Sunday, February 19, 2017

Adventure: Not-So-Pulp Tentacles, Part II

Darkness, Descending by Mike Mason, an adventure from Cthulhu Britannica, from Cubicle 7 Games

Goodness, it has been more than two years since the last time I checked in with my plucky crew of Lovecraftian malcontents? Seems as if. My Call of Cthulhu group is still playing semi-regularly, but for the past few years, we have been working our way through the upgraded Horror on the Orient Express, run by one of my fellow group members. I tend not to review RPGs I am playing a character in, as such a review is a reflection on the limited information my players has, the group the GM/Keeper's style as it is of the product itself. And while I read a lot of Call of Cthulhu gaming material, I don't tend to review THAT publicly without actually taking it out and running it.

Anyway, this is the second of the adventures from the Cthulhu Britannica booklet from Cubicle 7 Games. The first was Bad Company, which I talked about here. The book consists of four adventures for different eras, set (mostly) in Britain. I won't be running the last two for this group, since they have modern and futuristic flourishes which would be difficult to fit into my campaign, in which it is eternally 1928 and consists of a company of random individuals who have come together to fight the Mythos.

The group consists of Smokes, our exiled Chicago gangster; Horace, our spy/newspaper photographer; Cliffy, our aspiring archeologist; JB,our wealthy dilettante, Hyacinth, our author' and her bombastic boyfriend/hero of her novels, Goodwin McNash. My style with them is very pulp/adventure, and I tend to run with more of an eye towards survivability than TPKs. They have been world-travelers, but are based out of London, and I've been eying this adventure as a means of doing something local. Spoilers, of course, follow.

Cliffy's player could not make it, so I used him to bring the others. The young archeologist was assigned to a dig sponsored by Cambridge in the county of Norfolk. A small team working in a small forest found a site of an old Roman settlement. Among the potsherds, tools, and weapon fragments the group found a particularly ugly bat-statue, and Cliffy called in the rest of the team as volunteers.

The bat-statue is one of five vaeyans, used to imprison an Elder God, Cyeagha. Cyeagha can only break free (apparently) on the fall equinox, which is three days away. Removing the vaeyans will allow him to return. Cyeagha has already possessed a local poacher, and is working on one of the archaeological team as well. should Cyeagha escape, bad things happen. Challenge to the players is to figure out what is up, and either keep the Elder God trapped or banish him entirely.

The adventure is based on a Eddy C Bertin's "Darkness, My Name Is", from The Discples of Cthulhu short story collection, moved from Germany to England as its location. It is designed as a one-shot  as opposed to part of a larger ongoing campaign, and shows it, from pre-generated charters with more archaeological backgrounds to a lack of SAN rewards and the general "everyone dies horribly" ending if things go terribly wrong. So some work is needed to make it part of a campaign.

There are some additional challenges for the adventure. A good chunk of the space is made up of describing the inhabitants of Middle Harling, a community to the dig site, but there is nothing within the presented flow of the game to get the players to TO Middle Harling.over the course of the game. This is particularly nasty since some of the clues to explain what is going on are located in Middle Harling, and straightforward playthrough could miss them entirely.

For my session, I dropped them off in Middle Harling at the outset and let them interact with the locals a bit before Cliffy (being run as an NPC) picks them up to take them to the dig site. They are made aware of the local constable and the church and in particular the local pub. While it felt like the first ten minutes of an episode of the old British Avengers TV show - before the small quirky town reveals its dark secret, it actually gave me a good collection of NPCs to do horrible things to later on.

Worse from a playing perspective was that I had no note how far it was from the small town to the dig site. It had to be short enough that that they could come back and interact easily, but far enough away that whatever happened at the site would not immediately become known. I settled for a 45 minute walk (or a half-hour run), but it is something that is pretty basic for the game. In this case, unlike the usual curse of Cthulhu, the maps were pretty good, and had player versions that I could share with relative clarity.

Organization was a pain. Useful information was sometimes lost in body copy or in numerous sidebars, such that despite it being a short adventure, I kept flipping back and forth trying to find some scrap of data that I swore I knew was in there. Plus, the entire section on Middle Harling itself was banished to the back, after the adventure itself, making it unclear when or where the players would encounter it.

And the handouts were a bit odd, with Library Use getting standard information on "What is an Equinox?" while the translation of an old Latin tablet gets a summary as opposed to a full translation. This is worse because it has an incantation to trap Cyeagha, without any clue to what it says (there is a second spell to defeat Cyeagha utterly which is presented in such an off-handed way I'd be surprised to see anyone understanding and using it).

Art was a bit off as well, as the description of Cyeagha's minions (vomitting forth black tendrils) did not quite match up with the art of half-melted, tentacle-armed individuals, but that part is minor.

In play, however, the townsfolk were surprisingly useful, and I could show the madness that the players take for granted slowly dawning on them. The vicar who translated the tablet for them went more than a little mad, the constable was overwhelmed by sudden deaths, and one of the farmers met a messy end at the hands/tentacles of the possessed poacher. The investigators did have enough action and mystery, and headed down a few wrong paths before they understood that they needed to re-bury the statues (and re-chant the locking spell for the good measure). The poacher (unkillable, slimier each time he returned, and the possessed archeologist made a last-minute assault to break the magical seal on the their god, but ultimately, the player characters survived. And, being an ongoing campaign, they had to figure out how they would seal off the area to prevent anyone else from trying to break the thing open again (like - what about NEXT equinox?)

In general it was OK, but it required a bit more work than I had put in with the Goodman Games versions. Still, it provided a nice base that one can spin an adventure out of, and merits a revision to strengthen the parts that could be part of a long-standing campaign.

More later,