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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!



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[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.



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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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Trail of Cthulhu Player's Guide
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2017 08:23:08

Released as a PDF-only product, this work puts all the information a PLAYER needs into his hands, whilst excising all of the GM-related material in the core rulebook. It has an advantage in being cheaper than the full rulebook, and keeps at least some GM secrets away from prying eyes (assuming, that is, that only one person in your group ever wants to GM!). The text is basically the same as the player parts of the core rulebook, so if you have that already, there are no juicy 'player secrets' here!

The Introduction explains the rationale behind the game, basically a desire to take all the things that made that classic horror game Call of Cthulhu so great and fold in Pelgrane Press's GUMSHOE ruleset that is specifically designed for any game in which the investigation of clues forms a major part. The underlying idea is that if a clue is important to solving whatever mystery has been put in front of the players, they WILL find it no matter how badly they roll the dice (and often, even regardless of how off-beam their investigation is...). The real joy of investigation comes in going over the clues and making sense of them after all, not worrying if you've actually found them all yet!

The introduction also talks about the two possible styles of game - 'purist' or 'pulp'. The 'purist' style is a philosophical approach to horror where the very discovery of 'whatever' endangers both the investigators and innocent bystanders and there isn't really anything that can be done about it, and going mad is not a matter of if but when. The 'pulp' style takes a more robust approach with desperate actions that might, just might, avert whatever horror is the threat (but might equally well result in death or madness for the party). It's up to the group as a whole which emphasis they prefer, most like a mixture of the two. Something to discuss with the Keeper (GM) before the game begins.

Most of the rest of the book is taken up with how to create your character or Investigator. Anyone can become an Investigator, usually by becoming interested in those Things That Should Not Be (although some are just caught up in it), so you begin by deciding on what job or Occupation you had before you started investigating... some characters may still work at it between investigations, others may dedicate themselves full-time to this pursuit. Whether you still do it or not, it confers a host of knowledge, skills and other abilities on the character. There are also ideas about how someone with that particular professional background will approach an investigation of strange events, the usual route in to discovering the latest Mythos plot. All these Occupations are set in the classic 1930s era, and there are interesting sidebars about how faithfully you want to model ideas of the times... in the real 1930s, for example, female doctors were rare, indeed ladies were expected to do no more than run a home and raise children. Many gamers will not want to constrain themselves to a slavish following of historical reality - and when you are accepting the existence of mind-bending tentacled monsters, you may well feel happy to kick over the bounds of the attitudes of the time as well. Others don't (I recall a Call of Cthulhu Keeper once questioning a doctor turned novellist character I put before her with "A woman would not have read medicine at Harvard"... she hadn't realised that although I, the player, was female, this time I had created a male character!), and it's up to the group to decide what will work for them. Many great 'pulp' characters defied convention.

We then look at motivations or Drives, used to define the character (and also help him stay sane in the face of adversity). They also help with role-playing, shaping the character's attitude and approach to life. Throughout, symbols indicate which choices are appropriate for 'pulp' or 'purist' games, depending on how far to one end or the other of the scale you intend your game to be. There are lots of notes to help you too. Then it's on with detailed listings of all the abilities (that is, skills) and how they work in play, indeed how they can be used to good effect. This section ends with a sample character sheet, and there have been plenty of examples of character generation as illustrations along the way.

The next section, Clues, Tests and Contests, explains how you use all those numbers on your character sheet to good effect. There's loads of detail here and well worth the reading. It includes combat, of course, but brawling is of lesser importance in this game than in many. For a start, it's pretty deadly whic a realistic approach to firearms and other modes of dealing out injury. And most of the time, the average Mythos monster is less bothered by a hail of bullets than you are by a swarm of midges. Yes, there will be opportunities to fight (cultists, for example) but your combat abilities are not going to save the day. Still there is plenty and enough about combat to keep anyone happy (and of course it is of more import the more 'pulp' your game becomes. Of course, this is a Mythos game so a substation section is dedicated to sanity and madness, with many interesting ways for your characters to lose their marbles. Some may even recover...

There's a section on Technology, Weapons and Equipment, based squarely in the 1930s and finally a section of good advice, Putting it All Together. This provides hints and tips for role-playing and for how to conduct an effective investigation. Right at the end is a blank character sheet and some quite disturbing pictures of the authors.

This contains everything a player might need to play Trail of Cthulhu and could be regarded as well-nigh essential for every member of the group.



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Trail of Cthulhu Player's Guide
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Watchers in the Sky
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/20/2017 07:29:25

This is a Purist adventure, where there is no resolution or satisfaction, just the bleak reality of the Mythos to discover. In it, there are strange birds around... from those surrounding a mental patient to others who hang around watching, watching... and when dissected, they're not quite right. Purge all thoughts of Hitchcock's The Birds, this is far worse!

The horrible truth is revealed straight away for the Keeper and then there are notes on how the party actually gets involved. Those with connections to medicine or psychiatry may hear about the mental patient who is convinced that the birds he feeds are watching him. Scientifically-trained ones may get involved in research that appears to suggests that the results of experiments change when these weird birds are around. A biologist or vet might catch one and cut it up... all roads lead to a university library where there are further clues as to the location of where these birds roost, and a couple of deaths will likely precipitate the climax of the investigation... entering the caves from whence the birds come.

Interestingly, not all the answers are there to be found. It's done on purpose to unsettle and frustrate - and is indeed true to Lovecraft's own stories which always raise more questions about his monsters than ever get answered. Enjoy playing with the characters' minds! Should they wish to investigate further in subsequent adventures, the Keeper is welcome to come up with his own answers.

Five Investigators tailor-made for this adventure are provided, and they are woven into the plot well. If you prefer to use other characters, you will have to do this work over, although you do have an excellent example of how to do it before you. Likewise, all the major NPCs are described complete with role-playing notes: things like suggested mannerisms and gestures to help you bring the character to life during play. The 'Directed Scenes', where we catch a glimpse of each Investigator's Source of Stability, are also tailored both to the pre-generated characters and the adventure itself, so if you're not using them you have more work to do!

The scenes, and the clues to be found in them, are described atmospherically. Here there is a bit more room for you to introduce a party other than the one provided, once you have come up with good reasons for them being in these places... and as they progress through the clues, the odd birds will begin to watch them. At some point - unless you have a party who has diverse enough interests to have split up to visit different places - the Investigators need to meet up and agree to work together, which may need a bit of firkling with travel times and other things to get them into the same place and discovering that they are all interested in weird birds. That done, there's some fascinating library research - now going to the library is common in Cthulhu-related games, but this time it's genuinely interesting and meaningful - before heading off to the Lake District which is where it appears that the birds originate.

There are some wonderful opportunities to mess with your players' heads which, if used with care, can get really spooky and make for a memorable adventure. After the adventure's climax, there are suggested epilogues - Directed Scenes which loop back to the opening scenes with the Sources of Stability in a remarkably creepy way.

If you like classic Cthulhu mythos adventures, you'll love this one. If you've never tried the Purist style before, it might convince you to explore it more thoroughly. Just watch out for those birds...



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Trail of Cthulhu: The Watchers in the Sky
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Dying of St Margaret's
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/19/2017 08:33:18

As written, this adventure follows the 'Pure' track, sheer creeping horror with no easy answers (and nothing you can fight). If that doesn't appeal, do not move on, there are notes on how to run it as a 'Pulp; style adventure instead. The Introduction tells of a brooding clifftop school on a Scottish island, lurking horrors below and the disappearance of the last lot of Investigators to go there. Will your party fare any better?

The starting premise is that your Investigators are part of, or at least familiar with, the "London occult set" and will be familiar with a bunch of their peers who wanted to investigate the strange aftermath of a meteorite which landed in the vicinity of the school and eventually took jobs there as a means to this end... but who have not been heard from for several months. The Keeper is encouraged to talk to the players in some detail about their characters' involvement: who was it that they knew amongst the disappeared fellows, what sort of job do they intend to take up, and how well (if at all) do they know the rest of this party? This information should be kept and referred to frequently to personalse the adventure to each character in the group. There are notes about generating characters for this adventure - it is, it seems, better suited to being a one-shot than part of an on-going campaign, although you may decide differently. This includes a discussion about Drives, and how each will interact with events in the adventure. Other dramatic tips are also discussed.

The adventure proper starts as the party arrives at St Margaret's, but it is suggested that flashbacks and directed scenes are used to backfill just why they are all on the ferry. Then it's on to the school with notes on the main members of staff (complete with suggestions for role-playing them that verge on acting - posture, voice, mannerisms - little things that help them come to life for your players). From then on in, school routine takes over and the party will have to slot into it as appropriate for the post they are filling. Note that posts are pretty dependent on your social standing (as determined by Credit Rating) although with cunning use of Disguise characters may attempt to seem what they are not.

There are, of course, loads of clues to be had. Each one comes with an array of ways to discover it, which brings the whole thing to life and enables you to weave them in seamlessly to conversations and explorations. There are locations to visit, each with their own array of clues, and eventually the party will be led to the source of the problem... and it is left to them how they cope with what they find. Perhaps they give up and die, maybe they escape at least physically (but probably go mad...

Although it is supposed to end there, a few suggestions for follow-up adventures are given. These will probably involve a new set of Investigators, or may even cross over into another Gumshoe game line... Esoterrorists or Fear Itself are suitable here. Five pre-generated Investigators, woven firmly into the plot are provided, along with the original ones who they have followed here (you can make up more if you like, especially if your players would rather create their own characters). There are a couple of handouts, and that's it.

It makes for a compelling adventure, but unless you are good at providing details on the fly some preparatory work is advisable. There is no plan of the school nor map of the island. The ending comes over as rather flat and may leave a lot of people feeling dissatisfied despite it being true to the spirit of a Lovecraft story. Hence you might want to make at least a little bit of use of the Pulp notes or modify the ending in a way of your own choosing. Atmosphere, though, is excellent!



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Trail of Cthulhu: The Dying of St Margaret's
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Church of the Prophets
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/17/2017 08:59:11

It is the nature of human beings to seek after the meaning of life and for many that means a belief in higher beings, deities if you will. The people of Théah are no different, and this work discusses their beliefs and explores how they can be used to effect in your game. To start with, people found solace and guidance from many gods until a man came declaring himself to be the Prophet of Theus, whom he said was the one true god and creator of everything. This caught people's attention and a whole religion grew up around his teachings, one which grew, flourished and fragmented over the centuries. Four main branches of this church are reviewed herein: Vaticine, Objectionism, Ussuran Orthodoxy and a newcomer, the Church of Avalon.

Chapter 1: The Word begins with a history of the Vaticine Church. It all began with the First Prophet, a fairly mysterious fellow, who travelled around with Nine Witnesses explaining about Theus and how he wanted people to study his creation and avoid sorcery. Three hundred years after the First Prophet was murdered, a Second Prophet appeared to address a church that had waxed fat in temporal power, rivalling many nations in wealth and influence. He came from the Crescent Empire with his own Nine Witnesses in tow and told them that the church had become corrupted. He laid out precise rites and rituals that should be followed, and urged people to avoid all seven deadly sins... but perhaps it was when he said people ought to avoid alcohol that they began to question what he said. The common people loved Theus but doubted that he wanted them to give up all earthly pleasures. Worse, the Second Prophet urged believers to separate themselves from the world by going back to the Crescent Empire with him. Forty thousand followed him... to their deaths.

As it was the Crescent Empire that had killed them, a Crusade was launched against them. There also was a lot of dissent amongst the various sects that believed in Theus, which were called together by the Imperator Corantine who demanded that they all agree on a common framework of belief and gave them a year to sort one out. They made it, just, and the Vaticine Church was born. It flourished and grew, establishing a hierarchy across the face of the globe, even as nation-states rose and fell. About seven hundred years later, someone claiming to be the Third Prophet appeared in Castille. He claimed that the church had again lost its way and needed to eschew sorcery and part ways with the Crescent Empire. Now there were a lot of people from the Crescent Empire in Castille and this soon led to the Second Crusade as war erupted. When it was over, the King of Castille built Vaticine City in honour of the Third Prophet... and said Prophet began an Inquisition to seek out heresy within the church. A minor squabble over which diocese a monastery belonged ended up in yet another war, with the Prophet saying the church should now be based in Vaticine City and the Hierophant still holding firm to his seat in Numa in Vodacce. Castille won out. The church flourished again... until the Objectionists arose, in Eisen, led by one Lieber who declared that you didn't need priests to worship Theus. There was fighting over that, too.

It's a magnificent sweep of history, ending with the state of the Vaticine Church in the present day, its organisation and a wealth of other details including vestments and ceremonies... and then we start in on a history of Objectionism which covers their development and beliefs including several sub-sects with differing opinions. If that's not enough, we next read of the rise of the Church of Avalon, a breakaway movement driven by politics (or at least the need of an Avalonian king to find someone on whom he could sire a child) rather than a difference in belief, and also about Ussuran Orthodoxy (although that's quite well covered in the Ussura sourcebook).

Next, Chapter 2: The Faithful contains an array of senior churchmen to use as NPCs, with background notes and sketches to help them come to life. This is followed by Chapter 3: The Sacraments which covers game mechanics and other details needed to make the church an integral part of your game. Perhaps you want to play a Priest or a Missionary? There are full details, along with new advantages and backgrounds, new Swordsman schools for the more, ah, vigorous proponents of the faith and some new equipment.

Last but not least, Chapter 4: The Light has a Player Section that looks at playing priests and also members of military religious orders and a GM Section that, amongst other things, explains who Theus really is! Or does it... Like many things in this game, it is ultimately up to the GM to decide, but there's a lot of helpful material here. There are also notes on running relgious-based campaigns, pagan religions and the low-down on all those NPCs we met earlier. Finally there are a selection of maps including Vaticine City, the Great Cathedral of the Prophets and a few generic religious structures.

This is a well-constructed religious system with loads of potential for making your game come to life. There's nothing like belief for getting some good role-playing going, especially with players who take the trouble to understand what their characters believe and who are willing to take it further than a note on the character sheet. OK, so in some places it is a bit derivative, but to just label the Vaticine Church the Catholics under another guise and so on does them a disservice. Embrace these as the faiths you'll find on Théah, rather than treat them as a pastiche of real-world religion, and make this aspect of life feature in your alternate reality.



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Church of the Prophets
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