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Age of Cthulhu is the branding for Goodman Games line of Call of Cthulhu adventures. Age of Cthulhu adventures tend to be quite different, yet no less enjoyable than the ones put out by Chaosium. I was particularly interested in A Dream of Japan because I was expecting it to feature yokai or other Japanese mythological creatures. Surprisingly though, it does not. It also doesn’t feature any actual Mythos creatures. Instead it features something completely new for your Investigators to square off again – an evil so subtle, they might not even discover it until long after the adventure is played. I loved this concept, and it’s one of the more fiendish adventures I’ve ever come across. That said, I don’t know if I’d use it in a campaign where players are especially attached to their characters, as there is no real way out of this one.
This adventure, like most Call of Cthulhu scenarios, takes place during the 1920s. The 20s were a very interesting time for Japan, as they became more warlike, very anti-Western and somewhat isolationist. This makes it an intriguing place for the themes and setting of Call of Cthulhu. The players and Keeper won’t have to know too much about this era of Japanese history as the setting is somewhat arbitrary. What little you need to know about the Japanese locations and people of the time period is provided for you in the adventure. It’s well enough to run the adventure although some history buffs or Japan-o-philes might nit-pick a thing or too. Relax. It’s a game, not a thesis, after all.
The adventure starts in the United States, where the players are meant to reside. They can be either a group or completely unassociated with each other. They have been invited to a “coming home” party of sorts for one Edgar Lee-Chadwick. Seems the poor fellow has just gotten out of an institution. Interestingly enough, while this would be the usual hook for a Call of Cthulhu adventure, this is merely the setup for the real hook – something a lot of players won’t see coming and it will be a nice breath of fresh air compared to a lot of other adventures. The real hook is that Edgar’s cousin, Regina Chadwick had invited the players there to hire them for something completely unrelated. It seems her niece Veronica has gone and disappeared from college. She wants the players to find out where she is and retrieve her. Her Alma Matter? Miskatonic University of course. This too however, happens to be another swerve and you won’t be spending too much time (if any) in Arkham, MA. Instead you’ll merely be following bread crumbs until the players realize Veronica, and thus their pay check has gone across the Pacific to Japan. So they’ll have to make arrangements to get there themselves, as well as track down exactly where in Japan she has gone.
The climax of the adventure takes place in Aokigahara Forest. This is a WONDERFUL location for a Call of Cthulhu adventure as it’s not only a real place, it is also one of the creepiest places on the planet. The Aokigahara Forests aka “The Sea of Trees,” is the second most popular” place in the world to commit suicide, after the Golden Gate Bridge. There is little to no wildlife or noise and if you’ve ever been there, it’s hard for even the bravest soul not to be completely creeped out. I love that someone finally wrote a “real world” RPG adventure about this place and that it tries to give a logical (within the system/game world) reason for why such a place exists and how it got that way. Of course what the players will think is behind it and what the true answer is are extremely different. The adventure describes the forest pretty accurately, right down to the signs around the forest begging g people to not commit suicide and seek help instead. I should point out that even today, the number of suicide attempts in Aokigahara continue to climb. In 1998, the record reached an all time high of 78 dead. By 2010, the suicide attempts in the forest rose to 247. Really, there probably isn’t a better real world location for a Call of Cthulhu location than this place.
It’s hard to really go into detail about this adventure without massive spoilers, but suffice to say the story actually works best for the Keeper rather than the Investigators as they alone get the full picture of what’s going on. When the players do eventually discover what has actually happened in the adventure they’ll be blown away and probably love this as it’s very reminiscent of the horror film twists that came out of Japan back in the late 90s/early 00s. However, it will take a quality Keeper who is willing to let this act as a slow burn across several other adventures before the big reveal. It also may be best to lend this to your players after completing it so that they can read and better appreciate the big picture.
The adventure itself runs twenty-eight of the forty-pages. The rest are the front and back covers, six pre-generated character sheets, four pages of handouts, and two pages of maps. Everything here, from the layouts to the artwork, is top notch. All you need besides the adventure is the core rulebook and some dice. The maps and handouts are more stylish than substance, but they really are nice for setting the mood. I only wish the handouts were in full color instead of black and white.
All in all, A Dream of Japan is the single best adventure I’ve read through this year. Couple that with Cthulhu By Gaslight being the best supplement so far and things like Bump in the Night and The Sense of the Slight of Hand Man coming out later this year, 2012 really is looking to be the year of Call of Cthulhu. If you’ve yet to pick up an Age of Cthulhu scenario, this is definitely the one to get. It’s creepy from beginning to end and it will be one of the more memorable adventures you’ll ever play through. Amazing job here and my highest recommendations.