On the Shelf Review – Murder of Crows

These are my impressions of the first product to appear in the batch from the new licensees for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game – Murder of Crows, released by Super Genius Games.

The material below is filled with spoilers, so be warned. Also, be aware that I am working with what could be considered a competitor of this company.

Hundreds of thousands of crows have come to roost in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, disrupting the tourist trade and frightening the townsfolk. The investigators must determine the cause and the person behind this and stop the infestation. In brief, the town’s leading citizen has discovered an alien artifact masquerading as a Native American artifact which allows him to control small animals.

When SGG first discussed this line, they mentioned that they would create scenarios that could either be run as one shots or as part of a campaign. I was curious about how exactly this would work, as the two paths can often have different requirements in terms of what is presented. The simple answer is that they chose to make it more like a campaign. Thus, the first element of the scenario is a long narrative describing the history of Bethlehem and the events that lead up to the invasion of the crows. Following this is a location-by-location breakdown of the town, its inhabitants, and their own thoughts on the mysterious situation. The level of detail here is most impressive.

Still, this arrangement has two problems. First, some of the information that’s in the opening narration should be restated at the relevant entry, so Keepers can find it during the game. For example, the general store owner knows about curious deliveries made to the prominent citizen, but this isn’t mentioned in the entry for the general store. It’s also not clear how much people know about the disappearance of this guy. Does everyone know about it? Do only a few?

Second, none of the characters the investigators meet really know why the crows are there. There are little opportunities for research – or even most skill rolls – in this phase, so effectively the investigators must go around town and question people who are just guessing as to what is happening. This continues until the investigators notice that the town’s most prominent citizen is missing, enter his house, and find his diary, where most of the information actually lies.

Following this section is a series of inexplicable events regarding the crows that take place as the investigation proceeds. The crows, which can hear everything in town, react when someone makes particular statements regarding what’s going on by first watching, then threatening, then attacking the group. In effect, this serves as a way to avoid actually creating the clues mentioned above – the investigators walk around town talking to people who are just guessing as to what’s going on, and they can tell by the crows’ behavior whether they’re on the right track. It’s a really strange way to structure the clue-gathering portion of the scenario.

(Speaking of crows – one element I noticed was missing from the descriptions was a discussion of what those hundreds of thousands of birds would, ahem, leave behind. I was there for the great starling invasion of Vanderbilt’s campus, so I can tell you that’s certainly the most notable feature of all those birds in one area. Of course, it could create a humorous situation, so I’m not sure the inclusion is vital. )

The ending brings about a final confrontation with the unwitting villain of the piece. It might have been nice to see more than one solution – a non-violent one alongside the violent one – but that is easy enough for Keepers to insert. There’s a final level of complication, but it’s likely a canny group can figure out a way around it quickly.

We end with a description of the amulet that’s causing all the trouble. I’d suggest Keepers merely make it an Abenaki artifact rather than a mi-go artifact, because that makes considerably less sense. I mean, “The Whisperer in Darkness” would have gone quite differently if the fungi could convince hordes of crows to dive-bomb Akeley.

In its favor, the scenario has a memorable premise, a well-detailed setting, and some great moments. The formatting of the document is simple and clear. Keepers who’ve paid attention to this review should be able to make some adjustments and come up with an evening’s worth of enjoyable entertainment. I’ll be buying their next scenario, The Doom from Below, to see what happens next.

Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 7:28 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I dunno . . . sounds more video-game-y than table-top-RPG-y.

  2. I also had an opportunity to read Murder of Crows, and I agree with your assessment of the adventure. I think a clever Keeper can beef-up certain elements of the adventure to heighten the horror, and thus more SAN loss.

    I also found the scripted ending a bit anti-climatic, so I have an idea on how to punch that up a bit too. I’ll be running Murder of Crows in November at ShaunCon XXVI in Kansas City.

    I think it’ll be fun adventure to run.

  3. Hi Dan!

    I just purchased this scenario direct from the Chaosium website, so I’ll have it in a few days and will be able to make my own assessment.

    “Crows” aside for the moment, I think it’s great that Chaosium has opened the doors wider to allow more third-party stuff to appear. I look forward to offerings from Super Genius Games, Miskatonic River Press, Goodman Games, etc.

    “A Murder of Crows” has a cool-looking cover (yes, I know, not the reason to buy a book…) but still it appears very evocative. It’s been years since I’ve seen Hitchcock’s “The Birds” – I wonder if this scenario was inspired by that film?

    Anyway, thanks for your review!


  4. […] adventures set in  Bethlehem, New Hampshire, The Doom from Below (Drivethrustuff link).  I expressed some skepticism about the first release, Murder of Crows, but I was certainly wlling to pick up their next releases […]

  5. Pretty cool book cover, not a big fan of the book though.

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