Curse of the Yellow Sign: Act 3 is the latest release by roleplaying game veteran John Wick for the Call of Cthulhu game. This scenario was purchased, and the review below contains spoilers.
The third scenario in the Curse of the Yellow Sign series, set in the future, finds the characters cryogenically suspended on a ship destined for a remote planet in hope of terraforming it. Apparently the time is so distant in the future that no one has any familiarity with past science fiction movies showing that this will end horribly for everyone concerned. This theory is confirmed when the characters are awakened in the middle of the flight and brought into contact with an artificial intelligence that controls the entire ship, which they are expected to trust for some reason. They must discover what has occurred on board, with the only hope being survival.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Dan, I really enjoyed those movies, but does the scenario add anything else to the mix?” Not really. The pregenerated characters have their own hidden side that may be uncovered through the course of play, but there’s little here that’s new if you’ve seen 2001, Alien, and Pandorum. In fact, if you’ve seen those movies, you can probably write something comparable to this, and if your players have seen those movies, then you might be in for a bit of ragging.
Now that the final scenario in Wick’s series has been published, we might ask if his overall goal of writing scenarios that take Call of Cthulhu to the next level have been achieved. I would have to say not. Sure, if you only read a few Call of Cthulhu books, you might walk away with the idea that the Curse series has been innovative, but there’s really nothing here that hasn’t appeared elsewhere over the years. Even the staging notes, usually not present in most scenarios, turn up in vast amounts in the Cthulhu Live literature, so it’s hardly something that we’ve never seen before.
Also, if you’re going to try to go beyond what has come before in the genre, you should at least make sure that you’ve proofread the piece. One section refers to five memories for each person, while the material on each character gives only three, and two different sets of rules for handing them out are given. Each character is said to have a bag of personal items, which is described nowhere within. We have a lengthy discussion of how to open doors, with key cards and codes and actual keys, but it doesn’t appear that any of the starting characters have any of these. Do they stay in the same room the whole time? The final character, a musician, has no listed secrets. Did he not have any? Were they omitted? Is this someone’s snarky commentary on the musical scene?
Given my own stints as an editor and knowledge of small presses, I’m usually willing to cut them some slack when it comes to errors, but this probably has more errors than any Call of Cthulhu publication I’ve ever seen, and it’s only 32 pages long.
I should also add that any connections with the Yellow Sign, the King in Yellow, or any other aspect of the Hastur Mythos are tenuous at best.
Much as I would like to recommend the third chapter of Curse, I have to suggest that Keepers give it a pass, given its derivative nature and the trouble necessary to straighten out this mess.