Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Adventure: Pulp Tentacles III

Shadows of Leningrad by Mike Ferguson, an Age of Cthulhu Adventure from Goodman Games.

My every-so-often Call of Cthulhu game has become more often than not, in part because of the increasing amount of CoC material available. As a result, we have a number of GMs and a number of adventures running at the same time. So it is with little surprise that we broke from an increasingly serious Delta Green campaign to uncork the whupass that is a more pulpier version.

We've been following the Goodman games series for a while now, with adventures in London and Luxor. Now we continue the "What the "L" tour" with moving onto Leningrad, which only recently (in the game era) was St. Petersburg. The regular group, centered around a novelist and her world-adventurer partner, along with their long-term house-guest, a mobster "on vacation" from Chicago and a few others of their circle with ability in the art world, were in attendance.

The adventure is complete and stands alone, despite the Vol. III on the cover, and includes pregen characters for the one- or two-evening adventures (It tends to span two nights for our bunch). Missing (without anyone noticing much) is the overplot that started in Luxor and got a head-nod in London. It is a self-contained adventure within itself (mild spoilers follow0.

The adventure has the same basic framework as the previous two Goodman Games in plot. You are invited to a distant location by a knowledgeable acquaintance, who is dead/dying when you get there. In this case, the acquaintance is artist Charlotte Geoffrey, who is (good news) already dead before you set out. There are a number of plot hooks to bring the PCs in, and we used the one involving getting hold of her latest works - gothic, creepily realistic artworks that the State is all-too-willing to get rid of. Upon arrival in St. Pete's, um Leningrad, they meet a collection of characters, both odd and mundane, all of whom have something to do with the scenes to come.

The middle part of the adventure is what Goodman Games does very well - a collection of scenes that can be encountered in any order. In our case, the players keyed in on something that, to my generation, was not unusual, but to them stuck out like a sore thumb, which led them into an area ahead of schedule, and later they skipped a section entirely (which is just as well, since a lot of the sections end with "Bwah-hah! The bad guys just left!"). And, as fate would have it, one of their number went a bit wobbly in the brain and went to the State Police to warn them of monsters about the same time that the party was going to check out that sanitarium, anyway. So though they did not follow the plot in anything like the reasonable order, they still got the gist of the adventure and a good time was had by all.

The finale also followed the general plan of the previous adventures - a plan to let into our world something that should not be. With our semi-established group, they have a handle on this (the world-traveling adventurer packs a sniper rifle now, chiefly for picking off high priests at a distance). The level of previous success can effect the lethality of the final encounter, and even at lower levels, it can chew through parties. In our case, the investigators managed to convince the State Police that there WAS something going on, meriting their expedition being accompanied by two trucks of cannon fodder police. Even then, they had to use the vehicles as weapons in order to defeat the monsters, which were not even statted with all of their official nastiness.

So how did it go? Pretty good - much better than London and even a step up from Luxor. Playing a pulp campaign, I went the cinematic rule that everyone understands Russian (like in the movies) unless they don't. Though to be honest, I have but two Russian accents - Boris and Yakov (In Russia, Sanity loses YOU!).

Presentation values are good, though I would have loved to have had a period map of Leningrad, particularly since most of the locations are historically accurate - I did some digging and found that they had the correct names of the ballet and the museums and hotels for that era, and getting them squirreled away in my brain as far as their locations would have helped. As it was, I added to the adventure a car and driver, provided courtesy of the State, to help them (They could get around by streetcar - Leningrad was a modern city of the time - but there were a couple places where they have to get out into the 'burbs and beyond). The maps that were there were complete and blissfully free of maddening typos, odd doors, or things that did not agree with the text.

Shadows of Leningrad is an improvement over previous entries and the best of the series so far from Goodman Games. It combined both cthulhian menace with exotic location and a dash of historical relevance. It may also be the first Russian adventure that I've played that does not go to Baba Yaga right off the bat. If anything, it may have two monsters too many, since there were a plethora of creepies, any two of which could have held their own in a night's adventure.

Worth playing, and the group hopes to see more.

More later,