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Death in Luxor (Age of Cthulhu) RPG Review

Posted on January 8, 2009 by Flames


Available at RPGNow.com

Goodman Games has a new Age of Cthulhu series, which starts with Death in Luxor. Set in 1924, this adventure centers around a group of investigators as they explore a murder/suicide and the events that could have provided the catalyst for the violence. This adventure comes in at exactly fifty pages (including cover art) and, due to its structure, is a hefty read.

The author, Harley Stroh, also directed the game’s art, which is one of its strongest features. The cover art provided by Eddie Sharam depicts the adventure’s more Sanity-blowing moments and is, quite simply, one of the better cover pieces I’ve seen in ages.

For Keepers who don’t want to spend the night sketching out locales, this game provides excellent cartography by Tom Martin. The maps in this adventure are cross-referenced heavily throughout the text (maybe a bit too much). The end result is mostly positive.

The interior layout proves equally strong. The text isn’t marred by any underlying watermarks. Each page has an upper and lower border that reveals a many-tentacled creature. In each lower border, is an open book where one finds the page number. Lots of games hide page numbers in the border artwork. It was nice to see such thoughtful layout in regards to this.

Finally, the interior artwork itself was atmospheric, holding clues to perhaps just the amusement of the Keeper. Most of the artwork has a pulp feel to it, but one piece on page 8 depicts a suicide, which probably should have been mentioned on the credits page as a minor warning. All in all, I didn’t find it troubling, but tastes vary. The artists seemed to enjoy hiding things in their artwork, which I found clever. Anytime I find myself really getting into the art from various angles, somebody (Tom Martin and Bradley K. McDevitt, in this case) did something right.

The adventure itself is typical to the Mythos. A group of investigators, tied to the suicide victim, attempt to piece together what ruined his life. In doing so, they expose themselves to the same maddening creatures and cultists that the victim did.

The game itself is broken in twelve sections, most of which are scenes in the scenario. Death in Luxor opens with an introduction, notes of the Keeper, and notes for the players. This carries from pages three to six. One thing to mention falls in the investigation summary. Death in Luxor is extremely free-form. Investigators can take a myriad of directions and oftentimes double-back. I’m sure the point of this is to prevent any sense of railroading the players, but it sometimes offers a confusing read as one must pop back and forth to see what happens next. I would say this attempt to second guess any and all player reactions is an ambitious shortcoming to the adventure.

Without spoiling the plot, which feels like an old pulp comic, know that the next divisions in the game are scene divisions. The adventure has six scenes, seven if you count the two-part opening scene. While each of these locales can be explored to nauseam, they really don’t offer the backtracking option hinted at in the introduction (once you’re in Egypt, you’re in Egypt).

Stroh’s strongest point is detail. Each of these scenes are outlined with meticulous attention. Possible rolls dot the text along with various clues. The fonts flick from standard to italics (for read-aloud text) to bold (for necessary rolls). Also, stats for NPCs are littered throughout the text rather than en-masse at the end of the adventure. At first, I didn’t like this, but the idea has since grown on me as I read through the adventure. Sometimes the author duplicates stats in later sections, which is one factor why I warmed up to it. Were I running this game, the layout keeps me from flipping towards the back of the book constantly. I thought this was a thoughtful touch.

These same details I love sometimes undo the game. I think the author felt like he needed to anticipate every reasonable question that could be posed. I find that to be too much work on too little return. On one hand, the author has considered avenues few players would ever explore. On the other hand, players can sometimes come out of left field so quickly no amount of preparation will tackle the radical decisions.

I think the material could be daunting for players who are looking for a pick-up game.

This adventure is surely a “take notes as you play” adventure. Certain clues are necessary to keep players alive at the game’s end. Without ‘em . . . burp.

The game wraps up with nine cool handouts and five pre-generated characters. One thing on the characters that I liked was their simplified Cthulhu sheet. The standard sheet for that game has a great deal of fine print. These sheets highlights the things required and makes it especially easy for a one-shot game. The only thing possibly missing are the skills that have base scores available to them. Once again, the author assumes he has covered any and all possible rolls required in the adventure.

Death in Luxor has plenty of atmosphere for fans of Lovecraft and pulp; furthermore, it carries terrific substance as well. The author writes well and easily keeps the reader hooked for the story’s duration. I fell in love with the game’s artwork. My only problem with this adventure lends to its straightforward nature (nothing breaks any new ground here) and exhausting amount of details. Still, I feel this game will appeal to players of Call of Cthulhu and especially works to newer players or fans of the one-shot. I’ve got to give it an eight (nine to the artwork).

Review by Todd Cash

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