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

Monday, 26 August 2013

Triple Ripple Yellow

Since 2003, the Miskatonic University Library Association series of monographs has been Chaosium, Inc.’s way of making other works available to players of both Call of Cthulhu and Basic RolePlay. Bar the printing, each monograph’s author is responsible for the writing, the editing, and the layout, so far the quality of entries in the series have varied widely and has led to some dreadful releases. Fortunately, Ripples from Carcosa: Confronting Hastur Across Time and Space is far from dreadful in terms of both editing and layout, or indeed storytelling and writing.

Ripples from Carcosa dates from 2005 and is Oscar Rios’ first campaign. As its title and subtitle suggests it presents a campaign against a single threat not in single era, but several. More specifically three eras, each of which at the time of publication were supported by Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, though not so currently. They include the Ancient Rome of CthulhuInvictus, then a fellow Monograph; the Dark Ages of Cthulhu Dark Ages, only recently translated from the German version; and End Time: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying At The World's End, a Monograph that detailed a near future in which mankind has fled the Earth as the stars have come right. As of 2013, Cthulhu Invictus is in print as a full book available at your local friendly, gaming store and indeed would be the setting for Rios’ well-received campaign from Miskatonic River Press, The Legacy of Arrius Lurco. Of the other two supplements, Cthulhu Dark Ages remains out of print and End Time is still only available as a Monograph. Fortunately, none of these three supplements are absolutely necessary to running any of the scenarios in Ripples from Carcosa.

The trilogy opens with ‘Adventus Regis’ or “Arrival of the King” in which various Roman citizens have come to Vestalanium to undertake a vacation, some with their children. Treated to every luxury, the highlight of their week’s stay is sure to be the performance of a new play, the first in five years by the famed playwright, Livius Carbo. The town is rife with rumours about the play, which will be staged at the town’s arena the following night and the characters will see the following night. Worse everyone seems on edge, but perhaps once the play has been performed, tensions will lessen? The scenario consists of relatively little investigation, initially there is little for the characters to discover and little for them to put together. Instead, everything is revealed in a bloody climax of madness, mayhem, and murder that interestingly sees the characters coming to the aftermath of a Mythos summoning.

It continues with ‘Herald to the Yellow King’, which is set in the kingdom of Shereborne in Wessex during the Dark Ages. Ten years ago, Lord Boniface made a promise to Wessex’s oldest man not to cut down an ancient oak, but now that has happened and as part of his household, Lord Boniface tasks the characters to ride out to Derek’s Holding and offer an apology upon his behalf. Setting out in the last few days before the Yule festival, what the characters find is a village in disarray, a scene of madness. As the weather draws in, they are sent out again and again in search of answers to what happened in Derek’s Holding, but what they find is more madness, more mayhem, and more murder. As the season draws in, they must return to Lord Boniface’s castle where they find that the answers they seek have arrived before them.

The last scenario in Ripples in Carcosa is ‘Heir to Carcosa’ which takes place in The United Colonial Coalition Asteroid Colonies in 2147. There, four asteroids are home to a secret alliance between humans, Elder Things, and the Great Race of Yith, trying to remain hidden from both an Earth abandoned following the rise of R’lyeh in 2045 and the remnants of mankind on Mars. The characters are the crew of the UCC Gladius, an armed vessel tasked undertaking various missions and with keeping the existence of the colonies a secret. Via a trade with the Mi-go, they learn of another vessel operating near the colonies. The crew is ordered to intercept the ship, disable and board it in order to learn what the crew knows and then repair the ship for UCC use. Repairing the ship and determining the crew’s objective involves an interesting trip into the past.

In addition to the three scenarios, Ripples from Carcosa includes an examination of Hastur, the King in Yellow, and the play of the same name. Initially it only compiles what has been seen before, bearing in mind that this Monograph was published in 2005 and the Great Old, his avatar, and The King in Yellow have been revisited several times since. It expands upon this in supplementary chapters by examining the worship of Hastur in both the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages, including several adventure seeds also. Instead of presenting the worship of Hastur in the period of the End Time, the supplement instead presents enough background to run ‘Heir to Carcosa’ without recourse to owning the End Time Monograph. That said, all three scenarios could be run without reference being made to their setting sourcebooks.

Each scenario in Ripples from Carcosa comes with a set of six pre-generated investigators, and whilst they can be used to play each of the scenarios as a one-shot, they are fundamental to playing the trilogy as a campaign. Variations upon each of the six characters appear in three scenarios and exposure to the Mythos of Hastur allows an investigator to recall dimly the events of a previous scenario to gain insight as to his current predicament. Whilst it would be possible for the Keeper to add further scenarios, these three – and it has to be three with Hastur! Hastur! Hastur! – do intentionally take place a millennium apart and the Keeper would have to develop the characters in each case.

Physically, Ripples from Carcosa is well produced. If the artwork is perhaps a little scrappy, there is at least some effort made to give the book a little style, and there is evidence of some editing. It feels cramped in places, especially the investigator sheets for each scenario.

Campaigns through time and using the reincarnation concept to provide continuity between eras have been done since the release of Ripples from Carcosa, most notably the Dungeons & Dragons influenced Red Eye of Azathoth from Open Design, but arguably Ripples from Carcosa was the first. The three scenarios here show a progressive spiral into madness that are the hallmarks of Hastur’s influences as well as what has become the author’s trademark avoidance of Call of Cthulhu’s traditional investigative methods. As a campaign, Ripples from Carcosa is far from a traditional Call of Cthulhu campaign – it dispenses with the onionskin format and there is no climax to the campaign, instead has the characters face the same threat, or rather variations upon it, again and again. In a sense this is unsatisfying for both the players and the Keeper because of this, but each scenario in Ripples from Carcosa is satisfying enough to stand on its own. Together though, they impart a sense of continuing despair across the ages as Ripples from Carcosa: Confronting Hastur Across Time and Space.