Sunday, July 12, 2009

Adventure: Pulp Tentacles

Death In Luxor by Harley Stroh, an Age of Cthulhu Adventure from Goodman Games.

Reviewing game adventures is a chancy thing. Ideally, one should run them, since things that are not obvious from a read-through will become clear upon play. By the same token, running adventures pushes the usability of any review back, particularly in the case of RPG adventures. Add to this the fact that every GM and every group brings different things to the table, both in characters and in playing styles, so you have a maximum case of "your mileage may vary".

But, my regular gang completed a two-session trip through Death in Luxor, which is the first of the Goodman Games entries in their Age of Cthulhu and part of the sudden tentacular boomlet that has popped up. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly, and remember: Your mileage may vary.

The Good: It is a well-written adventure, broken into six parts, each part a set piece in itself. The players arrive in Luxor to visit Professor Bollacher and his young wife Rose, and find that things have gone very, very amiss. I ran it as a pulp-style adventure, and it fits the entire flavor of an all-action, thrill-a-minute genre, keeping the players moving as opposed to researching in some library.

The writing is excellent as well, in particular the text read to players. Nice and eldritch in tone, it fits the era and the genre nicely, and help encapsulates the growing sense of horror. This is not metaphysical realization of man's place in the uncaring universe, but a collection of shocks that resolve in grand old CoC tradition of going up against mortal manifestations of things that should not be.

Finally, the research is on-target, dealing with Ramses III and the invasion of the Sea People. For the GM, there should be a bit more deeper research on the Wikipedia to get a full idea of what is happening. Interestingly enough, the Professor Bollacher works out of Chicago House, which was a real archeological expedition into the area (and is still apparently a going concern, though I don't know what they would think of the liberties being taken).

The Bad: That said, the timing is more than a bit off, as if this was originally a tournament module fleshed out to 48-pages. There are bits for dream visitations, but no real timing to sleep. I set up my merry band in a local hotel, and by the end of the day they moved to other digs to throw off their pursuers, but that was something I brought to the adventure. I don't know from the text if they arrive in the game at the start of the day or towards the afternoon. Since I'm playing it pulp, I can play games with timing, but it is something the GM will have to keep an eye on.

Some of the NPC rationalizations are a little muddled as well. There are rivals in their quest, but I'm not sure why they are doing it, or why they are trying to keep the characters out. I'm not sure from the text which side a particular old mystic is on (he seems creepy, but why isn't he doing more for the job of freeing the eldritch menace? If helpful, why not be more helpful? I played him both ways and had fun with him). And if you're going to have a love affair in the game, you really should give one of the lovers a first name.

And the game is quasi-linear, in that one section could happen at several places in the course of play. This is a good idea, but it creates an interesting situation of who should be there and why, and what is actually happening there. The players are questioned, but to what end? The GM may have to do some dancing, since arrival too soon or too late has its own challenges.

Ah, and the adventure requires to get hold of a number of items to make their final encounter survivable. These items are present in the adventure (which is good), though tucked away, and from the initial read I could see the PCs merrily bypassing them all on their way to their slaughter. Instead, they caught the bulk of the references and were properly armed (though the lost one to certain death, and massive sanity was lost). A good reason for playing a game before one reviews it.

On the other hand, the players never learned what they were fighting, though their meta-knowledge of the game gave them a good clue. That worked out as well for the entire pulpiness of the adventure, as I came up with more descriptive names for the monstrosities they fought.

In general, stuff that a good GM can handle, and use as a jumping off point. I most often went with the text as opposed to revising wholesale, and in the end it all fit in.

The Ugly: I call it the Curse of Cthulhu - the utter horridness of the maps, which can cause SAN loss. Part of this is in connecting the map to the descriptive test - I had an NPC listed as diving out a window when there was no window present in the room on the map. And there was an inverted ziggurat that made little sense from the art. Add to that the fact that some of the handouts had a muddy texture to begin with, printed in a dark brown ink, which gave the players even more to worry about. Again, they held up better than I could expected, but in the end I went with a googled map of Luxor that was better for their navigation than the one provided.

End result? A pretty good adventure that can run well in the hands of an experienced GM who can fill in a couple of the blanks and motivations. Well-written but stymied by its maps and repro values. A good first start to a larger series of adventures, and the survivors a looking forward to the next one (which is apparently already out).

More later,