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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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Masks of Nyarlathotep
by Pieter S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/04/2014 04:29:05

The Good: Takes the characters all over the world showcasing some rarely seen regions of the world in the twenties, allows the players a lot of freedom to explore the world with the tools for the GM to handle it, contains a few solid side tracks (some of which were more fun than the main adventure).
The Ugly: Had to redo the sanity costs for most monsters and events (especially for a long running campaign) and the large amount of occult material (never have been a big fan of coppious amounts of spells), due to the fact that the PCs only learn the deadline late on in the game, they felt rather rushed at first which created problems with studying occult material and recovering from bouts of madness.
The Bad: It is challenging to avoid combat even with more mundane type of opponents, making it a rather aggressive type of CoC adventure that does not mash very well with my own expactations.


Personally I also had to make some adaptations to actually push the players into actions. The adventure relies a lot on proactive play, so the adventure is not particularly well suited to new CoC players (at least not the people I gamed with), unless you as the GM are ready to make some adjustments. If I am ever going to rerun the adventure, I will definitely approach it more like a campaign, than a single big adventure, likely giving the players more time, reducing the chance for combat/making it more investigative and separating the parts more to create seperate adventures.


Side note: internet can be handy when determining whether or not it was time for a ritual, felt more natural than a random dice roll ;)



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Masks of Nyarlathotep
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H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands
by Joshua F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/24/2014 08:23:53

Enormous, detailed, masterful, imaginative. Easily as fun to read as it is to use. This is one of the most impressive RPG supplements I've ever bought.


This is a book that doesn't waste time or mess around. It does exactly what a good supplement should: It goes super deep on its chosen niche, to the point where it serves as an seemingly-inexhaustible source for ideas and answers. Making a whole campaign from this book will still take a lot of writing and creativity on the GM's part, but there's an overflowing well of inspiration here if that's what you're looking for.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands
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Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
by Asmeret p. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/12/2014 17:05:59

The system is good everything you need to quickly write up a character and get to playing.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
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Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
by Milen K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/09/2013 08:19:29

Excellent for newbies like me. Works perfect for players/investigators.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Secrets
by CthulhuBob L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/01/2013 13:09:13

Having lost my physical copy of this book, I was thrilled to see it, at a great price, on RPGNOW. These are great, self contained, one-shot scenarios which can be played to switch up this week's game night, account for a player or the GM who's missing that week or to run at a con.


They also can easily fit as in between action during a campaign.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Secrets
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Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
by Muzaffer B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/29/2013 00:32:10

If you're new to RPGs or Call of Cthulhu, just give this freebie a try. The rules are simple and the adventure is fun. There are four ready to play player characters and a blank 1920s character sheet. You won't regret to try this game and will understand why Call of Cthulhu is one of the biggest RPGs.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
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Call of Cthulhu
by Max S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/06/2013 16:03:59

I've bought the digital edition to use it during the play on Skype and it seems that it's lacking an interactive table of contents which makes it useless to me. This is not stated anywhere on the page so it's not obvious until you open the PDF you've bought. Consulting the Chaosium support, I've found that they do not plan to add this feature in the future. What's the point in a 300-page digital edition rulebook you cannot quickly browse through?



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu
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Superworld Companion
by Steve L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/28/2013 14:50:43

Multiple "negative" pages (white text on black background) are illegible, making entire sections of this product (weather effects, danger room) essentially useless.



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[1 of 5 Stars!]
Superworld Companion
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Shenandoah
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/30/2013 23:13:28

Shenandoah is a product that I first owned in print after picking it up at RinCon 2009. It's great to see it in e-book format.


Call of Cthulhu is one of the most long-lasting and beloved properties in roleplaying. Chaosium recognized early on that H.P. Lovecraft's groundbreaking horror stories would always be able to find an audience, and a roleplaying game set in that world would always have something to offer. There have been many takes on Cthulhoid roleplaying recently, from the more mystery-structured Trail of Cthulhu to the anime-influenced Cthulhutech, which is as it should be, since Lovecraft was significant not only in his own right, but as inspiration to modern authors and creators. But the Chaosium approach has held steady for almost-identical edition after edition and as a result they've built a great catalog over the years.


One thing about Call of Cthulhu I have always found interesting is that it takes as its approach that you are roleplaying "in the world" of H.P. Lovecraft. That is, much CoC material is based on developing a consistent geography and understandable mythos (at least in its close-up form), rather than trying to emulate the fictional material itself. (Lovecraft protagonists are often blank slates who don't do much anyway - not a great formula for successful RPG play.) Other scenarios give a string of events, though sometimes these run afoul of the plague of pre-published modules, railroading.


Shenandoah does an excellent job of walking the line between these two types of Call of Cthulhu material. It details the daily life and inhabitants of a small isolated town in the Ozark Mountains in 1927, when the investigators arrive looking into a mysterious set of events that are brought about by MONSTARS. An enormous amount of effort goes into making the inhabitants and surroundings real, detailed and thorough, so that investigators feel they are prying into the secrets of a real place, with their actions as outsiders having significant consequence for the community.


I can't stress enough how important setting is in avoiding the feeling of railroading in a scenario. If players feel they have permission to explore, that they won't accidentally bump into the backdrop (uh, accidentally run into the edge of the level, if you prefer a video game analogy to a theater analogy), they are more likely to conduct themselves in a more naturalistic and straightforward way...which ironically reduces the problems that railroading tends to try to fix! Shenandoah does a marvelous job of this.


There is a decent introductory text that tries to get across the feel of Cthulhoid horror and the nature of insanity in the world of Lovecraft. There are some ludicrous tournament rules for trying to determine what investigator did best in the scenario. (-2 for bathroom breaks, really?) Some of the points you get are for rolling really well. (Shouldn't the success in the moment be my reward for rolling well...shouldn't I gain more tournament points from flubbing things up, panicking and running and putting everyone at risk?) It would be better to have limited it entirely to hitting or discovering various secrets or plots related to the situation. And anyway, Call of Cthulhu is a game about a team of people, so introducing competitive elements is silly.


Call of Cthulhu has a successful formula and a successful approach to some often very difficult-to-envision literary material, and Shenandoah does a terrific job of showing some of the best that Chaosium has to offer. Let's hope this Monograph series, which produces somewhat smaller and simpler Call of Cthulhu materials, continues for a long time!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shenandoah
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Mythic Iceland
by Connor S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/16/2013 14:41:50

After several good sessions of this game with friends, i would highly reccomend purchasing it. The historical accuracy of day to day viking life is incredibly detailed whether it is agricultural or general social life. This is a must try game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Iceland
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Mystic Alliances
by Brent N. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/05/2013 13:51:48

Mystic Alliances is poorly written, and changes the names of towns and neighborhoods for no apparent reason or gain. The rules for teenage investigators seem okay, but if you're looking for a supernatural horror game in seattle, give it a pass.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Mystic Alliances
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Outpost 19
by Malcolm M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/13/2013 06:30:16

This decent science-fiction adventure for the Basic Roleplaying system is hurt by netbook-quality production values, and the fact that the adventure is of very little use beyond the confines of its own plot.


Neither of these conditions are deal-breakers, as such, but they make it very difficult to justify the asking price of this product.


Much of what's here is text -- a lot of it macro-level detail about the fictional universe which surrounds the Outpost 19 adventure site.


If you're a BRP gamemaster hoping to scavenge useful elements from this adventure, there's not all that much to take away -- unless you're interested in making the Outpost 19 campaign setting your own.


The creators obviously put thought and effort into their creation; the fault is not theirs. The question remains, however: does this product justify its cost?


For myself, the answer would have to be no.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Outpost 19
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Masks of Nyarlathotep
by Michael T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/17/2013 09:42:03

This is a review of the PDF, not the campaign itself.


The quality is crisp and clear, which is the main reason I purchased this (to supplement my physical copy and make clearer prints for the handouts.


However, the reason I marked it down was because it has NO BOOKMARKS. This is a large-scale campaign of almost 250 pages, and there is no navigation in this PDF. And with it being watermarked and protected, there is no way to ADD bookmarks. This severely impacts the functionality of this PDF in session use.


I advice purchasing the physical copy of this scenario over the PDF version, until Chaosium fixes this glaring issue in its professional release of the PDF.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Masks of Nyarlathotep
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Call of Cthulhu
by Michael T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/15/2013 12:01:15

This is a review of the PDF download, not of the game Call of Cthulhu


I own multiple physical copies of this book, and I wanted to replace the low-quality PDF I've been using for digital purposes with a high-quality, company-supporting version.


This PDF version is clear and crisp, exactly what I was wanting in its purchase. However, it DOES NOT come with ANY bookmarks for chapters or tables or anything. If I'm paying this kind of money for a professional PDF release, I'm disappointed that it does not include the navigation features that make a digital book easy to page through. Since it is a protected, watermarked document, I cannot add the bookmarks myself, which severely impacts its functionality during sessions.


I do not recommend purchasing this PDF version of the rulebook. Instead, buy the physical copy -- if you're going to have to manually rifle through the pages of the book due to no navigation, might as well do it with a physical copy.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu
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