originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/11/04/tabletop-review-lux-in-tenebras-a-light-in-the-darkness-call-of-cthulhu/
Lux In Tenebras is a supplement for Chaosium’s Cthulhu Invictus setting. Both books place players smack dab in the middle of the Roman Empire with the Cthulhu Mythos thrown in for good measure. It’s a great concept but unfortunately I’ve never had the chance to flip through Cthulhu Invictus, making Lux In Tenebras my first encounter with this particular setting. I was happy to see that Lux in Tenebras can be used, even without Cthulhu Invictus as it provides enough information and adventures for a Keeper to go off of.
Lux in Tenebras packs eleven different items into its 81 pages (including both covers). Now not everything here will be used by the Keeper or players that pick this up, as it all depends on how a particular group games. Still, there’s a lot of nice material in here and it’s worth doing a breakdown of each component.
First up is “Roman Slang,” which is exactly what you might think. It’s a list of Latin phrases and sayings that can be used to add flavor to an adventure. You get both the Latin saying along with a translation and, in some cases, a bit of background behind the phrase. It’s cute, but I can’t see too many gamers using this unless all know Latin to some degree. Generally the only time I use my own French, Japanese or Chinese when running a campaign is when an NPC is from one of those countries and they lapse into their native language (generally from insanity). Since the entire game for a Roman campaign would have everyone already speaking Latin (at least in-character) , throwing in the odd Latin phrase doesn’t help that much. This section doesn’t really work for a more modern campaign either, as they are all adages. This might have been more useful to have cryptic phrases that might be found in the diary of a madman or Mythos worshipper. Still, it’s neat even if not very useful.
“Victus Est” gives us five new professions (think character classes for those new to Call of Cthulhu. They are some pretty interesting options like Bathhouse Attendant, Bodyguard, Courier, Publican and Writer. Courier is my favorite of the five as it has a great set of skills, a nice bonus to Ride and you get a horse to start. Remember that in Call of Cthulhu, it’s the slowest character that dies first and with a horse, you’re sure to be faster than everyone on foot. Heigh-ho Silver, away!
“Crime and Punishment” is an overview of the Roman court and its legal system. Although I don’t think anyone wants to actual run a full length trial for their troupe of players, it is helpful to know what was and was not legal back in the days of Ancient Rome. The bit on court proceedings is a bit dull, but I have to admit to being perversely interested in the punishments. At least I now know how to properly sentence players to fates such as “maiming by animals” or “thrown from the Tarpeian
Rock.” This is probably the section that will be the most polarizing in the book as you’ll either find it boring or fascinating. Hell, I found it both at once.
“And They’re Off” gives us rules for chariot racing and/or driving. Again, this is a neat idea and I enjoyed reading the rules for it. The downside is that it’s not something that will be used very often, even in a Cthulhu Invictus campaign. Trying to get your players into a chariot race for a MacGuffin or the like is going to almost always come off convoluted. Now if a player character IS a chariot racer, that’s a whole other story. The other downside is that it is VERY roll oriented as opposed to roleplay oriented which always feels out of place in a Call of Cthulhu game. I enjoyed reading the rules and it’s very well done; it’s just not something I can see being used very often.
Next we have EIGHT adventures, which make up the meat of the book. The first is called “Misplaced Purity.” This adventure’s plot hook is about keeping a Vestal Virgin from well…losing her virginity. This might sound odd in 2011 but the punishment for a Vestal Virgin losing their virginity is to be buried alive while the man she lost it to is executed, it’s understandable why this is something to be prevented. Of course in Call of Cthulhu, nothing is as straightforward as it seems. In this case one of the pair turns out to be a cultist for a Cthulhu Mythos creature. “Misplaced Purity” is a quick and simple adventure that makes for a nice introduction to the game or an Invictus campaign. Long time players might find it to be too shallow or simplistic however. It’s not very creepy or scary either. It’s not something I’d run but again, it works as a decent intro to both the setting and CoC rules in general.
The next adventure is “On a Lonely Road.” This adventure has the Investigators acting as couriers to deliver a message to an astrologer named Durius. Unfortunately, when they arrive at his home, it turns out Durius has been missing for a week. Now it is up to the investigators to find out what happened to him. What follows is an encounter with Byakhee and perhaps a trip to Carcosa. I’m generally a sucker for anything involving the Yellow Sign, but it just didn’t seem to work in a Roman setting and I kind hate the retcon of it being used before the time period Robert Chambers set it in. Other than that, this is another very simple adventure that involves a small trail of clues coupled with a fight scene for the climax. There’s not much substance here, but again it works as a short intro to the CoC system.
The third of the five adventures is “Vinea Perversa.” This is kind of an interesting one as it revolves around a bottle of wine that somehow turned a party filled with good friends into a pier six brawl with many left wounded or dead. It’s up to your investigators to figure out what exactly caused the melee. It turns out the secret ingredient is…ew, Dark Young milk. Like the previous two adventures, “Vinea Perversa” is short and linear, but it does pose a grave threat to the players as there are a LOT of Mythos creatures in this one, all of which want to kill the Investigators to some degree.
“Dream of Atlantis” revolves around a cursed statue that makes drives people insane by making them obsess over the lost city of Atlantis. This adventure is the longest of the four short ones and it is the most like a normal Call of Cthulhu adventure as there is detective work to be had over a series of (in-game) nights. There’s no real combat to be had here, which is always a plus with a CoC session and it’s definitely the best of the bunch. I’d use this as the tie between any of the first three (which act as intros to the CoC system) and the fifth one.
“Naufractus”, “Mystery in Sardinia”, and “The Dread Idol” are the last three adventures in Lux In Tenebras. They are the best written but they are also the adventures I have the most problems with. You see they are tie-ins for another, separate Miskatonic River Press products, The Legacy of Arrius Lurco. This means to use these three adventures to their full potential, you need to spend an extra $22-$30 on a separate book as well as the main Call of Cthulhu book. That comes off a bit shady to me, but the good news is that you can play all three of these as standalones or even as a mini campaign of their own rather than having to buy both books (although you would get a seven adventure campaign that way).
“Naufractus” involves a Siren. As we all know Sirens are adept are luring sailors to their watery grave and this one is no exception. It’s up to the Investigators to take her down. The catch is, she’s got a small militia of Deep Ones helping her out. The adventure plays out in three sections: the first involves having a grand old time aboard a luxury ship until three nearly dead and waterlogged people are found adrift in the ocean. The second part involves going to the island where the players are told the remaining survivors are at, only to have the ship destroyed by the siren. The third part involves the Investigators trying to survive on the island long enough for help to reach them. Of course if the Investigators don’t do something about the siren, the rescuers will be in need of rescue themselves… Part four involves the escape attempt from the island along with a lot of combat (for a CoC adventure). It’s a very original CoC adventure and it is a wonderfully blend of Roman folklore and Lovecraftia.
“Mystery in Sardinia” is both a direct sequel to “Naufractus” and The Legacy of Arrius Lurco. This adventure assumes you were able to save the life of a specific NPC in “Naufractus.” This time around the particular NPC has inherited A HAUNTED PLANTATION. That’s not something you generally see outside of Dixie, and it’s almost assuredly not what players will be expected. Yes, the adventure falls to some ghost story and Lovecraftian tropes, but it’s a very well done adventure. In fact, it turns out the plantation isn’t haunted by ghosts after all, but something perhaps far worse. It’s a very cute adventure with room for a lot of padding and side quests if the Keeper wants to throw some in.
The final adventure in the book is, “The Dread Idol,” which is a continuation of “Mystery in Sardinia.” It takes place a week after MiS. It appears that even after you vanquished a horde of monsters, there’s STILL something wrong with the land. This time it turns out that an idol belonging to a Great Old One remains on the property…somewhere. When it is accidentally uncovered, the Investigators are transported to Venus where they must fight in alien gladiatorial combat against Martians and then a rip off of “The Most Dangerous Game” if they wish to return home. I have to say that this was my least favorite adventure of the eight and it was a bad note to end the actual content on. Not only because it shot off into the realm of Sci-Fi instead of Cthulhu B.C., but it was too combat heavy. This thing felt about as far from a Call of Cthulhu adventure as it gets and it left a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t recommend this adventure at all.
With twenty-four pages left, the book is filled with character sheets, both blank or with pre-generated characters. Three of those pages are filled with background information on the pregens, but that still means a four of the book are character sheets. That’s just ludicrous to me and it’s space that could have been better served with actual content instead of fluff.
Overall, I’m disappointed with Lux In Tenebras. It’s a bit overpriced as you’re only getting 81 pages of content for $19.95. Compare that to something like Shadows over Scotland which has the same price tag but it 288 pages and is a full campaign setting with adventures rather than a supplement and it’s hard to recommend this for the cost of the PDF. As well, the content is interesting and quite good at times, but almost all of it is too niche to recommend to a general RPG fan or even a Call of Cthulhu regular unless they and their friends are willing to invest a lot of time and money into a Cthulhu Invictus campaign. After all they’ll need the main COC handbook, Cthulhu Invictus, this and potentially The Legacy of Arrius Lurco as well just to make proper use of this. Again, there is some neat stuff here, but the price point should be lower for what you are