Call me a traditionalist, but I have certain expectations about the return of the Great Old Ones. I prefer the imagery of the earth being cleared off from “The Dunwich Horror,” with most of humanity extinct after the general reveling and slaying and overall destruction. I know it’s more fashionable these days to have the end of the Mythos world involve cybernetics or battling mechs or vampires, but all of it seems to be missing the point.
Another person who sees this in a similar manner is Graham Walmsley, author of several Purist scenarios for Pelgrane’s Trail of Cthulhu line, whose latest effort is his Dead White World release for the Cthulhu Apocalypse campaign. The present review covers only the first three sections, which are what has been printed so far. This is suggested as a Pulp style scenario for the game, not because of the tone, but because you’ve got to give your characters some way of surviving the end of the world for a while, the poor bastards.
The investigators are survivors of a train wreck who awaken to find a world vastly different than what they knew. As the scenarios progress, they travel across a post-apocalyptic world less known for leather and mohawks than for quiet suffocation and madness. How will they survive? What secrets will they uncover? Is there any hope left for humanity?
As with most of Graham Walmsley’s works, the atmosphere is deftly handled, and his take on the apocalypse is unexpected yet creepy. The threat is both visible up front and slowly reveals its nature, and the investigators must quickly adapt to the new situation. The investigators will find that they are not the only survivors, but they can expect little more than memorable encounters from the people they encounter.
I must, however, take nature with the specific origin and nature of the main antagonists, if they can be called such. Simply put, they have nothing to do with the Mythos. I simply cannot understand this. You’ve got an apocalyptic scenario with hundreds of potential actors, many of whom could create any effect they desire. Why, in the name of Tsathoggua, would you throw in something unconnected? Isn’t there anything out there in the vast Mythos pantheon that could serve as an agent for it?
Another trait of this scenario of which I am not fond is the insistence to hand-wave basic scientific facts – wind speeds, effects of nuclear blasts, biological inheritance, and so forth. It’s not that Walmsley ignores these, mind you, or attributes them to the worldwide chaos. He simply notes that they shouldn’t work that way, but they do, and that’s that. It’s a troubling attitude, especially for an investigative game where expertise in these areas should be seen as a bonus.
I don’t want to overemphasize either of these elements, as both criticisms cater to picky players like myself. It should only take a few minutes’ thought as to how to provide alternative explanations consistent with the setting for each of these. Still, based on the personalities of the group, the Keeper might want to do so, and the author might consider if this would be appropriate when the whole campaign is published.
If I’m already nitpicking, I’d also add that more details on the alien discovery at the end of Part 3 would have been welcome. Also, the scenario employs the same freeform sanity rules from previous scenarios, but more guidance on handling Sources of Stability would have been useful here, given how quickly they will be vanishing. I don’t think that’s giving anything away.
Nonetheless, the Dead White World is an eerie evocation of a world destroyed by inhuman forces, and I eagerly await the publication of the whole.