Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Lost. Again.

The Legacy of Arrius Lurco, the fourth supplement from publisher Miskatonic River Press offers something very new: a whole campaign for Chaosium, Inc.’s Cthulhu Invictus, the supplement that explores Call of Cthulhu in Ancient Rome. It is something that the “Cthulhu Antiquita” period as seen in Cthulhu: Dark Ages never received before, and with the recent publication of the Cthulhu Invictus Companion, the Ancient Rome setting is on the verge of becoming the best supported setting outside of the 1920s of classic Call of Cthulhu. When consider that this is the publisher’s second campaign after the contemporary-set, all but Mythos free Our Ladies of Sorrow, Miskatonic River Press has to be seen as providing the most progressive support for Call of Cthulhu in some years. The review of The Legacy of Arrius Lurco will have to wait until I have completed reading it, but in the meantime, the publisher has provided two new scenarios to support the campaign, both of which were made available as part of its pre-order package. The first of these is, “Naufractus Or Shipwrecked – A Prequel to The Legacy of Arrius Lurco.”

“Naufractus” is designed to solve a problem that always plagues the beginning of any Call of Cthulhu campaign – how do the investigators know and trust the NPCs that the campaign introduces? Players being players, they expect to be betrayed, the betrayal invariably coming from one of the newly introduced NPCs. To allay their fears, one of the best solutions is to introduce the NPCs as early as possible in an on-going campaign, though in the case of Cthulhu Invictus, there are very few scenarios available to do this with. Nevertheless, “Naufractus” sets out to introduce the campaign’s major NPCs to the player characters and does so in dramatic fashion.

As the scenario opens, the investigators find themselves aboard the Crimson Dawn, a sailing vessel run by the owners of the Reds Racing Faction, one of the teams in Rome’s most popular spectator sport, chariot racing. They may be simple passengers aboard the ship, guests of the owners, or potential investors in the faction, but whatever their reason for being aboard, the Crimson Dawn is on its way back to Rome across the Mare Internum Nostrum – or Mediterranean Sea, when it comes across the survivors of a shipwreck. Being a good Roman, the ship’s captain picks them up and goes in search of other survivors, but as the title suggests, this leads to disaster and both the player characters and various NPCs being washed ashore a strange island.

What the opening scenes set up is a classic situation, one more recently seen in “Devourers in the Mist” in the supplement Stunning Eldritch Tales for Pelgrane Press’ Trail of Cthulhu and “Robinson Gruesome” from free Call of Cthulhu anthology, Monophobia: A Fear of Solitude. Just like those two scenarios, the situation in “Naufractus” is one of survival on limited resources that make facing the dangers present on the perilous promontory all the more difficult. The problem perhaps is that the scenario is too dangerous. Not too dangerous as a one-shot, but as a scenario designed to introduce to a campaign’s major participants, the Keeper will need to adjust the scenario accordingly to ensure that the investigators survive and thus enable to ensure that the NPCs that pull them into the campaign survives. Of course, if this is not the aim of the Keeper in running “Naufractus,” it also happens to make an engaging and exciting single scenario that can be slotted into an on-going Cthulhu Invictus game without the need to move onto The Legacy of Arrius Lurco.

At just ten pages in length, the 1.26 Mb PDF that is “Naufractus Or Shipwrecked – A Prequel” to The Legacy of Arrius Lurco” is a handy size. It is not illustrated, but the layout is clean and tidy, and the map is pleasingly clear. If there is anything missing, it is that perhaps some of the NPCs should have been given full stats if only to provide stand-in investigators when a player character is killed or rendered hors de combat, but that is minor problem, and one that the Keeper can easily remedy by creating ready-to-play versions of his own of said NPCs. What is missing is an illustration of the “villain” of the piece, one that in providing, Miskatonic River Press could made up for the similar lack in the Cthulhu Invictus supplement itself. Then again, this scenario was provided as a free bonus, and art is hardly free.

As a taster of things to come, “Naufractus Or Shipwrecked – A Prequel to The Legacy of Arrius Lurco” has nothing to with the campaign itself, except of course that it introduces the investigators to its major NPCs. Which is how it should be, but in the meantime, it draws heavily upon Greek Myth before giving it a Mythos twist in what is essentially, Cthulhu Invictus’ trademark. Similarly and in-keeping with what we have seen of Cthulhu Invictus to date, it is another more physical scenario with an emphasis on combat and survival rather than on investigation. There will be though, much more investigation in the campaign itself, “Naufractus Or Shipwrecked – A Prequel to The Legacy of Arrius Lurco” serves up a punchy though harrowing experience.