the like. I have gathered a good number of map collections. I have the Atlas’ for Pern, Middle Earth, Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance by Karen Wynn Fonstad as coffee table books, and have the entire Campaign Cartographer suite (which I’m currently trying to learn in depth). So, when I found out there are two monographs of just maps, I had to grab them.

You may not need to improvise a house map often, but the two This old Haunted House books have a nice collection of viable house maps in varying styles to use for random residences….or as starting points if one is deciding to build others. If you’re not a map fiend, maybe not a huge need for it, but if you find yourself caught off guard, it’s nice to have a book that you can pull up and present a quick map for the house that the investigators are exploring that wasn’t in your scenario, or if you have a house they’re going to that you didn’t have a map from the original source, it’s a handy grab.

If you have any experience as a keeper, you know you will be surprised by player decisions at times, and resources that can help with those ‘improvise to keep up’ moments are as important as resources that help you build your scenarios and campaigns in the first place. Casting Call of Cthulhu is a nice portfolio of npcs of various walks of life to grab when players stumble across someone that wasn’t in the original scenario’s design, or they seek out an expert in some field, something like that. More than just ‘stat blocks’, they are fully written characters with skill lists, biographies and brief personality sketches, so it’s easy to bring them in with minimal prep time. Not too hard to use them as launching points as well, grabbing stats to use for other characters as needed. A good resource for the other populace, including potentially those moments when an emergency ‘new pc’ is needed, and you don’t want to take the time to roll one up (a course of action I dislike, but its nice to have something to fall back on)

Which brings us to The Big Book of Cults, and the reason this entry is here instead of the Keeper’s blog. No actual scenarios per se, but one of the nicer clusters of related scenario seeds that you can encounter. Since this is behind the scenes stuff, how any two keepers make any part of it fit may not resemble each other much. But here you have cults that break the stereotype image of thugs worshipping mindlessly. These cults have reasons behind their madness, misguided perhaps but reasons, regardless. Some of them could even turn out to be allies of keepers. These cults are primarily geared to a modern setting, but a bit of work could get some of them at least if not all of them converted to other eras. Now I will state that I am going to discuss the innermost layers of the cults in question, and only giving a very light touch.

 

You will find in this book decadent hedonists and neo nazi racists, you will find people who are seeking a better world by their vision, some of whom may have more in common with the investigators than they might be comfortable with.

I can’t really break down the cults, even in a normal sense because, as seeds, any discussion on details gives enough information that some may feel that they don’t need the monograph itself. This is erroneous thinking, but I don’t want to encourage it, though I will bring up the salient information.

Each cult is given in a form that a Keeper can use to install into their campaigns through various plot hooks. The membership of the inner circle, the agendas of the cult, inner and outer circles, the history, all are given. Most of these cults have secrets that even their own main membership don’t understand, and those are outlined here. Even if evil by normal human standards, the motivations are understandable, whether or not admirable. Some of the cults can even be allies to an extent, though the potential exists in all cases for the alliances to be tenuous at best.

A few of the cults I don’t care for, personally, and one actually reads more as a straightforward scenario seed to me. The ones I like I think are very good, and range from a group of baddies easy to identify, though hard to fight, to ones so well hidden that the players may never even be aware of them without being forced into confrontation.

I highly recommend each of these books, but if you’re only going to get one, I’d say go for the Big Book of Cults. There is work involved to get them in a campaign, but take two or three of these, and you can have the tapestry that forms the basis for an entire campaign, and fit in what scenarios suit.

The Wrong, (kind of spoilers)

I am going to do a minor overview of the author’s free scenarios and this specific one in another review of a single scenario, and my second review of a free scenario. I am going to try to post several in short order when I do single scenarios that are released in a standalone format, so hope to follow this up in a few days with another.

Michael LaBossiere is a writer who was a very prolific author of scenarios, several of which are available for free online. While not all of his scenarios grabbed my tastes, they were, and remain, consistently interesting reads, and there is usually something worth mining out of them. He wrote some very interesting plots, and put some great twists in his scenarios.

Some of the directions his scenarios take do not work for me, and therefore some of the scenarios are unworkable from the ‘get go’. However, there is always a coherent backstory to the scenario, sometimes so well hidden that in some cases it is virtually impossible for the players to uncover all of it. When it is possible, the clues are present though sometimes left in limited locations (much like in many published scenarios, where this is a recurring problem that I have brought up in my keeper’s blog). This does, however, always give the Keeper a sense of the story behind the story that makes it easier to run, and as always, up to the keeper how much to let the players find out.

He did have two traits that I found a bit problematic, one in how things in some scenarios apply to campaign play, and the other made them read a bit on the repetitious side, though there is a reason behind it. (believe it or not I am closing in on the actual review of the specific scenario with this point, as the prior paragraph and these two traits lead into the scenario.)

The first of the two traits is that several scenarios have lead-ins where the party is given the understanding that they are performing some innocuous activity or possibly recuperating from injuries or sanity losses from prior adventures. While this can work for the player characters, they tend not to for the players, since scenarios being actively played out should lead into a threat. Role playing a vacation on a resort island of one kind or another, a health retreat, a relative’s house, etc. is not something I can see the party getting behind, unless they have the expectation that things will blow up on them in some manner (if you have a group that is willing to role play those recuperating periods to a level this can be a valid surprise, then you have a treasure trove among LaBossiere’s scenarios).

The second trait is the fact that he uses undead fairly often. This is not automatically a problem by any means, and he thinks it through with them. You almost never have an encounter that boils down to ‘you encounter a group of zombies’ or ‘animated skeletons attack the group’, even though that is what tends to happen. The creatures are created as variants, there is a story behind them that is part of the story, there is a reason for them to be there, and how they formed. They are almost never just ‘stat block monsters’ and the mechanics behind them always make sense. But when you read multiple scenarios, there is a feeling of hitting familiar territory when you see another type of undead coming out of the shadows. This is more an issue when reading multiple scenarios of his however. Granted, one should try to keep an idea on how they are presented in play too, to keep the same feeling from showing up.

And now, on to the scenario itself. The Wrong, by Michael LaBossiere.

This scenario is set in Maine (a frequent setting of his), the party going to a well-earned vacation on an island in a lake, a rustic vacation spot that happens to have a hidden…and forgotten..history.

An illegal toxic dump site, the island was bought and converted into a vacation site. An accidental death, the body interacts with the chemicals, and a unique undead creature rises at about the time the scenario starts, with an appetite for carnage. So far, a fairly normal scenario conceptually.

After a few days of relatively peaceful interaction with other vacationers, one of the families in another cabin are attacked by the mysterious creature, with one traumatized survivor. An ambiguity as to what has caused the problem leaves the investigators looking into the matter in their isolated environment, Ironically, it may be possible to have suspicions fall on the humans present rather than start looking for a monstrous element, which in Call of Cthulhu is an interesting twist. We are not, however, dealing with a sinister cult, with an alien advanced intelligence, but we are dealing with a nearly mindless monster lashing out in a strange rage, attacking from surprise and returning to its lair.

And then the twist.

As things are investigated, and the investigators begin to try to sort out what’s going on, a couple of developments complicate matters. First, one family grows panicky and in their growing need to get away from the situation may resort to some level of violence to forcibly take to any means to escape the island they can get to, even at the expense of the others. And then, another complication when another of the island’s temporary residents decides to strand as many people as possible on the island including a party he hopes will die at the hands of the monster.

The monster itself is a nasty piece of work and a good challenge for an armed party let alone a party on a vacation without armaments.

The module also brings up the possibility that in the aftermath of this scenario, the party may have garnered unwanted publicity as survivors of the incident, and mentions the repercussions.

Another trait of LaBossiere’s scenarios is that he is always good with the support documentation. Unlike many games, there is not a high need for maps in scenarios with Call of Cthulhu, but they do prove handy at times. His scenarios always include any maps that should be needed, perhaps not deeply detailed battle mats but adequate for anything you need as a starting point.

When I first read this scenario, I have to admit I ‘under-read’ it because I was reading several of his scenarios in a row and saw another humanoid monster, an undead and I just skimmed it. Coming back and rereading it later left me with the lasting impression I’ve grown to have for it, and I really like it. It’s strong and while the mystery may remain largely unsolved, the creature is a reasonable threat and a good story with its complications from the reactions of the npcs in the situation.

This scenario can be found in the files downloads at yog-sothoth.com, along with most of his other free scenarios. (I will be coming back to others of his along with the free scenarios reviewed down the road.)

Mansions of Madness (some spoilers, but trying to go light)

This scenario collection, released in 1990, was updated in 2007, was built around the theme of mansions as settings, large houses largely designed as residences. The first release had five scenarios, a sixth was added in the later release. While they are all good reads, there are aspects to several that create, for me, a mixed message. Here we go.

Scenario One: Mr. Corbitt

This mansion is the residence of a neighbor of one of the investigators, and the party has cause to question his behavior after seeing him unloading his car one night. Corbitt’s backstory is intriguing, and I have found that the scenario could be played out without ever uncovering parts of it. (to be fair, I find this true of many scenarios, and it isn’t a complaint, it’s just an interesting comment.)

Corbitt’s sanity is long gone, after an encounter with an avatar of Yog Sothoth, which led to his becoming a servant of the entity, a course of events leading to the death of his wife, madness of a nurse, and a secret lurking in his basement. Using arcane skills and medical knowledge, he has created odd little creatures that are agglutinations of body parts in improbable configurations. In part this was practice to assist said secret in the basement. In addition, abnormal and monstrous plants fill his greenhouse and gardens.

If Corbitt becomes suspicious of the investigators, he will use various toxins and subtle attacks to protect himself and his secrets.

I have a bit of an issue with creatures compiled out of random body parts, though it can create an interesting creepy feel, so this lessened my fondness for this scenario.

Corbitt, however, is an engaging villain, who does not see himself as a villain, and the overall flow of the scenario is very good. The secret mentioned above does have some grafted parts on, but that is not as unsettling to me, as the creatures mentioned above. I’d give this one a B.

Scenario Two: The Plantation

This scenario is one I have a fair issue with, though I admit it’s a great read, and most players can get through it without having the issues with it that I do. An npc ally of the party encounters a small child from his ‘home grounds’, and the party gets drawn into a deep south plantation in major decline, with sharecroppers who are largely cultists of the Great Old One Yig. The core of this scenario is a bit of an investigation, with the party gradually learning of a pending ritual and trying to head off a human sacrifice. Things are not as they at first seem, however, and herein lies the story’s depth, and also its problems.

There are two npcs that the party will be trying to save in this scenario, a brother and sister, and as written, the odds of both being saved is very small. (There is a third npc, their mother, but she is gone pretty much before the players have a chance to interact with anyone at the plantation). This is a bit frustrating, but not unworkably so as a Keeper, though it may annoy the players by the end of the scenario.

The cultists all are devout servants of Yig, and unaware that a third party (No I won’t tell you who or what) is intercepting the power generated by this cult’s ceremonies (this presumes that these ceremonies do generate some form of power or energy that the respective entities can use, a good rationalization). Yig has decided that enough is enough, and he has set in motion plans to reclaim what is his, using the investigators, and a third party, a serpent man who is a servant of Yig and faithful, though by no means a hero and only tentatively an ally to the players.

The secrets, the history, the story, all play out well. The clash between Yig and the unseen entity is to some extent interesting and a good read. However, the conclusion of this part of the story is fairly passive, the players enable the climax, but once it begins they are witnesses to the final course of events. This is a point I tend to find frustrating in scenarios, the players’ impact becomes less important as the scenario resolves, and this is a bit of a problem for me personally. (though I also concede this particular ‘ending’ is fascinating in its way)

Can’t go above a C for this one.

Scenario Three: Crack’d and Crooked Manse

A house with a dark history is in the middle of its last chapter when the investigators get drawn into the story, and they find themselves dealing with a strange mystery involving a hungry an alien creature hiding in the shadows, the aftermath of a disastrous expedition by the last resident of the mansion. The story hooks are not overly strong but they are viable. The players have a good chance to explore and research in town and in the mansion to learn the backstory, and the creature is a nice creepy monster, the ability to fight and beat it given in the clues they uncover. It is an atypical creature, hopefully a unique encounter for the players. I also like that this scenario touches on something that many scenarios gloss over or leave to the Keepers (and sadly, many Keepers overlook)—the aftermath.

Yes, the bane of horror movies, the survivor of the horror makes it back to society and questions come up, and answers are hard to present that others will accept.

Very short review, but this one is, for me, an A.

Scenario Four: The Sanitorium

This scenario is also a good read, and a worthy one, a good one to play, though it shuffles several of the established tropes of Call of Cthulhu out of the deck in one very playable hand. We have the mansion, an asylum, we have a lighthouse, we have a hidden monster from beyond, we have an insane servant of it, and to fill in the blanks, we have a cast of characters who are essentially a re-enactment of Poe’s Dr Tarr and Professor Fether. (not really, but the similarity is clear). The final of the tropes is the scientist/psychiatrist who stumbles across secrets best left unexplored. Unlike man of the manifestations of this last trope, the scientist in question is not evil by the end, simply misguided, and he is, while the story hook for the investigators, dead before the investigators arrive.

A member of the staff serves the creature, the inmates are wandering free, and the member of the staff, seriously insane, is stalking the occupants of the island as the creature seeks nourishment from his victims.

There are a large number of lighthouses in scenarios (the isolation makes the location a natural), some better than others. To be honest, the lighthouse could be replaced with virtually any building and the scenario would not suffer. The island location does encourage the lighthouse, but depending on how you feel about other lighthouse scenarios, a substitution would not be unwelcome.

The players can get very caught up in the action here, the cast is a wonderful gathering, and even though as I said, standard tropes are dragged out for this one, nothing suffers, a great scenario, very playable. My only quibble in this is that we have one real core bad guy in the action of the scenario, and the monster stays largely hidden until the players either seek it out or fail to find it before it gets major league nasty after it gets ‘full.’

Another A.

Scenario Five: Mansion of Madness

I will admit that I had this book for several years before I read this scenario, in no small part because there is a Dreamlands component, and my issues with the Dreamlands setting are known (I guess I should explain that someday in my Keeper’s blog, but its’ just a personal thing). As it turns out, the Dreamlands component does not require using the Dreamlands setting, just dreams as a means of the ultimate entity communicating with and controlling its victims/servants, and an alternate dimension that the final monster lurks in. Ultimately a component more than a setting, and that makes this a very acceptable scenario.

A missing persons case leads to a conflict between two insane parties struggling over an item and their desire to serve the extra-dimensional entity that the item is bound to. One a gangster who is no longer human, the other a cult leader/serial killer, the party has to deal with them in turn, along with the possibility of confronting the entity itself.

A good scenario, ending with a nasty conflict with the gangster and his inhuman spawn, and the party has a good chance of getting through this…well I won’t say intact, you can expect a few rather grisly deaths here and there in this one if you’re not pretty careful, and if a bit of luck plays into it as well.

I’d put this one at an A-.

Scenario Six: The Old Damned House

The new scenario for this volume is another family with a dark secret, an eccentric family in decline, victims of a curse lingering from the 1700’s, along with the nearly immortal recipient of the curse. The mansion is crowded with its cast, and the players, called in to solve a burglary, find themselves confronted by much more than missing jewels.

Tsathoggua is the baddie at the source of this, and while the scenario is written very free form, there is a chance the party may have to actually confront it at the conclusion. Inspired indirectly by the “old house” mystery films of the thirties and forties, we have no shortage of odd relatives who support each other in spite of their differences, we have innocents on the cusp of learning their dark heritage, and he hierarch of the family, who is a deadly little monster himself. Filling in the corners (somewhat literally) are other family members who keep themselves hidden, with their own hazards.

It would be very easy for most of this scenario to play out without violence, but when it hits the fan, no punches will be pulled. A suggested flow of play is included, but hey admit there is room for investigators to take the course of events in other directions. I wanted to like this one more, but its still fun, and a good read.

We close with a B+, I’d say.

I have tried to avoid spoilers as much as I can in this, compared to my earlier posts, I would appreciate feedback on if I should stick with this direction or revert to my earlier style.

 

Tales of the Crescent City (spoilers avoided)

First off, this is one of the few times I will be reviewing an entire product, including parts not relating directly to the scenarios. This is because this volume is a brand new product, literally just a few days into release for those who signed up for the Kickstarter at a pdf level. I will be going into the layout, the art, the non scenario sections, this is a full product review. Also, since this is so new, I will be endeavoring to avoid any spoilers. There will be at least a hint of them, this is unavoidable in reviews, but I will work hard to avoid them in this instance. I am also using this opportunity to test my ability to avoid spoilers and still give a fair review. I had been toning it down last few, a bit, and still trying to fine tune the ‘spoiler light’ aspect.

This book, for those who have not heard of it yet, is a compilation of scenarios, all but one new to the book, set in New Orleans in the 20’s, the classic setting period for Call of Cthulhu.   The one scenario that isn’t new is a reworked scenario, updated by the original author. (and I assure you, it is a welcome thing, will go into it more when I get to the scenario).

The book has a great look, a red leather look to the cover’s background, a color image on the front cover that is a montage of imagery that comes up through the book, hinting at what awaits. If I were to make any negative comment about that it would be that it seems to be a busy environment, but it is a montage, and a good one, the coloring is viable, not overdone, and it gives a welcome pulp magazine feel to the cover imagery. The layout of the cover is sharp and elegant. The back cover has a similarly elegant look, nice layout, when you get your hard copy, this is one of the covers that is good enough you won’t mind it being ‘front visible displayed.’

Page layouts are sharp, well presented, the art always close to the text it reflects, sibebars of relevant information to the topics in slightly grayed boxes on the outer edges of the pages, but never contrasted so sharply that it’s hard to read.

The art is good, quality art, relevant to the stories, crisp imagery, even in the pages where we have a lightly grayed image for a background type image. Because of the nature of some of the imagery, I don’t think the word ‘tasteful’ is the right one to use, but the imagery never feels gratuitous, and stands out in quality, consistently good work by Reuben Dodd.

Photographs sprinkle the book as well, if not actual period photographs (which most of them seem to be), appropriate to period images, and they are always placed to compliment the text they are near. While space is taken, it never feels wasted in this book.

The scenario aids are presented in the relevant sections of the book, at the point where they are appropriate to occur in the scenario as written, and in the case of handwritten text it is reproduced in typeface in the scenario’s body. The scenario aids section at the back includes all of this gathered appropriate for printing or other reasonable reproduction, including material that is as helpful to the Keeper overall as it is to the players.

Immediately following the basic backers acknowledgement page are a gathering of portraits of the upper tier backers, appropriate to use them as npc portraits. I do hope these images remain in the non-backer release, I can’t see them not being included, they are wonderful, and makes me wish I could have afforded to hit that level.

Before the scenarios, we are given quick glances of the backdrop for the city, a one page ‘hint sheet’ to remind of the culture of the era, and some rudimentary points of how New Orleans has, and always has had, variations in its culture from pretty much anywhere else. After this one page, we get a somewhat more involved breakdown in how New Orleans is laid out and a quick summary of the environment. It focuses on the era, but it presents the city in a way that makes sense and is very welcome and a fascinating ‘quick guide.’ This, the Investigator’s Guide to 1920’s New Orleans, gives you a nice feel for the city as a background. (having said this, I will still recommend picking up Secrets of New Orleans if you can find it for any Keeper wanting to use it as a setting, but you can easily find the Secrets book supplementing this one as much as the other way around.)

Next, we get a nice article by Kevin Ross giving us background and presentation of one of the prime NPC’s for New Orleans from the writings of HPL himself. Well, from the Randolph Carter stories, some of which were collaborations where I did feel that he was collaborating more than ghost writing. Etienne-Laurent De Marigny is presented in a way that Keepers can use him as an ally, a scenario source, a font of knowledge, and possibly as the cavalry if the party is in extremis.

The last thing that comes up is a few notes about the play “the King in Yellow” in another article by Kevin Ross, a slightly in depth summary of what is known and consistent about the play, and hints about what isn’t. This is a very logical thing, since it does relate to at least two scenarios in the book, and New Orleans is a logical place for the play to show up, since its original (and theoretically lost) version is in French, and its limited release is in English, making New Orleans very apropos in many ways.

I am trying to be objective here, but I think we can see that I like this book.

Now the scenarios begin.

First Scenario: Tell me Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?

We begin with the revamped scenario, re-edited from its original appearance in Chaosium’s ‘the Great Old Ones’

The death of a reporter during his digging into a story leads the party into a nice adventure set against the carnival atmosphere of the Mardi Gras season. The title of the scenario lets you know that Hastur is involved to some extent.

A man who had been lost in grief is recovering, he believes, under the guidance of a Voodoo priest. Most others consider the priest a con man, but there is much more involved. Part of his efforts to rejoin society, under this guidance, includes helping a group prepare a float for the parade (a nice summary of the krewes behind this is part of the scenario).

The scenario ties into Legrasse’s adventures in the Lovecraft story “Call of Cthulhu”, using that as backstory, and the party’s investigation leads them to a confrontation with the ‘Voodoo priest’s’ schemes, and there is no single ‘best approach’ to beat this scenario. From relatively quiet investigation in New Orleans, a confrontation in the swamp, a possible encounter that can lead to Carcosa itself, and a climactic confrontation at a Masque, including a confrontation of a different sort (the players will be up against a hard conflict if it gets to that point).

The course of events is essentially the same as from its original appearance, but fleshed out better, with the investigative phase having more detail, with more npc’s to deal with, a better feeling of backstory. The threats feel more wicked as well, though a casual read doesn’t see a significant altering to their level. There is an overall more organic feel to it. It’s an upgrade not a complete rewrite. An excellent scenario in either place, but here it feels more complete.

Having said that, there are a couple of possible resolutions to the scenario, if the party is unable to stop the plans of the villains before fruition. One of these is very combat heavy and the party may have trouble surviving it. The other is a bit surreal and has an anticlimactic feel at the moment, but sets the stage for a campaign changing feel. I remember when I first read the scenario that the surreal non-combat ending lingered with me more and puzzled me, but at the same time, in retrospect, and in reading it now, it sets the stage nicely to make continued gameplay in a New Orleans very intriguing. Players may end up confused if this ending plays out, though, have a feeling of anticlimax, so when the impact of it starts to play out, a keeper should help them realize that the changes in the game world are connected.

Second Scenario: Bloodlines

Family secrets lurk in this scenario, secrets buried so well that the family doesn’t even know them. The players get manipulated pretty wickedly in this scenario to get involved. We do start with something frequent in a scenario, the death of an npc who leaves us clues into something that leads us deeper into the story. This npc was doing some research at the behest of a third party, and this person essentially browbeats the party into picking up the task to protect the livelihood of a relative of the deceased npc. A family’s history and secrets must be uncovered, and since we are in CoC, the secrets are dark and dangerous.

The feeling of genteel families in decay, Louisiana swamps, the wildlife of said swamps, all if this permeates the scenario to great effect. There are sympathetic characters, there is a somewhat dastardly person who has some influence on the investigators, and the more the party learns, the more they have to question the right and best course of action. The drawback that they may have to make a decision without a complete understanding of what they’re dealing with may be less of a hindrance than in other scenarios.

This scenario has something in common with scenarios in the previous Golden Goblin Press book, Island of Ignorance, where you are given a great scenario with a moral ambiguity and potentially tough decisions for the player characters to make. Defining who the good guys are…is easy, it’s the investigators. The rest, deciding who the bad guy you want to favor and who you want to struggle against, that’s a tougher call. But as with scenarios from that other volume, sometimes the worst monsters are totally human, and the most right thing to do is not the easy choice.

There are a few different possible outcomes to this scenario, and the players’ actions lead to them naturally, but there are bits that the players will be unable to change, once the final paths come around.

If I were to have any negatives to say about this scenario it would hinge on the ‘rewards vs penalties’ portion, but I don’t see this as a negative. Given the complex moral compass of the story they’re dealing with, I think this is presented right, but you will have some players questioning it. But a good keeper will stand firm on this one, I think, the final numbers are more than justified in the way it plays out.

I have heard one who has an issue with a Great Old One who is cited in this scenario, and is a distant influence on the story, an entity that was introduced into the Mythos by Robert Bloch as I recall, an entity taken from a historic belief system. I will concede this entity isn’t high on my list, but is so far in the background that it can be pretty much ignored if it’s a problem for a Keeper.

Third Scenario: Needles

This one is intriguing, it is a short read, a good scenario, more clearly defined foes in the sense of you know who your foes are. But figuring out WHAT they are becomes the trick here, and the players are given a challenging foe and his allies while they try to protect an innocent and defeat the bad guys. This one is a lot of fun to read, I think the combats in this one are fairly unavoidable, but if the players do their research it will give them their best chance at victory. Short review, but this is a pretty straightforward scenario.

The threat is hard to get all the needed info to solve, but not unreasonably so. Some of the info is hidden in the class and racial tensions of New Orleans in the era, and can be harder to uncover depending on the characters and the group’s composition.

This scenario uses a technique I have commented on to some length in my keeper’s blog, to a point. Take an established Mythos creature, present it in such a way that it is harder to identify or easy to misidentify and let the players find out the deeper darker truths.

I think that a well prepared party can take this one on, but has to be fairly rounded in playing style to really have a chance to win, here.

Fourth Scenario: The Quickening Spiral

This scenario deals with an epidemic spreading through New Orleans, with horrible effects and at least one of the investigators catching the illness. But since it is a CoC scenario, it isn’t that simple (You knew it wouldn’t be), and the players are racing against time to find a cure of one kind or another.

A tale of misguided vengeance, of a spell cast in ignorance, of repercussions unexpected, as written the scenario is strongly set in the time and location. There are innocents caught in the crossfire, and the player characters are their best hope.

I think this is an amazing scenario, it has a distinct possibility of the players to miss important hints if they don’t pay attention (and at the least remember that they’re in Call of Cthulhu). The final confrontation is one the players would find a major challenge if they don’t prepare well, to be honest, even if they do prepare well.

Fifth Scenario: Song and Dance.

This scenario brings in a metaphysical element that I’m not completely thrilled about overall, but it does it in such a way that I really enjoyed it and found it acceptable. If the players push matters, I may rationalize it with some elaborate footwork, but to be honest that part of it, I suspect is less likely to come up from any others, just an issue of mine. Having said that, I have to say it is a great scenario with a strong villain, a good concept, and an eerie feeling that poured out from the first sentence to the last line.

Dilettantes with more power than judgment, a spell with repercussions that spread worldwide, and while the first part of it is not Mythos per se, the impact of it rivals any scenario’s opening for horror, and when the true villain of the piece, one of the Big Nasties in the game that takes an active interest in humanity (No I’m not going to name names), things go to a new form of hell quickly.

The odds of the party getting through this without some mortality is small, but the game is almost guaranteed to be a fun ride. And you meet some characters who can become amazing allies down the road (I think it would be better to keep them as such, however, and not let them become ‘replacement pcs’, though some of them may have some employees to replace the fallen….)

Again, while I like the scenario to some extent, something of a different mythos is called in, and to make the scenario work, for me, I would have to make a bit of a metaphysical leap.

Sixth Scenario: Five Lights at the Crossroads

In this scenario, a mysterious death leads the party into a strange scenario where a person’s selfish drive for self-healing has initiated a course of events that lead to more deaths and lead to the summoning of one of the Big Bad Ones, a scenario where an amateur trying to cast what he thinks is just a special Voodoo summoning is tapping into far different powers than he believes, and the consequences are, naturally, far from what he expects.  

This scenario seems to me to be extremely hard to solve, the clues are light and vague, the amount of information has so few sources they are easy to completely miss. In addition, the probability of the players to be able to prevent the outcome are very slim. The scenario feels more than just linear because of this, it borders on being players are part of a narrative instead of an interactive scenario. Having said this, I want to like this one, and I would feel a need to do some major tweaking to make it more ‘solvable’.

The scenario includes a magic item from traditional magics, empowered in this scenario with some amazing attributes that make it a serious challenge for players to deal with a villain using it. The item in question is a bit grisly, and while it makes a villain very tough to defeat (a nice and wicked touch to gameplay), I would worry about it being something that may be a bit too powerful if the players were inspired to keep it for their own use (at the very least I would make it a limited use item).

Seventh Scenario: Asylum—the Return of the Yellow Sign.

A scenario that is presented as at least an indirect sequel to Tell me Have you Seen the Yellow Sign goes back into the mysteries surrounding the play The King in Yellow. We are given to understand that the play is, even with its contradictory interpretations and content, a piece of historical fiction, and in a strange way, history is determined to repeat itself.

A fugitive from the play’s original source is living in hiding in New Orleans. This doesn’t sit well, and he is being hunted by one of the focal points of the play. The presence of the two together in the city begin to push matters to a point where the city becomes somewhat surreal.

This scenario is deadly but fun, and like a few of the others in this collection, the moral compass is somewhat subjective. The player characters decide who to favor and can have a major impact on the course of the game. It may not be a scenario for everyone, but it is a very good one, and stands very well as one of two scenarios in this book that can be used as a climax for a campaign. Unlike the other one, this one can also function as the opening of another, depending on how it plays out.

Overview of the work on the whole:

I have to admit I had trouble being completely objective, I like this book on just about every level. Very few scenarios need much tweaking for me to want to run them as a Keeper. I have issues with some of the concepts of a few of them, but nothing that would keep me from being willing to run them, just may have to tinker with. The presentation is good in every sense. There are only a few typos, no misspelled words, just a few things that got past spell check by being other legit words, I can only think of maybe three in the entire book, not bad for almost two hundred pages. And to be honest, those typos are the only thing I really saw wrong. I actually began to be upset as I got closer to the end because it was almost over. This is something that happens with the best scenario compilations for me, much like a very good book or film. I recommend this wholeheartedly. The New Orleans feel is strong enough that if you wanted to transplant any of these scenarios to a different setting (and to a lesser extent, a different era), you would likely have to make some major alterations, the setting is very much a part of them.

A definite winner.

Entry Twenty: The Great Old Ones (Spoilers)

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.