I have to say I’m enjoying the latest offerings from Pelgrane Press for their Trail of Cthulhu line. Even when I profess skepticism about how X is handled in a release, it’s come with the caveat that X is usually new and innovative and certainly worth trying. The Black Drop, the latest release in their line and the work of Jason Morningstar, author of The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, is another fine addition to this tradition.
In the southern Indian ocean lies a small, barren archipelago known as the Kurguelens. In the Thirties, a steamer travels there to conduct scientific studies and to remove what few individuals still occupy a failing colony on the island. The investigators arrive on this ship, but they are not the only ones interested in the secrets of this wasteland…
The most amazing part of this scenario is the sheer detail lavished on the Kurguelens. I’m a firm believer in the old Call of Cthulhu technique of writing up a sidebar on a foreign city or country, so the Keeper can really give a session the flavor of another place or time. Morningstar truly brings the islands to life, with detailed descriptions of flora and fauna, the inhabitants, the place’s history, and the local environment and conditions. The players are effectively exploring a new world, and Morningstar provides a profusion of maps, data, and photographs to turn it into a vibrant and memorable location.
This is not to say that the rest of the scenario is lacking. It has everything you can want – mysterious characters with uncertain motivations, deadly cults, strange artifacts, astronomical oddities (such as the Black Drop itself) eldritch Horrors, and a twist that I doubt most players will see coming. Elements are provided that can easily turn the scenario in purist or pulp directions.
One catch that might emerge for potential Keepers is the nature of one of the groups that the group must encounter. Success on this mission is largely based on how the investigators interact with this group, and it might be that some players will seek a different outcome than that which the text anticipates. Thus, the Keeper must be considerate of this in roleplay, unless he or she anticipates this to be run as a one-shot.
One interesting innovation in BD is handling the use of research and interaction skills in a setting that might not call for them. The scenario provides the group with a number of flashbacks, in which the characters can play out their fact-finding attempts before setting sail. I found the first such flashback to be too contrived, but the others were much better. I’m not sure if, in the course of play, these appear in time for players to make decisions based on the information therein when it counts. I really do mean “I’m not sure” there – I encourage Keepers seeking to run this to read up on these and make sure they appear at an appropriate time for the tastes of their players.
Overall, the Black Drop is a fantastic scenario and one of the strongest scenarios in the Trail line – which, in turn, makes it one of the strongest Cthulhoid RPG scenarios published in recent times. As always, it’s worth getting even if you play Call of Cthulhu instead of Trail, so you can adapt it or take ideas for your own game.