Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/04/23/tabletop-review-children-of-the-storm-call-of-cthulhu/
Sometimes a supplement or campaign setting comes along that is so elegant and ingenious that you have to wonder how no one had thought of it before now. Children of the Storm is just such a book. For use with Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, Children of the Storm lets Investigators and Keepers play the game during the time period of The Great Depression through just before the dawn of World War II. It’s such an obvious fit. The Great Depression is a time period very close to the de factor 1920s setting that most Call of Cthulhu adventures and campaign take place in, yet it is so very different from the 1920s that it almost feels light years away. The Roaring 20s of course were full of gangsters, dancing, drinking and a general sense of upbeat positivity in America. The 30s were a time of melancholia, rampart unemployment, a general feel of pessimism and, for many, an uncertain future as to how they would pay their bills or where their next meal would come from. In many ways the bleak outlook that Lovecraft and his contemporaries predicted for mankind did indeed come about, but it was by their own hands rather than an alien creature from beyond the stars. For gamers that like taking the themes and system of Call of Cthulhu but prefer it in alternate time periods like Cthulhu Invictus or Cthulhu Dark Ages, you will more than likely fall in love with Children of the Storm as instantly as I did. For those that prefer things to be set in the 1920s, Children of the Storm is still of use to you and your players if have a long ongoing campaign. After all, you’re going to hit 1929 sometime!
Children of the Storm is eighty pages of pure awesomeness. It contains everything a fan of the 1930s could ask for…along with Cthulhuoid monstrosities to boot! The book starts off with an eight page introduction to the time period followed by four full-length, in-depth adventures. I was really surprised how much information about the 30s was packed into these eight pages. You’re given historical background about the time period, what led up to the Great Depression, how people coped and the technology of the time. You’re also given eight new character classes for the time period. These include Teen Hobo, Radical, Social Worker (two kinds), FBI Agent, Civilian Conservation Corpsman, PWA Construction Worker, WPA Artist and Documentarian. I literally squealed when I saw the section on the CCC as it’s my favorite part of the 30s and, without getting political, something I still feel should be done today when the country gets into bad spots. We’re also given three new skills: Sociology, Forensics and Cinematography. Investigators will no doubt find the first two of extreme interest. The intro then ends with eleven scenarios snippets that the Keeper can fully flesh out after they have played through all four adventures in Children of the Storm with their gaming crew.
“The Starving Ones” is the first adventure in Children of the Storm and it’s an awesome one. Travelling within a stone’s throw of the small West Virginia town my wife grew up in. Here the PCs will be investigating a rash of mysterious deaths where people seem to be…eating themselves to death. How are these deaths connected to a long abandoned home of a Confederate supporter? That’s for the investigators to discover. “The Starving Ones” is a very subtle and still very creepy adventure. Investigators have a pretty big mystery to unfold and neither the cause nor the solution are outright apparent. There’s only one possible Mythos creature that PCs might encounter, but even that is not a given. What remains is simply an adventure that really tests the player’s deductive and inductive reasoning skills. I love it. This adventure is just a great old school horror story that feels like it should have been written by Ambrose Bierce. “The Starving Ones” alone is well worth the cover price.
“To the Dust Returned” takes players to southern South Dakota near the Nebraska border. This is a very surreal adventure that involves the Dreamlands and our world converging on one sleepy little hamlet overwhelmed by dust storms. This is another adventure where the solution for success isn’t obvious and that’s part of what makes it fun. There are multiple ways to complete “To the Dust Returned,” but only two that lead to a happy ending for the majority of people involved. You get pretty much everything here. There’s redneck bigoted sheriff, a theme of religion vs. science, extremely creepy monsters which are never fully seen by the players and a weird fantasy-esque dreamworld that is superimposing itself on this little community. I’m generally not a fan of Dreamland based adventures, especially those with the cliché of the two realms merging idea, but this one is exceptional.
“ENTR’ACTE” is by far the weirdest and creepiest of the adventures in Children of the Storm and considering the first two, that’s saying something. Here players are in Northern California, near the Oregonian border. Here players will have to investigate the disappearance and/or kidnapping of some children. As the players investigate further, they find a rash of disappearances all fitting a similar profile. Are a small group of Japanese immigrants behind the missing children? What about an odd theatre group? What about Nyarlathotep? Players will have to figure out what really happened to these missing kids and the answer is far worse than they had imagined. This adventure is probably the most physical and violent in the collection. It definitely has the most gore and the highest chance of Investigators not making it out alive. The adventure is also the only one that could easily be set outside the 30s.
“The Tractate” is a wonderfully blend of a good old fashioned murder mystery, Cthulhuoid terror, secret societies, and taking down the evil schemes of Nazis. You really don’t see the Third Reich come up in Call of Cthulhu very often unless it’s the remnants in a Modern Era adventure. As such, this may be the adventure the players have the most fun with as it is straight forward, has you dealing with the SS at the height of its power and the summoning of a godlike creature from 2,600 light years away. “The Tractate” takes place in good old Arkham, MA, which makes it easy to fit into most Call of Cthulhu campaigns. This is a fun little adventure to end the book on and it’s the only one that directly forces Investigators to do battle with an ancient godlike being.
All in all, I really loved The Children of the Storm. I think the idea of a Cthulhu campaign setting during the Great Depression is a wonderful one. There’s a nice amount of information here, some fun new character classes and skills and four really great adventures that any Keeper will enjoy running. Children of the Storm is a great example of why I love Chaosium’s monographs so much. At only eight and a quarter dollars, it’s almost impossible to think of a reason why any Call of Cthulhu gamer wouldn’t pick this up.