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Friday, 15 June 2018

Free RPG Day 2018: Scritch Scratch

Now in its eleventh year, Saturday, June 16th is Free RPG Day and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Like the support for Free RPG Day in 2016, The Derelict: A Tall of Terror for Call of Cthulhu, this year’s entry from Chaosium, Inc., is a scenario for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. The scenario is Scritch Scratch: A Modern-Day Call of Cthulhu Scenario for Two to Six Players. which asks the question, “What Terror Lurks Within the Gloomy Woodlands Surrounding a Sleepy English Village?”.

Designed to be run using either Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition or the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules—free to download hereScritch Scratch is a one-shot scenario set in a valley in the north of England, but which is relatively easy to set elsewhere as long it is just off the beaten track and very close to extensive woodland. It can be played in a single four-hour session, so is suitable as a convention or demonstration scenario. Six pre-generated investigators are included, but suggestions are given if a Keeper and her players wants to run the scenario with a different set of investigators. These six are divided into two distinct groups. The first consists of professional cleaners hired by the local council to clean a house in the out of the way village of Muscoby. The second consists of a film crew accompanying the cleaners to make documentary about them. The council is paying the cleaning crew a generous fee for undertaking the job and the film crew are there as a bonus.

The scenario is designed as a mini-sandbox. The cleaning crew, accompanied by the film crew, arrive in Muscoby to do the job on the house. There they will find not only evidence of the owner’s strange occupation (he is currently in hospital), but also of the village’s equally strange history. What they learn at the house may warrant further investigations with both villagers and ex-villagers—the latter residing in a nearby town. Eventually, as they come to realise what the nature is of the weird secrets in Muscoby, those secrets will reveal themselves… The scenario allows for both confrontation with that secret or simply running away.

Throughout the scenario there are snippets of advice based on the experience of the author and others playtesting it, including how to avoid misinterpretations of the term ‘cleaning crew’ and the council’s motives. This is in addition to various pieces of supplementary information. There are some fun NPCs for the Keeper to roleplay too and whilst these play upon the cliché of the country bumpkin, they do go beyond this just enough for them to be more fully rounded out creations. As to the Mythos in Scritch Scratch, it is present, but very much in the background. Instead, what the investigators and their players will be confronting is a manifestation of widespread folklore. What this means is that Scritch Scratch can be run as a horror scenario using the Call of Cthulhu rules rather than something obviously to do with the Cthulhu Mythos. The horror in the adventure is kept quite low key, the mix of weird occurrences and discoveries laying the groundwork for the Keeper to deliver some short, short shocks at the appropriate time.

Scritch Scratch lacks two things. One is advice for running it with fewer than the six pre-generated investigators, though if that is the case, then the clean-up crew are probably more pertinent to the scenario than the film crew. The other is an introduction for the players and their investigators, so whilst the scenario explains the set-up for the Keeper, it does not do so for the players. This may well be an issue for the Keeper coming to Call of Cthulhu afresh or with relatively little experience as a Game Master. For an experienced Keeper, such an introduction is relatively easy to create, but it should have been included anyway to help the Keeper set both the scene and relationship up between the cleaning crew and the film crew as well as adding a degree of verisimilitude from the off.

Barring the aforementioned lack of introduction, Scritch Scratch is well written and organised, and nicely illustrated. The latter are going to look good in colour whenever the scenario is collected in full anthology—as The Derelict was in Petersen’s Abominations: Five Epic Tales of Modern Horror—and do serve to illustrate certain locations and possible events in the scenario. In fact, the Keeper might like to use them as illustrative handouts at the appropriate time.

Of course, being a release for Free RPG Day, devotees of Call of Cthulhu are going to want a copy of Scritch Scratch, however good it is. Fortunately, Scritch Scratch: A Modern-Day Call of Cthulhu Scenario for Two to Six Players is a pleasingly low key one-shot of bucolic mystery and horror.