Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/11/07/tabletop-review-arkham-case-files-deep-morgue-call-of-cthulhu/
Call of Cthulhu may have a very easy system to learn and play, but it’s not the easiest system to write for. Things like Pagan Publishing’s Bumps in the Night and Modiphius’s Achtung! Cthulhu left something to be desired. Even things published directly by Chaosium can be less than impressive. Just look at Ghosts in the House.
Now this doesn’t mean that all third party Call of Cthulhu publishers do a bad job with the license. Goodman Games’ Age of Cthulhu adventures are always top notch. Arc Dream’s The Unspeakable Oath magazine is a lot of fun (when it comes out). Hebanon Games puts out some great adventures and of course there is always Cubicle 7′s Cthulhu Britannica line.
I bring all this up because today I’m looking at a newcomer to the Call of Cthulhu system: Solace Games and their first adventure, Arkham Case Files: Deep Morgue. The name implies that this is the first in a series of adventures. Unfortunately, while the adventure uses the mechanics behind the Call of Cthulhu system nicely, the adventure itself is an example of what happens when you don’t have some pretty intense Lovecraft fans vetting out what gets published. The end result is something more Resident Evil than you would expect (or want) from a Call of Cthulhu adventure . By that I mean it’s very combat oriented and there’s not a lot of investigating. This will turn out a lot of long time Call of Cthulhu fans, as will the VERY different take on Deep Ones that will have most that get this adventure scratching their head and wondering if anyone at Solace Games has ever read The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The take on Deep Ones is more a mix of a Wight (anything killed by it rises as a weird waterlogged undead creature) and an Eveil Larry Talbot as its main impetus is to try and be turned human. As I’ve said, Deep Morgue really feels like the team behind it have never read anything by Lovecraft or his contemporaries and it’s a little bit insulting in that regard. If you’re a purist you’ll want to stay well away from this adventure.
Now that said, if you’re looking for something that feels more like a survival horror video game, Deep Morgue isn’t a bad adventure and well worth the two dollar price. Sure there are still some problems, like a lack of motivation for the primary antagonist other than the “I want to be human again” thing which doesn’t hold water, or the fact the adventure expects the Keeper to make up a plot hook as to why the adventurers are in this little backwater town, but those are things that a good Keeper can fix and/or fill in. The adventure is well laid out and the setting of a morgue filled with zombies is creepy, if not cliché. The maps are really, REALLY terrible, but the artwork is incredibly good for a budget indie piece. I’m not sure how one can be so good why the other is nothing more than badly scratched out lines on a page. Next time I hope they get the interior artist to do the maps as what’s here just wouldn’t cut it for anything professionally published.
The story is pretty cut and dry. The Investigators are in the small town of Newburyport for whatever reason when they get a mysterious phone call from an anonymous stranger telling them to go to investigate the town morgue as strange goings-on are afoot. The problem with this is twofold. The first is that somehow the Investigators are “known” figures, which rarely ever happens in a Call of Cthulhu campaign. This isn’t Ghostbusters after all. The second is that although the adventure doesn’t specifically list a time period, it would have to be in the 1990s or modern era as how else is a person going to get a random call from a mysterious stranger (plus one NPC has computer use as a skill, so that kind of defines the era even if the adventure doesn’t specifically list the time period, which is sloppy). Maybe in the 1920s if someone calls a hotel room, but that’s just going to stretch believability even further as how would someone know who they are, what room they are in and that they have ties to anything supernatural or occultish? There’s no Keeper’s section to give the person running the adventure any background knowledge so they are just as much in the dark as the players. This is another one of those things where you have to wonder if they people at Solace have ever played Call of Cthulhu are aren’t thinking of something like Chill because this just doesn’t fit the game setting at all. Thankfully this can easily be reworked by a quality Keeper for a more ominous feel as well as one where the players don’t have some weird reputation.
From there the players go to the morgue and fight a lot of monsters. There are ten zombies, one Deep One and one “cultist” in this small adventure. For a game that emphasizes hack and slash, that’s not so bad. For Call of Cthulhu? That’s an insane amount of monsters to have to deal with and all but guarantees a TPK for most troupes that play through this. Ouch. Again, Solace wrote this for a survival horror audience and combat oriented characters, but the former isn’t what people look for (or want) in a Call of Cthulhu adventure and the latter doesn’t happen that often because character tend to be middle aged librarians or door to door salesman instead of Chris Redfield or Lara Croft.
Overall, I’m going to be VERY KIND here and give this a thumb’s in the middle. For the first CoC offering by a very small indie startup company, this isn’t horrible. The art is good, the premise of the adventure is sound and the layout is well done. The scripting of the adventure is pretty terrible though, as are both the feel and tone. A little more mystery, a little less hack and slash. A little more storytelling, a little less forcing the Keeper to fill in the blanks. Most of all, a little more thought regarding why people play Call of Cthulhu and the type of adventures they actually play the system for. If Solace Games can keep all of that in mind, their second CoC offering should be a LOT better than their first. There’s promise here, but not a lot of follow through.