Against the Standard Model of Call of Cthulhu

It is not always obvious what a particular game is supposed to look and feel like in play. Even if we can work out how a game functions on a session-by-session basis there is no guarantee that we’ll be able to work out how to run a campaign. When it comes to Call of Cthulhu, the question of what campaign play is supposed to look like boils down to one single question:

What do you do after running “The Haunting”?

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REVIEW: The Wombwell Stones

Set in early 1920s Britain, A Very British Horror is an on-going series of adventures (half of which have been published at time of writing) designed to either stand alone or function as an extended campaign. The first volume, The Folly of Ponsonby-Wild is set in a decaying B&B in the Cotswolds and it involves a traumatised friend, a deranged husband, family secrets, and a sinister cult with ties to the British establishment. I thought it very good when I played it, I thought it even better when I sat down to write about it, and I remember it now as one of the few published Call of Cthulhu adventures to really grasp the unique horrors of Britishness.

However, while The Folly of Ponsonby-Wild may be a fantastic stand-alone adventure and a great place to start a Call of Cthulhu campaign set in 1920s Britain, the second volume in the series is something of a disappointment.

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REVIEW: Hand of Glory

Hand of Glory is part of Type40’s ongoing series of ‘adventure seeds’.

What you get for your $9 is a short, single-session adventure designed to be run with minimal preparation. You also get a set of pre-gens, and a selection of beautifully-designed handouts. What you do not get is very much of anything else.

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REVIEW: The Folly of Ponsonby-Wild

Iain Ross’s The Folly of Ponsonby-Wild is the first volume in a series of Call of Cthulhu adventures that will eventually come to form a campaign entitled A Very British Horror. At time of writing, three of the planned four volumes have been published and while I have yet to take a look at any these later episodes, I can confirm that the first episode plays very well indeed. In fact, I would even go so far as to describe this adventure as a delight.

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REVIEW: Endless Light

Endless Light is the second Call of Cthulhu ‘seed’ adventure published by Australian nerd-tat purveyors Type40. 

The format is largely unchanged from that pioneered by The Mummy of Pemberley Grange: $9 gets you a short, simple adventure built around a single planned encounter and supported by some high-quality handouts and a group of pre-generated characters.

The format is best understood as a radical departure from the approach to adventure design favoured by Chaosium and echoed by most people publishing adventures in and around Call of Cthulhu. The difference is that while traditional Call of Cthulhu adventures tend to be highly contextualised and incredibly detailed, Type40 adventures tend to be simple, abstract, and stripped of any broader context.

The result is a series of adventures that can either be run in a couple of hours with almost no preparation, or be expanded into something a bit more substantial through the addition of a pre-amble and the introduction of connections to an on-going campaign. Your mileage will obviously vary but while the first possibility does not interest me at all, I have found the second possibility extraordinarily rewarding. My players enjoy the simplicity, I enjoy having something solid upon which to expand but one man’s solid is another man’s ill-smelling goo.

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REVIEW: One Less Grave

I must admit that Type40’s first adventure The Mummy of Pemberley Grange left me feeling somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, I am still a bit sore about paying $9 for the privilege of receiving some hand-outs and an adventure that boiled down to ‘the group are invited to a party and get attacked by a mummy’. On the other hand, my group enjoyed playing the adventure and the lack of detail provided in the PDF did encourage me to write my own stuff albeit within a set of structures provided by the adventure.

I have spent a few weeks trying to resolve my feelings of ambivalence and the closest I have come is the realisation that adventures do not need to read well in order to be useful. I can already think of about a dozen different ways in which to unpack and explore this idea but I’ll just leave it sitting there for now and return to it at another point. In the meantime, I have decided to give Type40 another try and see if some pretty hand-outs and a decent set of writing cues do actually result in better gaming experiences for my group.

Also retailing for $9, One Less Grave is another ‘adventure seed’ comprising a set of beautifully designed handouts, a single encounter, and a set of pre-generated player characters.

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