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Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/16/2017 12:11:20

This massive and beautiful work brings the world of Conan the Barbarian back to our role-playing tables with all the impact that Conan himself has... richly illustrated and replete with detail to help you bring the Hyborian World to life. The foreword by lead developer Jason Durall tells us why: it's been written by people who really know and love the Conan stories and have been inspired by them in their role-playing for a long time before this project (or even previous Conan RPGs existed). Durall feels a kinship with Robert E. Howard, having grown up in a similar small town and escaped into fantasy, whilst I feel a kinship with Durall, having discovered Conan as a youngster and swept him into my role-playing, working this wonderful setting up for use with whatever ruleset was to hand at the time.

Interspersed with quotes from original Conan stories, the Introduction continues this theme of a desire to create a role-playing game that is true to the original stories, working hand-in-hand with them to build setting and game mechanics that will recreate the epic feel, the excitement of Conan himself striding forwards, sword in hand. We then move on to Chapter 1: Getting Started, which deals with the basics of what role-playing is all about and what you need to play.

Next, Chapter 2: Characters starts in on character creation (although those in a hurry can scurry to the back of the book where some pre-generated ones await those who don't want to work through the process to create their own). To make your own, there is a ten-step process. It's an interesting mix of random results and personal choice, and rather neatly it states that if you have a clear concept in mind, go right ahead and pick the options that work best for what you want to play. There's also a quick version of the process that is completely random, as well. If you want to follow the full sequence, you start by deciding on your character's homeland. This gives him a talent and a native language. Next, sort out your Attributes (which are Agility, Awareness, Brawn, Coordination, Intelligence, Personality, and Willpower). There's a rather complex system to decide which of these he's best at, you may need a scratch pad to work it all out, but it combines choice and chance rather well. Next decide on Caste or social class, which determines two more talents, a skill and a story. Most people are born to their caste but there are exceptions. Story is used to build background, with snippets of your past life being used to pose questions that help develop a sense of who he is and how he came to be that way. Plenty of examples are there to help you on your way. This is followed by archetypes, again you pick (or roll for) one and gain the associated skills, talents and equipment for your character. In effect, archetype tells you what your character does. Then it gets interesting as you need to determine his nature - or why he does what he does. Step 7 of the process determines what education he got, if any. This is followed by the intriguing 'war story' - war is everywhere and however sheltered, it is unlikely to have passed your character by completely. Step 9 involves various finishing touches and Step 10 leads you through the final calculations necessary.

There's a lot to take aboard in this chapter: take your time and you'll be rewarded with very realistic and personalised characters. When all of this is done, you can settle down to determine what he's actually like - and you'd better give him a name! (There's a selection of typical names by homeland for both males and females if you're stuck.) As mentioned above, there's a quick random method of character creation as well, also ideas for alternate methods if a particular focus or style of game is preferred. These need to be discussed with the GM and if used, should be used by the whole party to maintain balance. The next chapter - Chapter 3: Skills and Talents - provides all the background details and examples of use for the various choices you will be making, then Chapter 4: Rules lays out how you turn this character-sheet full of numbers into a representation of what your character can actually do, centred around the concept of task resolution.

In the Rules chapter, we find out about the dice required - d20s and d6s - along with the notation used to show how many of what dice you should roll when and a note about the special custom dice Modiphius are marketing for this game. This is more for visual effect than anything else, regular dice will do just fine. A skills test is only needed when the character is distracted or threatened, or when there are consequences for failure - the rest of the time, you can assume success. When you do need to resolve a task, attributes as well as specific skills come into play - as always, it sounds more complex on paper than it is once you start playing and get used to it! However there are additional complexities due to how hard the task is of itself and whatever else is going on: this is stuff the GM needs to understand to set a target number for a roll. There's plenty of explanation and examples to help, though. In addition, there is an interesting mechanic called Momentum - a kind of cumulative effect that if you do well at one roll, you gain extra points to add to it or a subsequent success - your character is on a bit of a roll, so to speak. This is balanced by the GM's Doom points, which are used to throw a spanner in the works.

The next chapter is Action Scenes, which dives straight in with the turn sequence used in combat. There's a neat little note that if the players spend too much time deciding what to do, the GM should start adding points to his Doom pool as a warning... the bad guys getting an advantage due to their indecision! There's material about ambushes, distance, terrain, movement and much more - this is not solely about brawling although of course combat is important, and rightly so. Any RPG needs to provide this sort of excitement, even more when in a milieu such as this! In combat, each character has a range of actions they can undertake, and also can make a reaction to what someone else does. Again, there appears to be a huge amount to grasp here, but it becomes much clearer once you have run through a few combats.

Chapter 6: Equipment follows, with some interesting notes on money and on obtaining items by theft or violence if you don't fancy paying for them. You can even abstract 'earning' (if that's the right word) money from petty thievery if your character wants to spend time roaming a market or similar crowded place pilfering and picking pockets. There's a vast array of items large and small to purchase, as well as lists of armour and weapons.

Next, Chapter 7 deals with Sorcery. Most of the time in the Conan stories, sorcery is evil - or at least, those who practise it are. The GM might decide not to allow player characters to learn or use sorcery at all, or may limit it severely. Here, however, you can learn how it works. Essential for GMs, and recommended for players who have managed to persuade their GM to let them wield magic. There is a whole range of different things that you can learn and do, different kinds of magic even; and of course loads of spells and magical items.

This is followed by Chapter 8: The Hyborian World, which is a gazetteer of the setting. It makes for a fascinating read, whether or not you are already familiar with the setting from the stories (or past attempts to game here). It starts off with history, then goes region by region, repleat with quotes and illustrations. There's a sort of 'shorthand' relating each nation to which ancient Earth culture it's loosely based on... Ignore it! Treat them as fascinating places in their own right and let the alternate reality form in your mind. Articles about customs, heritage, and much more contribute to our understanding... it all makes you want to go there.

The last part of the book is aimed at the GM, with chapters on Gamemastering and Encounters as well as a full adventure to get you started. In Vultures of Shem the party comes across the aftermath of a battle between Shem and Khoraja and have to deal with far more than they bargained for... unspeakable horror, no less. When the action is over, there is no shortage of ideas for follow-up adventures, making it easy to use this adventure as a spring-board for an entire campaign.

Finally, there is a chapter on Heroes of the Age (fully-developed characters to use as enemies or allies), based on contributions from backers of the Kickstarter campaign that brought this work to your hands. Of course, if you are in a real rush to get playing, you can choose your character from amongst them. There's twenty-odd of them, so something will probably appeal. An index and a blank character sheet rounds out the set. If you buy the PDF, you get a selection of different character sheets and a big single-sheet map as well.

This is definitely a magnificent presentation of Conan's Hyborian World, all ready to adventure in. By Crom, I'll fetch my sword and sandals and go exploring!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book
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Robert E. Howards CONAN Roleplaying Game Quickstart
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2017 08:22:11

Opening with a brief history of Robert E. Howard's creation of Conan, interspersed with quotations from the books, this work boldly proclaims that this Conan game, unlike any of its predecessors, has been produced in collaboration with serious scholars of Howard's work and thus is closer to the original concept than any other.

Next, Chapter 2: The Hyborian Age introduces the setting, describing the nations that populate this rich setting and discussing their loose relationship with real-world history, before we move on to Chapter 3: Basic Rules. This explains enough of the game mechanics to enable you to understand the notations on the seven pre-generated characters provided, and - of course - to play the sample adventure presented here. There's a brief overview of attributes and skills, then it gets down to the detail of how they are actually used in play. This includes the concept of Complications (adverse events that happen when you roll a natural 20) and Momentum (a pool of advantage gained by achieving more successes than you need, which can be used to boost the effectiveness of what you are doing straight away or any action taken shortly thereafter... or even made available to your colleagues). The GM meanwhile accumulates Doom, to use against the party. Some examples are given to show how the system works. Cnapter 4: Action Scenes then explains how combat works. Rather confusingly (as the rest of the rules are easy to understand) a weird symbol that looks like an eagle suddenly appears, which refers to custom 'combat dice' that have been produced for this game... and are explained a few pages later. Fortunately ordinary six-sided dice will do the job just fine.

Next comes the adventure itself, To Race the Thunder. This sets the party amidst a Pictish uprising on the banks of the Thunder River near Fort Tuscelan, with plenty of opportunities to brawl as they flee to safety. Both Picts and the local wildlife will be after them as they race to warn the Fort and other settlers... and to save their own skins! It's no walk in the park, with a tough pitched battle and encounter with a Pictish shaman as a finale.

The adventure provides a bit of excitement and some good exercise (not just for the sword arm!), and should give your group a feel of the sort of action they can expect when playing this game. It does capture the rougher, more combat-oriented aspects of Conan well and bodes well for the full game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Robert E. Howards CONAN Roleplaying Game Quickstart
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The Witch: Aiséiligh Tradition for Swords & Wizardry
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/11/2017 07:47:37

This short work is a fine moulding of a traditional yet quite modern view of witchcraft into the game mechanics of Swords & Wizardry, enabling the creation and play of a witch character within the game.

There is a lot of background material crammed in, for being a witch is a lot more than learning a handful of spells and finding yourself a familiar. It's a philosophy, a religion, a way of life - and this is mirrored here, along with the necessary rules information that you'll need to create a character. The Aiséiligh Tradition puts a contemporary spin on the class, reflecting how present-day real world witches seek to re-establish and maintain former beliefs in a world that's a mix of very hidebound faiths intolerant of other beliefs and many who do not acknowledge the existence of deities at all.

There are some neat new spells, again encapsulating modern traditions yet keeping hold of the concepts that normally spring to mind when you say 'witch'... especially when you are thinking in game terms. It's interesting to read and exciting to play, especially if you enjoy getting in touch with your feminine side but see no reason for that to mean that your character is weak or subservient: these are strong yet feminine women. A nice addition to this game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Witch: Aiséiligh Tradition for Swords & Wizardry
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Book of the Smoke
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2017 08:20:18

Written completely in-character, this work is subtitled "The Investigator's Guide to Occult London" and is purportedly based on the research of the recently deceased Augustus Darcy. Perhaps, if you are using Bookhounds of London, this has turned up in your characters' bookshop. Or, in any campaign, it has come to the Investigators' attention in some manner, a useful resource if their investigations take them to London.

If you are the Keeper, a thorough study of this tome will reap great rewards in terms of local colour and the myriad ideas for plots that will spawn as you read through it. Do, however, share it with your players; let their characters consult it during the game or even let them read it at their leisure between games.

The main part is a discussion of places, an occult gazetteer. Divided into geographical areas (beginning with the Square Mile of the City of London itself), entries are then alphabetical, making it relatively easy to find the one that you want. For each location there are notes on relevant occult connections (note: occult, rather than Mythos), with frequent references to ghost sightings, inexplicable feelings or smells and the like. Much lies unexplained - and that's the fun part, any one might become the basis of one of your plots, or at least be part and parcel of it. You barely need to lay out the clues, they are here for the party to find for themselves! Period images mingle with snippets of lore at every turn.

There is also a section on various people, some historical like John Dee, others supposedly contemporary figures of the occult scene. Perhaps the Investigators will encounter them in their travels, or seek one out if their knowledge is appropriate to the matter in hand. Again, reading many of these entries suggest encounters and plots a-plenty.

As a casual read this is a fascinating work. Even if you are not a role-player, or prefer other genres of game, it makes for an entertaining read if you have an interest in occult lore or indeed if you know your way around London - if you are not near to there, you can pull up most of the locations on Google Maps! (Or if you have Bookhounds of London, the extensive 1930s London maps therein will come in handy in orienting yourself.) If you do play any Myths-related game, or one based in the 1930s or thereabouts, it becomes an invaluable in-character resource.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Book of the Smoke
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Trail of Cthulhu: Bookhounds of London
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/07/2017 08:33:26

Most Investigators are accustomed to having, in the course of their investigations, to consult the odd musty tome in the library - but have they ever wondered how they got there? The core idea of Bookhounds of London is that the party consists of book-dealers who hunt down and sell said dusty old tomes, and get dragged into dealing with what some of them cover almost by accident...

The first section, Bookhounds, is all about creating appropriate characters from somewhere in the rarified yet disreputable book-dealing world. (OK, I know it's set later and is about the Devil rather than the Mythos, but the movie The Ninth Gate keepts floating around my mind at the moment.) There are some new occupations directly engaged with the rare book trade as well as suggestions about how to twist existing ones to suit. There's also a fascinating new Ability called The Knowledge, which - similar to a London black cab driver - confers an encycopaedic knowledge of what's to be found in London and the best route to get there.

Next, a look at Bookshops. The idea is that all Bookhounds (which is what Investigators are called in this campaign) are based in and around a store, run by one of them who has taken the Bookseller occupation. There are various rules for defining stock and other such matters (if you want to go into so much detail) but the real purpose of the bookshop is as a focal point for adventures and a home base for the Bookhounds themselves. Various types are discussed, from a book-barrow under Waterloo Bridge to fancy high-end stores and high-end auction houses.

Appropriately, the next section is The Purchase of Curious Tomes. While the book trade itself is important in this type of campaign, it's not central and some groups may wish to keep it more in the background than others. The rules here enable the simulation of a thriving book store's operations without bogging down in too much detail, and there's enough terminology to make you all sound the part. For those too young to remember 'old' British money, a complex system ditched in 1971 in favour of the decimal system in use today, there are notes on that, although it's suggested that you abstract rather than getting too bogged down in your pounds, shillings and pence. Estate sales, auctions... complete with dramatic rules for auctions when you want to play one out.

Next come Libraries. The sort we are interested in here don't lend, you have to go there - and be allowed in - if you wish to consult their books. Even when you have gained admittance, the sort of books that interest us here may be on restricted access. Several suitable libraries in London are described, with notes on how to get in and the books to be found there... and then of course we have the Books Themselves, beginning with physical details and then moving on to notes on the different kinds of occult works to be found. Sample genuine historical occult books are listed for some local colour, before moving on to Mythos Tomes with again a few examples.

We then leave the books aside, with a massive section on Thirties London. There's loads of flavour text to help you get a feel of it, with rumours and contacts galore. Different sections of London are outlined, and it makes for a fascinating read never mind a useful resource. The survey is followed by a section on The London Mythos which discusses cults and individuals, complete with plot hooks and other notes to get them mixed up in the stories that you have to tell. Many call upon monsters, so the next section is London's Monsters. Each comes with copious notes to make them easy to use when the need arises.

Then comes the strange magick of Megapolisomancy. This weird art uses the city itself to cause change to occur in accordance with will - it may be something you can study like other arcane arts or perhaps it is used insinctively by those steeped in a city's lore. The extensive material here will let you incorporate it into your game: whether you let the party use it or reserve it for NPCs is up to you.

Now to practical matters with a section on Running a Bookhounds Campaign. There are plenty of styles to conjure with here, read through and decide what will suit the group and the stories you have to tell best. Ideas about, enough to spawn several campaigns... and that's before we reach the NPCs. There are example bookstores, complete with owners, staff and their own bookhounds, as well as individuals of interest. Even if you don't want to run a Bookhounds campaign, these could come in useful if more regular Investigators want to interact with them during the course of their adventures. These NPCs come with a range of options, shaded to suit the style and needs of your campaign: customise them to your heart's content.

The discussion then moves on to Scenarios. Like any other for this game, they provide a series of encounters and clues that lead to an horrifying glimpse of the Mythos lurking just beyond the ken of normal folk, occult mysteries revealed. Structure and pacing are discussed, mechanical tools that if used during the design process ensure that the whole thing stays on track and delivers suitable horror-laced entertainment to your group. Use maps liberally to give a feeling of location and with liberal use of plot hooks, character-driven adventures, and contacts you will soon be up and running. As an example, there's a whole adventure, Whitechapel Black-Letter, to get you going. There may be a book at its core, but this scenario provides scope for plenty of action as well!

Appropriately for a book about books, there is an extensive bibliography in back, along with some floorplans. Perhaps the Mythos is loose in the Palace of Westminster (home of the British Parliament), or there are clues to be found in the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum or even London Zoological Gardens. The Tower of London, the Victoria and Albert Museum (the Vic and Al, as it's known to locals) or the British Museum itself might contain that for which you seek. There are plenty more maps as well, street maps of most of London (I can even find the street where I grew up!), plenty for your group to explore. Various forms and appendices round this work off.

Not only does this provide a very novel slant to adventuring, there's the tremendous resource of London laid out for you whatever you want to do there, and an inside look at the book trade that provides the tomes your Investigators (be they Bookhounds or not) find themselves pouring over. And there's a cracking adventure to boot!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Bookhounds of London
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Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Dead White World
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/07/2017 08:28:50

This book contains the first three adventures of a twelve-part campaign, Cthulhu Apocalypse that presents an horrific end-time in which life on earth is almost wiped out to be replaced by Mythos creatures. Only the Investigators stand in the way of utter disaster...

Five pre-generated Investigators are provided (in somewhat narrative form, best to transfer them to regular character sheets before giving them out), or players may create their own. Some advice for certain aspects of the characters is given. Everyone starts on a train going to Dover, with many intending to go to a wedding there. Next, the supporting cast of NPCs is listed, with brief notes and ideas for how to role-play them effectively including mannerisms and style of speech. This preparatory section also includes some notes on game mechanics specific to this campaign. One neat trick is that along with a hook, each adventure begins with a question. It is suggested that this question is read out to the group, giving direction as to what they ought to be investigating.

The first adventure is Dead White World, which begins with a train journey, is punctuated by an earthquake, and ends up with a large proportion of the world's population dead or dying. The question, unsurprisingly, is What caused this apocalypse. Opening with the Investigators regaining consciouness and realising that the train they were travelling in has crashed, they are soon plunged into an eerie world where everyone that they find is already dead. And there are these strange white flowers everywhere...

Rather oddly, after leading the Investigators around Dover as they try to find out what is going on, the final clues are to be found on a ship. Yet the adventure ends with them back on land and finding a Royal Mail van... there's no hint about how to get them on shore (more earthquakes and the cliffs falling into the sea never mind what else is going on is, to my mind, an invitation to seek sea room not return to the land), yet that's where the next adventure begins.

The next adventure is Letters From Ghosts and revolves around letters from recently deceased friends and family of the Investigators that are found in the aforementioned Royal Mail van. How did they get there? That's the question. The entire clue chain comes over as rather forced and requires the Investigators to take a precise series of actions to end up where it is intended that they should go. On the plus side, there is a marvellous opportunity to mess with your Investigators' heads. Use it to full effect. It's all really a bit strange, even given the overall premise, but persevere: there are clues to be found and places to visit, even survivors to meet... ultimately Blackpool, the setting for the third adventure.

The final adventure in this book (remember there are more to come in the campaign) is Sandgrown. The earlier clues have led the Investigators to believe that they have to go to Blackpool to stop an invasion - the question being, how? Here, they find some more folk who have survived so far (or have they?) and eventually, after a few mind-blowing sights, discover the awful truth of the one way in which they can stop the invasion.

The whole thing is a slightly uneasy mix of very little direction yet expecting the Investigators to go to specific places and take an interest in particular things. The underlying concept is excellent if a bit final. The world as you knew it has most definitely ended, there's no changing that. Resources are good, and there are some really inventive ideas here. With the right group, you could have an epic and memorable campaign on your hands.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Dead White World
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Trail of Cthulhu: Not So Quiet
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/02/2017 08:00:24

This is a one-off scenario, with pre-generated characters provided, set in a military hospital located just behind the lines in Belgium during the First World War. It's written as a purist adventure, but if you prefer to go a bit more pulp some ideas are provided to enable you to run it in that style.

There's some background that explains what is going on at the hospital, then it's on with the action, with the opening scene being in an ambulance convoy heading towards the hospital. Those characters who are injured and who will become patients at the hospital should determine with the Keeper what wounds they have and how they acquired them, this can be dealt with in a flashback scene (which may be held in reserve by the Keeper to be run at a dramatically-appropriate moment). For those who have been posted to the hospital, likely as medical staff, there's a slightly calmer introductory scene... but everyone ends up in the same ambulance convoy, although they do not know each other at this point. Then it comes under fire...

Assuming they survive the attack, everyone arrives at the hospital. It's pretty chaotic. Injured characters will have to be assessed and assigned to wards, those who have come to work here need to report in and be assigned their duties. There's also a rather excitable chaplain to deal with. From then on in it is a case of trying to figure out what is going on, with a host of NPCs to get to grips with, and various events and encounters as they figure out what is happening and how it can be halted.

Designed for a single evening's play it has the scope to be intense and highlight how even worse war can become if the Mythos gets mixed in. However, the mix of characters provided may not be ideal - it's hard to see how they will gel into a team - and an endnote suggests possible solutions mostly based on creating your own characters. Intended as a one-off, there are no thoughts for a follow-up - although it might possibly be used as a 'prequel' to a regular game: this is where the Investigators met and first encountered Things That Should Not Be, then skip ten years or so and they meet again to commence their adventuring careers.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Not So Quiet
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The Terror of Tumbledown - Game Pack
Publisher: 0one Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/01/2017 12:38:54

This game pack contains all you need (apart from players and dice) to run the adventure The Terror of Tunbledown, comprising the adventure itself, detailed floorplans and a collection of counters to use with the miniatures-sized floorplans.

The adventure itself is set in a partially ruined and seemingly abandoned manor house in a bleak semi-wilderness location that has an evil reputation. It starts off with a detailed background that begins ten years ago when new owners moved into Tumbledown Manor... and ends with the place in flames due to the unspeakable practices of its now late (or so it is believed) owner. Now his widow is distraught at the disappearance of her daughter and the local villagers hire the party to investigate...

Interestingly, an alternate background is provided for those who prefer even more convoluted plots - if you want something more complex than the basic "clean out the manor and rescue the girl" of the core plot, this adds a neat twist (which I must say did actually occur to me when I read the background, maybe I'm naturally devious!). There are also plenty of rumours flying around, some of which might even be true!

The adventure consists of the exploration of the manor house, and dealing with whatsoever can be found there. Needless to say, plenty of opportunistic wildlife and monsters have moved in to the ruins. Delightfully, the notes for many encounters with the newcomers cover not just their tactics when the party arrives, but potential developments - often things that could lead to completely new adventures in the future. The exploration is freeform - the party can take whatever route they please through the ruins - but time and tide wait for no man, and some locations differ depending on how quickly they reach them, making for a setting that has a life of its own over and above interactions with the party.

The climax of the adventure is suitably dramatic and the party gets the opportunity not just to rescue the girl but to do so in suitably cinematic style. A fitting conclusion... and there are plenty of notes to help you with the aftermath, whether they succeed or fail, including suggestions for further adventures. There are also notes on new monsters introduced in this adventure.

OK, that's the adventure. The floorplans are presented in standard 0one Games style, with the 'Rule the Dungeon' customisation options, although when running this adventure you'll want to leave Furniture enabled, so as to have all the debris described in the room descriptions present.

The counters provided depict the main NPCs including a couple of the monsters and some zombies and skeletons as well, although not every critter the party is likely to meet is there. Fortunately there are plenty of blanks on which you can draw (or write the name of) anything else you want a counter for. They can be used on the map tiles with your party's miniatures (or then can use blank counters if they don't have miniatures) if you enjoy a graphic display of combat.

The adventure makes for a fun and cinematic delve (especially if you use the alternate plot!), and it is well-resourced so that you can pretty well play it straight out of the box (well, ZIPfile).



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Terror of Tumbledown - Game Pack
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Dance in the Blood
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/31/2017 08:20:19

More terror stalks Britian in what is the author's third purist adventure. The introduction soon explains the dreadful truth that underlies the plot, one that involves the Investigators personally. Neatly, it doesn't matter if you are using the pre-generated characters provided or your players produce their own - the way it is set up enables you to accommodate either option. If players actually like their own characters, though, it is probably best to run this as a one-off. If they want to take the third path and create their own charaters specifically for this adventure, a few requirements are laid out. Indeed, Investigators who don't meet those requirements probably won't work very well in this adventure.

There's a neat twist to the Stability rules for Investigators going insane, that turns matters over to the players and makes it almost pleasurable to go round the bend. This will work best for those players who enjoy role-playing mental issues making it almost a competition to see who goes mad first, but other groups may find that they prefer the traditional approach of attempting to cling on to their sanity while the Keeper tries to chip it away (even if they do enjoy role-playing the almost inevitable madness). Take a look and choose what will work best for your game.

The main NPCs are listed, with brief notes and advice on role-playing them (particularly useful if you like to act out a bit - voices, gestures and the like - when speaking as that character). Then the adventure itself starts with the Investigators gathering in an hotel in the Lake District, not knowing each other and mostly a bit baffled about why they have even come there... then they see the photograph. That alone should rock them back on their heels, but it is only the beginning. Strange dreams, events, encounters... and no matter what their Stability score says, they will probably feel that they are going mad.

There are a few handouts - notes to be found and a crude sketchmap of the area - but that's about it. Note that with the pre-generated characters, you'll have to transfer them to a character sheet, they are presented in a narrative style which would make it fairly difficult to cut them out and distribute them amongst the players.

This is possibly the most purist adventure I have read. It ends with the Investigators facing a stark choice and an inevitable doom. It won't suit some folks, but if you are ready to embrace some mind-numbing horror that fair sends shivers up your spine... try this one cold, dark night.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Dance in the Blood
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Black Drop
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/30/2017 07:43:42

Cabable of working well in both purist or pulp modes (or a combination of both) this adventure is set in the remote Kerguelen archipelago (far south in the Indian ocean), which is just about to be abandoned. Oddly, just as the settlers depart, a German expedition arrives with mysterious purpose... and what lurks there, in the bleak rocks?

The background explains all for the Keeper and lays out the terrible choice facing the Investigators. You may decide to keep this as a one-off, or notes are provided if you prefer to weave it into an existing campaign (but bear in mind that this adventure may well be the party's last if you do). Pre-generated characters are provided and they are, of course, all embedded into the story. If you are using your own characters, assorted reasons for why they might be there are provided.

The adventure itself begins on the voyage to the Kerguelen Islands, and there's plenty of interaction to be had (and clues to be picked up) before the ship arrives there... and a bleak, cold and unwelcoming place it is, too. Everyone is dropped off, their ship has other matters to attend to and will be back to pick them up in a couple of weeks. There's a flurry of activity with the last few settlers packing up, the German expedition turns up having lost one of their number and again there are plenty of opportunities for interaction and to find yet more clues... and then things begin to go wrong. Murder and arson are the least of it...

The Investigators will be able to wander the main island pretty much as they please: there's plenty to be found... and a fair bit going on. And eventually they will find... well, the climax involves a dark and dreadful deity, cultists hell-bent on restoring his power and even greater fanatics trying to stop it. Anyone not ending up a sacrifice or in some other way dead will be very lucky indeed.

There's a wonderful sense of bleakness and approaching menace, a creepy cinematic atmosphere that thickens with every moment. NPC notes, handouts, a couple of photos of wildlife, and maps of the islands (and a ship plan) help you keep on top of everything and create a chilling adventure that will live long in the players' minds (there's a good chance that their characters won't survive to remember anything, though)... and all under the threat that if that deity isn't stopped things look bad for the entire world.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Black Drop
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The Spirit of the White Wyvern - Game Pack
Publisher: 0one Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2017 10:12:43

Working like a 'mini-bundle' product, this 'game pack' provides everything that you need to play The Spirit of the White Wyvern adventure: you get the adventure itself, a set of floorplans for the White Wyvern Inn in which it takes place, and a set of counters of the main NPCs which you can use on your floorplans during play.

First, the adventure. It's a location-based adventure, the location in question being the White Wyvern Inn, situated with an eye to the travelling (and adventuring) community about a day's journey from anywhere... you pick a suitable place in your campaign world. The adventure is not just based in the inn, it is built around the very fabric of the place, and provides opportunities for those who wish to exercise their brains and their role-playing abilities, as well as their sword-arms.

It begins with some extensive background, some of which can be explained to the characters as events unfold, some of which they might find out for themselves... and some of which they may never know, but which make for a rich experience as you use the whole to good effect as the game proceeds.

It is left to you to arrange for the characters to be in the White Wyvern Inn. Perhaps they're 'passing trade' or they may have been sent for deliberately... because the landlord has a bit of a problem. A ghost that haunts the taproom, playing the organ and entertaining the patrons, even acting as bouncer when people get a bit rowdy. But it has a disquieting habit of possessing someone mid-evening and declaiming a monologue in their voice, leaving them unharmed it is fair to say, but not everyone is happy about it and so the landlord has decided that the spook must go. Can the characters help?

Naturally, there's plenty else going on, even if the task of discovering how to ensure that the ghost goes to its rest was not enough. There's a whole cast of well-detailed characters each with their own distinct personality, agenda and set actions for the night - picking their way through what everyone is up to will provide plenty to keep your characters busy, never mind attending to their ghost-busting duties. Some may attack, some will try to enlist the characters' aid in their own schemes... and should you wish to make this an integral part of an ongoing campaign, rather than a one-night stand, much can be used to foreshadow further adventures.

The Inn itself naturally plays a starring role, and is described in loving detail, and referencing the original mapset if you have it. There's a decent-size map for the GM to work from, and this relates to the full set of floorplans also included in this Game Pack.

After all this, background and maps and room descriptions and all, we actually reach the adventure itself. On page 8, there it is, the 'read aloud' text to introduce the characters to what you have in store for them - must be one of the longest introductions I've read in a long time! Once launched by their arrival, events move at a cracking pace with plenty of detail about what the NPCs are doing and how they will react to whatever the characters get up to. Everything is presented in two parts - there are the 'location' based events that will take place whenever the characters go to the stated location, and the 'timed' sequence of events that will take place at the appropriate time wherever the characters have got to... all melding together to create a vivid alternate reality that should come to life around your characters.

As for the floorplans themselves, the artwork is clean and crisp, with well-detailed rooms... even to the extent of showing the layout in the privy, never mind the rooms in which characters might need to move around, brawl, and so forth. The usual 0one 'Rule the Dungeon' feature allows you to set various parameters such as square grid, hex grid or none; amount of 'fill' in walls; presence or absence of furniture or doors and the like. Printing out the map tiles (after you have chosen your settings) provides an excellent visual reference for your players as the adventure unfolds.

The collection of counters enables the main NPCs to turn up on the map just where you need them, scaled to work with the bases of conventional minitures if that's what your group uses. If preferred, there are plenty of blank counters which you can mark up to indicate party members or anyone else you decide is there. There's even a 'bag' to put them in, although it doesn't actually work very well - it's the thought that counts! The bag and the fact that the set doesn't have a proper 'face-on' cover to print out for the front of the box of folder you store everything in are about the only disappointing things... otherwise, you have a cracking little location-based adventure with a lot crammed in, full of excitement and with all the resources to run it well. Drop this in somewhere suitable, tweak events a little to fit your own campaign, and it could become a momentous and memorable part of the story you and your players are creating together.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Spirit of the White Wyvern - Game Pack
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Threads of the Orb Weaver
Publisher: 0one Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/28/2017 12:34:32

0one Games are building a loosely-connected series of adventures in a corner of the Eerie Woods - which can be placed anywhere suitable in your campaign world, to mix in seamlessly with anything else you have going on. Everything is designed so that it is easy - references to 'a nearby kingdom' for example.

We start off with some background, telling of a hitherto respectable scholar who went a bit off the rails after finding an artefact... add in that since his death many folk have ransacked his manor house in search of said artefact and we have a familiar story. Fortunately before he went totally strange, he left a sketch of the artefact at the religious academy where he had been working which has just turned up... and the clerical-scholars would like some brave adventurers to go and see what they can find. They've already sent an apprentice to look the place over, but he was chased away by 'giant spiders' and unfortunately he ended up dead in an alley with a crossbow bolt in his back, so the party won't be able to speak with him...

A few hooks are provided to help you get the party involved. Once they've been hired the scholars invite them to a meeting where they explain pretty much all of the backstory and show them the sketch, then it's off to Spiderhaunt Manor to start their investigations. The actual journey is left to you to arrange, although there are a few rumours that can be picked up along the way. The Manor itself is a bit of a mess, earthquakes have reduced it to ruins, but there still are places to explore which are described and mapped for you to make running the investigation easy.

There's a villain to this piece, and he is described in detail. Shall we say he's found the artefact and made headway in learning how to use it...? This gives rise to a cinematic climax with the party racing to rescue a sacrificial victim before the final stage in the artefact's activation can occur.

In some ways the adventure is quite basic, but there are lots of little touches that make it come to life and add drama to the proceedings. The plans provided are definitely 'DM eyes only' and thought could be given to providing some player versions to lay in front of them to help them picture the scene. There's also the odd spelling mistake that a good proof-read ought to have caught. But don't be put off, if you have a suitable level party eager for a bit of action this should keep them happily occupied - provided they are not scared of spiders!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Threads of the Orb Weaver
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Trail of Cthulhu: Castle Bravo
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/27/2017 08:46:40

This adventure is set in 1954, rather more modern than most of Trail of Cthulhu, and it sets the Investigators as sailors and scientists off on a cruise to watch an atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll. Needless to say, after the first test shot in the series, strange things begin to happen and it's up to the party to save themselves and their ship... if they can! As this is likely to be a one-off adventure, pre-generated characters are provided.

There's no real need for a hook, the Investigators are aboard the ship whether they like it or not. There's a backstory that explains just what is going on, and then the pre-generated characters are presented. There are six (a naval helicopter pilot, a meteorologist, a naval chaplain, a medically-qualified research scientist, the ship's master-at-arms, and a corpsman) although it's recommended that the adventure works best with four players. They are presented in narrative format, so it's probably worth transferring them to character sheets before the game. Then it's on to the adventure...

This begins very early in the morning (it's still dark) with the ship on station 38 miles from the test site, about five minutes before the test shot is scheduled to take place. The Investigators can get to know one another and key NPCs at this time. Neatly, each character has a personal chunk of 'background knowledge' which it is suggested that you hand out at this time. A map of the area and a basic blocky plan of the ship are provided to help everyone get orientated. There's also quite a lot of scene-setting detail so those unused to naval operations can get the feel of it, and know where and who the important individuals (like senior officers) are. Then the bomb goes off...

There are real-world issues to deal with as a matter of urgency, but that's not all what with spooky visions and several crew members behaving oddly. There's lots going on and as time progresses it gets weirder and weirder. Investigators who retain their health and their marbles will be kept busy. Saving the day - at least as far as the world in general is concerned - may require drastic measures... and there is a remarkabky eerie ending if they fail!

This adventure has atmosphere and mounting horror in spades and could make an excellent movie, it's pretty cinematic. In style, it's mostly 'purist' but with a bunch of military around might trend towards 'pulp' depending on character actions. It's definitely a stand-alone adventure, but one to be relished to the full.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Castle Bravo
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Trail of Cthulhu: Arkham Detective Tales Extended Edition
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/26/2017 08:26:12

This work provides a campaign outline in which the Investigators are associated in some way with law enforcement, and who find themselves investigating crimes that have Mythos undertones... but opens with a delightful description of the author's first ever Call of Cthulhu game, on the back of which he advises that if you have a pile of clues and an even bigger pile of bodies, it's best to work out what is going on before some hideous and unspeakable monster eats you!

The first section discusses the campaign framework itself. Law enforcement in New York state (and the FBI) have become aware that some of the cases that come up have more to them than mere criminal acts, and as the Investigators (be they sworn agents or private detectives... or whoever else you think might work with the police on such matters) have proven themselves quite good at this sort of thing, they get consulted on a regular basis. This of course has advantages and disadvantages: the Investigators have the full power of the law on their side, but they also have to answer for their actions. The campaign is intended to start out in and around New York and the surrounding states, but as the FBI realises how good the Investigators are at such difficult cases, they may find themselves being sent all over the country.

In style, the campaign owes much to the 'film noir' aspects of 1930s detective thrillers although underlying it there is much of the 'purist' approach (at least, in the four adventures provided - if you add your own material to expand the campaign it can, of course, adopt whatever style your group prefers). However, the main focus of each case is to unravel the mystery and put a stop to whatever is going on, so while there are plenty of moments of personal horror, there's the satisfaction of keeping the public safe, putting a more optomistic spin on things than a strictly 'purist' style might dictate. There are some outline ideas for suitable Investigators and a couple of recurrent NPCs (an FBI agent and the Commissioner of the NYPD).

So, on to the adventures themselves. The first is 'The Kidnapping' and starts off with the abduction of a child. As usual, there's a whole lot more going on than the kidnapping of a small child of wealthy parents (for ransom, presumably) and indeed there are TWO parallel spines of investigation: one concerns rescuing the child and bringing the kidnappers to book, the other involves discovering the Mythos-related background to the crime which involves competing sorcerers and underground tribes of strange creaturs. There's a wealth of background material, people to talk to and clues to discover (some, of course, are red herrings), and however the party wishes to investigate the matter you have the resources to give them the answers that they seek. This is a thumping good adventure on several levels... and there are two more to come!

The next adventure is 'Return to Red Hook' - referencing a Lovecraft story The Horror at Red Hook, the Red Hook in question being a run-down area of Brooklyn where a minor cult flourished in the 1920s. It all begins with a young lady who is looking for her brother, who has gone missing. He'd apparently been researching past events in Red Hook for a book. Again, nothing can be taken on face value. The Keeper will benefit from reading Lovecraft's tale as it does contribute to the backstory for this adventure, one strand of investigation includes looking at the history of the cult as well as the more obvious stuff like looking into who the missing fellow is and what he was up to... and did the cult really get wiped out in the 1920s? Plenty of excitement to be had here as well, what with strange monsters in the moonlight, extradimensional gates and more...

Then comes the adventure 'The Book' and focusses on Things Man Was Not Meant To Know... with a book that is decidely not recommended bedtime reading. It all begins with a couple of gruesome murders, the victims do not seem connected at all except by the horrible way in which they were done in. The reason behind the killings is genuinely surprising, moreover as well as a serial killer there are other forces at play. Just surviving this adventure is a minor triumph in itself, actually solving it and dealing with the problem puts the party into the most skillful category of investigators. Again, there are loads of people to talk to and locations to visit, with clues galore to be found. The investigation is quite wide-ranging, and of course any Investigator who finds that book might decide to read it...

The final adventure is 'The Wreck' which begins with a tramp steamer being found drifting outside New York harbour with a dead man at the helm. There is a flashback scene that puts the players as crew members on the ship being killed off one by one before the adventure proper begins - whilst it's good as sheer horror in its own right I find it a bit of a distraction and prefer not to use it. Once the investigation proper starts, there's a plan of the ship and resources to allow a cabin by cabin exploration in suitably creepy style, very atmospheric. Other flashbacks are triggered by what is to be found: use these ones, it will help the Investigators feel their sanity slipping away... There is plenty of scope for investigations on land as well, monsters to beat off and much, much more to keep everyone busy. It's impressive just how many threads there are to follow up, each amply resourced so that there are no moments of panic when an Investigator decides to explore a different angle out of the blue. Another cracker of an adventure.

Whilst the adventures are pretty much self-contained, there is a bunch of handouts at the back. PDF users can print them out, if you have the book you can photocopy them or they are available on the Pelgrane Press website to download.

Overall, this is an outstanding mini-campaign with four excellent adventures and a slightly different approach - the 'police procedural' style - which works very well with players ready and willing to accept the constraints involved.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Arkham Detective Tales Extended Edition
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Keepers' Screen and Resource Book
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/24/2017 07:52:15

This product consists of two parts, a cardstock screen and a substantial (68-page) resource book aimed at the Keeper (GM) - it's good to see that traditional term coined by Call of Cthulhu for the GM has been retained. We'll look at the Keeper's Resource Book first.

The Introduction begins by speaking about Keeper preparation. Trail of Cthulhu is a game that benefits from careful advance plotting... yet it can also be played in a more improvisational style by those Keepers who feel comfortable making things up on the fly. This product is designed to support both styles of play, however reading the book in advance seems a good idea even if only so you know what's available for you to refer to mid-game if you favour the improvisational mode! If you prefer to prepare, reading it should provide plenty of inspiration and ideas to inform your planning. It should be studied in conjunction with a knowledge of the Investigators, as it contains additional information about the nature of occupations and the uses of abilities, along with all manner of historical tidbits to weave into your stories for that authentic 1930s feel.

We start by dealing with Abilities. These are divided into investigative abilities and general ones. Each entry covers aspects of its use in the 1930s and more ways for it to be utilsed in play. These include ways in which it can be used and sample clues that could be aimed at an Investigator who has that particular ability. Mechanically, there are special benefits that may be given to an Investigator who has used that ability successfully, these take the shape of favours earned, or even extra points to use in further die rolls in appropriate areas. These are suggestions, use them 'as is' or as ideas to come up with your own benefits. Delightful historical and informative snippets are included as well as a list of crimes and their definitions as used in 1930s America that most Investigators are bound to fall foul of at some point... let's hope the police are not around!

The next section does much the same for Occupations. Here we learn of the state of each profession or trade in the 1930s, and there are suggestions for the sort of contacts a practitioner might have as well as the things that they might do on a day-to-day basis (particularly useful when an Investigator has kept his 'day job').

Then comes a section on NPCs. This provides some fifty NPCs ready-made for you to use as appropriate. Each entry describes the character, gives a short list of relevant stats, and then describes three thngs about the character's mannerisms, habits, or speech that can help you portray that NPC in a memorable fashion. The first twenty are provided with a series of hooks you can use to make them a long-running feature of your campaign, the others are intended to be more 'bit-part' players, used as and when it suits the story. There's all sorts here from thugs and henchmen to law enforcement and ministers of religion, shopkeepers and sportsmen... just about anything you might need.

Finally there is a Sanity and Stability Rules Summary. This will help you, mechanically at least, with the all-important task of reducing your Investigators to gibbering, drooling wrecks.

And the screen itself? A solid three-panel screen with an interesting illustration on the players' side and a wealth of useful charts for quick reference on your side. Of course, if you're buying the PDF, you need to supply the card yourself, but you get to stick both illustrations and charts onto it to make a screen. If it gets damaged, make a new one.

Overall a very useful resource for any Keeper. No, you don't need it, but it certainly helps with creating the right background atmosphere of the 1930s and spawns plenty of ideas...



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Keepers' Screen and Resource Book
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