Categorized | Reviews, RPGs

Cthulhu Week: Madness One Die Roll At A Time

Posted on August 21, 2010 by Billzilla

Continuing the adventures of Cthulhu Week we have a series of reflections on some of the Call of Cthulhu RPG supplements by reviewer Bill Bodden.

Pay close attention, however, as Bill does sneak in a note about his favorite Trail of Cthulhu adventure as well…

I’ve been a devotee of the Call of Cthulhu RPG for more than 25 years. Along the way there have been some excellent adventures created, and in celebration of Cthulhu Week, I’d like to share a few of my favorites. Hopefully, they’ll intrigue you as they did me, and you’ll consider adding them to your own campaign, or running them as one-off adventures for your gaming group. Be warned that a few small spoilers may be found in what follows…

Modern Era

    The pulpiness of Call of Cthulhu doesn’t always translate well into a modern setting; after all, when rocket-propelled grenades are available, some elements of the Mythos seem a bit less threatening. Still, having adventures in a modern setting can increase the personal horror factor for individual players – bringing the terror closer to home, as it were – making the experience that much more memorable.

    The Stars Are Right, originally published in 1992 and reprinted in 2004, has several short adventures in it that grabbed my attention. “Love’s Lonely Children” by Richard Watts is a chilling tale of sex, drugs and Y’golonac. It’s the first in the book, and my favorite of the collection. This adventure features one of the lesser Outer Gods, requires some dilligent investigation, and includes a powerful threat of mercifully limited scope – but one that may come back to haunt the investigators at a future date. It also deals with mature subject matter, and therefore not really appropriate for younger gamers. Also of significant interest is Andre Bishop’s “This Fire Shall Kill” is about a group of Cthuga-worshipers with a professional interest in their master’s work. Both are more suitable for experienced players, and will last a session or two.

    Another adventure pack in a modern setting is Secrets, originally published in 1997. This collection consists of four short adventures all written by Brian M. Sammons. “The Unsealed Room” and “A Cult of One” are the standouts in this collection, the first involving a major case of mistaken identity, a dead poet and the thing he trapped in his house, while the second involves a cultist who discovers a way to twist organ donations to his own evil ends. Both are clever concepts and certain to provide a few sessions’ worth of entertainment.

    Pulp Era

      Comprising the 1920s and 1930s, the pulp-era is by far the most popular chronological setting for Call of Cthulhu. It involves just the right mix of technology and lack thereof to keep things challenging, and a ring of familiarity that offers a grounding point for most gamers.

      Trail of Tsathogghua, written by Keith Herber and originally published in 1984, has since been reprinted. It contains three lengthy adventures, my favorite of which is “The Haunted House.” While providing numerous red herring clues indicating the involvement of the Elder Gods and their servants, the actual source of the haunting is of terrestrial origin – though no less weird. It will likely take several sessions and a good bit of deductive reasoning to get to the bottom of this mystery, but if the investigators manage to discover the true source of the haunting, they’ll have their hands full when the creatures fully manifests.

      Mansions of Madness provides adventures with settings involving a mansion or large house as the unifying theme. My pick for the best of these is The Plantation by Wesley Martin. This adventure takes the player characters to South Carolina, where an ancient and powerful rogue serpent-person is stealing worship energy from Yig. Being an Elder God, Yig is unhappy with the whole concept of sharing, and manipulates others (including the PCs) to do his dirty work for him. A fun, creative adventure probably lasting three or more sessions, The Plantation would be reasonably good for a group of inexperienced players or for a group of mixed experience levels.

      Trail of Cthulhu

        The Black Drop by Jason Morningstar is an adventure for Trail of Cthulhu (which in turn was written by Kenneth Hite from Robin Laws’ excellent Gumshoe system.) Licensed by Chaosium and published by Pelgrane Press, Trail of Cthulhu captures the feel of Pulp action very well, and its emphasis on investigation while negating the calamitous effects of missing a critical piece of information makes it a elegant alternative to Chaosium’s excellent Basic Roleplaying Engine.

        The Black Drop has players stumble upon a plot to free one of the Elder Gods from imprisonment under an isolated archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean. Oddly enough, Nazis are trying to prevent this from happening. The players must decide if they want to help, hinder, or supplant the Germans in achievement of this goal. Any way you slice it, things will be dangerous. Because of the remote locale of this adventure, getting the players involved seems a bit of a stretch, but not totally beyond reason.

        Whatever your interest in the Cthulhu Mythos, there’s plenty of interesting material to be found in these adventures. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the what’s available, however; next time I’ll have suggestions for even more sanity-blasting Lovecraftian adventures to bring to your gaming table.

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