Joseph Goodman of Goodman Games was kind enough to send me a copy of Madness in London Town, the latest in the company’s Age of Cthulhu line for Call of Cthulhu. (Disclaimer: I write for another CoC publisher.) Set in the 1920s, the scenario brings a group of investigators to the British Museum at the behest of a friend. As one can imagine, matters go downhill from there – I’ll be discussing the scenario in general terms, to avoid giving too many spoilers.
Madness is, I think, too much of a Call of Cthulhu scenario. It’s a curious reservation to raise in a review, but I think it is defensible.
Investigations in Call of Cthulhu scenarios typically involve several stock elements – situations, characters, locations, and the like. This is not to knock these – for example, investigators typically visit a library to find clues, thus providing them with a clear avenue to start their investigations and a reinforcement of the Lovecraftian milieu in which the game takes place. The danger comes if these tropes become so formulaic as to become predictable. Madness contains numerous such tropes, to the extent that I think a savvy group of players could see them coming and easily circumvent them. Indeed, one near the beginning could redirect the course of the scenario, unless the Keeper is wary.
Likewise, the villains of the scenario seem to be mere contrivances to bedevil the investigators rather than full-fledged characters in their own right. At one point, one of the cultists plays a small trick on the investigators to “soften them up.” Of course, it is actually the Keeper who wants to “soften up” the group, as the trick would be mostly useless to the antagonist. The cultist then sends the group off to one of the group’s businesses, where, if the investigators defeat a few cultists and a guardian, they can find more clues to lead them deeper into the mystery. This is where the Keeper wants them to go, of course, but a cult with this degree of power and influence should be able to do the group much more damage, or easily remove them from the picture entirely.
The real shame is that there’s a really good scenario that could be lurking behind all this. Taking the god and the premise of the cult, an author could have developed a whole range of rites, garb, goals, minions, and other elements appropriate thereto that would have been striking and appropriate. Instead, one could easily insert any other group and Old One into the scenario with no discernible changes, save perhaps for the site of the finale.
This isn’t to say that the scenario does not have some redeeming moments. The settings are stunning – I especially like the British Museum sections (or at least the use of it as a setting) and that at another museum, though not every element therein. The production values are high, and the maps, handouts, and character portraits are top-notch. Nonetheless, this cannot make up for the scenario’s underlying problems, which I hope Goodman will address in future releases in this line.