Regular readers are probably aware that I backed the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter and that I tend to rant about how badly it has been conducted. Fortunately this isn’t another one of those posts and today I’m actually going to sound pretty positive about Chaosium for a change.
As part of the CoC 7th Ed Kickstarter I purchased the Horror on the Orient Express campaign as an add on. Horror on the Orient Express (HotOE) was ran as a separate Kickstarter by Chaosium prior to the 7th Ed Kickstarter and I missed out on that one so this seemed a good time to pick up the boxed set at a significant discount. As many of you know, I have a bit of an obsession with trying to own and run the ‘great’ campaigns, more or less regardless of system and for Cthulhu HotOE represents the last omission from my collection.
HotOE was first released as a boxed campaign by Chaosium back in 1991. Original sets can still be found on EBay fairly frequently and tend to command fairly high prices if they are complete. I’ve long considered picking one of the original copies up but it never quite made it to the top of my list and so when it was offered at half price ($60) as part of the 7th Ed Kickstarter I jumped at the chance to grab it. The version that was Kickstarted is far more than just the original game Chaosium really went all out in their production of a deluxe campaign set.
This edition is designed for use with the, as yet unreleased, 7th edition rules for the game but includes stats for 6th edition so you can run it with existing material. Also included are basic conversion rules for 7th edition if you want to try and run it using that system.
So, what do you actually get for your £75 at retail? In the box there is-
6 Campaign books
- A Tour Guide to the Orient Express and it’s stops
- 6 A3 maps detailing the various carriages of the Orient Express
- An A3 Handout of the Scroll of the Head (plus instructions on how to cut it up and age it to make a more convincing prop)
- A Map of Europe detailing the various Orient Express Routes over the years
- A cardboard Simulacrum that breaks down into 6 parts for the players to find and assemble during the campaign
- A cardboard Dagger (what is the dagger for)
- A Matchbox (with toothpicks in, matches are incendiary devices and can’t be posted)
- An Orient Express stamped envelope containing 4 Period Accurate US Passports, 4 luggage stickers, a bumper sticker, and 2 period postcards.
It’s a mighty set. The box is X inches deep and it weighs in at 4.5kg, which means it is the heaviest boxed set for any game I own and rivals the WFRP 3rd ed box in size but the difference is that HotOE is jam packed with books, as opposed to innumerable tokens. So packed is the HotOE box that the lid doesn’t actually close properly and it literally bulges.
Before I go into some detail about the individual components I thought I’d take a moment to look at the production values of the set. The box is large and sturdy, despite not being overly thick. The artwork is bright and eye catching, with the box art from the original set being reproduced and used again. The books are all softcover and black and white with good quality paper used throughout. For the props, all of the card ones are made from a thick card and are clean cut and well printed. The matchbox is sturdy enough to have survived shipping without being damaged and the envelope seems to have similarly protected the props it contains.
So let’s take a look at the books. As this only arrived last week I’ve not come close to having properly read it and so I won’t be reviewing the adventure so much as looking at what each book covers and the production values used on them. That means that there will be very few spoilers in the article although if you do intend on playing through this campaign then I’d suggest you stop reading now, just to be safe.
Book I is the Campaign. Book 1 is 74 pages long and provides a general synopsis of the entire campaign. Given the size of the set as a whole it’s not great surprise that the campaign overview needs a book all to itself. This book follows the main plot of the campaign, given the Keeper a good idea of how the game should flow and a timeline for the events. The last is especially important because the adventure runs on a fairly specific timeline which corresponds with the time it takes to take the Orient Express from Paris to Constantinople in 1923.
Book II is Through The Alps. This book is 264 pages long and covers the first part of the journey. It begins in London and covers two periods, being 1923, the year the adventure is set, and 1893 for an optional prequel scenario. After London it moves to Paris for the PC’s to actually board the Orient Express and then shifts to the Dreamlands for another optional adventure while the train is on route to Lausanne, the next stop. The final section of book 2 sees the players travel through the Alps to Milan.
Book III is Italy & Beyond. This book is 272 pages long and covers the middle of the journey. This books takes the players from Venice to Trieste and onto Vinkovci. It has a couple of optional sections, one in a Dreamlands type sequence and two others, both in Constantinople in different eras, 330AD and 1204AD. The background sections provide an awful lot of perspective for what is going on in the present and, while optional, seem to be worthwhile building into your game.
Book IV is Constantinople & Consequences. This book is 192 pages and brings the campaign as a whole to 728 pages, which makes it a full 290 pages longer than the entire of Beyond the Mountains of Madness, which is a colossal beast in it’s own right. This is the final book of the campaign proper and takes the PCs from Sofia to Constantinople before they cross back across Europe in the exciting conclusion before the campaign comes full circle to end in London. There is also one final optional encounter which takes place in Istanbul, 2013.
Book V is Strangers on a Train. This book is X pages long and contains X NPCs for use during the campaign. While the main campaign books contain all of the important NPCs as they are encountered Strangers on a Train provides the DM with a series of NPCs to fill the gaps when the PC’s decide to question people in the restaurant car, or members of the trains staff. It’s designed to fill the gap when the players talk to someone that isn’t intrinsic to the adventure proper but who may still be able to provide them with a clue that gets them back on the right track (no pun intended). Each NPC has the generic stats and also a page on which you can make notes, in case the PCs speak to that person again.
This book makes another excellent addition to the set and allows the Keeper to introduce people on the fly without having to worry about remember specific details about the person later. It also deals with the minor issue of players knowing that an NPC isn’t important because the Keeper doesn’t reference them from the book. Using NPC’s from Strangers on a Train means that every single NPC will be viewed as important and the players won’t be able to make assumptions about an NPCs importance and take any information they supply for granted.
Book VI is For The Investigators. This book is 196 pages long and contains all of the handouts that the players may find during the course of the campaign, reprinted from each of the separate campaign books. They are all printed neatly on white paper and are not double sided allowing you to cut them out if your wanted. Fortunately, as this is the digital age you don’t need to deface your book, wither by actually cutting out the handouts or by bending it trying to photocopy them, instead you can go to the Chaosium website and download a PDF of the handouts for free, which you can then cut up. The handouts can be found here. I have to admit, I think that this is a brilliant step by Chaosium and one I applaud. This will make my life much easier and make me significantly less nervous about trying to age and weather the various bits of paper.
So thats it for part 1 of the review, in Part 2 i’ll be taking a closer look at the handouts, props and maps included in the set.