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Although Dungeon Crawl Classics springs to mind when you think of the publisher Goodman Games, as a long time Call of Cthulhu gamer, I have a lot of love for their Age of Cthulhu line. About twice a year Goodman Games releases adventures compatible with Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu system and I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of them. They take you from a Russian Winter to Ancient Egypt. My personal favorite in the series has been A Dream of Japan, which is one of the creepiest adventures I’ve seen released for Call of Cthulhu in a long time. Now we’re back with the seventh installment in the series: The Timeless Sands of India.
Unlike previous Age of Cthulhu releases, which really strove to capture the foreboding atmosphere and unimaginable horror that Lovecraft wrote about, this adventure uses the Mythos trappings but is more August Derleth than Providence’s favorite son. By this I mean it follows his writing style of the mythos rather than its progenitor. There are clearly defined sides of good and evil in this adventure instead of alien apathy or cosmic chaos. It’s a more optimistic story than the, “if not IF you will die, but when and how horribly” trappings one typically find in Lovecraft. It’s far more pulpy with action and a large hack and slash battle reminiscent of Dungeon Crawl Classics than one where Investigators will spend hours looking over forgotten tomes for that one piece of rare information that will help them save the day. This is neither bad nor good. However I do know that Derleth’s style and outlook on the Cthulhu Mythos (a term he actually coined) can be a sore spots for some Lovecraft fans so the fact this adventure is more pulp action than slow burning chiller may be enough to make some gamers pass this adventure up. So if the idea of engaging in a large scale battle against an entire cult and their legion of summoned Sand Dwellers while your Investigators are armed with Yithian designed lightning cannons turns your stomach, don’t waste your money on this; you’ll only be disappointed. If however, this sounds both psychedelic and awesome, than this will probably be your favorite Age of Cthulhu adventure yet.
The Timeless Sands of India uses the same modus operandi and plot hook that A Dream of Japan used. In both adventures players are wracked by strange, alien dreams and a desire to head to the East. Now this might sound distasteful to some, you have to understand that both adventures uses this trapping in a very different way. In A Dream of Japan, the Investigators are being manipulated by an evil malevolent force. In The Timeless Sands of India, it’s a benevolent force for good causing their dreams. Unfortunately, because the creature is so alien, these dreams that are meant to be messages from the past warning of global Armageddon are interpreted by the primitive human mind incorrectly and case terrible nightmares and sleep deprivation in all who receive them. As well, A Dream of Japan‘s use of horrible dreams and a deep seated need to travel abroad is left more or less up to the Keeper to use as just a hook to start the adventure. With Timeless Sands of India, it’s also a source of play mechanics. Investigators will be down roughly a dozen points from their starting sanity and due to sleep deprivation, they must roll every game day to see how it affects their skills and minds. While it’s unlikely that any PCs will be driven mad in this adventure from the lack of sleep their Investigators are suffering from, it’s nice to see mechanics to go along with this plot hook and a way to enforce the issues that come from monster induced insomnia.
The Timeless Sands of India unfolds across six scenes – five of which take place in India proper, while the very first takes place on a steam ship bound for the country. Investigators will not likely know each other at the beginning of the adventure (it will play better that way) and by the end, several Investigators will have learned new skills as well as have learned how to build alien technology. For this reason, the adventure is probably best as a one-shot or with pre-generated characters so that these new skills and story retcon doesn’t interfere or unbalance a campaign you are already running.
The crux of the adventure revolves around two sides. One is the army of a heroic Yithian from the dawn of time who has been manipulating events from eons to prevent a global catastrophe from occurring. The other is the Cult of the Black Scimitar, who worships and does the bidding of Nyarlathotep and is trying to undo the actions of the Yithian. The Yithian has chosen people from around the globe that have a similar trait in common, but one that only the Yithian knows and that Investigators will discover as they play through the adventure. At the same time, the Cult of the Black Scimitar is out to assassinate any who would aid the Yithian and have begun to pick off its allies one by one. The only problem is figuring out who they are.
The adventure is a nice mix of pulp action, your typical Call of Cthulhu investigation bits and a good dose of 1920s Indian culture. Players will be treated to the massively overcrowded Calcutta, experience both “White Town” and “Dark Town,” and have to deal with multiple attempts on their life. There aren’t a lot of encounters with Mythos creatures. There’s one Dimensional Shambler which players are meant to run from instead of engage, and a platoon of Sand Dwellers at the climax of the adventure, but for the most part, the adventure is a battle of wits between two opposing sides, each of which are guided by an otherworldly force.
I found The Timeless Sands of India to be a lot of fun in spite of the big battle at the end. Usually I hate when a Call of Cthulhu adventure hinges on violence over intelligence. It doesn’t fit the system or mood CoC tries to capture. Here though is one of the better examples of large scale combat using Chaosium’s system. In normal circumstances, PCs are able to be slaughtered by Sand Dwellers, but here they’ll have lightning cannons, which more than turn the tide in their favor…as long as they roll well. I’ll admit that like a lot of Cthulhu gamers, I hate when combat takes down major mythos creatures. Like in Dark Corners of the Earth, a Hall of Shame winning video game if ever there was one, has you KILL Father Dagon with a rocket launcher. Ick. Here though, you’re doing battle with Sand Dwellers, which are as close to a rank and file cannon fodder creature for the game as the system allows. Of course, a single Sand Dweller should be able to slaughter a solo Investigator, but again, that’s where the lightning cannons come into play. I’ll admit this big battle at the end didn’t sit well with me, as a slap in the face to not only intent of the Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG, but Lovecraft himself. At the same time, out of all the big battles I’ve even seen written for the system, this one was one of the best done. It takes into consideration both sides, it acknowledge the insanity of trying have Investigators fight Mythos creatures early on in the adventure and then when the climax occurs, the PCs stand a chance because of involvement by benevolent creatures of similar power that give them insanely strong alien weaponry. So no, the battle at the end of The Timeless Sands of India in no way shape or form resembles anything Lovecraft would want to be a part of, but in terms of mechanics and written, it’s done very well. So as a critic, I have to give this battle a big thumbs up. but as a gamer with personal preferences, I have to admit that this sort of thing is not the type of thing I like to see in a CoC adventure. Basically, it’s where I know this isn’t my cup of tea, but I still respect what’s been done here. Go in expecting this to be more DCC than CoC at the climax and you should be okay.
When all is said and done, Age of Cthulhu: The Timeless Sands of India is another well done adventure put out by Goodman Games. It’s well written, the art is fabulous and it’s more Derleth or Indiana Jones than Lovecraft, so opinions may vary on how much fun this is to play through with your respective gaming group. I’d definitely recommend Age of Japan over this one, but with both the PDF and the print version costing under ten dollars, this is definitely worth the cost to any Call of Cthulhu fan to just pick up and read, even if you don’t actually play it.
[4 of 5 Stars!]