Thursday, August 25, 2011

Adventure: Pulp Tentacles Part V(A)

The Long Reach of Evil, Terror at the Top of the World by Rick Maffei, an Age of Cthulhu Adventure from Goodman Games.

The Long Reach product is going to break into three different reviews, because we have three adventures by three different author all packed together under one title. The end result is a larger project, and should (but doesn't always) show some variety in the adventures within, and since it is being run at different times, deserves separate reviews.

Oh, and as always in these reviews, unfurl the spoilers. 

The idea of The Long Reach of Evil is a globe-girding adventure, sending the investigators to Tibet, Indonesia, and Peru. This sounds good but really makes it little different than the previously published adventures that sent your supposedly New England-based band of investigators to Luxor, London, Leningrad (and an iceberg in the Arctic). Unlike that last one, this adventure could be fit into my regular group of pulp-style adventurers (Female novelist and her adventure-hero subject, mobster on the lam, personal photographer, archeologist/sidekick). The adventures in this new product are (very) loosely tied together in that all the initial contacts can be members of the International History and Archeology Society (or as my group quickly came to calling it - IHAS (cheeseburger)). My group of pulpy adventurers is based out of England, and as a result, I jostled some things, so they got an invite to Indonesia, had an initial contact for the Peru adventure before leaving, but got detoured to Tibet first. And indeed, the adventures can be played in any order, and some of them done away with entirely, without affecting the others.

The traditional Goodman Games Cthulhu story model is that you receive an invite to go somewhere by someone who already dead by the time you get the message, and when you get where you have been asked to go you find that someone else is opening a gate to someplace they shouldn't. Terror at the Top of the World (which would be tighter if it were Terror in Tibet, but that is neither here nor there) fits that model well, such that you get a letter from a explorer from Tibet, who while the letter was in the mail went mad, came back home, and committed suicide. I flipped the order here, ran the funeral first, which gave me a chance to introduce IHAS and lay some groundwork for the later adventures. When the PCs got home, our anthropologist got the note detailing strangeness in Tibet and supposedly set them off and running.

Well, sort of. There are a lot of red herrings in the note, including stuff that is not mentioned elsewhere in the adventure.  A head-nod to the Mi-go, a mention of the Himalyan apes, and a mention of how the village you're supposed to visit has some prestigious physical powers (not evident once you get there). And the getting there takes about three months, which makes it a major effort, and creates a quandry as far as timing is concerned - our victim saw something that made him crazy, took three months to get back home, then it takes you three months to get back to where he went mad - so that's at least six months after the initial encounter, so it is hardly a rush. Worse, it feels like the madness has been waiting for you to show up all that time - little has happened since the explorer left town.

This strange collection of red herrings also extend to a collection of dream sequences that don't fit into the overall theme, though they are particularly ooky and creepy to keep players on their toes.

And as an aside, the journey to the remote village in Tibet suffers in comparison to the one at the conclusion of the Chaosim Adventure Tatters of the King, which also takes you into the Himalayans. While Tatters uses the trip to cut you off further and further from society, isolating the characters, Terror gives you more of an Indiana Jones style jump cut with small encounters that can be instantaneously fatal for those the miss a die roll.

The pacing also suffers because the ultimate bad guy is hidden until late in the adventure, and the Keeper has to balance between tipping his hand too early or leaving the PCs floundering as they look for the limited clue that pushes them in the right direction.

And speaking of clues, this adventure gets the award for the "World's Worst Handout" - an arrow drawn into the gravel pointing towards the ultimate cause. It shows an arrow drawn in the gravel, whichout any indication of direction. And the suicide note that started this adventure DIDN'T get rate a handout.

The maps suffer from the "Curse of Cthulhu" I've mentioned as striking many such projects. There is a good map of the local monastery, for example, except that it a) leaves out the offices of the lama you're supposed to talk to, and b) neglects to put in a door to the passages deeper into the mountain. In addition, the final battle takes place in a typical Tibetian home, but nowhere does it mention that a typical Tibetian home tends to be on an upper floor of the building (stables and workspace beneath) and that floor isnormally reached by a ladder. That would have been useful information in establishing the village in the first place.

There is a lot of that in the adventure. Parts of very detailed (Monastery life, for example, in case the players want to spend a full day there), while others not so much (had to look up the traditional Tibetan meal of tsampas that was initially mentioned without explanation (the group is heavily iPadded)). The end result is an adventure that needs a bit of research to pull it off fully, even if you're running it in an Indiana Jones, high-adventure style. The fact that the adventure is "mythos-lite" and does not deal with anything canonically Lovecraftian does not hamper it so much as being unable to deliver on what it does present.

More later,