By Scott Cox Self Published Call of Cthulhu
Wavering Hills Sanatorium, a hospital for the relief of suffering lies nestled in central Kentucky on grounds with a sordid and mysterious past. The apparent suicide of a troubled young girl yields questions of an otherworldly nature. Will the investigators unravel the mystery of Wavering Hills?
This fourteen page adventure details the investigations in a sanitarium. It’s a basic investigation and at a pretty high level, which is good for an investigation. But, it lacks basic details and doesn’t help the DM out enough. You can do high level, but you need to support it also.
A request! You know how I love to do requests! So stop your bitching and allow me to be do this good act.
It is our investigators first adventure and its in a sanitarium. There are no real hooks, just a suggestion that they could be new staff or new patients “or any other reason.” None of this really helps, at all. No information to support play as staff or patients or “anything else.” It’s needs about one page more to develop a solid hook/background/support for this. Otherwise the DM is left with making up what its like to be patient, or staff, or whatever.
There are a few NPC’s, a head nurse, the doc in charge, and a patient, with a couple of other patients given a few words. The NPCS that do exist are done well, with solid trophy personalities to play up. Maybe a few example statements would have been nice for each of them, and a fw more staff and patients, but, whatever. “Nurse & mother hen” and “cold hearted and single minded” go over well in my book.
There’s a small section on the five sense, which I really appreciate. Adding the sound echoes or antiseptic smell is a good touch for the DM to add to room and encounter descriptions. This could have been put on the border of the map page, or some such, to keep the DM reminded of tit.
Of, wait, there’s NOT a map page. There is, instead, a brief text description of the hospital. Of, like, eleven floors. Un. Cool. That does NOT work at all. You just need a basic fucking map. You can just label it, you don’t need to describe every room, but you need SOMETHING to support the party sneaking around and avoiding nurses, doctors, etc.
There’s some other simple things wrong also, like putting the read-aloud in italics and making it long. It doesn’t overexplain, but it does get long. Which is how a 1.5 hour adventure gets to fourteen pages. Yes, 1.5 hour or so. It’s VERY short. There’s not a lot going on and the investigation is pretty straightforward. Oh, look, the third floor is chained shut, let’s go there!
But thats not the main issue here. The main issue the the overview style of presentation.
This is going to get a bit complex. Essentially the adventure is written as an investigation. Rather than room/key it instead covers major rooms, like the docs office, etc, and gives an description of those major locations. Which is exactly what should be going on. And it details some of the key things that the DM should be doing in the different chapters. Like, in this chapter they should learn X or discover Y. That’s great. I can quibble that those sections could be clearer/easier to find and parse, but the dude has the right idea. Kind of a major outline, with more detail zoomed in on for those sections that need it.
But, we’ve already seen, that the adventure glosses over just about everything else. I mean, no map. No real hospital staff scedule. Nothing to support sneaking around or asking questions or anything like that. And lets pray no one goes in to town for a newspaper office; there’s no support for anything other than looking around the hospital.
It’s so very BASIC. That doesn’t have to be bad, but, in this case, its completely straightforward. It opens with a patient jumping off the roof and saying something like she wanted to fly “like they do” and green goo leaking from her ears. Ok. So, no build up at all then. Ok, third floor is chained up. Let’s fucking hit it!
It needs more build up. More support for investigating and talking to people. A basic map to run nightime stealth. A few more NPCs to round things out. Maybe a few subplots going on. None of this has to be huge, at all. But the complete lack of support for anything OTHER than the very short adventure hinders the play immensely, IMO. or, perhaps, hinders the support of the DM in trying to get more out of this.
This is $3 at Drivethru.The preview is not the best for figuring out if you’d like this. Page three, though, does have the text description of the hospital layout.
Hello. This is the Bryce Emergency Review protocol. Bryce writes about three weeks ahead and has not written a new review in about three weeks, so this script has snagged an emergency review to post instead. Bryce has also been emailed and told to get back to work instead of engaging in whatever delight he is currently using to manage ennui.
Are all Call of Cuthulu adventures bad?
As someone who owns an entire bookshelf of CoC scenarios, no. *However* of all the games I have played, CoC has by far the highest rate of Read vs. Play problems. A Keeper must have a touch of masochism. Over and over again, what are billed as scenarios are actually the Author’s aborted novella attempts with statted NPCs. They often read wonderfully and are like leaden bricks at the table.
There are some FANTASTIC scenarios out there, but, man, the wheat:chaff ratio is high. I personally recommend anything from The Stars are Right, Horror’s Heart and A Resection of Time as scenarios that read and played well.
I give up. A person, a lawyer, makes a statement and is fearful of backing it up.
Gnarley Bones says —- “Many products read well and then fall apart at the table; others are staid or read rather clunkily but kill at the table.”
Do you think reviewers are under the same obligation as creators, in their case to play before reviewing. If not, why not?
Yes and no. An experienced GM can read an adventure and see all its spots, particularly a short adventure, as are mostly reviewed here. A revised/GM either gets excited after reading the adventure or not as a first impression, and that often translates to enthusiasm at the game table. On the other hand, puzzles may be more difficult to measure without a play test. A good puzzle brings in all the players together to figure out, and the reviewer/GM reading it alone may have difficulty in determining how that translates to the game table. For example, the reviewer/GM may be stumped by a puzzle, but not a group of players.
CoC adventures are very popular at RPG conventions, but quite frankly, the experiences can range from awful to awesome (like any other game, I suppose). The best/most memorable game session in my 41 years of gaming that I ever played happened to be my own CoC adventure. Sadly, I am unaware that CoC has an OGL, and if they do now, it must be recent. So you are mostly stuck with Chaosium’s chosen content for purchase.
Why, why, oh why is Waverly Hills the only thing in Louisville people think of from a horror standpoint?
A much better Louisville horror story is the Heaton-Gates Torture House. The true story alone would make Wednesday Addams’ eye go round with glee, but when you dig deeper, there’s tons of fodder to tie it into the Cthuhu mythos.
Great starting point is the account of the lead detective in the case (https://www.historicalcrimedetective.com/the-torture-house/ ). Plus you can find loads of newspaper articles detailing the case. The Courier-Journal covered the story for weeks following the March 8, 1924 incident (which can be found on Newspapers.com). Pay close attention to the front page of the March 12 edition – detective ‘Jennie E. Moore’ and business partner W. A. Fisher definitely have hints of the “Innsmouth Look” about them – and the March 13 front page blurb “Divorcee Is Held In Slaying Case” (hmm…wasn’t Jenny Moore from also Chicago?).
Then you add in the Falls of the Ohio (what if some of the things found fossilized in those rocks predate life on Earth…and are not so fossilzed?) or the Louisville Crushed Stone limestone mine (modern-day Louisville Megacavern). Or the Pope Lick goatman. Or the Seelbach and Brown Hotel. Or the Confederate Cemetery in nearby Pewee Valley (in the fall, the combination of moles digging through the summer and ground moist from fall dew mean that with every step your foot sinks just a bit into the ground around those 150+ year old graves – brings new meaning to “the South shall rise again”).
Lots of Louisville spooky offerings besides Waverly Hills.
Here’s my deep, dark gamer confession… I’ve never played Call of Cthulhu, though I do love my ‘mythos’ fiction and have read the 5th edition rulebook. Fess up, CoC players, is the game typically a farrago of fudged ‘spot hidden’ and ‘fast talk’ rolls just to keep the narrative of the adventure moving along the rails?
N … no. There are also Library Use rolls to be made! ?
CoC and D&D can’t be compared. CoC is a skill-dependent, sleuthing, often abstract game. Combat is to be avoided. No one wants to touch (or even look at) magic items. Magic use will only kill you faster. The PC most likely to survive is the one with the highest Dodge skill. And it’s totally OK – expected even- for PCs to die horribly.
It’s not different mechanics, it’s a different mind-set.
So what makes it fun then? It sounds a great deal like you’re just staving off the inevitable. Your character will die eventually, or am I missing something?
Do you read a lot of Lovecraftian fiction? There’s a certain morbid pleasure to be had in spelunking the unfathomable crevasses of the world in a vain effort to stave off the Cosmic Horrors of the uncaring universe. It’s not a game about PCs, really, although one of my best friends has a long-running Investigator who he’s been running for the better part of 10 years (and that player is recover from bypass surgery, healing thoughts, please).
It’s a game about unraveling mysteries and confronting the unfathomable. It’s not about PC starting a building or amassing XPs or treasure. It’s a horror RPG. At the end of the day it’s about the scary parts and (hopefully) surviving to investigate another day.
Being a masochist, I forced myself to read The Trail of Cthulhu, and I came to the conclusion that ‘Lovecraftian’ gaming is really ‘Derlethian’ gaming, though nobody cares to admit it.
@Bigby’s Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist OK, sure, but this is like saying “most Marxist theory is really Engelsian theory, pha pha pha.”
It’s not helpful.
It has to be acknowledged, the Derlethian approach which has dominated gaming undermines the Cosmic Horror. If Cthulhu can be blown apart by a nuke, it might as well be just another Monster Manual (by which I mean DDG) entry.
The idea is that you can temporarily foil the human servants or even a nascent Cthulhu, but in the end the powers of the Cthulhu Mythos are far beyond the scope of mortal men. That’s not doing great violence to Lovecraft, particularly if one considers stories like the Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward et. al. Cthulhu was temporarily disabled by ramming him with a boat after all.
Thanks to Gnarley for the synopsis. Doesn’t sound like my cup of RPG tea. I’ll stick to D&D type games
N … no. There are also Library Use rolls to be made! ?
This made me guffaw, no lie.
This brings up the discussion from last post. Maybe the people who play CoC cant write adventures, I doubt that the R is nowhere near usable. Are bad CoC adventures the fault of CoC as a system or the authors of adventures?
Have people simply copied past non table use module as people.described it here, crap or does the system of CoC produce bad adventures?
There is a sleuth of beloved CoC modules/adventure paths so probably not. There might be a significant difference between what the CoC crowd finds enjoyable and what the OSR gang finds enjoyable.
Mechanically, if you can make good Runequest adventures you can make good CoC adventures.
It’s always going to be up to the skill of the individual, and the game is going to help or hinder that.
The 7th Ed. CoC system is excellent, and I hear earlier editions are similar. My biggest issue with CoC is that it’s insanity rules are geared toward a campaign while most actual play is in one-shots. So, in my opinion, it needs alternate insanity rules for one-shot games. Yes, authors are often the culprits of bad games for different reasons. It could be that they never read a Lovecraft story (which is the worst offense. They never capture the mood/tone), or they don’t understand what motivates players to keep investigating in spite of the danger, or they introduce supernatural forces too early in the game instead of steadily moving from the normal/rational to supernatural during play, etc.
So what osr and others enjoy I get. But if you cant use something at the table how is it good?
I am actually curious from those with COC exp
For the record, the earliest editions of CoC specifically said that if you nuke Cthulhu, he just reforms and is now radioactive.
But even if the 7e rules are good.
How “good” are they if they promote as Gus says bad adventures all around for literal decades?
Fair Verona on suspects! Severed ears
Yeah, Gus & Anon., how “good” are the rules of baseball if they promote such teams as the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox to play bad games all around for literally decades? And for that matter, what about franchise teams in other sports like the Detroit Lions, LA Clippers, or Nee York Knicks?
I will leave it to Gus in this case.
In the examples you gave, one could argue economic reverse causality.
As a long time Call of Cthulhu player and GM (referred to in game as a Keeper), I’d like to chime in with some thoughts. Yeah yeah, I’m late to the party, but you never know when someone from the future might be reading these comments.
So, how often does the game come down to Spot Hidden and Fast Talk skills (and library use, lol)? This is an unfortunate problem with prewritten scenerios. I think it has to do with how a lot of these are thought of as one offs, not meant for campaign or even long form one shot sessions. My work around has always been to consider what “clue” is being found and in what manner it is hidden. For example, instead of making a spot hidden check to find the clue on top of the large bookcase, I’ll simply tell the players it appears that there is something up there then call for an acrobatics check as they climb up there to get it (and reward clever ways to get it, such as lassoing it with a belt).
Regarding the chaff/wheat ratio, I completely disagree with what’s been stated in this comment section. There’s a metric fuckton of content for this game, and a really good number of great scenerios, and a ton more if your willing to put in a little work to tailor them just right. Early on in the games life a lot of designers tried to play the game the same way you play DnD (sooo many dungeons crawls… In a call of Cthulhu game, lol)… This wasn’t helped by Chaosium itself not really having a firm grasp on this either (almost everything from the first three editions are trash or take SEVERE amounts of rewriting).
While DnD is more sandbox, CoC is far more railroad. But railroading doesn’t have to be end of the world terrible game design as some OSR guys like to think it is. There’s a real art to having players solve what is essentially a murder mystery, and getting them to feel like they did it with no hand holding. One of my biggest joys when it comes to GMing Cthulhu is watching all the AHA! Moments. I also love watching them roleplay out lying and fast talk. I also always try to have at least three different places or leads the players can go to at any given time
The real problem with CoC is sometimes the game can devolve into a “what’s in this room” play. Where you plop down a map and the players literally point at the rooms and ask that question. CoC doesn’t really lend itself to miniature play, so a lot of times I have the players draw the map as I explain the various rooms.
Another problem is a lot of the time, the backstory to any given scenerio is usually pretty interesting, but the players have no real way of figuring it all out. While this is pure Lovecraft (the unknown!! Aaargh I’m going craaazy!!), This doesn’t really work for RPGs. Once again I tend to fiddle with notes and clues in game to give players more context, and even keeping notes on certain NPCs so I know where I can slip in information.
Want some good CoC scenerios to read or run?
Mansions of Madness, specifically Crack’d and Crook’d Manse (available in 7th Ed)
The Stars Are Right (as someone else mentioned, in particular I like Mr. Corbitt and This Fire Shall Kill)
Fearful Passages has a pretty fun scenerio on an early era airplane.
Peterson’s Abominations is great for one shots. I liked Pangea.
If you want a rock solid first play scenerio, you cant do much better than The Dead Light.
Call of Cthulhu is great fun and I suggest everyone giving it a shot from time to time. Just remember it’s a very different game to other RPGs. Do you or your players like kicking in doors, slapping goblins with axes, rescuing princesses, and taking everything at face value? Might not be for you. Do you enjoy more intense, high risk, roleplay heavy, storylines with something leaning more towards investigation and intrigue? Maybe give it a shot.