On the Shelf Review – Curse of the Yellow Sign, Act I

Perhaps I missed the announcement, but noted RPG author John Wick has become another Chaosium licensee.  His first product, Curse of the Yellow Sign, Act I: Digging for a Dead God, has just appeared in PDF format.  (Typical disclaimers about my ties to another publisher apply here.)

This offering constitutes what has been called a sandbox game, in which the characters explore a pre-made setting, instead of becoming part of a series of events plotted by the GM.  In the simplest terms, the characters are Nazis in Africa in 1939.  They find an ancient tomb, open it, and Horrors ensue.

I have to say that the piece is strong.  The pre-generated characters aren’t as horrific as they could be, but this is likely to the benefit of a game where the players should at least care slightly about their characters.  (It’s a tough call and one of the reason such scenarios have been largely avoided in Call of Cthulhu.)  The contents of the tomb are suitably bizarre, and the slow revelation of the horror provides plenty of opportunities for both roleplaying and mayhem.  Wick has done an admirable job of bringing sandbox games back to Call of Cthulhu (we did have them back in the day, but they tended to be meat grinders).

I will include a word of warning:  This is not a King in Yellow/Yellow Sign scenario, in my book, as it does little or nothing with the themes and mythology thereof.  It’s not that Wick is unaware of these – his introduction makes this clear – but he’s decided to do something entirely different.  I’m wondering why he decided to bring in the King at all, as the scenario seems to be custom-made for another Mythos entity.

Also, the scenario includes some head-scratching rules items – characters losing 1D4 CON (why not hit points?), a lack of information on weapons aside from type or damage, or many investigator skills in the 80%-90% range.  None of these are incorrect, but they indicate that the author isn’t entirely comfortable with writing for this audience.

I think this scenario would make for a solid evening’s entertainment, provided your group doesn’t balk at playing Nazis.  I don’t think, at this point, that it displays as much re-invention of the genre as some might like to believe.  Nonetheless, I’m open to letting subsequent chapters convince me.

Published in: on July 5, 2009 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

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