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The Phantom of Wilson Creek
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/08/2014 14:28:31

Originally Published at: http://diehardg-
amefan.com/2013/01/25/tabletop-review-the-phantom-of-wilson--
creek-call-of-cthulhu/


The Phantom of Wilson Creek is one of Chaosium’s monographs. For those unaware of this imprint, a monograph is where the author, rather than Chaosium does the editing and layouts in addition to the writing. Often times they also do (or hire) the artist themselves as well. Chaosium just does the publishing. This means monographs are a crap shoot in terms of quality. Sometimes you get really good releases like Mysteries of Ireland or Children of the Storm and other times you get sub-par material like The Ghosts in the House. Unfortunately, The Phantom of Wilson Creek is one of the latter. It’s a collection of four adventures set in the same location of rural North Carolina. The problem is none of the adventures are that good and the piece really needed a better editor as the entire book’s flow feels clunky and thus it reads poorly. Still, it’s not the worst monograph I’ve seen Chaosium put out and with a price tag of under fifteen bucks, you are getting four adventures which can form a nice mini campaign for those who like the location and the idea of reusing the same location over and over with their players.


I should point out that only HALF of the monograph is actually adventures. The other half (from page 93 on) involve playtest notes, handouts, spell lists, timelines, maps and roughly FORTY PAGES of pregenerated characters. I appreciate all the ancillary bits put into the monograph, but no one, and I mean no one, needs forty pages of pregenerated characters. It’s basically overkill that just increased the page count and the price point of the monograph. I will say I love the idea of the handouts, but there’s no attempt to make them look like anything more than typewritten words on a page unlike some of the higher quality monographs. As well the maps are something you’re either going to love or hate as they are hand-drawn rather than done by a program like Visio or some other software we tend to see used for map making in tabletop games.


The first twenty-seven pages of the book are background information on the location (Mortimer, North Carolina and the surrounding area) and the Campbell House, where most of the action in the adventures takes place. The background information really helps the Keeper to set the mood of the location as well as the information. There’s a lot of detail here, although the problem is that much of the background information is repeated in EACH of the four adventures, again adding to extra pages (and a higher price cost) and a level of repetition I’ve never seen in an adventure collection before. The author states that they did this so the Keepers wouldn’t have to hunt and peck for information and that they can flip right to what they need. However the way this monograph is laid out, the exact opposite is true. When you are reading the collection your eyes will begin to glaze over as you see the same information for say, the third time. As well, because of the length of this collection, with only about sixty-six pages of the book actually the adventures themselves (less if you discount the repeated pages in each one), you WILL find yourself hunting for the information, especially if you purchase the PDF. You can do a ctrl+F search but then you’ll want to make sure you’re in the right adventure after that. Plus the fact so many pages of this monograph are extras rather than the adventure itself, with the paper version of this book, you’re still flipping through unless you bookmark everything. For any adventure collection where a lot of information is reused, it’s much better (and smarter) to have a centralized location for all common info about the location(s), preferably at the front or very back of the book for easy access. This is just one of the many layout issues that plagues The Phantom of Wilson Creek and makes it as hard to use for adventures as it is to wade through reading-wise. Again, a second or third pair of editing eyes could have made the end product so much better than it turned out.


The first three adventures in the book take you to the old Campbell House. Each adventure occurs a year after the previous one and they are pretty interconnected. However there are two small problems. The first is that the characters in the second and third adventure really need to be the same ones that were in the first adventure (give or take new ones replacing any that have died or gone mad), otherwise they just don’t work very well at all. The second is that reusing the same exact location for three straight adventures can easily lead to a sense of boredom and make for a humdrum experience. It’s the “going back to the well once too often” metaphor and Call of Cthulhu pretty much needs a constant change of locations and enemies for the creep and fear factors to stay where they should be. Otherwise it’s just another encounter with cultists or creepy monsters and much of the atmosphere is lost. Honestly, I’d just stick with the first and fourth adventures in this book if you were going to play any of them. The middle two just aren’t well designed or thought out enough for a quality experience if you were to try and play them on their own. The other two are nicely done, even if they are pretty generic and because they aren’t connected to the same exact location (same region though), you can have one be on the tail end of the other.


The first adventure “The House on Yellow Buck Mountain” is by far the best in the collection, even if it is pretty generic. The Investigators have been brought down to rural North Carolina to take a look at a house that a mutual friend inherited from a very distant relative. In the small community, the Campbell House is considered to be a cursed place and players are going to have to figure out what lurks within the walls of their old friend’s inheritance. Now this is a pretty common plot hook for an adventure. Hell, I’ve used it myself in a CoC adventure I had published in the late 1990s. It’s a trope that works with both the setting and the time period in which the adventure takes place (1925). However, I did raise an eyebrow when I noticed the adventure lifted a bit from “The Haunting/The Haunted House,” which is arguably the most commonly played Call of Cthulhu adventure of them all. The nemesis in that adventure is almost exactly the same as The Haunting, which can be found in every core rulebook and also in the free Quick Start Rules. Why the author didn’t go for a more unique antagonist is beyond me, but it feels more like copying rather than an homage. Don’t worry though, “The House on Yellow Buck Mountain” isn’t a carbon copy of The Haunting; only the monster is. This adventure has its own creepy shenanigans going on, complete with the potential for an Investigator to find himself trapped in a coffin with a corpse six feet below the surface or in a ghoul warren. I’ll let you decide which is the worse fate. The adventure does continue to be a pretty paint by numbers one though, with players making liberal use of the Library Use skill and poking around the house until the cause of the horrors within is revealed, culminating in violence or fleeing into the night. Whichever works. It’s a very paint by numbers piece, but it’s a well done that you should have fun with even if you’ve been through similar trappings several times before.


The second adventure is “Return to Yellow Buck Mountain” and it takes place a year later. It’s really not much of an adventure to be honest. Almost all of the content is recycled from the first one and the adventure hinges completely on what happened with your playthrough on the first. In fact,”Return” really isn’t playable at all if you haven’t done “House,” which is enough to make me give it a thumb’s down. The plot is basically “Something crazy appears to be going on at Campbell House” again and the Investigators are asked to check on things. If you played through the first adventure, “Return” probably won’t last you more than two hours because it’s a very cut and dry plot. If, however, you are using Investigators that didn’t play through the first adventure, they will probably be lost throughout the whole thing and will definitely be unable to capitalize or appreciate the climax. It’s just completely unsatisfying on every level. There’s not enough substance here and it’s going to hard to convince any team of characters to make a yearly outing to a remote backwoods location where they faced certain doom once before.


The third adventure is “The Wizard of Wilson Creek” and yes, once again , you’re going back to Mortimer, NC and the Campbell House. Yet again the hook is, “Thar be strange goings on at the Campbell House.” MOST players will be annoyed at the idea of having to return to the same location for a third time, especially with how anticlimactic the second adventure is. In fact, the author even notes by this point the PCs will want to just burn the Campbell House down – if they haven’t already. Here’s a hint: if your adventure leads to the players wanting to commit arson to call it a day you’ve either a) written a bad adventure or b) gone to the well once too often. In this case, it’s both. I can’t think of too many people that will want to investigate the same location three times in a row with little to no change between each passing in-game year. Hell, I was bored just READING about the same location for the third time. The catch here is that the antagonist is a once friendly NPC in the previous two adventures. So for characters that have had to deal with Campbell House on multiple occasions, there is a bit of pathos here. Not much though, because CoC characters that have survived multiple adventures tend to go, “Oh no. Character X is corrupted by dark insane magick. Welp, better kill ‘em so he doesn’t summon a shoggoth on us.” Characters and players that haven’t played through the previous two Buck Mountain adventures will gain nothing from this. It’s just an NPC being a bad guy instead of a familiar one. Once again, this means this adventure can’t be played on its own and have it remotely be memorable or for players to receive the full impact from it. For those that have spent three straight years going to Yellow Buck Mountain, it’s a dull retread over everything trying to figure out who is the evil psychopath THIS time around. There’s just not enough here to hold anyone’s interest in any way, shape or form. At best “The Wizard of Wilson Creek” is a short and very generic experience featuring a betrayal by an NPC the Investigators know casually and at worst, it’s a dull and bizarre affair that is somewhat nonsensical.


The final adventure in this collection is “The Strange Case of the Brown Mountain Lights” and it’s the second best of the adventures. It can be played whenever and has no actually connection to the first three in this monograph. Thus it can be played on its own. The downside to running this one though is that the Keeper needs to keep careful track of in-game time rather than letting players do what they want when they want. This means that, in the hands of a less experienced Keeper, “The Strange Case of the Brown Mountain Lights” can feel rushed and harried rather than a quality experience. Careful planning and selective prodding of the players is the key to making this adventure work. In this adventure players will be trying to find a lost little boy that wandered off on Brown Mountain. Unfortunately the child is an idiot savant, making its survival unlikely unless he is found quickly. Even more unfortunately is that a clutch of creatures from the Cthulhu Mythos have found the child first and are as perplexed by its unique form of mental retardation as the child is completely unfazed by them. So the Investigators not only have to beat the clock, but somehow get the child away from “his new friends” and deal with humans that work for the creatures and are actively trying to sabotage the search. It’s a complex affair and the adventure really works best in the hands of someone used to running things at conventions and thus can deal with time crunches keeping the players in a linear motion. It’s well written and has a lot of potential and the second best piece in the collection.


So The Phantom of Wilson Creek is a definite thumbs in the middle at best. Only two of the four adventures are worth playing through, and although they are somewhat generic, they are well written and fun to experience. The other two are best left forgotten or read as an example of how NOT to do a mini campaign in a single locale. Half the book consists of ancillary material, some of which is doubled up on from the adventure section itself and not all Keepers will make use of what is provided. The book really needed a better editor (or several of them) as the book just doesn’t flow well at all and there are numerous typographical and formatting errors in addition to full pages that are reprinted for each adventure in a well meaning but ultimately erroneous attempt to make things easier to find. The collection isn’t all bad; it just really needed some outside guidance to keep things on track. As such I can’t really recommend this monograph, especially for the price tag it is saddled with, but The Phantom of Wilson Creek does have its shining moments.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Phantom of Wilson Creek
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Malleus Monstrorum
by MG T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/04/2014 16:58:13

The pdf download is missing huge sections of text as well as some graphics, as compared to the hard copy... a very sloppy job of conversion! I think I deserve either a refund or an updated pdf as soon as possible!



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Malleus Monstrorum
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Rubble & Ruin
by Eric J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/01/2014 13:07:10

  • Original Review *


My poor review of this product is because of the PDF rather than the contents.


The contents themselves are quite good (what I can actually read...) so if it weren't for the problems with the pdf I would have given the book a much higher rating.


The problem is that many pages of the book are simply missing text. For example page 5 has the heading "Contents" and then the rest of that page is blank. Similarly on page 11 everything below "Avalon" is blank. This happens on a quarter to a third of the pages in the book.


What's there is good but too much is missing.



  • Update *


The current version of the PDF fixes the technical problems and all the text is readable.


I haven't had a chance to read through the contents but I wanted to update my review to reflect the fixing of the PDF.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Rubble & Ruin
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Masks of Nyarlathotep
by David L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/06/2014 17:53:30

A great adventure that offers the players lots of choices.


The good: A globe trotting adventure that takes the players to 6 different countries across the world. An adventure that leaves the players complete freedom on where they wish to go and what they wish to do. Quite a few red herrings that receive just as much detail as the rest of the adventure giving the adventure a far more open feel then any comparable adventure. The investigation is well thought out with lots of clues and options meaning that no clue is so essential that missing it derails the adventure.


The bad: Call of the Cthulu is in general more deadly then most other game systems and Masks is even worse about it. It is quite possible that the players could suffer a total party kill/insanity even after doing everything right.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Masks of Nyarlathotep
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Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/31/2014 16:57:45

As someone who's always wanted to play Call of Cthulhu but has never really had the opportunity, I very much appreciate these quick-start rules. They're also a nice "holdover" for players waiting for the 7th edition to ship (which hasn't happened yet, as of this review). Be forewarned, however, that you won't be able to use these rules to play much other than the included adventure; they don't really contain enough for a keeper to devise further adventures using just the quick-start booklet. That adventure, by the way, is written both for new players and new GMs; as an RPG veteran but CoC newbie I thought it hit the mark rather well. The layout is a bit "Microsoft Wordy" and I noticed at least one missing word in some of the read-aloud text for "The Haunting," but these are fairly minor blemishes on an otherwise fine product. It's not a complete game, but you can get at least one good night of gaming out of it, at no cost. I call that a win.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules
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Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules
by Millard B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/06/2014 16:49:17

Awesome start up!!! Can't be beat !! If your a H.P.Lovecraft fan. Great way to get started in the horror world!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dead Light
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/03/2014 12:53:28

On a dark and stormy night... here's a chance to spring a sudden and horrifying Mythos event on your Investigators as they're scurrying through the rain on a rural road just outside of Arkham. Suitable for a one off game or as a side-adventure to throw into your regular campaign, it involves the party quite literally running into a chain of unnatural nightmarish events that threaten both their sanity and their very lives.


As said events are under the direct control of the Keeper, you can make this potentially deadly or merely very, very scary as you prefer.


The backstory is suitably dark yet coherent, fitting well with the locale and the individuals involved. Getting the investigators involved requires no more than them happening to be driving on a wet and stormy evening... hence the suitability of this adventure for just dropping in to an ongoing campaign. It is a location-based adventure and fairly free-form - what happens after the initial encounter will depend on how the investigators react. Support for the Keeper is excellent, however, with plenty of resources to enable you to handle just about anything that the investigators might decide to do. There is also some good advice about how to run the adventure, driving the action forward and maintaining suspense while allowing time for investigation. Much of it is good general advice for how to introduce and manage the appearance and effect of any horror, and well worth reading by any GM wishing to improve on this aspect of their game.


All the NPCs are presented in full with loads of background to help you portray them appropriately. Whilst designed for the latest edition of Call of Cthulhu (7e), there are notes to help you if you'd rather use an earlier edition.


Hmm. It's not raining (yet) but I think I'll go round up some players...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dead Light
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Dead Light
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/03/2014 11:34:42

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/1-
2/27/tabletop-review-call-of-cthulhu-dead-light/


On Monday, December the 23rd, Chaosium decided to surprise all of its Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition backers with a special gift – the release of Dead Light. Even better, this first stand alone adventure for CoC 7e was made free to all 3,668 backers. Of course if you didn’t back Seventh Edition via Kickstarter (and WHY NOT?), the adventure is available for purchase with the very reasonable price tag of $6.95. This way, everyone’s a winner!


Now as Dead Light is for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, you may be saying to yourself, “Wait a second! Seventh Edition isn’t out yet.” You’re right, but worry not my friends. In the back of the book is a conversion guide to let you use Dead Light with older versions of the game. If you really want to play this adventure with Seventh Edition rules, you can always use the Quick Start Rules Chaosium has provided. Man, between this, the QSR, the upcoming Horror on the Orient Express remake (I have proofs in hand and expect a preview of that content coming soon!) and Secrets of Tibet, CoC 7e might be setting a record for the most content produced before the actual core rule book is released.


Dead Light is an adventure for two to five players and it’s set in the 1920s right outside Arkham. The adventure is meant to be a one-shot or stand-alone experience and it’s unusual in that, unlike most published CoC adventures where the dice tend to have the last say regarding combat, death and the like, the Keeper has almost complete control over who dies, how they die and when in this scenario. This means in the hands of a bad Keeper, say one who views the game as Investigators Vs. Keepers, this can be a bit of a disaster. In the hands of most Keepers, who tend to view the game as a collective storytelling experience with their friends, Dead Light can be an extremely satisfying experience because the Keeper can (and probably should) show mercy at times. Instead of having the character die in an accidental fashion or due to a bad roll, the GM can save that death for a more interesting and/or dramatic moment. In some ways, the control the GM has over life and death in this adventure reminds me of “Wrong Turn” in Cthulhu Britannica, in that the Keeper can (and will) predetermine the death of characters, thus making Dead Light more like an interactive film (or “on rails” if you are up to date with your video game vernacular) than your normal tabletop experience. This doesn’t mean the adventure is out of the players’ hands. If a player comes up with a really good idea for getting out of a situation, the Keeper should definitely reward that with a stay of execution. After all, Dead Light is more about thinking and decision-making than dice rolling and the person running this adventure needs to keep that in mind even if they really feel Character X’s death would be absolutely perfect at that moment.


I should also point out that due to the nature of how this adventure is designed to be run, Dead Light is a great way to bring newcomers into Call of Cthulhu, especially 7e. This way players can learn the mechanics and flow of a Call of Cthulhu experience without dying right away. Nothing’s worse than bringing a person into their first tabletop experience ever and having them die thirty minutes into the game and then just have them sit around watching other people play. With Dead Light, you can really teach a newcomer the basics and mechanics of CoC and keep them alive just long enough to get addicted to the game. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even make it through the game unscathed, form an emotional bond with their Investigator and thus begins a beautiful friendship…until a shoggoth finally eats them or they are sent to live out the reminder of their days in a madhouse.


The plot of Dead Light resembles that of a survival horror movie or video game, where characters are picked off one at a time by a seemingly unstoppable monstrosity bent only on death and destruction. In this case, Dead Light features a lot more human on human violence (and murder) than you might be used to in a Call of Cthulhu adventure. Worry not, because the 1920s actually did have a higher murder rate than we have nowadays in 2013 (soon to be 2014), so petty robbery and nonsensical murder makes sense, even in a time when America seemed on top of the world. Once the horror is accidentally released, it will start picking off people in the surrounding area one by one until it is either defeated or you have a Total Party Kill. The good news for players is that there are a lot of NPCs that can (and should) be devoured before them, heightening the tension and terror. As well, the Investigators don’t necessarily need to beat the antagonist in this adventure – they can always choose to just try and survive. If they make it until dawn, they can also “win” that way…although trying to last that long will probably ratchet up the body count. There’s not a lot of combat to be had here, as trying to do physical battle with the creature is all but impossible and almost certainly lethal to the Investigators. There are ways to hurt it/contain it, but whether or not the characters discover these methods depends on where they choose to go and what they choose to do. As such, the adventure is pretty investigative for one where there is also a lot of death and that juxtaposition makes for a very unique experience.


As mentioned earlier, Dead Light is pretty light on rolling the bones. You’ll have some Luck and Sanity rolls obviously and Spot Hidden will be a big help with this adventure, but honestly, the most rolling that will occur will probably be with Dodge and Drive Auto, the latter mainly due to the horrific storm that just happens to be occurring the night of the adventure. This means characters will live or die based on the decisions they make, so don’t be afraid to burn your Luck or ask for Idea rolls if you play this.


Besides the unusual nature of how the adventure unfolds, this really is a standard style CoC adventure. You have a nameless horror that defies description, investigation is needed to discover how these events came to pass as well as how to end them, sanity will be dropping like rain and a good time will be had by all. The good news is that the adventure eschews all the standard tropes of Call of Cthulhu, so there won’t be any Mi-Go, Deep Ones or Serpent People. There are no cults to foil nor do you have to sit in a library for hours on end, hoping to find the one tome you need, containing a spell that will save the day. The only real tropes the adventure contains is exploring a spooky house and finding a diary that explains how these events came to be (and that also gives you some Cthulhu Mythos points). I’m really happy to see Chaosium giving gamers something outside the box with this one. Sure the adventure sometimes feels more Chill or Cryptworld than Call of Cthulhu at times, but it still keeps the mood and feel of the setting. If you absolutely have to have a Mythos creature rear its head in your adventures, you might be disappointed here, but I can safely say that the antagonist of Dead Light feels right at home with the eldritch horrors and nameless terrors Lovecraft and his contemporaries created in their day.


Dead Light probably isn’t an adventure for everyone –especially gamers who don’t like feeling as if they are “on rails” for an entire adventure, but a good Keeper can hide that aspect of this piece, and really make the adventure stand out as a memorable experience for all. I’ll admit I went into this going, “Survival Horror? Oh god.” and I came away really impressed with the layout, flow and plot of Dead Light. I’m especially glad I got this adventure for free and can easily recommend it for the $6.95 price tag it comes with if you didn’t back 7e via Kickstarter. Dead Light is a solid experience from beginning to end and my only caveat is that you really need a quality Keeper who can run this without turning it into a “players vs. Keeper” experience, because no one likes those. The vast majority of people that pick up Dead Light will have a lot of fun with it, and really, what more do you need from an adventure, right?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
by Jamey J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/18/2014 17:55:55

The pdf are very well done. This is a really awesome game to play.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
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Advanced Sorcery
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/18/2014 08:07:36

Originally posted at: http://diehar-
dgamefan.com/2014/04/18/tabletop-review-advanced-sorcery-bas-
ic-roleplayingmagic-world/


Advanced Sorcery is the first sourcebook for Magic World, which is a remake and update of previous Chaosium fantasy releases like Elric, Runequest and Melniboné. This means some parts of both Advanced Sorcery and Magic World are roughly thirty years old while others are seeing light for the first time. Why did Chaosium do this instead of just re-releasing the original games in a new edition? Well there are lots of reasons from the cost of licenses to a decision to just combine all the fantasy releases into a new overarching banner. If you really want the original games, you can pick up old Elric and Stormbringer releases on the secondary market or pick up Mongoose publishing new version of Runequest. For those that still want to stick with Chaosium’s new releases, you have Magic World.


Although Magic World came out in early 2013, Advanced Sorcery is the first (and only) new release for it. This isn’t a bad thing as Magic World contains everything you need to play the game in its single core rulebook and too many games put out a steady stream of unnecessary supplements that bog the core product down. Quality, not quantity is king with a system and the core rulebook for Magic World proved just that. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing for Advanced Sorcery. It just did nothing for me adding too many new optional rules variants that aren’t as good as those in the core release. It also doesn’t help that the first new release for Magic World is so laden with new and different rules that it feels like Advanced Sorcery is saying “Magic World isn’t very good. Use this instead!” I personally don’t feel that is true, but when your first sourcebook wants to reinvent the wheel, it gives off that sort of negative impression. It’s also worth noting that Advanced Sorcery feels like it belongs to a completely different system/setting rather than something that compliments Magic World. The spell systems, mechanics and terminology are so wildly different that the two books feel like they were competing ideas and Chaosium published them both instead of making a firm decision on which to go with. Again, I doubt that is the actual reasoning behind it but rather a good example of what happens when you try to put thirty years of rules and edition changes into a new unified product. D&D Next felt this way too in the early stages, which is fine for alpha and playtesting purposes, but definitely not for a final product. A truly great example of this is that in both books, certain monsters are repeated, but with completely different sets of stat blocks and descriptions. Why would they be that different from core rulebook to sourcebook? Again, the end result is that Advanced Sorcery feels like its own beast or a separate Basic Roleplaying supplement rather than a product for Magic World.


At the end of the day, I just didn’t care for Advanced Sorcery at all and feel a Magic World game is better off without it. That said, my opinion and tastes are those of one man and not the be all and end all of the industry. Advanced Sorcery certainly has some intriguing ideas and some gamers will no doubt really enjoy the contents betwixt its covers. As we look through each of the eight chapters in Advanced Sorcery, perhaps you will find something more to your liking that it was to mine.


The first chapter is “Advanced Sorcery.” I know it’s always weird/awkward when a chapter shares the same name as the book’s title, but hey, that’s not my call. This is simply a list of new spells to use with Magic World. All of them are pretty interesting and well done, although many like Phantom Illness, Create Monster and Domination are Shadow oriented. Shadow was a lot more powerful than Light or Balance in the core Magic World game and these spells only increase that. Still, this is what much of Advanced Sorcery should have been – just a lot of well-designed spells that don’t require any new mechanics to use. 1 for 1.


Next up is “Deep Magic.” This is a new system of magic than can be used as an alternative to the core Magic World rules. This version of magic involved eight spheres of influence (Earth, Flora, Fauna, Water, Spirit, Fire, Flesh and Air) and then eight Glyphs of Power (Inhibition, Diminution, Summoning, Creation, Direction, Enhancement, Dismissal and Transmutation). You then end up having a mix and match of the two categories in order to cast spells. The rulkes for Deep Magic and nebulous, cumbersome and completely unintuitive, especially compared to the original BRP and/or Magic World rules. It’s also hilarious to note that part of casting the spells involves creating a personalized wheel of Spheres and a wheel of Glyphs. Each player picks on Glyph and one Sphere that they specialize in, which makes them much easier to cast. Everything else is more expensive based on the position on the characters wheel. However, the actual pictures of the wheels don’t always show up in the PDF version. I’ve tried it on different devices (Kindle Fire, laptop, desktop, iOS devices) and the wheels seem to only show up half the time. This is only true of this one picture in the entire book. Everything else shows up fine, so I’m wondering if it is a layering issue with the PDF. This is terrible beyond description because you can’t make Deep Magic work without it! When you can get the wheels to show up, they’re pretty bad in design anyway. The opposite of Water is Air rather than Fire for example. WHAT? The opposite of Flesh (man) is Fauna (animal)? Shouldn’t those be more closely aligned. Air is almost the opposite of Fauna too, because animals sure don’t need air. Oh dear god, this is bad. No, Deep Magic is pretty terrible in all respect and you are better off pretending it doesn’t exist. A bad idea with even worse follow through. 1 for 2.


Our third chapter is “The Summoner’s Art” and it revolves around summoning magic. Again, this is an alternative form of summoning magic that can take the place of the version in the core Magic World rulebook. Again, why introduce an entirely new way of doing something when your system is (technically) only a year old and this is your first supplement. This is just a bad business and system decision in every respect. This chapter is a little too rules heavy when it comes to summoning, and most gamers will instantly prefer the core rulebook version. “The Summoner’s Art” is pretty much for people who prefer roll-playing to role-playing and want far more mechanics than they actually need. It’s not all that bad though as the section does give you a lot of information on crafting demons as antagonists or NPCs and you are given a ton of powers to help flesh one out. The section also talks about elementals in addition to demons. While better than “Deep Magic,” “The Summoner’s Art,” just feels thrown in for the sake of padding the book out. The demon and elemental bits are nice, but the new alternative magic rules are just unnecessary. Still, two out of three aren’t bad so I’ll give this a point in the yay column. 2 for 3.


“Necromancy” is the fourth chapter in the book and this is another section littered with so many issues, I can’t believe it made it to print. This is the section where we see all monsters with stat blocks and descriptions that don’t match up with the core Magic World book. You would think there would be some sort of continuity between the two books, especially as they are the only two Magic World releases right now, but no. I’m not even sure why they reprinted so many of the same monsters. Those are pages that could have gone to new and/or different content. Anyway, the section of Necromancy is pretty bad. Of course, nothing really lives up to The Complete Book of Necromancers for Second Edition AD&D, which everyone should read even if they don’t play that version of D&D because it is THAT GOOD. This version of Necromancy is just terrible designed. The chapter starts off talking about how all necromancers are evil or power hungry and how each spell cast from this category ties you to the Shadow alignment. Then it gives you happy Light oriented spells like Spirit Shield and Exorcism. This just feels terribly done from beginning to end and is up there with “Deep Magic” as sections that really needed to make it through a more stringent vetting and/or editing process. 2 for 4.


Chapter Five is “Rune Magic.” This is another optional form of magic. Like “Deep Magic” and “The Summoner’s Art,” the rules for this Balance oriented magic are poorly devised. The rules are very vague and sparse, which means gamers are going to interpret them very differently and thus this will cause both confusion and consternation amongst Magic World players. Thankfully though Rune Magic is primary both defensive and touch based which should give people a common ground to work with. It’s not like a runecaster will be whipping runes at a demon or troll in any campaign. Still, this section really needed a lot of work before it saw print, which is sadly true of a lot of Advanced Sorcery. Some great ideas, but the end result just isn’t very playable. 2 for 5.


“Arete” is Chapter Six, and although you might start thinking of Mage: The Ascension with this one, the Arete in this game has nothing in common with the stat/play mechanic from White Wolf’s magic oriented game. This section focuses on what happened when a Magic World character gets more than 100% in a skill. Each skill gets a different ability. Brawl with a 101% or better gets an extra 1d3 to damage while a Swim with over 100% lets you move twice as fast. The rules and benefits are a little more complicated than this, but it’s a great idea well worth implementing. Of course it’s rare a character will ever reach this level with a skill, but it’s great to see someone thought this out. It’s definitely the highlight of the book and well worth spreading to other games that use the BRP system. 3 for 6


Our penultimate chapter in Advanced Sorcery is “Herbalism.” It’s a short chapter (five pages) that gives us ten plants that can be used to make potions and require no magical skill whatsoever to produce. It’s nicely done and can let even non-magical characters like warriors and rogues act as a healer for the party. 4 for 7.


The final chapter in the book is “Fey Magic for the Southern Realms.” Once again, we get a new type of alternate magic that can be used instead of or in tandem with the core Magic World rules set. Again, the rules for this new type of magic just aren’t as intuitive as the core rules and by introducing five new optional forms of magic, a less experienced or younger game is going to end up confused and/or overwhelmed here. God forbid some Keeper actually tries to implement all of these rules in a single game or you get a group of players that each wants a different bit in the game. This is just a pretty big train wreck across the board. Anyway, Fey Magic is the easiest to implement of the five as it’s essentially the same rules for Sorcery in the core rulebook, but characters spend POW instead of Magic Points. Why? Who knows! It’s completely arbitrary! There’s no reason why these spells need their own slightly different rules. Just put them under Sorcery spells with their specific caveats. I just can’t fathom the thought process behind much of this book and how multiple people thought it was a good idea to present all of this in the manner it saw print. 4 for 8.


If you’ve made it this far you can see that Advanced Sorcery needed a LOT of work before it was released to the general public for purchase. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and we have what we have. This will no doubt be a disappointment to Magic World fans who have waited a year for some kind of follow up release to the system/setting. At least the book isn’t a total loss as there are some part of Advanced Sorcery well worth reading and adding to your Magic World campaign. This is not a book I can personally recommend though, especially with its current price tags. I’d let it drop below ten dollars for the PDF version before considering picking this up and I can’t imagine ever being able to recommend the physical copy as only half the book is worth looking at, especially since it’s nearly twice as much to get. Some gamers might find the book for useful than me, and more power to them, but right now, the kindest thing about Advanced Sorcery that I can say is that there are some decent pieces to be had amidst the really terrible unfinished bits.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Sorcery
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Magic World
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/18/2014 07:48:27

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/201-
4/04/18/tabletop-review-magic-world-basic-roleplaying/
p>

Magic World is over a year old, but we’re just reviewing it now as it got a soft re-release on DriveThruRPG.com, which provided me with a review copy. I’m not sure why we didn’t get a review copy when it was originally released in early 2013, but I’m sure we got the review copy now since they also sent us a review copy of the first sourcebook for Magic World, Advanced Sorcery at the same time. You can’t review the sourcebook without knowing the core rules, am I right? Well, better late than never as Magic World is a fine alternative to other fantasy RPGs like Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons and what have you. In fact, the core of Magic World is actually older than a lot of current fantasy RPGs. Magic World has essentially taken the rules and themes from many of the fantasy RPGs it no longer publishes like Elric, Stormbringer, RuneQuest and their respective supplements and merged them into a single cohesive package, not unlike Constructicons forming Devestator. The end result is a game that is somewhat new, somewhat familiar, and completely free of the costly licenses Chaosium would need in order to reprint the originals. Don’t think that Magic World is a complete reprint though, as new pieces have been added and some rules and/or wording have been reworked.


It’s important to note right off that bat that Magic World is its own stand-alone game. Unlike a lot of other Basic Roleplaying titles which require the system’s core rulebook in order to be used, Magic World has all the rules you need to play it tucked into its 276 pages. So there is no need to purchase anything but this one core rulebook in order to play the game. If you do already own Basic Roleplaying or other games that use nearly the same system (Like Call of Cthulhu), you will find that magic is done and wielded VERY differently. Keep that in mind lest you suffer a bit of culture shock.


For the most part, character creation is similar to that of BRP of CoC. Skills are different. You won’t have Mechanical Engineering or Physics as options. You will however, have potions, physic (healing), trap and scribe. Skills are also rearranged from alphabetical order into five major categories: Physical, Communication, Knowledge, Manipulation and Perception. Sanity and Know stats are replaced by Effort, Charisma, Stamina and Agility (all attribute x5 pieces). Occupations are also changes, to better fit a high fantasy setting rather than 1920s real world occupations or the like. You’ll also find something called “Allegiance.” Throughout your characters life they will gain (and/or lose) Allegiance points to Balance, Light and Shadow. Think of this as the alignment system for Magic World. Evil acts net you Shadow Points, Good acts net you light and thinking of nature and other life forms can net you Balance. Have an overwhelming amount of Allegiance points in one category rather than the others and you’ll get some in-game bonuses. This bonus increases if you ever hit 100. Shadow bonuses are a lot more powerful similar to Dark Force over Light Force points in the old d6 Star Wars game, which shows evil is an easier path to take.


The game system is very similar to BRP as well. You basically role percentile dice (d100) to see if you succeed or fail. There are critical and special successes if you roll especially well and fumble rolls if you roll poorly. The resistance chart is the same as it has always been. You earn experience in skills and attributes rather than in levels, which is how BRP games have always worked. So on and so forth. What’s different? Well, Magic primarily. You can’t cast magic unless you have a POW of 16 or higher. Compared that to other games where your POW score only means your potential and/or skill with magic. Look at Call of Cthulhu for example. You could have a POW of 13 there and be a damn good spellcaster. In Magic World, you don’t even have the ability to cast the simplest spell in the game. Again, this will take some time to get used to unless you’re an Elric vet. You’ll also find Magic Points regenerate fully in a 24 hour period. This means magic is a lot more powerful than in many other BRP settings. Compare that to Hit Points which regenerate at a speed of 1d3 a week. Magic is definitely king in Magic World. I should end this section on magic by saying anyone with a POW of 16 of greater starts the game with three spells. Those who take the occupation of Sorcerer during character creation get INT/2 spells. Priest, Shamans and Cultists get 1d6+3 spells.


As you can imagine, since Magic World is a more combat oriented game than other versions of BRP, there is a massive section on combat. This is the deepest and most detailed version of combat I’ve ever seen for a BRP game. Inside the combat section you’ll discover all sorts of grisly wounds that can befall both your character and its opponents, rules for ranged and mounted combat, how armor works, what a siege engine can do and so much more. This is probably the chapter you’ll want to spend the most time with, even if you are a longtime Basic Roleplaying fan, just due to all the options and changes that combat sees in Magic World.


Besides huge sections on both combat and magic, there is an entire chapter devoted just to seafaring. I was not expecting this to be honest as this is a topic usually reserved for supplements, if it even gets covered at all. Not so with Magic World. Here you get twenty full pages on ship stats, sample boats, how to make your own seafaring craft and lots of mechanics. Swimming in armor is here and well worth taking a look at. Most fantasy games seem to ignore how hard it actually would be to swim while wearing full plate.


What else will you find in Magic World? There’s a pretty thorough Bestiary ranging from real world animals to monstrous opponents. There’s a chapter for DMs on how to run a Magic World game, which also gives some magical artifacts and clockwork creature options. There’s also a long section on “The Southern Lands,” which is the default location for a Magic World game to take place on. It’s an interesting, if someone generic location with warring fantasy races, intrigue amongst Houses and lots of information on the Fey. The Southern Lands chapter also included story and campaign seeds that a GM can use to create their own adventures. Of course, if you’re looking for full-fledged published adventures, we’re more than a year into the existence of Magic World and none exist yet. In fact there is only the Advanced Sorcery supplement which just came out. This is because Chaosium is pretty wrapped up with Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition and the Horror on the Orient Express remake. It is what it is. Magic World early purchasers may be a bit disappointed to see the game getting the short end of the stick, but take heart! One supplement is just the start and if you are really wanting more content for the game, just pick up some Runequest, Legend or Elric releases. They are mostly compatible and will serve you well. The key is just taking the time to track some down.


Overall, Magic World is a really well done release. It’s great to have some sort of Elric/Stormbringer remake available to the general public. The Basic Roleplay rules and system are exceptionally easy to learn and remain one of the best overall systems ever devised for tabletop gaming. Magic World is a great alternative to other high fantasy games and I know I’d play this over Pathfinder in a heartbeat. If you’re looking for a new fantasy style game to enjoy, definitely consider Magic World. It’s a year old, but many people are getting to hear about it for the first time with its release on DriveThruRPG.com. Better to pick up a high quality game late, rather than never, yes?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Magic World
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Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
by Michael W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/17/2014 11:16:16

I downloaded this and it won't let me view it. Not sure if it's because I don't have the proper update or not. Oh, well. Better luck next time.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
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Astounding Adventures
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/17/2014 06:22:46

Originally published at: http://diehardgamef-
an.com/2014/04/17/tabletop-review-astounding-adventures-basi-
c-roleplaying/


Usually I review stuff right when it comes out, but Astounding Adventures has been out for almost a year now. I didn’t get a review copy when it first was released, but I DID get one about a week ago when Chaosium ported Astounding Adventures over to Drivethrurpg.com. Better late than never, I guess, ESPECIALLY since I have wanted to take a look at this BRP supplement for some time. Thankfully April’s been a real lull in terms of interesting releases, so I can cover this one in a timely manner for its DriveThruRPG.com debut.


Astounding Adventures IS a supplement for Basic Roleplaying, so you’ll need to core rulebook to make proper use of that. That said, because BRP and Call of Cthulhu are about 95% the same, you can probably get away with owning the core rulebook for that game and the two will work together almost seamlessly. This is true not only because of the rules, but because both use the CoC sanity statistic and because the time periods are very similar (CoC is generally set in the 1920s while Astounding Adventures takes place in the 1930s). The general difference between CoC and AA is that Call of Cthulhu has you dealing the machination of Lovecraftia based antagonists while Astounding Adventures lets you encounter those as well as any other pulp based villainy from that era. As such, you can’t go wrong with owning either Call of Cthulhu or Basic Roleplaying to make use of this supplement, but you DO need one or the other.


Astounding Adventures is a tribute/homage to the old pulp magazines of the 1930s. Weird Tales. Amazing Stories. Dime Detective. You’ve heard the names even if you haven’t read them. The emphasis is on action packed adventures where heroes are chiseled, brave and true and villains are as strange as they are evil (also usually foreign to American soil). Characters are a bit more two-dimensional than in other forms of literature, and things tend to be pretty black or white on the morality scale. Astounding Adventures also takes after the cinematic version of pulp. Do you remember those serials you sometimes saw on TV or before a shorter episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000? Well, the game lets you replicate those as well by having cliffhangers and a constant rise of action. As an aside, doing a pulp cinema style campaign also lets you play the game in short regular bursts instead of the usual long 4-8 hour sessions tabletop RPGs are known for. Play for two hours, end the session on a “same bat-time, same bat-channel” note and it will be a very different feel that the general gaming stereotype.


One of the great things about Astounding Adventures is that you can do any form of pulp with it. Want to run a campaign where you fight robot Nazis? You can! Want to deal with a cabal of Chinese sorcerers? You can! Want to deal with Lovecraftian beasties or play heroes like The Phantom or The Shadow? You can! Want to mix them all together? You can! All of these possibilities are thought of and discussed within the Astounding Adventures supplement. It might sound weird to do a pulp mash-up but remember, Defenders of the Earth was based on such a concept and it was a successful cartoon for a few years.


It’s also worth mentioning that all the narratives in Astounding Adventures use the same three characters and the core antagonist. So over the course of the book as you learn things like mechanics, character creation and the rest, you’ll thrill to the exploits of Rex Stone and his pilot Dottie Blaze as they seek an ancient Egyptian treasure. This is very well done and it’s rare you see an entire book stick with the same in-game narrative from beginning to end. Just a nice touch that deserves mentioning.


Much of Astounding Adventures is a condensed version of Basic Roleplaying. You’re given the slightly different character creation system for this game, a list of powers and resources (characters get one or the other), a tone of information about the pulp era, tips for the Keeper on how to run a Pulp game and how it should stand out from other tabletop settings, and a ton of equipment and potential enemies. You’re even give a random adventure generator which is quite amusing to fiddle with. I wouldn’t recommend using it for all your Astounding Adventures games, but who knows – rolling a few dice and checking the results might get your imagination flowing.


There are also three premade adventures to read and/or use. Each of the adventures looks at a different version of pulp. They don’t really string together well because of the different tone and atmosphere in each adventure, but they all make great one-shots that a Keeper can use to test the waters with. “The Perils of Sumatra!” have characters in a race against time AND the Third Reich to find the Staff of Lost Souls. This wielder of this powerful artifact can unleash overwhelming fear upon its enemies…or they might go stark raving mad. It depends. Either way, such an item is too powerful to let the Ratzis get their mitts on it, right? So it’s up to the PCs to deal with enemies, traps and an ancient mummy – all to keep the world safe from Hitler!


“The Dynamo of Doom” is less “Indiana Jones” and more in line with the sci-fi pulp pieces of the era. Here a mad scientist plans to hold a town hostage with his Telecution Helmet. Thanks to a case of mistaken identity the PCs are made aware of this threat. Can they stop the Doll Faced Man and his Metal Men in time? This is a pretty straightforward adventure but it captures the feel of those old pulp serials nicely. The final adventure is “The God of the Airwaves” and this is a Weird Tales style piece that should make Call of Cthulhu fans happy. It’s the Golden Age of radio and no show is more popular in the locale where the PCs reside than “The Night Watchman.” Unfortunately the show turns old to be a way for a cultist to brainwash listeners AND help summon an ancient and nearly forgotten deity into our plane of existence. Can the PCs stop the cultist or will they be overwhelmed by the dark forces plaguing their fair city?


Across the board, Astounding Adventures is simply fantastic. I’m actually surprised this hasn’t been done before for BRP, but I’m glad it exists now. This is a fine supplement to your CoC or BRP game (or just the mechanics) and Astounding Adventures is as much fun to read as it is to play. Going digital might be your best bet since it costs half as much as a print copy. The book is well laid out, easy to follow, concise and contains everything you need to play a pulp based BRP game except the core BRP rules themselves. If you’re a fan of Chaosium’s rules set, you should definitely consider picking up Astounding Adventures. it’s a great twist on an old classic and with the upcoming Horror on the Orient Express remake getting a two fisted pulp option added to , this will be the perfect book to get you in that mindset!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Astounding Adventures
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The House of R'lyeh
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:32:09

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.co-
m/2013/04/22/tabletop-review-the-house-of-rlyeh-call-of-cthu-
lhu/


The House of R’lyeh is a collection I’ve been excited to get my hands on for some time. This is because, for the first time, there is a Call of Cthulhu adventure collection that ties heavily into not only actual stories by H.P. Lovecraft, but over a dozen other published adventure collections of campaigns by Chaosium. In a sense, The House of R’lyeh is the first real piece for Call of Cthulhu tying together enough published works that the system could now have a slight semblance of a metaplot. Unlike systems like Shadowrun or Vampire: The Masquerade, where every book released seems (or seemed in the case of V:TM) to build on the metaplot, and sometimes were written more for said overarching story than for gamer accessibility, the metaplot suggested here in The House of R’lyeh is both optional and nebulous. This means, thankfully, that Call of Cthulhu will never be one of those games where you feel like you need to purchase every release to understand what is going on, but that those interested in the light trappings of a metaplot presented here can track down the adventures, supplements and stories (many are out of print though, both physically and electronically) to fully realize the “bigger picture” presented by authors here. I’m very happy about the interconnectivity of all these adventures being so light, because had it been otherwise, this could have been a massive train wreck. Instead, The House of R’lyeh gives us five interesting adventures, each of which is primarily tied to a story by Lovecraft, thus acting as a quasi-sequel to the events in those tales. There are ways to connect all five adventures into a min-campaign, and many references to other stories and adventures, in case the Keeper wants to go to use these adventures as a starting point or link for something else in his or her collection. I really like how all these hints, homages and nods to other Cthulhoid publications come across, as I admit, I’m getting fatigue from certain other RPGs, where the books are unabashedly written in such a way that you MUST own previous releases to make heads or tails of what is going on in it. So a big kudos to Chaosium for presenting a collection that tries to pull previous releases together in a light form of metaplot/cohesiveness while making sure all the way it is optional, AND providing enough information about the inspiration material that the Keeper doesn’t need to search out and/or purchase the other pieces of writing in question.


I will give one word of warning to those who are interested in picking up The House of R’lyeh. These are exceptionally long and in-depth adventures, and they will no doubt seem daunting to casual or less experienced Call of Cthulhu keepers. Not only are the adventures themselves crammed with an amazing amount of information about the plot, potential NPCs and pratfalls, but they also include everything from a quick synopsis of the story that inspired them, a massive amount of information on the area in which the adventure takes place and everything the less detail oriented Keeper won’t even think of, like full rail charts (and length of trips) or the cost of various items for the time period. I won’t say the adventures come off as anal retentive or OCD, but they are so jam packed with information that you will either find The House of R’lyeh to contain everything you’ve ever wanted to see in an adventure, down to the most minute detail, or to be extremely superfluous and cause your eyes to glaze over as you fathom each page’s multitude of information. It’s going to be one extreme or another. Either way, my advice is not to try and read this book in one sitting. Maybe one adventure at a time, and for the longer 60+ page adventures, perhaps a few sittings each, and take notes during each one as, while running the adventure, there’s just no way to remember where every last detail is. Just remember, HoR contains five adventures and clocks in at 224 pages, while something like Atomic Age Cthulhu has nine adventures and a mini source book for the 1950s to boot – all with the same page count as this collection. So, yeah, let’s just say The House of R’lyeh is INTENSE, and whether that is a positive or a negative is really up to what you want from an adventure collection.


The first adventure is “The Art of Madness” and it is a sequel to Pickman’s Model, arguably one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories (Cthulhu knows it’s been turned into a plethora of low budget, but varying quality films/TV episodes over the years). I will say the the characterization of Pickman is completely off from the Lovecraft story, and certainly it’s different from the Pickman we see in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, which will no doubt draw the ire of some Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos fans. It’s the problem any time a character is adapted into someone else’s work. I will admit it is an inaccurate portrayal of Pickman compared to his Lovecraft penned pieces, but it is well established that becoming a ghoul is a painful and maddening process. In Pickman’s Model we see the beginning of Pickman’s descent, but in “Kadath,” he’s not only quite sane (more or less) but an ally of Robert Carter. I suppose if this was Marvel Comics, I’d try and earn myself a No-Prize by saying that “The Art of Madness” takes place when Pickman hits the zenith of his insanity and slowly begins to rebuild himself at the conclusion of the adventure, perhaps with a stark clarity that only comes with being mad and hitting rock bottom. Or, in Call of Cthulhu gaming terms, he’s failed one too many sanity checks and is temporarily insane, but eventually gets better, or as much as a cannibalistic undergrounding dwelling humanoid mutated by his own dark nature can be. That said, I loved this adventure because it’s one of those stories that seems so obvious that I can’t believe it hasn’t been written before now. The plot is so simple it’s ingenious, and can be played for stark terror or even with a Blood Brothers-esque tongue-in-cheek feel to it, because the premise is as absurd and potentially comical as it is creepy as all get out.


Oh, what is the plot of “The Art of Madness,” you ask? Well, Richard Upton Pickman feels his art is unappreciated by the plebian human society he was once a part of. Pickman also feels that his style of art must live on in the surface world, and so he decides to open a school of the arts inside the ghoul warren he is part of. Now he only needs students, and so he begins to take a select few that show “potential” from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This is where the Investigators come in, although the missing students and teacher may not be the plot hook that initially sends them into this macabre foray.


I really like that “The Art of Madness” offers multiple hooks to get Investigators involved. After all, there are FAR too many adventures that rely on the assumption that the PCs are parapsychologists, a detective agency or just “know Cthulhu stuff.” With multiple story hooks, the Keeper can choose what works best for players, as well as the tone of the adventure. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t decide whether to play this adventure seriously or as somewhat comedic. I started off the adventure like it would be a normal CoC adventure, but when players interacted with the Portuguese janitor who is somewhat pivotal to the plot like he was Manuel from Fawlty Towers, I knew it was time to err on the side of farcical, which turned out to be the right call. I strongly doubt the author of “Art of Madness” wrote it realizing the comedic potential of the adventure, but then neither did Bruce Nesmith when he penned The Created for Second Edition AD&D, and look how that turned out. The adventure DOES work if you play it straight, as there is a good deal of creepiness, what with wandering into a Ghoul warren and discovering the fate of the kidnapped artists. No matter how you decide to run with “The Art of Madness,” it really is a brilliant little adventure you can’t help but have fun with. 1 for 1.


“The Crystal of Chaos” is the second adventure in the collection and it is meant to be a sequel to the Lovecraft story, The Haunter of the Dark. I always loved this story, and I’m surprised the creature from this tale hasn’t turned up in more Call of Cthulhu adventures. Here it is, though, as Investigators journey to Providence, Rhode Island to retrieve a mystical artifact from the long defunct Church of Starry Wisdom. Of course, said item bears a horrific curse that threatens the physical and mental well-being of the PCs, but really, isn’t that par for the course in a CoC adventure?


My only real problem with “The Crystal of Chaos” is trying to get players into the adventure. This is one of those that assumes players are all allies/co-workers and have some sort of Cthulhoid leaning background, such as professors, anthropologists or detectives. What happens when you have characters that run the gamut from Olympic gymnast to hobo? It’s going to be very hard to create a proper story hook for this one that actually fits a group of players who were given free reign during character design, which is MOST groups. “The Crystal of Chaos” would be awesome with pre-generated characters or as a one-shot adventure, but trying to come up with a reason why a circus clown, a wealthy dilettante, a longshoreman and a chemical engineer should team up to track down the Shining Trapezohedron from a ruined and possibly haunted church so that an Egyptologist can use it in his upcoming expedition is going to take a bit of planning out. This is why I love adventures like “The Art of Madness” where you are given multiple ways to get characters into the adventure. Ones with only a single plot hook like this that doesn’t really work as a catch-all is pretty much equivalent to, “Your party is in a tavern when…” for fantasy RPGs.


Now, with that out of the way, once you find a way to actually get your motley crew of characters to undertake the trip to Providence, you’ll find the adventure is a really fun one. The adventure provides five full pages just on landmarks in the city itself, meaning a good Keeper can really make Providence come to life, even if they have never been there. The Free-Will Church is laid out in exacting detail, leaving the Keeper with little to no work to do in order to run the adventure, save for memorizing all that it contains. There’s an unexpected mini-boss, so to speak, which I enjoyed seeing, and it’s now the second time in the past month a Call of Cthulhu adventure has featured this creature, which is funny as I mentioned in my Tales of the Sleepless City review that this particular monster of choice doesn’t get enough play in CoC.


The climax of the adventure is when the players find the Shining Trapezohedron, but in a sense, it starts something completely new, as now players have to deal with The Haunter itself and all that comes with it. It might be a good idea to break the adventure into two sessions, ending the first right when the players unwittingly do something with the ancient jewel that sends everything into chaos. Everyone loves a cliffhanger, right? Of course, everything goes to hell from there and what was originally a simple snatch and run operation becomes an event where the PCs may not only have to save the world, but one of their own. By the end of the adventure, at least one Investigator will be suffering from severe nyctophobia. Ouch. Again, this is a fun little adventure and players will probably be expecting one thing from the adventure, especially when they are told they are investigating an old ruined crazy cult church, and then end up getting hit with something quite different. It’ll definitely be fun to hear how various play sessions of this adventure went. 2 for 2.


The third adventure in The House of R’lyeh is “The Return of the Hound.” I’ve always loved that story, but I can’t say I cared for the adventure. It never connected with me. At times, it was just really dull, and at others it felt too over the top, like with the auction where a bunch of magic using occultists were there to examine the rare magic bearing tomes (including a Necronomicon!) up for sale. Part of it is that the adventure just felt far too long both in terms of reading and actual play. It dragged and felt heavily padded, which is never a good thing.


Now, that’s not to say the adventure was a complete flop. With some heavy excising and streamlining, this could work really well. As the adventure is basically two in one (part taking place in Amsterdam and the other in a small rural English community), you could just remove the Dutch part of the adventure and really focus on the weird British auction of the damned. However, the core of information the players need to get through the information is in the Dutch part so… I don’t know. My advice is that the seeds of an interesting adventure are here, but it’s just too bogged down to flow in an enjoyable manner. It feels like it was put together via a game of Mythos from the late 90s.


Basically “The Return of the Hound” has players not only having to deal with the return of this otherworldly canine, but a victim turned avatar of the Hound turned serial killer. The text is quite contradictory on the non Hound antagonist, as it’s mentioned to be an avatar, but still potentially being hunted by the Hound, which is nonsensical. It would be like Hastur trying to smack down the King in Yellow. It gets far more convoluted from there without any real rhyme or reason behind the Hound or De Slachter, and the adventure really needed a better editor to focus the writer’s ideas into a more comprehensible affair. It also doesn’t help that there is a TON of back story content, in-depth location descriptions and NPC bios to sift through. In a better laid out adventure, all this would be helpful instead of a hindrance. Unfortunately, the layout of the adventure has you flipping back and forth to make some sense of the story being told while trying to keep all the Keeper information separate in your head. I would have to suggest that this needed to be totally rewritten from the ground up. There’s just way too much going on here and very little of it is going to be fun or even interesting to the people playing through this. 2 for 3.


Our fourth adventure in this collection is “The Jermyn Horror,” and it is meant to play off of Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family, which is a truly strange but memorable Lovecraftian story. I’m at odds with the adventure itself. Its connection to the Lovecraft story is tenuous at best and mere window dressing at worst, which is a shame, because it’s a really good adventure for the most part and it might have been even better had the core story been allowed to stand on its own instead of being tied to a previous Lovecraft penned tale. You could excise the entire Jermyn connection and the adventure would still work wonderfully. It just depends on if your players will like the slight homage to a previous Lovecraft story or if they will find it trite and unnecessary.


There are two other problems I had with this adventure. The first is a minor one, but it is the second in this collection that hinges around a PC being possessed by the antagonist of the adventure, and the third where the antagonist possesses SOMEONE to keep the story moving along. That’s… not good in my opinion, and shows a dearth of creativity in this collection. Fortunately for “The Jermyn Horror,” I can’t pin my disdain for the fact that 60% of this collection goes back to the same well on it alone. The second is that the adventure doesn’t really have a true ending set up, and that’s the big one. The adventure has the characters forcibly held in place by a fiendish thingy that tried to possess and convert their bodies, but the adventure doesn’t really give any way for players to “win” or even survive it. The creature in question is crazy powerful and has trapped the players. There is a way of delaying the inevitable destruction if players can find it, and a very obscure way of killing the creature you will pretty much have to hold the hands of players to lead them to, which is never fun for anyone. There really needed to be more outs for the Keeper and his or her players, rather than a single paragraph on what could be done including the sentence, “Other solutions might present themselves to inventive players.” as the way to end the adventure. This seems to be more of an editorial than a writer issue though, as it could have been easily fixed by the editor saying, “Could you expand this a bit more so that less experienced gamers or Keepers have more of an out?” I mean, Call of Cthulhu should be a deadly game, but the solution shouldn’t be so obscure that most players won’t figure it out unless it’s virtually handed it to them by the Keeper. The end result is this adventure reads and plays like it is the Keeper VERSUS the players, which should be a massive red flag for anyone, as we all know how those affairs turn out. It’s a shame too, because I loved the creature, the setup, the atmosphere and some of the goings-on in the adventure. With some fine tuning, this could have been a great adventure. Instead it feels like an incomplete one. 2 for 4.


“Nameless City, Nameless Terrors” is our fifth adventure, and after the two I gave a thumb’s down to, I’m happy to say The House of R’lyeh ends on a positive note. There is some combining of Irem and the Nameless City, which may cause squabbling between different camps of Mythos fans, but hey, it’s an adventure for a role playing game; it’s not like it’s going to magically retcon everything Lovecraft has written since the 1890s.


This adventure feels like a classic Cthulhu story from the 20s turned into an adventure, which is what I was hoping for with this collection. Players will be travelling to the Middle East (starting in Yemen) in search of Irem, and once again, I love that this adventure gives you multiple hooks to use instead of one rigid assumption about the Investigators and why they are along for the ride. You got a LOT of information on the Nameless City in the course of playing the game, so even if you hadn’t read the actual story by Lovecraft, you won’t feel like you are missing out on anything. There are also a lot of suggested optional encounters which can turn “Nameless City, Nameless Terrors” into a mini campaign, which is always a fine option. This allows the Keeper to adapt the adventure to the attention span of his or her players, as well as change things on the fly. Are the Investigators burning through the adventure with no problem? Then throw an optional event at them. If they are having a hard time and making little progress, there’s no sense in using them. I love when adventures do this.


“Nameless Cities, Nameless Terrors,” just has that “it factor” for me. It’s well written, it’s in an exotic locale yet well written enough that a Keeper who is utterly unfamiliar with Yemen can make it come alive. There’s a wonderful mystical quality that pervades the entire experience, and though much of the adventure is simply travelling and talking with NPCs rather than investigating or running from Mythos terrors, it’s a highly memorable experience. I also love the unexpected allies that you can gain in this adventure. One of which is a realistic portrayal of a Mythos creature and how, simply because something isn’t human doesn’t mean it’s out to destroy mankind or drive things insane. The other is perhaps the most famous creation of Lovecraft after Cthulhu, and while this will no doubt raise the ire of some Lovecraftian purists, I found it to be a nice unexpected touch. If you’re unsure if the introduction of this character will cause a dour reaction from some of your players, just change his name and have him be some other ancient figure with copious amounts of knowledge that no man should possess.


At the end of “Nameless Cities, Nameless Terrors,” Investigators will have picked up a lot of Cthulhu Mythos simply through osmosis, have made some powerful mystical allies, and will have encountered a veritable menagerie of things man was never meant to encounter. It’ll be interesting to see how many characters make it through this adventure with their sanity intact. This is simply a fantastic adventure that is best used as the climax or end of a long campaign before classic characters are finally to put to bed. 3 for 5.


So as we can see, The House of R’lyeh is a mixed bag. There are three excellent adventures in the collection and two I can’t recommend. Although the good does outweigh the bad in this set, I have a hard time saying it is worth the thirty-four dollar price tag of the physical copy. Twenty dollars for the PDF is more acceptable, but still a little high for the level of quality. As Chaosium is having a sale until April 28th, you can get the PDF for $14.26 which is definitely worth it (Five bucks per good adventure is a fine deal), but at the same time, you can then get other new-ish releases like Terror From the Skies for only $16.07 and Atomic Age Cthulhu for $12.68 and I’d recommend either of those over The House of R’lyeh without hesitation. There are FAR better Call of Cthulhu collections out there for the same approximate price tag, but by no means is The House of R’lyeh a bad or even disappointing choice.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The House of R'lyeh
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Terror From the Skies
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:30:16

originally published at: http://diehardgamefan-
.com/2012/12/10/tabletop-review-call-of-cthulhu-terror-from--
the-skies/


It’s been an amazing year for the Call of Cthulhu franchise. Chaosium has put out top notch pieces like Cthulhu by Gaslight Third Edition and Mysteries of Ireland. Goodman Games has given us A Dream of Japan and The Timeless Sands of India. Pagan Publishing FINALLY released Bumps in the Night while other new publishers like Modiphius and Hebanon games releases some quality adventures as well. As 2012 comes to an end, Chaosium gives us one last release in Terror From the Skies – a massive campaign containing over a dozen connected adventures, guaranteed to keep your players busy for the next few months. While it’s nowhere as impressive as say, Horror on the Orient Express or Masks of Nyarlathotep, you’re still getting a solid adventure that will test both the Keeper and the Investigators alike as they try to foil a scheme that, if left unchecked, will spell the extinction of the entire human race.


The primary antagonists in this campaign are the Insects from Shaggai, or the Shan, as they are referred to throughout this collection. Although the race is presented slightly different in tone and deed than Ramsey Campbell first portrayed them, they still make for a creepy recurring threat to your Investigators – especially with their legions of shantanks, star vampires and cultists behind them. There is a lot of combat here, especially for a Chaosium published Call of Cthulhu adventure, but if the players are smart, they’ll be able to even the odds by way of magic, stealth and even making an alliance with the Deep Ones. This adventure is pretty unforgiving, and much like those classic boxed sets from Chaosium’s past, everyone’s starting Investigator will probably be dead or mad before the campaign is through. In this respect, it’s almost like this is a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign, but with train rides instead of underground lairs and Cthulhu Mythos beasties instead of dragons or beholders. I’d suggest using characters that are well experienced if you want them to survive, as they would have Mythos skill points and some spells at hand, but then you risk losing a beloved character, and the first adventure is written in such a way that this is each character’s first experience with the Mythos. At the same time though, there are times when the adventure expects Investigators to have a pretty hefty Cthulhu Mythos skill percentage to make a few rolls, which is pretty jarring and at times impossible. This isn’t the only case where balance is an issue with the entire campaign. You’re going to want each Investigator to have an extremely high Psychology skill level, as it’s used for just about everything in this game. Other skills that are abundantly used are Spot Hidden, Hide and Sneak. It’s as if a team of Jungian loving Ninjas would be the ideal Investigators for this campaign. It would have been nice to see a larger spread of skill usage throughout the campaign, but it is what it is. Just don’t expect your typical librarian or Professor to make it through this unscathed. A Hobo or dock worker might have a better chance, which is kind of neat. Keepers may want to give hints as to what skills are best suited for this campaign if they are overly nice and generous, but it also may be fun to see how well the usual Call of Cthulhu builds hold up in this campaign.


The campaign starts off innocuously enough, with the wedding of a dear friend. Unfortunately the wedding is to be held in a church with a hideous curse that plagues any who try to wed within it, thus setting off a massive chain of events no one could predict. The first adventure is an intro not only to the campaign, but could also work as an intro to Call of Cthulhu as well. There’s little, if any, combat, and it’s all about deciphering how the curse works and disabling it. It’s about as cut and dry as a CoC adventure gets. From there, though, each adventure is meant to lead into the next, but things start off with a rocky start. A character briefly met in the first adventure is the story hook for the second one, which takes place in Whitby. However, said character lived nowhere near Whitby in the first adventure, and for a campaign that is almost anal retentive on keeping track of dates and times so as to stick to a schedule of events, there’s no commentary on when this character moved or how long of a time elapsed between the two adventures. There’s also no reason for this NPC to have forged such a strong bond with the Investigators that he thinks to write them and ask for their help. In all honestly, I would have the first adventure, “Introduction,” take place a year or so before “A Whitby Vampire” and throw in two other short adventures between them to let the Investigators raise their skills while letting the players get some experience in the system. I’d also make this particular NPC, named Frederick Davis, a recurring character in them somehow to strengthen his relationship with the PCs and make it less jarring.


The second adventure is only connected to the first because the things behind the cursed church are also behind the serial killings in this adventure. That and Mr. Davis. Other than that, they aren’t as interconnected as they need to be for a true campaign feeling. Still, “A Whitby Vampire,” is a fun adventure, just like the first, and it really gives the Investigators full exposure to the Mythos while also making some truly strange allies. It also gives the PCs knowledge of the cult that does the bidding of the Shan and a hint towards the end goal of this alien race.


After “A Whitby Vampire,” the Investigators begin to follow clues leading them into a vast world-wide conspiracy. They’ll be traveling by train, motorcar, carriage and even ship as they follow leads all over the United Kingdom. Each leg of the journey puts them at odds with the Shan’s cult, while also gaining magic and Cthulhu Mythos points at an increasing pace. As mentioned earlier, there will be a lot of battles taking place, but with the right magic, players should be able to stand up to the creatures they encounter, even while their sanity slowly dissipates. As Investigators will (hopefully) gain access to the same summon/bind spells the cult has, they can just neutralize the creatures with their own kind, freeing up time to investigate, steal, assassinate and research. Like I said, a Ninja would work out really well in Terror From the Skies.


A good part of the adventure is figuring out who is in the Shan’s cult and who is also quasi-possessed by one of these creatures. This is where the massive amount of psychology rolls will come in. Every character will have access to the spell Cast Out Shan, which will help immensely, but it’s getting a person to a place where you can perform the spell privately that will be the trick, just like any other spell in the game. It’s not just spells and psychology rolls that will come in handy. Someone who is excellent with a sniper rifle will make the adventure pretty easy as well. There are times when the an Investigator with experience in this field (say a veteran of the Great War) will be able to take out a cultist easily. More importantly, it’ll keep from having to deal with Shantanks and Star Vampires. At one point characters may even try to infiltrate the cult. At the very least they’ll be sneaking into a few ceremonies and the like. Investigators might not have a problem foiling the plans of alien horrors and their pet monstrosities, but they might balk at having to kill a lot of cultists. All for the greater good though, right?


It’s not until the sixth adventure, “Newcastle,” where the Investigators will really have an idea of what is going on. Until now, they’ve just been dealing with a cult that seems to be spread across the country. Here, however, players will finally figure out what the Shan need, a flight around the world via the Graf Zeppelin, even if they won’t know why. For the next few adventures, players will be going after specific cultists and either neutralizing them or opening their eyes to what the Shan really are and the nefarious schemes they have in place. The good thing is that you can have some of these (hopefully) ex-cultists in line as replacement characters in case someone dies or goes irreparably mad from this point on. Basically, from here on, players will be trying to figure out what cultists are going to be on the Graf Zeppelin, and taking their tickets through a variety of means. These bits can range from helping free these people from their Shan infestation (if they have one. They might just be helping willingly) to doing a 1920s style Shadowrun affair, or just outright robbing and/or murdering them to keep them from bordering the most important blimp ride in human history. Of course, no matter what, the Investigators will have to figure out who (or what) a mysterious being known as The Carrier is and what exactly “Heliowall” is, and why it is so important to the Shan. Is it a person? A Place? An alien being? A technological device? Players will need to figure this out and invariably, it will probably lead them through a maze of challenges that will test even the most min/max’d character.


The campaign climaxes with “The Graf Zeppelin” and “The Last Leg,” where the investigators, now armed with the knowledge of what Heliowall is, must figure out which of the passengers or crew aboard the Graf Zeppelin is it. Then they have to find a way to neutralize them and prevent the Shan’s plan for world domination from taking effect. In essence, these two adventures are a logic puzzle similar to the old board game Guess Who? albeit with more lethal consequences. Players will have to mentally tick off who the Carrier could and could not be. A wrong guess can lead to disaster, imprisonment and even extinction of the human race. At the same time, they have but a limited amount of time, as they must stop The Carrier before the flight around the world is accomplished, so they can’t dawdle. There will be numerous occurrences where The Carrier will try to take the Investigators out, and thus chances for the players to compare notes and try to pinpoint who the Shan’s ultimate agent is. It may come down to one Investigator taking it for the team by coldly murdering the Carrier in front of witnesses, or even the entire team sacrificing the Graf by using Mythos creatures of their own to destroy it and the Carrier (along with dozens of innocent human lives). It all just depends on the players and the actions they choose for their characters. In the end, the Investigators will have hopefully stopped the Shan from their one and only chance of destroying humanity in exchange for earning the eternal enmity of this race of beings. With a good Keeper and some fine players, Terror From the Skies should be an immensely rewarding and entertaining experience for all who play through it.


As fun and lengthy as Terror From the Skies is, it’s not without flaws. I’ve mentioned a few earlier, such as the lack of balance with important skills and the sheer amount of combat and magic players will be engaging in. The other really noticeable negative with this book is the layout of the content. I really feel that each chapter, as well as the entire book, could have been laid out better. Terror From the Skies feels a bit ramshackle, like everything should have been placed in a different order for better cohesion and comprehension. For example, each chapter ends with a summary, when really, that should have been at the beginning to help the Keeper or reader understand how events are meant to play out. As well, there’s not enough detail or planning for an adventure of this scope. It’s written as if this was an old school video game, where things progress linearly and that there isn’t room or discussion of how events might go down differently. A little more depth to each chapter could have gone a long way, and I’d really have preferred to see alternatives to outright combat. What’s written in this book is as if it is set in stone, and that’s never good for a tabletop game. After all, players will ALWAYS think of something the Keeper didn’t prepare for, and the structure of this book, combined with the underestimation of what players may do, means that Terror in the Skies is best left in the hands of a VERY experienced Keeper, lest things fall apart quickly, especially with the lack of any real attempts at tying the first few adventures together cohesively. I will also say that I wish Chaosium had stuck with the original cover (which you can see here instead of the one we ended up with. The original cover was awesome and let you know exactly what you were getting. The final cover is a bit generic at best.


So all in all, is Terror From the Skies forth picking up? At twenty-three dollars, I’d say yes. It’s fun to read through even if you’re not going to play it. It’s well written, if not well laid out, and it’s great to see Chaosium still putting out full campaigns instead of monographs and the occasional remake or sourcebook. Again, it’s nowhere near as good as some of those other lengthy campaigns that the company is famous for, but it’s still going to make for a fun time for any group that loves to play Call of Cthulhu. I’d definitely recommend it with the caveat that a Keeper will want to flesh things out so that the campaign runs a little smoother.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Terror From the Skies
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