Saturday, November 12, 2011

Adventure: Pulp Tentacles Part V (B)

The Long Reach of Evil, The Fires of Sumatra by Richard Pett, an Age of Cthulhu Adventure from Goodman Games.

This is part of the continuing reviews of the Goodman Games The Long Reach of Evil product. The product is broken down into three adventures, each by a different author, so it really merits three separate entries. Now, I tend to review stuff that I've played/moderated, so such reviews take a while to move through the entire pipeline. And as always, here be spoilers.

The basic pattern of the Age of Cthulhu adventures goes as follows - you are summoned to a distant location by someone who will probably not be alive when you arrive. There you find something squamous and rugose, usually in the department of people summoning an Elder Thing. Rinse, lather, and repeat.

And that's pretty much what happens here. But what makes it cool is the cold opening (unfurl that spoiler flag, willya?). You can start the adventure in media res, with the protagonists waking up in a cave, having been infested with a nasty little spell by the bad guys. Said nasty little spell puts a sense of urgency as the play unfolds, as does the big empty space it creates in everyone's memory. The adventure does provide the option of running the initial capture, but that really consists of throwing ever-more-difficult challenges at the player until they at last succumb to the inevitable and start the adventure proper. In my opinion, go with the cold opening.

Since my group consists of long-standing players - the mobster, the writer, her subject, the photographer, the archeologist, and Thurston Howell the Third, the cold open was a bit of a shock, and gave them a lot of drive to figure out who is behind this and, more importantly, how to get rid of those pulsing cysts all over their bodies. Oh, and filling in the hole in everyone's memories. Oh, and getting their stuff back. Those are good drives as well. The cold opening in cave gave them a LOT of motivation.

A note about the cave - the opening throws in some NPCs who were kept there by the cultists. There were five people also in the cave besides the PCs, driven mad by their own mystic infection. That's good for showing the results of what the players are confronting, but once introduced, these NPCs are never mentioned again. Are the players responsible for them? What should they do with them? What happens when they do an autopsy on one of them? I reduced the number to three, used one to show why you don't attack the initial monster, and had the second one kill the third one and threaten the party in the back of the cave.

Oh, yes, one more thing. The cave has camping equipment that includes paraffin. That's a British term for kerosene. Sweet, flammable kerosene. I had forgotten that, but my Brit-based players caught it immediately.

Once they flee the cave and reach Panang, the adventure needs some filling out. What is there on the city is a bit light, and the characters did some of the things the adventure anticipated (checked out the port of entry, went to the local hotel, where they pretended they had already checked in to see if they HAD checked in). But the adventure did not do a lot for some other options, like hitting the local bank to try to draw funds, or the telegraph office, or finding a doctor, or, most importantly, what it was like on the street for little matters like clothing and food (thank you, Wikipedia for filling in a lot of the bits, particularly on rendang and street vendor culture). They attracted enough attention to flag both the bad guys responsible and the local rebels, the latter of which is a good thing for their continued progress through the adventure.

The most frustrating thing is that they never get a handle on who and what they are fighting. Half of the named bad guy NPCs are never properly introduced, so the heroes are referring to "Guy with thick glasses" or "nervous German guy". Worse yet, in the overarching aplot (Spoilers flag waving around frantically), the cultists are trying to summon one entity, but end up summoning another. Short of a strong knowledge of the Mythos ("Say, that doesn't LOOK like Cthugha"), that little plot point is lost on the players. Which is a pity, since the ultimate big bad has a pretty cool concept and look.

The maps are maddening even by Call of Cthulhu standards. The hotel map cannot be navigated, and the plantation map's room descriptions do not line up with map key. Oh, and if you say in the text that they ultimate monster appears at location "X" on the map, it behooves you to bloody well put a bloody "X" on the map.

The handouts for this adventure were minimal and could be done away with entire, which is a good thing, since for this adventure supposedly set in the 1920s, the summoning telegraph is dated August 27th, 1883 (and yeah, Krakatoa fits into the adventure, but not here). That seems to give the tip-off that the adventure was originally created for another time period and then ported over to here.

In the end, The Fires of Sumatra requires a lot of GM/Keeper flexibility to handle things not covered in the text (and deal with those awful, awful maps), but has a great hook in its cold opening, which proceeds to drive the PCs forward (as well as slowly driving them mad). It feels like a good convention module that is trying to expand its wings, and only partially succeeds.

More later,