Grey Seas Are Dreaming Of My Death: A William Hope Hodgson RPG by Derek Sotak with Kevin Ross and J.R.Hamantashen, 2020
I've previously mentioned (ranted on) the idea that if you're going to review a game, you really should play the game. I didn't run this one, but rather was a player in our regular Saturday Night group, and the adventure was run by Steve Winter. He ran an adventure from out of the booklet itself, so there will be spoilers.
William Hope Hodgson is not in the first DMG's Appendix N, but is the predecessor and influencer on a lot of them. Most of his work appeared in the first two decades of the 20th century, and Hodgson died in the fourth battle of Ypres in 1918. Yet he was very prolific, and wrote a lot of tales which would influence the later pulp writers. His Carnacki stories set the tone for the "Mystic Detective" character, and his "House on the Borderland" may have influenced the later D&D Module as well as being the inspiration for the pig-faced Orcs.
But the game concentrates on his Sargasso Sea stories. Hodgson spent many years at sea as a young man, and his maritime experience comes to the fore in his stories. The Sargasso Sea is a region north of the Caribbean where the currents and flora create a region filled with seaweed (sargassum). In the real world, the seaweed is dense but not impassible, but popular imagination (including Hodgson's influence) transformed it to a haunted region of ghost ships, ball lightning, and stranded vessels.
The game itself keeps the scope small - you are crewmen on a ship. - for our group we had a First Mate, Second Mate, Cook, and Carpenter, but there are other positions available, including Bosun, Cabin Boy, Jonah, and Fungal Human (OK, Steve didn't give that one as an option). Each position has a pregen sheet showing strengths, weaknesses, and a small bennie for that class. The GM acts in the role of Captain, which negates the arguments of who is in charge (mostly).
The core statistics are Brawn (strength), Nimbleness (dexterity), Perspicacity (wisdom/intelligence), Physique (constitution), Seaworthiness (all ship-based skills), Salt (hit points), Backbone (morale/sanity) and Mettle (luck). Statistics range between 8 and 14, with about 10 being the averages. Roll Statistic Checks in the game on a d20, rolling low for success, with a 1 being a critical success and a 20 being a critical miss.
And that is pretty much it. It is not that confusing, though the rule set might make it seem so through extensive use of ALL CAPS and BOLDFACE, for important words, such that the last line of the previous paragraph would read: Roll STATISTIC CHECKS in the game on a d20, rolling low for success, with a 1 being a CRITICAL SUCCESS and a 20 being a CRITICAL MISS. So the system seems tougher than it really is.
This was a Kickstarter, but we had three copies among the five of us, so we could check rules easily. In addition, most of us are fans of the Master and Commander movie and the various maritime novelists such as Patrick O'Brien and C S Forester, so we were well-positioned in talking a good game (though somehow most of our characters were all named "Jim"). Our ship, the Malandra, was caught in a storm in the Caribbean, and when we fought our way clear, began encountering the remains of ships that were not so fortunate. We found some flotsam. We rescued a half-drowned seaman. We took an abandoned vessel under tow. We found a ship with chanting, mindless cultists on it. And it gets worse.
And that's a thing about Hodgson's stories - they tend to build up slowly to the inevitable final reveal. Something unearthly happens, then there is an attempt to resume normality, then something even more unearthly happens. That's the case here. Kevin Ross, the designer of the scenario, did an excellent job not only capturing the flavor of a Hodgson story, but the pacing as well.
In our case? We all died. TPK. And it was a fair cop. We had access to materials that could have made the situation more survivable, but failed to recognize them at the time. Our GM/Captain is more than willing to allow us to mess ourselves over, neither encouraging or discouraging our decisions (curse you, free will!). However, it made for the an excellent one-evening session, and I would recommend Grey Seas Are Dreaming Of My Death to any RPG group that thrives on Cthulhian horror (before it was Cthulhian).