On the Shelf Review – The Dance in the Blood

The Dance in the Blood is the latest purist scenario from Pelgrane’s Trail of Cthulhu line and the latest of Graham Walmsley’s “purist” scenarios.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, these are Mythos investigation scenarios that emphasize Lovecraft’s bleak, uncaring cosmic philosophy and usually lead to the horrible dooms of everyone involved.  Thus, they are usually inappropriate for campaign play, but nonetheless make for a good one-shot or tournament game.

At the beginning, a small group of individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds meet at the small English town of Keswick.  (These might be pre-generated characters or created by the players, though the scenario is set up so that the former option will lead to a more compelling story.)  There, they learn that they share a tie to each other, which leads them to investigate a nearby town which is mysteriously destroyed every century.

Some players will see where this is going in advance – of course, figuring out the eventual outcome for a purist scenario isn’t that hard – and Keepers might want to consider this before running.  The scenario might have been stronger with a slight bit of misdirection here – a person who seemed tied to the group not to be, or vice versa – to keep the players guessing.

The setup for the middle part of a scenario is what has become known as a sandbox, a toolkit of locations and encounters that the players are free to explore as they feel as appropriate.  It’s an unusual approach, as the resource management aspect of ToC skills doesn’t exactly favor it, but Walmsley provides enough notes that Keepers should have no trouble providing the group with the clues they need.  Whether that technically constitutes a sandbox, I’m not sure, but it is a novel and effective approach.  One missing element would have been a map – preferably one without a scale, to give the GM the most latitude when it came to getting people from one place to another.  (UPDATE:  Graham points out that the illustrated version of the module does have such a map, which I’m quite happy to hear.)

Nonetheless, the scenario delivers on its promises – striking atmosphere, strange characters, and weird occurrences galore, with a terrifying horror at the end with intimate ties to the characters.  Walmsley manages to avoid the common trap in such a storyline by making player choice crucial to the scenario’s outcome.

Overall, this would likely be a fun scenario to play through, especially if the GM used the above thoughts to tweak it in one or two places.  It makes me wonder when Mr. Walmsley will have the opportunity to write a longer purist scenario with a bit more scope.  I’m sure there are many people who would eagerly await such a release.

Published in: on October 11, 2010 at 10:57 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I drew a map! I wonder why it didn’t go in the scenario?

    Thank you for the review. My adventures are indeed getting longer, although they’re not Purist ones: the next thing will be Cthulhu Apocalypse, which is postapocalyptic.

    • I’ve checked this with Simon. There are two copies of the PDF: my limited edition PDF (long, thin and sparse) and Beth’s main PDF (US Letter-size and illustrated).

      There’s a map in Beth’s PDF, but not mine. As you suggest, it doesn’t have a scale. It is also, for what it’s worth, based on the real-life locations.

  2. Doesn’t sound quite like my play style, but the local interest angle is tempting!

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