On the Shelf Review – Cthulhu Britannica

For our thousandth post – no, really! – I’ll be reviewing the Cthulhu Britannica supplement for Call of Cthulhu, which Cubicle 7 was kind enough to send to me for review.

The book includes five scenarios from a range of periods.  Disappointingly, none of the scenarios here take place in the classic Twenties area, but one does come from the mid-Thirties, a time frame into which more recent CoC adventures seem to be moving.  Only the first two seem to have a distinctly British flavor, which could cut either way in terms of their usefulness.

The first scenario, “Bad Company” by Alan Bligh, is a welcome addition to the small number of Gaslight scenarios.  The investigators are asked to help a wealthy government official avoid scandal by uncovering the whereabouts of his son.  Making their way through London’s seamy underbelly, they soon come across a mysterious woman whose influence taints all who cross her path.  If a group can get into the proper mindset of playing upper crust investigators intent on avoiding embarrassment, this should quite a good time with plenty of shady characters and some of the most terrifying creatures to haunt any scenario.  The central figure gets short shrift – a page or two on interacting with her would not be amiss – and it is unclear how the investigators will allow at the final solution, with the dearth of clues pointing to it.  Nonetheless, this is a compelling piece.

“Darkness, Descending” by Mike Mason brings us to a Cambridge archaeological dig in 1934 where dark secrets of a particular Old One are unearthed.  The archaeological dig has become a common setup in Call of Cthulhu scenarios, and it has been handled much better than it has been done here, with no real characterization, setting, or other elements to distinguish it from the others.  At best, this is a workmanlike effort.

“Wrong Turn” by John French sends a television crew to an old abandoned radio telescope installation for a location scout.  As darkness falls, the phantoms of a failed dimension-breaching experiment return to bring madness and death to the hapless intruders.  It took me a little while to warm to the setting, but French’s excellent suggestions for creating and maintaining mood as the story proceeds really made this for me.  This is an excellent scenario in what Trail of Cthulhu players call the “purist” mode.

Keary Birch’s “King” starts strong, with a group of patients recovering from an eye surgery trapped in a secret lab where more has happened to them than they realize.  This is a solid scenario, damaged by an insistence upon piling one Mythos baddie upon another upon another, until what would work well as a straight mystery with a supernatural aspect ends up just being baffling.

The book rounds out with Paul Fricker’s “My Little Sister Wants You to Suffer,” a scenario set in the near future.  If you read the title and said, “Boy, that sounds rather gonzo and over the top,” you’d be right, and your mileage will likely vary based on how your group reacts to such things.   For my part, I can’t decide whether it’d be highly amusing or highly annoying for my players.  It’s difficult to see how to integrate this scenario into a regular campaign.

Overall, I’d have to say Cthulhu Britannica is a mixed bag in terms of era and use of the British setting, and the quality is uneven, though it veers toward the positive overall.  Aside from the second scenario,  all of these have a special twist or innovative technique that sets them apart from standard fare.  That’s certainly a good reason to keep an eye on this publisher and its offerings for Cthulhu.

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Published in: on October 25, 2009 at 10:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

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