On the Shelf Review – The Cold Case of Robert Suydam

The latest offering for Call of Cthulhu from Super Genius Games is The Cold Case of Robert Suydam, the first in their After Lovecraft series, written to follow various works by HPL.  This particular offering refers back to the classic Lovecraft story “The Horror at Red Hook.”

“Red Hook” is a difficult tale on which to follow up.  (Full disclosure:  I wrote a piece called “The Believers” on the cult of Red Hook published in Worlds of Cthulhu, so I know whereof I speak.)  You’ve got the tale’s blatant racism, forming one of HPL’s most virulent mistakes.  You’ve got its mythology, which does not draw upon the Cthulhu Mythos and instead hearkens back to medieval demonology.  Finally, you’ve got parts of the tale that simply don’t make much sense, whether due to Lovecraft mashing together several different cultures in the cult’s beliefs or elements of the story that go unexplained.  Overall, this makes for trouble for anyone who wants to use it as a basis for a Call of Cthulhu adventure.

Super Genius has made this transition well, and that weighs heavily in its favor.  The scenario has a number of memorable and often gruesome scenes, from the story and otherwise.  A number of interesting roleplaying encounters are provided that will cause the group to have to change course in terms of tactics.  Also, the scenario includes a fascinating and unusual antagonist who should be challenging to the investigators on two or three different levels.

Nonetheless, I have qualms about giving a whole-hearted recommendation to this scenario, due to its overly linear structure.  For example, the beginning of the scenario requires investigators to travel through a sequence of four role-playing encounters.  It is, in most cases, unclear as to how the scenario will play out if any one of the four encounters go badly, and the lack of specified skill rolls in this section seems to leave this up to the player’s roleplaying skills.  There is another route in, but it involves following up a passing reference in the story itself, so many groups might miss it.  A few more clue trails here and there would have been a welcome addition so the Keeper did not have to improvise.

The same mindset also prevails at the end of the scenario.  The author provides only one way to succeed, and a particular group might have serious qualms about implementing it.  My own aesthetic preference in scenarios has always been for those allowing multiple ways for the investigators to succeed, especially those that reward player ingenuity and creativity.

For what it’s worth, the middle of the scenario is much more freeform, providing multiple avenues of investigation in most cases.  Thus, these instances are confined to a few areas which a Keeper can navigate around if she recognizes them.

A few minor notes are also worth mentioning:  It’s a shame that more information about one of the antagonist groups is not provided, as interrogation might turn up some interesting back story not accessible otherwise.  At times, the Cthulhu Mythos skill is used when Occult seems more appropriate.

The book is rounded out with a copy of “The Horror at Red Hook” for use as a handout – one that I recommend be given to the group at least an hour before the session starts – and sample characters.  (I noticed a typo or two among the latter, so Keepers should review them before handing them out.)

Overall, Cold Case seems to be a scenario that favors Keepers who are able to improvise and groups with a strong emphasis on roleplaying.  Its usefulness to your group likely will depend upon how closely they meet these criteria.

(Disclaimer:  I work for and am a partner in Sixtystone Press, which also makes Call of Cthulhu items.  The book was a review copy.  This was not a playtest review but a capsule review, which I nonetheless feel can give a good idea of how a scenario should play.  After all, that’s what a printed scenario is supposed to do.)

Published in: on October 6, 2009 at 11:02 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful review, Dan. I’m the author of the scenario, and it’s quite valuable to me to have your insights. It’s definitely true that my style and my playtest group are probably atypically focused on role-playing based solutions and I was rather parsimonious with the skill checks. I’ll certainly keep all your critiques in mind as I work on the next scenario in the line.

    Rick Dakan

  2. I read many of your blog posts. Good Job and very informative.

    Keep it up!


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