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Masks of Nyarlathotep
by David L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/06/2014 17:53:30
A great adventure that offers the players lots of choices.

The good: A globe trotting adventure that takes the players to 6 different countries across the world. An adventure that leaves the players complete freedom on where they wish to go and what they wish to do. Quite a few red herrings that receive just as much detail as the rest of the adventure giving the adventure a far more open feel then any comparable adventure. The investigation is well thought out with lots of clues and options meaning that no clue is so essential that missing it derails the adventure.

The bad: Call of the Cthulu is in general more deadly then most other game systems and Masks is even worse about it. It is quite possible that the players could suffer a total party kill/insanity even after doing everything right.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Masks of Nyarlathotep
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Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/31/2014 16:57:45
As someone who's always wanted to play Call of Cthulhu but has never really had the opportunity, I very much appreciate these quick-start rules. They're also a nice "holdover" for players waiting for the 7th edition to ship (which hasn't happened yet, as of this review). Be forewarned, however, that you won't be able to use these rules to play much other than the included adventure; they don't really contain enough for a keeper to devise further adventures using just the quick-start booklet. That adventure, by the way, is written both for new players and new GMs; as an RPG veteran but CoC newbie I thought it hit the mark rather well. The layout is a bit "Microsoft Wordy" and I noticed at least one missing word in some of the read-aloud text for "The Haunting," but these are fairly minor blemishes on an otherwise fine product. It's not a complete game, but you can get at least one good night of gaming out of it, at no cost. I call that a win.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules
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Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules
by Millard B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/06/2014 16:49:17
Awesome start up!!! Can't be beat !! If your a H.P.Lovecraft fan. Great way to get started in the horror world!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Dead Light
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/03/2014 12:53:28
On a dark and stormy night... here's a chance to spring a sudden and horrifying Mythos event on your Investigators as they're scurrying through the rain on a rural road just outside of Arkham. Suitable for a one off game or as a side-adventure to throw into your regular campaign, it involves the party quite literally running into a chain of unnatural nightmarish events that threaten both their sanity and their very lives.

As said events are under the direct control of the Keeper, you can make this potentially deadly or merely very, very scary as you prefer.

The backstory is suitably dark yet coherent, fitting well with the locale and the individuals involved. Getting the investigators involved requires no more than them happening to be driving on a wet and stormy evening... hence the suitability of this adventure for just dropping in to an ongoing campaign. It is a location-based adventure and fairly free-form - what happens after the initial encounter will depend on how the investigators react. Support for the Keeper is excellent, however, with plenty of resources to enable you to handle just about anything that the investigators might decide to do. There is also some good advice about how to run the adventure, driving the action forward and maintaining suspense while allowing time for investigation. Much of it is good general advice for how to introduce and manage the appearance and effect of any horror, and well worth reading by any GM wishing to improve on this aspect of their game.

All the NPCs are presented in full with loads of background to help you portray them appropriately. Whilst designed for the latest edition of Call of Cthulhu (7e), there are notes to help you if you'd rather use an earlier edition.

Hmm. It's not raining (yet) but I think I'll go round up some players...

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dead Light
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Dead Light
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/03/2014 11:34:42
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/27/tabletop-review-call-of-
-cthulhu-dead-light/

On Monday, December the 23rd, Chaosium decided to surprise all of its Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition backers with a special gift – the release of Dead Light. Even better, this first stand alone adventure for CoC 7e was made free to all 3,668 backers. Of course if you didn’t back Seventh Edition via Kickstarter (and WHY NOT?), the adventure is available for purchase with the very reasonable price tag of $6.95. This way, everyone’s a winner!

Now as Dead Light is for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, you may be saying to yourself, “Wait a second! Seventh Edition isn’t out yet.” You’re right, but worry not my friends. In the back of the book is a conversion guide to let you use Dead Light with older versions of the game. If you really want to play this adventure with Seventh Edition rules, you can always use the Quick Start Rules Chaosium has provided. Man, between this, the QSR, the upcoming Horror on the Orient Express remake (I have proofs in hand and expect a preview of that content coming soon!) and Secrets of Tibet, CoC 7e might be setting a record for the most content produced before the actual core rule book is released.

Dead Light is an adventure for two to five players and it’s set in the 1920s right outside Arkham. The adventure is meant to be a one-shot or stand-alone experience and it’s unusual in that, unlike most published CoC adventures where the dice tend to have the last say regarding combat, death and the like, the Keeper has almost complete control over who dies, how they die and when in this scenario. This means in the hands of a bad Keeper, say one who views the game as Investigators Vs. Keepers, this can be a bit of a disaster. In the hands of most Keepers, who tend to view the game as a collective storytelling experience with their friends, Dead Light can be an extremely satisfying experience because the Keeper can (and probably should) show mercy at times. Instead of having the character die in an accidental fashion or due to a bad roll, the GM can save that death for a more interesting and/or dramatic moment. In some ways, the control the GM has over life and death in this adventure reminds me of “Wrong Turn” in Cthulhu Britannica, in that the Keeper can (and will) predetermine the death of characters, thus making Dead Light more like an interactive film (or “on rails” if you are up to date with your video game vernacular) than your normal tabletop experience. This doesn’t mean the adventure is out of the players’ hands. If a player comes up with a really good idea for getting out of a situation, the Keeper should definitely reward that with a stay of execution. After all, Dead Light is more about thinking and decision-making than dice rolling and the person running this adventure needs to keep that in mind even if they really feel Character X’s death would be absolutely perfect at that moment.

I should also point out that due to the nature of how this adventure is designed to be run, Dead Light is a great way to bring newcomers into Call of Cthulhu, especially 7e. This way players can learn the mechanics and flow of a Call of Cthulhu experience without dying right away. Nothing’s worse than bringing a person into their first tabletop experience ever and having them die thirty minutes into the game and then just have them sit around watching other people play. With Dead Light, you can really teach a newcomer the basics and mechanics of CoC and keep them alive just long enough to get addicted to the game. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even make it through the game unscathed, form an emotional bond with their Investigator and thus begins a beautiful friendship…until a shoggoth finally eats them or they are sent to live out the reminder of their days in a madhouse.

The plot of Dead Light resembles that of a survival horror movie or video game, where characters are picked off one at a time by a seemingly unstoppable monstrosity bent only on death and destruction. In this case, Dead Light features a lot more human on human violence (and murder) than you might be used to in a Call of Cthulhu adventure. Worry not, because the 1920s actually did have a higher murder rate than we have nowadays in 2013 (soon to be 2014), so petty robbery and nonsensical murder makes sense, even in a time when America seemed on top of the world. Once the horror is accidentally released, it will start picking off people in the surrounding area one by one until it is either defeated or you have a Total Party Kill. The good news for players is that there are a lot of NPCs that can (and should) be devoured before them, heightening the tension and terror. As well, the Investigators don’t necessarily need to beat the antagonist in this adventure – they can always choose to just try and survive. If they make it until dawn, they can also “win” that way…although trying to last that long will probably ratchet up the body count. There’s not a lot of combat to be had here, as trying to do physical battle with the creature is all but impossible and almost certainly lethal to the Investigators. There are ways to hurt it/contain it, but whether or not the characters discover these methods depends on where they choose to go and what they choose to do. As such, the adventure is pretty investigative for one where there is also a lot of death and that juxtaposition makes for a very unique experience.

As mentioned earlier, Dead Light is pretty light on rolling the bones. You’ll have some Luck and Sanity rolls obviously and Spot Hidden will be a big help with this adventure, but honestly, the most rolling that will occur will probably be with Dodge and Drive Auto, the latter mainly due to the horrific storm that just happens to be occurring the night of the adventure. This means characters will live or die based on the decisions they make, so don’t be afraid to burn your Luck or ask for Idea rolls if you play this.

Besides the unusual nature of how the adventure unfolds, this really is a standard style CoC adventure. You have a nameless horror that defies description, investigation is needed to discover how these events came to pass as well as how to end them, sanity will be dropping like rain and a good time will be had by all. The good news is that the adventure eschews all the standard tropes of Call of Cthulhu, so there won’t be any Mi-Go, Deep Ones or Serpent People. There are no cults to foil nor do you have to sit in a library for hours on end, hoping to find the one tome you need, containing a spell that will save the day. The only real tropes the adventure contains is exploring a spooky house and finding a diary that explains how these events came to be (and that also gives you some Cthulhu Mythos points). I’m really happy to see Chaosium giving gamers something outside the box with this one. Sure the adventure sometimes feels more Chill or Cryptworld than Call of Cthulhu at times, but it still keeps the mood and feel of the setting. If you absolutely have to have a Mythos creature rear its head in your adventures, you might be disappointed here, but I can safely say that the antagonist of Dead Light feels right at home with the eldritch horrors and nameless terrors Lovecraft and his contemporaries created in their day.

Dead Light probably isn’t an adventure for everyone –especially gamers who don’t like feeling as if they are “on rails” for an entire adventure, but a good Keeper can hide that aspect of this piece, and really make the adventure stand out as a memorable experience for all. I’ll admit I went into this going, “Survival Horror? Oh god.” and I came away really impressed with the layout, flow and plot of Dead Light. I’m especially glad I got this adventure for free and can easily recommend it for the $6.95 price tag it comes with if you didn’t back 7e via Kickstarter. Dead Light is a solid experience from beginning to end and my only caveat is that you really need a quality Keeper who can run this without turning it into a “players vs. Keeper” experience, because no one likes those. The vast majority of people that pick up Dead Light will have a lot of fun with it, and really, what more do you need from an adventure, right?

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
by Jamey J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/18/2014 17:55:55
The pdf are very well done. This is a really awesome game to play.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
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Advanced Sorcery
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/18/2014 08:07:36
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/18/tabletop-review-advance-
d-sorcery-basic-roleplayingmagic-world/

Advanced Sorcery is the first sourcebook for Magic World, which is a remake and update of previous Chaosium fantasy releases like Elric, Runequest and Melniboné. This means some parts of both Advanced Sorcery and Magic World are roughly thirty years old while others are seeing light for the first time. Why did Chaosium do this instead of just re-releasing the original games in a new edition? Well there are lots of reasons from the cost of licenses to a decision to just combine all the fantasy releases into a new overarching banner. If you really want the original games, you can pick up old Elric and Stormbringer releases on the secondary market or pick up Mongoose publishing new version of Runequest. For those that still want to stick with Chaosium’s new releases, you have Magic World.

Although Magic World came out in early 2013, Advanced Sorcery is the first (and only) new release for it. This isn’t a bad thing as Magic World contains everything you need to play the game in its single core rulebook and too many games put out a steady stream of unnecessary supplements that bog the core product down. Quality, not quantity is king with a system and the core rulebook for Magic World proved just that. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing for Advanced Sorcery. It just did nothing for me adding too many new optional rules variants that aren’t as good as those in the core release. It also doesn’t help that the first new release for Magic World is so laden with new and different rules that it feels like Advanced Sorcery is saying “Magic World isn’t very good. Use this instead!” I personally don’t feel that is true, but when your first sourcebook wants to reinvent the wheel, it gives off that sort of negative impression. It’s also worth noting that Advanced Sorcery feels like it belongs to a completely different system/setting rather than something that compliments Magic World. The spell systems, mechanics and terminology are so wildly different that the two books feel like they were competing ideas and Chaosium published them both instead of making a firm decision on which to go with. Again, I doubt that is the actual reasoning behind it but rather a good example of what happens when you try to put thirty years of rules and edition changes into a new unified product. D&D Next felt this way too in the early stages, which is fine for alpha and playtesting purposes, but definitely not for a final product. A truly great example of this is that in both books, certain monsters are repeated, but with completely different sets of stat blocks and descriptions. Why would they be that different from core rulebook to sourcebook? Again, the end result is that Advanced Sorcery feels like its own beast or a separate Basic Roleplaying supplement rather than a product for Magic World.

At the end of the day, I just didn’t care for Advanced Sorcery at all and feel a Magic World game is better off without it. That said, my opinion and tastes are those of one man and not the be all and end all of the industry. Advanced Sorcery certainly has some intriguing ideas and some gamers will no doubt really enjoy the contents betwixt its covers. As we look through each of the eight chapters in Advanced Sorcery, perhaps you will find something more to your liking that it was to mine.

The first chapter is “Advanced Sorcery.” I know it’s always weird/awkward when a chapter shares the same name as the book’s title, but hey, that’s not my call. This is simply a list of new spells to use with Magic World. All of them are pretty interesting and well done, although many like Phantom Illness, Create Monster and Domination are Shadow oriented. Shadow was a lot more powerful than Light or Balance in the core Magic World game and these spells only increase that. Still, this is what much of Advanced Sorcery should have been – just a lot of well-designed spells that don’t require any new mechanics to use. 1 for 1.

Next up is “Deep Magic.” This is a new system of magic than can be used as an alternative to the core Magic World rules. This version of magic involved eight spheres of influence (Earth, Flora, Fauna, Water, Spirit, Fire, Flesh and Air) and then eight Glyphs of Power (Inhibition, Diminution, Summoning, Creation, Direction, Enhancement, Dismissal and Transmutation). You then end up having a mix and match of the two categories in order to cast spells. The rulkes for Deep Magic and nebulous, cumbersome and completely unintuitive, especially compared to the original BRP and/or Magic World rules. It’s also hilarious to note that part of casting the spells involves creating a personalized wheel of Spheres and a wheel of Glyphs. Each player picks on Glyph and one Sphere that they specialize in, which makes them much easier to cast. Everything else is more expensive based on the position on the characters wheel. However, the actual pictures of the wheels don’t always show up in the PDF version. I’ve tried it on different devices (Kindle Fire, laptop, desktop, iOS devices) and the wheels seem to only show up half the time. This is only true of this one picture in the entire book. Everything else shows up fine, so I’m wondering if it is a layering issue with the PDF. This is terrible beyond description because you can’t make Deep Magic work without it! When you can get the wheels to show up, they’re pretty bad in design anyway. The opposite of Water is Air rather than Fire for example. WHAT? The opposite of Flesh (man) is Fauna (animal)? Shouldn’t those be more closely aligned. Air is almost the opposite of Fauna too, because animals sure don’t need air. Oh dear god, this is bad. No, Deep Magic is pretty terrible in all respect and you are better off pretending it doesn’t exist. A bad idea with even worse follow through. 1 for 2.

Our third chapter is “The Summoner’s Art” and it revolves around summoning magic. Again, this is an alternative form of summoning magic that can take the place of the version in the core Magic World rulebook. Again, why introduce an entirely new way of doing something when your system is (technically) only a year old and this is your first supplement. This is just a bad business and system decision in every respect. This chapter is a little too rules heavy when it comes to summoning, and most gamers will instantly prefer the core rulebook version. “The Summoner’s Art” is pretty much for people who prefer roll-playing to role-playing and want far more mechanics than they actually need. It’s not all that bad though as the section does give you a lot of information on crafting demons as antagonists or NPCs and you are given a ton of powers to help flesh one out. The section also talks about elementals in addition to demons. While better than “Deep Magic,” “The Summoner’s Art,” just feels thrown in for the sake of padding the book out. The demon and elemental bits are nice, but the new alternative magic rules are just unnecessary. Still, two out of three aren’t bad so I’ll give this a point in the yay column. 2 for 3.

“Necromancy” is the fourth chapter in the book and this is another section littered with so many issues, I can’t believe it made it to print. This is the section where we see all monsters with stat blocks and descriptions that don’t match up with the core Magic World book. You would think there would be some sort of continuity between the two books, especially as they are the only two Magic World releases right now, but no. I’m not even sure why they reprinted so many of the same monsters. Those are pages that could have gone to new and/or different content. Anyway, the section of Necromancy is pretty bad. Of course, nothing really lives up to The Complete Book of Necromancers for Second Edition AD&D, which everyone should read even if they don’t play that version of D&D because it is THAT GOOD. This version of Necromancy is just terrible designed. The chapter starts off talking about how all necromancers are evil or power hungry and how each spell cast from this category ties you to the Shadow alignment. Then it gives you happy Light oriented spells like Spirit Shield and Exorcism. This just feels terribly done from beginning to end and is up there with “Deep Magic” as sections that really needed to make it through a more stringent vetting and/or editing process. 2 for 4.

Chapter Five is “Rune Magic.” This is another optional form of magic. Like “Deep Magic” and “The Summoner’s Art,” the rules for this Balance oriented magic are poorly devised. The rules are very vague and sparse, which means gamers are going to interpret them very differently and thus this will cause both confusion and consternation amongst Magic World players. Thankfully though Rune Magic is primary both defensive and touch based which should give people a common ground to work with. It’s not like a runecaster will be whipping runes at a demon or troll in any campaign. Still, this section really needed a lot of work before it saw print, which is sadly true of a lot of Advanced Sorcery. Some great ideas, but the end result just isn’t very playable. 2 for 5.

“Arete” is Chapter Six, and although you might start thinking of Mage: The Ascension with this one, the Arete in this game has nothing in common with the stat/play mechanic from White Wolf’s magic oriented game. This section focuses on what happened when a Magic World character gets more than 100% in a skill. Each skill gets a different ability. Brawl with a 101% or better gets an extra 1d3 to damage while a Swim with over 100% lets you move twice as fast. The rules and benefits are a little more complicated than this, but it’s a great idea well worth implementing. Of course it’s rare a character will ever reach this level with a skill, but it’s great to see someone thought this out. It’s definitely the highlight of the book and well worth spreading to other games that use the BRP system. 3 for 6

Our penultimate chapter in Advanced Sorcery is “Herbalism.” It’s a short chapter (five pages) that gives us ten plants that can be used to make potions and require no magical skill whatsoever to produce. It’s nicely done and can let even non-magical characters like warriors and rogues act as a healer for the party. 4 for 7.

The final chapter in the book is “Fey Magic for the Southern Realms.” Once again, we get a new type of alternate magic that can be used instead of or in tandem with the core Magic World rules set. Again, the rules for this new type of magic just aren’t as intuitive as the core rules and by introducing five new optional forms of magic, a less experienced or younger game is going to end up confused and/or overwhelmed here. God forbid some Keeper actually tries to implement all of these rules in a single game or you get a group of players that each wants a different bit in the game. This is just a pretty big train wreck across the board. Anyway, Fey Magic is the easiest to implement of the five as it’s essentially the same rules for Sorcery in the core rulebook, but characters spend POW instead of Magic Points. Why? Who knows! It’s completely arbitrary! There’s no reason why these spells need their own slightly different rules. Just put them under Sorcery spells with their specific caveats. I just can’t fathom the thought process behind much of this book and how multiple people thought it was a good idea to present all of this in the manner it saw print. 4 for 8.

If you’ve made it this far you can see that Advanced Sorcery needed a LOT of work before it was released to the general public for purchase. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and we have what we have. This will no doubt be a disappointment to Magic World fans who have waited a year for some kind of follow up release to the system/setting. At least the book isn’t a total loss as there are some part of Advanced Sorcery well worth reading and adding to your Magic World campaign. This is not a book I can personally recommend though, especially with its current price tags. I’d let it drop below ten dollars for the PDF version before considering picking this up and I can’t imagine ever being able to recommend the physical copy as only half the book is worth looking at, especially since it’s nearly twice as much to get. Some gamers might find the book for useful than me, and more power to them, but right now, the kindest thing about Advanced Sorcery that I can say is that there are some decent pieces to be had amidst the really terrible unfinished bits.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Sorcery
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Magic World
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/18/2014 07:48:27
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/18/tabletop-review-magic-w-
orld-basic-roleplaying/

Magic World is over a year old, but we’re just reviewing it now as it got a soft re-release on DriveThruRPG.com, which provided me with a review copy. I’m not sure why we didn’t get a review copy when it was originally released in early 2013, but I’m sure we got the review copy now since they also sent us a review copy of the first sourcebook for Magic World, Advanced Sorcery at the same time. You can’t review the sourcebook without knowing the core rules, am I right? Well, better late than never as Magic World is a fine alternative to other fantasy RPGs like Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons and what have you. In fact, the core of Magic World is actually older than a lot of current fantasy RPGs. Magic World has essentially taken the rules and themes from many of the fantasy RPGs it no longer publishes like Elric, Stormbringer, RuneQuest and their respective supplements and merged them into a single cohesive package, not unlike Constructicons forming Devestator. The end result is a game that is somewhat new, somewhat familiar, and completely free of the costly licenses Chaosium would need in order to reprint the originals. Don’t think that Magic World is a complete reprint though, as new pieces have been added and some rules and/or wording have been reworked.

It’s important to note right off that bat that Magic World is its own stand-alone game. Unlike a lot of other Basic Roleplaying titles which require the system’s core rulebook in order to be used, Magic World has all the rules you need to play it tucked into its 276 pages. So there is no need to purchase anything but this one core rulebook in order to play the game. If you do already own Basic Roleplaying or other games that use nearly the same system (Like Call of Cthulhu), you will find that magic is done and wielded VERY differently. Keep that in mind lest you suffer a bit of culture shock.

For the most part, character creation is similar to that of BRP of CoC. Skills are different. You won’t have Mechanical Engineering or Physics as options. You will however, have potions, physic (healing), trap and scribe. Skills are also rearranged from alphabetical order into five major categories: Physical, Communication, Knowledge, Manipulation and Perception. Sanity and Know stats are replaced by Effort, Charisma, Stamina and Agility (all attribute x5 pieces). Occupations are also changes, to better fit a high fantasy setting rather than 1920s real world occupations or the like. You’ll also find something called “Allegiance.” Throughout your characters life they will gain (and/or lose) Allegiance points to Balance, Light and Shadow. Think of this as the alignment system for Magic World. Evil acts net you Shadow Points, Good acts net you light and thinking of nature and other life forms can net you Balance. Have an overwhelming amount of Allegiance points in one category rather than the others and you’ll get some in-game bonuses. This bonus increases if you ever hit 100. Shadow bonuses are a lot more powerful similar to Dark Force over Light Force points in the old d6 Star Wars game, which shows evil is an easier path to take.

The game system is very similar to BRP as well. You basically role percentile dice (d100) to see if you succeed or fail. There are critical and special successes if you roll especially well and fumble rolls if you roll poorly. The resistance chart is the same as it has always been. You earn experience in skills and attributes rather than in levels, which is how BRP games have always worked. So on and so forth. What’s different? Well, Magic primarily. You can’t cast magic unless you have a POW of 16 or higher. Compared that to other games where your POW score only means your potential and/or skill with magic. Look at Call of Cthulhu for example. You could have a POW of 13 there and be a damn good spellcaster. In Magic World, you don’t even have the ability to cast the simplest spell in the game. Again, this will take some time to get used to unless you’re an Elric vet. You’ll also find Magic Points regenerate fully in a 24 hour period. This means magic is a lot more powerful than in many other BRP settings. Compare that to Hit Points which regenerate at a speed of 1d3 a week. Magic is definitely king in Magic World. I should end this section on magic by saying anyone with a POW of 16 of greater starts the game with three spells. Those who take the occupation of Sorcerer during character creation get INT/2 spells. Priest, Shamans and Cultists get 1d6+3 spells.

As you can imagine, since Magic World is a more combat oriented game than other versions of BRP, there is a massive section on combat. This is the deepest and most detailed version of combat I’ve ever seen for a BRP game. Inside the combat section you’ll discover all sorts of grisly wounds that can befall both your character and its opponents, rules for ranged and mounted combat, how armor works, what a siege engine can do and so much more. This is probably the chapter you’ll want to spend the most time with, even if you are a longtime Basic Roleplaying fan, just due to all the options and changes that combat sees in Magic World.

Besides huge sections on both combat and magic, there is an entire chapter devoted just to seafaring. I was not expecting this to be honest as this is a topic usually reserved for supplements, if it even gets covered at all. Not so with Magic World. Here you get twenty full pages on ship stats, sample boats, how to make your own seafaring craft and lots of mechanics. Swimming in armor is here and well worth taking a look at. Most fantasy games seem to ignore how hard it actually would be to swim while wearing full plate.

What else will you find in Magic World? There’s a pretty thorough Bestiary ranging from real world animals to monstrous opponents. There’s a chapter for DMs on how to run a Magic World game, which also gives some magical artifacts and clockwork creature options. There’s also a long section on “The Southern Lands,” which is the default location for a Magic World game to take place on. It’s an interesting, if someone generic location with warring fantasy races, intrigue amongst Houses and lots of information on the Fey. The Southern Lands chapter also included story and campaign seeds that a GM can use to create their own adventures. Of course, if you’re looking for full-fledged published adventures, we’re more than a year into the existence of Magic World and none exist yet. In fact there is only the Advanced Sorcery supplement which just came out. This is because Chaosium is pretty wrapped up with Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition and the Horror on the Orient Express remake. It is what it is. Magic World early purchasers may be a bit disappointed to see the game getting the short end of the stick, but take heart! One supplement is just the start and if you are really wanting more content for the game, just pick up some Runequest, Legend or Elric releases. They are mostly compatible and will serve you well. The key is just taking the time to track some down.

Overall, Magic World is a really well done release. It’s great to have some sort of Elric/Stormbringer remake available to the general public. The Basic Roleplay rules and system are exceptionally easy to learn and remain one of the best overall systems ever devised for tabletop gaming. Magic World is a great alternative to other high fantasy games and I know I’d play this over Pathfinder in a heartbeat. If you’re looking for a new fantasy style game to enjoy, definitely consider Magic World. It’s a year old, but many people are getting to hear about it for the first time with its release on DriveThruRPG.com. Better to pick up a high quality game late, rather than never, yes?

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Magic World
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Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
by Michael W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/17/2014 11:16:16
I downloaded this and it won't let me view it. Not sure if it's because I don't have the proper update or not. Oh, well. Better luck next time.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
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Astounding Adventures
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/17/2014 06:22:46
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/17/tabletop-review-astound-
ing-adventures-basic-roleplaying/

Usually I review stuff right when it comes out, but Astounding Adventures has been out for almost a year now. I didn’t get a review copy when it first was released, but I DID get one about a week ago when Chaosium ported Astounding Adventures over to Drivethrurpg.com. Better late than never, I guess, ESPECIALLY since I have wanted to take a look at this BRP supplement for some time. Thankfully April’s been a real lull in terms of interesting releases, so I can cover this one in a timely manner for its DriveThruRPG.com debut.

Astounding Adventures IS a supplement for Basic Roleplaying, so you’ll need to core rulebook to make proper use of that. That said, because BRP and Call of Cthulhu are about 95% the same, you can probably get away with owning the core rulebook for that game and the two will work together almost seamlessly. This is true not only because of the rules, but because both use the CoC sanity statistic and because the time periods are very similar (CoC is generally set in the 1920s while Astounding Adventures takes place in the 1930s). The general difference between CoC and AA is that Call of Cthulhu has you dealing the machination of Lovecraftia based antagonists while Astounding Adventures lets you encounter those as well as any other pulp based villainy from that era. As such, you can’t go wrong with owning either Call of Cthulhu or Basic Roleplaying to make use of this supplement, but you DO need one or the other.

Astounding Adventures is a tribute/homage to the old pulp magazines of the 1930s. Weird Tales. Amazing Stories. Dime Detective. You’ve heard the names even if you haven’t read them. The emphasis is on action packed adventures where heroes are chiseled, brave and true and villains are as strange as they are evil (also usually foreign to American soil). Characters are a bit more two-dimensional than in other forms of literature, and things tend to be pretty black or white on the morality scale. Astounding Adventures also takes after the cinematic version of pulp. Do you remember those serials you sometimes saw on TV or before a shorter episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000? Well, the game lets you replicate those as well by having cliffhangers and a constant rise of action. As an aside, doing a pulp cinema style campaign also lets you play the game in short regular bursts instead of the usual long 4-8 hour sessions tabletop RPGs are known for. Play for two hours, end the session on a “same bat-time, same bat-channel” note and it will be a very different feel that the general gaming stereotype.

One of the great things about Astounding Adventures is that you can do any form of pulp with it. Want to run a campaign where you fight robot Nazis? You can! Want to deal with a cabal of Chinese sorcerers? You can! Want to deal with Lovecraftian beasties or play heroes like The Phantom or The Shadow? You can! Want to mix them all together? You can! All of these possibilities are thought of and discussed within the Astounding Adventures supplement. It might sound weird to do a pulp mash-up but remember, Defenders of the Earth was based on such a concept and it was a successful cartoon for a few years.

It’s also worth mentioning that all the narratives in Astounding Adventures use the same three characters and the core antagonist. So over the course of the book as you learn things like mechanics, character creation and the rest, you’ll thrill to the exploits of Rex Stone and his pilot Dottie Blaze as they seek an ancient Egyptian treasure. This is very well done and it’s rare you see an entire book stick with the same in-game narrative from beginning to end. Just a nice touch that deserves mentioning.

Much of Astounding Adventures is a condensed version of Basic Roleplaying. You’re given the slightly different character creation system for this game, a list of powers and resources (characters get one or the other), a tone of information about the pulp era, tips for the Keeper on how to run a Pulp game and how it should stand out from other tabletop settings, and a ton of equipment and potential enemies. You’re even give a random adventure generator which is quite amusing to fiddle with. I wouldn’t recommend using it for all your Astounding Adventures games, but who knows – rolling a few dice and checking the results might get your imagination flowing.

There are also three premade adventures to read and/or use. Each of the adventures looks at a different version of pulp. They don’t really string together well because of the different tone and atmosphere in each adventure, but they all make great one-shots that a Keeper can use to test the waters with. “The Perils of Sumatra!” have characters in a race against time AND the Third Reich to find the Staff of Lost Souls. This wielder of this powerful artifact can unleash overwhelming fear upon its enemies…or they might go stark raving mad. It depends. Either way, such an item is too powerful to let the Ratzis get their mitts on it, right? So it’s up to the PCs to deal with enemies, traps and an ancient mummy – all to keep the world safe from Hitler!

“The Dynamo of Doom” is less “Indiana Jones” and more in line with the sci-fi pulp pieces of the era. Here a mad scientist plans to hold a town hostage with his Telecution Helmet. Thanks to a case of mistaken identity the PCs are made aware of this threat. Can they stop the Doll Faced Man and his Metal Men in time? This is a pretty straightforward adventure but it captures the feel of those old pulp serials nicely. The final adventure is “The God of the Airwaves” and this is a Weird Tales style piece that should make Call of Cthulhu fans happy. It’s the Golden Age of radio and no show is more popular in the locale where the PCs reside than “The Night Watchman.” Unfortunately the show turns old to be a way for a cultist to brainwash listeners AND help summon an ancient and nearly forgotten deity into our plane of existence. Can the PCs stop the cultist or will they be overwhelmed by the dark forces plaguing their fair city?

Across the board, Astounding Adventures is simply fantastic. I’m actually surprised this hasn’t been done before for BRP, but I’m glad it exists now. This is a fine supplement to your CoC or BRP game (or just the mechanics) and Astounding Adventures is as much fun to read as it is to play. Going digital might be your best bet since it costs half as much as a print copy. The book is well laid out, easy to follow, concise and contains everything you need to play a pulp based BRP game except the core BRP rules themselves. If you’re a fan of Chaosium’s rules set, you should definitely consider picking up Astounding Adventures. it’s a great twist on an old classic and with the upcoming Horror on the Orient Express remake getting a two fisted pulp option added to , this will be the perfect book to get you in that mindset!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Astounding Adventures
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The House of R'lyeh
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:32:09
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/22/tabletop-review-the-hou-
se-of-rlyeh-call-of-cthulhu/

The House of R’lyeh is a collection I’ve been excited to get my hands on for some time. This is because, for the first time, there is a Call of Cthulhu adventure collection that ties heavily into not only actual stories by H.P. Lovecraft, but over a dozen other published adventure collections of campaigns by Chaosium. In a sense, The House of R’lyeh is the first real piece for Call of Cthulhu tying together enough published works that the system could now have a slight semblance of a metaplot. Unlike systems like Shadowrun or Vampire: The Masquerade, where every book released seems (or seemed in the case of V:TM) to build on the metaplot, and sometimes were written more for said overarching story than for gamer accessibility, the metaplot suggested here in The House of R’lyeh is both optional and nebulous. This means, thankfully, that Call of Cthulhu will never be one of those games where you feel like you need to purchase every release to understand what is going on, but that those interested in the light trappings of a metaplot presented here can track down the adventures, supplements and stories (many are out of print though, both physically and electronically) to fully realize the “bigger picture” presented by authors here. I’m very happy about the interconnectivity of all these adventures being so light, because had it been otherwise, this could have been a massive train wreck. Instead, The House of R’lyeh gives us five interesting adventures, each of which is primarily tied to a story by Lovecraft, thus acting as a quasi-sequel to the events in those tales. There are ways to connect all five adventures into a min-campaign, and many references to other stories and adventures, in case the Keeper wants to go to use these adventures as a starting point or link for something else in his or her collection. I really like how all these hints, homages and nods to other Cthulhoid publications come across, as I admit, I’m getting fatigue from certain other RPGs, where the books are unabashedly written in such a way that you MUST own previous releases to make heads or tails of what is going on in it. So a big kudos to Chaosium for presenting a collection that tries to pull previous releases together in a light form of metaplot/cohesiveness while making sure all the way it is optional, AND providing enough information about the inspiration material that the Keeper doesn’t need to search out and/or purchase the other pieces of writing in question.

I will give one word of warning to those who are interested in picking up The House of R’lyeh. These are exceptionally long and in-depth adventures, and they will no doubt seem daunting to casual or less experienced Call of Cthulhu keepers. Not only are the adventures themselves crammed with an amazing amount of information about the plot, potential NPCs and pratfalls, but they also include everything from a quick synopsis of the story that inspired them, a massive amount of information on the area in which the adventure takes place and everything the less detail oriented Keeper won’t even think of, like full rail charts (and length of trips) or the cost of various items for the time period. I won’t say the adventures come off as anal retentive or OCD, but they are so jam packed with information that you will either find The House of R’lyeh to contain everything you’ve ever wanted to see in an adventure, down to the most minute detail, or to be extremely superfluous and cause your eyes to glaze over as you fathom each page’s multitude of information. It’s going to be one extreme or another. Either way, my advice is not to try and read this book in one sitting. Maybe one adventure at a time, and for the longer 60+ page adventures, perhaps a few sittings each, and take notes during each one as, while running the adventure, there’s just no way to remember where every last detail is. Just remember, HoR contains five adventures and clocks in at 224 pages, while something like Atomic Age Cthulhu has nine adventures and a mini source book for the 1950s to boot – all with the same page count as this collection. So, yeah, let’s just say The House of R’lyeh is INTENSE, and whether that is a positive or a negative is really up to what you want from an adventure collection.

The first adventure is “The Art of Madness” and it is a sequel to Pickman’s Model, arguably one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories (Cthulhu knows it’s been turned into a plethora of low budget, but varying quality films/TV episodes over the years). I will say the the characterization of Pickman is completely off from the Lovecraft story, and certainly it’s different from the Pickman we see in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, which will no doubt draw the ire of some Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos fans. It’s the problem any time a character is adapted into someone else’s work. I will admit it is an inaccurate portrayal of Pickman compared to his Lovecraft penned pieces, but it is well established that becoming a ghoul is a painful and maddening process. In Pickman’s Model we see the beginning of Pickman’s descent, but in “Kadath,” he’s not only quite sane (more or less) but an ally of Robert Carter. I suppose if this was Marvel Comics, I’d try and earn myself a No-Prize by saying that “The Art of Madness” takes place when Pickman hits the zenith of his insanity and slowly begins to rebuild himself at the conclusion of the adventure, perhaps with a stark clarity that only comes with being mad and hitting rock bottom. Or, in Call of Cthulhu gaming terms, he’s failed one too many sanity checks and is temporarily insane, but eventually gets better, or as much as a cannibalistic undergrounding dwelling humanoid mutated by his own dark nature can be. That said, I loved this adventure because it’s one of those stories that seems so obvious that I can’t believe it hasn’t been written before now. The plot is so simple it’s ingenious, and can be played for stark terror or even with a Blood Brothers-esque tongue-in-cheek feel to it, because the premise is as absurd and potentially comical as it is creepy as all get out.

Oh, what is the plot of “The Art of Madness,” you ask? Well, Richard Upton Pickman feels his art is unappreciated by the plebian human society he was once a part of. Pickman also feels that his style of art must live on in the surface world, and so he decides to open a school of the arts inside the ghoul warren he is part of. Now he only needs students, and so he begins to take a select few that show “potential” from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This is where the Investigators come in, although the missing students and teacher may not be the plot hook that initially sends them into this macabre foray.

I really like that “The Art of Madness” offers multiple hooks to get Investigators involved. After all, there are FAR too many adventures that rely on the assumption that the PCs are parapsychologists, a detective agency or just “know Cthulhu stuff.” With multiple story hooks, the Keeper can choose what works best for players, as well as the tone of the adventure. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t decide whether to play this adventure seriously or as somewhat comedic. I started off the adventure like it would be a normal CoC adventure, but when players interacted with the Portuguese janitor who is somewhat pivotal to the plot like he was Manuel from Fawlty Towers, I knew it was time to err on the side of farcical, which turned out to be the right call. I strongly doubt the author of “Art of Madness” wrote it realizing the comedic potential of the adventure, but then neither did Bruce Nesmith when he penned The Created for Second Edition AD&D, and look how that turned out. The adventure DOES work if you play it straight, as there is a good deal of creepiness, what with wandering into a Ghoul warren and discovering the fate of the kidnapped artists. No matter how you decide to run with “The Art of Madness,” it really is a brilliant little adventure you can’t help but have fun with. 1 for 1.

“The Crystal of Chaos” is the second adventure in the collection and it is meant to be a sequel to the Lovecraft story, The Haunter of the Dark. I always loved this story, and I’m surprised the creature from this tale hasn’t turned up in more Call of Cthulhu adventures. Here it is, though, as Investigators journey to Providence, Rhode Island to retrieve a mystical artifact from the long defunct Church of Starry Wisdom. Of course, said item bears a horrific curse that threatens the physical and mental well-being of the PCs, but really, isn’t that par for the course in a CoC adventure?

My only real problem with “The Crystal of Chaos” is trying to get players into the adventure. This is one of those that assumes players are all allies/co-workers and have some sort of Cthulhoid leaning background, such as professors, anthropologists or detectives. What happens when you have characters that run the gamut from Olympic gymnast to hobo? It’s going to be very hard to create a proper story hook for this one that actually fits a group of players who were given free reign during character design, which is MOST groups. “The Crystal of Chaos” would be awesome with pre-generated characters or as a one-shot adventure, but trying to come up with a reason why a circus clown, a wealthy dilettante, a longshoreman and a chemical engineer should team up to track down the Shining Trapezohedron from a ruined and possibly haunted church so that an Egyptologist can use it in his upcoming expedition is going to take a bit of planning out. This is why I love adventures like “The Art of Madness” where you are given multiple ways to get characters into the adventure. Ones with only a single plot hook like this that doesn’t really work as a catch-all is pretty much equivalent to, “Your party is in a tavern when…” for fantasy RPGs.

Now, with that out of the way, once you find a way to actually get your motley crew of characters to undertake the trip to Providence, you’ll find the adventure is a really fun one. The adventure provides five full pages just on landmarks in the city itself, meaning a good Keeper can really make Providence come to life, even if they have never been there. The Free-Will Church is laid out in exacting detail, leaving the Keeper with little to no work to do in order to run the adventure, save for memorizing all that it contains. There’s an unexpected mini-boss, so to speak, which I enjoyed seeing, and it’s now the second time in the past month a Call of Cthulhu adventure has featured this creature, which is funny as I mentioned in my Tales of the Sleepless City review that this particular monster of choice doesn’t get enough play in CoC.

The climax of the adventure is when the players find the Shining Trapezohedron, but in a sense, it starts something completely new, as now players have to deal with The Haunter itself and all that comes with it. It might be a good idea to break the adventure into two sessions, ending the first right when the players unwittingly do something with the ancient jewel that sends everything into chaos. Everyone loves a cliffhanger, right? Of course, everything goes to hell from there and what was originally a simple snatch and run operation becomes an event where the PCs may not only have to save the world, but one of their own. By the end of the adventure, at least one Investigator will be suffering from severe nyctophobia. Ouch. Again, this is a fun little adventure and players will probably be expecting one thing from the adventure, especially when they are told they are investigating an old ruined crazy cult church, and then end up getting hit with something quite different. It’ll definitely be fun to hear how various play sessions of this adventure went. 2 for 2.

The third adventure in The House of R’lyeh is “The Return of the Hound.” I’ve always loved that story, but I can’t say I cared for the adventure. It never connected with me. At times, it was just really dull, and at others it felt too over the top, like with the auction where a bunch of magic using occultists were there to examine the rare magic bearing tomes (including a Necronomicon!) up for sale. Part of it is that the adventure just felt far too long both in terms of reading and actual play. It dragged and felt heavily padded, which is never a good thing.

Now, that’s not to say the adventure was a complete flop. With some heavy excising and streamlining, this could work really well. As the adventure is basically two in one (part taking place in Amsterdam and the other in a small rural English community), you could just remove the Dutch part of the adventure and really focus on the weird British auction of the damned. However, the core of information the players need to get through the information is in the Dutch part so… I don’t know. My advice is that the seeds of an interesting adventure are here, but it’s just too bogged down to flow in an enjoyable manner. It feels like it was put together via a game of Mythos from the late 90s.

Basically “The Return of the Hound” has players not only having to deal with the return of this otherworldly canine, but a victim turned avatar of the Hound turned serial killer. The text is quite contradictory on the non Hound antagonist, as it’s mentioned to be an avatar, but still potentially being hunted by the Hound, which is nonsensical. It would be like Hastur trying to smack down the King in Yellow. It gets far more convoluted from there without any real rhyme or reason behind the Hound or De Slachter, and the adventure really needed a better editor to focus the writer’s ideas into a more comprehensible affair. It also doesn’t help that there is a TON of back story content, in-depth location descriptions and NPC bios to sift through. In a better laid out adventure, all this would be helpful instead of a hindrance. Unfortunately, the layout of the adventure has you flipping back and forth to make some sense of the story being told while trying to keep all the Keeper information separate in your head. I would have to suggest that this needed to be totally rewritten from the ground up. There’s just way too much going on here and very little of it is going to be fun or even interesting to the people playing through this. 2 for 3.

Our fourth adventure in this collection is “The Jermyn Horror,” and it is meant to play off of Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family, which is a truly strange but memorable Lovecraftian story. I’m at odds with the adventure itself. Its connection to the Lovecraft story is tenuous at best and mere window dressing at worst, which is a shame, because it’s a really good adventure for the most part and it might have been even better had the core story been allowed to stand on its own instead of being tied to a previous Lovecraft penned tale. You could excise the entire Jermyn connection and the adventure would still work wonderfully. It just depends on if your players will like the slight homage to a previous Lovecraft story or if they will find it trite and unnecessary.

There are two other problems I had with this adventure. The first is a minor one, but it is the second in this collection that hinges around a PC being possessed by the antagonist of the adventure, and the third where the antagonist possesses SOMEONE to keep the story moving along. That’s… not good in my opinion, and shows a dearth of creativity in this collection. Fortunately for “The Jermyn Horror,” I can’t pin my disdain for the fact that 60% of this collection goes back to the same well on it alone. The second is that the adventure doesn’t really have a true ending set up, and that’s the big one. The adventure has the characters forcibly held in place by a fiendish thingy that tried to possess and convert their bodies, but the adventure doesn’t really give any way for players to “win” or even survive it. The creature in question is crazy powerful and has trapped the players. There is a way of delaying the inevitable destruction if players can find it, and a very obscure way of killing the creature you will pretty much have to hold the hands of players to lead them to, which is never fun for anyone. There really needed to be more outs for the Keeper and his or her players, rather than a single paragraph on what could be done including the sentence, “Other solutions might present themselves to inventive players.” as the way to end the adventure. This seems to be more of an editorial than a writer issue though, as it could have been easily fixed by the editor saying, “Could you expand this a bit more so that less experienced gamers or Keepers have more of an out?” I mean, Call of Cthulhu should be a deadly game, but the solution shouldn’t be so obscure that most players won’t figure it out unless it’s virtually handed it to them by the Keeper. The end result is this adventure reads and plays like it is the Keeper VERSUS the players, which should be a massive red flag for anyone, as we all know how those affairs turn out. It’s a shame too, because I loved the creature, the setup, the atmosphere and some of the goings-on in the adventure. With some fine tuning, this could have been a great adventure. Instead it feels like an incomplete one. 2 for 4.

“Nameless City, Nameless Terrors” is our fifth adventure, and after the two I gave a thumb’s down to, I’m happy to say The House of R’lyeh ends on a positive note. There is some combining of Irem and the Nameless City, which may cause squabbling between different camps of Mythos fans, but hey, it’s an adventure for a role playing game; it’s not like it’s going to magically retcon everything Lovecraft has written since the 1890s.

This adventure feels like a classic Cthulhu story from the 20s turned into an adventure, which is what I was hoping for with this collection. Players will be travelling to the Middle East (starting in Yemen) in search of Irem, and once again, I love that this adventure gives you multiple hooks to use instead of one rigid assumption about the Investigators and why they are along for the ride. You got a LOT of information on the Nameless City in the course of playing the game, so even if you hadn’t read the actual story by Lovecraft, you won’t feel like you are missing out on anything. There are also a lot of suggested optional encounters which can turn “Nameless City, Nameless Terrors” into a mini campaign, which is always a fine option. This allows the Keeper to adapt the adventure to the attention span of his or her players, as well as change things on the fly. Are the Investigators burning through the adventure with no problem? Then throw an optional event at them. If they are having a hard time and making little progress, there’s no sense in using them. I love when adventures do this.

“Nameless Cities, Nameless Terrors,” just has that “it factor” for me. It’s well written, it’s in an exotic locale yet well written enough that a Keeper who is utterly unfamiliar with Yemen can make it come alive. There’s a wonderful mystical quality that pervades the entire experience, and though much of the adventure is simply travelling and talking with NPCs rather than investigating or running from Mythos terrors, it’s a highly memorable experience. I also love the unexpected allies that you can gain in this adventure. One of which is a realistic portrayal of a Mythos creature and how, simply because something isn’t human doesn’t mean it’s out to destroy mankind or drive things insane. The other is perhaps the most famous creation of Lovecraft after Cthulhu, and while this will no doubt raise the ire of some Lovecraftian purists, I found it to be a nice unexpected touch. If you’re unsure if the introduction of this character will cause a dour reaction from some of your players, just change his name and have him be some other ancient figure with copious amounts of knowledge that no man should possess.

At the end of “Nameless Cities, Nameless Terrors,” Investigators will have picked up a lot of Cthulhu Mythos simply through osmosis, have made some powerful mystical allies, and will have encountered a veritable menagerie of things man was never meant to encounter. It’ll be interesting to see how many characters make it through this adventure with their sanity intact. This is simply a fantastic adventure that is best used as the climax or end of a long campaign before classic characters are finally to put to bed. 3 for 5.

So as we can see, The House of R’lyeh is a mixed bag. There are three excellent adventures in the collection and two I can’t recommend. Although the good does outweigh the bad in this set, I have a hard time saying it is worth the thirty-four dollar price tag of the physical copy. Twenty dollars for the PDF is more acceptable, but still a little high for the level of quality. As Chaosium is having a sale until April 28th, you can get the PDF for $14.26 which is definitely worth it (Five bucks per good adventure is a fine deal), but at the same time, you can then get other new-ish releases like Terror From the Skies for only $16.07 and Atomic Age Cthulhu for $12.68 and I’d recommend either of those over The House of R’lyeh without hesitation. There are FAR better Call of Cthulhu collections out there for the same approximate price tag, but by no means is The House of R’lyeh a bad or even disappointing choice.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The House of R'lyeh
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Terror From the Skies
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:30:16
originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/12/10/tabletop-review-call-of-
-cthulhu-terror-from-the-skies/

It’s been an amazing year for the Call of Cthulhu franchise. Chaosium has put out top notch pieces like Cthulhu by Gaslight Third Edition and Mysteries of Ireland. Goodman Games has given us A Dream of Japan and The Timeless Sands of India. Pagan Publishing FINALLY released Bumps in the Night while other new publishers like Modiphius and Hebanon games releases some quality adventures as well. As 2012 comes to an end, Chaosium gives us one last release in Terror From the Skies – a massive campaign containing over a dozen connected adventures, guaranteed to keep your players busy for the next few months. While it’s nowhere as impressive as say, Horror on the Orient Express or Masks of Nyarlathotep, you’re still getting a solid adventure that will test both the Keeper and the Investigators alike as they try to foil a scheme that, if left unchecked, will spell the extinction of the entire human race.

The primary antagonists in this campaign are the Insects from Shaggai, or the Shan, as they are referred to throughout this collection. Although the race is presented slightly different in tone and deed than Ramsey Campbell first portrayed them, they still make for a creepy recurring threat to your Investigators – especially with their legions of shantanks, star vampires and cultists behind them. There is a lot of combat here, especially for a Chaosium published Call of Cthulhu adventure, but if the players are smart, they’ll be able to even the odds by way of magic, stealth and even making an alliance with the Deep Ones. This adventure is pretty unforgiving, and much like those classic boxed sets from Chaosium’s past, everyone’s starting Investigator will probably be dead or mad before the campaign is through. In this respect, it’s almost like this is a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign, but with train rides instead of underground lairs and Cthulhu Mythos beasties instead of dragons or beholders. I’d suggest using characters that are well experienced if you want them to survive, as they would have Mythos skill points and some spells at hand, but then you risk losing a beloved character, and the first adventure is written in such a way that this is each character’s first experience with the Mythos. At the same time though, there are times when the adventure expects Investigators to have a pretty hefty Cthulhu Mythos skill percentage to make a few rolls, which is pretty jarring and at times impossible. This isn’t the only case where balance is an issue with the entire campaign. You’re going to want each Investigator to have an extremely high Psychology skill level, as it’s used for just about everything in this game. Other skills that are abundantly used are Spot Hidden, Hide and Sneak. It’s as if a team of Jungian loving Ninjas would be the ideal Investigators for this campaign. It would have been nice to see a larger spread of skill usage throughout the campaign, but it is what it is. Just don’t expect your typical librarian or Professor to make it through this unscathed. A Hobo or dock worker might have a better chance, which is kind of neat. Keepers may want to give hints as to what skills are best suited for this campaign if they are overly nice and generous, but it also may be fun to see how well the usual Call of Cthulhu builds hold up in this campaign.

The campaign starts off innocuously enough, with the wedding of a dear friend. Unfortunately the wedding is to be held in a church with a hideous curse that plagues any who try to wed within it, thus setting off a massive chain of events no one could predict. The first adventure is an intro not only to the campaign, but could also work as an intro to Call of Cthulhu as well. There’s little, if any, combat, and it’s all about deciphering how the curse works and disabling it. It’s about as cut and dry as a CoC adventure gets. From there, though, each adventure is meant to lead into the next, but things start off with a rocky start. A character briefly met in the first adventure is the story hook for the second one, which takes place in Whitby. However, said character lived nowhere near Whitby in the first adventure, and for a campaign that is almost anal retentive on keeping track of dates and times so as to stick to a schedule of events, there’s no commentary on when this character moved or how long of a time elapsed between the two adventures. There’s also no reason for this NPC to have forged such a strong bond with the Investigators that he thinks to write them and ask for their help. In all honestly, I would have the first adventure, “Introduction,” take place a year or so before “A Whitby Vampire” and throw in two other short adventures between them to let the Investigators raise their skills while letting the players get some experience in the system. I’d also make this particular NPC, named Frederick Davis, a recurring character in them somehow to strengthen his relationship with the PCs and make it less jarring.

The second adventure is only connected to the first because the things behind the cursed church are also behind the serial killings in this adventure. That and Mr. Davis. Other than that, they aren’t as interconnected as they need to be for a true campaign feeling. Still, “A Whitby Vampire,” is a fun adventure, just like the first, and it really gives the Investigators full exposure to the Mythos while also making some truly strange allies. It also gives the PCs knowledge of the cult that does the bidding of the Shan and a hint towards the end goal of this alien race.

After “A Whitby Vampire,” the Investigators begin to follow clues leading them into a vast world-wide conspiracy. They’ll be traveling by train, motorcar, carriage and even ship as they follow leads all over the United Kingdom. Each leg of the journey puts them at odds with the Shan’s cult, while also gaining magic and Cthulhu Mythos points at an increasing pace. As mentioned earlier, there will be a lot of battles taking place, but with the right magic, players should be able to stand up to the creatures they encounter, even while their sanity slowly dissipates. As Investigators will (hopefully) gain access to the same summon/bind spells the cult has, they can just neutralize the creatures with their own kind, freeing up time to investigate, steal, assassinate and research. Like I said, a Ninja would work out really well in Terror From the Skies.

A good part of the adventure is figuring out who is in the Shan’s cult and who is also quasi-possessed by one of these creatures. This is where the massive amount of psychology rolls will come in. Every character will have access to the spell Cast Out Shan, which will help immensely, but it’s getting a person to a place where you can perform the spell privately that will be the trick, just like any other spell in the game. It’s not just spells and psychology rolls that will come in handy. Someone who is excellent with a sniper rifle will make the adventure pretty easy as well. There are times when the an Investigator with experience in this field (say a veteran of the Great War) will be able to take out a cultist easily. More importantly, it’ll keep from having to deal with Shantanks and Star Vampires. At one point characters may even try to infiltrate the cult. At the very least they’ll be sneaking into a few ceremonies and the like. Investigators might not have a problem foiling the plans of alien horrors and their pet monstrosities, but they might balk at having to kill a lot of cultists. All for the greater good though, right?

It’s not until the sixth adventure, “Newcastle,” where the Investigators will really have an idea of what is going on. Until now, they’ve just been dealing with a cult that seems to be spread across the country. Here, however, players will finally figure out what the Shan need, a flight around the world via the Graf Zeppelin, even if they won’t know why. For the next few adventures, players will be going after specific cultists and either neutralizing them or opening their eyes to what the Shan really are and the nefarious schemes they have in place. The good thing is that you can have some of these (hopefully) ex-cultists in line as replacement characters in case someone dies or goes irreparably mad from this point on. Basically, from here on, players will be trying to figure out what cultists are going to be on the Graf Zeppelin, and taking their tickets through a variety of means. These bits can range from helping free these people from their Shan infestation (if they have one. They might just be helping willingly) to doing a 1920s style Shadowrun affair, or just outright robbing and/or murdering them to keep them from bordering the most important blimp ride in human history. Of course, no matter what, the Investigators will have to figure out who (or what) a mysterious being known as The Carrier is and what exactly “Heliowall” is, and why it is so important to the Shan. Is it a person? A Place? An alien being? A technological device? Players will need to figure this out and invariably, it will probably lead them through a maze of challenges that will test even the most min/max’d character.

The campaign climaxes with “The Graf Zeppelin” and “The Last Leg,” where the investigators, now armed with the knowledge of what Heliowall is, must figure out which of the passengers or crew aboard the Graf Zeppelin is it. Then they have to find a way to neutralize them and prevent the Shan’s plan for world domination from taking effect. In essence, these two adventures are a logic puzzle similar to the old board game Guess Who? albeit with more lethal consequences. Players will have to mentally tick off who the Carrier could and could not be. A wrong guess can lead to disaster, imprisonment and even extinction of the human race. At the same time, they have but a limited amount of time, as they must stop The Carrier before the flight around the world is accomplished, so they can’t dawdle. There will be numerous occurrences where The Carrier will try to take the Investigators out, and thus chances for the players to compare notes and try to pinpoint who the Shan’s ultimate agent is. It may come down to one Investigator taking it for the team by coldly murdering the Carrier in front of witnesses, or even the entire team sacrificing the Graf by using Mythos creatures of their own to destroy it and the Carrier (along with dozens of innocent human lives). It all just depends on the players and the actions they choose for their characters. In the end, the Investigators will have hopefully stopped the Shan from their one and only chance of destroying humanity in exchange for earning the eternal enmity of this race of beings. With a good Keeper and some fine players, Terror From the Skies should be an immensely rewarding and entertaining experience for all who play through it.

As fun and lengthy as Terror From the Skies is, it’s not without flaws. I’ve mentioned a few earlier, such as the lack of balance with important skills and the sheer amount of combat and magic players will be engaging in. The other really noticeable negative with this book is the layout of the content. I really feel that each chapter, as well as the entire book, could have been laid out better. Terror From the Skies feels a bit ramshackle, like everything should have been placed in a different order for better cohesion and comprehension. For example, each chapter ends with a summary, when really, that should have been at the beginning to help the Keeper or reader understand how events are meant to play out. As well, there’s not enough detail or planning for an adventure of this scope. It’s written as if this was an old school video game, where things progress linearly and that there isn’t room or discussion of how events might go down differently. A little more depth to each chapter could have gone a long way, and I’d really have preferred to see alternatives to outright combat. What’s written in this book is as if it is set in stone, and that’s never good for a tabletop game. After all, players will ALWAYS think of something the Keeper didn’t prepare for, and the structure of this book, combined with the underestimation of what players may do, means that Terror in the Skies is best left in the hands of a VERY experienced Keeper, lest things fall apart quickly, especially with the lack of any real attempts at tying the first few adventures together cohesively. I will also say that I wish Chaosium had stuck with the original cover (which you can see here instead of the one we ended up with. The original cover was awesome and let you know exactly what you were getting. The final cover is a bit generic at best.

So all in all, is Terror From the Skies forth picking up? At twenty-three dollars, I’d say yes. It’s fun to read through even if you’re not going to play it. It’s well written, if not well laid out, and it’s great to see Chaosium still putting out full campaigns instead of monographs and the occasional remake or sourcebook. Again, it’s nowhere near as good as some of those other lengthy campaigns that the company is famous for, but it’s still going to make for a fun time for any group that loves to play Call of Cthulhu. I’d definitely recommend it with the caveat that a Keeper will want to flesh things out so that the campaign runs a little smoother.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Terror From the Skies
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Canis Mysterium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:27:43
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/30/tabletop-review-call-of-
-cthulhu-canis-mysterium/

It’s been a long time since Chaosium released a single stand-alone adventure. Usually (even as far back in the early 90s when I first started playing CoC), the company packs things together as a collection or put out an entire campaign like last year’s Terror From the Skies. As such, Canis Mysterium is a breath of fresh nostalgia, reminding me of the days I’d pick up cheap five to ten dollar single adventures for games like Ravenloft and Shadowrun. The only physical copy of a solo Call of Cthulhu adventure that I own is Alone on Halloween and that’s a third party release from Pagan Publishing, so this is nice. Luckily the cost of the adventure is quite low and the quality is rather high, making this one of the better Call of Cthulhu releases of 2013. Let’s take a look at why.

Canis Mysterium sheds a lot of the Call of Cthulhu tropes. Yes, your characters are from Arkham and most will even work at Miskatonic University, but Arkham is not the focal point of the adventure and I can’t think of a single Library Use roll that you’ll be making. The adventure is more of a psychological detective story instead of a “discovering something horrible plaguing mankind” or stopping the machinations of a Great Old One or vile cult. Sure, there’s a typical Lovecraftian beastie lurking somewhere in the adventure, but you don’t see much of it and the crux of the adventure is more about the evil mankind does to itself. In fact, the monster only comes into play in the adventure due to an act of kindness performed upon it by an NPC, which is another unusual twist to the adventure. If the adventurers fail the mission (in one of several ways), something supernatural does indeed occur, but it’s more of an All Flesh Must Be Eaten experience than a Call of Cthulhu one.

The player characters will be travelling to a small town of about 800 people named Coldwater Falls. It seems the town drunk has fallen prey to lycanthropy and Miskatonic University wants the PCs to help out with the situation. Now hold up. When I say lycanthropy I don’t mean a werewolf, but the actual mental disorder where a person believes they are a wolf. The poor old man is deranged, reduced to walking on all fours, growling and trying to attack people so that it can kill and eat them. In fact, the man is believed to have already killed an eaten a young girl on her way to the outhouse one cold October Eve. At least one PC should be a psychologist, biologist or anthropologist in order to have them be hired to study (and solve?) the man’s obvious severe mental impairment. Sounds like a pretty straightforward adventure, right? Well, this being Call of Cthulhu, it is anything but.

Once in Coldwater Falls, the players will discover the usual small town gossip along with a web of intrigue that will lead them to the source of the man’s insanity. Investigators will discover a scheme of revenge that is as revolting as it is potentially lethal to all the residents of Coldwater Falls. The climax of Canis Mysterium will have the PCs fighting five different enemies and so hopefully there will be at least one character skilled at combat, but expect at least one character to bite the dust. A TPK (Total Party Kill) is not out of the question in this battle either, so be warned that while the Sanity loss rolls are at a minimum here, physical dismemberment is not.

I really enjoyed Canis Mysterium as it ended up being intriguing and unusual, allowing players to really investigate the locale, while not being so open world that they could go off tangent and lose track of their original goal. Things are pretty straightforward once clues start to fall in place and although I wouldn’t call the adventure linear, it doesn’t leave too much room for sidequests or going off rails. This means you should be able to play the adventure in a single play session, or two if players like to explore every nook and cranny and do a lot of in-character talking to NPCs. Because the adventure does require several Investigators to have specific professions, Canis Mysterium does feel like it works best as a one-off with pre-generated characters. These aren’t included in the adventure, so you will have to make them yourselves. Alternatively, this adventure could be the start of a Call of Cthulhu campaign as you are provided five story seeds that work as sequels to this adventure. These range from returned antagonists to a trip to France for an ancient and evil grimoire. It’s nice to see some options for expanding this adventure into more than a one-shot, and as long as your Keeper is willing to put some elbow grease into fleshing out the seeds into something playable, Canis Mysterium can provide you with a wealth of gaming sessions. This alone makes it well worth the cover price.

I can definitely recommend Canis Mysterium as it’s well written and a lot of fun. It also helps that it doesn’t rely on the usual Mythos tricks and tropes. The digital version only costs six dollars, and that’s a crazy good deal. You can pick it up on Chaosium’s website and read it right away. For a few dollars more, you can have Chaosium or Amazon ship a dead tree version to your house. Personally, I’d say go for the digital version unless you’re expressly against that format. It’s cute to see a adventure for Call of Cthulhu released on its own instead of in a collection, but ten dollars might be more than you want to pay for single adventure that you might not ever run, especially if you’re used to purchasing collections of adventures. Either way you’re sure to be happy with Canis Mysterium unless you really only want tentacles beasties, squamous horrors and eldritch terrors in your Call of Cthulhu games.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Canis Mysterium
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Atomic-Age Cthulhu
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:26:28
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/02/22/tabletop-review-atomic--
age-cthulhu-call-of-cthulhu/

Atomic Age Cthulhu is the newest release for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game by Chaosium. This adventure collection, which also contains a chapter on story seeds and also a primer on the 1950s is not the first time Chaosium or other Call of Cthulhu publishers have dug into the era of Leave it to Beaver and McCarthyism, but is the first full collection of adventures for that time period. Atomic Age Cthulhu is not a campaign setting tome like Cthulhu by Gaslight, but the book does contain enough information for any Keeper to understand the time period and mood of the era.

At first glance, the 1950s does seem like an odd period to set Call of Cthulhu adventures, especially compared to the 1890, 1920s, and 1930. After all, you really don’t think of eldritch horrors along with Dobie Gillis and Chuck Berry. However the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. After all, the 1950s are almost a perfect analogue for the Cthulhu Mythos tales. On the surface, everything is pristine and almost serene if you watch the TV shows from that era. Everyone is friendly and neighborly. Parents and kids gets along wonderfully. There is no hint of social or mental illness and every problem is solved positively and with a laugh. However when you skim off the propaganda, we see that the 1950s were a time of paranoia, fear, distrust and unabashed madness for the human race in general. I already mentioned McCarthyism, but it’s almost impossible to over-emphasize how crazy the hunt for the “Red Menace” got. People were constantly afraid of communists invasions or rebellions and we fought many a war in the 1950s about suppressing the threat of Russian and Chinese satellite countries. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Suez Crisis, the Cuban Revolution, the Algerian War, and many others had their beginnings (and some ends) in the 50s. This was not a time of peace and happiness, but almost constant global conflict, either with bullets or dollars. The 50s were a dark time in world history, no matter how much Donna Reed might make you want to think otherwise.

Another aspect of the 1950s that fits Call of Cthulhu nicely is that the focus of horror went from the classical monsters like werewolves and vampires to otherworldly alien creatures whose very appearance could make a man go mad. Sound familiar? Although none of these were necessarily Lovecraftian in origin, and the films about aliens from beyond the stars were often cheesy (and eventually turned into MST3K fodder), the sci-fi of the 50s shared many an underlying theme with Lovecraft’s writing. Heck, 1959 was when The Twilight Zone first began airing, and several of its stories were outright influence by Lovecraft and his contemporaries. Alfred Hitchock Presents also started in the 1950s, both of which are excellent resources for Keepers wanting to do a campaign in this era.

Finally, you have the first underpinnings that society and government were out to get you rather than protect its people. Scandals like Twenty-One, the Hollywood “black list” and farces like “duck and cover” combined to all let people realize that perhaps, everything isn’t as the powers that be want you to believe it is. Again, another wonderful Lovecraftian analogue.

So Atomic Age Cthulhu is a great idea on paper, but the question is whether or not it works in practice, and that’s what this review is for. We’ll take a quick look at each of the nine sections of the book and show you the highs and lows of this collection. I should give a caveat that the adventures of this book are more Delta Green than the typical Call of Cthulhu adventure as in many, players will be cast as government agents or military operatives. So if you’re not a fan of Delta Green or running adventures that are more X-Files than tales about antiquarians and dilettantes researching musty old tomes in an effort to save humanity, you probably won’t be happy with Atomic Age Cthulhu. For those that like a little more hack and slash or action than the run of the mill Call of Cthulhu adventure, this will probably be right up your alley. Now let’s take a look at the contents of this book, shall we?

The first adventure is “This Village Was Made For Us” and has players reacting to the suicide of a worker in a government town dedicated to cracking atoms. This means players are either government employees of some sort of friends of the family. What awaits the Investigators is a town wide conspiracy where a particular Mythos race is attempting something nefarious. I know that description makes the adventure sound a little generic as that could describe dozens of CoC adventures out there, but that’s basically the core of the tale. There’s a little Native American mysticism thrown in as a counterpoint to the Mythos creatures, but it’s an adventure that could be told at nearly any time and in any location with only a little modification needed. In fact, much of the adventure is all too similar to Terror From the Skies which Chaosium published in late November 2012. Now these two adventures aren’t carbon copies, but the fact they have the same antagonists using the same methods to accomplish similar goals is enough to make me wince. It’s not the fault of either writer, but more Chaosium for letting the two hit back to back like this. It’s equivalent to “Oh that nutty Nyarlathotep is up to his old tricks again!” or, “Oh no, we’re in a coastal or island town and there’s been a strange disappearance of townsfolk acting funny. It couldn’t be DEEP ONES, could it?” Now all this aside, “The Village Was Made For Us,” is a well written adventure and it flows smoothly in terms of narration and unfolding events. Sure it’s a bit on the generic side and it could easily occur at any time post WWII rather than being truly unique enough that it has to occur ONLY in the 1950s, but I enjoyed it for what it was and feel that as long as you haven’t recently read or played through Terror From the Skies, you’ll have fun with this. I’ll be nice and say we’re 1 for 1 right now.

“TV Casualties” is an odd adventure and like “This Village Was Made For Us,” I have mixed feelings and still am not sure whether I like it or not. On one hand, the adventure is pretty unique with a small picturesque town slowly falling apart at the seams. It’s a truly wonderful analogy for the perception vbs reality of what the 1950s were like, as well as one for early detractions against the “Boob Tube.” Keepers will find that this adventure doesn’t necessarily NEED to be in the 1950s, as it requires only a bit of tweaking to set it in a different time period, but it works best here, especially if the Keeper fills Plainville with flowery image rife from Nick at Night episodes. On the other hand, the core antagonist comes off a bit too futuristic or even steampunky for an adventure set in “our” 1950s. It’s also a pet peeve of mine when someone just randomly creates an antagonist for Call of Cthulhu and says, “Oh, it’s a form of Nyarlathotep,” even when the actions and personality of said form go expressly against how Lovecraft wrote the character or described him outside of his fictional work. So in this respect the adventure irks me, but it’s not really the writer’s fault as this facet was created by someone else for a previous Call of Cthulhu release and as it is canon to the game, you might as well take advantage of it however erroneous its original creator was with its core concept. You can’t really blame the writer of this adventurer for using a visually interesting Big Bad who also fits the feel and theme of the story he’s trying to tell. At the same time, if the Keeper excises the antagonist from the tired idea of making it a facet of the Crawling Chaos, it’s an even more memorable encounter for players, both visually and roleplaying wise because now it’s motives and very existence are all the more unfathomable and bizarre. So it’s a personal nitpick, but not one against the quality of the adventure. Again, “TV Casualties” is a well written adventure that feels like you are acting out an episode of The Outer Limits, and that’s definitely a good thing. It’s creepy, atmospheric and it even exploits the inherent racism and one of the big anti-Semitic myths of the 1950s – that of Judeo-Bolshevism. 2 for 2.

Every adventure collection tends to have one that is an absolute stinker. In this case it’s the third adventure in the book, “The Return of Old Reliable.” My big problem with this adventure is that it’s so over the top corny/cheesy/laughable, that it just isn’t something players or readers will be able to take seriously. Unfortunately the adventure is written so seriously (although if the art doesn’t make you laugh in this piece, you might need to check your funny bone), it unintentionally (or maybe it is intentional and it’s just so deadpan compared to how other comedic adventures for CoC have been written in the past that the intention is hard to gauge.) comes off as if it belongs in one of the old Blood Brothers collections Chaosium used to put out. “The Return of Old Reliable” is an homage (intended or not) to the exceptionally terrible Sci-FI movies of the 1950s where some animal mutates and threatens Mankind. You know the ones. Earth Vs. The Spider. The Giant Gila Monster. The Killer Shrews. Terrible films that took themselves seriously but no one else could so they eventually ended up being fodder for the Satellite of Love. In this case “The Return of Old Reliable” features a Spider Monkey imbued with the spinal fluid of a byhakee and after given a good dose of cosmic rays, has mutated into something that may just devour mankind from the inside out. Unfortunately the concept is so farcical, I just can’t see anyone pulling it off in a way where players won’t crack jokes the entire time, thus deflating the mood it wants (but fails horribly) to invoke. I’m actually surprised the writer didn’t really play up the sheer camp potential here and include notes to the Keeper on how to salvage this thing by telling them to play it up. I’ve seen other adventures ranging from Shadowrun to Ravenloft do this thing an “The Return of Old Reliable” desperately needed something like that to keep this from being an embarrassing affair for any Keeper who tries to run it straight laced with a straight face. My advice is to just play the camp factor to a hilt and give your CoC players a one-shot affair for laughs. Seriously, when you monsters are basically Flumphs and a Spider Monkey with a brain the size of Detroit, horror and terror are hard concepts to invoke. 2 for 3.

Adventure number four is called “Forgotten Wars,” and unlike the rest of the collection, it takes place outside of the United States; Korea to be exact. Forgotten Wars takes place during the Korean Warm although Hawkeye and BJ Honeycutt are nowhere to be seen. Instead the players take on the role of a M4 Sherman Tank squad that gets into far more than they bargained for. The end result is a very combat heavy experience, which usually isn’t a good sign for an Investigator’s chance of making it through the adventure to the end. However in this case, players have a lot of high tech (for the time) weaponry including a freaking TANK. They’ll need it to as they’ll have to face not just a Cthulhu devoted cult, but also a Hunting Horror, a few Star Spawns and some other alien monstrosities to boot. I will say that I ran through the combat pieces of this adventure several times and found that even when you knew what was coming and could prepare in advance, the combat is just too overwhelming. There are just too many enemies for a pack of five players and their tank to deal with unless you are used loaded dice. Oddly enough the writer suggests optional ways to give the antagonists even more of an advantage throughout the piece instead of the other way around, which is what the adventure desperately needs. I’m surprised no one on Chaosium’s side didn’t catch this and requests some rebalancing as it’s now completely on the Keeper to do so. As well, using a M4 Sherman tank in the Korean is somewhat historically accurate, but the main tanks used in the Korean conflict were the M26 Pershing and the M46 Patton, another thing I’m surprised wasn’t caught in the editing/vetting process. Using one of these more powerful tanks would definitely gives the Investigators a fighting chance to survive this adventure. Otherwise your best solution is to add some weaponry to the M4 that it actually would have been able to have such as the t34 rocket launcher and/or a flamethrower.

Now aside from the need to rebalance the combat and/or modify the tank, there is one other small flaw with the adventure and that like how “This Village Was Made For Us” was a bit too similar to “Terror From the Skies” for my liking, I had several flashbacks to Goodman Games, The Timeless Sands of India while reading “Forgotten Wars.” It’s got the same Great Race of Leng Vs. Great Old One storyline going, and similarities right down to the “Here’s some lighting guns for your lesser beings to use!” Thankfully though, both adventures have very different locals and enough variance in the plot progression (not to mention his one has a tank) that you can play them both (although hopefully not back to back) and still enjoy them both without players nitpicking that they’ve already run through something similar before.

Now you would think after two paragraphs of pointing out the problems with “Forgotten Wars,” that I must have hated it, but I honestly really loved it. There’s so much potential for this adventure to be a memorable experience for everyone in your gaming troupe. The idea of all the players as a finely knit tank crew that have experienced the horrors of war is a fascinating one and that might even make them less susceptible to the usual things that drive CoC Investigators into the madhouse. It’s definitely well worth playing through and one of the highlights of this collection. 3 for 4.

Adventure number five is “High Octane” and it’s just a fun and surreal adventure from beginning to end. It incorporates the hot rod culture from the time period, the sheer paranoia about Communists living amongst normal folk (which in this case turns out to be true), the Hell’s Angels and a good dose of Serpent People all thrown together into one fantastic (cracktastic?) adventure from beginning to end. The writer could have easily gone over the top with the potential for camp this adventure had, leading to the same problems that plagued “The Return of Old Reliable.” Instead, everything is weaved together in a believable and yet ominous fashion. Everything is grounded in reality (except for the Serpent People obviously) and NPCS are presented as multi-faceted believable people rather than two-dimension stereotypes based on TV shows from the time period. The crux of the adventure is that, for once, not only are all the fears from the 1950s real (alien threats, commies, biker gangs and teenagers) real, but they all just happen to converge on the same town at the same time. You can imagine what unfolds. This is simply a lot of fun and it’s an adventure where players can openly and consistently crack jokes without running the mood or atmosphere of the adventure. This is definitely one of the highlights of Atomic Age Cthulhu. 4 for 5.

The penultimate adventure in Atomic Age Cthulhu is “L.A. Diabolical.” Here’s the thing, I really enjoyed this adventure, especially all the homages and in-jokes to real life people within it. The problem is this isn’t a 1950s adventure but a late 1960s/early 1970s one. All those aforementioned references and allusions? They’re from the 1960s, not the 1950s. Zander LeNoir is Anton Levay. The Church of Night is the Church of Satan. Jayne St. Jayne is Jayne Mansfield. Davy Samuels Jr. is Sammy Davis Jr. So on and so forth. Anyone who remotely catches the nudge nudge, wink wink aspects of this adventure will appreciate them (as I did) but also know that the time period for them is all wrong. So I’m torn on this minor aesthetic aspect. While “L.A. Diabolical” is a well done adventure it also doesn’t belong in this collection at all and should have been saved for something for befitting the story and actual time period it is referencing. It’s akin to having a collection entitled “Cthulhustock” and having all the adventures being psychedelic hippie fare, but then one being an homage to “That’s What Friends Are For” where all the world’s top music stars are brought together for a song to help ease suffering in Africa, only to have the whole thing be a ploy by the Insects of Shaggai to take control of the music industry in one fell swoop. Sure it might be pretty interesting, but it wouldn’t fit the theme or collection, now would it?

The catch is not too many people are actually going to pick up on the fact that this is a 1960s adventure masquerading as a 1950s one and really, besides pointing it out in a review (because hey, if a critic isn’t critiquing, they’re not doing their job.) only the most anal retentive rules-lawyerly of gamers is really going to have a problem with this factoid and generally we all know how to keep from gaming with those people, so most of your time with L.A. Diabolical will be fun and frantic rather than a discussion on the fact that a high profile cult of this nature simply wouldn’t be tolerated during the 1950s due to the spotlight on Hollywood for a supposed proliferation of communist sympathizers. It’s a game – have fun with it.

The adventure is one that is hilarious in concept but quite serious and dark in its follow-through and it works wonderfully. The concept simply is this: Small town naïve Great Old One worshipper makes it in Holywood but longs for the days of ritual sacrifice and communing with things of otherworldly origin. When the Church of Night makes it big, she readily joins up only to discover it’s a sham without any real magic or occultism going on. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but I’m thinking a worshipper of things Mankind was not meant to know can give that lady a run for her money. This is just a fun adventure in all respects unless you are hell bent on chronological accuracy. I should point out Anton LeVay’s estate is highly litigious, so let’s hope they don’t find out about this one. 5 for 6.

The final adventure, but not the final section in the book, is “Destroying Paradise, Hawai’ian Style.” This adventure is a bit of an homage to the Elvis in Hawaii set of movies “The King” made…which were made in the 1960s. So see above for my little commentary on this exact issue with this aspect of the adventure. Unlike the previous adventure which was firmly set in the 60s in all ways, this one sticks hard and fast to actual 1950s history, save for the potential genocide of all life on the islands if the Investigators screw this one up. “Destroying Paradise” is set firmly in 1957, as Hawai’I edges ever closer to statehood. The Investigators are stuck in the middle between factions who want to see the USA get a 50th State and those who want to see the haole leave the islands. If that’s not enough each side has their own Cthulhu Mythos cult aiding them. This, my friends, is where the fun (and insanity…and deaths…and horrific monsters that defy description and…well, you get the picture) begins.

Investigators are going to have to keep the Elvis analogue’s movie filming smoothly, discover the machinations of the two cults, save as many lives as possible and eventually prevent a minor Great Old One from wiping out all life in the region. Also, the effects of nuclear testing in this region by American armed forces comes back to haunt the Investigators big time. This is just another solid all-around fun adventure for players and Keepers alike where I only have minor issues. In this case it’s aspects of the 1960s showing up in a 1950s collection and that the final bits of the adventure really need to be run by a very organized Keeper who is well versed in the game, otherwise it’s going to fall apart on them. 6 for 7.

Think we’re done? Guess again, there is still another twenty percent of the book we haven’t covered. Up next is “1950s Sinister Seeds” where the authors have provided you with twenty paragraphs, each of which can snowball into a full fledged adventure of their own. Sure you’ll have to do the legwork and put the thing together, but nearly all of these are top notch and should have you chomping at the big to try and flesh at least one of them out. 7 for 8.

The last bit of the book is “The 1950s Sourcebook” and it contains a lot of helpful information for Keepers. You need information about the presidents of the era? It’s here. Population statistics? Ditto. Pop culture factoids? You’ve got it. Everything from the House Un-American Activities Committee to views on race and sexual preference are covered in this section. It might even be worth it to read this last chapter first so you can better visualize what the 1950s were like. There are even some fun new occupations like Beatnik and Rock Musician. This alone is worth the price of admission. 8 for 9.

As we can see from the past six pages of commentary, Atomic Age Cthulhu is an exceptionally well done piece. Sure the adventures could have used some better vetting/editing, but the good definitely outweighs the bad in nearly all of them, making this a truly worthwhile collection to pick up. With the digital version of Atomic Age Cthulhu at almost half the cost of the physical version (which will also have shipping fees), I strongly recommend going PDF all the way as it becomes quite the deal. Here’s hoping the rest of 2013 follows suit for Chaosium releases!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Atomic-Age Cthulhu
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Secrets of Tibet
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:24:53
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/05/tabletop-review-secrets-
-of-tibet-call-of-cthulhu/

Secrets of Tibet is the latest is the “Secrets” set of campaign settings that Chaosium puts out for its Call of Cthulhu line. They did kind of a stealth release of the digital version on Thanksgiving Eve, so unless you keep your eyes peeled to their official website, you might have missed that this came out.

What makes Secrets of Tibet interesting is neither Lovecraft nor his contemporaries ever set a Mythos related story in the setting of Tibet. At the same time it’s so often romanticized for its culture and isolated location, that it makes perfect sense that someone eventually did either a Secrets or Monograph piece on the country/region (depending on how you look at Tibet).As well, Secrets of Tibet becomes the first official release for Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition, beating even the two core rulebooks by several months. Of course without the core rulebooks (Which, like most Kickstarter projects, are rather delayed) the only thing you have to run Secrets of Tibet with is the Quick Start Rules for the time being. Good news though – the book does devote five pages on how to convert the book to previous editions of the game so that you can use it with say, Fifth or Sixth Edition until 7e is finally released en masse. The conversion guide is a real highlight of the book, especially if you haven’t paid close attention to the changes coming with 7e. It highlights both some of the really good and really bad ideas that are going into 7e and should help you decide if you want to invest in the new edition or stick with an older version of the game. If you haven’t been paying attention to the forthcoming changes, I suggest you read this section of the book FIRST (It probably should be closer to the front instead of towards the back due to its release before the core 7e books). Otherwise you might be in for a bit of culture shock when you see average joes and their 75-80 STR.

So with that out of the way, let’s talk about the actual content of Secrets of Tibet. As you might have guessed, the bulk of the book is a campaign guide that discusses Tibet in great detail. The book also contains three adventures for use with the setting, but we’ll talk more about them later. I was disappointed that the book shied away from the Chinese occupation of Tibet since 1950 as it’s such a huge part of the modern era for both countries. Information on this ongoing debacle would have been of use to Keepers who know only the window dressings about the issue or remember Richard Gere protesting Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1980s and 90s. The good news is the book does go into detail about every other historical aspect of Tibet, including 1500 years of conflict between China and Tibet highlighting occasions where both have been the aggressor (and even invader) in situations. Because most CoC games tend to take place between the 1890s and 1940s, Secrets of Tibet will more than satisfy fans of those time periods. Gamers who prefer a more modern CoC setting like Delta Green will have to do a little research to flesh out current day Tibet for their gamers.

Honestly, Secrets of Tibet is exactly what I want from a campaign setting/guide for a RPG. Similar to the recent Sundering campaign guides, Wizards of the Coast has put out for Dungeons & Dragons, Secrets of Tibet almost overloads you with quality information about the region, culture, indigenous people, politics, religion, history, food and weather. It’s wonderful and although your brain can’t possibly fit in every last detail that Secrets of Tibet throws at you, you will love just how in-depth this book goes. I should also point out the majority of content (outside of the adventures) is about the real history of Tibet rather than a Cthulhu-ized version of the location ala what you might see for a World of Darkness campaign setting book. Instead, the actual game pieces are supplementary to the various essays that comprise Secrets of Tibet. You’ll see conjecture about how Lovecraftian beasties and creations could fit into Tibetan folklore rather than hamfisting Mythos creatures into the setting. For example, the book suggests that Sky Burials in a CoC version of reality could have come about due to not wanting ghouls to desecrate the corpses of loved ones. It’s a subtle and optional choice yet it still manages to stick closely to both the reality of the Tibetan people and to CoC canon. I love this.

Of course the entire book isn’t a non-fiction treatise disguised as a campaign setting book for a popular role-playing game line. For every bit of real world information, you’ll get a sidebar or a full follow-up on how the information works with game mechanics. After an article on the history of Tibet, you get a few paragraphs on how the region can be a gateway to the Dreamlands. Almost thirty pages of Secrets of Tibet are devoted to the topic of religion. You’ll find some new spells, the ability to create a Tulpa, and even mechanics for reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead, all interspersed with a ton of real world content. After a rundown on the people of Tibet, you are given a whopping eleven new Investigator professions. I should also point out that some of the Occupations including stat changes and that said changes are with Seventh Edition rules in mind, So Keepers, don’t let your 6e players come to you and say, “I get +10 to my STR since I am a Fighting Monk.” So on and so forth through the book. Some gamers might want a lot more mechanics and stat blocks that the book provides, but I think the fact the book leans heavily on actual substance about the location is what really makes the book shine.

Besides the really fun occupations, you have eight new skills that characters can learn. Things like Dreaming, Animal Handling and Radio Operation act just like any other CoC skill (regardless of edition), but a special note should be paid to Tibetan Status as this can ebb and flow regularly throughout a game, especially if say a PC is found to be a reincarnation of a Lama. You’ll also find a chapter devoted specifically to monsters/demons/etc ripped directly from Tibetan folklore. Of course, they are slightly and subtly modified to reflect Call of Cthulhu. Grol-Ma is an avatar of Shub-Niggurath and garuda birds are a byahkee variant. So on and so forth. These potential antagonists will be somewhat familiar to longtime COC gamers but also help to keep the correct mood and atmosphere of a Tibetan based adventure and/or campaign. A huge part of the chapter is devoted to making the mi-go part of Tibet’s past(as well as an entire adventure). This is really the only shoehorning of a Mythos race into Tibet within the book but the inclusion makes sense and it’s well done, so you won’t hear any complaints from me on this front.

The chapter on NPCs is very well done as it gives Keepers premade characters to insert into his adventure. As they are all based on real people, this is another nice historical layer of the book and it will be a nice easter egg for players who were already fans of Tibetan history and culture. I will say my only problem with this chapter is a minor one I have throughout the book and it’s that the stat blocks for NPCs are insanely overpowered. For example, no one in this chapter has a stat of under 55! In sixth or older editions that translates to no one have a stat under 11. That’s crazy high and basically means every NPC is above average at everything they do, which is unrealistic. I’ve been noticing power creep going into character stats, both pregenerated PCs and NPCs alike throughout Call of Cthulhu this year, regardless of publisher (Golden Goblin, MRP, Chaosium, etc) and it’s just odd to see characters with stats this high, especially when part of the appeal of Call of Cthulhu is about everyday people getting sucked into events far beyond their comprehension. Again though, this is a minor issue, but worth bringing up as it’s been an all too apparent trend as of late.

After this intermission of mechanics based content, Secrets of Tibet goes back to full fledged essay mode (entertaining, not dull lecture Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). You get an extremely comprehensive chapter on travelling to Tibet. I’m a pretty voracious reader on the region Tibet is in (although I’m far more interested in Bhutan) like the current state of train transport from China to Tibet and the fact it just started up in 2007. I loved getting a current real world price tag for a train ticket too, as it’s a lot less that I would have thought and it makes me want to travel to Tibet that way. Again, for those who care more about mechanics than fleshing out the locale, this chapter contains information on how to run altitude sickness, a problem that affects the majority of people that come to Tibet. After that we get the final chapter of the campaign setting part of the book. It primarily focuses on the city of Lhasa, although it also includes some general odds and ends that could have been its own “Miscellaneous” style chapter. These pieces includes weapons, a look at the justice system in Tibet, a list of general names of Tibetan people, a guide to the Tibetan alphabet, foods festivals and how their calendar works. You know, things that don’t apply just to Lhasa, making them an odd inclusion at the tail end of the chapter. Again, a minor thing, but like all of Secrets of Tibet, the only things to criticize about the book are tiny things here and there that in no way take away from the overall quality or enjoyment of this release.

Now that we’ve finished discussed the campaign guide part of Secrets of Tibet we have three adventures to look at. While none of the adventures are mind-blowing or extremely memorable ones that you and your friends will talk about for months or years after you play them, all three are fine introductions to using Tibet as a region and work as first adventures for new characters. I should point out that the adventures are not designed to be played as a mini campaign as some are for foreigners visiting Tibet and others for natives. I actually like that the adventures were done this way as it gives a Keeper an option of what he wants to run. After all, to outsiders, Tibet is a strange and mysertious land full of wonder. To native characters it’s home and pretty mundane. So you get a very different atmosphere based on what group you are using and thus adventures designed for one won’t feel the same (or even work quite right) if you use them with the other.

“Dreaming of the River of Night” is an adventure for non-Tibetans and serves as an introduction to the land, the culture and the Dreamlands. A copy of the Dreamlands sourcebook is NOT needed for running this adventure, but it will flesh things out if you want a more comprehensive look at that setting. I do like the idea of tying the Dreamworlds into Tibet as the two just seem like such a nice fit. There isn’t a lot going on in this adventure. There is very little research and next to no combat. It’s primarily an atmospheric talking heads pieces that introduces player and/or characters to two locals. It might even be a great “Gamer’s first COC adventure” as long as they aren’t predisposed to nonstop hack and slash combat.

“Company Town” is designed for Tibetan native characters and is a take on the usual, “Mi-Go are up to wacky experiments” trope. This time however, the fungi from Yuggoth have dealt with an ENTIRE TOWN and it is up to players to discover what is behind the rash of recent disappearances in the area. The adventure can have a bit of a Night of the Living Dead feel to it depending on how you play it, but I’d play it more Invasion of the Body Snatchers or “angry mob.” This adventure is quite the opposite of the first one in Secrets of Tibet as it’s pretty action packed and it can get extremely combat heavy. It’s a nice contrast to “Dreaming.” While “Company Town” is a bit paint by numbers in some respects, it’s a fine adventure for introducing players to Tibet.

Our final adventure is “O’ Sleeper! Arise!” and it is the most complex adventure in the collection. The adventure warns that it can come off a bit Dues Ex Machina at the end in the hands of an inexperienced Keeper and that going this route will make it a letdown to everyone involved. I like when an adventure warns you of its potential limitations and flaws so that the Keeper can prepare for them, but more importantly PREVENT THEM FROM OCCURRING. You don’t see this type of disclaimer very often, so I’m glad it is here.

“O’ Sleeper! Arise!” takes place in Lhasa and is designed to use a lot of the locations, materials, NPCs and information contained in the sourcebook section. It is designed primarily for native Tibetans, but one or two outsiders can still work in the parameters of the adventure. The adventure is a pretty typical one. Cultist pokes his nose where it is not meant to be. Cultist accidentally unleashes someone horrific with tentacles. Things die or go insane. Of course the adventure won’t unfold that way if the Investigators are successful. It’s a fairly straightforward adventure that pits the Investigators against one of the monsters deadly and dangerous creatures in the game (if they’re not lucky). If the players manage to discover exactly what the cult is up to and prevent them from awakening…something, then it’s a pretty low key adventure. Again, we have another short and fairly standard adventure. Indeed, “O’Sleeper!” could easily be placed outside of Tibet and still work properly without a minute amount of fine tuning by a Keeper. It’s not a bad adventure by any means, and it is well written, but like all the adventures in Secrets of Tibet, it’s not very memorable.

All in all, Secrets of Tibet is a really great release from Chaosium, which has struggled a bit in 2013 in terms of quality. The campaign guide is one of the best I’ve seen released for Call of Cthulhu and it’s the most informative read since the Mysteries of Ireland monograph. The adventures are the weakest part of the book, but you’re not really purchasing Secrets of Tibet for the adventures. Rather, you are buying it for the in-depth comprehensive look at a region that is still a bit mysterious to outsiders even in modern times. As you can pick up the PDF for under twelve dollars, I can strongly recommend the digital copy of Secrets of Tibet to any CoC fan who wants a highly informative campaign guide to read. It might not be a book you actually end up using with your players, but Secrets of Tibet is fun just to sit down, especially if you are even remotely interested in Tibet.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Secrets of Tibet
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