Posted on April 25, 2014 by Steven Dawes
Available at RPGNow.com
A decade ago, a band of occult investigators battled against the summoning of an ancient and monstrous evil.
Now, you must piece together what went wrong. Investigate ancient crypts, abandoned estates, and festering slums. Explore choked jungles and the crushed psyches of your predecessors. Follow in their footprints and make new ones of your own. This time, there won’t be another chance.
The world is yours to save… or lose.
Every so often I get something to review that I have no idea what I’m getting myself into. Getting a copy of Eternal Lies campaign book for the Trail of Cthuhlu RPG (from Pelgrane Press) to review was one of those times. I’ve played Trail of Cthulhu once or twice at gaming cons, I’m familiar with several Cthulhu based games, and I love adventure/campaign sourcebooks in general so I thought this would be a quick and easy review. However, I was simply shocked when I opened up the PDF file for the first time to discover that Eternal Lies has a four hundred page count!
How could this be? As I understood it, Eternal Lies is a sourcebook for only one complete campaign. I’ve seen campaign books half this size with several adventures in it, but nothing this large before. How can this book be 400 pages? And all 400 pages for one campaign? The audacity! The immensity! The madness! The size, and there for the incredible scope that this adventure must be was suddenly daunting.
In my experience, Cthulhu based RPG adventures are built small to be able to deal with losing lots of characters in the process and to not overwhelm the players in the minutia of the Cthulhu mythos. Can such a massive adventure be pulled off successfully in this setting?
The first sentence of the book reads “This book describes a grand adventure…” telling me that the authors (Will Hindmarch, Jeff Tidball, and Jeremy Miller) must have planned a long term campaign from the beginning. The introduction points out right away that this campaign is epic, it spans the globe, and story-wise takes place over two generations. I was already wondering how both players and game masters can keep up with such a massive adventure. I’ll also admit that I wondered if the authors could keep such a large adventure linear and logical from start to finish. Usually the bigger the adventure, the more holes and story problems you run into.
So while I had my concerns and doubts, I also had my curiosity and intrigue as I began what would become a reviewing process that took well over two month to read everything (twice by the end of it all) and to take it all in. And did the authors (and by extension Pelgrane Press) hold up their end of the bargain? Or was it all one big eternal lie? Let’s investigate.
I’m happy to say that the authors understood and addressed my concerns right away by explaining the purpose and expectations of this book in detail. The first part is about how to read and use Eternal Lies effectively. It was explained that while the game is linear, it’s also fairly open, giving the players options of where they want to go (and when) as the story advances. From there we get the lowdown on the adventure background and the premade investigators the players can use for the adventure. There are several ready-to-play characters available in the book and the authors encourage using them as they’ve been tailored for this grand adventure. However, for those who want to create their own, there’s additional information and tips on getting the most out of them during this campaign.
By this point my mind was a little more at ease about the size of the book. The authors noted that Eternal Lies was play tested extensively and offers lots of advice on keeping the game going without becoming overwhelming. One of the areas that I appreciated was the “drives”, or the motivations behind the characters. Drives are an important part of the Trail of Cthulhu game, and the writers took the time to explain how they can be put to best use in Eternal Lies. Sources of stability and other character details were also covered in good detail.
From that point on, the book is for game master eyes only (referred to as Keepers in Trail of Cthulhu for those who haven’t played it). This section is front loaded with lots of advice and behind the scenes info for Keepers and sprinkles in more advice and behind the scenes information throughout the entire book.
This section also strongly encourages Keeper’s to read the campaign in its entirety before running it (as opposed to simply diving in right away with the players). After reading Eternal Lies (twice), I strongly recommend this as well. There are a lot of twists, turns, clues, secrets, NPC’s, situations and events going on, and having it all in the back of your head while running the campaign would be extremely helpful in my opinion.
Once this introductory material is out of the way, the adventure begins. Frankly, I’m very impressed at how the structure of the adventure is handled. The adventure is broken down into three acts, and each act is broken down into a series of locations or “locales” that define the general settings for the action, adventure and clues and encompass the campaign’s scenes. I’ve not read other Trail of Cthulhu adventure books, but according to the book it follows a familiar process to their other books; each locale has its own hook, spine, and horrible truths.
Frankly, the design of the locales themselves are simply the most well put together I’ve ever seen! The design, organization and set up of the locale, its organization, the details and materials continued to impress me. I didn’t know that adventure books could be this well organized and maintained. With every locale and scene given this treatment, I could now understand how a book this big can hold together.
Even more impressive, the way the authors told the story through the locales and background details were all just as easy to follow. As the book promised, this is an epic tale, and there’s a lot of information to take in as you go. But the details are so well put together and maintained that I never felt lost or overwhelmed. Playing this campaign can easily take months to years depending on how often your group gets together and the speed of their progression, but the info is so well organized and laid out that a Keeper can back track old info easily while relaying new information as the game goes on.
I’d love to share a few details or examples of the locales, but I really don’t want to spoil anything. What I will say however is that this book is worth EVERY PENNY! Considering how well it was written, designed and put together they could’ve charged twice as much and I couldn’t argue. Like I said earlier, I ended up reading Eternal Lies twice to make sure I wasn’t missing something, but Eternal Lies has it all, and has it all covered incredibly well!
The campaign storyline is loyal to and very worthy of the Cthulhu Mythos. The rules and organization of the book are easy to follow, and even the artwork and illustrations in the book were perfectly for the settling. Everything you need for an epic mythos adventure is in this outstanding book! But the authors and the maniacs who run Pelgrane Press must have fallen in love with this book just as much as I did; they’ve provided some wonderful extras for those interested.
Over at the Pelgrane Press website, a few goodies have been added to make the Eternal Lies adventure that much more entertaining for the players. For those interested, an interactive PDF map can be downloaded for use in the game. It’s an ingeniously designed PDF map that makes great use of the “layers” function by allowing the Keeper to update the map as the players travel from locale to locale. It provides photograph like images and information that are added to the map as the group travels, keeping the information that much better organized. It’s a really neat RPG prop that I hope other RPG developers will take note of and design props and materials like this in their own products.
Next up, author Andrew Nicholson offers up conversion notes of Eternal Lies for the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Per the site, Andrew has “painstakingly gone through each act and explained how to tackle the core clues contained therein, and also how to make sure your players get nicely SAN-reduced as they uncover the mysteries of the campaign.”
Last, but certainly not least is the NPC picture handout PDF for Eternal Lies! This is something I’ve thought of myself in the past, and now that I see it in person, I love it! Many of the NPC’s are illustrated in Eternal Lies, and rather than passing the book around or holding it up for all the players to see when they meet a new NPC, the Keeper can simply download the PDF, print it up, cut out the individual handout cards, and pass them out as needed. Details on the handouts include who they are, where the players met them, and some pertinent details about their character. He’s also included images of pregen’s and NPC’s from other Trail of Cthulhu supplements for a unified look. It’s so simple, but it’s simply brilliant!
I could go on about how incredible I found Eternal Lies to be, and the publisher’s support behind it, but I think you get the message. Eternal Lies is simply the most well developed and well designed adventure book I’ve ever seen! I can visualize the epic adventure this game is, and all of the material will hold up when you play it.
Eternal Lies really raises the bar for RPG campaign books. Kudos to the authors, Pelgrane Press and everyone who was involved with (or is still involved with) this incredible book.
Review by Steven Dawes