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Trail of Cthulhu: The Book of the Smoke
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/09/2017 08:20:18

Written completely in-character, this work is subtitled \"The Investigator\'s Guide to Occult London\" and is purportedly based on the research of the recently deceased Augustus Darcy. Perhaps, if you are using Bookhounds of London, this has turned up in your characters\' bookshop. Or, in any campaign, it has come to the Investigators\' attention in some manner, a useful resource if their investigations take them to London.

If you are the Keeper, a thorough study of this tome will reap great rewards in terms of local colour and the myriad ideas for plots that will spawn as you read through it. Do, however, share it with your players; let their characters consult it during the game or even let them read it at their leisure between games.

The main part is a discussion of places, an occult gazetteer. Divided into geographical areas (beginning with the Square Mile of the City of London itself), entries are then alphabetical, making it relatively easy to find the one that you want. For each location there are notes on relevant occult connections (note: occult, rather than Mythos), with frequent references to ghost sightings, inexplicable feelings or smells and the like. Much lies unexplained - and that\'s the fun part, any one might become the basis of one of your plots, or at least be part and parcel of it. You barely need to lay out the clues, they are here for the party to find for themselves! Period images mingle with snippets of lore at every turn.

There is also a section on various people, some historical like John Dee, others supposedly contemporary figures of the occult scene. Perhaps the Investigators will encounter them in their travels, or seek one out if their knowledge is appropriate to the matter in hand. Again, reading many of these entries suggest encounters and plots a-plenty.

As a casual read this is a fascinating work. Even if you are not a role-player, or prefer other genres of game, it makes for an entertaining read if you have an interest in occult lore or indeed if you know your way around London - if you are not near to there, you can pull up most of the locations on Google Maps! (Or if you have Bookhounds of London, the extensive 1930s London maps therein will come in handy in orienting yourself.) If you do play any Myths-related game, or one based in the 1930s or thereabouts, it becomes an invaluable in-character resource.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Book of the Smoke
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Trail of Cthulhu: Bookhounds of London
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/07/2017 08:33:26

Most Investigators are accustomed to having, in the course of their investigations, to consult the odd musty tome in the library - but have they ever wondered how they got there? The core idea of Bookhounds of London is that the party consists of book-dealers who hunt down and sell said dusty old tomes, and get dragged into dealing with what some of them cover almost by accident...

The first section, Bookhounds, is all about creating appropriate characters from somewhere in the rarified yet disreputable book-dealing world. (OK, I know it\'s set later and is about the Devil rather than the Mythos, but the movie The Ninth Gate keepts floating around my mind at the moment.) There are some new occupations directly engaged with the rare book trade as well as suggestions about how to twist existing ones to suit. There\'s also a fascinating new Ability called The Knowledge, which - similar to a London black cab driver - confers an encycopaedic knowledge of what\'s to be found in London and the best route to get there.

Next, a look at Bookshops. The idea is that all Bookhounds (which is what Investigators are called in this campaign) are based in and around a store, run by one of them who has taken the Bookseller occupation. There are various rules for defining stock and other such matters (if you want to go into so much detail) but the real purpose of the bookshop is as a focal point for adventures and a home base for the Bookhounds themselves. Various types are discussed, from a book-barrow under Waterloo Bridge to fancy high-end stores and high-end auction houses.

Appropriately, the next section is The Purchase of Curious Tomes. While the book trade itself is important in this type of campaign, it\'s not central and some groups may wish to keep it more in the background than others. The rules here enable the simulation of a thriving book store\'s operations without bogging down in too much detail, and there\'s enough terminology to make you all sound the part. For those too young to remember \'old\' British money, a complex system ditched in 1971 in favour of the decimal system in use today, there are notes on that, although it\'s suggested that you abstract rather than getting too bogged down in your pounds, shillings and pence. Estate sales, auctions... complete with dramatic rules for auctions when you want to play one out.

Next come Libraries. The sort we are interested in here don\'t lend, you have to go there - and be allowed in - if you wish to consult their books. Even when you have gained admittance, the sort of books that interest us here may be on restricted access. Several suitable libraries in London are described, with notes on how to get in and the books to be found there... and then of course we have the Books Themselves, beginning with physical details and then moving on to notes on the different kinds of occult works to be found. Sample genuine historical occult books are listed for some local colour, before moving on to Mythos Tomes with again a few examples.

We then leave the books aside, with a massive section on Thirties London. There\'s loads of flavour text to help you get a feel of it, with rumours and contacts galore. Different sections of London are outlined, and it makes for a fascinating read never mind a useful resource. The survey is followed by a section on The London Mythos which discusses cults and individuals, complete with plot hooks and other notes to get them mixed up in the stories that you have to tell. Many call upon monsters, so the next section is London\'s Monsters. Each comes with copious notes to make them easy to use when the need arises.

Then comes the strange magick of Megapolisomancy. This weird art uses the city itself to cause change to occur in accordance with will - it may be something you can study like other arcane arts or perhaps it is used insinctively by those steeped in a city\'s lore. The extensive material here will let you incorporate it into your game: whether you let the party use it or reserve it for NPCs is up to you.

Now to practical matters with a section on Running a Bookhounds Campaign. There are plenty of styles to conjure with here, read through and decide what will suit the group and the stories you have to tell best. Ideas about, enough to spawn several campaigns... and that\'s before we reach the NPCs. There are example bookstores, complete with owners, staff and their own bookhounds, as well as individuals of interest. Even if you don\'t want to run a Bookhounds campaign, these could come in useful if more regular Investigators want to interact with them during the course of their adventures. These NPCs come with a range of options, shaded to suit the style and needs of your campaign: customise them to your heart\'s content.

The discussion then moves on to Scenarios. Like any other for this game, they provide a series of encounters and clues that lead to an horrifying glimpse of the Mythos lurking just beyond the ken of normal folk, occult mysteries revealed. Structure and pacing are discussed, mechanical tools that if used during the design process ensure that the whole thing stays on track and delivers suitable horror-laced entertainment to your group. Use maps liberally to give a feeling of location and with liberal use of plot hooks, character-driven adventures, and contacts you will soon be up and running. As an example, there\'s a whole adventure, Whitechapel Black-Letter, to get you going. There may be a book at its core, but this scenario provides scope for plenty of action as well!

Appropriately for a book about books, there is an extensive bibliography in back, along with some floorplans. Perhaps the Mythos is loose in the Palace of Westminster (home of the British Parliament), or there are clues to be found in the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum or even London Zoological Gardens. The Tower of London, the Victoria and Albert Museum (the Vic and Al, as it\'s known to locals) or the British Museum itself might contain that for which you seek. There are plenty more maps as well, street maps of most of London (I can even find the street where I grew up!), plenty for your group to explore. Various forms and appendices round this work off.

Not only does this provide a very novel slant to adventuring, there\'s the tremendous resource of London laid out for you whatever you want to do there, and an inside look at the book trade that provides the tomes your Investigators (be they Bookhounds or not) find themselves pouring over. And there\'s a cracking adventure to boot!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Bookhounds of London
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Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Dead White World
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/07/2017 08:28:50

This book contains the first three adventures of a twelve-part campaign, Cthulhu Apocalypse that presents an horrific end-time in which life on earth is almost wiped out to be replaced by Mythos creatures. Only the Investigators stand in the way of utter disaster...

Five pre-generated Investigators are provided (in somewhat narrative form, best to transfer them to regular character sheets before giving them out), or players may create their own. Some advice for certain aspects of the characters is given. Everyone starts on a train going to Dover, with many intending to go to a wedding there. Next, the supporting cast of NPCs is listed, with brief notes and ideas for how to role-play them effectively including mannerisms and style of speech. This preparatory section also includes some notes on game mechanics specific to this campaign. One neat trick is that along with a hook, each adventure begins with a question. It is suggested that this question is read out to the group, giving direction as to what they ought to be investigating.

The first adventure is Dead White World, which begins with a train journey, is punctuated by an earthquake, and ends up with a large proportion of the world\'s population dead or dying. The question, unsurprisingly, is What caused this apocalypse. Opening with the Investigators regaining consciouness and realising that the train they were travelling in has crashed, they are soon plunged into an eerie world where everyone that they find is already dead. And there are these strange white flowers everywhere...

Rather oddly, after leading the Investigators around Dover as they try to find out what is going on, the final clues are to be found on a ship. Yet the adventure ends with them back on land and finding a Royal Mail van... there\'s no hint about how to get them on shore (more earthquakes and the cliffs falling into the sea never mind what else is going on is, to my mind, an invitation to seek sea room not return to the land), yet that\'s where the next adventure begins.

The next adventure is Letters From Ghosts and revolves around letters from recently deceased friends and family of the Investigators that are found in the aforementioned Royal Mail van. How did they get there? That\'s the question. The entire clue chain comes over as rather forced and requires the Investigators to take a precise series of actions to end up where it is intended that they should go. On the plus side, there is a marvellous opportunity to mess with your Investigators\' heads. Use it to full effect. It\'s all really a bit strange, even given the overall premise, but persevere: there are clues to be found and places to visit, even survivors to meet... ultimately Blackpool, the setting for the third adventure.

The final adventure in this book (remember there are more to come in the campaign) is Sandgrown. The earlier clues have led the Investigators to believe that they have to go to Blackpool to stop an invasion - the question being, how? Here, they find some more folk who have survived so far (or have they?) and eventually, after a few mind-blowing sights, discover the awful truth of the one way in which they can stop the invasion.

The whole thing is a slightly uneasy mix of very little direction yet expecting the Investigators to go to specific places and take an interest in particular things. The underlying concept is excellent if a bit final. The world as you knew it has most definitely ended, there\'s no changing that. Resources are good, and there are some really inventive ideas here. With the right group, you could have an epic and memorable campaign on your hands.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Dead White World
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Trail of Cthulhu: Not So Quiet
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/02/2017 08:00:24

This is a one-off scenario, with pre-generated characters provided, set in a military hospital located just behind the lines in Belgium during the First World War. It\'s written as a purist adventure, but if you prefer to go a bit more pulp some ideas are provided to enable you to run it in that style.

There\'s some background that explains what is going on at the hospital, then it\'s on with the action, with the opening scene being in an ambulance convoy heading towards the hospital. Those characters who are injured and who will become patients at the hospital should determine with the Keeper what wounds they have and how they acquired them, this can be dealt with in a flashback scene (which may be held in reserve by the Keeper to be run at a dramatically-appropriate moment). For those who have been posted to the hospital, likely as medical staff, there\'s a slightly calmer introductory scene... but everyone ends up in the same ambulance convoy, although they do not know each other at this point. Then it comes under fire...

Assuming they survive the attack, everyone arrives at the hospital. It\'s pretty chaotic. Injured characters will have to be assessed and assigned to wards, those who have come to work here need to report in and be assigned their duties. There\'s also a rather excitable chaplain to deal with. From then on in it is a case of trying to figure out what is going on, with a host of NPCs to get to grips with, and various events and encounters as they figure out what is happening and how it can be halted.

Designed for a single evening\'s play it has the scope to be intense and highlight how even worse war can become if the Mythos gets mixed in. However, the mix of characters provided may not be ideal - it\'s hard to see how they will gel into a team - and an endnote suggests possible solutions mostly based on creating your own characters. Intended as a one-off, there are no thoughts for a follow-up - although it might possibly be used as a \'prequel\' to a regular game: this is where the Investigators met and first encountered Things That Should Not Be, then skip ten years or so and they meet again to commence their adventuring careers.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Not So Quiet
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Dance in the Blood
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/31/2017 08:20:19

More terror stalks Britian in what is the author's third purist adventure. The introduction soon explains the dreadful truth that underlies the plot, one that involves the Investigators personally. Neatly, it doesn't matter if you are using the pre-generated characters provided or your players produce their own - the way it is set up enables you to accommodate either option. If players actually like their own characters, though, it is probably best to run this as a one-off. If they want to take the third path and create their own charaters specifically for this adventure, a few requirements are laid out. Indeed, Investigators who don't meet those requirements probably won't work very well in this adventure.

There's a neat twist to the Stability rules for Investigators going insane, that turns matters over to the players and makes it almost pleasurable to go round the bend. This will work best for those players who enjoy role-playing mental issues making it almost a competition to see who goes mad first, but other groups may find that they prefer the traditional approach of attempting to cling on to their sanity while the Keeper tries to chip it away (even if they do enjoy role-playing the almost inevitable madness). Take a look and choose what will work best for your game.

The main NPCs are listed, with brief notes and advice on role-playing them (particularly useful if you like to act out a bit - voices, gestures and the like - when speaking as that character). Then the adventure itself starts with the Investigators gathering in an hotel in the Lake District, not knowing each other and mostly a bit baffled about why they have even come there... then they see the photograph. That alone should rock them back on their heels, but it is only the beginning. Strange dreams, events, encounters... and no matter what their Stability score says, they will probably feel that they are going mad.

There are a few handouts - notes to be found and a crude sketchmap of the area - but that's about it. Note that with the pre-generated characters, you'll have to transfer them to a character sheet, they are presented in a narrative style which would make it fairly difficult to cut them out and distribute them amongst the players.

This is possibly the most purist adventure I have read. It ends with the Investigators facing a stark choice and an inevitable doom. It won't suit some folks, but if you are ready to embrace some mind-numbing horror that fair sends shivers up your spine... try this one cold, dark night.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Dance in the Blood
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Black Drop
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/30/2017 07:43:42

Cabable of working well in both purist or pulp modes (or a combination of both) this adventure is set in the remote Kerguelen archipelago (far south in the Indian ocean), which is just about to be abandoned. Oddly, just as the settlers depart, a German expedition arrives with mysterious purpose... and what lurks there, in the bleak rocks?

The background explains all for the Keeper and lays out the terrible choice facing the Investigators. You may decide to keep this as a one-off, or notes are provided if you prefer to weave it into an existing campaign (but bear in mind that this adventure may well be the party's last if you do). Pre-generated characters are provided and they are, of course, all embedded into the story. If you are using your own characters, assorted reasons for why they might be there are provided.

The adventure itself begins on the voyage to the Kerguelen Islands, and there's plenty of interaction to be had (and clues to be picked up) before the ship arrives there... and a bleak, cold and unwelcoming place it is, too. Everyone is dropped off, their ship has other matters to attend to and will be back to pick them up in a couple of weeks. There's a flurry of activity with the last few settlers packing up, the German expedition turns up having lost one of their number and again there are plenty of opportunities for interaction and to find yet more clues... and then things begin to go wrong. Murder and arson are the least of it...

The Investigators will be able to wander the main island pretty much as they please: there's plenty to be found... and a fair bit going on. And eventually they will find... well, the climax involves a dark and dreadful deity, cultists hell-bent on restoring his power and even greater fanatics trying to stop it. Anyone not ending up a sacrifice or in some other way dead will be very lucky indeed.

There's a wonderful sense of bleakness and approaching menace, a creepy cinematic atmosphere that thickens with every moment. NPC notes, handouts, a couple of photos of wildlife, and maps of the islands (and a ship plan) help you keep on top of everything and create a chilling adventure that will live long in the players' minds (there's a good chance that their characters won't survive to remember anything, though)... and all under the threat that if that deity isn't stopped things look bad for the entire world.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Black Drop
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Trail of Cthulhu: Castle Bravo
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/27/2017 08:46:40

This adventure is set in 1954, rather more modern than most of Trail of Cthulhu, and it sets the Investigators as sailors and scientists off on a cruise to watch an atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll. Needless to say, after the first test shot in the series, strange things begin to happen and it's up to the party to save themselves and their ship... if they can! As this is likely to be a one-off adventure, pre-generated characters are provided.

There's no real need for a hook, the Investigators are aboard the ship whether they like it or not. There's a backstory that explains just what is going on, and then the pre-generated characters are presented. There are six (a naval helicopter pilot, a meteorologist, a naval chaplain, a medically-qualified research scientist, the ship's master-at-arms, and a corpsman) although it's recommended that the adventure works best with four players. They are presented in narrative format, so it's probably worth transferring them to character sheets before the game. Then it's on to the adventure...

This begins very early in the morning (it's still dark) with the ship on station 38 miles from the test site, about five minutes before the test shot is scheduled to take place. The Investigators can get to know one another and key NPCs at this time. Neatly, each character has a personal chunk of 'background knowledge' which it is suggested that you hand out at this time. A map of the area and a basic blocky plan of the ship are provided to help everyone get orientated. There's also quite a lot of scene-setting detail so those unused to naval operations can get the feel of it, and know where and who the important individuals (like senior officers) are. Then the bomb goes off...

There are real-world issues to deal with as a matter of urgency, but that's not all what with spooky visions and several crew members behaving oddly. There's lots going on and as time progresses it gets weirder and weirder. Investigators who retain their health and their marbles will be kept busy. Saving the day - at least as far as the world in general is concerned - may require drastic measures... and there is a remarkabky eerie ending if they fail!

This adventure has atmosphere and mounting horror in spades and could make an excellent movie, it's pretty cinematic. In style, it's mostly 'purist' but with a bunch of military around might trend towards 'pulp' depending on character actions. It's definitely a stand-alone adventure, but one to be relished to the full.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Castle Bravo
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Trail of Cthulhu: Arkham Detective Tales Extended Edition
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/26/2017 08:26:12

This work provides a campaign outline in which the Investigators are associated in some way with law enforcement, and who find themselves investigating crimes that have Mythos undertones... but opens with a delightful description of the author's first ever Call of Cthulhu game, on the back of which he advises that if you have a pile of clues and an even bigger pile of bodies, it's best to work out what is going on before some hideous and unspeakable monster eats you!

The first section discusses the campaign framework itself. Law enforcement in New York state (and the FBI) have become aware that some of the cases that come up have more to them than mere criminal acts, and as the Investigators (be they sworn agents or private detectives... or whoever else you think might work with the police on such matters) have proven themselves quite good at this sort of thing, they get consulted on a regular basis. This of course has advantages and disadvantages: the Investigators have the full power of the law on their side, but they also have to answer for their actions. The campaign is intended to start out in and around New York and the surrounding states, but as the FBI realises how good the Investigators are at such difficult cases, they may find themselves being sent all over the country.

In style, the campaign owes much to the 'film noir' aspects of 1930s detective thrillers although underlying it there is much of the 'purist' approach (at least, in the four adventures provided - if you add your own material to expand the campaign it can, of course, adopt whatever style your group prefers). However, the main focus of each case is to unravel the mystery and put a stop to whatever is going on, so while there are plenty of moments of personal horror, there's the satisfaction of keeping the public safe, putting a more optomistic spin on things than a strictly 'purist' style might dictate. There are some outline ideas for suitable Investigators and a couple of recurrent NPCs (an FBI agent and the Commissioner of the NYPD).

So, on to the adventures themselves. The first is 'The Kidnapping' and starts off with the abduction of a child. As usual, there's a whole lot more going on than the kidnapping of a small child of wealthy parents (for ransom, presumably) and indeed there are TWO parallel spines of investigation: one concerns rescuing the child and bringing the kidnappers to book, the other involves discovering the Mythos-related background to the crime which involves competing sorcerers and underground tribes of strange creaturs. There's a wealth of background material, people to talk to and clues to discover (some, of course, are red herrings), and however the party wishes to investigate the matter you have the resources to give them the answers that they seek. This is a thumping good adventure on several levels... and there are two more to come!

The next adventure is 'Return to Red Hook' - referencing a Lovecraft story The Horror at Red Hook, the Red Hook in question being a run-down area of Brooklyn where a minor cult flourished in the 1920s. It all begins with a young lady who is looking for her brother, who has gone missing. He'd apparently been researching past events in Red Hook for a book. Again, nothing can be taken on face value. The Keeper will benefit from reading Lovecraft's tale as it does contribute to the backstory for this adventure, one strand of investigation includes looking at the history of the cult as well as the more obvious stuff like looking into who the missing fellow is and what he was up to... and did the cult really get wiped out in the 1920s? Plenty of excitement to be had here as well, what with strange monsters in the moonlight, extradimensional gates and more...

Then comes the adventure 'The Book' and focusses on Things Man Was Not Meant To Know... with a book that is decidely not recommended bedtime reading. It all begins with a couple of gruesome murders, the victims do not seem connected at all except by the horrible way in which they were done in. The reason behind the killings is genuinely surprising, moreover as well as a serial killer there are other forces at play. Just surviving this adventure is a minor triumph in itself, actually solving it and dealing with the problem puts the party into the most skillful category of investigators. Again, there are loads of people to talk to and locations to visit, with clues galore to be found. The investigation is quite wide-ranging, and of course any Investigator who finds that book might decide to read it...

The final adventure is 'The Wreck' which begins with a tramp steamer being found drifting outside New York harbour with a dead man at the helm. There is a flashback scene that puts the players as crew members on the ship being killed off one by one before the adventure proper begins - whilst it's good as sheer horror in its own right I find it a bit of a distraction and prefer not to use it. Once the investigation proper starts, there's a plan of the ship and resources to allow a cabin by cabin exploration in suitably creepy style, very atmospheric. Other flashbacks are triggered by what is to be found: use these ones, it will help the Investigators feel their sanity slipping away... There is plenty of scope for investigations on land as well, monsters to beat off and much, much more to keep everyone busy. It's impressive just how many threads there are to follow up, each amply resourced so that there are no moments of panic when an Investigator decides to explore a different angle out of the blue. Another cracker of an adventure.

Whilst the adventures are pretty much self-contained, there is a bunch of handouts at the back. PDF users can print them out, if you have the book you can photocopy them or they are available on the Pelgrane Press website to download.

Overall, this is an outstanding mini-campaign with four excellent adventures and a slightly different approach - the 'police procedural' style - which works very well with players ready and willing to accept the constraints involved.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Arkham Detective Tales Extended Edition
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Keepers' Screen and Resource Book
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/24/2017 07:52:15

This product consists of two parts, a cardstock screen and a substantial (68-page) resource book aimed at the Keeper (GM) - it's good to see that traditional term coined by Call of Cthulhu for the GM has been retained. We'll look at the Keeper's Resource Book first.

The Introduction begins by speaking about Keeper preparation. Trail of Cthulhu is a game that benefits from careful advance plotting... yet it can also be played in a more improvisational style by those Keepers who feel comfortable making things up on the fly. This product is designed to support both styles of play, however reading the book in advance seems a good idea even if only so you know what's available for you to refer to mid-game if you favour the improvisational mode! If you prefer to prepare, reading it should provide plenty of inspiration and ideas to inform your planning. It should be studied in conjunction with a knowledge of the Investigators, as it contains additional information about the nature of occupations and the uses of abilities, along with all manner of historical tidbits to weave into your stories for that authentic 1930s feel.

We start by dealing with Abilities. These are divided into investigative abilities and general ones. Each entry covers aspects of its use in the 1930s and more ways for it to be utilsed in play. These include ways in which it can be used and sample clues that could be aimed at an Investigator who has that particular ability. Mechanically, there are special benefits that may be given to an Investigator who has used that ability successfully, these take the shape of favours earned, or even extra points to use in further die rolls in appropriate areas. These are suggestions, use them 'as is' or as ideas to come up with your own benefits. Delightful historical and informative snippets are included as well as a list of crimes and their definitions as used in 1930s America that most Investigators are bound to fall foul of at some point... let's hope the police are not around!

The next section does much the same for Occupations. Here we learn of the state of each profession or trade in the 1930s, and there are suggestions for the sort of contacts a practitioner might have as well as the things that they might do on a day-to-day basis (particularly useful when an Investigator has kept his 'day job').

Then comes a section on NPCs. This provides some fifty NPCs ready-made for you to use as appropriate. Each entry describes the character, gives a short list of relevant stats, and then describes three thngs about the character's mannerisms, habits, or speech that can help you portray that NPC in a memorable fashion. The first twenty are provided with a series of hooks you can use to make them a long-running feature of your campaign, the others are intended to be more 'bit-part' players, used as and when it suits the story. There's all sorts here from thugs and henchmen to law enforcement and ministers of religion, shopkeepers and sportsmen... just about anything you might need.

Finally there is a Sanity and Stability Rules Summary. This will help you, mechanically at least, with the all-important task of reducing your Investigators to gibbering, drooling wrecks.

And the screen itself? A solid three-panel screen with an interesting illustration on the players' side and a wealth of useful charts for quick reference on your side. Of course, if you're buying the PDF, you need to supply the card yourself, but you get to stick both illustrations and charts onto it to make a screen. If it gets damaged, make a new one.

Overall a very useful resource for any Keeper. No, you don't need it, but it certainly helps with creating the right background atmosphere of the 1930s and spawns plenty of ideas...



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Keepers' Screen and Resource Book
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Trail of Cthulhu Player's Guide
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/23/2017 08:23:08

Released as a PDF-only product, this work puts all the information a PLAYER needs into his hands, whilst excising all of the GM-related material in the core rulebook. It has an advantage in being cheaper than the full rulebook, and keeps at least some GM secrets away from prying eyes (assuming, that is, that only one person in your group ever wants to GM!). The text is basically the same as the player parts of the core rulebook, so if you have that already, there are no juicy 'player secrets' here!

The Introduction explains the rationale behind the game, basically a desire to take all the things that made that classic horror game Call of Cthulhu so great and fold in Pelgrane Press's GUMSHOE ruleset that is specifically designed for any game in which the investigation of clues forms a major part. The underlying idea is that if a clue is important to solving whatever mystery has been put in front of the players, they WILL find it no matter how badly they roll the dice (and often, even regardless of how off-beam their investigation is...). The real joy of investigation comes in going over the clues and making sense of them after all, not worrying if you've actually found them all yet!

The introduction also talks about the two possible styles of game - 'purist' or 'pulp'. The 'purist' style is a philosophical approach to horror where the very discovery of 'whatever' endangers both the investigators and innocent bystanders and there isn't really anything that can be done about it, and going mad is not a matter of if but when. The 'pulp' style takes a more robust approach with desperate actions that might, just might, avert whatever horror is the threat (but might equally well result in death or madness for the party). It's up to the group as a whole which emphasis they prefer, most like a mixture of the two. Something to discuss with the Keeper (GM) before the game begins.

Most of the rest of the book is taken up with how to create your character or Investigator. Anyone can become an Investigator, usually by becoming interested in those Things That Should Not Be (although some are just caught up in it), so you begin by deciding on what job or Occupation you had before you started investigating... some characters may still work at it between investigations, others may dedicate themselves full-time to this pursuit. Whether you still do it or not, it confers a host of knowledge, skills and other abilities on the character. There are also ideas about how someone with that particular professional background will approach an investigation of strange events, the usual route in to discovering the latest Mythos plot. All these Occupations are set in the classic 1930s era, and there are interesting sidebars about how faithfully you want to model ideas of the times... in the real 1930s, for example, female doctors were rare, indeed ladies were expected to do no more than run a home and raise children. Many gamers will not want to constrain themselves to a slavish following of historical reality - and when you are accepting the existence of mind-bending tentacled monsters, you may well feel happy to kick over the bounds of the attitudes of the time as well. Others don't (I recall a Call of Cthulhu Keeper once questioning a doctor turned novellist character I put before her with "A woman would not have read medicine at Harvard"... she hadn't realised that although I, the player, was female, this time I had created a male character!), and it's up to the group to decide what will work for them. Many great 'pulp' characters defied convention.

We then look at motivations or Drives, used to define the character (and also help him stay sane in the face of adversity). They also help with role-playing, shaping the character's attitude and approach to life. Throughout, symbols indicate which choices are appropriate for 'pulp' or 'purist' games, depending on how far to one end or the other of the scale you intend your game to be. There are lots of notes to help you too. Then it's on with detailed listings of all the abilities (that is, skills) and how they work in play, indeed how they can be used to good effect. This section ends with a sample character sheet, and there have been plenty of examples of character generation as illustrations along the way.

The next section, Clues, Tests and Contests, explains how you use all those numbers on your character sheet to good effect. There's loads of detail here and well worth the reading. It includes combat, of course, but brawling is of lesser importance in this game than in many. For a start, it's pretty deadly whic a realistic approach to firearms and other modes of dealing out injury. And most of the time, the average Mythos monster is less bothered by a hail of bullets than you are by a swarm of midges. Yes, there will be opportunities to fight (cultists, for example) but your combat abilities are not going to save the day. Still there is plenty and enough about combat to keep anyone happy (and of course it is of more import the more 'pulp' your game becomes. Of course, this is a Mythos game so a substation section is dedicated to sanity and madness, with many interesting ways for your characters to lose their marbles. Some may even recover...

There's a section on Technology, Weapons and Equipment, based squarely in the 1930s and finally a section of good advice, Putting it All Together. This provides hints and tips for role-playing and for how to conduct an effective investigation. Right at the end is a blank character sheet and some quite disturbing pictures of the authors.

This contains everything a player might need to play Trail of Cthulhu and could be regarded as well-nigh essential for every member of the group.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu Player's Guide
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Watchers in the Sky
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/20/2017 07:29:25

This is a Purist adventure, where there is no resolution or satisfaction, just the bleak reality of the Mythos to discover. In it, there are strange birds around... from those surrounding a mental patient to others who hang around watching, watching... and when dissected, they're not quite right. Purge all thoughts of Hitchcock's The Birds, this is far worse!

The horrible truth is revealed straight away for the Keeper and then there are notes on how the party actually gets involved. Those with connections to medicine or psychiatry may hear about the mental patient who is convinced that the birds he feeds are watching him. Scientifically-trained ones may get involved in research that appears to suggests that the results of experiments change when these weird birds are around. A biologist or vet might catch one and cut it up... all roads lead to a university library where there are further clues as to the location of where these birds roost, and a couple of deaths will likely precipitate the climax of the investigation... entering the caves from whence the birds come.

Interestingly, not all the answers are there to be found. It's done on purpose to unsettle and frustrate - and is indeed true to Lovecraft's own stories which always raise more questions about his monsters than ever get answered. Enjoy playing with the characters' minds! Should they wish to investigate further in subsequent adventures, the Keeper is welcome to come up with his own answers.

Five Investigators tailor-made for this adventure are provided, and they are woven into the plot well. If you prefer to use other characters, you will have to do this work over, although you do have an excellent example of how to do it before you. Likewise, all the major NPCs are described complete with role-playing notes: things like suggested mannerisms and gestures to help you bring the character to life during play. The 'Directed Scenes', where we catch a glimpse of each Investigator's Source of Stability, are also tailored both to the pre-generated characters and the adventure itself, so if you're not using them you have more work to do!

The scenes, and the clues to be found in them, are described atmospherically. Here there is a bit more room for you to introduce a party other than the one provided, once you have come up with good reasons for them being in these places... and as they progress through the clues, the odd birds will begin to watch them. At some point - unless you have a party who has diverse enough interests to have split up to visit different places - the Investigators need to meet up and agree to work together, which may need a bit of firkling with travel times and other things to get them into the same place and discovering that they are all interested in weird birds. That done, there's some fascinating library research - now going to the library is common in Cthulhu-related games, but this time it's genuinely interesting and meaningful - before heading off to the Lake District which is where it appears that the birds originate.

There are some wonderful opportunities to mess with your players' heads which, if used with care, can get really spooky and make for a memorable adventure. After the adventure's climax, there are suggested epilogues - Directed Scenes which loop back to the opening scenes with the Sources of Stability in a remarkably creepy way.

If you like classic Cthulhu mythos adventures, you'll love this one. If you've never tried the Purist style before, it might convince you to explore it more thoroughly. Just watch out for those birds...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Watchers in the Sky
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Dying of St Margaret's
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/19/2017 08:33:18

As written, this adventure follows the 'Pure' track, sheer creeping horror with no easy answers (and nothing you can fight). If that doesn't appeal, do not move on, there are notes on how to run it as a 'Pulp; style adventure instead. The Introduction tells of a brooding clifftop school on a Scottish island, lurking horrors below and the disappearance of the last lot of Investigators to go there. Will your party fare any better?

The starting premise is that your Investigators are part of, or at least familiar with, the "London occult set" and will be familiar with a bunch of their peers who wanted to investigate the strange aftermath of a meteorite which landed in the vicinity of the school and eventually took jobs there as a means to this end... but who have not been heard from for several months. The Keeper is encouraged to talk to the players in some detail about their characters' involvement: who was it that they knew amongst the disappeared fellows, what sort of job do they intend to take up, and how well (if at all) do they know the rest of this party? This information should be kept and referred to frequently to personalse the adventure to each character in the group. There are notes about generating characters for this adventure - it is, it seems, better suited to being a one-shot than part of an on-going campaign, although you may decide differently. This includes a discussion about Drives, and how each will interact with events in the adventure. Other dramatic tips are also discussed.

The adventure proper starts as the party arrives at St Margaret's, but it is suggested that flashbacks and directed scenes are used to backfill just why they are all on the ferry. Then it's on to the school with notes on the main members of staff (complete with suggestions for role-playing them that verge on acting - posture, voice, mannerisms - little things that help them come to life for your players). From then on in, school routine takes over and the party will have to slot into it as appropriate for the post they are filling. Note that posts are pretty dependent on your social standing (as determined by Credit Rating) although with cunning use of Disguise characters may attempt to seem what they are not.

There are, of course, loads of clues to be had. Each one comes with an array of ways to discover it, which brings the whole thing to life and enables you to weave them in seamlessly to conversations and explorations. There are locations to visit, each with their own array of clues, and eventually the party will be led to the source of the problem... and it is left to them how they cope with what they find. Perhaps they give up and die, maybe they escape at least physically (but probably go mad...

Although it is supposed to end there, a few suggestions for follow-up adventures are given. These will probably involve a new set of Investigators, or may even cross over into another Gumshoe game line... Esoterrorists or Fear Itself are suitable here. Five pre-generated Investigators, woven firmly into the plot are provided, along with the original ones who they have followed here (you can make up more if you like, especially if your players would rather create their own characters). There are a couple of handouts, and that's it.

It makes for a compelling adventure, but unless you are good at providing details on the fly some preparatory work is advisable. There is no plan of the school nor map of the island. The ending comes over as rather flat and may leave a lot of people feeling dissatisfied despite it being true to the spirit of a Lovecraft story. Hence you might want to make at least a little bit of use of the Pulp notes or modify the ending in a way of your own choosing. Atmosphere, though, is excellent!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Dying of St Margaret's
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The Esoterror Summoning Guide
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/18/2017 07:21:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion book for The Esoterrorists (which is also useful for other GUMSHOE-games) clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 41 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, first things first - since I'm trying to help retain this review's usefulness for folks not familiar with esoterrorists: The idea of this horror-game is pretty much brilliant. The PCs are part of a conspiracy, the Ordo Veritatis - and it is actually a benign one. You see, our world sports a membrane that separates us from the Outer Dark, a place of chaotic and infinite possibilities, pretty much all of which are horrific nightmare fuel - think of it as the desert of the real, as the horrific, chthonic truth of reality, where science and the laws of physics break down. Here's the thing - the membrane isn't a wall - it is elastic, regenerates slowly and can be ripped, torn...and it may be the collective unconscious of our species. For as long as we believe in ordered reality, for as long as we cling to hope, to a sense of the world...well, making sense, the membrane will protect us from the Outer Dark. Conversely, despair, a sense that life's surreal and an experience of Entfremdung from existence, the glorification of dark deeds, horrific superstitions that gain traction and similar proceedings ultimately weaken the membrane.

There is a second conspiracy, but it is not a structured hierarchy; instead, it is a cluster of infinite cells - the esoterrorists. Their end-game is to break down the membrane and welcome the entities of the Outer Dark to our reality - for whatever purposes. Esoterrorists perform horrific deeds and ultimately are enemies of all mankind - with the horrific prospect of their sheer existence being a weapon. If the truth of the Outer Dark existing becomes widely known, said knowledge alone will greatly diminish the membrane, potentially breaking it. Hence, the Ordo Veritatis' (or OV) goal is to keep the public ignorant of the horrific struggle, the shadow war waged behind the scenes. The esoterrorist's main advantage in the struggle against the superb organization of the OV, however, lies in their command of magic...or rather, in their ability to summon the dread entities from the Outer Dark, who have...well, really nasty tricks up their sleeves.

This book, then, would constitute essentially a massive dossier for the agents of the OV - written in-character, as though it was a need-to-know-basis briefing file, this book elucidates upon the various types of summoning at the disposal of the esoterrorists and the current theories pertaining the mechanics of said summoning. In the beginning, the paradigm shift for the OV's endgame, from the overly ambitious eradication to containment, is explained in succinct and captivating detail. Similarly, the current theories pertaining the membrane provide a concise picture o the stakes of this conflict - it is against the backdrop of new media and a progressively more daunting task that we are introduced to the different types of summoning techniques the esoterrorists employ.

The first of these would be the Greater Invocative Summoning, and it may be the most hard to pull off, but also the most powerful technique: It requires a significant amount of people (we're talking thousands) and the considerable psychic energy these individuals generate; as such, it is easy to spot and anticipate, but actually preventing it while maintaining anonymity and ignorance of the OD (Outer Dark) entities is VERY hard; the danger this type of summing poses, though, is considerable, for it can draw a new OD entity to the world - and after an entity has been clad in our reality's nightmares, after it has manifested once, it can be called in a significantly easier manner - less expenditure, less elaborate requirements - basically, it thereafter can be called forth via a lesser invocative summoning. This summoning, in short, can establish a foothold for an entity or type of entities. Following the formula, we get case studies pertaining such summoning rituals as well as suggested countermeasures for the OV agents...always remember, in the end, you need plausible deniability, mundane explanations for the proceedings to enact a proper veil-out.

Ontological summoning is different - it capitalizes on the previously noted power of folk belief; basically, a belief is taken and continuously reinforced by the esoterrorists, who seek to make the folk belief seem plausible, like the surreal, reality eroding truth. That factory, where Freddy Krüger died? Making kids disappear in the vicinity, seeding sightings and fostering fear and angst in the face of the obvious evidence are what allow entities called forth thus to assume appropriate shapes.

Thirdly, constructionist summoning would be the Frankenstein approach - the mad scientist creating a flesh-golem, the programmer seeking to make an evil A.I.-god, the brainwashing cult that seeks to create a monument - basically, here, it is not belief that generates a vessel, but actual construction and belief in the receptacle. Speaking of cults - there is one more and particularly grotesque way of bringing an OD into the world: The total destruction of a personality with impositional summoning. Basically, esoterrorists completely break down a person's self and instill a belief in the target that the person was destined to be a vessel or actually IS the Outer Dark entity (ODE)...until it supplants the unfortunate being, overriding everything and becoming, for all intents and purposes, the ODE. It should be noted that this can also generate a means in ingress for new ODEs... and the case studies featured here are particularly brutal. Finally, there would be opportunistic summoning, which is basically grounded in finding cryptid-sightings, LSMs (Low Membrane-Strength places) as well as similar places and establishing contact with ODEs.

Speaking of which - the issue of negotiating with such entities, when and where it is permissible and when it is appropriate, is also depicted in detail: Basically, the agents are given guidelines to deal with the alien psyches and easy tools to evaluate whether it is possible to defeat the entity sans giving in to demands, when and how such strategies are valid and the different demands are indeed covered as well. prolonged negotiation and the potential stability loss that entails.

Now, what to do with all the knowledge this pdf provides for the agents and GM? Well, there would be an interesting sample scenario that takes up the last couple of pages, one called Cell Death.

The following will cover the basics of this investigation, so potential players of the scenario should skip ahead to the conclusion. From here on out reign the SPOILERS.

...

..

.

All right, still here? The agents are sent to Rome, where Lucio Mancini lies dying in a hospice ward, asking for Mr. Verity and the "pluggers" - esoterrorist slang for agents of the OV plugging the membrane. Mancini's wife died of an inoperable lung condition, caused by toxic smoke, which made him slip into esoterrorism and now he's riddled with cancers and has one request from the agents of the OV - find is son, who has gone underground. Introduced to the esoterrorist cell of one Graham park, Mancini does not want his son to pay the ultimate price as well. It is from here that the PCs track the trail of Lucio's son to the sleepy backwater town Bluewater in Idaho. Here, different types of potential summoning endeavors can be eliminated, one by one, until impositional summoning is left - and indeed, in a well-guarded farm, the esoterrorists have not only established a security perimeter of concealed cameras and the like - they also have a subterranean bunker complex, where Lucio's son's personality was systematically broken down: He witnessed, time and again, as radiation and toxic smoke corroded and gruesomely slew people in front him, while he was unaffected - thus nearing the completion of the summoning of a new ODE, the balefire man, a really nasty ODE whose stats btw. are provided herein.

The problems faced by the agents consist of more than just dealing with the armed esoterrorists, though - they have to find the bunker complex and hopefully, via mementos, gain an edge in combat against the dread entity. Similarly, the hazmat suits the PCs can find certainly will be helpful when dealing with the ODE...which brings me to a bit of an issue I have with this scenario. While it is permissible for OV agents to eliminate esoterrorists, the perhaps smartest way of dealing with those in the inner vault would be rigging poison gas to it, flooding the bunker - the pdf very much acknowledges this. The PCs arrive as the remaining esoterrorists give their lives and call forth the ODE - something that cannot, RAW, be prevented, which I get from a dramatic perspective. However, poisoning the unarmed ritual practicing esoterrorists frankly violates the code of ethics and could act as a catalyst to bringing forth the balefire man - after all, it is established that a good man's evil deeds weaken the membrane more than that of a conscience-less psychopath. So yeah, that aspect of an otherwise good module would constitute an internal logic issue in my book. On the plus-side for the battered agents if they take down the ODE, the veil-out should be easy thanks to the secluded nature of the farm.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good from both a rules-language and formal perspective. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column b/w-standard that emulates papers and dossiers, with photo-like, amazing b/w-artworks as well as excellent b/w-drawings emulating a "clipped in/attached" feeling - the layout conveys well the illusion of reading a proper dossier. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan's Esoterror Summoning Guide represents an amazing resource; the fact that you can hand it to your players and just have them read the book(and enjoy the experience) renders this not only a great handout, it also makes the subject matter, which could have been dry and bland, thoroughly exciting. Each of the ample case studies can act as a great adventure hook to build new scenarios from, so that's another plus. In fact, the summoning-type categories, obviously also are relevant for Fear Itself and can be employed beyond that game: The general ideas for various types of summoning can conceivably be equally easily used in the context of Trail of Cthulhu or Night's Black agents, particularly if you're running a genre-spanning game that features elements from multiple GUMSHOE-settings.

I similarly absolutely enjoyed the final scenario attached, which does a great job of showing GMs and players alike how to employ the knowledge they and their PCs have in game; that being said, the denouement and climax of the module, to be, was a bit of a dud, since the potential code of ethics violation and the lack of diversified outcomes made this more railroady than required and slightly less refined to me. let it be known, however, that I am complaining at a very high level here - I still consider this to be an excellent purchase and well worth of a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Esoterror Summoning Guide
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The Thrill of Dracula
by Christian F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/06/2017 13:37:19

Extremely well researched and fun to read. Very useful for any Dracula or vampire based fun.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Thrill of Dracula
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Hillfolk
by Patrick H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/27/2016 21:43:54

Holy crap, it's a social-minded system-based game that actually works!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hillfolk
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