So, what do you say? Should we give Goodman Games’ Age of Cthulhu line another chance? It’s had something of a rough run, filled with African tigers and cultists who leave maps of their secret sites lying around and walrus men. There’s no way to tell if it’s gotten better without diving into the latest offering, The Long Reach of Evil. Long Reach differs from previous offerings in that it provides us with three adventures instead of a single one, so we should examine all three. SPOILERS follow.
Our first scenario is “The Fires of Sumatra” by Richard Pett.
You know how many RPG adventures set themselves up by deliberately screwing with the players? Imagine that someone took all of them and used them at once. Thus, the first scene in this adventure finds the investigators having been knocked out, tied up, stripped of their gear and weapons, left in front of a ravening monster, and placed under an inescapable curse that destroys their short-term memory, causes bad dreams, and eventually causes complete physical degeneration. I am not kidding.
I bring this up because this is where some groups will decide they’ve really had enough of this, or will start comparing it with various other scenarios or popular entertainment properties, neither of which is conducive to the mood. You know your group, and you can make the call.
Once you’re past that, however, you’ve got an interesting semi-sandbox setup in which the investigators travel around a local town trying to avoid the individuals who did the aforementioned nastiness to them while finding the necessary clues to track the evil cultists back to their ritual and stop them. I enjoyed this particular setup and the possibilities here, though I would have liked to see more local color. The ending encounter should be a memorable one, with a spectacular location and a foe unlike any encountered before. It actually felt like something out of Fungi from Yuggoth, though without Keith Herber’s polish.
This scenario also bears some rules oddities, as we’ve seen in previous Age of Cthulhu productions – calling for rolls of party members’ highest Ideal roll + 15%, referring to a multiplier of Strength instead of the resistance table to break down doors, and using minutes instead of rounds in a combat situation. It speaks of authors who have read the rules but seem unfamiliar with how exactly they work in play. This does not seem to be as prevalent in the later scenarios, fortunately.
Rick Maffei takes us to Tibet in “Terror at the Top of the World,” the second scenario in the collection. The investigators are driven to investigate a colleague’s death by joining an expedition to Tibet. This scenario is fairly light on Mythos content, instead drawing on Tibetan belief and ritual as a framework for the whole. If I do have a criticism, it’s that the logistics aren’t always thought through well – how does one get a translator? How can someone perform library research without knowing the collection’s language? Why should a rickety platform collapse under humans and not yaks? This is nonetheless an interesting scenario that will be especially fascinating for groups not overly familiar with Tibet.
Finally, we have Mike Ferguson’s “Abominations of the Amazon,” in which our intrepid investigators journey to Peru to help a professor with his search for the lost treasure of the Inca. As this is Call of Cthulhu, this has not gone well, and they are soon embroiled in a rescue mission in which they shoot things, blow things up, and, if they’re fortunate, have a hallucinatory vision in which they see themselves shooting things and blowing things up. Oh, there are a couple of minor roleplaying opportunities and a few largely unimportant skill rolls, but you can forget about any substantive investigation or exploration of the Amazon. Instead, you’ll be fighting a group of superintelligent elder entities that, when they need human prisoners to free their fellows, decide they should keep those prisoners outside their hidden underground fortress in the care of locals unreliable enough that these henchmen nearly manage to sacrifice one of their charges. Also, these entities have awakened from a millennia-long sleep with the ability to speak English. We won’t even talk about the insect-lizard hybrid that guards them. I would decry that there’s little more than violence in this scenario, but by the end the enemies were annoying enough that I didn’t particularly mind them all being blasted into oblivion.
I’ve tried to allow for the fact that a publisher might need some time to find its footing with a new property in previous Age of Cthulhu reviews, but I think it’s time to stop giving them the benefit of the doubt. I acknowledge that these scenarios are rather pulpy in character, but “pulpy” does not necessarily entail ignoring the local environment, foes that do not use their intelligence, or descriptive passages that state that what you’re seeing is mind-blowing and horrible without really describing it. This book does have its high points – the first scenario displays considerable promise, and the second one I would actually consider running – but the line is still making what are effectively entry-level errors in scenario design. If you must pick this up, do so for the first two scenarios, while realizing that this sort of adventure has been done several times before and with much better quality.