Choose Your Own Pounding – In Tinglewood and On the Highway

After kicking off Select Your Own Timeline, his own take on Choose Your Own Adventure, with Escape From the Billings Mall, two-time Hugo Award winner and greatest living thinker Dr. Chuck Tingle proves love is real again with two more gamebooks set in the Tingleverse – a realm littered with familiar places, sentient objects, dinosaurs, Bigfeet, and all the other things you find in his books or RPG material.

First off is Trouble In Tinglewood, in which you head down to the City of Devils – the Tingleverse equivalent of Los Angeles – to try and make it in showbiz so you can tell your story for the world. As you make it into town, it turns out that the place is in peril: a serial killer known as the Tinglewood Slashman is on the loose! Will you be able to find creative fulfillment and stop the murder spree, or will you just be one more victim of the Slashman and/or the unforgiving world of showbiz?

Compared to Escape From the Billings MallTrouble In Tinglewood has a much looser structure, where much of the plot of any particular runthrough will depend on who you choose to try and befriend and how those friendships go – or, conversely, whether you go it alone (though the more solitary you are, the more likely you are to be targeted by the Slashman). As a result of having to accommodate a very wide range of possibilities, any particular playthrough is likely to be quite short, but that’s handy in its own right since it means attempting other options is fairly easy.

The usual Chuck Tingle humour -in its safe-for-work form – is on show here; no poundings in the butt, just wholesome jokes in a surreal world. On any particular playthrough you might go to Chocolate Milk Anonymous with well-known triceratops Bob Downer Jr., confront a rampaging horde of cannibal Valley Girls, join a hippie crew’s recording session or help a punk biker unicorn with her artwork. It’s fun, but the lack of focus makes it feel a bit less substantial than Escape From the Billings Mall.

By contrast, Highway to Heck is more structured. This casts you as a trucker for Truckman Trucking, undertaking your final delivery before retirement. It should be a routine run – just pallets of chocolate milk, delivered from Billings, Montana down to San Diego. However, notorious devilman Ted Cobbler has taken a downright infernal interest in your payload. What is your real cargo? And can you keep it out of Ted’s evil clutches and deliver it safely?

Road trip-style plots have been used in gamebooks before – think of Ian Livingstone’s Freeway Fighter – and they’re a good concept if you want to cook up interactive fiction with a strong central plot. Players can better accept a more linear plot if it makes sense for the concept in question – there’s only so many ways you can go from Billings to San Diego, after all. You can weave in elements of interactivity and choice by doing a string-of-nodes structure: have various bottlenecks that the player must visit on the route (here it’s Billings, San Diego, and a few points in between like Las Vegas), and then give them their choices between each node. Chuck uses this to good effect here.

Though the book could do with a few more nods to trucker culture – not once did I get to use a CB radio! – I think Highway To Heck might be his best-designed gamebook yet, particularly for the way it offers a wealth of valid ways to make your way through the book without becoming completely diffused and unfocused.

A Second Chance To SLA

SLA Industries 2nd Edition has now shipped to backers of the Kickstarter project, and as one of those backers I’ve had a chance to look over it and the various add-ons I obtained. I’m not going to do a full Kickstopper article on the project, because in terms of the management of a crowdfunding project I think Nightfall Games have done an entirely uncontroversial and smooth job.

Sure, I got my books six months after the estimated arrival date, but pandemic-related delays are going to do that, and more importantly at every stage along the way Nightfall were keeping backers appraised of where the project was, with a regularly-updated table of tasks to complete giving a good sense both of how much was left to do, and what had been accomplished since the previous update was sent out. In short, I have no real complaints there: Nightfall provided an object lesson in how to do Kickstarter right as far as I’m concerned.

Still, reading over the materials has left me with a lot of, shall we say, quite developed opinions about SLA Industries. Having thought I’d got my thoughts out in my review of the 1st Edition, it turns out I have more to say about it after all. So, strap in, I’m going to try and say it all here. What I’m not going to do here is give a general introduction to the game’s concept, however, since my 1st Edition review more or less covers it. Aesthetically and conceptually, the game is still a big silly 1990s mess, the sort of material which HoL was making fun of (to the extent that I half-suspect that the designers of HoL were primarily making fun of SLA Industries when they wrote it).

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PODs of Cthulhu

Like many other publishers, Chaosium have recently established the world of print-on-demand (POD) publishing. Really, for them this should have been a no-brainer: they’re a well-regarded company with a deep back catalogue, but these days people’s expectations of production values in the industry are pretty high and they also want to keep up a flow of new product. They need to be selective about what they give a full traditional print run to, and some products it just doesn’t make economical sense to keep in print and distributed in the traditional fashion.

This being the case, POD provides them with a pathway to making an ever-expanding proportion of their back catalogue available for people who want hard copies of the items in question rather than just getting a PDF, whilst at the same time reserving traditional print runs and distribution to brick and mortal game shops for perennial earners (like core rulebooks) or major releases with solid production values.

The major use of POD so far has been to make the full RuneQuest Classic line available in hard copy, but they have also put out a number of Call of Cthulhu products as POD. For this article I’ll review two of these and assess how suited they are to the POD setup.

Ripples From Carcosa

Ripples From Carcosa, primarily written by Oscar Rios, consists of three scenarios focusing on the whole Hastur/King In Yellow deal. This is a rather well-worn angle in Lovecraftian RPGs – it feels like everyone who decides they want to do something a bit different with all this cosmic horror stuff resorts, at a first impulse, to at least considering doing some Carcosa business, which ironically means it ends up as much of a cliché as “fish people” or “ghouls again” or “Nyarlathotep shows up in yet another fake moustache to fuck with people” or whatever.

However, Ripples tries to do something a bit different with it by having each scenario take place in a somewhat offbeat time period. There’s one adventure that uses the then-current iteration of Cthulhu Invictus, one using the then-current version of Cthulhu Dark Ages, and one using the setting from the End Time monograph.

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The World Is Your Setting Guide 2

A while back I wrote about how the advantage of running a game set in the real world is that there’s ample setting information to use, and offered examples of sources I’d found useful in working on Anarchy, the historical LARP I co-run that’s set during the 12th Century civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda in England. I’ve decided it’d be nice to keep that going, and turn it into an occasional series providing profiles of useful source material for designers and referees of historical games.

Holy Women of Twelfth-Century England by Sharon K. Elkins

Running games set in historical time periods when the culture was overtly and unapologetically patriarchal can be tricky. If you simply ignore this and present a setting where that sexism doesn’t exist (or doesn’t apply to the PCs) this can make the game more appealing if your players feel like they deal with enough sexism in everyday life and want to play a game where they don’t have to think about it; at the same time, this does mean that if you are very keen to explore history through the game, that motivation is compromised. It also means you are specifically passing up the chance to tell stories specifically addressing themes of prejudice and gender and so on.

On the other hand, if you go with “we’re running a game where the society in question has the sort of assumptions about gender roles and sexism that it historically had”, there’s always the risk of that degenerating into sidelining the role of women in the setting entirely, particularly if you frame the game around male-dominated activities for the era and if you gloss over the existence of exceptional women who bucked the biases of their era – or who did notable things within the scope of those biases and informed by them.

This was a Christmas present from some of the other Anarchy referees, and I’ve found it helpful in looking up interesting anecdotes and stories of nuns, hermit women, anchoresses, rulers of priories and abbeys, and other women who dedicated themselves to a religious life in the time period in question. There is also a lot of detail on institutions that included such women, circumstances around their foundation, controversies around their governance, and so on. (Some of this may also be applicable to bodies of monks as well as nuns in the era, whilst other aspects are particular to nuns.)

It’s an academically-oriented piece which is a bit heavy going and would probably be a bad fit if your campaign is more historical-flavoured than full-fat historical, but if you’re running something like Chivalry & Sorcery or Maelstrom Domesday and going with the sort of campaign where rich historical detail is part of the appeal, it may be worth a look if you want inspiration for women existing within a sphere (the Church) where it’s easy to just assume it’s all men.

The Discoverie of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot

Reginald Scot was a 16th Century debunker; perturbed by the uptick of witchcraft trials in Elizabeth I’s reign, he put this book out in 1584 in which he put forth the view that the Malleus Maleficarum‘s claims about witchcraft were nothing more than “popish” superstition and nonsense, that witches could not possibly have many of the powers supposedly attributed to them, and that many witchcraft trials were mere harassment of confused elderly and vulnerable people, often poor and very often women.

That isn’t to say he always argues from the same logical grounds that we would; for instance, he makes the case that witches cannot cause storms and thunder and rainfall and whatnot because there’s Biblical reason to believe that only God can do that (and that indeed an apparent power over the weather was a sign that Christ was the Lord), and therefore the Devil could give to witches powers which were God’s alone.

Then again, his Biblical objections to the witch trials also strike on salient points – like how the whole thing about how “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” may be a mistranslation from the Hebrew and it should instead read “thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live”. He goes on to say that if a supposed witch has killed someone by poison, then there’s already a good law to convict her by – namely, murder – so accusing her of witchcraft and allowing all sorts of nefarious characters to testify against her who’d be given no credence in cases built on other charges is pointless (Along those lines, Scot points out that a lot of the ills that witches supposedly do are already covered by other laws, and if ultimately they commit idolatrous worship or are apostates from Christianity there are already laws against those things.)

At the same time, the book also provides interesting documentation of various historical stage magic tricks, intended to put an end to the idea that these were accomplished through real magic, and the book is therefore an important early text explaining how some tricks were accomplished. There’s also a brief grimoire-like rundown of demonology, in the context of a section largely dedicated to accusing “popish” clergy and monastics of being the main practitioners of such.

Though it’s a bit of a tricky read due to its archaic language, The Discoverie of Witchcraft is such a deep resource of period material that it would be worth a look to anyone running, say, an Elizabethan-era Maelstrom game, or Clockwork & Chivalry, if they wanted an example of how then-current thinkers might raise objections to witch trials – or how Elizabethan conjurors and street magicians might have plied their trade. (For that matter, it could also provide potential inspiration for WFRP, since WFRP has a highly Renaissance-era atmosphere to it.)

An Arcane Followup

So, a while back I did an article looking back at Arcane‘s Top 50 RPGs list from back in 1996, as polled among their (primarily UK-based) readership. At the time, I said that no truly comparable list had been produced since, but I’ve recently become aware of Tabletop Gaming magazine’s June 2018 piece on the Top 150 games. This includes board games and card games, but RPGs are healthily represented there – in fact, the top game on the list is an RPG. It’s also a UK magazine which feels in some respect like a present-day update of Arcane with a wider remit and some somewhat deeper insights, and the list was also based on a reader vote.

So, I thought it would be interesting to extract just the RPGs from that list to get a “Top RPGs” sub-list, and compare it to the Arcane list. Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into it – the readership may well not be that similar – but it’s interesting to think about, right?

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Resurgent Wrath & Renewed Glory, Or Reheated Ruin?

The physical copies of Cubicle 7’s new Wrath & Glory rulebook have now emerged. For those who aren’t up on the backstory here, a quick summary: after Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop’s licensing arrangement died a death, the RPG rights to the various Warhammer settings were up for grabs. Cubicle 7 took the fantasy-based ones, and as well as Soulbound, their new Age of Sigmar RPG, they have brought out a delightfully flavourful 4th Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

Ulisses Spiele, however, took the Warhammer 40,000 RPG licence, and rather than keeping the lights on for the mass of different 40K-themed RPGs that Fantasy Flight had supported – Dark HeresyRogue TraderDeathwatchBlack Crusade, and Only War – they decided to put out an all-new game, Wrath & Glory, with a system intended to cover as many aspects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe as possible rather than going for a series of more focused games as Fantasy Flight had done.

With the design and development process handled by Ulisses North America, the first version of Wrath & Glory offered a promising start. The basic concept of tiered archetypes corresponding to different iconic Warhammer 40,000 character concepts, with the different tiers spanning power levels from low-grade chumps to top-tier superheroes, was basically sensible; furthermore, the designers made the sensible decision to not continue with the WFRP-derived system of the previous Warhammer 40,000 RPGs, which had always struggled a little to handle more powerful characters (WFRP having very much catered to the low-power end of the scale).

The perspective on the cover of the new core book never quite looked right to me.

That said, the Ulisses Spiele release of the game had its issues. The production values – particularly compared to both Fantasy Flight’s previous offerings and Cubicle 7’s WFRP material – felt a little lacklustre, a couple of ribbon bookmarks not quite hiding the slightly thin paper quality. Some of the art looked a little off; some of the game mechanics seemed either poorly explained, poorly tested, or outright poorly understood by the designers. (Dark Tides, the sole adventure pack released for the game, seemed to assume that characters would be advancing in Tier at a much faster pace than suggested in the core book.) A number of card decks were issued alongside the core book, which seemed to strongly hope you would make extensive use of them, despite some of them being a little half-baked.

In general, a lot of small things seemed to be a bit off, which added up bit by bit to give the impression of a product rush-released in a hurry. In addition, the core rules felt rather bland and thinly stretched-out, with not much meat in terms of setting material – an annoyance to many fans, since the plan had apparently been for the game to be a significant way to showcase what’s going on in the Dark Imperium (the chunk of the Imperium now cut off from the Astronomican’s light) but a bunch of the material developed by the Black Library’s authors for the book didn’t make the cut.

A mixed reception was followed by an abrupt disappearance – after the initial slate of products was released, there was a dearth of announcements of new material, previously-announced supplements didn’t seem to materialise, and everything got ominously quiet at Ulisses’ end. Fans noted that references to the game seemed to be disappearing from Ulisses’ website, and Ulisses didn’t show up with the rest of the Games Workshop licensees at 2019’s Warhammer Fest.

Finally, the hammer dropped: all material for Wrath & Glory and other Warhammer 40,000 RPGs abruptly disappeared from the DriveThruRPG storefront. A day or so later, carefully co-ordinated press releases were made by Ulisses North America and Cubicle 7; Ulisses North America was stepping away from Warhammer 40,000, Ulisses Spiele (their parent company) was going to content themselves with handling German language translations of the game, and design and development of the product line would now be lead by Cubicle 7, who’d also be publishing the English-language books.

I suspected at the time that Ulisses North America had overextended itself, taking on a product it wasn’t ready to do justice to, and had decided to prune things back. This may be correct, though I note that since then UNA are planning to put out a new edition of Fading Suns, and I wonder whether there might be an issue there. Whatever the behind-the-scenes story is behind UNA, Cubicle 7, and Games Workshop agreeing to rearrange things like this – as the IP owners there is simply no way this switcheroo happened without Games Workshop’s approval at the very least, and it’s very possible they initiated the process in the first place – the fact of the matter is that Cubicle 7 has how consolidated all the Warhammer RPG licences into their hands, and with the release of the printed version of their revised core book, the game is effectively getting a second edition.

Note how the update gives them the chance to bring in the new Warhammer 40,000 logo.

The new book is not just a spruced-up reprint of the original; the game has had a root-and-branch rewrite and reorganisation. The system is broadly the same – you can take any of the (extremely limited) amount of support material that Ulisses produced and use it with this edition of the game no problem – but a lot of the criticism of the original release has been accounted for, and further rounds of feedback from the initial PDF of this revision was taken into account in the print run. Some terminology has been changed to better reflect the underlying intention, some sections have been expanded and clarified, other bits have been yanked outright.

Continue reading “Resurgent Wrath & Renewed Glory, Or Reheated Ruin?”

RuneQuest Classic: the Solo Adventures

In 1982 Chaosium would publish a clutch of solo adventures for the 2nd Edition of RuneQuest – the SoloQuest collection of three mini-adventures, Scorpion Hall, and The Snow King’s Brides, all penned by Alan LaVergne, who along with his wife Debra had been a participant in Steve Perrin’s RuneQuest campaign. As Chaosium’s first foray into solo adventures, the SoloQuest series – now reprinted in one volume as the SoloQuest Classic Collection – is a rather interesting early pass at the concept, and also one which raises the question of what solo adventures are for and how they fit in with more traditional referee-implemented RPG gameplay.

One thing which is especially interesting about the SoloQuest adventures is that they are very much designed to be played using a player character that you have fully rolled up for yourself. This is in contrast to solo adventures produced for Call of Cthulhu like Alone Against the Dark or Alone Against the Frost, which both gave you control of pregenerated characters (with some level of customisation possible).

It’s also something of a burden, because RuneQuest 2nd Edition character generation could be a bit fiddly, as well as having various options (such as rolling up five years’ worth of pre-game experience, which was often a very sensible option if available) which could be a bit laborious to work through if it’s just for the sake of a short solo adventure. By comparison, the more streamlined Basic Roleplaying framework that Call of Cthulhu was built on made it easier to take Alone Against the Flames and incorporate a simplified stat-up-as-you-go method of developing your character attributes into the adventure itself, as was done for the version published in the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set.

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RuneQuest Classic: Six Years That Changed Gaming

After the infamous corporate drama which saw a new regime take over at Chaosium in order to save the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter from disaster, Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen arranged for the operators of Moon Design Publications, creators of the QuestWorlds RPG (AKA the RPG formerly known as HeroQuest), to take control of day-to-day operations at the company.

Moon Design began as RuneQuest fan publishers before, impressed by their work, Greg Stafford teamed up with them and they became the official custodians of Glorantha. It’s no surprise, then, that one of their first priorities when they took over was to bring RuneQuest home – both home to Chaosium as a publisher, and home to Glorantha as a setting.

In fact, so keen were they to bring a distinctively, inherently Gloranthan-flavoured RuneQuest back, they did it twice. Not only did they serve up a freshly-cooked new edition of the game, but they also ran a Kickstarter to put out RuneQuest Classic – a rerelease of the core rulebook for the 2nd Edition RuneQuest rules which were the primary inspiration for the new edition. Stretch goals funded PDF reissues of the majority of the 1st and 2nd Edition product lines, and now print-on-demand copies of the reissues have been made available via Lulu.

RuneQuest may well be the most influential RPG since the original white box release of Dungeons & Dragons, so for this article I’m going to cover the entire line, taking a look at how it evolved from a scrappy 1978 fantasy RPG with an eccentric setting to the rich mythic tapestry it was offering by the end of the run of the “classic” line.

The Rulebooks

One reason why it is appropriate to treat the RuneQuest Classic line as, in effect, one single game line (rather than a first edition line and a second edition one) is that the first edition of the game was only available for a small window of time, in comparatively limited numbers, rushed out to allow for a release at the 1978 Origins convention. With a monochrome version of what would later be the iconic colour version of the second edition cover, and much text in common with second edition, it was essentially an “early access” version of the game decades before Early Access was a thing. Various tweaks were applied between the two – including the revision of the name of the campaign setting from “Glorontha” to the more familiar “Glorantha” – but the systems are sufficiently close that material for one can be used for the other more or less as-is.

RuneQuest Classic is not quite a perfect reprint of the second edition of RuneQuest – the layout has been spruced out and cleaned up, the various pieces of errata that had previously been printed on the inside front and back covers have been incorporated into the text along with a range of other tweaks, various useful reference sheets that in the original had been presented as a pull-out section are instead provided as a separate booklet, some setting description sections (writeups of various cults) have been updated to match the expanded, definitive descriptions presented in later supplements, additional text boxes with relevant snippets from sources like Wyrm’s Footnotes that further clarify things are added in, and alongside the existing appendices various additional articles of general use have been added.

But despite being an improved reprint, RuneQuest Classic is still basically a reprint, and so its quality hinges on the quality of the original. Fortunately, that quality is extremely high. Within a substantial faction of the game’s fandom, RuneQuest 2 is held to be one of the best versions of the game – and it’s no surprise that the Moon Design crew who now run Chaosium are of that school of thought, seeing how they put out Glorantha Classics in the first place. Whereas the 3rd edition worked in various extra wrinkles that many (including the main developers at Chaosium these days) consider to have added too much complexity for too little benefit (especially when it comes to modern tastes in RPGs), RuneQuest 2 hit a sweet spot, polishing the original game’s presentation sufficiently to better implement and communicate its ideas without needlessly cluttering it.

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A Severn Valley Holiday

Ramsey Campbell is one of the best horror authors of recent decades, and has sustained an amazingly high standard in his work from the 1960s to the present day. His body of work extends well beyond Cthulhu Mythos material, but the Mythos represents an important component of his portfolio and he retains a lot of affection for it – in fact, he just completed a full-length trilogy of Mythos novels that may represent some of his best work.

In particular, it’s with Mythos material that Campbell got his big break, after sending some stories to August Derleth. I’ve gone on before ad nauseum about how little I care for Derleth’s work as a Mythos author, and I have major reservations about some of his conduct as Lovecraft’s self-appointed literary executor (shoving R.H. Barlow out of the role, running promising Mythos authors like C. Hall Thompson off his turf, and passing off stories wholly written by himself as Lovecraft stories). However, as an editor it’s undeniable that he played an important role in keeping the whole Mythos thing going, and Campbell (alongside Brian Lumley) represents one of his successes in terms of providing the encouragement and advice a new author needed to develop their work.

Campbell’s earliest published Mythos stories (as gathered in The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants) were basically well-polished pastiches – the sort of stuff that riffs heavily on over-familiar Lovecraftian tropes, but was about as good an example of that sort of thing as exists. His even earlier stories that he first sent to Derleth were even rougher and even more dependent on Lovecraft, to the point of being based in “Lovecraft country” locales like Arkham. Derleth advised Campbell to instead exploit local knowledge and set his stories closer to home to give them more of an individual flavour; thus Campbell’s accursed region of the Severn Valley was born, incorporating a range of small and out-of-the-way communities in the general vicinity of the fictional town of Brichester along with a distinct set of Lovecraftian entities that originally hailed from this neck of the woods.

Campbell would continue to develop the region as time went by. Realising that absolutely nothing requires you to write a cosmic story using an imitation of Lovecraft’s prose style style, with pieces like Cold Print and The Franklyn Paragraphs, he would develop an authorial voice of his own, and with later stories like The Faces At Pine Dunes and The Voice of the Beach he demonstrated that strong characterisation, social and political issues, and deeper emotional themes don’t need to be incompatible with cosmic horror, and can in fact help it: after all, the more you create the impression that these are real people existing in a real place and time, the more impact it has when something Mythosy insinuates itself into that. In keeping with this, Brichester and its cursed environs kept up with changing times, because Campbell realised that you don’t need to set Lovecraftian stuff in the 1920s (after all, Lovecraft set his stories in what were for him the present day); that recent trilogy I mention depicts a saga ranging from the 1950s to the late 2010s.

Campbell is not into Call of Cthulhu, or tabletop RPGs in general, but he’s not unsympathetic to the medium: he just finds that since his day job involves devising scenarios or imagining the inner lives of characters, refereeing or playing RPGs during his leisure time would feel too much like work. He has also been fairly generous about allowing the use of his creations in the game – indeed, Glaaki stars in one of the introductory adventures in the current core rulebook – so it’s no surprise that Chaosium eventually got around to producing an entire sourcebook themed around “Campbell Country” as a UK equivalent to their “Lovecraft Country” releases.

That book is Ramsey Campbell’s Goatswood and Less Pleasant Places, a project credited to various hands. The main driving force behind the project was Scott David Aniolowski; after a brief introduction by Ramsey Campbell explaining the origin of “Campbell Country” and generally being about as nice about the project as you can expect a non-roleplayer to be about an RPG book, Scott spends his introduction giving a potted history of the project, which ground on for about a decade and faced various delays until Chaosium finally released it in 2001, after it began as a pitch to Chaosium, almost got farmed out to Pagan Publishing, before finally being finished for Chaosium.

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Refurbished Mansions

Mansions of Madness Volume I: Behind Closed Doors is the first part of Chaosium’s expansive revision of the well-regarded Mansions of Madness scenario collection. As the “Volume I” bit implies, it looks like this will end up being a multi-volume series, and presumably each volume will follow the same format of this one in terms of including both updates of some adventures from the original collection and brand-new scenarios in a similar vein. As the Behind Closed Doors bit of the title suggests, the scenarios in this one all strongly feature situations where something super-dodgy is being done, well, behind closed doors by a figure in the scenario, a secret shame, a hidden obsession, or a furtive project inviting Mythos-flavoured disaster.

In fact, perhaps to make this a tastier offering to people who already have the original material, there’s actually more new adventures here than old. The new offerings – The CodeThe House of Memphis, and The Nineteenth Hole can tend towards the pulpier side of the game, but this will very much depend on presentation (even the pulpiest could end up having an atmosphere more akin to Lovecraft’s From Beyond) and presents a useful counterbalance to the older adventures, which tend towards less pulpy elements (and one of which is outright grim in some of its subject matter).

When it comes to the updates of the old adventures – Mister Corbitt and The Crack’d and Crook’d Manse – these are pretty decent, largely concentrating on presenting information more clearly and adding some quality of life features (many of the NPCs previously left unnamed now have names, for instance, sparing the referee of the need to think up a name on the spot). I wasn’t sure about The Crack’d and Crook’d Manse in the previous revision, but to my eyes the version here manages to swing things around to be less about dangling red herrings and deliberately misleading the players and more about establishing atmosphere. (The bit with the shed, in particular, is made substantially fairer, with the stuff I objected to previously now only happening if a PC ventures in without an adequate light source – so it’s gone from a pointless gotcha to actually a kind of fair enough incident to happen if you go poking around under those circumstances without taking sensible safety precautions.)

The supplement continues the new Chaosium practice of, where viable, pitching adventure collections as being playable with the 7th edition core rules or the Starter Set; in particular, it suggests that the adventures here are “an ideal next step” for people who followed up the Starter Set with Doors to Darkness and Gateways to Terror. The introduction notes that there’s less Keeper advice here than for those scenarios, though to be honest that’s fair enough since novice referees who’ve gone through those should already have been trained in the basics of best practice, and old hands don’t need the support anyway. The commitment to making the Call of Cthulhu range approachable for those beginning with the Starter Set is admirable, and probably plays dividends considering the massive sales of the Starter Set following it being featured on Critical Role.