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

Sunday, 2 September 2012

By Jove... Cthulhu in Space


Here is a sad piece of news. There is no official Science Fiction setting for Call of Cthulhu. Although over the years, the genre has been visited rarely, most notably in the scenarios, “Blood Moon” in Strange Aeons and “The Last Log,” Marcus L. Rowland’s fondly remembered contribution to White Dwarf #56, the genre itself remains ignored and its potential undeveloped. That said, the genre has not been ignored by Chaosium’s Miskatonic University Library Association series of monographs, which since 2003, has been the publisher’s means of making other works available to players of both Call of Cthulhu and Basic Role Play. Bar the printing, each monograph’s author is responsible for the writing, the editing, and the layout, so the quality of the series varies widely and has led to some dreadful releases. Notable Science Fiction Monographs include End Time, Once Men, and Cthulhu Rising. None of these three are being reviewed here, but rather a supplement for Cthulhu Rising, entitled Jovian Nightmares.

Cthulhu Rising: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the 23rd Century describes a near future set in 2271, inspired by movies such as Alien, Aliens, and Outland. In a time when the United Earth Federation together with innumerable corporate interests have explored and colonised the Solar System and beyond, it asks the question, “If in aeons past, entities and races of the Mythos have filtered down from space and distant stars to Earth, what happens if humanity follows them back into space and discovers them?” The setting supplement provided everything necessary to play – background, the Mythos of 2071, and character generation – bar actual scenarios. This is an omission that Jovian Nightmares: A Sourcebook For Cthulhu Rising — Call Of Cthulhu Roleplaying In The 23rd Century addresses. That said, as a single setting, Cthulhu Rising is superbly supported by the author’s own website, including standalone adventures and campaigns that involve civilian and military characters.

As its title suggests, Jovian Nightmares focuses on the gas giant Jupiter and its sprawling system of rings, moons, and other satellites – a region known as Circum-Jove – as well as all of the settlements and outposts that mankind has established in the previous 150 years. These include the cities that hang from the underside of the ice mantle that cover Europa’s world ocean; Nanotech Valley on Ganymede, home to a high tech hub devoted to nanotechnology; and the Orbital Gas Mines that float through the upper reaches of Jupiter’s atmosphere mining for Helium-3. Circum-Jove is home to numerous organisations, from the governmental like the Circum-Jove Administration and the Federal Law Enforcement Authority (FLEA) to non-government organisations such as the criminal Estrella Negra, Covenant Europa, the latter a terrorist threat dedicated to freeing Europa from human occupation, and the Ganymede Club, an invitation-only, private members club dedicated to radically dangerous sports such as interplanetary shuttle racing in the upper Jovian atmosphere and diving in the Europan World-Ocean. This is in addition to numerous corporations, companies, and combines that have a presence in Circum-Jove.

Much of Jovian Nightmares is devoted to detailing both these organisations and these places in Circum-Jove, with each of the Galilean Moons receiving several pages each. The background also includes a lengthy history, covering the years between 1973 and 2271. In terms of character support, Jovian Nightmares adds several new Occupations particular to the Circum-Jove region, although most work as equally well elsewhere, including Black Marketeer, Docker, FLEA Field Agent, Interstellar Colonial Marine, and Terrorist. Both Keeper and players will need access to Cthulhu Rising to get the full use out of these, although a Keeper could easily use them as inspiration for his own Science Fiction Call of Cthulhu setting.

Roughly half of the supplement is for the Keeper’s eyes only. It details many of the secrets to be found in Circum-Jove, some of them of a Mythos nature, others more mundane. These are organised first by planet, and then moon by moon, in turn also dealing with the various Mythos races that have a presence or an influence over the region. Some of them are obvious, such as the fact that Europa being an ocean world means that it should surprise no-one that the moon is also home to a certain species of ultra-terrestrial batrachian humanoids… Other secrets what or whom has been causing the disappearances in the labyrinthine catacombs beneath Ganymede and what caused the Red Eye of Jupiter, but fortunately, none of the secrets here are particularly radical, nor do they jar with the feel of the setting, which would have perhaps been worse.

The scenario in Jovian Nightmares, “Escape Velocity,” casts the player characters as convicted criminals sentenced to lengthy terms of Penal Involuntary Servitude aboard the Jovian Discoverer IV, an orbital gas-mining platform. Backgrounds are given for six pre-generated characters, though the Keeper will need to download the actual characters. After been  punished and sedated following a fight between their number, the characters awake to find their cell hatches open, a klaxon sounding in the distance, and a body outside their cells… Although they will not know it initially, this scenario is a race against the clock to determine what happened aboard the platform and then get off to safety. It is a detailed affair that the Keeper will need to handle it with care to keep up the pace, especially if he wants to fit into one session as the author suggests.

Rounding out the supplement is a septet of Adventure Seeds. These cover a range of set ups, from corporate troubleshooters and security personnel to surveyors and members of a salvage team, so it is unlikely that a Keeper would use them with the one set of characters. Each of the Adventure Seeds comes with several options as to what is going on, but each will need no little development upon the Keeper’s part.

Physically, Jovian Nightmares is neatly and tidily presented. In fact, it is much better laid out and edited than the average Monograph. The maps are perhaps a little workmanlike, the lack of detail not quite matching the grit and grift of the genre. That said, the artwork, which is drawn by the author, does, and it is a pity that there is not more of it. The scenario handouts could have been a bit more interesting too.

Ultimately, Jovian Nightmares leaves the reader wanting more. Whether that is more detail, more background, more secrets, or more scenarios. Actually probably the latter in favour of dropping the fiction, which does not necessarily add all that much to the setting or the supplement. The issue really though, is that Jovian Nightmares can only provide an overview – and it should be said that it is a good overview – of Circum-Jove. Jovian Nightmares is indicative of the potential in the setting and the failure to see it properly developed into an official Call of Cthulhu setting.