Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Adventure: Not-So-Pulp Tentacles, Part I

Bad Company by Alan Bligh, an adventure from Cthulhu Britannica, from Cubicle 7 Games

You guys know the drill by now - I have a semi-regular Cthulhu group with rotating GMs and various styles of play. My particular gig has been doing the Goodman Games Age of Cthulhu series. But there's been a gap since the last one, so we went afield to a different company, but kept the basic conceits of the team.

And as a digression, yes, we are in a golden age of CoC adventures. There are nearly a dozen companies who are all doing Call of Cthulhu adventures, and they range for OK to excellent. You kids today, you should enjoy all this. And get off my lawn :).

Anyway, my group of investigators is based out of London, the time is eternally 1928, and the crew is your standard Cthulhian motley - The upper class writer, her well-heeled adventuring hero/muse/subject, the archaeology student, the mobster from Chicago, Mr Howell from Gilligan's Island, and the photographer. They have persevered with little in the way of death or SAN loss over the years in the Goodman universe, so a change would be good as a rest.

Cthulhu Britannica consists of five adventures, only two of which are really suitable for the team, as the others deal with later eras and things that would not fly as well in the 1920s. Bad Company, however, was set in Victorian London and transferred rather neatly over to the current milieu.

The short form: The scion of a baronet has gone missing, having fallen under the spell of a mysterious beauty. The investigators are engaged to find the young man, and the search takes them through the darker parts of London before reaching the woman's orgiastic debaucheries on a mansion on the Strand. And of course, the woman is not what she seems, and the spells she weaves are very real.

And we pause here to remind everyone about spoilers, then proceed.

The adventure follows the traditional Cthulhu adventure three-act structure. Act 1 lays out the problem and provides base information, which is usually woefully inadequate regarding the true situation, Act 2 provided a number of leads, which provides the clues that get us to Act 3 and the resolution in madness, gunfire, and cultists, and often all three.

And Bad Company lays it out fairly clearly. The father wants results and no scandal, provides a few initial contacts, and sets them on the path. The middle bit has a wide variety of options, with enough redundancy and blind allies that the players do not have check out every cupboard and washroom to get to the final confrontation. In the case of our regular investigators, they decided to avoid the police investigation entirely (the mobster did not want to bring the cops in), nor did they want to talk to the society gossip (for fear of making themselves targets of scandal themselves), nor the mad artist.

Their final realization of what they were fighting was not from any single encounter in the game, but rather from research at the British Museum, where they made sufficient rolls and I encouraged them to check out the Wikipedia entries. This is something relatively new for me in gaming - the entire team has iPads or computers, so letting them loose on Russian mythology with a couple key words was enough to put them in a good place for the final sequence. This is one of the cool things about running historical adventures in this modern age, by the way (we have to keep the iPads closed at time because the characters would not have that info at hand).

To the GM's delight, the investigators split into two teams, with the writer and the adventurer following the suspect beauty as she went out for the evening, while three others formed the heavy team that intended to raid the house during one of its continual parties, and were prepared for violence.

The team shadowing the beauty had their cover blown and were invited to dine with her (again, a sequence not in the adventure, but easily interpolated), with the results that both fell under her spell (a high POW for a monster makes the resistance table almost unnecessary). The heavy team found monsters in the basement that almost thrashed them entirely, navigated an orgy on the way up, found some more disturbing matters that indicated they had been watched during their earlier investigation, and finally found the lady's lair. Without giving too much away, they solved the problem with fire and bullets, putting the pair who had been dining with the monster at risk in the process.

In short, it was a good deal of fun and creepiness, though it required a bit of coloring outside the lines, which we were prepared for.

The presentation of the adventure was solid, though they suddenly dropped in the section on the Society Gossip who might provide information without any prelude, which was jarring. And while the author is British, I believe, there are some English/American weirdnesses  - the baronet's lawyer would be more properly a solicitor, a baronetcy IS an inherited position (per Wiki), and there is the standard weirdness of naming the floors of structure (American is Basement, First, Second ... British is Basement, Ground, First ..). The adventure does it sometimes one way, and sometimes another, and splits the difference when it comes to describing the maps. This may be an editing or development thing.

The maps work as well, though they don't always tie in with the text, and yeah, if you're going to have a coal furnace, you need a coal chute, and need access from outside to that chute (though you can always note that it is latched from within).

For this group, it was a good change of pace to have their fighting in the Green and Pleasant Land as opposed to going off being explorers of less-civilized areas. The fact they were at home, and were asked to keep a low profile, kept the obvious mayhem at a minimum until the final act.

In short, good foundation, nice flow to the adventure, presented for new players but works best with an experienced and flexible GM. And that's the first adventure in the book.

More later,