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Saturday, 23 October 2010

Whither Arkham, Again?

The sad truth is that Pelgrane Press’ Arkham Detective Tales for Trail of Cthulhu was disappointing. Its editing was not up to the publisher’s usual high standards; there was a page missing from one of the scenarios; and worse, not one of the book’s four scenarios was set in Arkham. Which seemed to miss the point of the anthology’s title. Fortunately, the scenarios themselves were all solid affairs, straight forward and unfussy, the book itself looked good – no surprise given that the Trail of Cthulhu line as a whole looks good, and even better, the publisher promised to provide everyone who purchased a copy of the anthology a free copy of the corrected PDF. Not only would the PDF be corrected for its editing errors, but it would include an extra scenario, one actually set in Arkham. I also promised to look at the scenario collection again when the new PDF was made available. Thus we have Arkham Detective Tales: Extended Edition.

It comes as a 110-page, 5.98Mb PDF. Inside you still have the original four New York set scenarios, including two that are sequels to short stories by H.P. Lovecraft and in turn, take the investigators back to the blighted neighbourhood of Red Hook and to a little way off the coast of horrid Innsmouth. The layout is as good as you would expect for a Trail of Cthulhu title, with Jérôme Huguenin’s artwork up to his usual fine standard. If there is an issue, it is that still it needs another edit. It is nowhere near as bad as the original book though.

The most important thing that Arkham Detective Tales: Extended Edition adds is the missing pages from the collection’s first scenario, “The Kidnapping.” In this the investigators – as detectives, either for the NYPD or in a private capacity, are asked to look into the kidnapping of young Adam Cornelisz. The missing pages meant that the GM was on his own if the investigators wanted to do anything about the ransom, but the inclusion of the missing pages means that he can keep the scenario on track and the investigators have a better chance of tracking down the gang responsible.

The other addition is the promised new scenario. “The King’s Men” starts in New York, but takes place mainly in Arkham. It opens with the death of a contact or colleague, Thomas Talby, found dead in a rundown hotel near Pennsylvania Station, with return tickets to Arkham in his pocket. Were this but an ordinary member of the public then the suicide would probably only need to be recorded and the detectives moved on to the next case, but for the NYPD, this is one of their own. His mysterious death needs answers and the questions all point to Arkham. The investigations are hampered by the nature of Arkham itself, its inhabitants being so accepting of the strange goings on in their fair town, and that is before you get to the cultists who will harry the detectives as they follow their leads.

This is another relatively straight forward investigation, except for three elements. The first is the use of the dreams as a means to foreshadow events towards the end of the scenario and to provide clues. These tie the scenario back into Arkham’s early history and include dreams that everyone could participate in. The second is the ending, which is too good to disclose. It is, nevertheless, very fitting. The last is the nicely underplayed use of a Mythos adversary that has appeared again and again in the tales set in Lovecraft Country, though for Call of Cthulhu rather than Trail of Cthulhu.

Ultimately, what “The King’s Men” does is nicely round out the quartet in Arkham Detective Tales and make it a quintet. In doing so, it draws the detectives of New York city away from the metropolis and into New England and its darker, older secrets. It also serves as an easy introduction to Arkham itself, and there is no reason that this introduction could not lead to a sequel. Return to Arkham Detective Tales, anyone?