Tag Archives: CoC

RPGaDay- 2016 Day 15, Best source of inspiration for RPGs?

It used to be books, I am, or more accurately was, a voracious reader and since I’d read a significant amount of literature set in the games that I wanted to run or play in then I could use that to my own ends. That’s changed though, I have significantly less free time and so when I’m running a game virtually all of my reading time is usually devoted to the rules and adventure, as opposed to wider reading. I still use books as inspiration and I still recommend certain novels to people who want to play certain games, 2XS and House of the Sun for Shadowrun, The Chronicles and Legends for Dragonlance, At the Mountains of Madness and The Dunwich Horror for Cthulhu and many others.

For me, nowadays, it’s TV, far more than even movies (though I saw a whole lot of Numenera in Guardians of the Galaxy). TV has advanced to such a state that it’s held almost in the same regard as film, actors don’t see it as a step down if the show is right (say like True Detective) and networks pump massive amounts of money into shows with Game of Thrones reportedly costing $6 million per episode and Walking Dead around $3 million. Plus, with the rise of traditionally fantasy and sci fi genres in the mainstream, like the aforementioned Game of Thrones and Walking Dead, plus the surge in popularity of Comic Book movies, more subjects that would traditionally be too niche for the mass market are being greenlit.

This means I can find great, hard edged sci fi, like in The Expanse, or fantasy like Shannara or Game of Thrones, it means that I can see settings and themes I love treated seriously and with respect and that helps me form ideas in my head how I want to run games or what kind of character I want to play. If I want to understand how close nit a criminal organisation might be then shows like The Sopranos can help me, if I want to understand gangs then Sons of Anarchy, the Shield and the Wire all give me different perspectives on different types. If I want source material for Deadlands then I need look no further than H*** on Wheels or Deadwood.

I’ve even found inspiration for games like Call of Cthulhu in TV shows recently, with Season 1 of True Detective essentially being about a worshiper of Hastur and with more supernatural shows like Sleepy Hollow essentially being a mash up between Cthulhu NOW and he forthcoming Pulp Cthulhu. H***, Hunter the Vigil is literally embodied in the TV show Supernatural in everything except name and all this is before I start looking into lower budget shows like Dark Matter and Killjoys that make perfect inspiration for Traveller, Firefly (which has its own show anyway) or anything in a space operah setting.

Inspiration for RPGs can come from anywhere but, today, I find it most prevalent in TV as the world embraces geekdom, as ComiCon becomes a mass market spectacle and people tune in every week to find out what an orphaned girl with 3 pet dragons might do next.

RPGaDay 2016- Day 12, What Game is your group most likely to play next and why?

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I like the easy days it’s this-

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, Kickstarter Limited Edition, Keepers and Investigators Guides, Covers

Very specifically this-

Horror on the Orient Express, front of box

Why? Well because i’m running the next game and we’ve already discussed that it’ll be Horror on the Orient Express for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. To be honest it’s been a given that the game i’d be running next would be this ever since it arrived, it’s the lats of the ‘great’ Call of Cthulhu campaigns we have left to play (we’ve done Masks of Nyarlathotep, Beyond the Mountains of Madness and Tatters of the King) and so we need to do this to complete the set.

Most significantly though, I just really want to run it and I think of all the games I run I run Cthulhu the best.

RPGaDay 2016- Day 10, Largest in-game surprise you have experienced

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Running games I like to keep things close to my chest, ideally bamboozling the players over the true identity or motivation of their adversary until the last possible moment. Doing this maintains tension, helps keep the players interested and makes villains memorable, especially when the twist is unexpected.

That said, I think my favourite reveal was by a player, to me, during one of my own games. We were playing the Call of Cthulhu campaign, Tatters of the King, which is, to date, the best Call of Cthulhu campaign I’ve read and certainly the best I’ve run.

Tatters of the King, Cover

WARNING– There will be some spoilers ahead.

Throughout the campaign the investigators had been plagued by visions of the King in Yellow, following witnessing the King in Yellow play and investigating events surrounding it and a cult of Hastur. As the game built to its conclusion the party travelled to India tracking the cult activity and the closer they got to the source of Hastur’s power, the more frequent and intense the visions became. For one particular investigator the visions were particularly intense and began to wear on his sanity.

The campaign culminates high in the mountains of Tibet, in sight of Everest, after the party enter a cave and so proceed to an other worldly location close to the Cyclades. After some exploration they reach a room in which they are approached by a vestige of Hastur who asks them all a single question ‘Will you Guide me?’.

The party have to each make their own decision as to what they want to do. All replying ‘no’ simply delays the inevitable, as Hastur will return again when the stars are right. The correct answer is to reply ‘yes’ and then lead Hastur astray as you guide him to Earth, forever dooming your soul but saving the planet from certain doom. I gave each player a piece of paper and asked them to write their answer, Yes or No, with no conferring between them. I then gathered the paper and secretly read the result.

As expected one wrote ‘yes’ and so I turned to him to describe the scene as it evolved and, much to my surprise, the player didn’t lead Hastur astray, didn’t even try, he guided him straight to Earth and so doomed the planet. Shocked, I asked why, since leading him astray is made clear as an option, and my players answer was that most surprising reveal “After everything that has happened, everything I’ve seen, heard and done, I felt that I was the avatar of Hastur, I was the one destined to bring him to Earth to rule”.

I have to say, I’ve never felt like I have done a more effective job running a game than in that moment, when I realised that I’d managed to coerce a player to end the world through the subtle manipulation of what he experienced throughout the campaign.

Horror On the Orient Express Deluxe Campaign Review, Part 1

Horror on the Orient Express, front of box

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.

Horror on the Orient Express, books

Horror on the Orient Express, props

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Horror on the Orient Express, Campaign Book

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.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 2, Through the Alps

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.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 3, Italy & Beyond

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.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 4, Constantinople & Consequences

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.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 5, Strangers on the Train

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.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 6, For the Investigators

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.

RPGaDAY Day 14, Favourite RPG Accessory

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In anticipation of this one i’ve been looking at my collection and generally trying to think of what actually qualifies as an RPG accessory. Off the top of my head I can only think of  couple of things that would genuinely count as an accessory and not a sourcebook.

The first is the DM Screen. This is a quintessential RPG product that dates back to at least 1st ed AD&D and possibly longer. I own a great many screens, for a variety of different games, some good, some bad. A screen isn’t the must have item that it used to be, some games don’t have official screens and others don’t even require the DM to pick up a dice, let alone hide their rolls, but they are still an important tool for the DM, providing easy access to tables and lists that save watching time searching through rulebooks. I’m a big fan of the DM screen.

After that, what else is there? Well there are player handouts, but they tend to come as part of an adventure than a stand alone accessory. Call of Cthulhu has some of the best examples, with Beyond the Mountains of Madness having it’s own accessory pack of handouts and with every single pre-written adventure coming with pages of letters and clues for you to photocopy for use in game. Call of Cthulhu also has packs of forms with such things as birth and death certificates and Sanatarium Admission forms, all designed to add a little depth to your game. Few games make as good a use of the handout as Call of Cthulhu but, used right, is another great tool that came really help make a game.

Lastly, at least from my own collection and off the top of my head, there are audio accessories. I covered these in a little in my article on atmosphere in gaming, but here bear mentioning again. Of all the various accessories these are probably my favourites because, used right, they can transform a game. Planescapes Mimir in the Planers primer to the Outlands is one outstanding example, as is the Ravenloft adventure A Light in the Belfry. Others might not like them as much as I do but I think that they can change the tone of a game if they are employed correctly.

Also falling into this category are the excellent sounds effects and soundboard tools produced by Battlebards. To me anything that draws the players into the world further and helps them suspend disbelief is a good thing and adding an audio element to the game is  simple and effective way to do that.

 

The Highs and Lows of Kickstarting Games

Kickstarter Logo

I’ll keep this specific to Kickstarter, since I’ve no experience with the other crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo, but I will say that the Kickstarter process of only charging you at the end of the project, IF it successfully funds, makes vastly more sense to me than charging you immediately for something that may not even receive enough money to be created.

Kickstarter is a wonderful thing, it lets people with idea’s that might not seems commercially viable to big corporations try to bring their product to life. There have been notable successes, Oculus Rift being by far the biggest following its multibillion dollar sale to Facebook and Star Citizen is another, which is still raking in record amounts of money. There are, however, spectacular failures as well, projects that have promised great things and failed to deliver at all.

To date I’ve backed 6 projects on Kickstarter and only 1 has actually delivered. In most cases my buy in is pretty low, less than £30 as I’m happy with the base product most of the time and I tend to back things with little to know postage costs since the postage from America is pretty steep (more on that soon). This far I’ve backed-

  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition
  • Paranoia
  • Tiny Epic Galaxies
  • Shadowrun Hong Kong
  • Epic Card Game

In the near future I’ll also be adding Tiny Epic Kingdoms: Heroes Call to that list.

My experience with Kickstarter is hit and miss. Shadowrun Returns is the only one to deliver and that delivered late, although there was strong communication throughout and that actually resulted in two games a one of the stretch goals was upgraded from an additional mini campaign to a full game in Shadowrun: Dragonfall. It was because of the success of this, along with an excellent and characterful game, that meant I happily backed Harebrained Schemes again for Shadowrun: Hong Kong.

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter

On the flip side of this is Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. This was my first RPG Kickstarter and, if you are a regular reader, you’ll know my love of all things Lovecraftian. I’ve played Call of Cthulhu for a great many years, in one guise or another, and the ability to be part of the new edition, plus the promise of some rather shiny Leatherette Editions lead me to back the project for over $400, once postage and a copy of the updated Horror on the Orient Express were added to my Nictitating Nyarlathotep pledge.

Call of Cthulhu was supposed to deliver in October 2013 but this was, understandably, delayed once the books were upgraded to colour and we were advised of this during the Kickstarter period. Delivery was re-estimated in late 1st Quarter 2014. To date (June 2015) the core books haven’t even gone to the printers and the status of the sizable list or promised stretch goals is in limbo as we’ve heard little to nothing about them. To make things worse Chaosium, a company I’ve always had respect for, went all but silent to requests for information for a significant amount of time and EU backers of their previous Kickstarter, Horror on the Orient Express, which was funded a year earlier than 7th Edition, are still waiting for their copies despite them being available in retail for over 6 months.

This nightmarish situation has developed further in recent weeks, with the announcement that the President and CEO of Chaosium and the Chief Accountant had been removed from the company by the other shareholders and the CEO’s stake was being bought out by the company. The other shareholders, Chaosium founder Greg Stafford and Call of Cthulhu creator Sandy Peterson, have taken on the role of CEO and VP respectively and worrying information is starting to make its way to backers. Now, I give credit to Greg and Sandy, since they took over we’ve had more contact and updates from them than we had in the previous 6 months from Chaosium under the old management but that’s of limited comfort when it appears that everything the backers have been told for a year was, basically a lie.

I won’t speculate on the state of the finances or what happened to the half a million dollars of Kickstarter money here as no solid information is available but, needless to say, I’ll be waiting a fair bit longer for my promised goods and whether I get everything promised is up for debate.

Of the other Kickstarters-

Paranoia Kickstarter Logo

Paranoia is behind schedule as it was due for delivery this month (June 2015) and I have to say that despite a pretty detailed update recently, I’m a little disappointed at the communication from Mongoose Publishing. That said, they appear to have been pretty honest with regards to the delays and when we can expect delivery and so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

Tiny Epic Galaxies Kickstarter Logo

Tiny Epic Galaxies is on track and the communication from Gamelyn has been first rate. They have even provided a pretty precise timeline for when each step is due to be completed and I couldn’t ask for more. I’ve been that impressed by the game and the company that I’ve sought out Kickstarter copies of Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Tiny Epic Defenders and I have no reservations at all about back Tiny Epic Kingdoms: Heroes Call when it begins on 22/06.

Shadowrun Hong Kong Kickstarter Logo

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is ongoing. It’s due to deliver in August 2015 but I’ll be surprised if it does. That doesn’t bother me though, Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall were excellent games and they are so true to the Shadowrun Universe, one I love, that I’d rather they get it right than I get it right now. As with Tiny Epic Galaxies, the communication has been excellent and backers know what is going on. Given that they managed to deliver Shadowrun Returns I have no reason to believe that I won’t get Hong Kong, it might just take a while.

Epic Card Game Kickstarter Logo

Epic Card Game is still live at the time of writing with an estimated delivery of September 2015. There have been numerous updates throughout the project and the stretch goals are modest and spaced fairly far apart, especially for a card game. I backed this one specifically because I love the previous offering from the creators White Wizard Games, being Star Realms. Star Realms was also funded by Kickstarter and delivered without a problem and, given that White Wizard Games have been pretty open about the fact that 90% of the work is already complete on Epic Card Game, I have no reason to expect that this one will arrive significantly late.

So, given that only one project has actually delivered, why do I keep backing things on Kickstarter? Well, partially it’s because I like being part of the creation of gaming products. Like this blog, backing Kickstarters makes me feel like I’m at least peripherally involved in an industry that I love and since I don’t have the skillset to create a tabletop game or RPG of my own, I like being part of helping someone else bring their vision to life. In truth though, the main reason is that I love the exclusive additions that come with the Kickstarter versions of games, from the Leatherette Call of Cthulhu books, to the exclusive Ultraviolet Paranoia box, to the promo cards in Epic Card Game. As a previous article says, I’m a sucker for limited edition variants and Kickstarter offers me those with wild abandon.

As you can see though, backing a Kickstarter isn’t without it’s risks. Looking at the spectacular mismanagement of Call of Cthulhu, there is a chance, hopefully a small one, that is just might not deliver and then I’m out of pocket by over £300. There are no guarantees on Kickstarter and the terms and conditions are pretty clear that a creator has to make every attempt to try and deliver the promised goods but, if they don’t, that’s a risk you accept. Kickstarter isn’t a pre-order service (though some companies certainly treat it as such) and people needs to remember that when backing a project. A recent Court Case in the US does give backers some hope for the ability to take legal action against Creators who don’t deliver and never really tried to – BBC.co.uk.Unfortunately though, this appears to just be the exception rather than the rule at present.

Due to how Cthulhu has panned out and from what I’ve noticed on some other projects that I’ve followed but not backed, I’ve created a few little rules that I try to follow when considering backing a project-

  • Is it EU (specifically UK) Friendly? For RPGs this isn’t an issue as books don’t attract UK Customs charges but for games or RPGs that include Dice/Pencils etc. as stretch goals, it’s important. If it doesn’t ship from Europe and comes in at over £20 then I might get hit for VAT and that’s something I don’t want.
  • Do I get something more than I would if I waited for retail? This might be an exclusive add on, cover, expansion or whatever and it might cost me an extra couple of pounds but if I’m not getting anything different to retail, or it’s not coming in cheaper, then I’m not interested.
  • Is postage stated or at least estimated? Postage from the USA is pretty horrific nowadays. Even if something ships from Europe it’ll often go via the Creator in the US and that can mean that it’s pretty expensive. In some cases the postages of RPG books can exceed $50 and I’m not willing to pay that on top of my pledge unless I’m getting something really special. If a project just states “Shipping to be calculated at the end of the project/time of shipping” then I’m out as I’m not willing to get stung for hefty fees at some arbitrary (given the ever apparent delays) point in the future.
  • Has the Creator successfully delivered other Kickstarter Projects in the past? If I’d though to check on Chaosium I’d have known that they hadn’t delivered anything before and still hadn’t fulfilled their promises to the HotOE backers. I know Kickstarter is about people going out into the world to get backing for their wild idea but, unless you have a proven track record, I’m probably out. If your product is cheap enough, or fascinating enough, I might make an exception but you’ll have to work extra hard to win my money.
  • How much is this going to cost me? I went a bit nuts with Call of Cthulhu and it might end up coming back to bite me. Nowadays I won’t back anything to a degree that I’m not willing to write that money off. Kickstarter is a gamble and you should never gamble with money you aren’t prepared to lose.
  • What are the Stretch Goals? I love stretch goals, they mean I’m getting more for my money and they are often exclusive to the Kickstarter but they can also be an early warning that the project will be delayed or won’t deliver on some/all of the promised goods. I have to keep using Call of Cthulhu as an example but take a look at what the RPG company have promised, above and beyond books and you’ll see what I mean. Chaosium promised Mugs, T-Shirts, Pin Badges, Posters, Music CD’s, Customer Coins, Card Decks and more to backers and that should have been a warning. Every item out of the norm for the company means that they have to engage with whole new industries to bring the item to market and that’s expensive and time consuming, especially for relatively small runs.

To me the stretch goals need to be present and interesting enough, after all backers should be rewarded for their faith in the product, but they should be well judges enough and far enough apart to be realistic. Epic Card Game has gone the other way, offering just additional cards for fairly big leaps in funding but they have, at least, explained that this is ensure that they deliver on time, on budget (since they have to actually make money) and don’t end up losing out on postage costs.

I’d say the perfect example of what to look for in stretch goals is in Tiny Epic Galaxies, they are fun, add quality or usefulness, and are directly related to the game. The Creator made sure, to fractions of an ounce, that the product would come in as close to the shipping weight limit as possible so backers got as much as possible for their faith in the company.

Kickstarter should be treated as an investment (although at present backers don’t have the same rights as commercial investors) and, as such, you should do your research before choosing who gets your hard earned cash. It’s also a two way street as Creators need to realise that backers are investors and need to be communicated with appropriately. Of all my issues with Chaosium over Call of Cthulhu by far the biggest is the utter failure to communicate with me as a backer. Had I been made aware, at appropriate points, of the issues they were facing and been provided with honest and clear information I wouldn’t be half as annoyed as I am. I’ve worked in project management, I understand that there are unforeseen delays, but I expect to be told about them as soon as possible.

My experiences are, as shown, mixed. Despite only one project having delivered I fully expect at least 2 more (Tiny Epic Galaxies and Epic Card Game) to reach me this year within, or close to, the estimated delivery dates. Of the others I’m not concerned about Shadowrun: Hong Kong as it’ll be ready when it’s ready and, at least right now, I’m fairly confident about Paranoia. It’s a shame for me that Call of Cthulhu, the one I wanted the most and the one that has cost me more than double all of my other backed projects combined, is so late and has no end in sight. I’ll continue to back projects but I’ll be a lot more careful about what I back and Chaosium will have to go a LONG way to restore my confidence in them as a company again.

Kickstarter is a great thing. It has meant that more and more people are able to have their vision brought to life by linking them up with individuals who share that vision. Crowdfunding in general is the future for many industries, especially niche hobby industries, and I think it likely that we’ll eventually see more and more large commercial community ventures, such as libraries and museums being funded via this format. It’s not without its risks but as long as you are careful about what you back and with realistic expectations then it can be very rewarding to back projects.

 

Tatters of the King, A Call of Cthulhu Campaign Review

Name: Tatters of the King
Type: Roleplaying Campaign Book
Publisher: Chaosium
System: Basic Rules System
Format- Softback
Size: 27.5cm x 21.4cm x 1.8cm
Pages: 232
Price:  £16.99
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Tatters of the King, Cover

The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.

Tatters of the King is a full Campaign for the Call of Cthulhu rpg. Predominately written for the 6th edition rules the campaign can be run using any edition of the game with minimal changes and could be converted to Trail of Cthulhu if the Keeper was willing to put some effort in. As with the majority of Call of Cthulhu adventures the game is set in the 1920s but there is no reason that it couldn’t be amended to work in Cthulhu Now or Cthulhu by Gaslight and I’m fairly confident that an era change wouldn’t dramatically change the tone of the adventure.

The book has a full colour, glossy, front and back and is black and white inside. The production values are high with original art throughout and, as is common in Call of Cthulhu products, the level of detail and research from the author is meticulous and accurate. My only criticism of the book is that the plastic coating on the edge of the cover has come away and rolled back, giving the book a bit of a beaten up look. My book hasn’t be carried around in a bag or treated poorly and so the fact that this has happened is a little disappointing.

Tatters of the King, damage

Tatters of the King unfolds using Robert Chamber’s book The King in Yellow as its basis and while its not overtly vital that a Keeper read this, I would suggest that you do as some of the stories help with the tone of the game. The book is now open source as it was first published in 1895 and it can be found here. Within the context of the Cthulhu mythos The King in Yellow is a manuscript for a play of the same name, one that, if performed in full will drive the audience irrevocably insane. It describes the strange city of Carcosa, which sits next to a lake ,and it details the ruling class of that city as they interact with a mysterious Stranger from across the lake. In the Cthulhu mythos The King in Yellow is the Great Old One Hastur, who lives in lake Hali, the lake upon whose shore Carcosa sits.

Full disclosure at this point, the rest of the review will include SPOILERS.

Tatters of the King is a 3 part campaign primarily set in the Great Britain, although the later stages take the investigators to Italy, India and finally to the shadow of Mount Everest in the Himalayas in Tibet. During late 1928 an alignment of stars brings the Hyades, a star cluster in the constellation of Taurus, and the supposed home of Hastur into close proximity to Earth and this affords the cult of Hastur on Earth a rare opportunity. It begins with a prologue in which the investigators spend an evening at the theatre in London’s West End, watching a performance of The King in Yellow, which breaks down into a riot in the second act, as the nature of the play takes control of the audience. Next the investigators are asked to consult on the case of a patient in an asylum in the English countryside, a man whose ramblings and scribbles notes work as the catalyst of the overall plot.

Tatters of the King, Book 1

Part 1 deals predominately with a cult of Hastur in London as it plans a ritual to bring Carcosa to Earth. The players investigate strange murders and try to track down cult members piecing together the clues in order to first understand the cults intentions and then to find out where and when the ritual will take place in order to try and prevent it being successful. This is probably the greatest of the 3 campaign parts and, in my opinion, is the most fun to run. There are some great npc parts to play, not least of all the madman in the asylum, and there are some really thrilling scenes. Most notably the enemies in this section are human and I find that human enemies provide a level of fear that other, more alien, parts of the mythos cannot because they are so far removed from the natural fears of the players.

Part 1 ends with the players approaching the site of the ritual, in Scotland, and being drawn into the land of Carcosa, during the events of the play. The players must track down the cult members within Carcosa and stop them casting the Summon Hastur spell. This is a strange section to run as the dark melancholy of Carcosa is hard to capture and the city is deliberately confusing. My party split up within the city, as some fell into a river and were washed downstream, which further compounded how difficult this section was to run. If you run this part well, and are confident in your knowledge of your players, you can use encounters here to provide glimpses of what is to come.

I was very fortunate when I ran Part 1, I had an investigator cast the spell, Bespeak the End of the Day. This spell affords the investigator a warped glimpse of the future and I showed the player the death of their investigator, along Regents Canal, which is one of the encounters late on,in Part 1,  just before the party head to Scotland to disrupt the ritual. This was deliberately timed and instilled a sense of dread in the party that was compounded when the realised that they were about to set out to that encounter. It’s hard work to foretell the death of a character and to have it come about without forcing the issue (which I didn’t) but when it works it makes for a truly phenomenal and memorable encounter.

Between Parts 1 and 2 the Keeper is encouraged to run a smaller adventure or two, to keep the players involved as there is a break in the campaign between March and December 1929. The idea is that the investigators think that they have succeeded and that the threat of Hastur is over. Within the framework of the campaign there is a downswing in cult activity as the Hyades disappear from the sky but that doesn’t mean that it’s all over, rather they players are lulled into a false sense of security (as much as it possible in Call of Cthulhu) before the adventure throws them back in at the deep-end.

Tatters of the King, Book 2

Part 2 serves as a reintroduction to the events surrounding Hastur. It deals with another mythos entity, Shub-Niggurath and it’s set within the Ramsey Campbell’s Goatswood in the West Country, specifically Gloucestershire. Ownership and knowledge of the Ramsey Campbell’s Goatswood book isn’t required (I don’t own it) but I imagine that it would be an asset. This is by far the shortest of the 3 sections of the campaign, running to only 21 pages.

This part reintroduces a character from Part 1 and he serves as the conduit for the whole section. I spent a substantial amount of time preparing to play him as it is essential that he gets across all of the information without seemingly giving it up in a monologue. The investigators travel to Gloucestershire and visit a farm where one of the principal cultists from Part 1 lived for a time. This allows them to discover notes that ultimately lead them to Italy and beyond in Part 3. While at the farm they get to intervene and prevent the activity of a group of local Shub-Niggurath worshipers in order to protect the farm. I personally like this section a lot as it deals with the concept of the ‘Old Gods’ of Britain and really highlights some of the ancient pagan practices that can been seen at the heart of many ancient communities within the British Isles.

Tatters of the King, Book 3

Part 3 is when the campaign goes global. The party travel from London, to Italy, to Bombay and then finally into Tibet and the Himalayas and much of this happens in a reasonably short space of time. The adventure follows the notes found in Part 2 that detail a further Hastur cult in Milan known as Il Fretelli del Signo Giallo (The Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign) and it’s own attempt to draw on the power of the Yellow King. It also follows one of the  English cultists who has gone to Italy to meet with the cult and then traveled on to India and Tibet as part of an expedition into the Himalayas.

While in Italy the group deal with a different kind of cult, one that is distinctly Italian as it’s members are not just university professors and dilettantes, but bookshops owners and artists. They meet a cult divided and learn something of the feelings of it’s members before discovering where the English cultist has gone and finally encountering a Byakhee that has been sent to silence a disgruntled member.

From Italy the party travel to Bombay in India and the adventure provides a interlude on a steamer ship that allows the investigators a brief respite and gives the Keeper an opportunity to release some of the tension built up thus far, before it really kicks into high gear for the conclusion. Obviously this chapter can be skipped or briefly mentioned before continuing on with the adventure proper but if you have a party that just likes to roleplay and are enjoying their characters then you can use this time to let them interact with the other steamer passengers and engage in some on ship activities.

In Bombay (Mumbai in the modern world) the investigators encounter proper British Colonialism as India was the jewel in the British crown at this point in history. This is the beginning of the end of the campaign as the investigators learn that the English cultist has traveled onwards, through India to Tibet and ultimately to to Drakmar, the home of Hastur on Earth. Bombay gives the players the opportunity to outfit themselves for an expedition into the Himalayas and lets the Keeper throw a couple of interesting encounters with the local culture and religion at them.

Throughout the entire campaign the Keeper is encouraged to plague the investigators with dreams of Hastur, Carcosa and the Tattered King and this should really step up as the party reach India and near the end of their long journey. I picked one player in particular to bully with these visions and it was a fantastic coincidence that he was the one that failed the most checks to resist seeing waking visions of the Tattered King when I exposed the whole party to them. These visions and dreams are a really important part to the campaign as a whole as they add another layer of atmosphere to the general eeriness of the game as a whole.

The party travel through India to the boarder of Tibet and then finally up through that mountainous country into the high Himalayas. The investigators must contend with a harsh and deadly landscape, language and culture barriers (despite the guides that they will most likely have hired) and altitude sickness as they climb higher into the mountains, into the very shadow of Everest, following in the footsteps of the English cultist and his Italian companions.

The final chapter of the campaign see’s the party enter The Upper House, in Drakmar. The Upper House is the home of Hastur and where his guide will bring him down to Earth. This can go a good number of different ways depending on whether the party are able to find and stop the English Cultist and how subversive the keeper has been swaying the investigators through visions and play. Like a great many Call of Cthulhu campaigns Tatters of the King doesn’t end in a grand battle with the enemy, no human could stand against the might of a Great Old One, even one with no real presence on Earth. The end see’s Hastur, closer to Earth at Drakmar than anywhere else and pulled closer still because of the ascendance of Taurus in the sky, ask those present who will guide him to Earth. The party has a number of choices to make and, as is the way in Call of Cthulhu, they fate of the world is truly in their hands.

This is a really great campaign, probably the finest Call of Cthulhu campaign that I have run and that includes Beyond the Mountains of Madness and Masks of Nyarlathotep (I’m eagerly awaiting my copy of Horror of the Orient Express from the Cthulhu 7th edition kickstarter at the time of writing). Perhaps it’s just my familiarity with British culture but I found that this campaign was well written, paced well and gave just enough to the investigators at each section so as to build the story and atmosphere at the right pace.

As with every Call of Cthulhu adventure Tatters of the King comes with a large appendix of player handouts and these are well written and thought out so as to challenge the thinking of the players. I particularly like that the handouts in Italy are written in Italian which challenges the investigators to either learn Italian or find someone they trust enough to translate those documents for them.

For those who aren’t from or based in Britain or versed in the history of this great nation, the campaign provides an appendix detailing London at the time, along with a map of the city at the time. In addition, throughout the campaign, there are notes detailing the physical, social and political landscape of the various locations at the time. I found this particularly helpful during the Italian section as I know very little modern Italian history and wouldn’t have considered the impact that the rise of fascism in Italy at the time would have on the adventure.

I was extremely fortunate when I ran this campaign as my players bought into it entirely and played their characters well. When one character foresaw his death at Regents canal, the player went into the encounter willingly and enjoyed using it as an opportunity to build the story as opposed to seeing it as a challenge to overcome. In the final encounter one player decided that all of the visions of the Tattered King meant that he was to be the herald of Hastur and bring him to Earth, which was completely opposed to the will of the rest of the party and a truly fantastic end to the campaign.

I think it’s worth mentioning that this campaign runs quite differently from the majority of other Cthulhu adventures that I have run. There isn’t actually a huge threat of death or ‘other’ (the affectionate term I have for the variety of things that can happen to you other than being killed or driven insane), although sanity loss is a very real danger. I think that works to it’s advantage because the constant changing of characters can serve to take away from the players investment in the game.

If anyone is looking for a well written, well paced and interesting Call of Cthulhu campaign the you could do a whole lot worse that taking a look at Tatters of the King.

So with that I have just one more thing to ask you. Have you seen the Yellow Sign?

Tatters of the King, The Yellow Sign