Posted on December 2, 2008 by Flames
The Doom from Below is a stand-alone (ish) Call of Cthulhu scenario from Super Genius Games. It can be, with minimum effort, tied directly to the events in their previous adventure Murder of Crows. The PDF weighs in at 38 pages (35 of these pages are pure meat) and seems quite generous for a one-shot adventure intended for four investigators.
First, a little blurb about the adventure itself. The Doom from Below takes investigators to the depths of a two-hundred foot chasm. The descent itself is semi-treacherous while The Things Not Meant To Be Seen at the bottom are even creepier. The scenario feels like a Dungeons and Dragons “Dungeon Crawl” in that it is quite contained and linear. A plus though is that it, despite this controlled environment, has an amazing amount of options to prevent investigators from feeling railroaded. Heck, the author even considers investigators who choose to NOT go down the chasm, the chasm where the entire adventure takes place! Saying anything more runs into spoiler-country, which is a place I will not be taking you.
In my initial page-flip of the adventure, the layout and artwork quickly caught my attention. At about twelve drawings, the artwork is minimal. For me, this is a strong aspect of the PDF. The pieces of art that are in the finished product are atmospheric of the game itself and ties directly to the adventure. The layout itself is crisp and accessible. The sidebars, sometimes a bane when not properly laid out, are well-contained. Breaking to read one of these sidebars from the regular text makes sense and doesn’t jar the reader.
Helping the wonderful layout is the author’s apparent love for details. The adventure itself could have been an 18 page document; however, Stan! chose to include historical background, alternate possibilities, and even ways to link this adventure to Murder of Crows.
The author’s self-proclaimed “Easter Eggs” and “Gravy” are, in fact, exactly that. For example, the first four pages of the PDF deal with a backstory involving Paleo-Indians and the Mi-Go. Within this detailed historical bit, three sidebars exist. One explains the “true” history of the default setting while the other two offers variations to the setting (Northeaster United States) and era (1920s). This dense writing is indicative of what the reader will find throughout the PDF.
The pre-generated characters may or may not be used; nevertheless, they have a good feel to them. Because the game contained such detail, I found myself looking for more in the characters. Despite a strong possibility they are based on the Fantastic Four, the pre-gens are written to round out a team of investigators. You’ve got the brain (Mister Fantastic), the gruff cigar-chomping “Transportation Specialist” (The Thing flew the spacecraft that resulted in the team getting their powers), A tough Private Investigator (The Human Torch. The PI is drawn with smoke emitting from his pistol), and the “Tenacious Reporter” (The Invisible Girl. Women were still somewhat invisible during the 1920s, the default era). Working the game from this angle could throw an unexpected twist to the game (wasn’t one of the Fantastic Four’s first enemies a subterranean by the name of the Mole Man?).
There was one minor “issue” I had with the PDF even though I understand why the author included it. The first obstacle is a two-hundred foot drop that the investigators must descend. What happens if someone botches a climb roll? It’s okay, according to the adventure. The text actually says “there should be no negative repercussions to these checks, except to make investigators nervous.” The reason for this is obvious. One of the cornerstones of horror is the fear of isolation. An isolated investigator risks a great deal more. The other reason for this decision is that, well, it’s not very fun to fall to your death when you make your first roll. My “issue” with this then is why not make the heart of the action isolated in another way, perhaps through an equally lengthy linear cave exploration. All in all, it is a minor thing that the author addresses.
The adventure reads well and is a great night’s entertainment (more, if you use all of the author’s ideas). The antagonist and its minions aren’t purely Lovecraftian, which lends to the adventure’s ability to surprise more jaded players. This isn’t to say that the scenario lacks any connection to the nastier things from the Call of Cthulhu. You’ll just have to dig a little deeper.
I give The Doom from Below a 9 because of its solid, multi-angled writing, engaging layout, and fitting artwork.
Review by Todd Cash